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Week in Review - April 10, 2023


Ohio statehouse government affairs week in review January 2023


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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ABORTION Gov. Mike DeWine declined to comment Friday on the prospect of a special August election but said lawmakers should consider the context in which voters would decide on the abortion rights ballot issue that's driving the push for a preceding election to change the constitutional amendment process. "Nothing ever occurs in a vacuum," he said. "Ohio's not California, and I don't think what has been proposed is right or should be acceptable or is what the majority of Ohioans agree with. Having said that, there's also people who, when they vote, are going to compare it with what is on the books right now, and that is really what the choice will be. And so making what's on the books at that point something that the majority of Ohioans can agree on, I think, is important," he said. AGRICULTURE Approximately 15,000 Ohioans in 50 counties will benefit from the state's "Victory Gardens"program in 2023, Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) Director Brian Baldridge and Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Dean Cathann Kress announced Thursday. "The Ohio Victory Gardens program is helping to revitalize the art of growing your own fresh food and helping to reconnect people back to agriculture," Baldridge said. "Just like all crops, with proper care and water, your seeds will turn into something special that you can use yourself or give to other community members." ATTORNEY GENERAL The Ohio Attorney General's Office has opened the nomination process for 2023 Ohio Distinguished Law Enforcement Awards presented annually during the AG's Law Enforcement Conference. This year's conference is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 24-25, at the Hyatt Regency Columbus. Awards winners will be honored at a Wednesday luncheon. Award criteria and nomination instructions can be found at www.tinyurl.com/4w56jsea. The nomination deadline is Friday, May 19. Additional questions can be directed to Elizabeth.Fulton@OhioAGO.gov or 740-845-3411. BALLOT ISSUES As backers of a reproductive and abortion rights constitutional amendment push for the November ballot and Republican lawmakers consider options for an amendment requiring a higher threshold for passage of future amendments, there are a number of other potential constitutional amendments that may come before voters this year or next, including a new version of a minimum wage increase. Attorney General Dave Yost this week certified the petition summary for the “Raise the Wage” issue, which would increase Ohio’s minimum wage in increments to $15 per hour by 2026 and tie further increases to inflation. Other potential ballot issues address the right to refuse medical treatment, ending qualified immunity for government employees, and establishing a nursing facility patient bill of rights. There is a serious logical flaw in the proposed ballot initiative to require a 60 percent vote to amend the Ohio Constitution, according to former Gov. Dick Celeste. "The irony here is they want to put an issue on the ballot to increase the number of votes necessary to pass to 60 percent, and they want to pass it with 50 percent. So here's my suggestion -- if you believe that 60 percent is a good idea, require in the language of the amendment that, 'This amendment shall be passed by 60 percent.' And then we get a fair test of it, right?" Celeste said during a Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) forum on Wednesday. That issue was among several topics the former Democratic governor discussed with Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau reporter Jo Ingles during the event. Attorney General Dave Yost said Wednesday he's certified the petition for a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage as a fair and truthful summary of the potential ballot issue. The "Raise the Wage Ohio Amendment" would amend Article II, Section 34a of the Ohio Constitution to increase the minimum wage to $12.75 per hour in 2025 and $15 per hour in 2026, with further increases tied to inflation beginning in 2027. FY24-25 BUDGET Gov. Mike DeWine expressed concern Friday about a transportation budget amendment that bypassed typical review processes to greenlight a new highway interchange, but added that he declined to veto it to keep the pressure on for solutions to the underlying traffic problems. DeWine's signing of HB23 (Edwards) marked his third consecutive transportation budget with no line-item vetoes. He and legislators who helped to shape the proposal cheered the $13.5 billion package for its historic breadth of transportation spending and focus on safety, including through new railroad regulations enacted in the wake of the East Palestine derailment. While the debate over items such as force account limits, rail safety, and the Brent Spence Bridge corridor project made up many of the headlines out of HB23 (Edwards), the transportation budget, the 125-page bill signed by the governor last week has wide-ranging effects on a number of other transportation-related policies. The bill touches on areas such as the use of traffic enforcement devices by counties and townships, the makeup of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, Ohio State Highway Patrol salaries, design-build contracts bid out by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and requiring a number of studies. CORONAVIRUS/MONKEYPOX The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reported the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases in almost a year Thursday, with 5,214 in the past seven days. That was the lowest figure since 4,808 cases on April 14, 2022, and was down from 6,354 on March 30, 2023. Only five weekly totals since Jan. 1, 2022 were under 5,000 new cases, and they were all in March and April 2022. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Rep. Andrea White (R-Kettering) joined with representatives of Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center (OCVJC) and Crime Victim Services (CVS) Thursday to mark the effective date of implementing legislation 134-HB343 (White) with the goal of ensuring the constitutional amendment Marsy's Law protects the rights of all Ohio victims, regardless of jurisdiction. Speakers said the state had come a long way since the "paper promises" of constitutional changes in the 1990s and challenged the Legislature to bring the right to counsel within reach of all crime victims, regardless of resources, during the current budget cycle. DEATH PENALTY The General Assembly should either "make capital punishment an effective tool for justice or eliminate it altogether," according to the Ohio Attorney General's Office's "2022 Capital Crimes Report,” released recently. "I personally support the death penalty, especially for the most abhorrent offenders, but I am only one voice. Let's open up the conversation and allow victims' families to be heard," Yost said in a news release. The report, an annual statutory requirement of the Ohio Attorney General's Office, provides the procedural history and other information on every case that has resulted in a death sentence since Ohio's death penalty law was enacted in 1981. From 1981 through Dec. 31, 2022, the report says, 336 people have received a combined 341 death sentences. Of those, 56 sentences have been carried out. EAST PALESTINE DERAILMENT The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Friday announced that they have sued Norfolk Southern, claiming the rail company unlawfully discharged pollutants, oil and hazardous substances under the Clean Water Act in the wake of the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine. The complaint seeks penalties and injunctive relief for the alleged Clean Water Act violations and a declaratory judgment on liability for past and future costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). ECONOMY With Ohio's Latino community numbering more than 500,000 and representing 4.2 percent of the total population, the Columbus Metropolitan Club's forum March 29 focused on their "growing impact" and included comments by Columbus City Councilmember Lourdes Barroso de Padilla and Roland Medrano, CEO of La Mega Media and board chair of the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus. The discussion was hosted by WSYX ABC6 News and FOX 28 Co-Anchor Jackie Orozco. Opening the event, NBC4 Co-Anchor Matt Barnes noted the population "more than doubled just since 2000 and has more than tripled since 1980." EDUCATION Seven Ohio teachers are finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. One teacher in each content category per state will be selected by a national committee to receive a $10,000 award, along with a paid trip to Washington, D.C. and a proclamation from the president. In math, Ohio finalists are Joshua Amstutz from Winton Woods High School in Winton Woods City Schools, Shanti Coaston from Westlake High School in Westlake City Schools, Anna Taylor from Highland Middle School in Highland Local Schools and Tara Zechman from Perrysburg High School in Perrysburg Exempted Village School District. In science, Ohio finalists are Annette Drake from Brookville Intermediate School in Brookville Local Schools, Zachary Smith from Tri-State STEM+M Early College High School and Karen Suder from the Summit County Day School. The Ohio School Safety Center at the Ohio Department of Public Safety is seeking nominations through May for the first Ohio School Safety Stand Out Awards, which will recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to school safety and security through their commitment, efforts and leadership. Awards will go to two students and two school staff members. The contest and nominations are open to K-12 and higher education students and school staff. Members of the 2022-2023 Ohio Student Safety Advisory Council will select winners and recognize them at the 2023 Ohio School Safety Summit in June. The nomination form is at https://tinyurl.com/3e6je8zw. Questions can be sent to OhioSchoolSafetyCenter@dps.ohio.gov. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) is taking applications through Sunday, April 30 for the Encouraging Environmental Excellence in Education (E4) Program, which recognizes public and private K-12 schools for achievements in environmental stewardship and efforts to educate students on environmental topics. The recognition program started in 2019 under former Ohio EPA Director Laurie Stevenson. More information and application forms are available at https://tinyurl.com/4aau9b7n. Gov. Mike DeWine toured a South Side Columbus elementary school Thursday as part of a recent string of visits to highlight the literacy instruction provisions of his FY24-25 budget proposal, saying the experience of seeing the "science of reading" in action the past few weeks has only strengthened his resolve on the issue. DeWine observed second and third grade classrooms for a few minutes apiece at Southwood Elementary School, hearing students identify open vs. closed syllables and figure out the corresponding vowel sounds. Later in the school library, Interim Columbus City Schools Superintendent Angela Chapman said this type of instruction stems from work the district started discussing in the 2019-2020 school year after seeing data that showed students were missing foundational reading skills. A report on residents' financial literacy ranked Ohio 10th nationally and first among neighboring states, with a fifth-place ranking overall for "financial knowledge and education." The report was released Wednesday by personal finance site WalletHub, which used 17 key metrics in its analysis. The top 10 states were Nebraska, Utah, Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Washington, Maine, North Carolina and Ohio. Overall rankings among neighboring states included Pennsylvania, 21st; Michigan, 25th; Indiana, 26th; West Virginia, 43rd; and Kentucky, 46th. ELECTIONS 2023 Early voting began Tuesday for the May 2 election in Ohio for the 67 counties with local candidates and issues on the ballot. More information about the election can be found at www.voteohio.gov. As early voting began on Tuesday, the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) announced the launch of www.judicialvotescount.org/ for the May primary election. "Judicial Votes Count is a comprehensive voter information website about Ohio's judicial elections where Ohio voters can access quality, unbiased information about the candidates for judge who will be on their ballots," OSBA said in a news release. ELECTIONS 2024 Former Rep. Craig Riedel (R-Defiance) announced Monday that he will seek the Republican nomination for the 9th Congressional District in 2024. Riedel ran for the seat last year, but lost to J.R. Majewski. Majewski, in turn, lost to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) in the General Election. The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) said Monday that it has hired Reeves Oyster as senior communications advisor. Oyster will support the Ohio Democratic Party's communications team with a specific focus on reelecting U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT The state of Ohio is near the back of the pack for weekly unemployment claims, according to financial advisory website WalletHub. Ohio ranked 48 for new jobless claims, with "1" meaning jobless claims decreased the most and "51" meaning they decreased the least. Kentucky's (1) jobless claims decreased the most during the past week, while Indiana's (51) decreased the least. West Virginia came in second among Ohio's neighbors at 19, followed by Michigan (21) and Pennsylvania (24). ENVIRONMENT Ohio will receive $242.9 million to upgrade aging water infrastructure as part of the recent federal infrastructure law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced Tuesday. The funding from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund will be made available through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), according to a news release from Brown's office. Also on Tuesday, the Ohio Water Development Authority (OWDA) awarded $13.7 million through low interest loans to Ohio communities to improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. For the month of March, OWDA funded five projects that will provide improvements and replace aging infrastructure, the agency said in a news release. GAMING/GAMBLING Ohioans placed $638.8 million in bets during the second month of legal sports gambling, according to the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC). Sportsbooks paid out $552.6 million in winnings in February, and $3.4 million in wagers were voided. Approximately $59.1 million in promotional credits were issued in February. February's taxable revenue for sportsbooks was $82.9 million. In January, Ohioans placed $1.1 billion in bets, with $883.7 million in winnings being paid out. There were $20.7 million in voided wagers in January. Sportsbooks issued nearly $320 million in promotion credits during the first month of legal sports betting. Ohio's four casinos and seven racinos all took in more revenue in February 2023 than they did in February 2022, according to the Ohio Casino Control Commission and Ohio Lottery Commission. The state's casinos made $82.6 million in February 2023, up from $75.3 million in February 2022. Ohio's racinos made $114.4 million in February 2023, up from $103.6 million in February 2022. GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has removed Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) as chair of the committee hearing a proposed constitutional amendment that would require future constitutional amendments to get at least 60 percent of the vote for passage, citing Wiggam's signing of a discharge petition for legislation in Wiggam's own committee. However, Wiggam told Hannah News that a discharge petition is the only sure way to get HJR1 (Stewart) on an August special election ballot. Otherwise, the speaker could run out the clock should Wiggam have the resolution reported out of the Constitutional Resolutions Committee and send it on to the House Rules and Reference Committee. In a letter to Wiggam Thursday, Stephens said HJR1 "is a priority for our caucus," but criticized Wiggam for not holding a hearing on the legislation until March 22, five weeks after it was referred. In a separate letter, Stephens appointed Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) as chair of the committee. Wiggam later responded in a letter of his own. In a new lawmaker profile interview with Hannah News, Rep. Michele Grim (D-Toledo) discussed how eliminating medical debt is a top priority for her, as evidenced by her sponsorship on Toledo City Council of legislation to provide funding to purchase and then cancel medical debt through a nonprofit. As the oldest child of nine children, new Rep. Munira Abdullahi (D-Columbus) says she knows a thing or two about conflict resolution. While she called her introduction to the Statehouse "like drinking out of a firehose," Abdullahi said in an interview with Hannah News that growing up in a large family and as a first-generation immigrant has prepared her well for the Legislature. A House spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Rep. Dave Dobos (R-Columbus) has resigned as vice chair of the House Higher Education Committee and taken himself off of the panel a day after multiple media outlets reported that he had not graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as he had claimed in campaign and office materials. GOVERNOR Gov. Mike DeWine Friday announced the appointment of Jason Given to the Coshocton County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile and Probate Division. Given, of Coshocton, will assume office Monday, May 1 and will be taking the seat held by Judge Van Blanchard, who is retiring. Given must run for election in November 2024 to retain the seat. Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday appointed Jeffrey W. Ruple to the Lake County Court of Common Pleas-General Division. Ruple, of Kirtland, will assume office on Monday, April 24, 2023, and will be taking the seat formerly held by Judge Eugene Lucci, who was elected to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals. Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday signed HB52 (Fowler-John), which reverses recent changes to emergency medical services training and continuing education programs. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES The Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program (OSHIIP), the state's Medicare educational and counseling program, is holding free in-person and virtual "Welcome to Medicare" events across Ohio from April through June for Ohioans new to Medicare. Find in-person and virtual events at https://tinyurl.com/y9hpm363. OSHIIP representatives are also available at 800-686-1578 and oshiipmail@insurance.ohio.gov to answer Medicare questions. A recent report from the conservative think tank the Buckeye Institute looked at the impact of obesity on the state economy, finding Ohio could add 32,000 people to the workforce and generate nearly $20 million in additional tax revenue if obesity were "eliminated." A recent study of Ohio's behavioral health care landscape found Black individuals and other Ohioans of color face an additional barrier to accessing care for mental health or substance use disorders because there are not enough providers of color to serve these communities. "People must feel they are seen in order to feel welcome," said Tracy Maxwell Heard, executive director of Multiethnic Advocates for Cultural Competence, Inc (MACC). "If they don't feel welcomed, then they won't approach for services. If they don't approach for services, then they don't receive treatment. If they don't receive treatment, then they don't recover. Representation also encourages trust - especially in Black communities that have trust issues based in historical abuse from the health sector." HIGHER EDUCATION The Kent State University Board of Trustees recently approved the establishment of six new majors. Five of the new majors fall under the College of Aeronautics and Engineering, and one falls under the College of Arts and Sciences. With the board's approval, five concentrations of the aeronautics major in the College of Aeronautics and Engineering will be elevated to separate majors, effective fall 2023, pending approval of the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Higher Learning Commission. These new Bachelor of Science degree programs are aeronautical studies, air traffic and airspace management, aviation management, professional pilot and the unmanned aircraft systems flight operations. The board also approved the establishment of the biochemistry major within the Bachelor of Science degree, effective fall 2023, pending approval of the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Higher Learning Commission. Grange Insurance has made a $1 million gift to the Columbus State Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Columbus State Community College (CSCC). The donation is the largest unrestricted gift the foundation has received. "At Grange Insurance, we believe education lays the foundation for a strong community. Central Ohio is stronger when we come together to support the resources that address disparities in education and careers for students," said Grange Insurance President and CEO and Columbus State Board Trustee John Ammendola. JUDICIAL This week's is a different Ohio Supreme Court than the one that agreed to hear the high-profile case on birth certificate gender changes now allowed by the DeWine administration and aided by the Court's two-year-old probate form. Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy and Justices Patrick Fischer and R. Patrick DeWine voted against Hailey Emmeline Adelaide's appeal last fall, when the former chief joined Democrats in accepting the case, but heard oral argument Tuesday on the following question: "Can transgender people change [the] sex listed on birth certificates?" Questions posed by justices this week did not address that query, however, but instead whether there was any justiciable dispute at all for the Court to hear without a party contesting Adelaide's request to change not only the birth certificate name of Brian Edward Deboard but also his/her assigned gender. Justice Joe Deters, who now fills the former chief's vacated seat, remained silent and could tip the Court's decision one way or another. LOCAL GOVERNMENT Former Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds once accused Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost of a "desperate political ploy" to punish him for opposing the DeWine administration's actions on property valuations. Last Friday, a judge sentenced Reynolds to five years of community control, a $5,000 fine, and a 30-day jail sentence pending appeal after his conviction on one felony count of unlawful interest in a public contract. "While I am disappointed in this sentence," Yost said in a statement, "I am gratified that the court recognized this abuse of public trust warrants at least some jail time. Every public servant should remember Dave's rule of ethics: The only benefit you get from your public service is a paycheck and a sense of a job well done." MARIJUANA/HEMP There are more than 346,000 patients registered in the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP). Specifically, there are 346,582 patients registered in the program, OBP said in its February 2023 patient and caregiver numbers update. MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM For the first time in more than three years, Ohio will be removing beneficiaries from the Medicaid program under normal eligibility rules. April marked the official end of pandemic-era coverage policies. More than a quarter of a million Ohioans are up for renewal this month, although more than half of those have already been deemed still eligible. According to the Ohio Department of Medicaid, about 274,000 people are due for renewal in April, but more than 143,000 have already been determined to be still eligible via an "ex parte" or passive renewal process. That can happen when their eligibility information has already been recently updated for other reasons, such as for participation in another assistance program like SNAP. ODM will mail "Notices of Action" to those no longer eligible on Thursday, April 13, and their last day of coverage will be Sunday, April 30. NATURAL RESOURCES Bridle trails in Ohio's state forests and all-purpose vehicle (APV) areas at Pike, Richland Furnace, and Perry state forests that were closed for the winter season, reopened in April. Bridle trails reopened for riding on Saturday, April 1, and state forest APV areas reopened on Friday, April 7. A volunteer-driven sandhill crane survey to locate breeding birds in Ohio is seeking observers to help with the count on Saturday, April 15. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife is coordinating this project as part of the Midwest Crane Count with the International Crane Foundation and Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative. Find more information at https://obcinet.org/get-involved/ohio-crane-count. The Controlling Board Monday approved the purchase of land for Ohio's 76th state park, though one member of the panel complained that the state is paying well over the appraised value for the land. The two requests from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) are to spend more than $1.35 million to purchase 14 acres of land in Greene County to establish the Great Council State Park. The land has historical significance and is the former location of the historical Shawnee council house. Construction of Ohio's newest state park is nearing completion. Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director Mary Mertz Tuesday joined construction crews, park staff, and others for installation of a ceremonial final exterior beam on the interpretive center at Great Council State Park during an event known in the building industry as a "topping out." "It is so exciting to see this project come to life, bringing us one step closer to preserving an important piece of Ohio's history," Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement. "We hope this will be a place for people to connect with the past -- both Shawnee and pioneer -- and really learn about the people and the legacy that came before us." The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife recently auctioned off $51,542 of ginseng and yellow root that was forfeited from illegal possession cases. It totaled 59.7 pounds of ginseng and 3.1 pounds of yellow root which came from evidence collected following cleared Ohio court processes. The money raised in the auction was added to the state's Wildlife Diversity Fund, which supports projects for species of greatest conservation need such as sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, and lake sturgeon. Ohio's wild turkey hunting seasons begin in April, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife recently announced. This spring, hunters will benefit from two years of above average turkey hatches. Each summer, the Division of Wildlife collects information on young wild turkeys, called poults. Brood surveys in 2021 and 2022 show above average results. The average poults per hen observed was 3.0 in 2022 and 3.1 in 2021, with a 10-year average of 2.7. PEOPLE NFIB announced this week that Chris Ferruso has been named its state director for Ohio. Ferruso previously served as NFIB's state member benefits manager and, since 2010, as the organization's state legislative director, advocating on behalf of NFIB's 21,000 Ohio members before the state Legislature. Ferruso, a native of northeast Ohio, also chairs the Ohio Alliance for Civil Justice. Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) announced Suzanne Musleh as the group's new legal advocacy director. According to the organization, Musleh will provide direction for all DRO's advocacy work, including coordinating litigation, serving as lead counsel on legal actions, and supervising attorney team leaders. Musleh will also assist the DRO executive director in establishing and implementing DRO's goals and objectives. POLLS/STUDIES Food costs were identified by 22 percent of Americans as the most pressing financial worry, according to a new national poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University. A separate Quinnipiac poll measured Americans' views on potential 2024 election candidates including President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Other leading concerns included retirement savings, 18 percent; health care costs, 17 percent; mortgage or rent payments, 13 percent; college tuition, 8 percent; energy bills, 7 percent; credit card or loan payments, 5 percent; and loss of a job, 4 percent. PUBLIC SAFETY Using a cell phone or other electronic device while driving -- with some notable exceptions -- will be a primary offense in Ohio starting on Tuesday, April 4. That's the effective date for 134-SB288 (Manning), the distracted driving bill Gov. Mike DeWine signed in early January. "This will clearly save lives. There's absolutely no doubt about it," DeWine said at a press conference to highlight the new law. "It will spare many families the grief and the sorrow that unfortunately many of our families have suffered in the last few years because of distracted driving." STATE GOVERNMENT InnovateOhio and the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) announced recently that $7.04 million in duplicate payments have been identified using a data analytics tool launched in 2019. In total, 662 duplicate payments have been found during the January 2019 to January 2023 period, spanning 40 different agencies, boards and commissions. The Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) announced in its newsletter Tuesday that the DataOhio portal had exceeded 250,000 "dataset views" and is nearing 300,000. The portal was created in 2020 in partnership with DAS' InnovateOhio Platform, and has over 300 datasets from 14 agencies. There were 200 datasets when it first launched. TELECOMMUNICATIONS/BROADBAND BroadbandOhio announced Tuesday it had launched a statewide survey on Internet service and access, complementing a series of in-person listening sessions around the state and webinar sessions. (See The Hannah Report, 3/10/23.) The survey will assess existing broadband usage and identify where gaps in coverage exist, and is open to Ohio residents, government entities, Internet service providers (ISPs), nonprofits, community groups and private businesses. The survey is available at https://tinyurl.com/ytmy3s3f. TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE A large swath of Ohio from Cleveland to Cincinnati will get safety upgrades at more than 100 rail crossings in 15 counties after the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved $1.17 million in improvements Wednesday. Awards include Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway, Cincinnati East Terminal Railway and Akron Barberton Cluster Railway. U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and J.D. Vance (R-OH) and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) sent a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw Wednesday demanding the company "take responsibility and pay immediately for costs to repair the damage" from an Oct. 8, 2022 derailment in Sandusky, according to a release from Brown's office. The derailment "spilled paraffin wax onto the roadway and surrounding area" along with damaging the stormwater sewer and surrounding road and pedestrian infrastructure including "lift station walls, the pavement on Columbus Avenue, electrical systems for lights, traffic control and safety devices, the sidewalk, the pedestrian safety railing and the retaining walls on the East and West sides of the underpass." Further damage was caused by Norfolk Southern contractors afterward, according to the letter citing a memorandum from the Sandusky Department of Public Works. VETERANS The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) recently announced it will issue refunds to disabled veterans who paid for specialty license plates that should have been provided at no charge. A change in the law in 2019 allowed disabled veterans to receive any type of non-personalized military license plate, not just plates labeled for disabled veterans. After a lawsuit against the agency, the Ohio BMV said it has determined that nearly 2,000 individuals were improperly charged for the license plates as well as fees and taxes, since the law took effect in October 2019.



[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2023 Hannah News Service, Inc.]


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