For the second time in the Republican-led Ohio government’s push to alter the way it interacts with state workers, a prominent Republican legislator has been stripped of a committee chairmanship in the midst of debate over legislation that unions oppose.
Sen. Bill Seitz (R) was removed on Wednesday from the state Senate’s Government Oversight and Reform Committee — the panel he chaired — after Senate leaders said he failed to inform them of changes he was making to a bill that would raise the age and number of years of service state workers have to complete before they can retire with a pension.
Getting stripped of his committee assignment has become something of a habit for Seitz, who was pulled from a different committee
back in March at the height of the fight over SB 5, the law backed by Gov. John Kasich (R) that limits the collective bargaining rights for most state workers. Seitz opposed that bill and lost his committee assignment because of it. Now, as another union fight heats up, it’s happened to him again.
From the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Wednesday, State Senate President - and Seitz’s housemate in Columbus - Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, kicked the lawmaker off the chamber’s Government Oversight and Reform Committee, replacing him with Sen. Keith Faber (R-Celina.)
By Wednesday afternoon, the chamber’s website had already replaced Seitz’s name and photo on the committee list.
A spokesperson for Niehaus told the paper Seitz lost his chairmanship “because he considered adopting a substitute version” of SB 3 (the pension bill) “without first talking to Faber, who is the sponsor of that bill.”
The House version of the bill in question would raise the retirement age starting in 2015 for workers to pay into the state’s five public employee pension systems. Details here from WTOV-TV. Unions oppose the bill and are planning to rally against it on Thursday.
In the Senate, SB 3 “is currently a placeholder bill, containing only one paragraph to summarize its intent to update Ohio’s five pension funds so they can remain solvent,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The paper reports Seitz’ side of the story:
Each of the five funds has come up with a plan to reach financial stability. Seitz said he asked legislative staff members to incorporate those plans into SB 3. Seitz’s version of the bill was never introduced in the committee and it would not have been a final version of the bill, he said.
“We weren’t going to vote it out or anything,” Seitz said. “I viewed it as a matter of housekeeping.”
Seitz said he announced his intention to introduce a substitute bill in a notice to the committee.
“I’ve been removed as chairman for considering something that I didn’t do,” he said.
Seitz did not respond to a request for comment left by TPM at his office late Wednesday night. But he told reporters in Ohio that he believes he lost his chairmanship (and the $6,500 in annual salary that goes with it) because he crossed Kasich and the Republican leadership during the SB 5 debate.
SB 5 passed over the objections of Seitz and several other state Senate Republicans as well as the entire Democratic caucus. Kasich signed the bill and opponents are gearing up to repeal it via a ballot measure this fall. Seitz suggests that the side he chose in that fight led to him losing his chairmanship before the SB 3 debate reached full steam.
“You can judge for yourself whether the reason given [by the GOP leadership] is the real reason or not,” Seitz told the Enquirer. “But having been removed from one committee weeks ago and now being removed from another, it brings to mind res ipsa loquitur, which in Latin means ‘the thing speaks for itself.’”