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Week in Review December 26, 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


The Ohio Supreme Court Friday dismissed Preterm-Cleveland v. Yost, in which Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost had challenged lower court decisions that blocked enforcement of Ohio's "heartbeat" abortion ban enacted in 133-SB23 (Roegner). Abortion providers had recently sought dismissal of the case, on the basis that the newly approved Issue 1 now establishes a clear right to abortion in the Ohio Constitution. Yost, however, had argued justices should address the procedural issues involved with the case. He was arguing that the state should be allowed to immediately appeal preliminary injunctions, like the one issued by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Christian Jenkins in October 2022 to block the heartbeat ban. Friday's dismissal order was brief, stating: "Sua sponte, appeal dismissed due to a change in law." Signing on were Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy and Justices Patrick Fischer, Patrick DeWine, Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart.


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


The number of Ohioans who died from unintentional drug overdoses dropped 5 percent in 2022 compared to 2021 as national overdose deaths climbed slightly for the same period, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reported. Ohio's 4,915 deaths in 2022 fell from the state's record number of 5,174 deaths in 2021. "While the numbers headed in the right direction last year, they are no cause for celebration," said ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff. "Tragically, thousands of Ohioans are still dying from substance use disorders. I urge Ohioans to do what they can to prevent these deaths, from learning how to use naloxone to knowing where to turn for help for you or a loved one in need."


AGING


The DeWine administration said Friday seven providers in nine counties will be part of the expansion of the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), previously only available in Cuyahoga County. Lawmakers provided $50 million to expand PACE last year in 134-HB45 (Roemer-West), and the administration opened bidding for program expansion in May. PACE is designed to help people age 55 and older who need a high level of assistance to remain in their homes instead of moving into a care facility. According to the Ohio Department of Aging, new counties and providers chosen are as follows:


  •  Franklin County: AcuteCare Health System LLC

  • Hamilton County: TriHealth G, LLC

  • Lorain County: McGregor PACE

  •  Lucas County: AcuteCare Health System LLC

  •  Montgomery County: AcuteCare Health System LLC

  • Summit County: McGregor PACE

  • Ashtabula, Mahoning, and Trumbull counties: LIFE Northwestern Pennsylvania, LLC.

More information about PACE is at https://tinyurl.com/2hc53bvc .


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cannot enforce its transfer eligibility rule during the 2023-2024 academic year, U.S. District Court Judge John Preston Bailey decided Monday. Attorney General Dave Yost and the NCAA had jointly asked the judge to extend his 14-day temporary restraining order prohibiting the NCAA from enforcing its transfer eligibility rule. The extension allows athletes who have been sidelined by the rule to compete continuously through the winter and springs sports seasons without having to worry about their eligibility status, the AG's office said.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


The Ohio Attorney General’s Office Monday announced the retirement of Superintendent Joe Morbitzer from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). Former Delaware Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski, now assistant superintendent of BCI, will take over to start the new year.


AUDITOR OF STATE


Auditor Keith Faber's office released a cost study Wednesday on the College Credit Plus (CCP) program, finding the program is generally a financial benefit to colleges, though cost reporting varies among institutions. "Higher education institutions with higher percentages of CCP students benefit proportionally more from the State Share of Instruction (SSI) funding formula component. The zero-sum nature of SSI funding, which is a fixed annual statewide pool, means that institutions benefit from the inclusion of CCP students within the SSI formula to the extent that their share of CCP students exceeds that of other institutions," the report states. Wednesday's cost report follows a performance audit of the program released last year, which recommended changes but generally concluded the program had successfully saved many students time and money.


BALLOT ISSUES


Backers of Issue 1, the reproductive and abortion rights constitutional amendment adopted by voters in November, spent nearly $40 million to get the issue passed, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday, the deadline for groups spending to influence issues on the November ballot to report their fundraising and spending in the final days of the campaign and afterward. Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights (OURR), the primary group that brought the issue to the ballot and supported it, reported receiving $10.8 million in contributions, spending $13.4 million, and having $121,100 on hand. Before the election, it reported raising about $28.7 million and spending $26.2 million.


Meanwhile, the primary opposition group to Issue 1, Protect Women Ohio (PWO), reported raising nearly $4 million, spent $6.1 million, and has $104,967 on hand. In its pre-election report, the group had reported $9.9 million in contributions and $9.1 million in spending.


On Issue 2, the initiated statute that legalized the use of recreational marijuana, supporter group Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) reported raising $755,301, spending $1.1 million, and has $44,513 on hand. In its pre-election report, CRMLA had reported $1.2 million in contributions and $818,000 in expenditures. The campaign had $390,000 in cash on hand. Protect Ohio Workers and Families, the Issue 2 opposition group, reported $485,000 in contributions, $592,641 in spending, and has nothing on hand. Much of the contributions, $350,000, came from the American Policy Coalition. The Ohio Hospital and Ohio Children's Hospital associations each gave $50,000 to the "no" effort.


CORONAVIRUS/MONKEYPOX


Ohioans should receive vaccines for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses soon if they have not done so already, Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Monday in a virtual press conference. Cases of COVID, flu, RSV and other illnesses are rising, he continued, though the COVID numbers are better than 2022 and significantly better than 2021. In November, there were 50,233 reported COVID-19 cases compared to 54,311 for the month in 2022 and over 170,000 in 2021. Hospitalizations have also averaged around 450 per week, while there were around 600 at this point last year and between 2,000 and 3,000 in 2021. The holiday season represents the "peak" of respiratory season, Vanderhoff added. Given that, he said the rate of Ohioans receiving the updated COVID-19 vaccine released in September is concerning. So far that is approximately 1.1 million Ohioans, around 9.3 percent of the population. There is "a lot of room for improvement," but he said around 29 percent of Ohioans age 65 and older have received the updated vaccine. Receiving a third vaccine reduced long COVID risk in adults by 69 percent, while the risk reduction for those with two shots was 37 percent. That makes it clear a third shot provides "an important boost in protection" against long COVID.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins should not pursue a criminal indictment against a woman who was charged with felony abuse of a corpse after she spontaneously miscarried a non-viable fetus into a toilet at her home, according to Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights (OPRR). "We write today to add the voices of more than 4,000 doctors, health care professionals, business and community leaders, and concerned citizens to the rapidly growing chorus protesting the unjust prosecution of Brittany Watts and to request that you immediately dismiss the unwarranted felony ... charge that has been filed against her," OPRR wrote in a letter to Watkins.


Gov. Mike DeWine joined Ohio State University (OSU) and University of Akron partners Wednesday to mark a 33 percent success rate among felons accepted into his four-year-old Expedited Pardon Project. One hundred and eight current or former Ohioans have seen their criminal records purged and sealed as of Tuesday, with another 60 under active review, the governor announced at the OSU Moritz College of Law.


EDUCATION


The working group behind the Fair School Funding Plan announced it has formed a nonprofit group in an effort to provide a "permanent fix" for K-12 school funding in Ohio. Lawmakers passed the funding formula known as the Fair School Funding Plan in the previous biennial budget, 134-HB110 (Oelslager), and continued to phase in the formula in the FY24-25 budget operating budget, HB33 (Edwards). Jim Betts, a former state lawmaker who has worked for decades on school funding, including on the Fair School Funding formula, has been named the executive director of the new nonprofit, he told Hannah News Monday.


ELECTIONS


The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Ohio and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) announced Tuesday the filing of a federal lawsuit against omnibus lame duck elections bill 134-HB458 (Hall), claiming a provision of the bill would affect how voters with disabilities can cast absentee ballots. The groups said the bill makes it a felony for anyone who is not an election official or mail carrier to possess or return the absentee ballot of a voter with a disability, unless the person assisting that voter falls within a list of statutorily enumerated relatives. They said many voters with disabilities are unable to travel to their polling place or access their mailbox or drop box, and many of these voters don't have one of the relatives allowed to drop off or mail their ballot for them. LWV and the ACLU are arguing that the restrictions on voter assistance violate the Voting Rights Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by creating an unlawful burden on the right to vote for many Ohioans with disabilities. The law also criminalizes the critical work of community members and voter assistance organizations like LWV that assist voters who rely on the assistance of others to cast a ballot, they said.


ELECTIONS 2024


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) rallied with Democrats Friday morning in Columbus after filing to run for re-election, saying Ohioans need a fair shake and someone on their side, and that he will continue to provide that with another term in the U.S. Senate. Brown, facing perhaps his toughest re-election campaign since he first won the seat over now-Gov. Mike DeWine in 2006, focused much of his remarks on the bipartisan work he has done in the Senate and how sometimes those efforts can take years before they are successful. Among those pieces of legislation he highlighted were his Fight Off Fentanyl Act and legislation to save pensions of workers in danger of losing them.


Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) filed his petitions to run for U.S. Senate on Monday. Dolan will compete with Secretary of State Frank LaRose and businessman Bernie Moreno for the chance to run against incumbent U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).


In a post on his Truth Social website, former President Donald Trump Tuesday endorsed Moreno for the Republican nomination to run against Brown in 2024. The endorsement is a blow to LaRose, who was also vying for Trump's endorsement. Dolan has not sought Trump's endorsement.


The Ohio Republican Party announced that Justice Joe Deters, who was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine to fill the vacant Court seat opened by Justice Sharon Kennedy's ascension to chief justice, has filed to run for the seat currently occupied by Justice Melody Stewart, who is running for re-election.


In congressional races, Sen. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) is the latest to file paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) for a potential run for the 2nd Congressional District, a seat that will be open after this congressional session due to the retirement of U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati). Wilkin joins fellow Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) in seeking the seat, though Wilkin will run from cover as his state Senate seat is not up for re-election until 2026, whereas Antani's Senate seat is on the ballot next year. Other entrants include former Rep. Ron Hood and former Hamilton County Commissioner and 2022 congressional candidate Phil Heimlich.


Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee) was a late entry into the crowded 9th Congressional District Republican primary. He joins former Rep. Craig Riedel, 2022 candidate J.R. Majewski, and Republicans Steve Lankenau and Terrence Smith as they seek the nomination to run against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Toledo).


In the General Assembly, there are a number of current lawmakers seeking to cross the rotunda to the other chamber. They include Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), running for the 78th House District seat now held by Rep. Susan Manchester (R-Lakeview), who is running for Huffman's 12th Senate District seat. Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) is running for the term-limited Sen. Stephanie Kunze's (R-Hilliard) 16th Senate District seat. Rep. Willis Blackshear (D-Dayton) is running for Antani's 6th Ohio Senate District seat. Term-limited Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) is running for term-limited Sen. Matt Dolan's (R-Chagrin Falls) 24th Senate District seat. Also running for the Senate is Rep. Mike Loychik (R-Cortland), who is not term-limited but has filed to challenge Sen. Sandra O'Brien (R-Rome) in the Republican primary for the 32nd Senate District. Loychik had already drawn a potential primary challenger for his 65th House District seat in Ashtabula County Auditor David Thomas.


In other House races, Reps. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), Richard Brown (R-Canal Winchester), Richard Dell'Aquilla (D-Seven Hills), and Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) all did not file to run for their seats for another term.


Hannah News has compiled a candidates' list for the Ohio General Assembly, Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio's congressional delegation.


ENVIRONMENT


The DeWine administration recently announced grants totaling $84.3 million will be used to support lead mitigation and prevention efforts in residential properties, child care facilities and congregate care facilities as part of the Lead Safe Ohio program's first round of funding. The program is administered by the Ohio Department of Development (DOD) in coordination with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and was announced in May. Grants will be provided to projects in 72 Ohio counties, including efforts toward waterline replacement, window and door replacement, siding enclosure, soffit enclosure, porch component repair and lead cleaning efforts.


New research led by a researcher from the University of Toledo (UT) is helping to improve how per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are measured in the environment. UT chemistry professor Emanuela Gionfriddo and her team developed techniques that can accurately measure the "forever chemicals" onsite in surface water and drinking water, according to Ohio Sea Grant, which funded the research. Gionfriddo's team created a miniaturized probe that can quickly detect PFAS at very low concentrations and even applied the methods to measure pesticides and pharmaceuticals.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters Friday that he hasn't yet decided whether he will sign legislation banning gender-affirming care for minors and prohibiting transgender women and girls from playing women's and girls' school sports. "I'm taking a hard, hard look at this," DeWine said of HB68 (Click), which passed the Legislature on Wednesday, Dec. 13. He officially received the bill on Monday, Dec. 18.


HIGHER EDUCATION


The DeWine administration announced Friday that 81 institutions of higher education received $40 million in RAPIDS grants, designed to pay for equipment needed for workforce training aligned to regional needs. The biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards), included funding for a substantial expansion of the RAPIDS grant program, dubbed Super RAPIDS. The full list of recipients is at https://tinyurl.com/f3znkwew.


The last-minute reduction by one half of Eastern Gateway Community College's original request for a $12 million advance on its state share of instruction (SSI) did not spare it an understated grilling by four members of the state Controlling Board Monday. Freshman trustee Thomas D'Anniballe blamed noncompliance in federal Pell Grant submissions for the financial exigency at Eastern Gateway, with two locations in Youngstown and Steubenville. He told Sens. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), Bob Hackett (R-London) and Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) and Rep. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) that the college had been using internal personnel to meet federal requirements but now has sought outside help to come within the U.S. Department of Education's maximum 10 percent error rate.


The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) announced that four public universities in Ohio received $3.3 million in total grants from the Ohio Department of Development's Third Frontier Research Initiative for projects demonstrating the real-world impact of higher education. Universities receiving grant money include the University of Akron, Ohio University, Ohio State University and Wright State University.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


On one day in January this year, there were 11,386 people in Ohio experiencing homelessness, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) annual point-in-time (PIT) estimates released Friday. In addition to the point-in-time estimate, HUD also estimated there were an average of 8,253 people experiencing homelessness in Ohio in 2023. HUD estimated there were 3,133 people experiencing homelessness who are in families with children. Nationally, HUD said there was a 12 percent increase in homelessness from 2022 to 2023. Ohio had a 6.9 percent increase over 2022. The federal agency said the rise in homelessness at the beginning of 2023 continued a pre-pandemic trend of yearly increases that began in 2016. Homelessness steadied between 2020 and 2022, in part because of federal funds that were aimed at stemming the harm from the pandemic. HUD said many of the resources that were authorized in the American Rescue Plan have now expired or wound down, leading to the latest increase. The latest HUD data can be found at https://tinyurl.com/4pmp5xf6 .


HUMAN SERVICES


Ohio state agencies -- including the departments of job and family services (ODJFS), administrative services (DAS) and Medicaid (ODM) -- have joined together to offer new ways for users to access information about the state's benefits programs in the form of virtual assistants. The tools can provide information quickly about Medicaid, food and cash assistance, child care assistance, state hearings and more. It can be found www.benefits.ohio.gov and users can click the “Ask Me A Question” icon to activate “Carey.” In addition, EVA, the "Eligibility Virtual Assistant," is available after users log in. EVA is able to help users with questions about applying for benefits as well as others such as how to upload documents and application status.


JUDICIAL


The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its first “Code of Conduct” in the Court's 234-year history, a 15-page document addressing everything from the acceptance of hospitality and travel expenses to the appearance of impropriety to the delicacy of political involvement. The Supreme Court adapted its standalone charter from the “Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges” and explained why it has only done so now. "The Court has long had the equivalent of common law ethics rules, that is, a body of rules derived from a variety of sources," it says in the code's introduction. "The absence of a code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.”


Final rule changes to civil and criminal case deadlines abandon specific proposals for calculating and tolling docket schedules considered earlier this year but maintain reporting accountability to administrative judges or, in their absence, to the Ohio Supreme Court chief justice herself. Amended recently, Rule 39 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio also had proposed specific language on single and aggregate case delays in its earlier form but settled on simpler wording.


JUVENILE JUSTICE


Speakers before the governor's Juvenile Justice Working Group Tuesday offered contrasting perspectives on violence within Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) detention facilities. Reasons ranged from criminal patterns youth develop prior to their arrival at Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility and other state institutions to DYS culture, rehabilitative practices and workforce development. The work group heard from Juvenile Division Chief Melissa Day of the Stark County Prosecutor's Office on the one side and Deputy Division Director Nina Salomon of the Corrections and Reentry Office at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and Senior Associate Thomas Woods of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation on the other.


LIQUOR/ALCOHOL


While 21-year-olds can now legally possess and consume marijuana in Ohio, bar owners cannot allow cannabis consumption in their establishments, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Liquor Control (DOLC). Because Issue 2 did not alter the status of marijuana as a controlled substance, the restrictions of Ohio Administrative Code 4301:1-1-52 remain in effect, DOC said in a joint release with the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS).


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The DeWine administration doesn't have to wait until late 2024 to issue adult use marijuana dispensary licenses to dispensaries currently operating under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, Issue 2 spokesperson Tom Haren told Hannah News on Friday. "One thing that I think has been lost over the last couple of weeks is that the administration -- as is the case with basically all of its rulemaking powers -- has emergency rulemaking authority." However, during a press event at the governor's residence on Friday, Gov. Mike DeWine said DOC attorneys have told him the administration doesn't have the authority to allow medical marijuana operators to begin selling adult use marijuana that early without legislation like HB86 (LaRe).


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


Ohio is among nine states accounting for more than half of recent child disenrollments from Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), prompting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to urge Gov. Mike DeWine to take action. The Ohio Department of Medicaid said in response that its rate of children found ineligible is in line with national trends. According to the letter from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, enrollment of children in Medicaid and CHIP dropped by more than 86,000 from March to September. HHS wrote similar letters to the governors of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Texas, which together with Ohio account for about 60 percent of the decline in child enrollment in that time period.


NATURAL RESOURCES


A new report from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Geological Survey shows the state's mineral resources produced $1.7 billion worth of geologic commodities in 2022. For a ninth straight year, the total value of all nonfuel industrial minerals exceeded $1 billion. The 2022 Report on Ohio Mineral Industries, an annual summary of the state's economic geology, provides information regarding the production, value, and employment totals of Ohio's various mineral industries.


Hunters across Ohio harvested 15,469 white-tailed deer during the extra weekend of deer gun hunting on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16-17, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. During the two-day gun weekend over the last three years, hunters checked an average of 13,329 deer. In 2022, the weekend total was 15,164.


The ODNR NatureWorks grant program has awarded $1.6 million to be used to improve outdoor recreational opportunities. ODNR approved 61 projects in 59 counties. Projects include development of new and renovated playgrounds, splashpads, sports courts including pickleball and basketball courts, trails and walking paths, dog parks, kayak launches, disc golf courses, and other park amenities such as restrooms, lighting and parking.


NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS


The Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging (o4a) announced the appointment of Beth Kowalczyk as its new chief executive officer (CEO), effective Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. Kowalczyk has worked for o4a for 11 years in various capacities, including chief policy officer and chief operating officer. Prior to her tenure at o4a, Kowalczyk served as the bureau chief of policy initiatives in the Office of Family Assistance at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and as senior statewide attorney at the Ohio State Legal Services Association in Columbus.


Ohio Children's Alliance reports it has received the 2023 Phoenix Award from the Aging Out Institute (AOI), which promotes resources and strategies that help individuals and organizations which support youth aging out of foster care. The award recognizes nonprofit organizations that have an effective process for measuring and tracking the impact of their services on the youth they serve, as well as the demonstration of actual positive impact on their youth over time. More information about the Aging Out Institute is available at https://tinyurl.com/4au6r7fj , and the complete list of award winners is available at https://tinyurl.com/yv8b2xz9 .


PARKS/RECREATION


On Monday, Dec. 18, Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) began closing approximately 1.5 miles of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail north of Station Road Bridge Trailhead in Brecksville from 5 a.m. Mondays through 6 p.m. Fridays. It will continue to do so until Friday, May 3, 2024. The trail will be open on weekends.


PEOPLE


In more than four decades of human services policy and advocacy work, John Corlett learned the value of working across divides and in coalitions to achieve change. "I've always prided myself on being able to work with everybody. I try not to get caught up in all the political labels and all that stuff. I try to stay focused on what I want to get done," Corlett told Hannah News. He's not necessarily finished doing that either, but he did formally retire from his post leading the Center for Community Solutions, the Cleveland-based think tank. Corlett spoke to Hannah News on the day of his retirement at the end of November.


The Ohio Hospital Association (OHA) announced its new officers and other members for its Board of Trustees for 2024, electing Patricia "Patti" Finn, MBA, CEO of Fulton County Health Center (FCHC) in Wauseon, as chair of the board. T. Clifford Deveny, M.D., president and CEO of Summa Health (Akron), will be chair-elect of the OHA board. David Phillips, president and CEO of WVU Medicine - Barnesville Hospital (Barnesville) and WVU Medicine - Harrison Community Hospital (Cadiz) will serve as secretary/treasurer. Michael Canady, CEO of Holzer Health System (Gallipolis), will serve as immediate past chair.


The County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO) recently announced the election of its 2024 president, Tuscarawas County Commissioner Chris Abbuhl. Joining Abbuhl as CCAO officers are 1st Vice President David Painter, Clermont County commissioner; 2nd Vice President Denise Driehaus, Hamilton County commissioner; Treasurer Casey Kozlowski, Ashtabula County commissioner; and Secretary Ilene Shapiro, Summit County executive.


The advocacy group Honesty for Ohio Education announced Wednesday that Christina Collins, who recently left her State Board of Education seat, will be its first executive director. Collins is resigning her board seat at the end of the month. Her experience includes pre-apprenticeship efforts at Medina County Economic Development Corporation, teaching at the K-12 and college levels and serving as a curriculum director. She was elected to the board in 2020. Collins will take the leadership position Jan. 2, succeeding Cynthia Peeples, founder of the organization, who recently moved out of Ohio and is assisting with the transition.


STATE GOVERNMENT


In 2026, the United States will have a big anniversary party. Each state in the country will plan celebrations throughout the year for the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and Ohio will be no exception. The scope of Ohio's celebrations will highlight how Ohio has contributed to the national narrative since 1776, according to Todd Kleismit, executive director of the Ohio Commission for the U.S. Semiquincentennial, also called America 250-Ohio. Commission co-chair Doug Preisse says the goal is to incorporate each of Ohio's 88 counties in celebrating the past, present and future of the nation. The commission is currently inviting counties, cities, villages, townships and neighborhoods throughout the state to take part, said Taylor Tomu, the commission's community outreach and engagement specialist. The goal is to connect local leaders with the statewide commission to match event themes through an online community and tangible toolkit. Tomu said Fairfield, Medina, Hardin, Muskingum, Preble, Lawrence and Miami counties have all officially passed resolutions to join in the commission's planning thus far.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission (OTIC) approved its operating and capital budgets on Monday. The operating budget totals $431 million in 2024, up from $391.3 million in 2023. The vast majority of the increase ($31.6 million) is expected due to increased revenue from tolls. The capital budget includes $237.7 million in identified projects and $16.4 million in uncommitted funds, for a total of $254.1 million.


The Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) has launched a new tool that it says will measure the effect of blocked rail/roadway at-grade crossings in Ohio. The free, publicly accessible tool, known as the Rail Crossing Community Impact Index (RCCII), allows users to find crossings within their own communities and creates weighted scores for motorized, non-motorized, and truck-specific traffic, ORDC said. The tool can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yc88t5z2.


According to the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission, the turnpike's toll rates will increase on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. The rate increases had been approved by the commission earlier this year, which said it was necessary to meet operating, debt service and capital improvement costs. The 2024 Ohio Turnpike base passenger vehicle (Class 1) toll rate for E-ZPass customers will be $0.065 per mile, compared to $0.061 in 2023. The 2024 Ohio Turnpike base commercial vehicle (Class 5) toll rate for E-ZPass customers will be $0.204 per mile, compared to $0.189 in 2023. A schedule of the toll increases can be found at http://tinyurl.com/3d9xd5jy .


VETERANS



The Ohio Department of Veterans Services (ODVS) recently shared the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) announcement that it is now accepting grant applications for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program. Applications must be received by the SSVF Program Office by 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024 and will fund operations beginning Oct. 1, 2024. The VA previously awarded $799 million in grants to 256 nonprofits in August, allowing low-income veteran families around the nation to access SSVF services. SSVF provides case management and supportive services for very low-income veterans with the goal of preventing the imminent loss of a veteran's home or identify a new, more suitable housing situation for the individual and his or her family; or to rapidly re-house veterans and their families who are homeless and might remain homeless without this assistance. Further information is available at https://www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf/index.html .

 







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


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