COLUMBUS, Ohio - An Ohio legislative panel changed a budget bill on Monday to make clear that college athletes are not employees under state law, following a recent ruling from a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that Northwestern University football players could unionize.
The ruling said that full scholarship players can be considered employees and thus have the right to form a union.
The Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee amended a sweeping, midterm budget proposal Monday to clarify that college athletes are not considered employees.
Chairman Ron Amstutz, a Wooster Republican, told reporters the change came from staff and could have little impact. "But if it ever comes up, it will be in the law for clarification," he said.
The amendment was among dozens made to the budget bill, which is on track for a committee vote on Tuesday and a likely vote by the full House on Wednesday.
The Republican-dominated panel also added an amendment to cut a county's local government money by 10 percent if the county does not follow state procedures for providing absentee ballots.
A new state law bars county elections boards and other public officials from mailing unsolicited, absentee-ballot applications to registered voters. The secretary of state could send the applications for general elections, only if the Legislature directs the money for it.
The law's GOP supporters have argued the change helps achieve fairness and consistency across county lines. But voter advocates and Democrats argue that not every county is the same.
Ohio's larger, urban counties traditionally have sent voters the applications without residents requesting them.
The amendment offered on Monday appears to target an effort by the Democratic leader of Ohio's largest county. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is running for governor, has a proposal before the county council to assert its home-rule powers and mail unsolicited, absentee-ballot applications to registered voters there.
The idea is expected to be considered at the council's Tuesday meeting.
FitzGerald blasted the amendment. "The lengths the Republican leadership will go to prevent their fellow Ohioans from voting is astounding," he said in a written statement.
Amstutz said that not every county can afford to send the unsolicited ballot requests, which is why the uniform policy was put in place.
"Today we said, if you go ahead and do it, there's going to be a penalty applied," he told reporters, adding that he was not aware of other counties looking to send such mailings.
Lawmakers also removed a provision that would require electronic registration for unemployment compensation benefits. Some groups had raised concerns that online-only access would make it harder for Ohioans to get benefits. Currently, residents can also file their claims by phone.
Amstutz said the proposal could be among several scrapped that return in separate bills.
Other changes would:
—Allow high school dropouts between ages 22-29 to earn a diploma from a dropout recovery community school, an adult career center or a community college.
—Correct certain mistakes in the state construction budget, which was passed and signed into law last week.
—Eliminate the licensing of roller skating rinks by the Department of Commerce.
—Set the permanent salary of Casino Control commissioners at $30,000 per year.
—Give an additional $10 million next budget year to adult protective services.
—Provide an additional $10 million next budget year to family and children services.