Mailbag: How Ohio gov’t x-ray funding involved an anime controversy

The Ohio Controlling Board has met by virtual conference in 2020.

We’ve reached the end of the 133rd General Assembly, which means farewell speeches at 1 a.m. and late-night trombone solos. Like Sen. John Eklund, The Ohio Capital Journal Mailbag is always in tune. Let’s get to it:

Got a question about Ohio politics/government? Send them by email to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

This might be “in the weeds,” but an explainer about the Ohio Controlling Board might be interesting given how unique it is.

– @Cold_apple_soup, on Twitter. 

Answer: (rolling up sleeves) Did somebody say explainer?

This is a good prompt, because the Ohio Controlling Board is one of those governmental entities which tends to fly under the radar. The board comes up in news reports from time to time, and having a basic knowledge of it will help you in understanding those stories a bit better.

And if that’s not enough to make you keep reading, I’ll explain how the subject of explicit Japanese comics briefly stood in the way of board approval for x-ray equipment. Yeah, that happened.

The Ohio legislature passes an operating budget every two years. The Controlling Board handles “necessary adjustments” to this budget — such as a government agency wanting to transfer money between different line items. 

Board approval is also needed when an agency seeks a waiver to competitive selection when buying supplies or services above $50,000. (If you’d like some light bedtime reading, you can read all about the board’s authority here.) 

The board has seven members: a president representing the state Office of Budget and Management, and six legislators. Republicans hold four of the six legislative seats and Democrats hold the other two. 

The board meets regularly, with each agenda featuring a slate of requests from a whole host of government departments, offices and public universities. You may have read about the board amid coverage of CARES Act funds being allocated in Ohio.

The majority of board agenda items are approved without much discussion or fanfare. Occasionally, legislators will flag a request and ask questions to the agency’s representatives during a board meeting. These are more often than not matters of clarification rather than hard-hitting points of scrutiny. 

A recent meeting proved to be one exception. Kent State University sought approval for the purchase of x-ray equipment at its main campus. Board member Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Lynchburg, had an unrelated concern about KSU on his mind.

State Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Lynchburg

A conservative blog had reported a few months earlier that a high school student taking a Kent State course for college credit objected to graphic material being taught. This was, apparently, an English course centering on anime (Japanese animation) and it featured a scholarly book analyzing explicit content. 

Wilkin and a few other Statehouse Republicans have criticized the university for assigning adult material to a minor. 

Ohio’s College Credit Plus website notes that college instructors are not required to modify their course content due to having a younger student enrolled. The KSU official present at the Controlling Board meeting also noted that students have their parents or guardians sign consent forms in order to enroll.

Nonetheless, Wilkin said it was his “duty” to consider objections like this when determining board funding. He voted no for the x-ray funding and urged others on the board to do the same; everyone else voted yes and the funding was approved.

To my knowledge that is the only anime controversy Ohio’s government has seen in 2020. If you know otherwise, well, you have my email. 

Are there talks to increase the number of seats in the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives if the state’s population goes up?

– @johni_sweeney, on Twitter.

The current district map for the Ohio House of Representatives. Map courtesy the Ohio Secretary of State.

Answer: No, and in fact the number of Ohio General Assembly districts are etched in the state constitution.

The Ohio Constitution sets this requirement in outlining how the districts should be drawn to represent an equal number of constituents. This is done by dividing the state population by 99 (for the 99 House districts) and by 33 (for the 33 Senate districts). 

Based on the current population of Ohio, each House member represents around 118,000 people. Imagine a full capacity at The Shoe, then add in the population of Bellefontaine and that’s a House district.

Each Senate member represents around 350,000 people. Picture the Cleveland Indians selling out Progressive Field for 10 consecutive games — all those attendees would fill up an Ohio Senate district.

The current district map for the Ohio Senate. Map courtesy the Ohio Secretary of State.

Got a question about Ohio politics/government? Send them by email to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Reading material:

Here are some important and interesting Ohio Capital Journal articles you may have missed: 

There were many efforts to change Ohio election laws in 2020, but few succeeded – Ohioans heard many proposals to reform and improve the state election laws during this busy presidential election cycle. I wrote about these ideas and what we might see proposed again in 2021.

Capital budget bill carries pieces of education overhaul – The school funding reform bill did not get passed this legislative term, reporter Susan Tebben writes, but there were some elements of it within a lame duck budget bill.

Strained capacity is not keeping covid patients from being admitted, officials say – Reporter Marty Schladen writes an update on Ohio’s “overwhelmed” hospitals.

COVID-19 protesters gather outside Ohio GOP Senate leader’s home, seeking veto override – Reporter Jake Zuckerman gives a revealing look into the recent protest against Senate President Larry Obhof.

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