Lawmakers at all levels set priorities

From the economy to education to standardized regulatory policies, politicians representing Marietta and the surrounding area are planning on tackling some big issues in the coming year.

On a national level, Republican Congressman Bill Johnson who represents’s Ohio’s 6th Congressional District, said his main focus for 2014 will be creating a healthy economy.

“For our district, I’m focused on economic development around domestic energy production,” he said.

Specifically, Johnson will continue his fight against a rewrite of the Stream Buffer Zone Rule that would create more stringent regulations against coal mining.

A rewrite of the already existing environmental legislation would “essentially shut down underground coal mining in America,” he said.

Johnson said he also plans on developing a common definition of telehealth, which enables patients to communicate with a doctor over the phone rather than in person.

The Affordable Care Act has hindered access to doctors, he said.

“We’ve got places in my district where people have to drive for hours for health care,” he said.

Because telehealth is so new, current policies vary widely and need revised, he said.

Devola resident Robert Pioli, 92, said he is concerned about the economy in the coming year and wants to see legislators focus on that.

“Jobs, jobs, and more jobs,” he said.

He cited the closure of local power plants, such as the AEP plant in Beverly, as a concern.

Pioli is not alone. Like Johnson, several politicians cited the economy as their No. 1 concern for the coming year.

“I think the economy still continues to be the No. 1 issue in Ohio and in southeastern Ohio in particular,” said Ohio Senator Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville.

The proposed statewide severance tax on the oil and gas industry would be a benefit to the local economy, but should be distributed in a way that reflects southeastern Ohio’s important role in the industry, he said.

“Many of us from the region are advocating that some of that revenue (from the severance tax) be returned to the counties that are producing the oil and gas,” said Gentile.

Currently, nothing in the proposed severance tax bill would ensure that oil and gas producing areas get a larger cut of the predicted $2 billion in state revenue generated by the tax, he said.

Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he disagrees that the severance tax would be good for local residents.

The tax levied on the industry would trickle down and affect the profits of landowners leasing their land for oil and gas exploration, he said.

“It’s going to hurt land owners who are going to see reduced royalties,” he said.

In addition to fighting against the severance tax, Thompson said he will be continuing his work to repeal Ohio’s adoption of Common Core State Standards this year.

The mathematic and English language arts standards adopted by the state are scheduled to be implemented for the 2014-2015 academic year; however, many teachers and educators find the standards grossly inadequate and oppose the Common Core, said Thompson.

“People at the top of the food chain think everything is hunky dory,” he said, referring to the Ohio School Board Association, which supports the Common Core. “But people down on the grassroots level object to it.”

Gentile also has educational aspirations for the year. He has authored a bill that would give Ohio veterans college credit for training received while in the military.

“You start to talk to these veterans and you realize how much real world experience they have, and that really should be applicable,” he said.

Gentile said his legislation has bi-partisan support and was used as a model for when Ohio Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order in 2013 urging Ohio higher learning facilities to simplify the means by which military members can earn credit for their military education.

On a local level, Marietta resident Todd Millar, 44, said he would like to see the city put more of an effort into street repair this year.

“One of the things about having a rough street-it might not be that important to the city, but to the residents that have to drive their cars down it every day, it can be rough,” he said.

Millar, who moved to Marietta from a small town in Texas a year ago, noted that some of the more dilapidated houses in the area reflect poorly on the town as a whole.

“They either need to fix them up or tear them down. They don’t make the town look good,” he said.

The International Property Maintenance Code, which Marietta City Council adopted in August, aims to set standards to that effect.

Tweaking that code to make it fair and clearly defined is a top priority for Marietta City Council President Josh Schlicher, he said.

“There are some existing codes that are outdated. One that has to do with trash service, for example. There’s no good definition of what is expected of a resident,” he said.

Schlicher also said better handling of city projects such as asphalt paving would give the city the most bang for their buck.

“We’re currently looking at how we handle our contracts. In the past, we haven’t had the supervision or inspection needed on these projects. Our projects have suffered as a result of that,” he said.