By DENISE GRANT
When state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, stepped to the podium at the Kiwanis Club luncheon Wednesday, he sounded every bit the politician with an election to win.
He even plunked a chorus of “Happy Birthday” on the piano at St. Marks United Methodist Church, much to the delight of the Kiwanians, and passed out “Hite is Right” key chains.
Hite does have an election to win. He will face two challengers in the May 6 primary: Milo Schaffner of Van Wert, and Corey Shankleton of Kunkle.
Hite was appointed to fill the unexpired term of state Sen. Steve Buehrer in early 2011, after Buehrer was named administrator of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation by Gov. John Kasich. Hite was then elected to a term that ends Dec. 31.
Hite is a former state representative, and teacher and football coach at Findlay High School.
But Wednesday, as Hite spoke in his home church and touted his work in the Ohio Senate, the lines between politics and home blurred and the senator, known for his ready smile, choked backed tears as he spoke about “Tess’ Law.”
Hite is sponsor of a bill, Senate Bill 275, that would make March 9 an awareness day for bacterial meningitis. His 5-year-old niece, Tess Whitson, of Findlay, died from the disease on March 9, 1999. She was preceded in death by an older sister, who just a few years earlier, had died during heart surgery.
“The worst funeral I have ever been to in my life was with the first one, with Katie. The second one challenges your faith. … I know God is an awesome God, but I don’t get it, and I’m not supposed to get it. I don’t get it. I still don’t get it,” Hite said to a now-silent crowd.
“We wanted to take March 9, which has been bad for my family for 15 years, and turn it into something good,” Hite said.
“This disease is still out there and we need to be aware of it,” Hite said. “If you have a son or daughter who is getting ready to go to college, please inoculate them.”
The bill passed the Senate unanimously, and every Senate member signed on as a co-sponsor. The bill is expected to pass the House soon.
Hite’s speech on the Senate floor, asking that the bill be approved, can be viewed online at: www.ohiochannel.org. It is listed as the Senate session for Feb. 19.
The House is also considering another bill sponsored by Hite and a Senate colleague, Bob Peterson, R-Fayette County. Peterson is a former Ohio Farm Bureau leader.
If the House approves the bill as it is, farmers would be required to be schooled every three years on the “four R’s” of nutrient management: the right fertilizer source, at the right time, in the right place, and at the right rate. They would also be subject to a $30 application fee as part of a certification program.
Ohio would be the first state in the nation to take this step, Hite said.
Runoff from agricultural fertilizer has been identified as one of the causes of algal blooms that have appeared in recent years in Grand Lake St. Marys and Lake Erie. Along with stifling oxygen supplies and causing aquatic vegetation to die, the algae can produce toxins that are harmful to humans and animals.
The bill was developed in cooperation with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the state’s Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Ohio Lake Erie Commission.
Aside from stumping for his own re-election Wednesday, Hite encouraged Ohioans to vote in favor of a ballot issue that would allow the state to issue bonds to fund infrastructure improvements.
Hite said if the ballot initiative passes, Ohio will be positioned to develop the best infrastructure in the United States.