Ohio legislature updates fair rules

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amusement rides and games with lights at a fair at night.

A bill intended to help Ohio fairs work around budget challenges and update statewide fair rules and amusement ride rules recently passed the state legislature.

House Bill 665, introduced in May, before the start of the 2020 fair season, passed Senate and House votes Dec. 22. The bill goes to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk now.

Changes

Two provisions specifically targeted to address pandemic concerns this year expired Dec. 1, before the bill passed. These include a provision that would have allowed amusement parks and water parks to immediately open, during the pandemic, and a provision that provided protections for agricultural societies that had to cancel their annual fairs this year.

The bill still increases the funds that agricultural societies receive from their counties and removes restrictions on how an agricultural society can use funds from alcohol sales.

It also increases the amount of debt a fair can take on and allows more flexibility for rescheduling live horse racing events during a state of emergency. Sponsors, Reps. Don Jones (R-Freeport) and Shane Wilkin (R-Lynchburg), have called it a “common sense reform bill” in testimony to the House and Senate.

The bill passed the Senate 22-9 and went back to the House for a vote on concurrence. It passed 59-23.

Response

Supporters of the bill include the Ohio Fair Managers Association and the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association.

In Nov. 17 testimony to a Senate committee, Ohio Fair Managers Association president Rodney Arter said parts of the code governing Ohio fairs haven’t been updated since at least 1953. Arter added that while the bill doubles the amount of funds from county commissions that fairs get from $800 to $1,600, that amount should be closer to $7,700, in today’s dollars.

Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) argued that the bill still needed more work to address current health challenges and issues like confederate flags, since it’s been so long since fair rules have been updated, and urged a no vote in the House.

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