LISBON -Columbiana County's newest state senator spent a day this past week getting to know some of his constituents.
Joe Schiavoni, D-Canfield, met with county commissioners and officials from the county elections board, St. Clair Township and Wellsville before stopping by the Morning Journal. Prior to that, he had called every mayor and school superintendent in the county, as well as many township trustees.
"This a good introduction for me to see some of the places, although I'd like to see more. So I'll come back another day," he said.
Schiavoni, 33, was elected in 2010 to the Ohio Senate from the 33rd District, which included Mahoning, Carroll and portions of Stark and Tuscarawas counties. Columbiana County was in the 30th District and represented by state Sen. Jason Wilson at the time.
In 2011, a redistricting plan approved by the state legislature created a new 30th District that included only Mahoning and Columbiana counties, with Schiavoni scheduled to become the district's state senator starting in 2013.
Schiavoni promised that the county would not take a back seat to the much larger Mahoning County and he intends to serve both as equally as possible.
"Some people from Columbiana County automatically feel if you're from Mahoning County you won't represent Columbiana County ... I know people get that feeling," he said.
But that will not be the case.
"If there are things I can help you with I want to be there. I want to treat Columbiana County like I treat Mahoning County, my home county," Schiavoni said, adding that the fact he lives only 35 minutes away will make that possible.
One thing that jumped out of him while touring Wellsville was the need to help the village obtain funding to demolish or rehabilitate blighted properties.
"We need to make sure we get the resources to not only Wellsville, but to communities throughout Mahoning and Columbiana counties so they can deal with this blight problem. People need to feel safe in their neighborhoods," he said.
For this to occur, "we need to make sure communities are adequately funded. We have to make sure we don't cut local governments 50 percent like we did before, and we can't cut schools like we did before," Schiavoni said, referring to funding cuts included in the 2012-13 state budget.
"I voted against both of those (cuts) before because I don't think you can strengthen your communities by cutting (state) local government funding and cutting schools," he said.
When asked how he would have addressed the projected $4 billion to $8 billion shortfall in the last state budget, Schiavoni he would have started with eliminating business tax loopholes and extended by another two years a freeze on an approved cut in state income taxes.
"There were other ways to get to the number," he said, adding all the legislature did was pass on the budget cuts to local governments and schools.
Following are Shiavoni's thoughts on other issues:
Oil and Gas Development
Schiavoni supports the shale gas boom underway in the region because of potential economic development benefits, but he wants it done in way that safeguards residents and the environment as much as reasonably possible, by enforcing existing regulations and adding new ones when required.
As an example, he recently introduced a bill doubling the minimum distance between wells or storage tanks and homes from 150 to 300 feet. Schiavoni said he also introduced an amendment that would have put more teeth into road use maintenance agreements, but it was rejected.
He voted against the bill that allows drilling in state parks.
Senate Bill 5
Schiavoni voted no because he believed it went too far in reducing the negotiating power of public employee unions.
"That was just too much too fast, let's take away the ability of public unions to collectively bargain. It would have made it so skewed there was no way the bargaining unit could win in negotiations," he said.
Schiavoni said there were parts of the bill he could have supported had the Republican majority taken a more measured approach, such as requiring public employees pay a more of their health insurance. "That's fair," he said.
Schiavoni is opposed to a bill that, if passed, would have banned abortions after the first heartbeat of the unborn child can be medically detected, which can occur within six weeks of becoming pregnant.
"I think the woman has the right to choose how she wants to deal with this specific situation. It kind of upsets me how much time we spend on these issues, when we should be spending time on helping kids succeed in school, make sure people have jobs, and making sure we have safe and clean communities," he said.
A practicing Catholic, Schiavoni said he has struggled with his position on abortion.
"The Catholic Church at its most strict level doesn't even agree in abortion for rape or incest. I just don't see how you can have a woman have a baby from someone that is the scariest person in their life. That's the kind of stuff I can't accept, common sense ... When it gets to that point I will never be able to budge on that point," he said.
Schiavoni is opposed, saying the current law covers the issue to his satisfaction by requiring voters to produce a driver's license or other legitimate document proving where they live.
"I think we waste a lot of time on this as well. We're talking about minor, little details, fighting over certain dates here and there. Just let the people vote. As long as it's not a major distraction for boards of elections and they believe they can handle it, let them vote," he said.
Schiavoni, who is an attorney in private practice, was opposed to a bill that would eliminate jurors being able to award triple damages to winning plaintiffs in consumer lawsuits, if the plaintiff had rejected an offer to settle for more money. Winning plaintiffs would have also been prohibited having the defendant pay its attorney fees.
He said these large judgments are needed to discourage businesses from engaging in ways that result in lawsuits of these sort. "You have to have serious damages in place to prevent wrongdoing," Schiavoni said.
The Ohio Senate leadership announced this past week one of its priorities is to introduce legislation to curb gun violence. Schiavoni, who described himself as a supporter of the Second Amendment and Ohio's concealed weapon law, said his support would depend on the bill that emerges.
"I believe folks should have the right to bear arms ... but at the same time there's got to be some sort of system created for background checks, and we have to determine what is the level of acceptability as to who should be able to carry firearms, who should be able to own certain kinds of firearms," he said.
What about restrictions on semi-automatic rifles of the sort used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting? "I would consider looking at that ... It's very hard to justify these high-powered weapons if you're not in the military or a police officer. I know that they are fun to shoot, but you really don't have a practical purpose for them," he said.
Schiavoni graduated from Boardman High school and earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Ohio University and law degree from Capital University. He is currently in private practice with the Austintown law firm of Schiavoni, Schiavoni, Bush & Muldowney.
He and his wife, Margaret, have a 4-month son. They live in Canfield.
Schiavoni said he maintains a field office at his law office at 87 Westchester Drive, Austintown, and he can be reached at 330-799-1834.
Schiavoni said he has a newsletter that is mailed out to random households in the district every month, and an e-newsletter will be available online once his new website is up and running.