Week In Review: February 24, 2020



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This report reflects the latest happenings in government relations, in and around the Ohio statehouse. You’ll notice that it’s broad in nature and on an array of topics, from A-Z. This will be updated on a weekly basis.


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AGRICULTURE


Northwest Ohio farmers have been showing an overwhelming level of interest in the H2Ohio program, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) Director Dorothy Pelanda said Wednesday. Last month, ODAg announced that $30 million in H2Ohio funding would be available to help farmers implement best practices to reduce agricultural runoff, which is the primary cause of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. The department also announced a series of informational meetings to be hosted by ODAg, local soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) and the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative (OACI).


Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate have crossed horns on a number of issues, not least being the unresolved EdChoice debate, but agreed on one thing Wednesday: Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg's past comments on agriculture as a dominant way of life put him out of step with tens of millions of Americans. Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) and House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford), both Ohio farm boys, pointed to Bloomberg's recently resurfaced Oxford University address during their separate remarks to the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation's (OFBF) annual Ag Day conference on Capitol Square.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


While Columbus has a thriving music scene, it has a lot of work to do if it wants to catch up to popular music destinations such as Austin, TX or Nashville, TN, a panel at the Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) said Wednesday. The panel on using music as a driver of cultural and economic vitality was moderated by Jack Marchbanks, stepping out of his usual role as director of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), and stepping into his other role as host of "Sunday Jazz" on Columbus radio station WCBE.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Attorney General Dave Yost Thursday released the recommendations of a task force he formed to explore the use of facial recognition technology, and said he will now take those recommendations to formulate a new policy as his office prepares to use an updated system in 2021.


BALLOT ISSUES


Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections, the group that is seeking to put a constitutional amendment regarding elections reforms before voters in November, announced Tuesday that it has hired Toni Webb as campaign manager.


CENSUS


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) issued a reminder to Ohioans recently that they can use the computers at local libraries and OhioMeansJobs centers to complete the 2020 U.S. Census survey once it is available on Wednesday, April 1. This marks the first time the census survey can be completed online, and each household will receive a card in the mail with a password and instructions for submitting information online, over the phone or by mail. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete, and all responses are confidential, though only one person should complete it per household.


Over 73,600 Ohioans are at risk of being missed in the 2020 Census according to a report by the Urban Institute, "which will spell big trouble for the Buckeye State," says the Ohio Census Advocacy Coalition (OCAC). To address that, OCAC awarded 45 mini-grants to community organizations in Hamilton, Franklin and Cuyahoga counties to support "census get-out-the-count" efforts to reach hard-to-count communities.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Community health workers (CHWs) play a critical role in ensuring that low-income women -- particularly women of color -- receive the appropriate level of care to effectively treat them and their babies, Central Ohio health care officials told U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on Tuesday. During a roundtable discussion on black maternal mortality at the John R. Maloney Health Center in Columbus, CHW DeLena Scales said the training program for her current job was eye-opening.


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said Thursday it will invest nearly $1 million in an emergency response fund to help county children services agencies struggling with historically large caseloads, caseworker burnout and turnover, and unprecedented challenges caused by the drug epidemic.


CIVIL RIGHTS


The Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) will recognize the winners of its 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Art, Essay and Multimedia Contest at an awards ceremony set for Thursday, Feb. 27. Along with its venue partner, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), OCRC will celebrate the lessons of King as interpreted by young people from around the state.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Among proponents at Wednesday's hearing on SB256 (Manning-Lehner), which would ban life sentences without parole for juveniles, was former Ohio Supreme Court Justice and current Ohio Judicial Conference Executive Director Paul Pfeifer, who said of the bill, "We think this legislation probably cuts it right."


Though Pfeifer maintained that horrific acts can be committed by juveniles and should be punished as such, he said, "There has to be a meaningful opportunity for review of a life sentence before the end of a person's life."


Former Attorney General Marc Dann led off extensive proponent testimony on SB162 (Antonio-S. O'Brien) Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill proposes eliminating both Ohio's statute of limitations (SOL) for the criminal prosecution of rape cases and the spousal exceptions for certain sex offenses, among other items.


DEATH PENALTY


"Ohio conservatives are rethinking the death penalty." That is the message of the new group Ohio Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, introduced at the Statehouse Tuesday by prominent Republicans including former Gov. Bob Taft, former U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, House Assistant Majority Whip Laura Lanese (R-Grove City) and former Gov. John Kasich Chief of Staff Beth Hansen.


EDUCATION


The Conference Committee on HB9 (Jones-Sweeney) continued hearing testimony on how to address the pending expansion of Ohio's EdChoice program to several hundred more school buildings. In total, the conference committee has spent dozens of hours hearing from more than 400 witnesses since it began taking testimony on Feb. 11 including a rare Saturday hearing and an all-day hearing on Presidents' Day -- a state holiday. Witnesses included a whole range of public and private school officials, parents and students. However, there is little indication of any compromise on the horizon with Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) commenting this week that there is still plenty of time for lawmakers to work out a fix before April 1 -- the extended deadline lawmakers gave themselves in SB120. He added that a majority of his Senate colleagues agree that the current performance-based vouchers should not be eliminated. Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Larry Householder (R-Glenford) said it's time to put an end to performance-based vouchers. Gov. Mike DeWine has said he plans to meet with both leaders because it is clear they are far apart, and this issue needs to be settled.


Leaders of Ohio's seven independent STEM schools announced Friday the formation of the Ohio Alliance of Independent STEM Schools (OAISS) to educate lawmakers and the public on the importance of a strong independent STEM school network, and to advocate for policies that foster their growth and success.


School sports referees kept pressing Thursday for legislation to levy stiffer penalties on those who would attack them during games, detailing numerous assaults perpetrated in the several months since the bill was last heard. Meanwhile, the House Criminal Justice Committee revised HB208 to impose the tougher, felony-level charge only for a repeat offense.


The Ohio Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Learning Network has three programs accepting applications now. Applications will close soon for many of the spring 2020 opportunities, according to a release from the network. Applications and scholarships are reviewed on a rolling basis with priority application due Thursday, April 30, 2020. Educators can be nominated as well. Applications are available at https://tinyurl.com/t6tvuls. For more information about Code.org, go to https://tinyurl.com/wkmvepu.


ELECTIONS 2020


Absentee voting, both in-person and by mail, began Wednesday, Feb. 19 for the March 17 Primary Election. In-person voting runs through Monday, March 16 at local county boards of elections at the following times:


  • Weekdays, Feb. 19 through March 6 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • Saturday, March 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Final week, March 9 through March 13 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Saturday, March 14 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Sunday, March 15 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

  • Monday, March 16 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.


The Ohio House Democratic Caucus (OHDC) announced Friday that it had received a nearly $20,000 contribution from the National Democratic Redistricting Political Action Committee, which also gave over $13,000 to the campaign committee of House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). The national group, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, said the 2020 state legislative races "are our last chance to ensure a fair redistricting process in 2021." It also is making contributions in the North Carolina and Texas legislative races.


The Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday refused to restore Democratic candidate for House District 25 Tiffany White to the ballot after the Franklin County Board of Elections refused to accept three signatures that it had rejected upon further review.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • The Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio endorsed Robert Weber, John David Anderson and Christina Hagan for Congress; Justice Sharon Kennedy for Ohio Supreme Court; Chris Epley, Sarah Thomas Kovoor and Matthew Byrne for Ohio Court of Appeals; Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown), Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), Jerry Cirino, Cory Branham, Melissa Ackison and Sandra O'Brien for Ohio Senate; and Rep. Bill Dean (R-Xenia), Rep. Craig Riedel (R-Tiffin), Jason Wetz, Nathan Martin, Steven Blake, Jake Stubbs, Jennifer Gross, Diane Mullins, Nick Owens, Thad Claggett, Gail Pavliga, Bobby Mitchell, Mark Williams, Ed Ollom and Sarah Fowler for Ohio House. Ohio Right to Life, a separate anti-abortion group, issued its own set of endorsements earlier.

  • The campaign of U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) announced the endorsement of the Ohio AFL-CIO.


ELECTIONS 2022


Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat who will be term-limited at the end of 2021, told the Cincinnati Enquirer Friday that he is exploring a run for governor in 2022.


FEDERAL


U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said Tuesday that Smart Columbus represents "the most innovative transportation hub" in the country and discussed how the city is also home to training programs for artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles. Portman toured one of those locations, Accenture's Innovation Hub, and met with business leaders and students in an apprenticeship program there.


Accenture began its apprenticeship programs in Columbus in 2018, where it developed a partnership with Columbus State Community College (CSCC). It also recently announced a joint effort with Ohio State University (OSU) on data and analytics.


GAMING/GAMBLING


The Ohio Casino Control Commission Wednesday approved five licenses for fantasy sports contest operators during its Wednesday meeting -- the first licenses for fantasy sports within the state.


The five licenses issued were issued to Fantasy Golf's OG, the Original GolfGame; StatHero; DraftKings; FanDuel; and Yahoo Fantasy Sports.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Thursday's House session included passage of HB38 (Hillyer), regarding commercial credit reporting; HB222 (Stoltzfus-Howse), regarding tax credits for CDL training: HB277 (Plummer-West), regarding recordings of police interrogations; HB325 (J. Miller-Howse), to designate Toni Morrison Day; and HR247 (Roemer), urging an end to E-Check automotive testing.


In other action, the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee reported out license plate and naming bills HB392 (Lipps) and HB430 (Abrams); the Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee reported out day designation legislation SB174 (Kunze) and SCR9 (Craig); and House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB368 (Baldridge), regarding computer crimes.


GOVERNOR


The General Assembly Tuesday reported that the following two bills have been sent to Gov. Mike DeWine for his consideration:


  • HB18 (Vitale-Crawley) - To exempt veterans disability severance pay from income tax.

  • HB129 (McClain) - To permit wearing hearing protection while riding a motorcycle.


Appointments made during the week include the following:


  • Eric B. Smith, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Cleveland Field Office, to the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission for a term beginning Feb. 14, 2020 and ending Sept. 20, 2020.

  • Marge Barnheiser of Hilliard (Franklin County) and Roy J. Cherry of Toledo (Lucas County) reappointed to the STABLE Account Program Advisory Board for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2023.

  • Christopher P. Meyers of Delaware (Delaware County) reappointed to the Ohio Architects Board for a term beginning Oct. 3, 2019 and ending Oct. 2, 2024.

  • S. Zaheer Hasan of Waterville (Lucas County) to the Advisory Board of the Governor's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives for a term beginning Feb. 14, 2020 and ending May 4, 2020.

  • Bruce E. Hawkins of Mount Vernon (Knox County) to the Central Ohio Technical College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Feb. 14, 2020 and ending Sept. 30, 2022.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Facing financial hardship, the University of Toledo (UT) is examining the realities of the operations and services of the University of Toledo Medical Center (UTMC), according to statements released this week.


The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reported Friday that the number of new influenza-related hospitalizations rose again last week. The 994 hospitalizations from Feb. 2 to Feb. 8 marks a new high for the 2019-2020 flu season and a 19 percent increase over the previous week. These numbers bring to 5,457 the total hospitalizations since the season began at the end of September and more than double the number of hospitalizations reported during the same week of last year's flu season. The current report can be found online at https://tinyurl.com/terygsr.


HIGHER EDUCATION


For the first time in over 30 years, Wright State University (WSU) has announced its plans to create a new college focusing on health. The new college, which is planned to launch in 2021, will include all of the programs that currently reside in:


  • Nursing

  • Professional Psychology

  • Teacher Education

  • Leadership Studies in Education and Organizations

  • Social Work

  • Human Services

  • Kinesiology and Health.


The University of Toledo (UT) recently announced it has been awarded $2.3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a vaccine against a bacterial infection that, once established, is nearly impossible to eradicate. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common bacterium that is generally harmless to healthy individuals. However, in people with compromised immune systems or specific conditions such as cystic fibrosis, it can be deadly.


The University of Dayton (UD), University of Cincinnati (UC), Wright State University (WSU), Xavier University (XU) and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College have joined in a partnership meant to increase the resources and opportunities available to the region's early-stage startups. Startups formed to "commercialize intellectual property" or turn ideas into businesses that are developed at the universities are now eligible for placement in UC's Venture Lab pre-accelerator program at its 1819 Innovation Hub.


Mary Taylor -- a former Ohio lieutenant governor, state auditor and state representative -- recently joined the administration at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) as vice president for operations and finance, according to a NEOMED spokesman.


The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) and Ohio University (OU) recently announced a partnership designed to encourage more public-sector professionals to pursue a graduate degree, while also providing students with practical experience in local government. Through the partnership, MORPC will promote OU's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs' Executive Master of Public Administration (MPA) and online MPA programs to MORPC's local government members. Employees who work at MORPC and for its member governments are eligible to receive a $1,000 incentive scholarship for their first academic term in either program.


JUDICIAL


Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor named the Ohio Supreme Court's interim chief legal counsel, John VanNorman, to the permanent post Friday. VanNorman took over the interim role last October for former Chief Legal Counsel Craig Mayton, who resigned at the age of 65.


Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor this week issued guidelines for the creation of a new Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on wrongful convictions that would "analyze current practices and recommend improvements to further our standards of justice." To be known as the Task Force on Conviction Integrity and Postconviction Review, the panel will be comprised of a diverse group of members, each of whom "shall have experience or an interest in the integrity of convictions and post-conviction reviews."


Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) announced that U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King had issued a strong recommendation for approval of a final settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit over special education services. Doe v. Ohio, filed in federal court in 1993 as part of another education-related lawsuit, addresses the level of resources Ohio schools -- and specifically 11 districts -- provide to give students special education and related services in the least restrictive environment. Those districts are Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, East Cleveland, Lima, Zanesville and Toledo.


In its first opinion of the year Tuesday, the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct charged attorneys licensed in the state not to sign non-compete agreements that conflict with a lawyer's "professional autonomy" and a client's choice of counsel. The board acknowledged at the same time that the Ohio Supreme Court has otherwise declared "reasonable" covenants limiting employment prospects in other professions to be legal and enforceable. A second opinion, issued at the same time, addresses lawyers' roles in real estate transactions.


A parent accused of injuring a child during corporal punishment must demonstrate "reasonable parental discipline" to escape domestic violence charges, rather than the state having to prove such actions were unreasonable, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Thursday.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT


The Ohio Township Association (OTA) recently elected Tim Lynch, a trustee in Liberty Township in Seneca County, as the association's president. Other officers include First Vice President Ed Huff, Jr., Brown Township/Darke County; Second Vice President Scott Fabian, Steubenville Township/Jefferson County; and Secretary-Treasurer Ron Miller, Holmes Township/Crawford County.


NATURAL RESOURCES


For the first time in eight years, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife is attempting to locate every bald eagle nest in the Buckeye State. ODNR said it's asking citizen scientists to help by reporting their sightings of the national bird. Citizen scientists can submit sightings at: www.wildohio.gov/reportwildlife from now through Tuesday, March 31.


The ODNR Division of Forestry has awarded $410,634 to rural fire departments through the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) grant program, the department announced Tuesday. This round of funding will support 67 projects.


NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS


Cleveland-based think tank Policy Matters Ohio (PMO) announced Tuesday the selection of Hannah Halbert, the group's policy liaison and project director for the last 10 years, as its new director. She succeeds founding executive director Amy Hanauer who left in January to head up the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Citizens for Tax Justice.


PEOPLE


Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Asim Haque will assume the position of vice president of state and member services at PJM Interconnection, where he has served as executive director of strategic policy and external affairs since leaving PUCO in March 2019.


Andy Swaim recently joined the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council (OCTC) as director of government and external affairs. Prior to joining the OCTC, Swaim worked five years in the Ohio House of Representatives as both a legislative and campaign staffer.


While not an Ohioan by birth, retired U.S. Air Force (USAF) Col. Guion Bluford - the first African-American in space - is part of the state's "legacy of aviation and aerospace achievement and innovation" alongside the Wright Brothers, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday while presenting Bluford, a Westlake resident, with the Ohio Distinguished Service Medal.


PUBLIC SAFETY


The Ohio Department of Public Safety's Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) announced another round of recertifications Tuesday under law enforcement standards promulgated by the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board. They include the Stark County Sheriff's Office, University of Rio Grande (Gallia County), Hocking College (Hocking County), Green Township (Hamilton County), London (Madison County), Montpelier (Williams County) and Springboro (Warren County) police.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The House State and Local Government Committee heard nearly six hours of testimony Tuesday from opponents to HB399 (Powell), which would reduce the licensure hour requirements for cosmetologists and barbers and make other revisions to current laws on the industry.


Secretary of State Frank LaRose Thursday announced 12,069 new businesses filed here in Ohio in January, an increase of 2,998 from December.


TREASURER OF STATE


Treasurer Robert Sprague recently announced Compass Award honorees for the month of February. These monthly awards recognize organizations, programs, and individuals across Ohio who are working to advance financial literacy and empowerment. February honorees include Amanda Woods, Healthy Finances program specialist for OSU Extension and coordinator for Ohio Saves; Arlington High School (Hancock County); and MaryBeth Hutcheson, school counselor at Arlington High School.


UTILITIES


In a rare Friday meeting, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) voted 3-0 to grant the Ohio Consumers' Counsel's (OCC) request that it reconsider the commission's December order allowing Dayton Light & Power (DP&L) to resurrect a 10-year-old rate schedule and scrap a class of "distribution" charges struck down last year by the Supreme Court of Ohio.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) announced the selection of Dr. Bradley Lewis, a former Franklin County coroner, as agency chief medical officer overseeing all medical components of the bureau and directing medical policy.


WORKFORCE


The third round of applications for the new TechCred program, which offers state reimbursement for businesses that upskill current employees, will open on Monday, March 2 and run through the end of the month, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Wednesday. The first round closed on Oct. 31 and led to 234 employers approved to provide 1,576 credentials. The second round closed on Jan. 31 and those applications are still being reviewed, with awards expected later in February.


[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.]




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