Black Caucus President Vows ‘No Compromise’ on Opposition to OCRP Inclusion in HB 318

Earlier this week Senate Democrats Democrats announced their lack of support for including OCRP recommendations in the Senate’s version of HB 318.  Yesterday, Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President, Rep. Sandra Williams from Cleveland said the issue is a “poison pill” for the group’s 17 members.  They have let the leadership know that they are not interested in meeting until they remove construction reform from the proposed Budget bill. They believe there is no reason to meet unless there is an agreement to remove the language.  She said, “there is absolutely no compromise that we’re willing to even talk about.”

Williams said the Black Caucus members feel that minority contractors were largely left out of the Construction Reform Panel process. “There was only one black person who represented one trade out of the entire construction industry,” she said. “Nothing in the report reflects any of the problems or issues that African-American contractors or tradesmen have.”

Black Caucus members have been meeting with African-American contractors and tradesmen to develop their own construction recommendations, which will be released next Wednesday, she said. The group has been working with Rep. Matt Szollosi on separate legislation. “We want to vet it out in the committee process because we believe people really need to understand the barriers that these people face, as opposed to just rushing something through,” she said.

Although the Construction Reform Panel recommendations omitted minority concerns, OLBC members aren’t opposed to expanding allowable delivery methods to include construction manager at risk and design-build, she said.

House Speaker Pro Tem Szollosi said he has been working on a proposal that would implement many of the task force’s recommendations. “I’ve been working closely with a number of stakeholders to address as many concerns as possible. Public works construction is a complicated and complex matter and needs to be very carefully addressed,” he said.

Minority Leader, Sen. Cafaro, and Sen. Fred Strahorn from Dayton expressed frustration Wednesday with the GOP’s insistence on including OCRP language in the budget bill, saying it is too complex an issue for a budget-related amendment and should be vetted thoroughly in a separate bill. 

While DAS has been championing the construction law changes since biennium budget deliberations, the lawmakers said their caucus has not come under pressure by the administration to go along with the Senate GOP plan.

“The administration understands that while they wanted to do construction reform, it was never their intent that we wouldn’t do our jobs and work through some of the real concerns of different groups and interested parties,” Sen. Strahorn said. “I kind of resent the notion that because the governor commissioned a panel and they offered a report that we still shouldn’t do our job.”

Sen. Cafaro said, “Study commissions are meant to yield reports that ultimately are vetted though the legislative process. The commitment the governor has and we all have to construction reform remains.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker, Armond Budish, sent a letter to Sen. Harris offering to focus House attention on construction contracting and criminal sentencing revisions in separate legislation.

“Given the very short timeline that is now before us, and in the interest of compromise, I pledge to you my willingness to work together on initiatives such as construction reform and sentencing reform during the coming months. I would be happy to meet with you at your convenience to discuss an expedited but thorough legislative process for considering these major initiatives,” he said.