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New Senate leader puts economy at forefront

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's new Senate president says extended term limits, changes to the state's political map-drawing process, and tougher abortion restrictions are among issues that could arise in the next two-year legislative session — but the economy will be the real focus.

"It's pretty straightforward: Ohio is doing better right now than the national average on all the numbers — but better just isn't good enough," State Sen. Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, told reporters during opening day of the state Legislature Monday.

The state budget, a spending blueprint for the next two years, will be the priority of the first half of the year. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, is expected to include major education and tax changes in the next budget.

Faber said the fate of certain hot-button social issues will depend on his GOP colleagues. That includes a stringent limit on most abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, a bill outgoing Senate President Tom Niehaus had blocked over constitutional concerns.

"If the members want to have a Heartbeat Bill and have it debated and have it come to the floor, I'm not going to get in the way of that," he said.

Republicans hold a 23-10 majority in the chamber, but Faber said he'd like to see Democrats play a role in session priorities. He said he is working with Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney, re-elected to the post Monday, to identify at least five joint priority bills.

Faber said his caucus has "significant interest" in seeing Senate-proposed redistricting changes debated and finalized this session. Senators approved a bill during the lame duck session whose provisions are now being debated in the Ohio House.

He said the Senate wants to give the House time to deliberate — but not too much time.

"I don't view that as something that gets kicked over there (to the House) for three or four years," he said. "And so from our perspective, we reserve the right to put that up as a resolution and get it passed out of here and then we see where we go with it."

He said he's heard discussion about extending term limits from the current eight years to 12 years, something the Senate would debate if a proposal surfaces. Faber said a citizen initiative is the most appropriate form for such a proposal to take, since Ohio voters imposed term limits in the first place.

Faber said appointments to newly structured Senate committees will come Wednesday — earlier in the calendar than usual.

"That gives us a chance to have a little bit of a head start," he said.

Faber said he's putting committees on a staggered schedule, so lawmakers aren't forced to race between several committee meetings all at the same time. Re-elected House Speaker William Batchelder said he plans another change that could make legislative committees more accessible: budget hearings in the House Finance Committee will be aired on government television.

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