SIDNEY – State Rep. Susan Manchester earned support from the Shelby County commissioners Tuesday morning for her effort for prevailing wage reform in Ohio but received pushback on the override of Gov. Mike DeWine’s Senate Bill 22 veto.
The Republican from Waynesfield visited with the commissioners and Angela Hamberg, executive director of the Shelby County Regional Planning Commission, to discuss issues being debated in Columbus. One of her proposed bills would allow government entities to opt out of prevailing wage requirements for some public projects.
“What I love about the bill is it is permissive,” Manchester said. “I am the first one to say there are a lot of counties in this state that probably want to use prevailing wage for whatever reason. You know, they have that kind of established already. But my counties – Mercer, Auglaize, Shelby, Darke – I know, just talking to local elected officials, that these local governments stand to save a lot of money if they weren’t required to use prevailing wage rates.”
Manchester – who represents Mercer County along with portions of Auglaize, Darke and Shelby counties – introduced House Bill 146 with Rep. Craig S. Riedel, a Republican from Defiance.
Ohio’s prevailing wage law requires governments to pay union-scale wages on most construction projects. Manchester wants to scale back the law in an effort to help local government entities save money on projects, an idea all three county commissioners supported.
“This is going to be a good thing if we can get it started,” Commissioner Tony Bornhorst said.
The prevailing wage reform has been proposed multiple times in recent years, including by Manchester and Riedel during the last general assembly. They also tried to pass it as an amendment on a transportation budget, but their plan was rejected.
Manchester thinks there is more support for the effort now, though, and she’s finding proponents to testify in favor of the legislation.
Commissioner Julie Ehemann previously gathered letters in support of the legislation from Shelby County villages and said she would do so again.
Critics of the prevailing wage reform contend that lower wages could result in decreased quality and safety standards, an idea Manchester and the commissioners rejected. Commissioner Bob Guillozet said projects still would be required to adhere to building codes and would have to pass inspections.
Manchester also said a 1997 prevailing wage exemption for school construction showed work can be completed safely without the need for prevailing wage.
While Manchester is working with Riedel on prevailing wage reform, she’s not certain she supports his efforts on wind and solar projects. Riedel and Rep. Dick Stein, a Republican from Norwalk, introduced House Bill 118 that would allow township referendums on wind and solar projects.
“I don’t blame people for wanting to have a say in the process, but I’m not sure that a township referendum is the way to get to it,” Manchester said.
Manchester said she’s not necessarily opposed to the bill, and thinks residents should have a say in what happens in their communities, but she’s worried about how the legislation would actually work.
Manchester and Ehemann also worried that allowing referendums that could prevent wind and solar projects from proceeding could lead to referendums preventing other developments including chicken barns, hog barns and silos.
“It opens the door to create referendums on everything,” Ehemann said.
Manchester said there’s wind and solar projects proposed in the 84th District, including one near her home.
“The consensus I generally get from folks is I don’t like it, I don’t want wind and solar, but I also don’t want anybody telling me what I can and can’t do with my land,” Manchester said. “And I think that’s where this bill still has more questions than answers for me.”
Ehemann said the legislation was a topic of conversation during a County Commissioners Association of Ohio meeting. She agreed with Manchester that there needs to be more discussion but the proposed legislation might not be the right solution.
“I think doing a township referendum on this kind of stuff is a good way to divide people,” Manchester said. “And that’s what I struggle with.
“There’s got to be a way to give people a voice that’s not quite so divisive.”
The commissioners and Manchester also agreed they would like to see a regional system for easing COVID-19 restrictions instead of the current approach by DeWine that imposes orders statewide.
Manchester joined her Republican colleagues in the House and Senate in overriding the Republican governor’s veto of Senate Bill 22, legislation that starting this summer allows the legislative branch to rescind health orders issued by the executive branch.
While Manchester said it’s important for the legislature to practice oversight and respond to constituents’ concerns, the commissioners – all of them Republicans – expressed concern about the legislation.
Guillozet said during emergencies decisive action is required and political posturing can’t be the motivation for decisions.
“I understand your reasoning, but I personally think it’s bad legislation, and we’ll pay for it down the road,” he said.
“There’s definitely some concerns that still need to be addressed that we are working on in the House and Senate,” Manchester said.
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