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AP Explains: Why speaker-less Ohio House can't pass bills

AP Explains: Why speaker-less Ohio House can't pass bills
Posted at 3:37 PM, May 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-25 15:37:24-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Parliamentarians are having their day at the Ohio Statehouse, with Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger's resignation last month creating a historic mid-session vacancy.

Ohio House Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican, has handled daily operations since Rosenberger's April 12 departure amid an FBI investigation. But Schuring's leadership role only goes so far.

Here's a look at why Ohio House law-making has been brought to a standstill by Rosenberger's departure:

Can't his no. 2 do the job?

No. The speaker pro tempore doesn't automatically ascend to the speakership when the speaker leaves. Under governing rules and parliamentary procedures, the speakership of the Ohio House must be "filled by election." Until that happens, no bills can be passed.

Many were confused about this fact when Schuring was allowed to preside over a session April 11, the last time the chamber took any votes. The reason was in the fine print.

Rosenberger had announced his resignation at that point, but hadn't yet served his final day. So, under House rules, Rosenberger was merely "absent," allowing his No. 2 to assume all of his duties. He left on April 12, converting that absence into a bona fide speaker vacancy.

How many votes are needed?

House rules require "a majority of those present" to support the winning candidate, said House spokesman Brad Miller. That means the winning number could fluctuate.

And it's actually even more complicated than that.

Schuring has insisted that the winning candidate have 50 Republican votes before lawmakers are called to the floor for a vote, enough so the majority caucus actually controls a majority of the House votes.

"I want to make sure I have absolute assurances that we have 50 votes for our nominee," he said. "Some have suggested we're at 50 now, but I want to use the old carpenter's axiom that you measure twice and cut once."

How is support divided?

Republican House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith, who wants to continue as speaker next session, claims to have the votes to win, but it's unclear.

He seems to have 47 Republican votes locked up. That means he'd need three of the 18 remaining Republican holdouts to swing his way.

The rival candidate, state Rep. Andy Thompson, is backed by former Speaker Larry Householder, who also wants to be speaker next session.

The Householder camp insists "the short-term solution" of putting Thompson in the job is the best way to rid the chamber of the cloud left by Rosenberger, whose leadership team included Smith. It also doesn't hurt that blocking Smith now would help Householder's bid for the speakership later.

Federal agents searched Rosenberger's house and storage unit this week in a probe that's said to center on his international travel and lavish lifestyle.

Democrats pledged to stick together and give all 33 of their votes to Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn, of Dayton. But if three would support Smith, and Schuring would agree to it, that could take Smith over the top.

If a vote is called and no candidate wins more than half of the votes after 10 times, the one with the most votes would become speaker

So what now?

Without a speaker, the House is paralyzed. While committees have been going forward, the bills they vote on have nowhere to go. Neither do bills sent to the House by the Senate, which has continued to meet during the crisis.

More than 100 bills are bottlenecked by the stalemate, including regulations on payday lenders, money for voting machines and fixes to Ohio's unemployment compensation system and to the medical marijuana program that's supposed to go online this fall.

A few "if needed" sessions are on the books in May and June. If nothing happens by then, the stalemate will extend into the fall — and perhaps through the end of the year.