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Week In Review: February 10, 2020

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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More than $2 million in grant funding has been awarded to local law enforcement entities to help combat drug trafficking and enhance their role in substance abuse awareness, prevention and recovery, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday.


Attorney General Dave Yost Friday rejected the summary petition for a proposed voting rights amendment backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio, finding two faults with the language.

The legal and political battle over energy subsidy bill HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) came to an official end Friday as the Ohio Supreme Court granted Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts (OACB) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose's joint request to dismiss five certified questions from the U.S. District Court on referendum efforts during the 90-day period between a bill's signing and effective date.


Tax revenues beat expectations by nearly $45 million in January and are 1 percent ahead of estimates for the fiscal year so far, according to the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). Preliminary revenue figures show a 3.1 percent overperformance in sales taxes, outweighing a 1.6 percent lag in personal income tax collections.


Gov. Mike DeWine Wednesday released the Children's Services Transformation Advisory Council's Initial Findings Report, summarizing the state's efforts regarding foster care reform since DeWine took office, along with common themes the council heard during their recent forums held throughout the state.


The Equality Federation -- a national organization that advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people -- has specifically named Ohio as one of two states it will focus on in 2020 as the General Assembly continues to consider anti-discrimination legislation in both chambers.

The General Assembly should move to ensure that children who are "different" are legally protected against harassment and bullying from adults at school, 11-year-old transgender girl Sean Miller told the House Civil Justice Committee on Tuesday. Miller was joined by LGBTQ rights advocates, business leaders, attorneys, realtors and others in providing in-person proponent testimony on the Ohio Fairness Act, HB369 (Hillyer-Skindell). Committee Chairman Steve Hambley (R-Medina) said he plans to hold another hearing for proponents who wish to speak in person, but noted the committee will give due consideration to the hundreds of pieces of written proponent testimony it has also received.


Invoking the memory of a man who died in a Cuyahoga County jail while suffering complications from Xanax withdrawal, Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) announced plans Tuesday for legislation to ensure jail staff properly care for people in such situations and avoid his fate. "Sean's Law" is named after Sean Levert, a musical artist who died in 2008. Levert's family members joined Antonio at a press conference.


Gov. Mike DeWine issued his 12th Death Row reprieve in one year and his third for Warren Henness Friday, citing continued difficulties in obtaining execution drugs. The governor ordered longtime Death Row inmate Gregory Lott's execution date to be rescheduled from March 12, 2020 to May 27, 2021; fellow inmate John Stumpf's date from April 16, 2020 to Sept. 15, 2021; and Henness' date from May 14, 2020 to Jan. 12, 2022. "Gov. DeWine is issuing these reprieves due to ongoing problems involving the willingness of pharmaceutical suppliers to provide drugs to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), pursuant to DRC protocol, without endangering other Ohioans," his office said in what has become a fixture of his administration.


With the press of a light up "Like" button, Gov. Mike DeWine joined local and Facebook officials to celebrate the opening of Facebook's new data center in New Albany, which economic development officials touted as a $1 billion investment in Ohio. The project was announced by former Gov. John Kasich and others in 2017, with it being billed as the second largest capital investment in Ohio since JobsOhio was formed under the Kasich administration. With the opening of the new data center, Facebook officials announced they weren't done and plan to add a 970,000 square-foot expansion of the data center, making it a 2.5 million square-foot campus.


The House sent a new school voucher plan to the Senate Wednesday that would convert the EdChoice system to one based only on family income going forward, with some opportunity for siblings of current students to keep getting performance-based vouchers. Changes to SB89 (Huffman), a career-tech omnibus that became an education catch-all throughout the day, also included a House floor amendment to repeal academic distress commissions. The Senate had planned on holding a concurrence vote on Wednesday night, but the House sent its clerk home without delivering the message to the upper chamber, Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said during a late floor speech. The Senate's attempt to address the EdChoice controversy is already pending in the Conference Committee on HB9 (Jones- Sweeney). The two chambers had tried to negotiate an EdChoice compromise last week but couldn't reach one, instead attaching a 60-day delay in the application process to another bill, SB120 (Rulli-McColley), which addresses performance audits of colleges and universities. The delay prompted a lawsuit from Citizens for Community Values and numerous families, who argue the General Assembly didn't take the proper steps to put the delay into effect immediately, and that students have a vested right to the vouchers based on an eligibility list published in November.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is looking for nonprofit agencies across the state to participate in the 2020 Summer Food Service Program as meal site hosts or sponsors, according to a news release.

Parents responding to a new poll on state report cards expressed support for the type of letter grade system used now versus alternatives like star ratings or descriptors. In the poll commissioned by Ohio Excels, a business coalition focused on education and workforce issues, letter grades won plurality support in comparison to other methods, and large majorities of respondents expressed that A-F grades are understandable and appropriate as a way to convey school performance.

The Stark County Board of Elections must review a petition seeking to transfer part of the village of Hills and Dales to a different school district to determine if it can make the March 17 ballot, even though the filing deadline has passed, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled this week. The ruling is the justices' third in the saga of several village residents' quest to have their homes transferred from Plain Local Schools to Jackson Local Schools under a new territory transfer law enacted in the biennial budget, HB166 (Oelslager).


Campaign strategist Wes Farno has been tapped to lead the Ohio Strong Action PAC as executive director. The PAC is chaired by Cleveland-based politician and attorney Mike Gibbons, who sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2018 but ultimately lost the nomination to former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci.

A day after a technical issue kept the results of the Democratic Iowa presidential caucuses from being released, bringing new scrutiny to the process, two political party leaders in Ohio said the time for caucuses to be used to pick the president has passed. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper and Ohio Republican Party Vice Chairman Bryan Williams spoke at the Ohio Associated Press' annual legislative preview session Tuesday and were asked about Iowa and its relevance in Ohio.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose Wednesday said that 80 of 88 counties had met the 34-point checklist aimed at improving election security that he ordered last year, and only one - Van Wert County - had not taken significant steps to come into compliance. That county, he announced, will now be under administrative oversight of his office.

A bill introduced by Reps. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) and Kent Smith (D-Euclid) requiring the release of presidential candidates' tax returns was amended in its first hearing in the House Federalism Committee Wednesday by Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Cincinnati) to also require the release of presidential candidates' birth certificates.


The filing deadline for campaign finance reports on activity in the last half of 2019 showed heft advantages for Republicans in the General Assembly. The Republican campaign committees each reported raising around $1.8 million, far surpassing their Democratic counterparts, but Democrats stressed that they would ensure competitive races and noted they'd raised more than in past years as well.

In Ohio Supreme Court races, incumbent Justice Judith French heavily outraised her opponent, 10th District Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Brunner. French's campaign received $437,747.82, spent $75,568.39 and has $371,318.69 on hand, while Brunner received $59,851.63, spent $6,972.32 and had $52,963.76 on hand. Incumbent Justice Sharon Kennedy similarly outraised her challenger, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O'Donnell. Kennedy took in $662,838.86, spent $102,222.39 and has $601,649.11 on hand, while O'Donnell raised $15,395, spent $4,278.09 and has $19,564.80 on hand.

Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted reported nearly $1.4 million raised, spending $37,165.83. They have nearly $1.8 million on hand, and also received $735,483.86 in in-kind contributions. The campaign still owes $4 million that DeWine personally lent the campaign during the 2018 election cycle.

Rep. J. Todd Smith (R-Germantown) announced Friday that he would not be seeking reelection for his 43rd House District seat due to family commitments but will continue to serve out his current term. Smith was appointed as a representative in July 2018 and won in the subsequent general election after a recount.

Former Ohio Secretary of State and sitting 10th District Judge Jennifer Brunner is launching a grassroots arts campaign as part of her Ohio Supreme Court bid that calls Ohioans to the goal of "respecting one another amidst our great diversity."

Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) will not have a Democratic opponent on the November ballot after the Athens County Board of Elections voted to disqualify Katie O'Neill because she didn't meet residency requirements. The Plain Dealer reported that the board voted unanimously on Friday to disqualify O'Neill for not meeting residency requirements. The board had previously split on the vote, but it re-voted after receiving new information.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose will serve as vice chairman of the Republican Secretaries of State Committee (RSSC) for the 2020 cycle, the group announced Thursday. RSSC is a caucus of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC).

Democratic members of the Franklin County Ohio House delegation sent a letter to Secretary of State Frank LaRose Thursday asking him to break a tie vote by the county board of elections over whether to continue a public information campaign on voting to Franklin County residents.

The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • Rep. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) announced the endorsements of the Buckeye Firearms Association, National Federation of Independent Business in Ohio (NFIB OH PAC), and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) in the primary election for the 26th Senate District.

  • Rep. George Lang (R-West Chester) announced the endorsements of the Buckeye Firearms Association and of the National Federation of Independent Business in Ohio (NFIB OH PAC) in the primary election for the 4th Senate District.


A bill providing statewide drinking water standards has been introduced in the House, Reps. Allison Russo (D-Columbus) and Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) announced Thursday. The legislation would require the director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) to adopt rules establishing maximum allowable contaminant levels in drinking and surface water for certain contaminants, including toxic fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS or "forever chemicals." Specifically, the Ohio EPA would be required to establish a maximum contaminant level for PFAS compounds chromium-6 (the chemical made famous by Erin Brockovich) and 1,4-dioxane.


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) criticized U.S. Senate Republicans' handling of the impeachment case against President Donald Trump and reiterated his intention to vote to convict during a call-in with reporters Wednesday. Additionally, Brown was joined on the call by Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) to discuss increasing housing challenges in the state.


Aside from action on the EdChoice program, Wednesday's House session included passage of HB412 (Clites-Ginter), which creates the Rare Disease Advisory Council, and SCR4, designating Feb. 11 as "James Buster Douglas 42:1 Odds Day."

Wednesday's Senate session included passage of SB314 (Gavarone), which would increase penalties for improperly passing school buses, and SB163 (Kunze), which would create the "ALS Awareness" license plate.

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) is offering living history performances each Tuesday at noon throughout February -- Black History Month -- in the Atrium of the Ohio Statehouse.

Three of Ohio's four legislative leaders said Tuesday that school districts must have predictable state funding from one biennium to the next to provide the personnel, programs and facilities kids need to compete with peers in other states. The House speaker and minority leaders from both chambers took up the funding formula during panel discussions hosted by the Associated Press (AP) on a range of policy questions including gun reforms, capital punishment, statutes of limitations and school choice.

In the first full week of Black History Month, members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) put a spotlight on their sponsored priority bills, which Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) said were designed "to help build up the black family" by reforming policies in the areas of criminal justice, education, health care, economics and voting rights. Those bills include HB434 and HB435, aimed at maternal and infant mortality; HB91, regarding family leave insurance; SB232, regarding insulin price controls; SB121, regarding health education standards; SB186, regarding automatic voter registration; and SB149, barring employers from asking applicants about their income histories.

The Sunset Review Committee heard from nine agencies at its Tuesday meeting. Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson), who recently took over as chair, told Hannah News the committee will be ramping up the number of agencies testifying during each meeting in an effort to finish reviewing agencies before the summer recess.

In other legislative action, House Health Committee reported out HB151 (Carfagna), to create the Chiropractic Loan Repayment Program; Senate Education Committee reported out SB34 (Kunze), regarding school employee licensure; House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out HB263 (Koehler), regarding occupational licensing and criminal convictions, and HB199 (Patton), requiring licensure of roofing contractors; Senate General Government and Agency Review Committee reported out SCR8 (Roegner-Peterson), urging Congress to permanently extend daylight saving time; Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee reported out SB236 (S. Huffman), regarding the Ohio Department of Health's Radiation Control Program; and Senate Judiciary Committee reported out HB236 (Smith-Plummer), regarding hospital police.


Appointments made during the week include the following:

  • Jennifer A. Cunningham of Worthington (Franklin County), Matthew T. Curoe of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) and Charles H. Gerhardt III of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) reappointed to the STABLE Account Program Advisory Board for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2023.

  • George R. Klein of Akron (Summit County) and Michael A. Rex of Athens (Athens County) reappointed to the Wildlife Council for terms beginning Feb. 1, 2020 and ending Jan. 31, 2024.

  • McKinley E. Brown of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) designated to serve as chairman of the Ohio Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission effective Feb. 6, 2020.

  • Matthew J. Carle of Blacklick (Franklin County) reappointed to the Board of Nursing for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2023.

  • Paul R. Beegan of Lakewood (Cuyahoga County) reappointed to the Board of Building Appeals for a term beginning Oct. 14, 2019 and ending Oct. 13, 2023.

  • James R. Smail of Wooster (Wayne County) reappointed to the Banking Commission for a term beginning Feb. 1, 2020 and ending Jan. 31, 2024.


The Ohio Lake Erie Commission on Wednesday released a draft of the 2020 Lake Erie Protection and Restoration Plan (LEPR), detailing actions Ohio agencies plan to take over the next several years. The LEPR, last published in 2016, is separate from the Ohio Domestic Action Plan (ODAP) that was released by the DeWine administration last week. The ODAP focuses on phosphorous reduction, while the LEPR addresses that issue along with many others.


The Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities (OACBHA), which represents Ohio's alcohol, drug addiction and mental health boards, held its annual awards luncheon Friday, presenting its 2019 annual awards to individuals from throughout Ohio who have been working to ensure that community mental health and addiction services and supports are available for all Ohioans. Awardees included House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and RecoveryOhio Director Alisha Nelson.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH), the Butler County General Health District and Miami University announced Sunday that test results from two students at Miami University for the 2019 novel coronavirus are negative.

The Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee voted 7-5 Wednesday to report out SB148 (Schuring), regarding limitations imposed by health insurers on dental care services.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) announced Wednesday that it is monitoring a new person for a potential novel coronavirus infection, just days after clearing two Miami University students when their tests came back negative.


The House Civil Justice Committee scheduled then nixed plans to hear legislation that would open Ohio State University (OSU) to civil lawsuits over the sexual abuse claims against former university sports physician Dr. Richard Strauss, after House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) said he was losing patience with the school.

Data is often at the heart of science -- researchers track velocities, measure light coming from stars, analyze heart rates and cholesterol levels and scan the human brain for electrical impulses. But according to researchers, sharing that data with other scientists -- or with peer-reviewed journal editors, or funders -- is often difficult. The software might be proprietary, and prohibitively expensive to purchase. It might take years of training for a person to be able to manage and understand the software, or the company that created the software might have gone out of business. A research team out of Ohio State University (OSU) has developed an open-source data-management system that the scientists hope will solve all of those problems. The researchers outlined their system in the journal PLOS ONE.


Gov. Mike DeWine Monday announced the appointment of Val Lewis II to serve as a judge on the Brown County Court of Common Pleas, Probate and Juvenile Division. Lewis, of Georgetown, will assume office on June 1, 2020 and will serve the remainder of the term. Lewis is replacing Judge Danny R. Bubp, who is resigning effective May 31, 2020.

In its latest pronouncement on unauthorized use of the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Thursday that a former police chief accused by the Mahoning County Bar Association of surfing "female citizens" on OHLEG and committing other professional misconduct should continue his law practice under a stayed six-month suspension.

Effective March 1, parties on the same side of a case may not request different filing extensions, says the Ohio Supreme Court, which has accepted a Rules of Practice change adopted by conference on Jan. 7. "Prior to the adoption of this amendment, each party that was on the same side of a case was permitted to file a stipulation for extension of time, which effectively increased the total extension of time to file a brief to more than 20 days for all parties on that side," the Court said Wednesday.


Smaller governments in Ohio, particularly townships, spend less per capita and are less likely to be placed under fiscal distress, research consultant Wendell Cox of Demographia told reporters Thursday after completing a report prepared for the Ohio Township Association's (OTA) winter conference. The report, Ohio's Townships: Spending, Taxing & Borrowing Less, is an update to a 2012 document Cox wrote for OTA with similar findings and used data collected by the auditor of state's office from 2015.


Gov. Mike DeWine is among eight U.S. governors receiving a failing grade from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The organization's 2020 gubernatorial scorecard assigns grades "A" through "F" to state governors based on voting records and public comments regarding marijuana policy. "Our office respectfully declines comment," DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney said in an email.


The Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) is soliciting a second round of feedback as part of its process to bid out new managed care contracts, asking potential vendors and other stakeholders for input on how to achieve a more individualized care system. Contracts with other vendors in addition to the managed care organizations (MCOs) are contemplated in the solicitation, including an overarching pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) and someone to oversee services of multi-system youth.


Nineteen community boating safety education programs have received a total of $250,000 through the Boating Safety Education Grant program, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced Tuesday.


Beginning Friday, Jan. 31, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) will send driver's license renewal reminder emails to Ohioans who choose to opt-in to the service on the BMV website. The email reminders will include a link to create a personal document checklist to help customers verify they have the right documents to obtain a federally compliant driver's license which will be needed beginning on Oct. 1, 2020, to board commercial flights, or enter U.S. federal buildings and military bases, according to a news release.

The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) announced the launch of new capital project summaries Monday which allow legislators to see a district-specific list of projects in progress or which have been completed. The downloadable summaries include projects and funding for K-12 schools, state agency facilities, grant programs and cultural facilities.


State and local government agencies are being attacked by cyber criminals nearly every single day, Auditor of State Keith Faber said Tuesday. "In my little over a year in office, I've reached the conclusion that Ohio and Ohio government right now is facing at least as much, if not more of a threat of loss from cyber fraud than we are from certain public official or public employee dishonesty," Faber said during an Associated Press forum featuring the auditor, Attorney General Dave Yost, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Treasurer of State Robert Sprague.


The Ohio Diesel Emissions Reduction Grant (DERG) Program has awarded seven grants totaling almost $7 million for replacing 29 aging diesel transit buses with newer, cleaner diesel technology or alternative fuel technology. Nine of the new buses will be electric, 11 will be powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) and nine are powered by cleaner diesel technology.


Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague announced Monday the purchase of $35 million in five-year fixed rate Israel bonds. "Over the past three decades, Israel Bonds have proven to be a strong financial investment for Ohio's taxpayers," said Sprague in a statement. "The highly competitive interest rates of these bonds make them a valuable investment and we're proud to be continuing this practice in 2020."


Ohio's congressional delegation should support the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, Rep. Gil Blair (D-Mineral Ridge), Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) and other House Democrats said Wednesday. The legislation, HR2474, was passed by the U.S. House later in the week. Kelly said the bill would give millions of workers additional protections to organize and negotiate for better pay, better benefits and safer working conditions.


FirstEnergy Corp. posts 2019 profits and losses next week after transferring West Virginia's embattled Pleasants County coal plant to Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) -- due to become Harbor Energy in February with final bankruptcy approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The 40-year-old power station was set to close in 2019 before the FES restructuring plan and $12 million in tax write-offs from the West Virginia Legislature. FES/Harbor Energy is assuming ownership of the a 1,300-megawatt coal generator from FirstEnergy Corp's. wholly owned subsidiary, Allegheny Energy Supply Company.

The Miami Valley and parts of southwest and west central Ohio begin new dialing procedures Saturday, Feb. 8 as the new area code 326- goes live within the 937- region encompassing Dayton and Springfield, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) said Monday. The "overlay" of 326- within the geographic region served by 937- means phone numbers assigned after Feb. 8 may require the new area code. Numbers existing prior to that date will not change, including their 937- code.

Lawrence Friedeman will get his first full term as commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) after Gov. Mike DeWine re-appointed him to the body Thursday.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has just under nine months to decide whether a Texas-based energy company declared "managerially unfit" by state enforcement officials and cited in testimony supporting anti-phone-spoofing bill HCR12 (Hoops-Stoltzfus) should resume operations in Ohio, where commission staff have accused Verde Energy of a "systemic" attack on consumer protections in the Ohio Revised Code and Ohio Administrative Code. On Wednesday, the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) asked PUCO to review a new complaint by the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission's (PPUC) enforcement office that seeks a $9 million fine against Verde for additional "systemic" violations in the commonwealth -- one of a half dozen states to have opened investigations into the Houston firm since 2017.

A new solar and electric vehicle charger co-op can now be joined by home owners and business owners in Franklin and Delaware counties, nonprofit organization Solar United Neighbors (SUN) announced Thursday.


The Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame is accepting nominations to recognize those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces who continue to contribute to communities, state, and nation through exceptional acts of volunteerism, advocacy, professional distinction, public service or philanthropy. The nomination deadline is June 1, 2020, and information on how to nominate a veteran is available at


The Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) announced a major expansion of its Safety Grants program Friday as board directors approved another $30 million for FY20-21 and took their first look at the latest, 13 percent proposed rate cut for private employers in the coming fiscal year.

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

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