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Week in Review December 11, 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.

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.


ABORTION


After Ohio voters one month ago approved Issue 1, the reproductive and abortion rights constitutional amendment took effect Thursday, Dec. 7. Backers of the amendment took a victory lap while warning about potential challenges to the new provision. Issue 1 Thursday took its place as Article 1, Section 22 of the Ohio Constitution, called the Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety. The amendment includes protections for miscarriage care, fertility treatments, contraception, continuing one's pregnancy, and abortions up to "fetal viability" or past in cases that threaten the health or life of the pregnant person. During a virtual press conference, leaders of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights (OPRR), one of the groups that backed Issue 1, celebrated their victory, but also said they expect challenges to continue.


While the new reproductive/abortion rights constitutional amendment overrides "heartbeat" abortion ban 133-SB23 (Roegner), the Ohio Supreme Court should still address the procedural issues involved in Preterm-Cleveland v. Yost, the Ohio Attorney General's Office wrote in a brief on Thursday. “The state defendants acknowledge that the people have dramatically 'alter[ed]' the legal landscape, and that the core prohibition of the heartbeat act -- the prohibition on performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected -- is overridden by the new amendment," Yost continued. "But this dramatic legal change does not affect this appeal, which does not deal with the underlying heartbeat act, but rather critical procedural issues that do not turn on the substantive regulation of abortion at all. Indeed, the abortion-specific merits of the heartbeat act are not even before the Court."


AGING


In recognition of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week which ran from Monday, Dec. 4 through Friday, Dec. 8, Gov. Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Ohio Traffic Safety Office (OTSO), the Ohio Department of Aging (ODA), and AAA reminded Ohioans about new resources and programs to prevent serious injuries and fatalities among Ohio's older drivers. One way the state is working to improve older driver safety is through the expansion of CarFit, an educational program developed by AAA, AARP, and the American Occupational Therapy Association to improve older driver safety and comfort behind the wheel.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


Calling it "anti-competitive behavior," Attorney General Dave Yost Thursday announced he has joined Ohio with six other states to challenge the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) transfer eligibility rule for college athletes. The rule requires college athletes who transfer among Division I schools to wait one year before competing in games, unless the NCAA waives the rule for a particular athlete. While the NCAA began automatically exempting first-time transfers from the regulation in 2021, Yost's office said it has continued to enforce the rule for subsequent transfers and to deny waivers for what Yost said was no legitimate reason. Yost argued that losing a year due to a transfer is a loss of a year on the athletes' lives and is also a major economic hit.


FY24-25 BUDGET


The state collected about $26.1 million or 1 percent more in taxes during November than expected, according to preliminary figures from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). Overperformance in the income tax offset small misses on sales taxes and the Commercial Activity Tax. The income tax generated more than $800 million, nearly $60 million or 8.1 percent ahead of the forecasted $741 million. Sales taxes in total were off 0.6 percent or $6.4 million, reaching $1.14 billion. The non-auto sales tax was nearly on target, coming in just $1.3 million or 0.1 percent short, while the auto sales tax missed forecasts by $5 million or 3.2 percent. The Commercial Activity Tax generated $484 million, $5.3 million or 1.1 percent below projections. Total tax collections for November reached $2.53 billion, compared to expectations of $2.51 billion.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


The Indigent Defense System Task Force created by 134-HB150 (Hillyer) is heading into the new year with a full member roster and new expertise with the pending leadership change at the Ohio Public Defender Commission (OPDC). The task force will begin deliberations in 2024, Co-Chair Nathan Manning's (R-N. Ridgeville) office told Hannah News Monday, with a statutory reporting deadline of Tuesday, April 30, 2024. In addition to Manning, legislative members include Sens. Michele Reynolds (R-Columbus) and Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo), Co-Chair Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) and Reps. Jim Thomas (R-Canton) and Ismail Mohamed (D-Columbus).


ECONOMY


Moody's Investor Service bumped Ohio's issuer rating to Aaa from Aa1, the DeWine administration said Friday. The ratings agency noted a "continuing trend of very strong financial management, improving reserves and liquidity, low and declining leverage and a state economy that is poised for diversification and growth." The ratings change came ahead of the state's plan to issue nearly $400 million in general obligation refunding bonds later in December.


Thursday's JobsOhio Board of Directors meeting focused on efforts to support all regions of the state, and the location at Ohio University's Southern campus in Ironton reflected that. Chairman Josh Rubin made that point in his opening comments, adding that he was excited to talk about the economic development nonprofit's inclusion programs and how they are helping Southeast Ohio residents in particular. President and CEO J.P. Nauseef followed by saying JobsOhio recently concluded its "Listening Tour 2.0," which lasted 10 days and included over 1,000 stakeholders from across the state. The first tour was in the spring of 2019 and inspired the creation of JobsOhio's economic development inclusion strategy.


EDUCATION


The Senate voted 25-6 on Wednesday to confirm Steve Dackin as the first director of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW). Those voting against Dackin were Sens. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), Bill DeMora (D-Columbus), Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo), Kent Smith (D-Euclid) and Steve Wilson (R-Maineville). This came after the Senate Education Committee unanimously recommended his appointment on Tuesday.


During the hearing Tuesday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on HB187 (Hall-Bird), legislation addressing property tax increases, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) didn't mince words about the issues he believes the Legislature needs to address around school funding. He opened his comments to the representatives of the three school management groups -- the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA), the Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO) and the Ohio School Boards Association (BASA) -- by referencing that there are "not enough children in schools." Cirino also commented that there was a lot of complaining about the Legislature's expanding EdChoice in the last budget. "Quite frankly, I was very much taken aback by that," he said, noting it came on top of the school districts' receiving a 13.9 percent increase in funding. "But it seemed like it was an inappropriate complaint. We were quite generous with the systems in the formula, and yet at the same time, criticism for us trying to give ... choice for students who are in underperforming schools, of which there are many in Ohio, to go and try to do better for themselves."


A senior official at the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) and two local superintendents from Central and Southeast Ohio emerged Tuesday as the finalists to become the next state superintendent, a job with a narrower set of powers under new K-12 governance changes enacted in the state budget. The State Board of Education met in executive session for nearly four hours Tuesday before voting to offer interviews to three of 19 applicants for the post: Paul Craft, superintendent of Buckeye Valley Local Schools in Delaware County; Jeffrey Greenley, superintendent of Belpre City Schools; and Julia Simmerer, senior executive director of the Center for Teaching, Leading and Learning at the Department of Education and Workforce. They will interview the candidates at the regular board meeting the week of Dec. 11 with potentially a hiring decision at another special meeting Monday, Dec. 18.


The School Bus Safety Working Group will send its report and recommendations to policymakers in January 2024, Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) Director Andy Wilson said Friday. Wilson said he may schedule another meeting to release the final report, but that hasn't been decided yet. He told Hannah News that ODPS staff and DeWine Assistant Policy Director Erin Reed will largely be responsible for putting the final report together after receiving recommendations from working group members.


Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller senior running back Jordan Marshall has been named Ohio "Mr. Football" by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association (OPSWA). Marshall is the 37th winner of the award, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA). Marshall, at 6-foot and 205 pounds, totaled 149 points in statewide voting by OPSWA members.


ELECTIONS 2023


Almost half of Ohio registered voters cast a ballot in the November General Election, according to the official canvass signed by Secretary of State Frank LaRose Thursday afternoon. The final tallies show Issue 2, the recreational marijuana initiated statute, received more support than Issue 1, the reproductive and abortion rights constitutional amendment. On Issue 1, 56.78 percent of ballots were cast in favor, while 43.22 percent were cast against it. Issue 2 had 57.19 percent voting yes, while 42.81 percent voted against it. According to the secretary of state's office, 3,964,530 ballots were counted. There was a 49.63 percent turnout for the election.


ELECTIONS 2024


Arienne Childrey, an openly transgender woman, has announced a campaign as a Democrat for the 84th House District seat currently held by Rep. Angela King (R-Celina), who is running for re-election.


Larry Kidd, a business owner and current chairman of the OneOhio Recovery Foundation, announced that he will seek the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District in 2024. A former vice chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party, he has also served in Ohio's delegation for former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. He becomes the fourth Republican to join the race, along with Sen. Niraj Antani, Derek Myers, and Clermont County Republican Party Chair Charles Tassell. They are seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati), who is retiring after this session.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • Republican 54th District candidate Kellie Deeter announced the endorsement of current seat holder Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk).

  • The campaign of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Moreno announced the endorsement of the Butler County Republican Party.

ENERGY/UTILITIES


Sam Randazzo will be home for the holidays -- or likely no farther than the state line -- after the U.S. Attorney secured an 11-count indictment Monday accusing the former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) chairman of embezzling $1.1 million from Industrial Energy Users (IEU) of Ohio in addition to a $4.3 million bribe from FirstEnergy for special favors from the Legislature, the commission and the governor in the form of fully enacted nuclear bailout 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin). Randazzo turned up at Cincinnati's U.S. District Court house in shackles but was allowed by the court and federal prosecutors to leave on his own recognizance under certain conditions, including that he not leave the state without special permission.


Proponents and opponents of the current version of SB102 (Wilkin) testified to the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee Tuesday, with a focus on how the bill addresses the Electric Security Plan (ESP) ratemaking process. Many committee questions focused on how SB102 compares to current law. At the start of the hearing, Sen. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) offered AM1368-2, saying it is a result of an interested party meeting. Changes included restoring electric storage language that had been removed through the sub bill; amending language on cash payments to include low-income winterization service programs; and changing references from "rate mechanism" to "cost recovery mechanism," which is already used in law. There were also technical changes related to that change in terminology. The amendment was accepted without objection or discussion.


ENVIRONMENT


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a conference call with reporters to highlight efforts to get the U.S. EPA to reject three proposed rules that he argued would undermine the steel industry in Ohio and across the country. According to Brown, the regulations include National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Integrated Iron and Steel Manufacturing Facilities (EPA-HQ-EPA-OAR-2002-0083); National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Coke Ovens: Pushing, Quenching, and Battery Stacks, and Coke Oven Batteries. (EPA-HQ-OAR-2002-0085 and EPA- HQ-OAR-2003-0051); and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Taconite Iron Ore Processing Amendments (EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0664). He said that if finalized as proposed, the regulations would require billions of dollars in capital investments and increased annual operating costs for the U.S. steel industry. On his call, Brown said he is a strong advocate for the environment, but he said the rules would hurt steelworkers in the U.S. and ultimately steel will be made by countries that don't care about the environment.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The Ohio Senate announced late Monday the selection of Brian Chavez (R-Marietta) to replace former Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Adena) who resigned effective Dec. 1. Chavez is the manager and owner of Reno Oil & Gas, Inc., which manages the drilling and field maintenance of more than 450 conventional gas and oil wells. He is also the owner of Chavez Well Service, LLC., and the CEO of Deeprock Disposal Solutions, LLC. He was sworn in Wednesday, Dec. 6. Chavez will serve the remainder of Hoagland's term and then run for a full four-year term in November of 2024.


The departure of Hoagland and appointment of Chavez set off a committee shuffle in the upper chamber this week. Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) is moving over to chair the Veterans and Public Safety Committee, a post previously held by Hoagland. Chavez also was given a seat on that committee. Leadership of the Senate Community Revitalization Committee, which Johnson held, goes to Sen. Al Landis (R-Dover). Chavez is joining that panel as vice chair. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) also named Chavez to seats on the Senate Insurance Committee and Senate Transportation Committee.


The Senate Wednesday passed emergency legislation to provide property tax relief across the state, voting 31-0 to pass HB187 (Hall-Bird). The emergency clause was approved 29-2, with Sens. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) and Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati) voting against it. Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati) said the bill temporarily increases the homestead exemption, which applies to individuals who are 65 years of age or older, permanently and totally disabled or at least 59 years old and the surviving spouse of a person who previously received the exemption. Both the standard and enhanced exemptions are increased, and the standard homestead exemption will also apply to otherwise eligible individuals with a household income of up to $75,000. Those with higher incomes will get smaller benefit, Blessing said.


In addition, the Senate passed SB144 (Romanchuk) on a vote of 30-1. This bill makes several changes to the authority of pharmacists and other people under their supervision to administer immunizations. Antani was the lone "no" vote. The Senate also passed marijuana bill HB86 (LaRe) by a vote of 28-2.


The House chamber dodged a late-night gathering around legalized marijuana Wednesday when Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) adjourned session without taking up Senate changes to HB86 (LaRe) or gun rights bill HB51 (Loychik-Schmidt) and promptly exited the chamber.


The House passed a half dozen road-naming and calendar-designating bills capped by the "Rep. Kris Jordan Memorial Highway" – HB165 (Lear-Ferguson). In addition, the House passed the following:


  • HCR6 (King-Plummer) urging Congress to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset by a vote of 85-0.

  • HCR7 (Creech-Peterson) petitioning Congress to make Daylight Savings Time permanent nationwide, by a vote of 64-19.

  • HB195 (Demetrious-Brennan) creating an adaptive mobility dealer license by a vote of 89-1.

  • HB78 (Seitz-Miller) regarding STRS board eligibility for "rehired retirants" by a vote of 89-0.

  • HB29 (Humphrey-Brewer) exempting from a driver's license suspension for those behind on child support who can show a suspension would prevent them from meeting their obligations by a vote of 84-0.

  • HB203 (Roemer-Sweeney) requiring private owners of construction projects that do not involve one-, two- and three-family dwellings to pay contractors within 30 days of completing certified work by a vote of a 72-12 vote.

  • HB272 (Mathews – Pizzulli) allowing all concealed carry holders and other "qualifying adults," regardless of the jurisdiction's size, to convey handguns into a building with a courtroom when court is not in session and the building is not in fact a courthouse. It also allows nonresidents "under disability" to regain firearm rights in Ohio. This passed 57-29.

The Senate Government Oversight Committee Wednesday heard from dozens of witnesses, many of them opponents, on HB68 (Click), which would ban certain gender affirming care for minors and prohibit transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams. Witnesses testified that the bill will hurt families and cause them to leave the state in order to get the care for their children that they need. They said it will hurt economic development efforts. Many told their own personal stories of being a transgender person or having a transgender child.


The controversial higher education bill Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hills) recently said lacks support to pass the House nonetheless cleared committee Wednesday by a single vote. Stephens said last week that SB83 (Cirino) didn't have enough votes and added that he wasn't necessarily trying to do more to win support for it. But the House Higher Education Committee made a late-breaking addition of the bill to its Wednesday agenda this week, and in a brief hearing passed it 8-7. Republicans Young, Manning and Reps. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond), Bill Dean (R-Xenia), Derek Merrin (R-Maumee), Nick Santucci (R-Warren), Josh Williams (R-Oregon) and Bernard Willis (R-Springfield) voted in support. Ranking Member Joe Miller (D-Amherst) and fellow Democratic Reps. Munira Abdullahi (D-Columbus), Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), Phil Robinson (D-Solon) and Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) voted no, joined by Republican Reps. Gail Pavliga (R-Atwater) and Justin Pizzulli (R-Franklin Furnace).


The House State and Local Government Committee Tuesday accepted an omnibus amendment to occupational licensure review legislation, HB238 (Fowler-Arthur-Klopfenstein), with the sponsors of the bill saying the changes were made at the request of the agencies.


The Statehouse will also host other musical events throughout the month of December, including the following:


  • Monday, Dec. 11 - Centennial High School Choir

  • Tuesday, Dec. 12 - Columbus Alternative High School Ensembles

  • Wednesday, Dec. 13 - Grandview Heights "The Grandview Singers"

  • Thursday, Dec. 14 - Hamilton Twp. High School Choir

  • Friday, Dec. 15 - Bell Haven Elementary Unified Chorus

  • Monday, Dec. 18 - Lancaster High School Chamber Singers

  • Tuesday, Dec. 19 - Hilliard Davidson High School Choir

All events begin at 12 p.m. in the Museum Gallery unless otherwise noted. In other legislative action, the House Civil Justice Committee reported out HB283 (Pizzulli-Schmidt) which adds a judge to the Adams County Court of Common Pleas; the House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out HB273 (Mathews) which deals with labor law notices; the House Homeland Security Committee reported out HB230 (Abrams-Swearingen) which addresses drug trafficking; the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB70 (Fowler Arthur-Gross) which deals with school policies regarding over the counter drugs; and the Senate Community Revitalization Committee reported out SR240 (Johnson) which condemns China for its role in the global drug trade.

 

GOVERNOR


 LeeAnne Cornyn, a longtime aide to Gov. Mike DeWine now serving as his deputy chief of staff, will be the next director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS), DeWine's office said Friday. Friday, Dec. 1 was the last day for OhioMHAS Director Lori Criss, who is headed to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She joined the administration after leading the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers. Cornyn served under DeWine in the attorney general's office as director of children's initiatives and moved up to a similar role after he established an office for that work upon becoming governor in 2019. 


GUNS 


The House Rules and Reference Committee reported out the "Second Amendment Preservation Act" after removing the emergency clause from HB51 (Loychik-Schmidt) on Tuesday. Democrats opposed both the amendment and the bill. House Government Oversight Committee Chair Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) said the bill had been fully vetted in his committee, and that it is ready to go to the floor. However, while it was scheduled for a House floor vote on Wednesday, the speaker did not call the bill up.


 HIGHER EDUCATION


 The Governor's Merit Scholarship Program officially launched Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced. The scholarship program was included in state budget bill HB33 (Edwards). A total of $20 million was appropriated for the first year of the program, which is open to graduating seniors in the top 5 percent of their class in the Class of 2024. For students in the Class of 2024, the portal is expected to remain open through April 30, 2024. More information is available online at https://meritscholarship.ohio.gov/


Ohio Dominican University's (ODU's) Board of Trustees has appointed Michael A. Grandillo to serve as interim president. Grandillo succeeds Connie Gallaher who will retire in December 2023 following the completion of the fall semester. He began at ODU on Wednesday, Dec. 6 as president-designate and as interim president on Saturday, Dec. 16. Grandillo has over 43 years of higher education experience, most recently having served as president of Madonna University in Livonia, MI from 2015 until his retirement in 2022. Currently, he leads a consulting firm specializing in higher education, government and public policy. 


The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) offers college students the opportunity to work hands-on with companies working in global trade and commerce through the Ohio Export Internship Program (OEIP). The program accepts students who are taking expert-focused coursework at one of the following six Ohio universities: Ohio State University, Youngstown State University, Cleveland State University, the University of Dayton, Bowling Green State University and Ohio University. Applications are now available at https://tinyurl.com/m8fwcxpv. The Department of Development's Export Assistance Office will review applications through the month of January, and internships will run from May-August 2024. 


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS 

The second draft of rules for a new single family housing development tax credit answers advocates' calls for changes to reflect the realities in distressed areas, though they had further suggestions for change at a hearing Thursday. Lawmakers included in the biennial budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), Gov. Mike DeWine's proposal for the tax credit, allowing up to $50 million in credits to be reserved in a fiscal year through FY27. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) held a virtual public forum to hear comments on a second draft of rules and the allocation plan for the program. The latest draft of rules strikes language stating that project development costs would be presumed to be less than the appraised value of a housing project upon completion.


 JUDICIAL 


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) 2021 Title X family planning rule has been blocked in Ohio, Attorney General Dave Yost announced Friday. In a 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judges Joan Larsen and Amul Thapar wrote that the HHS rule fails to ensure compliance with the statutory provision that no Title X funds "shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning." The judges also wrote that Ohio has suffered "irreparable harm" because the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) had to compete with Planned Parenthood for Title X funds under the 2021 rule. 


The Ohio Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief in a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear in January, arguing the Court should reconsider the Chevron Doctrine, which gives judicial deference to administrative actions in interpreting an ambiguous or unclear statute. The chamber filed the brief in Relentless, Inc. et al. v. U.S. Department of Commerce, et al, which has been paired with Loper Bright Enterprises, et al, v. Gina Raimondo, et al, with both scheduled for oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in January. The chamber has also filed an amicus brief in Loper Bright Enterprises. The chamber's brief argues that a strong form of administrative deference like that used in the Chevron Doctrine is inconsistent with the separation of powers. It pointed to a recent Ohio Supreme Court case that held such a deference violates separation of powers principles by handing the executive branch the judicial authority to say what the law is. 


JUVENILE JUSTICE 


"This situation is the defining moment of your leadership." Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) commended Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) Director Amy Ast's commitment to the agency's mission Tuesday but joined other Democrats and Chairwoman Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) in the search for solutions to violence and staff shortages at DYS detention centers. Ast reprised her recent PowerPoint presentation to the Ohio Juvenile Justice Working Group created by Gov. Mike DeWine following major, negative media coverage of conditions within DYS. She again pointed to findings from the Council of State Government's (CSG) recent national report on juvenile justice, "Systems in Crisis." "Almost 90 percent of all agencies reported moderate or severe challenges with hiring and retaining frontline facility staff, with staff vacancies as high as 30 to 40 percent in some locales," Ast said. "CSG identified that the number one reason for the crisis in juvenile justice staff retention was the 'emotional nature of the cases' which led to staff burnout." The committee discussion ranged from DYS gang activity to data transparency to employee development to improved communication between leadership and staff, many union members. 


LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR 


Lt. Gov Jon Husted encouraged leaders from throughout Central Ohio to plan for their region with the coming decades in mind during his keynote address at the Columbus Partnership's Economic Development event Friday. Husted told the region's business leaders and elected officials to celebrate the success they've experienced as greater Columbus has grown in recent years and is poised to grow further in coming years. "You're winning. This is what winning feels like," said Husted. But he also challenged the room to maintain a growth mentality, as opposed to a scarcity mentality, as companies like Intel, Amazon and Google bring growth to the region.

 

LOBBYISTS 


The Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association (OMCIA) will now be known as the Ohio Cannabis Coalition (OHCANN), the group has announced. OHCANN will represent both the medical and adult-use marijuana industries following passage of Issue 2, the organization announced.


 MARIJUANA/HEMP 


The Senate-passed marijuana bill is improved but still fails to uphold the will of Ohio voters, according to Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord). Callender said communication broke down between the House and the Senate on Wednesday, but he hopes to re-engage with the other chamber soon as the two houses vied over the course of the week to pass legislation “tweaking” or more Issue 2 -- the adult use marijuana legalization initiated statute -- that passed last month. 


The Senate General Government Committee held three hearings on HB86 (LaRe), which became that chamber’s vehicle for the marijuana changes, beginning on Monday. After making numerous changes to the bill over the course of the week, the full Senate voted 28-2 to pass the bill. One of the most significant changes the committee made to HB86 on Wednesday was the addition of a provision allowing adults age 21 and older with a valid state-issued identification card to purchase adult-use marijuana at Ohio's currently licensed medical marijuana dispensaries while the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) completes the rulemaking process for the adult use program. Gov. Mike DeWine held a Statehouse press conference after the Senate General Government Committee ended but before the full Senate voted on HB86, urging the General Assembly to pass HB86 as soon as possible. 


Meanwhile in the House Finance Committee, Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) presented his HB354, telling the House Finance Committee that it "does not aim to change the intent of Issue 2 or override the will of the voters. Instead, it aims to add clarification for the departments who will be tasked with administering and regulating adult use cannabis in Ohio. …One of the issues that has arisen in other states with home grow is multiple individuals aggregating their home grow plants into a single location, in essence creating an unofficial cultivation facility. While preserving the language included in Issue 2, a maximum of six plants per person and 12 per household, HB354 clarifies that a household is the primary residence of an individual." He also observed that opponents of the issue do have legitimate concerns particularly as they relate to the advertising and marketing of cannabis to make sure the state's children and youth are not targeted.


 As a result of the impasse between the two houses, Issue 2 went into effect on Thursday, Dec. 7 as it was passed in November. 


NATURAL RESOURCES 


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) named 12 recipients of the Recreational Trails Program (RPT) grant, including several cities, villages, metro parks, and Ohio's national forest. ODNR works with the Federal Highway Administration for the Recreational Trails Program, which reimburses up to 80 percent of a project's funding. Projects eligible for funding include creating and maintaining trails, improving trail access for people with disabilities, and offering educational opportunities regarding trail safety or the environment. 


Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday announced $8.2 million in grants to support 12 new wetland projects as part of the H2Ohio Statewide Wetland Grant Program, which provides up to 100 percent funding for wetland projects in the state. ODNR has now launched 171 H2Ohio wetland projects, 86 of which are complete. The projects are cumulatively expected to reduce nitrogen by 798,000 pounds and capture 159,000 pounds of phosphorus every year once complete. 


PENSIONS


Zachary Christensen, managing director of the Pension Integrity Project at the Reason Foundation, gave a presentation to the House Pensions Committee in which he recommended use of actuarially determined employer contributions (ADEC), rather than the fixed, statutory rates that now govern employer funding of pension systems. His presentation focused on the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) and Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund, two of three systems now seeking legislative support for employer rate hikes. The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) also is lobbying for higher employer rates. Christensen said the Ohio systems have made steady progress in improving their funded status since the major disruptions of the 2008-2009 recession and reforms that followed. But he said his organization's modeling shows another recession or two in the coming decades could set them back seriously, particularly OP&F. 


PEOPLE


 On Monday, Dec. 4, President Joe Biden ordered that the flag of the United States will be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all public buildings on the day of the burial of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She died Friday, Dec. 1 at the age of 93. 


Lexis Dotson-Dufault is the next executive director of the Abortion Fund of Ohio (AFO), the organization announced Monday. Dotson-Dufault currently serves as the patient navigation program manager for AFO, which is a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance and support to help patients afford contraception, emergency contraception and abortion services. She is also a doula, abortion advocate, We Testify storyteller and Advocates for Youth co-coordinator.


 POLITICS 


The Ohio Republican Party's State Central Committee Friday overwhelmingly endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2024, with members praising his previous tenure in the White House and saying he has shown that he is the person for the job. The committee took two votes as part of the endorsement. The first was whether it should endorse in the presidential race, and the second on whether it should endorse Trump. No one spoke out against endorsing Trump, though some committee members voted against the motion to endorse at all, saying that when they ran for the committee they heard from Republicans that the state party should not be endorsing in primaries. Some who said they fully back Trump still said they did not think it was appropriate for the committee to be endorsing before the primary. Others said it was appropriate and they should be supporting "our president" as he is being attacked. The committee took a voice vote on the motion to endorse Trump, with the vote near-unanimous. 


PUBLIC SAFETY


 Ohio added the following five police departments to the list of state, county and local law enforcement agencies certified under state law enforcement standards: Bellaire (Belmont County), Haskins (Wood), Monroe (Butler), Warrensville Heights (Cuyahoga) and West Union (Adams). 


A total of $4 million in grant funding is now available to help local law enforcement agencies implement new violent crime gang reduction strategies in their communities, Gov. Mike DeWine announced. Since the Ohio Violent Crime Reduction Grant Program was launched in 2021, over 170 local law enforcement agencies have received nearly $80 million through the program for targeted programs and technology for preventing and solving violent crimes. Applications for the program are available at https://tinyurl.com/2svudhc9 through the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS). The application deadline is Thursday, Jan. 4 at 5 p.m. 


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


 Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Monday the state now has a policy on artificial intelligence (AI) within government, meant to promote innovation while maintaining "core principles" to responsibly implement and effectively manage the technology. The policy was developed by a group of state government leaders and IT experts. The administration said it includes "guardrails and governance" for generative AI, which can generate new content such as code, images, music, text, simulations, 3D objects and videos. Requirements to integrate AI into state solutions under the policy include "a formal process for identifying, documenting, reviewing and approving AI use." There is also guidance on how to train state employees about appropriate use of AI; set procurement guidelines that require business partners to share information related to use of AI and protection of state data; implement security and privacy controls for state agencies; and set statewide data governance requirements. 


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


 Up to four rail routes in Ohio could see expanded passenger service after the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded the state funds to take the next steps. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced that the FRA had selected four routes in Ohio as priorities for Amtrak expansion. He said the state, Amtrak and metropolitan planning organizations will now begin efforts to develop the four corridors, which include the preparation of a service plan, the next step in the process. According to Brown, the four corridors identified by the FRA as priority routes are the following:


  • Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati, the 3C+D corridor

  • Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit

  • Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus-Pittsburgh, the Midwest Connect corridor via Lima, Kenton, Marysville, Columbus, Newark, Coshocton, Newcomerstown, Uhrichsville and Steubenville in Ohio

  • Daily Cardinal Service, increasing service frequency from three days per week to daily on Amtrak's current service to Cincinnati between New York City, Washington, D.C. and Chicago via the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

FRA is also giving the state $500,000 for each announced corridor for planning. 


TREASURER OF STATE 


Treasurer Robert Sprague is hoping that new state home savings incentives will encourage more people to put down roots in Ohio, a benefit to future growth and to the financial institutions that will participate in the new Homebuyer Plus program. The program offers a variation on the longstanding Ag-Link program, which helps farmers borrow at reduced rates. Under Homebuyer Plus, earnings on state treasury deposits will be used to enhance the interest rate savers earn in accounts meant for the purchase of a home. Ag-Link, rates for which fluctuate quarterly, currently lets borrowers get a 1.1 percent versus the market's 3.75, and Homebuyer Plus is expected to provide similar rate changes. "I can tell you there's been a lot of excitement from several big institutions, and they really like this idea," Sprague said in an interview with Hannah News. When the program launches next year, Ohioans will be able to search to see if their bank or credit union participates. "If it's not, just ask them. Say, 'Hey, can I sign up for this account?' and they can submit an application to our office. We'll get all the plumbing arranged on the backside and qualify them."


 VETERANS


 Members of Veterans Service Commissions (VSCs) and other veteran organizations from around the state opposed legislation that aims to give more representation for younger veterans on VSCs. HB69 (Stewart-Willis) would require that county veterans service commissions include at least one member, of a total of five members, who served in the military after Sept. 11, 2001. Current law requires all five members to be appointed by a judge of the court of common pleas from a recommended list of individuals, which are provided by veterans' organization including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Disabled American Veterans, the AMVETS, the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A., the Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Korean War Veterans Association. 


The Ohio Department of Veterans Affairs is reminding veterans with military involvement in Afghanistan that the Ohio Veterans Bonus program associated with the Afghanistan conflict will end in 2024, three years after the end of military involvement in that country. A total of $9.3 million was included in Ohio's FY24-25 budget for the bonus program, which will sunset on Friday, Aug. 30, 2024. The program offers a bonus to those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces after Oct. 7, 2001. Veterans are eligible to receive $500 for service anywhere in the world, $1,000 for service in specifically designated countries or a maximum $1,500 bonus. After the maximum, veterans are not eligible for additional funds. Veterans who completed their deployments in Afghanistan and have not yet applied for the Ohio Veterans Bonus can do so until Friday, Aug. 30, 2024.






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


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