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Week in Review December 4, 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.


AGING

A new grant program from the Ohio Department of Aging, the Healthy Aging Grants program, will provide $40 million to local aging services focused on helping Ohioans ages 60 and older stay healthy, live longer and maintain their independence. Grants will be distributed to counties for programs in areas such as food and housing assistance, Internet access and digital literacy services. Once applications are approved, each county will receive a base amount of $100,000, with additional funding provided based on the number of county residents age 60 and older who are not enrolled on Medicaid.


The Ohio Department of Aging (ODA) and the Ohio State University (OSU) College of Nursing Thursday hosted the grand opening of the new Golden Buckeye Center for Dementia Caregiving, housed within the college. "The Golden Buckeye Center is the very first facility in the state specifically focused on strengthening the knowledge, skills, and supports of our caregivers for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias [ADOD]," ODA Director Ursel McElroy said at the ribbon cutting event.


BUSINESS/CORPORATE


The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) approved bond financing totaling $951,672 for Silverton Brewing Company (HighGrain Brewery) through the Clean Air Resource Center (CARC), the agency announced Thursday. HighGrain Brewery has been in business for four years in Cincinnati. The company is developing a new location at 9176 Winton Rd. in Springfield Township, renovating a former bowling alley to include a beer production space, restaurant and a community gathering space with outdoor green space. The project includes improvements to the building envelope, adding an efficient HVAC system, as well as installing LED lighting and efficient plumbing fixtures as part of the restaurant and production facility.


According to Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Ohio business owners showed up in October, submitting 14,448 new filings for the month -- an increase of more than 400 businesses compared to filings from October 2022. The secretary of state's office said 156,874 new businesses have been created so far in 2023. The state is 22,762 new business filings away from breaking the state record.


KeyCorp Chairman and CEO Chris Gorman was elected as chairman of the Ohio Business Roundtable (OBRT) by its members, the organization announced Thursday. Gorman will take the position on Jan. 1, 2024, succeeding RPM International Inc. Chairman and CEO Frank Sullivan at the end of his two-year term.


EDUCATION


The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) is relaunching an enhanced version of the "Respect the Game" program to address abusive fans who are the organization says are embarrassing student-athletes and causing a shortage of sports officials. The Respect the Game website is located at https://www.ohsaa.org/Respect-the-Game and contains resources for school administrators, public address scripts, updated content for preseason parent meetings, examples of positive behavior as observed by contest officials, responsibilities for various groups, public service announcements and more. Videos will also be added containing interviews with school administrators sharing ideas that work at their schools in promoting positive sporting behavior.


The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) recently announced that all 51 educational service centers (ESCs) throughout the state earned a "High-Performing" designation. To earn the designation, ESCs must generate cost savings of at least 5 percent across five core service areas as compared to the expense client school districts would incur by providing those services in-house or through another provider. According to DEW, average savings are far in excess of 5 percent, averaging 40 percent in 2023.


Two Ohio teachers Thursday each received $25,000 Milken Educator Awards, which the organization calls the "Oscars of teaching." At Shanahan Middle School, eighth grade mathematics teacher Marissa McCarthy received the national award, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 financial prize. McCarthy's was the first Milken Educator Award in the Olentangy Local School District in Lewis Center. McCarthy joined Ryan Gilbert, an 11th and 12th grade English language arts teacher at Ohio Hi-Point Career Center Bellefontaine, as the other 2023 Milken Award winner from Ohio.


ELECTIONS


The Ohio Elections Commission Thursday fined a group that is seeking to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot ending qualified immunity. Ohioans to End Qualified Immunity has proposed an amendment that would repeal constitutional immunities and defenses in cases alleging a civil rights violation by government actors, but has not been able to get past the initial petition review by the attorney general's office. Attorney General Dave Yost has rejected the group's submission seven times, with the latest stating that it contains "omissions and misstatements that, as a whole, would mislead a potential signer as to the actual scope and effect of the proposed amendment." On Thursday, the Elections Commission fined the group $100 for not filing a timely report. Commission Executive Director Phil Richter told the panel that he recommended the fine based on the fact that the group ultimately filed the report, but did not file any explanation with the commission as to why the finance report was not filed by the deadline.


ELECTIONS 2024


The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) Monday announced the slate of candidates it is backing for Ohio Supreme Court next year, including Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Forbes, who will challenge DeWine appointee Justice Joe Deters for the seat formerly held by Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy. Democrats will be playing defense next year because both Justices Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart are running for re-election. Both pulled surprise upsets in 2018, but since then, legislative Republicans changed state law so that party affiliation is listed on the ballot. Republicans are running Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Dan Hawkins and Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Megan Shanahan against the incumbents.


Secretary of State Frank LaRose this week joined an amicus brief with two other state chief elections officers asking the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn a lower court finding that former President Donald Trump engaged in an insurrection. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal group, filed the lawsuit in Colorado on behalf of a number of Colorado voters, seeking to have Trump disqualified from the ballot on the basis of violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bars those involved in an insurrection against the U.S. from holding office. The lower court ruled that Trump had engaged in an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, but found the section does not apply to presidents and refused to remove Trump from the Republican primary ballot.


ENERGY/UTILITIES


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted will be required to answer questions under oath in FirstEnergy shareholders' civil complaint involving energy subsidy 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) and next week must respond along with Gov. Mike DeWine to an expansive request for documents or other communications related to the $61 million bribery scandal implicating former Republican House Speaker Larry Householder and past Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, who are now serving time in federal prison. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has ordered both Husted and DeWine to provide any responsive records to the Columbus offices of Murray Murphy Moul + Basil LLP at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 8.


Asked about the FirstEnergy subpoena requiring him to produce documents for the shareholder suit over the company's financial fallout from 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), Gov. Mike DeWine emphasized that neither he nor Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who also has been subpoenaed, are currently parties to the shareholder suit. Attorney General Dave Yost weighed in to say that the subpoena is merely a "seeking of information." Meanwhile, Husted's office provided a separate statement, "We're aware of the civil investor lawsuit against First Energy. The lieutenant governor has already provided public records pertaining to this, and we will continue to comply as we have done in the past. There's no new information to disclose.”


ENVIRONMENT


The governor credited Attorney Dave Yost's legal team Wednesday for the lion's share of work culminating in Ohio's proposed $110 million settlement with DuPont and successor company Chemours over water and soil contamination from perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) used for seven decades in the manufacture of Teflon. Making Ohio the first state to bring legal action against DuPont for emitting cancer-causing PFOA, or C8, into the air and water, now-Gov. Mike DeWine alleged in 2018 as state attorney general that the company's Washington Works plant in West Virginia (across the Ohio River from Washington County) had released the "forever chemical" from the 1950s to 2013 despite knowing it was hazardous to humans and animals. PFOA, one of a class of synthetic, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals used in consumer and industrial goods, is linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, low birth weight and high cholesterol.


The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) is now accepting applications for the next round of its Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grant Program. The program is part of the Ohio BUILDS (Broadband, Utilities, and Infrastructure for Local Development Success) program launched in 2021 as a continuation of the H2Ohio initiative to ensure the availability of safe and clean drinking water throughout the state. HB33 (Edwards), the budget bill, allowed up to $5 million in grant funding for water and wastewater construction projects, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Sewer/wastewater treatment plant improvements/expansion.

  • New/replacement sanitary sewer lines.

  • Excess sanitary sewer infiltration/inflow correction.

  • Improvements to public drinking water treatment facilities.

  • Drinking water line improvements or extensions.

  • Repair, replacement, and construction of drinking water storage towers.

FEDERAL


The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has once again delayed the implementation of the $600 Form 1099-K reporting threshold requirement for third-party payment organizations. The $600 threshold was included in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). "It was the wrong move by Congress," U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told Hannah News during a press conference on Wednesday. "The IRS can delay just because agencies have certain leeway in doing things. ... Nobody will bring suit against them, likely, for delaying this. So they can delay it, which we asked them to, repeatedly. They can then focus their efforts, essentially, on high-income tax cheats." The current threshold is $20,000, and the IRS is planning to implement a $5,000 threshold in 2024 as a phase-in.


GAMING/GAMBLING


The Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio will meet for the first time in February or March 2024, Co-Chair Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) told Hannah News. Edwards said he and fellow Co-Chair Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) have agreed on a basic "landscape" for the commission, and expects the panel to meet at least four times. Each meeting will focus on one segment of the gambling industry in the state -- lottery, casinos, horse racing and sports betting. Charitable gaming might be added to the horse racing meeting, he said. He said the plan is to invite the regulators who deal with a specific subject to testify first in every hearing.


The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) has taken action to place former University of Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon and youth/college baseball insider Bert Neff Jr. on the Sports Gaming Involuntary Exclusion List. According to a notice from OCCC, Neff obtained non-public information from Bohannon and shared it with one or more individuals for the purpose of sports gambling.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) Tuesday told reporters that higher education reform bill SB83 (Cirino) "doesn't have the votes" needed to pass the House floor. Sen. Jerry Cirino's (R-Kirtland) legislation would make dramatic changes to the operations of institutions of higher education. Cirino, chair of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, has said the legislation is needed as a "course correction" at college campuses where "true intellectual diversity" is lacking. While a new version of the bill removed a provision that would have prohibited university faculty from striking and added other flexibilities, critics said the legislation still threatens collective bargaining rights. Asked if the bill is "dead" or if the speaker would continue to try to work on it, Stephens said, "I don't know that I'm trying. I mean it's been in committee for what? Six months? Five months or whatever? ... I think there are a lot of concerns with that bill from both sides of the aisle frankly ... [I] understand what's being attempted, but sometimes that language can ... go either direction."


A day later on Wednesday, SB83 came in for criticism and praise during a House Higher Education Committee hearing when Chair Tom Young (R-Centerville) divided hearing time evenly between proponents and opponents of SB83, apportioning an hour and 15 minutes apiece. The very lengthy witness list, however, overwhelmingly consisted of opponents. Opponents cast the bill as anti-union and said it would impose vague, one-size-fits-all state policies to override local decision-making that is already protecting the academic freedom the bill seeks to ensure. Proponent witnesses frequently spoke on the need for the DEI provisions of the bill, many of them citing a recent Wall Street Journal report on the use of DEI principles in faculty hiring at Ohio State University.


Senate leadership announced Wednesday the session schedule for the first half of 2024, with eight total sessions planned and a light calendar ahead of the Tuesday, March 19 primary election. Like the House's first-half schedule for next year, the Senate's schedule shows a final session before summer break on Wednesday, June 26.


The House Wednesday passed legislation that would eliminate the spousal exception for rape by a near- unanimous vote. Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati), a joint sponsor of HB161 (Miranda-Hillyer), said that lawmakers have been working since 1985 to repeal the exception, which prevents prosecution of a spouse for rape or sexual assault if no threat of force or violence exists. She said repealing it "will correct an arcane exception indicative of a bygone era." The bill passed by 74-1, with Rep. Bill Dean (R-Xenia) being the only lawmaker to vote against it.


The House also passed HB257 (Hoops-Claggett) 73-3, which would allow certain public bodies to hold virtual meetings. Sponsor Rep. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) said he had been skeptical before the pandemic about allowing groups to conduct business virtually, but through the pandemic and listening to comments from those organizations, he learned that public participation was much higher through the utilization of virtual meetings, and attendance increased among members of the panel.


Another bill that has been reintroduced in multiple General Assemblies again cleared the House floor Wednesday: HB139 (Roemer-J. Miller) would increase the penalties for assault if the victim is acting as a sports official or the assault is committed in retaliation for the victim's actions as a sports official. Sponsor Rep. Bill Roemer (R-Richfield) said sports officials face significant issues and often quit within three years. Many have cited low pay and threats as the reasons, and he said HB139 looks to address at least part of that issue. He said that since they first introduced the bill multiple sessions ago, more people have come in to testify in favor of the bill.


Other legislation passed by the House on Wednesday included the following:

  • HB258 (K. Miller-Creech), which requires the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to ask about organ donation when a person is applying for a hunting or fishing license, which passed unanimously.

  • HB176 (Grim), which makes changes to the "Ohio Carpenters" license plate, which passed 68-6.

  • Four road designations that passed unanimously: HB64 (Grim), designating the "Keith G. Earley Memorial Interchange;" HB75 (Lampton-Dean), designating the "Caitlin Renee Preston Memorial Highway;" HB81 (Robb Blasdel-Jones), designating the "Sheriff Dale R. Williams Memorial Highway;" and HB107 (Patton), designating the "Cleveland Firefighter Johnny Tetrick Memorial Highway."

Asked about filling the vacancy left by the resignation of former Rep. Bob Young (R-North Canton), House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) suggested they will wait to see which candidates file to run for the seat next year by the Wednesday, Dec. 20 deadline. Gender-affirming care is "leading to harmful and deadly outcomes and consequences, especially for children," Dr. David Bonnet told the Senate Government Oversight Committee on Tuesday. Bonnet, who is the system chief medical officer of high reliability medicine at University Hospitals in Cleveland according to his LinkedIn profile, was one of several individuals testifying in support of HB68 (Click) during the meeting. The legislation generally prohibits minors from obtaining gender-affirming care and bans transgender women and girls from participating in school sports. "Seventy years ago, the most celebrated new treatment for mental illness ... was to cut out the front part of the brain," Bonnet said, referring to lobotomies. The Ohio Legislative Children's Caucus and Business First Caucus held a long-planned joint meeting Tuesday, focusing on how child care issues both affect the workforce today and play a role in education for the future. Presentations were given to the caucuses by Ohio Action for Children CEO Eric Karolak, Council for a Strong America State Director Cyndy Rees, and Ashland County Community Foundation Chief Program Officer Kristin Aspin. Karolak focused on the "business side" of the topic, saying affordable child care is a requirement for economic development and describing how child care poses an education issue as well. Ninety percent of brain development occurs before children are old enough to go to school, he explained, and so child care is where training the "workforce of tomorrow" begins. The Public Assistance Benefits Accountability Task Force recently issued its report assessing where gaps exist in benefits distributed from the state of Ohio and to make the system more "accurate, efficient and effective." The report notes that its recommendations in the areas of Ohio Benefits (OB) System, workforce and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will take collaboration with the General Assembly, DeWine administration, local government officials and other stakeholders to achieve. The task force was chaired by Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) and Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster). The State and Local Government Committee has released its recommendations for updates to existing licensure requirements in the Ohio Revised Code. Per 132-SB255 (McColley), a third of licensure requirements must be reviewed every two years. In total, the committee was directed to review 19 public licensing entities including the Accountancy Boards; Ohio Police Officer Training Commission; Department of Agriculture; Ohio Architects & Landscape Architects Boards; Ohio Casino Control Commission, Department of Commerce (DOC) - Division of Financial Institutions; DOC - Superintendent & Division of Industrial Compliance; DOC - Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing - Real Estate Commission & Appraiser Board; State Cosmetology and Barber Board; Motor Vehicle Repair Board; Bureau of Motor Vehicles; Department of Public Safety; State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors; State Racing Commission; Secretary of State; and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. On Tuesday, the House State and Local Government Committee accepted a substitute version of a bill to implement those occupational licensing changes and to expand review requirements to business licensures in future General Assemblies. In other legislative action, the House Civil Justice Committee reported out HB305 (Stewart-Brown), which deals with electronic court filings and fees; the House Families and Aging Committee reported out HB173 (Troy), which designates May as “Older Ohioans Month;” the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out SB17 (Wilson), which deals with financial literacy education; and HB206 (Click- Robb Blasdel), which address expulsions for endangering others; and the House State and Local Government Committee reported out SB24 (Roegner), which designates April as “Sikh Awareness Month.” GREAT LAKES Lake Erie is in the worst shape of all the Great Lakes, according to assessments released by the International Joint Commission (IJC). "Lake Erie supports a productive walleye fishery, but elevated nutrient concentrations and algal blooms are persistent problems. Lake Erie is assessed as poor and unchanging," the IJC State of the Great Lakes 2022 Report says. Lake Superior and Lake Huron are "good and unchanging," while Lake Michigan is "fair and unchanging." Lake Ontario is "fair and unchanging to improving." "In their 2023 report, the commission's Science Advisory Board and Water Quality Board jointly evaluated the implementation of domestic action plans, with a focus on Lake Erie. The report found significant regulation of point source nutrient loads, such as from wastewater treatment plants. By contrast, nonpoint agricultural sources of nutrient loads are not well regulated in that both countries rely on voluntary nutrient reduction programs," the IJC said. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Panel moderator and former state representative Rick Carfagna said that health care can be a tedious issue for legislators to get their arms around, but a group of senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle gathered at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's Healthcare Transformation Summit to discuss topics including Ohio's health care workforce, improving access to health care in different forms and social determinants of health care disparities. Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin) said that when he came into the General Assembly six years ago, he was as ready as anybody to dismantle Medicaid. But during his time in the chamber, Medicaid has changed for the better. Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London) added that Ohio has a quality health care system, but there are still disparities, and he sees the system as reactionary instead of preventive. Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order Thursday to implement emergency regulations to allow new nursing home incentive payments for private rooms to be instituted on schedule in the new year. The budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), provided for incentive payments for residents in private rooms at approved facilities. HIGHER EDUCATION New data from the U.S. Department of Education estimate an increase in Pell Grant recipients and an increase in the number of maximum Pell Grant awards after the launch of the redesigned 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The department called the new form "simplified" and "streamlined." Starting with the 2024-25 award year, the FAFSA form will also include updates to student aid calculations, linking eligibility to family size and the federal poverty level. These changes will significantly expand access to federal student aid, the department said. Pell Grants are used to support students from low-income backgrounds who are seeking an undergraduate degree. The agency estimated that about 610,000 new students will receive Pell Grants, driven primarily by the changes to eligibility rules. Pell recipients are also set to receive more aid under the changes, with nearly 1.5 million more students receiving the maximum Pell Grant, the department said, bringing the total number of students eligible for the maximum Pell Grant amount to more than 5.2 million. A majority of the 154 full-time and adjunct faculty at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) recently voted to form a union aligned with the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT), naming themselves the CCAD Faculty Alliance (CFA). Faculty said they held a secret ballot administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after the CCAD Board of Trustees refused to voluntarily recognize their union. Bowling Green State University (BGSU) and the Toledo Zoo announced they have developed a multi-year fellowship program to provide students with career experience, mentorship and help creating a pipeline to full-time job opportunities. The paid fellowship offers students with up to three years of experience in various fields, including conservation, finance, marketing, biology, operations and more, with the potential for full-time employment after graduation. HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS Ohio home sales of 11,041 in October represented a 9.2 percent drop from the 12,165 seen a year earlier, according to Ohio Realtors. The average sales price, however, was up 7.3 percent, from $254,988 to $273,683. The DeWine administration and Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague Tuesday announced details for the Ohio Homebuyer Plus program, which creates specialized, tax-advantaged savings accounts to help residents with house purchases. Prospective homebuyers will be able to open Ohio Homebuyer Plus accounts through participating financial institutions starting in January. The treasurer's office will administer the program, which will reflect the "linked deposit" method of Ag-LINK and Family Forward. This will enable account-holders who deposit money at participating banks or credit unions to receive above-market interest rates, and they may also qualify for certain state income tax deductions. Participants must meet the following criteria: be an Ohio resident at least 18 years of age; have a primary residence in the state of Ohio; and exclusively use the account proceeds toward the down payment or closing costs of a primary residence purchased in Ohio. HUMAN SERVICES The governor's office recently announced the signing of Executive Order 2023-11D, authorizing the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives to distribute $13.5 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding for FY24, as allowed under the biennial budget bill, HB33 (Edwards). The funding is to be used by recipients for one of the four allowable purposes of TANF funding: providing assistance to needy families so they can be cared for in their own homes or those of relatives; ending dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage; preventing and reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establishing annual goals for such prevention and reduction; and encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. JUDICIAL Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday announced he has appointed Robert J. Jones Jr. to the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division. Jones will assume office on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, and will be taking the seat formerly held by Judge Denise Cubbon. He will serve the remainder of the unfinished term and need to run for election in November 2024 in order to retain the seat. JUVENILE JUSTICE A shortage of individuals willing to work in the juvenile justice system is a leading cause of violence at youth prisons, according to Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) Director Amy Ast. "What could we do differently if we had more staff? There's no doubt adding more staff -- being fully staffed -- would reduce violence in our facilities. It would give more staff the opportunity to de-escalate youth prior to them getting in a crisis state. And we would have more staff to conduct motivational interviewing sessions that would be able to identify quickly when youth are getting upset before they commit any harm to others," Ast said during the first meeting of the Ohio Juvenile Justice Working Group Tuesday. Gov. Mike DeWine created the working group following the publication of an investigation of Ohio's youth prisons by newspapers including the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer and Akron Beacon Journal. Ast said for FY23, only 59 percent of clinical staff positions were filled. MARIJUANA/HEMP The General Assembly and Gov. Mike DeWine should make several changes to the adult use marijuana legalization ballot measure approved by voters earlier this month, according to Ohio Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Rick Carfagna. The letter comes out ahead of the Thursday, Dec. 7 effective date for the new initiated statute, state Issue 2. In particular, Carfagna suggested lawmakers address employer workplace protections, private property rights and the tax distribution. MENTAL HEALTH The holidays are "not always the most wonderful time of the year" for many Ohioans, according to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS). "High expectations, loneliness and stress can lead to being overwhelmed," OhioMHAS said. "That's why OhioMHAS -- in partnership with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) -- unveiled a new round of public service messages urging Ohioans to 'Check in on Yourself.'" The campaign, which includes digital ads, social media messages and billboards, aims to help Ohioans assess their stress level and offers tips to manage it in a healthy way. NATURAL RESOURCES Wildlife-based recreational activities contributed nearly $12.5 billion to Ohio's economy in 2022, according to a new report -- "Participation Levels in and Economic Contributions from Outdoor Recreation in Ohio" -- conducted on behalf of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. Researchers surveyed Ohio residents to gauge their participation in outdoor recreation and the economic impact of those activities. The survey primarily focused on Ohioans' involvement in hunting, fishing, target shooting and wildlife viewing. Collectively, the four activities provided nearly 80,000 jobs in Ohio and $4 billion in income, plus $1.1 billion in local and state taxes, as well as more than $600 million in federal taxes. The activities contributed a total of $6.7 billion to Ohio's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022. Of the $12.5 billion of economic activity created through these activities, Ohio residents contributed $12 billion. The ODNR Division of Wildlife reminded white-tailed deer hunters in the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) surveillance area of Hardin, Marion, and Wyandot counties that sampling is mandatory for all deer harvested during the seven-day gun season, Monday, Nov. 27 to Sunday, Dec. 3. The division confirmed that six deer in the disease surveillance area have tested positive for CWD since the summer of 2023, including one in Hardin County, the county's first. Since the fall of 2020, 28 wild deer have tested positive for CWD: 21 in Wyandot County, six in Marion County, and one in Hardin County. A disease surveillance area in those three counties remains in effect. A sample was recently discovered in Allen County that requires additional testing. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), with the help of the Ohio Valley Conservation Coalition and the Portage Park District, has expanded the Tom S. Cooperrider-Kent Bog State Nature Preserve by an additional 75 acres. "We cherish this unique and important nature preserve which safeguards one of Ohio's largest bogs," ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. "Protecting areas like this helps to preserve Ohio's natural landscape so more people can enjoy the wonders of the outdoors." The ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves' effort to acquire additional bog and uplands began nearly 10 years ago. PENSIONS Local governments spoke out Tuesday against a proposal to increase employer contributions for the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F), saying it would increase expenses in what is already the largest share of municipal budgets. The House Pensions Committee heard opponent testimony on HB296 (Abrams-Hall), which would increase employer contributions for police officers from 19.5 percent to 24 percent, bringing them on par with what's paid toward firefighters' retirement. "The Ohio Municipal League surveyed its membership to determine the percentage of city and village budgets dedicated to public safety and found that members spend an average of 75 percent of their budgets dedicated to public safety services. When municipal budgets are constrained, either by economic issues or through unfunded mandates like the one proposed in HB296, cities and villages are faced with very few options to make up a revenue shortfall or to generate new revenue without reducing services to residents across the board -- including for public safety -- or raising taxes locally, something that our members are generally not supportive of doing," said Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League. POLLS/STUDIES A recent poll from Quinnipiac University measured voters' views on what is most responsible for political divisions, with social media named as the leading entity by 35 percent of respondents. Political leaders were second at 32 percent, followed by cable news channels at 28 percent; other countries were blamed by 1 percent. Respondents were asked to pick among those four options in the poll. Among voters 18 to 34 years old, 45 percent said social media was the most responsible entity, followed by cable news at 27 percent and political leaders at 26 percent. "When it comes to the source of the angry white noise of discord and division, the segment of the population most connected to it is the age group most critical of it," said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy. Republicans also blamed social media the most at 37 percent, followed by 34 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents. The entity most blamed by Democrats was political leaders at 39 percent. POVERTY The percentage of households in the U.S. that were unable to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children crept higher in 2022 compared with 2021 and 2020, according to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Those criteria define when a person is "food insecure," according to the USDA, and the number of households with children that fit the description reached 3.3 million in 2022 (8.8 percent of households), compared to 2.3 million households (6.2 percent) in 2021 and 2.9 million households (7.6 percent) in 2020. The USDA calls the increase from 2021 to 2022 statistically significant. Numbers rose similarly for households with "very low food security," in which the USDA says survey respondents report children were hungry, skipped a meal or did not eat for an entire day because there was not enough money for food. Households with very low food security are identified by one or more members of the household reducing food intake or eating patterns because of insufficient money and other resources for food. PUBLIC SAFETY Thanksgiving weekend in Ohio saw eight people killed in seven accidents, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP). That number represents the fewest highway deaths over the Thanksgiving holiday since 2018, following 19 in 2022, 17 in 2021 and 11 in 2020. Of those eight fatalities, the highway patrol says one person was not wearing a safety belt, and one of the crashes involved impaired driving. REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT In a split 4-3 vote along party lines, the Ohio Supreme Court Monday denied the requests of plaintiffs in three redistricting cases to file objections to the new General Assembly maps adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission and dismissed the cases. In a per curiam opinion, the Court agreed with a motion to dismiss filed by Redistricting Commission members Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester), and Secretary of State Frank LaRose that there is no longer an operative complaint that corresponds to the plan adopted by the commission in September. STATE GOVERNMENT The Controlling Board Monday approved all of the items on its agenda, including two land purchases by the Ohio Department Natural Resources (ODNR) and the creation of a new fund to collect fees from training programs for arming school staff. The Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) requested approval of the creation of a new line item for FY24 and FY25 that it said would be used by the Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC) to collect fees for training for school employees and teachers who are authorized to carry firearms under provisions of 134-HB99 (Hall). In the inaugural "Find Forgotten Funds" competition, Michigan had the most searches for unclaimed funds on missingmoney.com and Ohio had the most claims filed, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC). DOC announced the competition ahead of the Ohio State-Michigan football game. Michigan had more than 240,000 searches for unclaimed funds, while Ohio completed the competition with 226,860 searches. As a result of those searches, Ohioans filed 33,386 claims to reclaim their missing money. In Michigan, searches led to 19,269 claims being filed. So far in November, the DOC Division of Unclaimed Funds has paid out more than $3.4 million in unclaimed funds, according to DOC. Ohioans can search for their unclaimed funds at any time on missingmoney.com. TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) announced recently the application period is open for the second round of its Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant (ORBEG) program, which has a total of $77.5 million to help Internet service providers (ISPs) expand affordable, high-speed service to unserved and underserved areas. The application deadline is Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 and all funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026. Projects must be operational by that date as well. The first round provided over $232 million to 11 ISPs, bringing access to more than 43,000 homes in 31 counties. ISPs using the funds must participate in the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides a $30 per month subsidy for low-income families. TOBACCO/SMOKING/VAPING County prosecutors and other supporters of HB258 (Carruthers) told House members Tuesday the state must attack the supply as well as the demand for e-cigarettes to head off looming health problems for Ohio teens and adults addicted to vaping. The bill would hike retail penalties for "repeated" or "continuous" sales of e-cigarettes and allow rogue vendors to be shut down as a "public nuisance." TREASURER OF STATE Treasurer Robert Sprague announced Wednesday the State Treasury Asset Reserve of Ohio (STAR Ohio) had generated and returned over $1 billion in investment income for participating entities during 2023. This "milestone" was achieved on Nov. 22, according to his office. STAR Ohio allows the state's governmental entities to invest in high-grade, short-term securities while providing them with safety, penalty-free liquidity and comparatively higher yields. The treasurer's office acts as the investment advisor and administrator. Sprague's office also noted that when he took office in January 2019, STAR Ohio had assets totaling $9.55 billion and they are now over $23 billion. As of Oct. 31, there were 2,997 STAR Ohio accounts, and the current daily yield is 5.58 percent. WORKFORCE Speaking at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's Health Care Transformation Summit Thursday, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted described how the industry can address workforce shortages and adapt to new technology. He spoke in a keynote with CVS Health Vice President for State Government Affairs Leanne Gassaway. Health care is "the biggest cost driver in state government," poses a range of societal issues and affects people of all ages in different ways, Husted told attendees. Regarding the workforce issues, he brought up overall challenges of shifting demographic trends and the decline in the labor participation rate. The state government is working to promote STEM education through innovation districts, career centers and new means of lifelong learning such as TechCred.





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


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