Taft's Eleventh Hour Issue Still Delaying HB12

Privacy issue stalls gun bill Taft, House at odds over access to conceal-carry permit lists

December 30, 2003
Lee Leonard
Columbus Dispatch

For the second December in a row, Ohioans are within an inch of being allowed to carry concealed handguns under limited circumstances.

Standing in the way of enactment of House Bill 12, which has overwhelming support in both chambers of the Ohio legislature, is Gov. Bob Taft.

What’s blocking the bill is not one of the usual issues — where the guns can be carried, safety and training requirements, or protections for police and citizens — but a public-records dispute.

In December 2002, conceal-carry was headed toward the governor’s desk when the two-year session expired and sponsors had to start over. Only the opposition from the State Highway Patrol kept that bill from reaching Taft.

The patrol’s opposition has melted since lawmakers satisfied troopers’ objections to sections dealing with the handling of weapons in motor vehicles and gun carriers’ legal defenses in court.

Although Taft has promised to veto House Bill 12 as passed Dec. 10, staff-level talks are taking place to rescue the bill and avoid the embarrassment of a Republican-dominated legislature overriding the veto of its own governor.

The key is finding a compromise between the House and the governor on the issue of disclosing names of conceal-carry permit holders.

Rep. James Aslanides, a Coshocton Republican and the bill’s chief sponsor, agrees with gun-rights advocates that it serves no purpose to divulge names; in fact, he said, the idea of concealcarry is to deter would-be criminals by making them think their prey is packing heat.

However, the House agreed late in the game to allow journalists, through written inquiry to county sheriffs, to learn whether or not a specific individual is a permit holder.

The governor has insisted that the complete lists of permit holders in all 88 counties be made available to the public.

"The governor believes we have a very good bill and he wants to sign it," said Orest Holubec, Taft’s press secretary.

But Holubec said Taft will veto the bill unless the disclosure provision is changed to allow independent studies on whether the law is working by checking the number of permit holders who commit gun-related crimes.

"The current (public-records) provision is too restrictive," Holubec said. "It won’t assure that the right people are getting the permits and the wrong people are not."

Holubec said records show that more than 400 felons received permits in Texas.

"We want to avoid that in Ohio," he said, "and the easiest way to avoid it is to allow the sun to shine on the records."

Jim Irvine of Ohioans for Concealed Carry based in suburban Cleveland, said House Bill 12 requires the Ohio Peace Officer Training Council to compile annual statistics on the number of permit holders and the number of licenses suspended and revoked each year, without naming names.

"We’re on record as opposing the current provision or any other public records provision," Irvine said. "We’d like the governor to show us the public good in this."

Irvine said his organization is willing to swallow hard and take the current version.

"We do support the governor signing the law," he said. But he acknowledged that some gunrights advocates would rather have no bill than any disclosure of permit holders.

On the other hand, foes of any conceal-carry law want the governor to veto the bill. If there must be a law, they say any citizen should be able to know who is permitted to carry concealed.

House Speaker Larry Householder is backing Aslanides in holding to the one-at-a-time disclosure but said talks between the House and Taft’s office could produce a compromise. House Bill 12 is in legal limbo while the talks continue.

If there is a compromise, the governor could sign House Bill 12 and a separate bill could be quickly passed with a new provision for public disclosure of the permit holders.

Senate President Doug White said the argument is between the House and the governor’s office. He said the Senate has the votes to override a veto of the bill as it passed, but in other circumstances, senators would tend to side with the governor "because of life after the legislature." By that, he meant that some short-termed lawmakers would look to Taft for appointment to a government position.

Commentary by Chad D. Baus:

If Leonard's description of Doug White's current position on Senate veto override potential is accurate, then the Senate President has swung back full circle to a claim he first made on November 27 to The Other Paper's Dan Williamson - that the Senate has the votes to override.

Senator White's statements on a potential veto override in the Senate have been quite varied in the past few weeks. In the hours before the initial compromise on public records in December, White stated he "absolutely does not have the votes" to override. These statements clearly put the Conference Committee in more of a mood to compromise with Taft on the public records issue.

After the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve the Conference Committee report, White began stating he was "unsure" if a veto override was possible, because "he had not yet polled the (Senate Republican) caucus" on the issue. Obviously emboldened by the lack of confirmation that an override was possible in the Senate, Bob Taft has been able to stick to his public records demands.

Again, if Leonard's piece is accurate, White is now again taking a position he first took exactly one month ago. If the Senate can indeed override, discussions between Speaker Householder and Governor Taft about further compromise could be swiftly concluded, and the Speaker could move the bill as now written to Taft's desk, and both chambers could begin plans to override his veto.

Will this happen? Only if Speaker Householder believes White's latest statements will hold. Unfortunately, the past month has likely put the Speaker in anything but a trusting mood when it comes to Senate veto-override potential.

As we've been saying, there is still work to be done to prepare the way for final passage of this legislation!

Click here to view the Senate Veto-Override Outlook.

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