top of page

Week in Review December 18, 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


Attorneys representing abortion providers on Thursday filed an amended complaint in their lawsuit challenging "heartbeat" abortion ban 133-SB23 (Roegner) in light of Issue 1's passage. Ohio voters approved the reproductive/abortion rights constitutional amendment in November, and Attorney General Dave Yost has acknowledged that the amendment overrides 133-SB23. The case, Preterm-Cleveland v. Yost, was originally filed in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas on Sept. 2, 2022, and enforcement of the ban has been blocked since Sept. 14, 2022. Yost appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking the Court to consider the procedural issues in the case even though 133-SB23 is unconstitutional. Attorneys for abortion providers have now asked the Court to dismiss the case.


AGRICULTURE


The Columbus Crew will be allowed to build two additional practice fields at Historic Crew Stadium under a lease addendum approved by the Ohio Expositions Commission. The agreement expands the leased area in the vicinity of Historic Crew Stadium by approximately 8.8 acres while preserving the remainder of the property for year-round use by the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair, according to Gov. Mike DeWine's office. The acreage had previously been used for livestock trailers and other parking during the Ohio State Fair. As a part of the lease addendum, the Crew will pay additional annual rent and will open its parking facilities at Historic Crew Stadium during the Ohio State Fair to help ensure adequate parking for visitors.


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has awarded funding to more than 40 organizations around the state to help preserve farmland. The organizations -- including nine land trusts, seven counties and 25 soil and water conservation districts -- will receive allocations from the Clean Ohio Fund to select, close and monitor easements under the Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP). LAEPP allows landowners to voluntarily sell easements on their farms to the state of Ohio. Landowners who are interested in selling an agricultural easement are now able to apply with their LAEPP sponsor organization. Local sponsors in 51 counties have been certified to accept application to the program, and a list of local sponsors statewide can be found at http://tinyurl.com/2s3f69j3 .


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Former U.S. Attorney David DeVillers of Barnes & Thornburg LLP and the Crime Task Force convened by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce held a Capitol Square press conference with Attorney General Dave Yost Friday to announce a set of recommendations to the Ohio General Assembly and Ohio Attorney General's Office to stem the tide of billions of dollars in annual retail theft -- a major problem identified by 62 percent of businesses, which said retail theft and other crime has prevented their expansion, costing them $2-3 billion a year.

Attorney General Dave Yost announced a proposed settlement with Canton-based Republic Steel Tuesday over alleged air pollution from the Canton mill, which is closing permanently with oversight from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA). The agreement requires the company, considered the world's biggest steel bar manufacturer, to pay the city $300,000 for a house-cleaning program, "or another project benefiting the community," to compensate residents for the mill's excessive emissions.


AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY


Ohio is the first state in the nation to activate an electric vehicle (EV) charging station through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday. The charging station is located west of Columbus in Madison County at the Pilot Travel Center along Interstate 70 at U.S. Route 42. The chargers, installed by EVgo, are capable of providing 350 kW when charging a single vehicle. When four vehicles are connected to the charging port, each vehicle will receive up to 175 kW, which can charge an EV up to 80 percent in 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the vehicle's battery. ODOT is accepting proposals through 1 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 for the next round of funding for installation and operation of charging stations. More information on submitting a proposal can be found at https://tinyurl.com/92ren5ty .


FY24-25 BUDGET


As the 2023 legislative year winds down in a more subdued fashion than often occurs, HB101 (Bird-Schmidt) became a "Christmas tree" of sorts, albeit a four-foot version rather than the chock-full Christmas trees of years past. Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) explained that the substitute version of HB101 contains a number of corrections to the FY24-25 operating budget passed in HB33 (Edwards). The sub bill also, he explained, removes one provision from the original version of HB101 that would have permitted one county to use lodging tax revenues for a purpose other than hotels and tourism. The bill went on to clear the Senate unanimously but was not brought up in the House, with Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) saying they needed more time to study it and there was no hurry to get it done.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Legislation adding requirements around notification to parents of mental and physical health services their children are receiving as well as around "sexuality content" in schools drew a wave of opposition in Tuesday's Senate Education Committee, with many witnesses warning that the legislation would increase safety risks for LGBTQ+ students. The second hearing on HB8 (Swearingen-Carruthers), dubbed the "parents' bill of rights," drew testimony, both written and in-person, from 63 individuals, with the vast majority opposing the bill.


CITIES


Ohio mayors marked their annual meeting Thursday by emphasizing the primacy of cities to the state's economic future. The word of the day was bipartisanship and pragmatic politics, though many of those attending panned state education funding, GOP gun legislation and other majority inroads into home rule. Democratic Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, a member of the Ohio Mayors Alliance's executive board, made the case for the critical importance of their deliberations to the state as a whole. "There is no future for this state that does not run through Ohio cities," he said. Alliance members named economic development, housing and public safety as top concerns, to which a new crop of Ohio mayors would bring a "new perspective," Democratic Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown said.


Several Ohio cities earned perfect or nearly perfect ratings on their support of LGBTQ+ residents, according to a recent survey from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC's Municipal Equality Index (MEI) measures the inclusivity of municipal laws, policies and services for LGBTQ+ people who live and work in 506 cities across the U.S. Saying their work pushes back on "overreaching" state-level legislation, HRC ranked cities on five different metrics: nondiscrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, the efforts by the city to include LGBTQ+ residents in city services and programs, local law enforcement response to LGBTQ+ concerns, and leadership on LGBTQ+ equality. Overall, Ohio cities that earned ratings of 100 out of a possible 100 include Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Dublin. Lakewood scored 96, and Toledo scored 94 out of 100.


CORONAVIRUS/MONKEYPOX


The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reported 14,395 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, up from 13,215 on Dec. 7 and 12,835 on Nov. 30. Deaths are also on the rise, with 51 reported Thursday compared to 47 on Dec. 7 and 36 on Nov. 30. Hospitalizations have trended down, however, dropping from 500 on Nov. 30 to 445 on Dec. 7 and then 441 Thursday. ICU admissions fluctuated from 21 on Nov. 30 to 35 on Dec. 7 and then 18 on Thursday. In total, ODH has reported 3.62 million cases, 146,234 hospitalizations, 15,545 ICU admissions and 43,050 deaths since the pandemic began.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/URBAN REVITALIZATION


The DeWine administration and JobsOhio announced Monday payment processing solutions provider Worldpay will reestablish its global corporate headquarters in the Cincinnati area, creating more than 500 new jobs and $56 million in associated payroll to the region while retaining 971 jobs and $93 million in existing payroll. The company is one of the largest payment processors in the world, with $2 trillion in payment volume in 2022. It supports over one million merchant businesses and processes transactions in 146 countries across 135 currencies. The administration, JobsOhio and REDI Cincinnati worked with Worldpay to have its headquarters reestablished upon the pending separation from financial services technology company FIS. Worldpay, valued at $18.5 billion, is expected to become a standalone company in early 2024.


The DeWine administration also announced the approval of assistance for 11 projects expected to create 1,636 new jobs and retain 1,715 jobs statewide. These projects are expected to collectively result in more than $141 million in new payroll and spur more than $2.5 billion in investments across Ohio.


EDUCATION


Buckeye Valley Local Schools Superintendent Paul Craft will become the next state superintendent effective Jan. 1, 2024 after a vote Tuesday by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Craft won overwhelming majority support from board members in a vote between him and fellow finalist Jeffrey Greenley, the superintendent of Belpre City Schools, and the resolution to formally hire Craft then passed unanimously. Greenley received two votes for his candidacy, from members Christina Collins and Michelle Newman, versus 15 for Craft. Julia Simmerer, a Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) official who had also been named a finalist along with Craft and Greenley, was interviewed Tuesday as well. Per the resolution adopted by the board, Craft will begin at a salary of $190,000.


SBOE member Christina Collins will resign her position at year's end, she announced on social media Wednesday. Collins posted the resignation letter she sent to board President Paul LaRue and Vice President Martha Manchester, announcing her departure effective Sunday, Dec. 31. A Medina resident, she was elected in 2020 to represent District 7. Gov. Mike DeWine will fill the vacancy resulting from the resignation.


State Board of Education (SBOE) members said Monday they feel left out of the loop following the recent K-12 governance transition, though one member said he'd gotten personal assurance from incoming DEW Director Steve Dackin that he wants to maintain ties with the body. Members asked why they weren't getting invitations to events in their districts as had previously been the case. Board member Brendan Shea said colleague Diana Fessler, who was not at the meeting, shared with him she'd not been asked to attend the recent Milken Educator Awards presentation recognizing Ohio Hi-Point Career Center's Ryan Gilbert. Board President Paul LaRue said he'd likewise not been notified of that. "I read about it in Hannah News. I was not made aware of it," he said.


The Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC) and numerous districts throughout Ohio were dealing with online threats over the weekend, with the state determining some were not credible but advising vigilance nonetheless. "The OSSC is actively working with the Statewide Terrorism Analysis and Crime Center and Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as schools and local law enforcement to support their efforts in investigation of these threats. While some of the threats have been determined to be false through law enforcement investigation, the OSSC takes all threats to schools seriously and recommends that schools and first responders do the same," said a statement from OSSC, an arm of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS).


DEW is accepting applications from eligible vendors for high-quality core curriculum and instructional materials for English language arts, grade preK-5. Phase 1 applications were due Wednesday, Dec. 13. The department said it is conducting a phased review process for eligible vendors with materials that meet identified criteria and include instruction on foundational skills instruction in preK-5. Information is available on the department's website, at https://tinyurl.com/bjt24zj2 , about the criteria and process for establishing a list of high-quality core curriculum and instructional materials, as well as information about applications.


The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) recently announced plans to distribute free COVID-19 tests to schools across the country. In a letter sent to local education agencies (LEAs), school districts were encouraged to order tests directly from the federal government to be made available to students, parents, staff and school communities. "The Biden-Harris administration remains a committed partner with schools in keeping our students and teachers safe and healthy," said USDOE Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development Roberto Rodriguez. "These self tests are easy to use and can play an important role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. We encourage schools to make use of these free resources to safeguard students, parents and staff throughout the 2023-24 school year." All school districts are now able to order tests directly from the federal government, the department said. Schools can learn more about the program at https://tinyurl.com/nh96beu7.


Teachers in a nationwide study recently told researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) what strategies they think would work best to deal with student violence against educators, rating suspending or expelling students as the least effective way of addressing violence, despite the popularity of "zero tolerance" policies in many school districts. Instead, teachers rated prevention policies, such as counseling for troubled students and improving school climate, as the best strategy for dealing with violence.


Fourteen rural Ohio school districts, and their corresponding counties and townships, will share more than $2.1 million from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry's Trees to Textbooks program, which distributes revenue from the harvest of timber within Ohio's state forests. The Division of Forestry visited the Northwest Local School District and the Vinton County Local School District recently to deliver checks to school administrators and talk with the students about the importance of trees and forest fire prevention.


ELECTIONS 2024


Crystal Lett, who previously ran unsuccessfully for the Ohio Senate, launched her campaign for the Democratic nomination for the 11th House District. The seat is currently held by Rep. Anita Somani (D-Dublin), but recent redistricting puts her into Rep. Beth Liston's (D-Dublin) district. Liston is running for the Ohio Senate seat currently held by the term-limited Stephanie Kunze (R-Hillard), who defeated Lett in 2020.


Tony Hocevar, a previous House candidate from the Richmond Heights area, announced he will again run for the chamber in 2024. A Republican, he previously lost races to Democrats Kenny Yuko and Armond Budish. The 23rd House District is currently held by Rep. Dan Troy (D-Willowick), who is expected to run for re-election.


After Wednesday’s session, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) confirmed his run for the Ohio House in 2024, saying he had filed his petition. Asked if he was planning to run for House speaker, he said he would like to in the future, but "it's just sort of a question of when that might happen."


The Ohio Republican Party announced it will sponsor an Ohio U.S. Senate Republican Primary Debate along with Nextar Media Group at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 22 in Cleveland at the WJW studio. It is scheduled to be the first broadcast debate ahead of the Tuesday, March 19, 2024 primary election and will feature Secretary of State Frank LaRose, businessman Bernie Moreno, and Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls).


With U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) leaving his seat early next year to become the next president of Youngstown State University, multiple candidates have taken steps towards filling that vacancy. Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus (R-Minerva) told the Youngstown Vindicator that he plans to run for the seat, while Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) has filed a declaration of candidacy with the Federal Elections Commission, the newspaper said. If Stoltzfus does file to run, that means his House District 50 seat would be open. On the other hand, Rulli is running midterm. Others eyeing the seat include Republican Kurt Hilderbrand of Poland and Democrat Rylan Zachary Finzer of Bedford Heights, the newspaper said.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • The Ohio Democratic Party's Executive Committee endorsed U.S. House Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), Shontel Brown (D-Warrensville Heights), Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo), Greg Landsman (D-Cincinnati), and Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) for reelection.

  • We the People Convention endorsed J.R. Majewski in the Republican primary for the 9th Congressional District.

  • Reproductive Freedom for All endorsed U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) for re-election.

  • Ohio Value Voters endorsed Republican Craig Riedel for the 9th Congressional District seat.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Friday, the nation added 199,000 nonfarm jobs in November as the national unemployment rate fell from 3.9 percent in October to 3.7 percent in November. BLS said the number of unemployed persons, at 6.3 million, was little changed in November. Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers (11.4 percent) edged down in November. The jobless rates for adult men (3.7 percent), adult women (3.1 percent), Whites (3.3 percent), Blacks (5.8 percent), Asians (3.5 percent), and Hispanics (4.6 percent) showed little or no change in November. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) ticked down to 1.2 million in November. The long-term unemployed accounted for 18.3 percent of all unemployed persons.


ENERGY/UTILITIES


Chairwoman Jenifer French of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) already has surpassed the average 19-month tenure of four of her five immediate predecessors and has an opportunity to eclipse the relatively lengthy administration of former Chairman Asim Haque. However, that will require a reappointment to the commission next year, when the seat she assumed in 2021 following the resignation of former Chairman Sam Randazzo -- now indicted on federal bribery charges -- will reset for a full, five-year term on April 11. PUCO's 12-member Nominating Council, the first step in an increasingly embattled appointment process following the collapse of FirstEnergy bailout 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), announced Monday it is seeking new candidates for French's commission seat, which is technically separate from her role as chair. PUCO applications are due by 5 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.


The Ohio Senate Wednesday passed legislation that would allow natural gas utilities to charge consumers for infrastructure for major economic development projects. HB201 (Hillyer), which originally prevented state agencies from restricting the use of state motor vehicles based on which fuel they use, had been amended Tuesday in the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee to allow gas utilities to charge customers up to $1.50 monthly over five years to cover the cost of infrastructure extensions for economic development projects approved by the Ohio Department of Development (DOD), nonprofit development partner JobsOhio or its regional affiliates. On the floor, Sen. Rob McColley offered AM1593, which clarifies the changes to the regulatory deferral provisions in the bill regarding new costs contributing to excess customer charges and specifies no costs from previous years will contribute to that excess charge unless the costs are associated with a previously approved deferral. He said it makes sure that the deferrals they are contemplating in the language count towards the requirement that a project exceed the cost cap in order to be eligible for a deferral. The bill passed 23-8, with Sens. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) and Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario) joining most Democrats against it, and Sen. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati) voting in favor of the bill. The House later approved the amendments to the bill 60-31, sending it to the governor.


ENVIRONMENT


The DeWine administration announced Monday that H2Ohio will be expanded with a rivers program focused on forever chemicals, dam removal and land conservation among other efforts. The expansion involves $270 million allocated in the budget to H2Ohio, with around $47 million dedicated to the H2Ohio Rivers program. That money will support work by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) and local partners to examine a variety of issues affecting river health. The new program will also expand overall H2Ohio goals. Regarding river contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals," the expanded program will see Ohio become the first state to conduct a statewide survey measuring large rivers for the existence of PFAS. Those baseline measurement findings will be used to inform Ohio's work to remediate any contamination and give insight on any sport fish consumption advisories.


Innomark Real Estate LLC will receive $8.5 million in bond financing through the Clean Air Improvement Program (CAIP), the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) announced. Innomark is a visual merchandising solutions firm in Springboro. The company provides design, engineering, printing and manufacturing services. The energy improvement project includes the installation of increased roof and wall insulation, energy-efficient windows, HVAC systems and LED lighting fixtures as part of the company's 100,000-square-foot new construction building, OAQDA said.


The DeWine administration announced Tuesday applications are now being accepted for approximately $175 million in grants through the Brownfield Remediation Program, including $1 million set aside for each county in Ohio. The application window closes at 11:59 p.m. Monday, April 1, 2024. New guidelines were released by the Ohio Department of Development in November. DOD, working with the Greater Ohio Policy Center, the Ohio Economic Development Association, Ohio Land Bank Association and County Commissioners Association of Ohio, held a webinar on the program.


FEDERAL


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Wednesday told reporters that he is pressing the Biden administration for its strategy to address the role that the governments of China and Mexico play in illicit fentanyl trafficking. In a letter, Brown asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to lay out specific benchmarks for combating fentanyl trafficking and the opioid crisis and to "ensure accountability" from China and Mexico. The U.S. treasury has estimated that drug trafficking generates $100 billion a year that "flows" through the U.S. financial system, Brown said. He accused the government of China of breaking promises to stem the flow of fentanyl into the U.S, saying China supplies "precursor" chemicals used to make fentanyl to Mexican cartels that then distribute the drug in the U.S. He said also that "China's actors have come to play an increasing role in laundering money for the cartels in Mexico."


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) told reporters during a roundtable held Thursday in the Riffe Center that he thinks it is time to revisit term limits but said he does not know what that would look like. Stephens blamed some of the chaos and leadership fights in the Legislature in recent years on the high turnover due to term limits, noting that in most sessions around a quarter of the House members are new to the chamber. He also remarked how lawmakers like him can become speaker after only four years in the Legislature. He said that there's "a lot of people thinking about a constitutional amendment, and I think it's something that should be looked into."


The House Wednesday voted 62-26 to pass HB93 (Johnson-McClain), which would make it more difficult for local governments to collect unpaid utility bills from landlords whose tenants were supposed to pay the bills.


The House also passed the following bills:


  • SB91 (Schaffer), which requires state officials and employees of a state agency to report alleged fraud, theft in office or misuse of public money to the inspector general. The bill passed 90-0.

  • HB56 (Plummer-White), which increases penalties for willfully fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle. The bill passed 83-6.

  • HB111 (LaRe-K. Miller), which creates a presumption for a prison term for third-degree felony domestic violence. The bill passed 89-0.

  • HB141 (LaRe-Robb Blasdel), which prohibits a health benefit plan from imposing cost sharing for occupational therapy, physical therapy or chiropractic services that is more than the cost sharing for an office visit to a primary care physician or osteopath physician. The bill passed 80-8.

  • HB147 (Fowler-A. Miller), which deals with teacher licensure revocation and teacher hiring practices. The bill passed 84-4.

  • HB241 (J. Miller-K. Miller), which deals with filling vacant police department positions. The bill passed 90-0.

  • HB305 (Stewart-Brown), which deals with electronic court filings and fees. The bill passed 87-0.

The House also unanimously passed five highway naming bills.


Bills clearing the Senate Wednesday included the following:


  • SB98 (Rulli), addressing fraudulent business filings, passing unanimously.

  • SB162 (Brenner), regarding academic intervention services at public schools, passing unanimously.

  • SB168 (Reynolds), an educational reform bill that passed along party lines, with Democrats raising concerns about certain teacher licensing provisions.

  • SR240 (Johnson) condemning the Chinese Communist Party for its role in the global drug trade, passing by a vote of 31-1.

  • SR257 (Antonio) honoring the Bulgarian-American heritage in the state, passing unanimously.

  • The House amendments to SB91 (Schaffer), regarding fraud, waste and abuse of public funds.

In other legislative action, the House Criminal Justice reported out HB258 (Carruthers), which deals with tobacco sales to minors; the House Health Providers Services Committee reported out HB229 (Sweeney-Patton), which addresses Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy; the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB312 (White-Young), establishing Regional Partnerships Program; the House Rules and Reference Committee reported out naming bills HB128 (Cutrona) and HB251 (Pavliga); the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee reported out SB156 (Reineke-Hackett), which deals with river designations; and the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out HJR5 (Ferguson-Santucci), which proposes a constitutional amendment to establish the right to hunt and fish; and HB264 (Pizzulli-M. Johnson) dealing with waste energy recovery systems.


 GUNS


Senate Democrats Tuesday outlined four bills they have introduced this General Assembly to address gun violence around the state. Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) discussed two of the bills -- SB188 (Craig -Sykes) and SB189 (Craig-Sykes) -- which both address safe storage. Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) discussed SB187 (Craig-Sykes), which would codify in Ohio law federal law barring those convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. She said that domestic violence in the U.S. "has a frequent and deadly correlation to gun violence." Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) discussed his SB164 (Craig), which would enact the Suicide Self-Defense Act, which would allow individuals struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts to put themselves on a registry that would prohibit them from obtaining a firearm. He noted that guns are the most common and lethal method of suicide. 


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


 The Senate mostly along party lines Wednesday approved legislation that would ban gender-reassignment surgeries and medications for transgender youth and transgender girls from playing girls' sports. The House later approved the Senate amendments to HB68 (Click), sending the bill to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. The governor was noncommittal on what he would do with the bill, telling the Statehouse News Bureau, "I'm going to reserve that comment until I see the final bill." The bill passed 24-8, with Sen. Nathan Manning joining all Senate Democrats in opposition to the bill. Later, the House voted 61-27 to concur with Senate amendments to HB68. 


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn't doing its "actual job" with regard to kratom, according to the American Kratom Association (AKA). "The FDA's role should be to help consumers understand the marketplace and remove bad actors from it. However, they have simply declared all kratom products unlawful and are therefore ignoring the reality that millions of Americans have and will continue to use kratom increasingly as they prefer the improved sense of wellbeing they experience compared to when they consume coffee or products like energy drinks," AKA said. However, AKA said consumers should be careful about which kratom products they use because some vendors are making illegal therapeutic claims or are offering "super-concentrated" products that pose potential safety threats.


 HIGHER EDUCATION


 The Kent State University Board of Trustees has approved the establishment of a new "cybercriminology" major, which will be offered fully online, in addition to a mostly online delivery at all Kent State campuses. "Cybercriminology is a new and growing field that has demand from business and government entities due to its combining of computer and criminal justice knowledge and skills. It is the practice of investigating and preventing attacks and threats that exploit human or security weakness in systems to steal data, money or passwords or to target individuals or a group of individuals.” The School of Multidisciplinary Social Sciences and Humanities within the College of Arts and Sciences will establish the new major, effective fall 2024, pending final approval by the Ohio Department of Higher Education. 


The Senate voted 25-7 along party-lines Wednesday to approve appointments to the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the University of Toledo (UT) and the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture and Society at Ohio State University (OSU), following an earlier vote by the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee that was unanimous. Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), who co-sponsored SB117 along with Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) on that topic before it was included in the budget, praised the vote. Cirino also chairs the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee. 


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


 The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) Tuesday released guidelines for the Welcome Home Ohio program, created to improve affordable housing access throughout the state. The window for grant and tax credit applications will open on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 and will close at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, with rolling applications accepted from Feb. 12 to May 31 as funds are available. The program offers $100 million in grants over the biennium for landbanks to purchase, rehabilitate, or build qualifying residential properties for income-eligible Ohioans. There will also be $50 million in nonrefundable tax credits available to landbanks and eligible developers over the biennium for qualifying rehabs and new construction once a property is sold. DOD staff will host a webinar at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 18 to go over the guidelines in detail and take questions. 


HUMAN SERVICES


 Ohio Department of Children and Youth (DCY) Director Kara Wente Friday announced a new $15 million Infant and Toddler Infrastructure Grant Program to allow currently licensed centers to expand their programs. The grants are intended to offset the costs of lower staff-to-child ratios for infants and toddlers and the additional space, equipment and supplies needed to serve this age group as child care programs struggle with workforce issues, the department said. The grants may be used to provide workforce supports, reopen an infant/toddler classroom, convert a closed classroom to an infant/toddler classroom or expand programs for infant/toddler space, open new programs, technical assistance, facilities improvement, and classroom supplies. More information can be found at https://tinyurl.com/2jpu4b3w or https://tinyurl.com/5n825x6s.


 JUDICIAL 


A member of the state bar tells the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct certain government officials and other parties are continuing to demand confidentiality agreements preventing opposing counsel from addressing the media or advertising their role in a case -- even when the information is public record under state or federal law and the settlement contradicts the board's previously stated position. The conduct board announced over five years ago in Advisory Opinion 2018-03 and reaffirmed in 2019-04 that a legal agreement binding a lawyer's future disclosure of information in court records from the case violates his or her right to practice law and hinders potential clients' knowledge of the attorney's professional expertise. "However, due to the complexity of exemptions contained in state or federal law, not all requests to prohibit disclosure will be a violation of Rule 5.6(b) of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct," the board cautions in its latest opinion on the matter in Advisory Opinion 2023-13. 


LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR 


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted answered press questions on the indictment of former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Sam Randazzo Friday, saying he has not read the indictment and emphasizing how he and Gov. Mike DeWine had made it known they "wanted to save the nuclear power plants" before they were elected in 2018. Husted spoke to reporters following remarks at the Ohio Farm Bureau's annual meeting. In those comments, he described the role of farmers in supply chains and how technology is being used in the industry, including "seed genetics" that make crops more sustainable and productive. He also discussed Ohio's current labor situation and state efforts to bring more people into the workforce.


 LOBBYISTS 


Ice Miller announced Monday that Eric Leach has joined the firm's Government Affairs and Regulatory Law Group as director of government affairs. He will focus on workforce development and education in emerging technology sectors such as telecommunications, broadband, and electric vehicles. Prior to joining Ice Miller, Leach served as the deputy director of the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation, serving under Lt. Governor Jon Husted, where he led policy initiatives for the DeWine-Husted administration, including Ohio's broadband and 5G workforce strategy, electric vehicle workforce strategy, and a comprehensive statewide policy plan for computer science and cybersecurity education. 


The Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities (OACB) announced Wednesday that Jake Dowling has been selected as the organization's new legislative affairs manager effective Jan. 1, 2024. Dowling joins the association representing Ohio's 88 county boards of developmental disabilities (DD) after nearly six years in the Ohio Senate, most recently serving as senior legislative aide for State Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland). 


MARIJUANA/HEMP


 James Canepa will be the first superintendent of the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Cannabis Control, DOC Director Sherry Maxfield announced Thursday. Canepa has served as superintendent of the DOC Division of Liquor Control for six years. DOC said Canepa's track record of implementing effective solutions has earned him the trust of the liquor industry and consumers alike. In addition, Greg McIlvaine -- who has served as policy director for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program for the past four years -- will also assume a leadership role within the newly-created DOC Division of Cannabis Control. 


The voter-approved adult use marijuana legalization initiated statute will likely remain in effect as passed until at least January 2024, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) told reporters Tuesday. "Generally speaking, we want to maintain the will of the people. It's an extremely important thing for a lot of members on both sides of the aisle," he said. Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord), a House Republican leader on marijuana issues, said he's been speaking frequently with Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and other Senate leaders about how lawmakers will move forward. 


The General Assembly should use a portion of the tax revenue generated by adult use marijuana excise taxes to fund workforce development in the cannabis industry, Cleveland School of Cannabis founder Austin Briggs told the House Finance Committee Wednesday during interested party testimony on HB354 (Callender). "There are a lot of organizations that could benefit from these taxes and many of them have worthy causes. But ... many of these organizations already have multiple sources of funding. Workforce development has no other funding sources. The cannabis tax is the only fund that can be allocated to workforce development in the cannabis industry," Briggs said. 


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM 


The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) Monday did not move to block a rules package proposed by the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) that increases reimbursement rates for assisted living providers, despite concerns from the panel over the exclusion of the critical access rate that had been proposed by the General Assembly in budget bill HB33 (Edwards) but line-item vetoed by Gov. Mike DeWine. The rules package included increases for the base rate and memory care rate for assisted living providers, but David Cocagne, the chairman of Silver Birch Assisted Living, an assisted-living company based in Indiana that is looking to expand its operations in Ohio, argued that ODM was not following legislative intent by failing to include the critical access care rate in the package. In vetoing the budget language, which would have codified certain Medicaid rates in statute, DeWine said ODM and other affected agencies are supportive of the increases and will work to implement the legislative rate increases, but said putting the rates in statute restricts the ability of the agencies to appropriately manage the policies and costs of the Medicaid program in a way that benefits Ohio consumers and complies with federal regulations. 


CBIZ Optumas will continue to perform actuarial services for the Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee (JMOC). Committee members unanimously voted Thursday to allow JMOC Executive Director Jada Brady to enter into a contract with CBIZ Optumas for up to $300,000. JMOC spent the majority of its meeting hearing a presentation from Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran and other ODM leaders on the "Next Generation of Ohio Medicaid." 


NATURAL RESOURCES 


Ohio's weeklong white-tailed deer gun hunting season concluded earlier this month on Sunday, Dec. 3, with hunters taking 70,118 deer, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. Last year, hunters took 71,931 deer during the gun week. The three-year average for deer harvest during the seven-day gun season is 71,322. An additional weekend of deer gun hunting will happen on Dec. 16-17. During the deer gun week, hunters checked 25,044 antlered deer (36 percent of the harvest) and 45,074 antlerless deer (64 percent), a category which includes does and button bucks. The top 10 counties for deer taken during the week of gun season were: Coshocton (2,441), Tuscarawas (2,260), Ashtabula (2,189), Muskingum (2,076), Knox (1,880), Carroll (1,864), Guernsey (1,798), Washington (1,582), Licking (1,570), and Harrison (1,533). Coshocton County also led the state in 2022 with 2,457 deer checked. 


NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS 


This week's meeting of the OneOhio Recovery Foundation Board included appointment of four new members to the foundation's expert panel, which advises the board on how to use its funding. The expert panel, established in the contract between state and local governments that created OneOhio, consists of professionals with backgrounds in addiction and recovery matters.


 PENSIONS 


Ohio pension funds saw returns ranging from 5.1 percent to 8.3 percent in the first half of 2023, with more noticeable divergence among the funds' performance and strategies than has been typical, an investment expert told the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) at Thursday's meeting. The council also reviewed formal actuarial valuations for three systems Thursday: Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) and Highway Patrol Retirement System (HPRS). Those valuations can trigger a statutory requirement for long-term funding plans, but none of the three met those parameters. The law requires plans to submit a plan if the valuation shows it will take more than 30 years for them to pay down their unfunded liabilities. The amortization period for HPRS was reported at 21 years; for OPERS, at 16 years; and for OP&F, at 26.7 years. While all are below 30 years, system leaders reported challenges they face. 


PEOPLE 


The Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OFHA) announced the following staff changes and additions: Barbara Carter has joined its Office of Multifamily Housing as a compliance review coordinator. Carter was previously in a role through Robert Half ensuring regulatory adherence, maintaining compliance standards, and assuring project data and quality. Carrie Manno becomes Single Family Tax Credit section chief. Previously Manno was with the Ohio Department of Development as the deputy chief of the Office of Grants and Tax Initiatives. Mindy Picklesimer becomes payroll and absence management officer in OHFA's Human Resources Office. She has over 10 years' experience in accounting/payroll/human resources. Finally, Cody R. Price, Ph.D., was promoted to 9 Percent Housing Tax Credit section chief, where he will be responsible for drafting the 9 Percent LIHTC Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) and guiding the annual competitive application process, among other tasks. Price has previously been a housing grant analyst II and a research analyst at OHFA. 


POLITICS 


The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) announced this week the sites in which delegates from each of Ohio's congressional districts will be selected for the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. According ODP, Ohioans have until Tuesday, Dec. 26, to submit a declaration of candidacy to run as a delegate. Each congressional district will host a selection site on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, where district level delegates will be selected. 


PUBLIC SAFETY 


The Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) has awarded over $5 million to 153 projects in 56 Ohio communities for crime prevention and control. The funds, from the federal Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) program, support the work of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, courts, corrections facilities and crime victim and witness initiatives and may be used for state or local projects, technical assistance, strategic planning, research and evaluation (including forensics), data collection, training, personnel, equipment, forensic laboratories, supplies, contractual support and criminal justice information systems. Grants were awarded after a competitive application process among state agencies, nonprofit organizations, colleges, universities and other criminal justice-related agencies from throughout Ohio. A full list of Ohio projects awarded can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/y9a8zd5j . 


STATE GOVERNMENT


 A week after Ohio's issuer rating was upgraded to Aaa by Moody's, the DeWine administration announced Friday that S&P Global Ratings has joined Moody's and Fitch Ratings in giving Ohio a "AAA" issuer default and general obligation bond rating. It is the first time Ohio received the top rating from all three agencies. That reflects "Ohio's demonstrated commitment to active budget management, building and maintaining reserves, significant state-supported economic diversification efforts, and a belief that the state can maintain better credit characteristics than the U.S. in a stress scenario," according to the administration.


 The Senate Health Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to accept Gov. Mike DeWine's appointment of LeeAnne Cornyn as Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) director after hearing about her career and plans to engage with providers. Cornyn is a longtime aide to DeWine, currently serving as his deputy chief of staff. She told the committee about her initial work as an eighth-grade teacher at a charter school in South Central Los Angeles, calling it a "truly transformative experience" due to the adversity her students faced. Some of them struggled with mental illness, suicidal ideations and attempts and substance use, Cornyn continued, and she saw the importance of "protective factors" and interventions as well. Cornyn further detailed her experience in the Ohio Attorney General's office under DeWine, including work on children's initiatives. One such effort helped youth affected by parental substance abuse. She then became director of the Governor's Office of Children's Initiatives following DeWine's 2018 election. Cornyn added that her subsequent time as director of cabinet affairs gave her a "deep understanding" of how to run a state agency. 


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE 


The House Aviation and Aerospace Committee heard a presentation Tuesday from Ohio State University (OSU) professors Jesse Little and Jack McNamara on the university's Aerospace Research Center (ARC) within the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The two discussed potential future expansion of university work on hypersonics, including requirements inherent to related classified work. ARC has a 46,000 square foot facility with multiple laboratories and custom testing equipment, including wind tunnels for subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic technology. Hypersonic refers to speeds in excess of Mach 5. ARC research pillars include uncrewed aircraft systems, gas turbine engines, aerodynamic flow control and hypersonics. McNamara noted how hypersonics have been described as "the next generation of game-changing weapons." China and Russia are investing heavily in them already and have made significant advances in the past decade so the U.S. needs to keep up, he added.


TOBACCO/SMOKING/VAPING


 Local governments can still ban flavored tobacco products and impose other types of restrictions on nicotine -- for now. The House voted 60-31 on Wednesday to override Gov. Mike DeWine's veto of budget bill HB33's (Edwards) language prohibiting local regulations of tobacco and alternative nicotine products. Reps. Adam Holmes (R-Nashport), Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) joined Democrats in voting against the override. In order for the veto to be overridden, a three-fifths majority vote from the Senate is also needed. The upper chamber adjourned without taking up the issue on Wednesday. 


WORKFORCE


 Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced that 26 workforce partnerships will receive awards through the fourth round of Industry Sector Partnership (ISP) Grants, with the total of $5 million in awards doubling the amount of funding ever awarded in a single round. The first three ISP Grant program rounds awarded 27 partnerships a total of $7.5 million. The program supports efforts to bring Ohioans into the workforce pipeline while meeting the needs of businesses and the local economy. Awarded partnerships will focus on building a workforce for in-demand sectors including manufacturing, transportation and health care. The industry sector partnerships are designed to develop regional strategies with the goal of increasing collaboration among local businesses, education and training providers, and community stakeholders.







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


62 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments

Couldn’t Load Comments
It looks like there was a technical problem. Try reconnecting or refreshing the page.
bottom of page