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Week In Review - August 16, 2021

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.

Please feel free to share it with anyone else you believe may find it of interest, as well. Also, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions, concerns or if we can be of any assistance.

ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE Local governments now have until Friday, Aug. 20 to sign on to a settlement agreement with three opioid distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen as well as opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson that would result in more than $1 billion coming to Ohio and communities to address addiction issues, Attorney General Dave Yost announced Friday, Aug. 13. Noting two of the larger holdouts are the cities of Cincinnati and Akron, the AG said his office is posting a list of all local governments that have joined so far. This is part of a $26 billion nationwide settlement. AFFORDABLE CARE ACT The U.S. primary care system "has been able to absorb the increases in demand generated by the Affordable Care Act," according to a recent analysis by the Commonwealth Fund. Researchers say the study's findings indicate that health care providers could likely accommodate increased demand stemming from future insurance coverage expansions of similar magnitude without jeopardizing quality of care. They say that only slightly more primary care was delivered to the average patient after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage expansions than before, including a bit more preventive care and more "guideline-concordant" care, but also somewhat more unnecessary care. AGRICULTURE The efforts of agriculture advocates and livestock exhibitors led to a record-breaking Sale of Champions at the 2021 Ohio State Fair. Sunday's auction in the Ag-Pro Companies Taft Coliseum was extremely successful, according to the Ohio Expositions Commission. Participants set records for the highest overall total and the highest amount raised for the Youth Reserve Program, as well as new records for the Reserve Grand Champion Market Barrow, Reserve Grand Champion Market Chickens, Grand Champion Market Turkey and Grand Champion Swiss Cheese. Checking state trees for the invasive Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) is helping to lift quarantine restrictions in the campground area in East Fork State Park, and is a necessary step in the overall ALB eradication process, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg). The ALB quarantine is expected to be lifted soon in the park's campground and beyond, ending restrictions such as moving firewood out of the campground. This milestone highlights the importance of checking trees and being on the lookout for the insect, ODAg said. ATTORNEY GENERAL Attorney General Dave Yost recently announced that 446 pounds of unused and expired medication were collected across three counties in his office's first drug drop-off day on July 31. The event was held in Fayette, Franklin and Scioto counties, as the AG's Scientific Committee on Opioid Prevention and Education (SCOPE) found those suffered the highest opioid overdose death rates in the second quarter of 2020. The rates per 100,000 residents included Scioto County, 35.22; Fayette County, 20.67; and Franklin County, 19.43. The attorney general's office worked with the respective sheriff's offices in each county and the Portsmouth Police Department. FY22-23 BUDGET Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kimberly Murnieks announced Friday that Fitch Ratings, citing the state's superior financial resilience, affirmed the state's Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at "AA+" and elevated the state's outlook to "Positive" from "Stable." Additionally, OBM released the state's July 2021 preliminary revenue data, which show the state's General Revenue Fund tax receipts finishing July -- the first month of FY22 -- $24.7 million or 1.3 percent above the budgeted estimate. The state budget brings a number of changes to the Ohio Department of Development (DOD), starting with its name. The original DOD was restructured into the Development Services Agency (DSA) as part of a bill creating JobsOhio in 2012 but it now returns to the DOD name. DOD Director Lydia Mihalik told Hannah News the change was sought "to more accurately reflect what we do here," echoing her House budget testimony in March. CENSUS The U.S. Census Bureau delivered data sets to states Thursday that will allow the redistricting process for Congress and state legislatures to begin. The numbers show Union and Delaware counties grew by the highest percentage of population in the state. The two Central Ohio counties were the only counties that had a percentage increase of 20 percent or more in population in the state over the past decade. They were followed by Franklin and Warren counties, showing increases of between 10 to 20 percent. Wood, Medina, Licking, Fayette, Pickaway, Butler, Clermont, and Miami counties all had population increases of 5 to 10 percent. Among cities, Columbus is one of 14 nationwide that gained more than 100,000 residents over the last decade. CITIES Ohio recently placed among the top 10 states in five of Business Facilities' annual rankings, including second in automotive manufacturing behind Michigan. Several of the Buckeye State's major cities were also recognized in the report, including three of the top 10 most affordable cities. A release on the 17th annual rankings noted that the pandemic has accelerated a "diaspora of talent from large urban centers" as millennials increasingly move to mid-market metros based on affordability and quality of life. Climate change was also identified as the cause of an "unfolding calamity." CORONAVIRUS Gov. Mike DeWine returned to the podium Friday to address the state's surging Delta variant, now the dominant strain of COVID-19. In May, less than one percent of the lab sequenced COVID-19 test samples were identified as the Delta variant, DeWine said, but the most recent data from July 4 through July 7 show that 86.4 percent of lab sequenced cases were the Delta variant and that number has only increased since then. Highlighting the effectiveness of the vaccines, DeWine said 18,662 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the first of the year. Of those, 18,367, or 98.4 percent, were people not fully vaccinated against the virus and just 295 of those, about 1.6 percent, were among fully vaccinated people. Just over half of all Ohioans have now started the COVID-19 vaccine -- a threshold crossed Sunday -- and 54.31 percent of those eligible have received a second shot when applicable. However, all but five Ohio counties now meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) level of "high" or "substantial" transmission, for which masks are recommended for indoor public settings regardless of vaccine status. While 50.07 percent of all Ohioans have started their vaccines, 46.50 percent have completed them as of Monday. The starting number includes 58.52 percent of those eligible and 60.96 percent of all adults; the vaccine completion rate for adults is 56.95percent, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the state's chief medical officer and ODH director-designee, held his first press briefing in that new capacity Thursday. He focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant in particular, saying there is a continued "troubling increase" in cases statewide. ODH said 3,272 were reported in a 24-hour period Thursday, following 3,393 Wednesday. Those were the first two days above 3,000 cases since February, and Vanderhoff said the state's number of cases per 100,000 residents is "rapidly climbing toward 200." Noting that metric had fallen as low as 17.6 cases on July 7, he said ODH is adding additional data on that to its website to make such tracking easier. Hospitalizations, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and ventilator usage are climbing as well, with the ODH update listing 130 hospitalizations and 13 ICU admissions in the past 24 hours Thursday. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT State elected officials took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Peloton manufacturing facility in Wood County's Troy Township Monday, following the selection announcement in May. The project is expected to create nearly 2,200 jobs and $138 million in annual payroll. "Peloton could've put this manufacturing facility any place in the world. They chose Ohio," Gov. Mike DeWine said. EDUCATION John Richard, Ph.D. will have been in the job of interim superintendent of public instruction for Ohio for just two weeks when he, too, will leave the position. Tuesday Richard announced his resignation from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) effective Friday, Oct. 8 -- two weeks after current Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria retires on Friday, Sept. 24. In the announcement, he noted his commitment "to ensuring a smooth transition to the interim superintendent to be named by the State Board of Education ...." The state board is next scheduled to meet on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 20 and 21. Panelists at Wednesday's Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) waded into an ongoing controversy with a discussion on critical race theory -- what it is and how it's being used. The issue has overlapped other conversations about race and has been the subject of national, state and local debate. The State Board of Education's resolution last summer to condemn racism continues to draw controversy a year later with the board's asking the attorney general to review the legality of the resolution in action taken at the July 2021 meeting. Two bills introduced in the Statehouse, HB322 (Jones) and HB327 (Grendell-Fowler-Arthur), aiming to ban the teaching of "divisive concepts" in schools also drew partisan debate. Reps. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) and Jessica E. Miranda (D-Forest Park) say they have submitted a resolution encouraging Ohio's schools to retire the use of Native American mascots and to engage Native American groups as part of that process. This follows the recent announcement by the Cleveland Indians of their name change to the Cleveland Guardians. ELECTIONS 2021

The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • EMILY's List endorsed Allison Russo and Shontel Brown for Congress; and Sandra Williams for Cleveland mayor.

ELECTIONS 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley was on the campaign trail this week unveiling her jobs plan during an event in Cincinnati on Monday, where she said Ohio needs a governor "who is laser focused on supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, creating the jobs of the future, and raising wages for all Ohioans." She then appeared in Columbus on Tuesday, saying her plan calls for investments in Ohio businesses big and small, investments in "jobs of the future," and investments in the "dignity" of Ohio workers. Earlier, Whaley announced her campaign's "Ohio Deserve Better" tour, which she said will take her to all 88 counties to "to listen to voters' concerns and discuss how, together, we can build a brighter future for our state. The Dayton mayor's campaign said she will travel the state to hear directly from state residents "so that she can bring the voices of real Ohioans to the governor's office." Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley made his bid for governor official on Tuesday, launching his campaign with an agenda that includes paying a natural gas dividend to Ohio residents and legalizing recreational marijuana. Though Tuesday was the official announcement of Cranley's campaign, he has been raising money for a run over the past year, reporting in his most recent filing that he had raised $1 million through the first half of this year. He will face Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in the Democratic primary. The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Tim Ryan announced the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus).

  • The gubernatorial campaign of Nan Whaley announced the endorsement of Communication Workers of America (CWA) District 4.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Josh Mandel announced the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and of the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of J.D. Vance announced the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT The nation saw an increase of 943,000 jobs in July, as well as a 0.5 percent drop in the unemployment rate to 5.4 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said Friday. Job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality; local government education; and professional and business services, industries that also saw gains in June. The number of unemployed persons fell by 782,000 to 8.7 million, down considerably from highs at the start of the pandemic but well above pre-pandemic levels of 3.5 percent and 5.7 million in February 2020. ENERGY State Reps. David Leland (D-Columbus) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) Thursday introduced HB389, bipartisan energy legislation to curb carbon emissions and reduce consumer costs. The legislation, which is supported by the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (OLPC), as well as Ohio's investor-owned utilities, AEP, Duke Energy and AES, would allow utilities to create Energy Waste Reduction (EWR) programs to reduce their total yearly energy generation and peak demand needs. ENVIRONMENT Nine environmental science and engineering students have been awarded scholarships through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's (Ohio EPA) Environmental Education Fund to study at Ohio colleges and universities. Students were selected based on academic performance, as well as research, employment/internships, leadership, letters of recommendation from education or environmental professionals and other specified criteria, according to Ohio EPA. FEDERAL The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Wednesday officially changed the name of its Plum Brook Station to the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility. The facility, located on 6,400 acres in the Lake Erie community of Sandusky, is home to four world-class test facilities that perform complex and innovative ground tests for the international space community. GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) meeting previously scheduled for Monday, Aug. 9 was cancelled after the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), charter school operators and JCARR Chair Jamie Callender (R-Concord) agreed to a timeline for ODE to address "policy to rule" concerns regarding how charter schools are regulated, according to JCARR Executive Director Larry Wolpert. Wolpert told Hannah News that no other testimony was expected at the committee, so Callender decided to cancel the meeting. After representing Ohio's 26th House District since 2019, Erica Crawley left her position earlier this summer to take on a new role as Franklin County Commissioner, though the U.S. Navy veteran and Youngstown native said she will be back in the Statehouse advocating for her policy priorities. Crawley, who served as the Ranking Member on the House Finance Committee and helped her caucus complete work on the FY22-23 biennial budget, HB110 (Oelslager), recently spoke with Hannah News to reflect on her time in Ohio's General Assembly (GA) and this year's budget process. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) Foundation hosted its annual conference virtually once more this year. The 2021 theme was "restructuring the culture." Speakers touched on a number of issues from minority business and employment to ethics and health, but the nonprofit organization began the event with a look at redistricting. In a pre-recorded statement, Eric Holder Jr., chairman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and former U.S. attorney general under President Barack Obama, warned about the upcoming fight over the redistricting process, saying that the Republican Party would use the opportunity to "manufacture themselves a majority in the United State House of Representatives and to lock in power in statehouses across the country."

GOVERNOR Individuals charged in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also proposed attacking Gov. Mike DeWine with improvised explosive devices, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Byerly Birge. "On June 6, 2020, [Adam] Fox and [Barry] Croft attended a meeting with 'militia' activists from multiple states, where they proposed attacking the governors of Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. Croft brought and displayed to the group an improvised explosive device he had constructed for the purpose. Croft referred to himself as a 'terrorist' who was going to 'burn motherfucking houses down, blow shit up,'" Birge wrote in a new court filing. The case is being considered in a federal court in Michigan. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Gov. Mike DeWine announced Wednesday that the state's chief medical officer, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, will become the new director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Current ODH Director Stephanie McCloud will return to her previous position as administrator of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC). The changes are effective on Monday, Aug. 16. Vanderhoff becomes the fourth director of ODH under DeWine, not counting Dr. Joan Duwve who accepted and then declined the appointment in September 2020. In addition to McCloud, others who have served in the position include Dr. Amy Acton and Lance Himes. HIGHER EDUCATION The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) and the Department of Education (ODE) have announced a second round of funding for a statewide initiative to improve the number of students who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Through FAFSA 22, an extension of the FAFSA 21 initiative launched in the spring, an additional $1.8 million will be provided in federal Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funding for FAFSA completion projects during the upcoming school year. A slew of Ohio colleges and universities have announced the reinstatement of indoor mask mandates regardless of vaccination status in response to the spread of the Delta variant of COVD-19. On Aug. 2, Ohio State University (OSU) reinstated its mask mandate effective immediately and many other colleges have made similar announcements since then. In the Dayton area, Wright State University reinstated its indoor face mask requirement for all individuals, saying that the revised policy in due to "the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, which has become the most common form of the coronavirus in Ohio and in the United States." Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH named Jane Fernandes as the next president, effective Monday, Aug. 16. Fernandes was most recently president of Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. She will be the second female president of the college and the third president since its relaunch as an independent institution in 2010. Bowling Green State University (BGSU) announced it has permanently expelled three students and suspended 17 students for terms ranging from three to eight years following the completion of an investigation into the hazing death of BGSU student Stone Foltz in March. The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) announced a final extension of the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections until Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. The department said the additional time and a definitive end date is meant to help borrowers plan for the resumption of payments and reduce the risk of delinquency and defaults after restart. USDOE released a new legal interpretation that revises its position on the legality of state laws and regulations that govern various aspects of the servicing of federal student loans. This action will help states enforce borrower bills of rights or other similar laws to address issues with servicing of federal student loans, the department said. It added that the change is part of Federal Student Aid's (FSA's) efforts to strengthen the student loan program by "enhancing oversight and accountability for student loan servicers in order to protect students, borrowers, and taxpayers." In a recent interview with Hannah News, Inter University Council (IUC) President and former Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson described how state higher education policy needs to catch up to the workforce needs of tomorrow, a task he said requires investment to attract top professors in emerging fields who might otherwise seek employment outside of academia. For example, universities face stiff competition to attract current professionals in fields including cybersecurity, engineering and medicine, he said. The Youngstown State University Chapter of the Ohio Education Association (YSU-OEA) held a protest over the university's lack of mask or vaccine mandates Friday morning. Aug. 13, citing a "surge" in new COVID-19 infections due to the Delta variant as the fall semester is scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 30. On the other side of the issue -- and the state -- the Miami University College Republicans held a press conference Wednesday to "formally express disapproval" of that university's indoor mask mandate. INSURANCE The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released new data that they say shows returning consumers can save, on average, 40 percent off of their monthly health insurance premiums because of the enhanced tax credits in the American Rescue Plan (ARP). "Since the implementation of the tax credits on April 1, 2021, 34 percent of new and returning consumers have found coverage for $10 or less per month on," CMS said. According to CMS, premiums for returning consumers in Ohio went from the average of $210/month pre-ARP to $139/month post-ARP for a 33 percent savings. In the final days remaining in the 2021 Special Enrollment Period (SEP), "the Biden-Harris administration encourages all Americans who need quality, affordable health care coverage to sign up at by Sunday, Aug. 15." JUDICIAL The Ohio Supreme Court announced final rule amendments to permit for the first time mediation in certain civil protection order cases. Mediation changes to Rules 16.30-16.32 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio address "neighborly disputes" involving property lines, pet waste and the like or other relatively benign disagreements. Fairfield Municipal Court Judge Joyce Campbell has been reelected to another three-year term on the National Alliance on Mental Illness's (NAMI) national board of directors, Campbell served over the past year as the board's first vice president and is the only judicial representative on the 16-person body, which predominantly features mental health practitioners and administrators. She also is president of the NAMI Ohio board, chair of the Ohio Judicial Conference, and a member of the Ohio Supreme Court's Commission on Specialized Dockets. The Ohio Supreme Court released a new resource to help judges incorporate the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) as part of a national effort to limit the number of children in foster care. Effective Oct. 1, FFPSA will fund services for families with children at risk of entering foster care and change standards for placing youth in congregate care. The judicial toolkit helps judges implement the new federal requirements under their existing court structure and the state's statutory framework for child welfare. It explains the approval process for Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTP), which provide short-term, non-family placement for children with specific needs. A section on QRTP hearings, or level of care assessments, cites relevant state and federal law and includes best practices and sample court forms to be used during assessments. Judges may under no circumstances hear cases involving their old law firm if they are still being paid for work performed before their election or appointment to the bench. They might need as little as six months to a year since their departure to handle such cases, however, if they are no longer receiving legal fees, the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct says in a new opinion on a series of related questions. MARIJUANA/HEMP At least until the end of 2021, medical marijuana patients will continue being legally allowed to receive doctor recommendations/renewals through telemedicine, order cannabis products by Internet/phone and utilize curbside pickup services at dispensaries. The State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO) extended its policy of deferring enforcement of telemedicine rules during its most recent meeting, SMBO Chief Compliance Officer Brandi Dorcy told the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee (MMAC) at its last meeting on Thursday. The law creating the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), 131-HB523 (S. Huffman), abolishes the MMAC on Friday, Oct. 8. According to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, there are now 202,247 patients registered in the MMCP. That includes 13,176 military veterans, 14,692 "indigent" individuals and 807 terminally ill patients. A total of 173,228 unique patients have purchased cannabis through the MMCP. There are 22,782 caregivers registered in the program. MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM The DeWine administration continues to weigh its options after having received a 23-page letter Tuesday from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) withdrawing support for the state's Medicaid Work Requirement and Community Engagement waiver that had been approved by the Trump administration, according to DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney late Wednesday when asked if the state plans to appeal the decision. This latest notice from the federal government follows its February notification to Ohio's Department of Medicaid (ODM) that it was moving to revoke the approval to institute work requirements for enrollees in the Medicaid expansion population. NATURAL RESOURCES Barbara Kloha Andreas of South Bloomingville and Guy Denny of Fredricktown have been inducted into the Ohio Natural Resources Hall of Fame. In addition to the hall of fame inductions, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) recently presented the agency's 2021 "Cardinal Award" to Terry Cosby, the Buckeye Trail Association and Columbus Audubon Society's Service in the Preserves program. The ODNR Division of Wildlife has proposed reducing the Spring 2022 wild turkey season limit from two to one bearded turkey. The proposal was made in response to declining wild turkey populations over the past few years, ODNR said. If approved by the Ohio Wildlife Council, all hunters will be limited to one bearded (male) wild turkey during the Spring 2022 hunting season. This proposal includes the statewide spring wild turkey hunting season and the youth spring hunting season. ODNR will offer special archery deer hunts at nine locations bordering four of Ohio's scenic rivers through local lottery drawings. Hunters must attend individual meetings for particular hunts where they may enter the drawing by purchasing a single ticket at the price of $5 per property. Names will be randomly drawn, and those selected will be permitted to choose a two-week hunt period. An orientation will be conducted immediately following the drawing, outlining special regulations for the hunts. Hunters will be permitted to hunt with a partner, though the partner is not required to attend the drawing or orientation. A new 90,000-pound tool has arrived at Rocky Fork State Park to help keep the lake safe for boaters, paddlers and swimmers, according to ODNR. PENSIONS The Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) battled high temperatures in the Ohio Statehouse Thursday as it approved auditors for a comprehensive probe of the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) and heard a proposed staff amendment to Chairman Rick Carfagna's (R-Westerville) police-fire pension overhaul, HB184. Councilmembers quickly selected Pension Trust Advisors (PTA) and KMS Actuaries as STRS's joint actuarial auditors and Funston Advisory Services LLC as fiduciary auditor. Their awards follow requests for proposal (RFP) approved at ORSC's May meeting to audit three of the five pension funds. POVERTY The Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OACAA) released its annual "State of Poverty Report" Monday, including a new tool meant to help local communities identify socioeconomic "warning signs." OACAA has been producing the annual statewide report on the status of poverty in the Buckeye State since the early 1990s, although Executive Director Philip Cole said 2021's report could also be called "poverty in Ohio during the pandemic part two" as much of last year's findings still apply. Unlike last year, the report contains a new county-level "Well-Being Dashboard" which examines each of Ohio's 88 counties on four socioeconomic and poverty indicators: the poverty rate, the unemployment rate, the percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches from schools, and four-year high school graduation rates. PUBLIC SAFETY Law enforcement in Ohio is facing increasing accountability from new laws that mandate recorded interrogations for violent crimes "except in limited circumstances" and for the first time expose police departments, sheriffs' offices and state agencies to actual penalties for failing to record and preserve custodial questioning of arrestees and other detained persons. Full accountability from HB8 (West-Plummer) may require fresh legislation and an as-yet unrealized law enforcement oversight and review commission, admits Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), joint sponsor of the bill and aspiring House speaker. He says the recently passed legislation builds on 128-SB77's (Goodman) more tentative standards for custodial interrogations. REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT Following the brief first meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission Friday when House Speaker and co-chair Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said there was a tentative plan for nine meetings around the state to facilitate public input regarding the process, a series of 10 hearings was announced on Aug. 13 for the week of Aug. 23. He noted they face "an extremely tight timeframe in which to complete our task" due to the delay in Census Bureau data. The other co-chair, Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), said in his opening statement that Ohioans had voted twice in the past 10 years to reform the state's redistricting process and that his goal is to "cooperatively work" with the commission to give the voters what they want and end partisan gerrymandering. Sykes called for "fair districts that represent the citizens of this great state." The remaining commission members are Gov. Mike DeWine, Auditor of State Keith Faber, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). SECRETARY OF STATE Secretary of State Frank LaRose was recognized by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), which awarded him its 2021 "Innovators Award" for his precinct election official recruitment program in the 2020 election. LaRose had worked with the Ohio Supreme Court to create "Lawyers for Liberty," which allowed Ohio attorneys to receive continuing legal education credit for serving as a precinct election official. LaRose's office said a post-election review of the collaboration found 1,082 Ohio attorneys served as poll workers for the November 2020 election. TAXATION The top tax bracket in Ohio will now pay only 3.99 percent in income tax after changes made by the General Assembly to the tax code in biennial budget bill HB110 (Oelslager). The bill also reduced the number of tax brackets from five to four. Under previous law, the top tax bracket affected earners making more than $221,301, who had to pay a marginal tax rate of 4.797 percent. Thanks to the changes, the top tax bracket now covers earners of more than $110,651, who pay a tax rate of 3.99 percent. TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE Tech nonprofit OhioX recently announced details of its first "Ohio Tech Day," scheduled for Friday, Sept. 24 and sponsored by Facebook. The day is meant to raise awareness of the role of technology and innovation in the state economy and inspire high school students to pursue careers in the field. TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE Litter in Ohio is low compared to the U.S. as a whole, according to a new report released by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), while discarded beverages here eclipse the national average and lead all classes of litter in the Buckeye State, "due, in no small part, to beer cans and bottles." ODOT conducted the study in February-April 2019, before the advent of COVID-19 and the resulting discarded personal protective equipment (PPE), releasing the 600-page report Friday. UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION For the week ending Aug. 7, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 10,581 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That number is slightly lower than last week, when the department reported 10,740 jobless claims. Ohioans filed 143,802 continued traditional unemployment claims last week, which was 4,805 fewer than the previous week, ODJFS said. As Ohio and other states are working to modernize their unemployment compensation programs, DOL has announced a series of actions to reform the unemployment insurance (UI) system. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act provided DOL with $2 billion to prevent and detect fraud, promote equitable access, ensure timely payment of benefits and reduce backlogs. UTILITIES The state Wednesday denied separate petitions from AES Ohio and the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) to rehear the utility's $100-million-and-counting rate stabilization charge (RSC). The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) moved 4-0 to quash AES's objection to its June order preserving the possibility of RSC refunds at the Ohio Supreme Court "to the extent permitted by law." In other business, the commission awarded $800,000 in hazardous material training grants to 12 applicants. VETERANS Veterans organizations including the VFW, American Legion and AMVETS say mediation that has so far failed to resolve an eight-year impasse with the state over electronic raffle machines (ERM) now has a chance at success, and for one very important reason. Language legalizing electronic instant bingo was tucked in budget bill HB110 (Oelslager) at the 12th hour, meaning veterans need only survive until its year-end effective date under the court-imposed restraining order against a statewide ban on ERMs. Their survival is not guaranteed, they warn, as the Ohio Supreme Court's willingness to hold the case "in abeyance" -- five times since March 2019 -- expired on July 30. WORKERS' COMPENSATION The Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) announced Tuesday that it had moved up a deadline for long-term care facilities to seek reimbursement for investments in indoor air quality (IAQ) regarding COVID-19. Facilities now have until Friday, Oct. 15 to apply. BWC had previously extended the deadline multiple times, the most recent of which was to Friday, Dec. 31. However, it was moved back up in order to distribute funds to applicants before the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act deadline. WORKFORCE Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Tuesday that the June round of the TechCred program resulted in 3,149 credentials being approved for Ohio workers at 263 employers, including 109 companies working with the program for the first time. These include both large and small businesses. In total, the program has led to approval of 1,419 employers and 26,872 tech-focused credentials so far. The latest round began Aug. 1 and will close at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 31. The budget also funds additional 20,000 credentials in this and the next fiscal year.

[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2021 Hannah News Service, Inc.]

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