By Randy Ludlow
Earning praise from frequent critics, Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed language on Wednesday crafted by fellow Republicans that would have required out-of-state residents who register to vote in Ohio to obtain an Ohio driver's license and vehicle registration within 30 days.
Democrats and voting-rights activists said the proposal was an attempt to discourage more than 115,000 out-of-state college students -- most of whom are thought to be Democrats -- from voting in Ohio by requiring them to spend a $75 or higher "poll tax" on the documents.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling states that students are allowed to vote in their temporary college hometowns if they meet other state residency requirements, and Ohio law does not require a driver's license to vote.
Majority Senate Republicans also had inserted a now-dead provision into the $7.3 billion two-year transportation budget that Kasich signed yesterday that would have imposed a special penalty on new Ohio residents who didn't obtain the state documentation.
The language declared that failure to obtain an Ohio driver's license and registration within 30 days would forbid new residents from driving in the state while providing no mechanism to restore their driving privileges.
Saying residency provisions already are established in Ohio law and that the proposal's language was confusing, Kasich vetoed the measure, including the no-driving-decree. He pointed out it was inconsistent with other laws specifying how driving privileges are restored.
The governor retained the 30-day deadline for new residents to get Ohio licenses and registrations -- beginning July 1 -- as rightfully closing a "loophole." Current law requires the documents, but sets no deadline.
Despite the victory claims of Democrats and other voting advocates -- and the Supreme Court ruling -- Senate Republicans insisted that even with Kasich's April Fool's Day veto, out-of-state residents still must get an Ohio driver's license and vehicle registration. That's because when anyone registers to vote in Ohio, they must certify that "you will be a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days immediately before the election in which you want to vote."
"Residency is residency, and although the veto removed it from the statute, the (Ohio) Administrative Code considers that a trigger for residency and therefore covers driver's license rules as enforced by the (Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles)," said John Fortney, spokesman for the Senate GOP.
However, Ohio law honors the driver's licenses and vehicle registrations of out-of-state college students and other temporary residents if they intend to return to their home states or locate elsewhere outside the state.
Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio, said, "Traditionally, residency for voter registration and other purposes like driving have been very different, and this veto maintains that distinction."
Because of such confusion, the Ohio Democratic Party has asked for a clarification of where the law stands now.
Senate Republicans always said the move was about residency -- not voting -- in setting a deadline similar to those in other states to get an in-state license.
Others viewed the language, and the veto, differently and thanked Kasich.
"Regrettably, our most fundamental democratic right has become a pawn in partisan games and even good bills get hijacked with schemes to stop people from voting," said state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent.
She worried that targeting out-of-state students could lead to attempts to identify those who registered to vote but didn't obtain an Ohio driver's license, and then prompt warnings from state officials to revoke their voting registrations.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Cincinnati and president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, saluted Kasich for his veto. "Cooler heads have prevailed and the controversial restriction that would have made it harder for students to vote has been removed from this bill," Reece said.
Kasich, who took no questions from reporters, also killed language stating that a person declares his or her Ohio residency by filing their taxes from an in-state address, which appears in existing law.
Kasich was joined by state and local officials as he signed the transportation budget during a ceremony at Daifuku America Corp. on the Far East Side. The company makes material-handling systems such as baggage-handling systems and automatic guided vehicles.
About $6 billion is devoted to the Department of Transportation and its array of highway projects across the state such as expanding I-71 in southern Columbus and reconfiguring Cherry Valley Road at Rt. 161 between Newark and Granville. About $600 million will be handed to local governments for road and bridge projects.
Dispatch Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland contributed to this story.
(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)