Week In Review - December 20, 2021



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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


The Mason City Council has voted 6-1 to repeal its recently-implemented anti-abortion ordinance. Two members who supported the ordinance lost their seats in the Nov. 2 election, according to media reports. The ordinance, which banned abortion and abortion-related services within city limits, passed by a vote of 4-3 in October. Mason was the second Ohio city to declare itself a "sanctuary city for the unborn," following an ordinance passed by Lebanon City Council in May. Abortion clinics do not operate in Mason or Lebanon.


AGING


Ohio adoption of state-initiated retirement plans implemented in largely "blue" states could spare Buckeyes hardship in their later years, AARP Ohio said Wednesday during its "Preparing for Ohio's Retirement Crisis" presentation with state Treasurer Robert Sprague. AARP hosted the panel discussion with Sprague; Anne Zimmerman, owner of Zimmerman & Co. CPAs and treasurer of the Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce in Hamilton County; Executive Director Angela Antonelli of the Center for Retirement Initiatives at Georgetown University; and Senior Strategic Policy Advisor David John of the AARP Public Policy Institute. "More than 30 states are considering creating retirement plans for private-sector workers whose employers do not already offer one," AARP says, noting Ohio could save $241 million in public assistance between 2018 and 2032 if minorities, women and other economically challenged Ohioans could increase their annual retirement income by $1,000.


AGRICULTURE


The federal "Build Back Better" bill will strengthen the agricultural industry and rural areas across Ohio, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said Friday. "Build Back Better will be the biggest investment in conservation and agriculture innovation since the Dust Bowl," said Brown, who joined Vilsack for a tour and a press conference at the Ohio State University (OSU) College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). "This will support research at places like OSU and Central State University. It'll help farmers from Logan County to Lorain increase yields and help their bottom line, making us a more prosperous state," Brown said.


FY22-23 BUDGET


While many Ohio businesses, law enforcement departments and other sectors have been granted American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars by state government leaders, advocates of human services agencies and the arts industry are feeling left out. "In other states, we are seeing them use important amounts of this money to actually provide for the major human needs that have not been addressed. So we need to make sure that the people who were hit hardest, who are being left behind, are in fact targeted for assistance," Policy Matters Ohio Research Director Zach Schiller said during an Advocates for Ohio's Future (AOF) press conference on Monday.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


A recent study from Ohio State University (OSU) has found the state's most populous county lags national averages for how many eligible children enroll in formal early education programs by as much as 10 percentage points. Additionally, the study found children in some of Columbus' economically disadvantaged neighborhoods -- Linden, Hilltop and Southside -- experienced even lower enrollment than the average in Franklin County. Approximately one of every two young children in Franklin County is not participating in out-of-home care during conventional work hours, and significantly fewer children in the Linden, Hilltop and Southside subgroup participated in out-of-home care (47 percent). National estimates suggest that 60 percent of children between 0-5 receive out-of-home care on a regular basis, the study said.


CITIES


The Ohio Mayors Alliance (OMA) offered a preview of its new "Strong Cities For a Stronger Ohio" initiative Thursday, while also introducing new members who were recently elected and detailing opportunities posed by federal funding for COVID-19 relief and infrastructure improvements. Findlay Mayor Christina Muryn said the initiative involves policies that will be shared early next year to strengthen Ohio, and that they look forward to working with state leaders and legislative partners in a bipartisan manner. This will also include stronger partnerships with the business community, law enforcement and education leaders, Muryn continued.


CIVIL RIGHTS


The Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) and Ohio History Connection Friday, Dec. 10 unveiled the first historical marker on the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail which honors Cory United Methodist Church (UMC). Cory UMC played a significant role in the civil rights movement and was host to both grassroots organizations and nationally recognized leaders such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.


CORONAVIRUS


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Bruce Vanderhoff once again implored Ohioans to get the COVID-19 vaccine, or receive a booster if they are eligible, as cases continue to rise in the state. Gov. Mike DeWine also announced Thursday that he and First Lady Fran DeWine were exposed Monday evening to a person who has since tested positive for COVID-19. Both DeWines have no symptoms, and tested negative for the virus Thursday morning. The couple will continue to be tested daily and postpone public events, DeWine said. The state reported 11,803 COVID-19 cases Thursday -- with 1,347 from a backlog -- well surpassing the 7,581 21-day average. In addition, there were 391 new hospitalizations, compared to the 21-day average of 313, and 25 new ICU admissions, compared to the 21-day average of 31.


While the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) announced the first two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant Saturday, Dec. 11, subsequently reported data on variants showed it represents 0.49 percent of PCR test samples in a collection period that included the two weeks ending Dec. 4. The two individuals, both adult males in Central Ohio, tested positive on a Dec. 7 PCR test, and had received initial vaccines over six months ago without getting a booster shot. They were experiencing "mild symptoms" and had not been hospitalized as of Saturday.


CORRECTIONS


The former Hocking Correctional Unit will be repurposed into a day-treatment facility for misdemeanor offenders and a female-only jail under a new plan announced Monday by Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Director Annette Chambers-Smith. The prison was closed in 2018. Under the renovation plan, the jail will be operated by the Hocking County Sheriff's Office. "This is an important investment for the criminal justice system in this region of the state," said DeWine. "This multifunctional facility will help ease the burden on area jails and offer important treatment opportunities to help those who have been jailed due to substance use disorders and mental health issues." DRC received Controlling Board approval at Monday's meeting to dedicate $12 million in capital funding for the project's design and construction. Once complete, the jail and treatment facility will serve Hocking and other surrounding counties.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


JobsOhio's final board of directors meeting in 2021 saw comments reviewing their "record" year by Board Chairman Bob Smith, along with Gov. Mike DeWine and JobsOhio President and CEO J.P. Nauseef. The private economic development nonprofit is in its 10th year. Smith said that while the pandemic is ongoing, 2021 has seen the best results ever for new jobs, projects won and payroll created. That only tells part of the story, he added, and they are looking at how to improve in serving Ohioans in all 88 counties. Helping businesses with talent now and in the future is an important effort, and Smith said 2022 could be "very special." DeWine detailed JobsOhio's efforts early in the pandemic to help the state in regard to securing personal protective equipment (PPE) and manufacturing PPE locally. It also helped assist 15,000 businesses and 300,000 jobs that were most at risk. While other states have needed to scale back their economic development efforts due to financial constraints, Ohio was able to "push forward," he said.


EDUCATION


A committee of the State Board of Education held off Monday on a planned vote for rules to implement new educational savings accounts for afterschool programs, flagging the potential for fraud in the program and a lack of details on a related vendor contract. Lawmakers had used the biennial budget, HB110 (Oelslager), to set aside $125 million in federal COVID relief funding to enact the afterschool child enrichment (ACE) educational savings account program. Families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level can receive $500 per child per fiscal year of the biennium to cover the costs of tutoring, music lessons, day camps, museum admission or other eligible activities. The law directs the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to hire a vendor to administer the accounts and handle payments to vendors. The department got only one bid, from the company ClassWallet, ODE Chief Counsel Immy Singh told the board's Emerging Issues and Operational Standards Committee.


Members of the State Board of Education's (SBOE) Teaching, Leading and Learning (TLL) Committee raised concerns about their timeline for approving a soon-to-be-released guidebook on dyslexia education. 133-HB436 (Baldridge), signed into law at the beginning on 2021, created the Ohio Dyslexia Committee (ODC), which is charged with, among other items, creating a guidebook focused on the best practices and methods for screening and teaching children with dyslexia or children displaying dyslexic characteristics. The law also requires school districts and other public schools to administer annual dyslexia screenings, beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, and phases in over three years dyslexia-related professional development requirements for public school teachers. A draft of ODC's guidebook is set to be finished by the end of the year and is scheduled to be reviewed by the TLL in January followed by the full state board. ODE staff said public comment on the guidebook will open Monday, Jan. 3 and run through Wednesday, Jan. 19.


Attracting a good crop of quality candidates for the state superintendent position will likely require offering higher pay than initially expected, the State Board of Education's Budget Committee determined Monday. Meanwhile, the board has a new group of executive search firms under review after an initial solicitation turned up just one bidder, who was deemed unqualified. In November, the committee's discussions focused on a pay range of $200,000 to $240,000; former Superintendent Paolo DeMaria made $216,000 by comparison. But a review of data for pay of local school superintendents in Ohio, plus the recognition that many of them are getting substantial compensation beyond the base salary, led the committee to decide it should recommend $250,000 or more in base salary to the full board. That would be supplemented by a $6,000 car allowance -- which DeMaria also received -- and a state employee health care package, said Mike Toal, chair of the Budget Committee.


The State Board of Education's Performance and Impact Committee Monday looked at how schools and districts might fare on the new report card system's Achievement Component, which reflects student test performance. Shelby Robertson, director of the Office of Accountability at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), led the committee through a review of three report card components: Achievement; Graduation; and College Career, Workforce and Military Readiness. The bulk of the two-hour meeting focused on Achievement. Lawmakers had converted the A-F report card system to a 5-star rating system per HB82 (Cross-Jones). Robertson said the new law specifies each star rating is to signify the following:


5: Significantly exceeds state standards


4 and 4.5: Exceeds state standards


3 and 3.5: Meets state standards


2 and 2.5: Needs support to meet state standards


1 and 1.5: Needs significant support to meet state standards


ELECTIONS


In a busy meeting Thursday, the Ohio Elections Commission set a hearing on potential campaign finance violations for Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Blystone, found finance violations for a House candidate backed by former House Speaker Larry Householder and approved four advisory opinions addressing the use of cryptocurrency and Venmo.


The U.S. Census Bureau this week included Cuyahoga County on its list of 331 jurisdictions across the nation that are required under the Voting Rights Act to provide language assistance during elections for citizens who are unable to speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the election process. The Census Bureau said it made the determinations in accordance with specifications in the Voting Rights Act as amended in July 2006.


ELECTIONS 2022


Rep. Jeffrey Crossman (D-Parma) announced Thursday that he will run for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2022, seeking to take on Attorney General Dave Yost. Crossman, who is in his second term in the Ohio House, released an announcement video emphasizing his background and how his upbringing will help make him an effective attorney general. He said he will look out for the interests of working Ohioans rather than the special interests that he said have thrived under the current administration.


Thanks to congressional redistricting plan SB258 (McColley), there will be two filing deadlines for the Tuesday, May 3 primary election next year. The filing deadline for most offices, including those for the Ohio House and Senate and the statewide constitutional offices on the ballot is Wednesday, Feb. 2. However, due to the elongated process for creating new congressional districts that was passed as part of SB258, the filing deadline for U.S. House candidates to file their paperwork was delayed until Friday, March 4, 2022.


Rep. Lisa Sobecki is forgoing another term in the Ohio House of Representatives to run for Lucas County commissioner in 2022, the Toledo Blade reports. Sobecki is in her second term in the Ohio House after she was elected in 2018. According to the Toledo Blade, she would challenge Gary Byers, a Democrat who is in his first term and whose seat is up for election next year.


Matt King recently launched his campaign for the 46th Ohio House District, which in 2022 will include the cities of Middletown and Monroe and the townships of Liberty, Lemon, St. Clair and Madison in Butler County. King, director of marketing and automation for Hightowers Petroleum Company in Middletown and president and founder of Drone Camp, a drone and aviation education company, recently held an event to announce his campaign at Niederman Farm in Liberty Township.


The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Tim Ryan announced the endorsements of the Ohio Federation of Teachers; the United Auto Workers; and the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters.

  • The gubernatorial campaign of John Cranley announced the endorsements of Peter Lawson Jones; Marvin A. McMickle, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church; and Warren Mayor William "Doug" Franklin.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Morgan Harper announced the endorsement of The Collective PAC.


ENERGY


Ohio headed into the final months of 2021 with some mixed signals for the shale "fracking" industry. The state posted its second-highest total for natural gas production in Q3 but just missed its seven-year low for barrels of oil. Horizontal wells produced 674 billion cubic feet (CF) of gas in the three months ending September, matching last year's fourth quarter and just missing the state's record high of 685 billion CF in Q3 of 2020. Natural gas numbers had flattened in the first half of 2021, apparently due to uncertainty over the Biden administration's energy policies and economic uncertainties from COVID-19. Meanwhile, oil production for the latest third quarter fell another 7 percent from April-June to 3.8 million barrels, just beating its 3.5-million-barrel total for fourth-quarter 2014.


ENVIRONMENT


Gov. Mike DeWine issued an executive order on Tuesday, Dec. 7 declaring an emergency in regard to brownfield sites, thus enabling the Ohio Department of Development (DOD) to suspend the normal rule-making process in regard to the Building Demolition and Site Revitalization and Brownfield Remediation programs. This allows for immediate adoption of Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) rules 122:31-1-01, 122:31-1-02, 122:31-1-03, 122:31-1-04, 122:31-1-05, 122:31-1-06, 122:32-1-01, 122:32-1-02, 122:32-1-03, 122:32-1-04, 122:32-1-05 and 122:32-1-06, according to the order. DOD released guidelines that day on the Brownfield Remediation Program, which provides around $350 million in total funds and $1 million set aside for each county. If that minimum funding is not obligated by June 30, 2022, the funds will become available to all eligible projects on a first-come, first-serve basis.


The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) has awarded more than $156 million in low-interest rate funding to improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure across the state. The loans include $12.6 million in principal forgiveness, according to the agency. "Combined, Ohio communities will save more than $34 million when compared to market-rate loans. The projects are improving Ohio's surface water quality and the reliability and quality of Ohio drinking water systems. This funding includes assistance to local health districts to help low-income property owners repair or replace failing household sewage treatment systems," Ohio EPA said.


FEDERAL


U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told reporters Tuesday that he is concerned about intelligence reports that suggest Russia may invade Ukraine, saying the U.S. has an obligation to deter Russia and stand with its allies. Speaking with reporters during his weekly call-in, Portman called out majority Democrats in the Senate for not allowing more discussion on Ukraine and possible amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, saying he voted against cloture on the bill because of it. He said they need to show the world the U.S. is unified against the potential threat against Ukraine. He also noted other potential amendments to the bill addressing cybersecurity that were not heard.


Portman also said he joined with other senators to raise concerns with the Biden administration about immigration enforcement, with some staff being transferred away from enforcement duties and put into other areas. He said he remains concerned about inflation getting worse, noting recent reports on increases to the Consumer Price Index as well as the Producer Price Index, which increased by the highest rate it has seen in 10 years. He said it is the wrong time to have another huge infusion of federal money into the economy, which he argued will make inflation worse.


GAMING/GAMBLING


Ohio's gambling revenues over the last three months were higher than they were during that same period in 2020, according to data provided by the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) and the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC). The state's four casinos made $78.1 million in November 2021, $80.9 million in October 2021 and $78.9 million in September 2021. Those facilities made $59.5 million in November 2020, $74.8 million in October 2020 and $71.9 million in September 2020. The video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Ohio's seven racinos made $100.7 million in November 2021, $111.8 million in October 2021 and $106.5 million in September 2021. The VLTs made $73.9 million in November 2020, $94.3 million in October 2020 and $92.8 million in September 2020.


Ohio bettors will definitely be allowed to place wagers on Ohio State football and basketball games when the state's legalized sports gambling industry launches, according to Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) Executive Director Matt Schuler. "I'll just make it real clear right now -- the General Assembly did not exempt collegiate sports from sports wagering, and neither is the commission," Schuler told reporters after the commission's monthly meeting, during which commissioners were presented with an overview of HB29 (Wiggam-A. Miller).


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The Controlling Board Monday approved nearly all of the items on its agenda in its final meeting of the year. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) had a late addition to the agenda to hire an expert witness in the agency's attempts to pull the license of an Ashland County provider. Vanessa McMahon, legislative liaison for the agency, explained that OhioMHAS has health and safety concerns for the youth at the facility, especially when it comes to youth exclusion and restraint.


McMahon told Sen. Vern Sykes (D-Akron) that the consultant, LBIC Consulting, charges $950 an hour. Sykes asked if that is unusual for an expert witness. McMahon said there aren't many witnesses in that area, leading to a higher demand. The item was added to the agenda and approved without objection.


In other action, the Controlling Board approved without objection a request from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to issue a number of contracts to perform studies required under 133-SB310 (Dolan), the capital appropriations bill. Rep. Bride Sweeney (D-Cleveland) asked ODE's Aaron Rausch why it took over a year to get the contracts before the Controlling Board as the bill was passed in the last session. Rausch said ODE would have liked to have moved faster itself, but has talked to the vendors who believe they can complete all of the work ahead of next December and before lawmakers start considering the FY24-25 biennial budget. He said ODE issued competitive bid requests for the contracts, though only one vendor applied for some of the contracts. He also noted that they are making sure to include educator input in the results of the studies. Sweeney said the sooner lawmakers have the information, the better, and asked if there are measures to ensure there won't be any delays to the studies. Rausch said all three vendors have "pretty detailed" timelines and expectations on what will happen between now and next December to make sure the work is completed by then.


On Wednesday, the Ohio Senate agreed to House amendments on SB102 (Roegner) to revise specified provisions of the liquor control law; SB157 (Johnson-S. Huffman) to require reports to be made after a child is born alive following an abortion or attempted abortion, to establish certain civil or criminal penalties for failing to preserve the health or life of such a child and to make changes regarding variances from written transfer agreements; SB162 (Reineke) to expand the authority of the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission regarding evasion of tolls on the Ohio turnpike and disclosure of personal information, and to make changes to the title search conducted after a tow and the mechanisms of notice sent to a towed vehicle's owner; and SB166 (Reineke) with regard to career-technical education, career awareness and exploration funds, the compensation of joint vocational school districts located in community reinvestment areas, the operation of the Northeast Ohio Medical University, and private certifications with respect to dental assistants, to make changes to the Commercial Truck Driver Student Aid Program.

The Senate also passed the following bills:

  • HB126 (Merrin) to require local governments that contest property values to formally pass an authorizing resolution for each contest and to notify property owners. It passed by a vote of 24-7.

  • SB184 (Lang-Rulli) regarding transparency by large-volume third-party sellers in online marketplaces by a vote of 31-0.

  • SB215 (Johnson) regarding a concealed handgun licensee's duty to carry the license and notify a law enforcement officer if the licensee is carrying a concealed handgun, a right of a person age 21 or older and not legally prohibited from firearm possession to carry a concealed handgun in the same manner as if the person was a licensee, and a pretrial immunity hearing by a vote of 23-8.

  • SB261 (S. Huffman) To amend the law related to medical marijuana by a vote of 26-5.


In other action, the Senate Financial Institutions and Technology Committee reported out SB241 (Cirino-Rulli) which expands the Ag-LINK deposit program and SB249 (Wilson) which creates a regulatory sandbox program for novel financial products and services; and the Senate Insurance Committee reported out SB236 (Wilson-Lang) which deals with insurance companies and digital communications and SB256 (Wilson) which modernizes Ohio's insurance law.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine's office announced Tuesday that he signed SB229 (Blessing), a broad education bill offering flexibility in light of the pandemic and making various other changes. The bill includes an emergency clause, putting it into immediate effect. The initial purpose of the bill was to provide schools greater latitude in opting to implement a blended learning model of instruction, allowing them to declare their intent to use such a model for this school year by April 30, 2022 -- originally it would have required them to declare use by July 1 of this year. The bill also sets parameters for schools operating blended learning models, requiring that they provide devices and Internet access to students, for example.


Appointments made during the week include the following:

  • Angela Papas Mastros of Wintersville (Jefferson County) reappointed to the Eastern Gateway Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Oct. 16, 2026; and H. Gilson Blair of Niles (Trumbull County) appointed for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021, and ending Oct. 16, 2024.

  • Joshua Scott Smith of Gallipolis (Gallia County) reappointed to the Rio Grande Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Oct. 10, 2026.

  • G. Brent Bishop of Columbus (Franklin County) to the University of Toledo Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 11, 2021 and ending July 1, 2028.

  • Edward J. Pauline of Worthington (Franklin County) to the Rare Disease Advisory Council for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending April 22, 2023.

  • Candy Sue Rinehart of Springfield (Clark County) to the Board of Nursing for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Dec. 31, 2024.

  • Staci Lynne Morris of Centerville (Warren County), Philip D. Atkins of Marysville (Union County), and Andrew Ryan Moss of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Chemical Dependency Professionals Board for terms beginning Dec. 24, 2021 and ending Dec. 23, 2024.

  • Jose Camerino of University Heights (Cuyahoga County) and Andrew D. Bowers of Blacklick (Franklin County) reappointed to the Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board for terms beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Oct. 10, 2024.

  • Nichole A. Dearth of Ada (Hardin County) to the Ohio Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Athletic Trainers Board for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Aug. 27, 2024.

  • Dianne Jones of Ostrander (Delaware County) reappointed to the State Veterinary Medical Licensing Board for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2022 and ending Dec. 31, 2024.

  • Suzanne M. Wilcox of Hubbard (Trumbull County) to the Commercial Dog Breeding Advisory Board for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending March 12, 2024.

  • Christopher J. Haydocy of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Board for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Oct. 4, 2024.

  • Katherine R. Fell of Findlay (Hancock County), Jane Elizabeth Gerhardt of Cincinnati (Hamilton County), Brodi James Conover of Lebanon (Warren County), and Susan Ferraro Smith of Westlake (Cuyahoga County) reappointed to the Ohio Humanities Council for terms beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Oct. 30, 2023.

  • Andrew L. Aichele of Dublin (Franklin County) to the STEM Committee for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and continuing at the pleasure of the governor.

  • Greg Delev of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) to the Ohio Higher Educational Facility Commission for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Jan. 1, 2029.

  • Christopher Linn Miller of Dublin (Franklin County), Paul Ernest Yankie of Cincinnati (Hamilton County), John N. Pavlis of Canton (Stark County), A. Bailey Stanbery of Toledo (Lucas County), Terence Michael McCafferty of Seven Hills (Cuyahoga County), and Donald B. Leach Jr. of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Board of Building Standards for terms beginning Dec. 10, 2021and ending October 13, 2025.

  • Tracy L. Smith of Lewis Center (Delaware County) and Randolph R. Armbruster of Waverly (Pike County) reappointed to the State Fire Council for terms beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Nov. 1, 2026.

  • Meghan Kaskoun of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) reappointed to the Ohio Commission on Service and Volunteerism for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending April 21, 2024.

  • Richard Fred Hillis of Powell (Delaware County) to the Ohio History Connection Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending June 26, 2024; and Robert Mahlon Roach of Columbus (Franklin County) and Gregory H. Simpson of Milford (Clermont County) reappointed for terms beginning Dec. 10, 2021, and ending June 26, 2023 and June 26, 2024, respectively.

  • Joseph W. Mazur of Peninsula (Summit County) reappointed to the TourismOhio Advisory Board for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Sept. 27, 2024.

  • Erin L. Limes Stickel of Bowling Green (Wood County) to the Ohio Expositions Commission for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Dec. 1, 2022.

  • James V. Stouffer Jr. of Port Clinton (Ottawa County) reappointed to the Ohio Lake Erie Commission for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Sept. 1, 2024.

  • Gordon Reis, III of Dublin (Franklin County) to the Ohio Water Development Authority for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending June 30, 2029.

  • Matthew LaFontaine of Findlay (Hancock County) to the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2022 and ending Dec. 31, 2024.

  • Brenda Brandon of Port Clinton (Ottawa County) reappointed to the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Dec. 31, 2023.

  • Holly Anne Holtzen of Worthington (Franklin County) to the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias Task Force for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and continuing at the pleasure of the governor.

  • Jennifer Elizabeth Reams of Toledo (Lucas County) reappointed to the Underground Technical Committee for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2022 and ending Dec. 31, 2025.

  • Stephen Buehrer of Powell (Delaware County) reappointed to the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission for a term beginning Dec. 1, 2021 and ending Sept. 29, 2026.

  • Melissa A. Schiffel of Galena (Delaware County) and Rob Streck of Brookville (Montgomery County) to the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board for terms beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending April 29, 2022; and Michael Patrick Bell of Toledo (Lucas County), Joseph Albert Morbitzer of Westerville (Franklin County) and Ronnie Antonio Dunn of Cleveland (Cuyahoga County) reappointed for terms beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending April 29, 2024.

  • Larry Lee Sims of Springboro (Warren County) reappointed to the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission for a term beginning Dec. 10, 2021 and ending Aug. 21, 2025.


GUNS


The Senate voted 23-8 to pass legislation removing licensing requirements for carrying concealed firearms during Wednesday's session, the chamber's last scheduled meeting of 2021. Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) joined Democrats in voting against SB215 (Johnson), which is opposed by law enforcement groups and gun safety advocates. Opponents have argued that the legislation will harm public safety by increasing the proliferation of guns while simultaneously de-emphasizing the importance of the training and sheriffs' background checks currently required to obtain a concealed handgun license (CHL). Proponents have argued that the licensing system is overly burdensome and that individuals have a constitutional right to carry concealed guns without receiving permission from the government. During his floor speech, Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) noted that individuals can already openly carry firearms in Ohio without receiving a permit. Responding to statistics cited by bill opponents that gun deaths have increased significantly in Ohio and the nation over the last decade, Johnson said laws loosening restrictions on guns over that time period are not to blame.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Xavier University (XU) President Colleen Hanycz announced the appointment of Rachel Chrastil as the next provost and chief academic officer of the university, effective Jan. 1, 2022. Hanycz said that Chrastil recently led the school's Higher Learning Commission accreditation process, which gave her an understanding of the entire university.


Two Russ College of Engineering and Technology researchers at Ohio University (OU) have been awarded a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore the recovery of nutrients as a fertilizer product from municipal wastewater treatment plants in Athens and Columbus and use it as a reusable fertilizer material. The goal of the project is to demonstrate recovery that reduces the overall energy consumed by wastewater treatment plants and the national energy consumption due to fertilizer production, reducing cost and greenhouse gas emissions. Damilola Daramola, assistant professor at OU's Russ College and assistant director for research at the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (ISEE), and Jason Trembly, Russ professor of mechanical engineering and director of the ISEE, lead the research team.


Ohio Northern University (ONU), located in the village of Ada, announced the selection of Melissa J. Baumann as the university's 12th president. Baumann, who has been serving as provost and chief academic officer at Xavier University, will be ONU's first female president. Her appointment begins July 1, 2022, succeeding President Daniel A. DiBiasio when he retires at the end of June 2022. Baumann is a Mansfield native, a first-generation college student and a first-generation American. She earned a Ph.D. and a Master of Science degree in materials science and engineering from Case Western Reserve University and a bachelor of science in metallurgical engineering from Michigan Technological University.


JUDICIAL


A group critical of Gov. Mike DeWine's COVID response decisions lacked standing to sue the governor over the Vax-a-Million vaccine incentive program he created, the Ohio Supreme Court said Thursday in granting the state's request to dismiss the lawsuit. Ohio Stands Up!, a group with an aim "to reclaim and defend Ohioans' civil liberties through legal, educational and political actions," sued DeWine and Ohio Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kim Murnieks in May. The group argued the $5 million-plus used for the program was unconstitutional spending because it wasn't authorized by the General Assembly. In addition, Ohio Stands Up! alleged the program was discriminatory by only being available to those who would "assume the risk of the 'vaccine'" and encouraged harmful genetic experimentation, contrary to "the Nuremberg Code (1947) and accepted standards of international common law and treaties." The Vax-a-Million drawing offered cash and scholarship prizes for vaccinated Ohioans who entered the contest.


The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct said Thursday that judges may write a letter of recommendation for individuals they know personally. That includes correspondence written on court letterhead for family friends or other persons applying for law school and jurists seeking appointment to federal court -- with limitations.


In a second opinion Thursday, the Board of Professional Conduct said judges not only can teach continuing legal education (CLE) or colleges courses for money, they may give uncompensated motivational speeches and other keynote presentations in exchange for travel, food and lodging expenses. "The Code of Judicial Conduct does not limit a judge to speaking or teaching on topics pertaining only to the law, the legal system or the administration of justice," according to Advisory Opinion 2021-11. Judges would be expected to avoid policy questions and other topics implicated by "pending or impending" cases, however, and to recuse themselves when teaching institutions that employ them regularly appear as parties in their court.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has broken ground on the Blanchard River Floodplain Restoration Project in Putnam County. "Water is one of our greatest assets, so it's important that we protect it," Gov. Mike DeWine said. "Every time we construct or restore a wetland, we are conserving this valuable resource in a way that protects public health and supports a strong economy." The 64-acre H2Ohio project will restore wetlands along the curves of the Blanchard River just west of the village of Ottawa.


Ohio hunters harvested 70,413 deer during the 2021-deer gun week that concluded on Dec. 5, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Over the past three years, hunters checked an average of 65,280 deer during the same weeklong period. Deer-gun season is open again on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 18-19. During the deer-gun week, hunters harvested 25,263 bucks (36 percent of deer taken), 36,096 does (51 percent), and 8,021 button bucks (11 percent), ODNR said. Bucks with shed antlers and bucks with antlers less than three inches long accounted for 1,033 deer, or one percent of the harvest.


A newly-acquired stretch of land along the Olentangy State Scenic River will now be protected by the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves. The purchase aims to conserve important habitat and provide recreational space along a highly developed section of Delaware County, ODNR said. Forests next to rivers, known as riparian areas, are vital to protecting river health. The 18.9-acre property includes nearly 1,600 linear feet of wooded stream bank. Tall trees shade the water, keeping it cool and higher in oxygen for sensitive fish species. Tree roots help prevent bank erosion and extend into the water to provide habitat for fish. The lines of trees also filter potential pollutants before they can flow downstream.


NEWS MEDIA


Ohio State University (OSU) announced that Ronnie Agnew will serve as the new general manager of WOSU Public Media, beginning Jan. 10, 2022. He most recently served as the executive director at Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) since 2011. "I consider it an incredible honor to be chosen to lead WOSU, an organization with an outstanding national reputation in public media," Agnew said. "I am committed that WOSU will continue to capture the vibrancy of the region and connect with its diverse audiences. This is a special moment for me, to be back in Ohio where I was a young journalist, leading an organization that is so respected by the residents of Central Ohio."


PENSIONS


The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Ohio State University's College of Medicine should get funding to oversee a five-year pilot program on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment for police and fire personnel, according to a report from the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) ordered up by lawmakers. After years of debate on whether to offer workers' compensation coverage to first responders for PTSD absent an accompanying physical injury, lawmakers passed 133-HB308 (Patton), which created the State Post-Traumatic Stress Fund in the state treasury and ordered OP&F to conduct an actuarial study that would project claim and cost trends and recommendations on how to administer a program.


PEOPLE


The County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO) said that Montgomery County Commissioner Deborah Lieberman has been elected to serve as president of the association's board of directors for 2022. Lieberman previously served as association president in 2012 and has been on the board since 2007. She was the 2021 CCAO first vice president, and she is on the National Association of Counties Board of Directors.


Thomas "Andy" Ellinger was named as the new public information officer for the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of State Fire Marshal. Ellinger will serve as the primary media contact for all of the division's bureaus: Testing and Registration, Ohio Fire Academy, Code Enforcement, Investigations, Forensic Lab, BUSTR and Prevention.


Funeral services were held Sunday, Dec. 12 for long-time advocate for victims of domestic violence Phyllis Carlson-Riehm. She was 80. Carlson-Riehm served as executive director of ACTION OHIO for over 25 years, retiring in July 2021. Over that time, she lobbied not only on domestic violence issues but also on law enforcement policies, service agency protocols and court practices.


PUBLIC SAFETY


Gov. Mike DeWine announced $3.6 million in Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funding Tuesday led by individual grants of $50,000-plus to a handful of sheriffs, police and prosecutors' offices and "culturally specific" awards to Hispanic and Asian services. Administered by the Ohio Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS), the federal VAWA funds help local governments and community nonprofits administer justice to victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The administration issued 137 general VAWA grants and six culturally specific awards to a total of 101 government and nonprofit agencies in 46 counties.


Ohio Task Force 1 (OH-TF1) announced Sunday that it had been activated to respond for post-storm search and rescue efforts in Kentucky, with team members leaving Vandalia that night. The specific destination was "still pending" at the time, according to a social media post. OH-TF1 is serving as a Type III Urban Search & Rescue Team, which includes a "full equipment cache," 45 search specialists and canine search teams. Similar task forces from Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee have also been activated.


REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT


Less than a week after parties in three separate court cases challenging General Assembly maps adopted by a simple majority of the Ohio Redistricting Commission appeared before the Ohio Supreme Court to make their arguments, the Court Monday asked the parties to weigh in on a new question in the case.


Specifically, the Court asked for briefs from all parties on the following issue: "What impact, if any, does Article XI, Section 8(C)(1) of the Ohio Constitution have on the Supreme Court of Ohio's authority to grant the relief requested by relators when the Ohio Redistricting Commission adopted the district plan by a simple majority vote of the commission?"


The Ohio Supreme Court late Thursday approved a motion by plaintiffs asking for oral arguments in two cases challenging the new congressional redistricting map approved as a part of SB258 (McColley), with the oral arguments set for Tuesday, Dec. 28 in a Friday release. The groups challenging the maps had filed the motion earlier this week, saying the action presents questions of "significant legal importance" and is the first time the Court will interpret the new requirements set for congressional redistricting as set forth in Article XIX of the Ohio Constitution.


STATE GOVERNMENT


Forthcoming legislation will seek to implement the Common Sense Initiative's (CSI) efforts to reduce the size of Ohio Revised Code (ORC), following a collaborative effort between an artificial intelligence (AI) tool and human staff at state agencies. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said this will also lead to a reduction in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC). Husted was joined by Sen. Steve Wilson (R-Maineville) and Rep. Thomas Hall (R-Middletown) at a press conference Tuesday. It is a "long-awaited" effort by state agencies, Husted said, and while the pandemic delayed some of the effort it also "validated" the need for some changes. They are meant to reduce "outdated processes and unnecessary in-person interactions that will save millions of dollars and thousands of hours of people's time and money." A conservative estimate predicts the effort will save $44 million and 58,000 hours of labor over 10 years.


The Ohio History Connection recently announced plans to build a new storage facility on the campus of the Ohio History Center. The current collections facility consists of a series of repurposed warehouse buildings that are not ideal for storing museum collections, said Becky Preiss Odom, an Ohio History Connection curator and manager. The Ohio History Connection cares for more than 1.7 million objects, including archeological artifacts, historical items and natural history specimens. As with many museums, only a small percentage of these objects are on exhibit, the vast majority of the items are in the collections storage facility in Columbus where they are available to staff, researchers, other museum professionals and members of the public.


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


The State Committee on Computer Science (SCCS) met for the second time Wednesday, with discussion on responses to its request for public input. Battelle Senior STEM Relationship Manager Kelly Gaier Evans said that after the November meeting, they were able to gather "initial thoughts" and "capture a significant amount of data." Committee Chair Mike Duffey, a former legislator and senior vice chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE), and Vice Chair John Wiseman, of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), described the public recommendations they have received. Duffey said the input allowed the public to serve as "quasi-committee members." They received 39 comments from the public, with follow-up calls from several universities. He and Wiseman listed 10 points that represent "the essence" of the public comments such as the recommendation that Ohio should financially support nonprofits and public-private partnerships to offer after-school summer camps and in-school activities on computer science (CS).


TELECOMMUNICATIONS


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved plans to "overlay" a new area code within Greater Cincinnati's 513 prefix rather than reassign existing phone numbers to the new area code. "All new phone subscribers will be assigned the new 283 area code," PUCO stated. Due nationwide adoption of the National Suicide Prevention Line's 988 area code, 513 numbers have been scheduled for eventual implementation of 10-digit dialing, which will apply to the new prefix as well.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Jack Marchbanks opened up Wednesday's DriveOhio Advisory Board by calling for the "best ideas and efforts of transportation professionals, academics and industry leaders" to help prepare Ohio's future workforce and to continue the technological advancements that are occurring in transportation. He focused his comments on one of the pillars of the department -- to position ODOT for the future -- including identifying and inventing emerging technologies, which he said will enhance the utility of the state's transportation network and provide strategic advantages for the economy. He said Ohio's transportation ecosystem is already evolving, highlighting the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor and the upcoming deployment of a connected commercial freight carrier corridor on I-70 between Columbus and Indianapolis.


The Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) is planning to go through its standard process for awarding funds for transportation projects in 2022 despite a drop in gas tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The council was told during its meeting Wednesday that ODOT saw a $332 million drop in gas tax revenue in the last fiscal year. That number represents the state share of the tax, and does not include the local share. TRAC plans to open up the application process for the next round of funding in May, TRAC Coordinator Jim Gates told the council. By then, ODOT hopes to have insight on what funds will be available, including any federal money from the recently passed bipartisan federal infrastructure bill. After a summer of evaluating the proposals, TRAC will likely have regional hearings in September and October. A list will be published in November, followed by a public comment period and the publication of the final list in December.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported Thursday it received 9,199 initial unemployment claims last week, Dec. 5-11, fewer than the 9,302 the week before but above the eight-week average of 8,340. Continuing claims of 40,127 marked a decline of 670 from the week prior and was close to the eight-week average of 40,157. For comparison, initial claims in March 2020 were 7,042 the week before statewide COVID restrictions were instituted, and 196,297 a week later.


UTILITIES


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) moved unanimously Wednesday to expand its delivery capital recovery (DCR) audit of FirstEnergy -- one of four 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) investigations into the utility -- on word the company had hidden a $13.44 million "side deal" with former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo from the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) during legal discovery in December 2015. FirstEnergy failed to disclose its amended consulting contract with Randazzo's Sustainability Funding Alliance (SFA) to OCC -- not once but twice -- on Dec. 14, 2015 and again on Jan. 14, 2016. "R.C. 4928.145 conditions the obligation to disclose 'side agreements' upon the service of 'an appropriate discovery request,'" the commission noted Wednesday. "The evidentiary record in [FirstEnergy's] electric security plan (ESP) IV case indicates that an appropriate discovery request appears to have been made by OCC. The companies' responses ... do not disclose any amended agreements." Commissioners point out that R.C. 4928.54 empowers them to assess a "forfeiture" or fine of $10,000 per day per violation. Calculating from December 2015 and again from January 2016, they could force FirstEnergy to pay $43,510,00 for both violations.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


The state of Ohio is continuing to experience lower rates of injuries and illnesses than the national average, according to a summary of the FY21 Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Division of Safety & Hygiene annual report. "The overall rate of injuries and illnesses in Ohio for all industries -- public and private sectors combined -- was 2.4 cases per 100 full-time workers compared to 2.9 cases nationally. Ohio's rate decreased by 0.2 cases from the previous year," says the report summary, provided to Hannah News by BWC spokesperson Kim Norris following the BWC Board of Directors meeting on Thursday. The full report is not yet complete, Norris said, noting it will likely be presented to the board during its next meeting. However, Ohio's occupational fatalities increased from FY20 to FY21, according to the report summary. There were 106 occupational fatalities in FY21, up from 96 in FY20.


WORKFORCE


Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the launch of the state's updated "Top Jobs List" Monday, which includes both "In-Demand Jobs" and "Critical Jobs." It is developed with input from the business community. The list helps Ohioans "take advantage of employment opportunities and reflects the current workforce needs." The list directs 85 percent of federal job training funds offered through 88 OhioMeansJobs centers, which offer "a variety of services to job seekers including connecting them to job training, practice interview skills and help writing a resume."

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


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