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Week in Review February 12, 2024


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


Certain sections of "heartbeat" abortion ban 133-SB23 (Roegner) remain constitutional despite the passage of Issue 1 in November 2023, Attorney General Dave Yost wrote in a new court filing. Yost has acknowledged that the reproductive/abortion rights constitutional amendment overrides the "core prohibition" of 133-SB23, which bans abortion when fetal cardiac activity is detected. However, that doesn't mean the entire law should be thrown out, he said. Yost's filing is the response to the amended complaint from abortion providers, who argue that 133-SB23 should be ruled unconstitutional due to Issue 1's passage.


APPALACHIA


Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) released official program guidelines for the $85 million Appalachian Community Innovation Centers program earlier this week. K-12 school districts, joint vocational school districts, regional councils of government, or other political subdivisions located in the 32 Ohio Appalachian counties may apply for funding. The application period began Monday, Feb. 5 and ends Thursday, March 21. The program is administered by the OFCC. Eligible projects include new construction, renovation, or expansion of existing facilities that support public education; deliver physical or behavioral health care services onsite to students and the public; and provide community access to job-related programming. To qualify, projects must demonstrate a significant impact in all three areas, according to the governor's office.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has formally requested that the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) prohibit wagers on the individual performances of college athletes. "One particular issue that troubles the NCAA is betting markets that center around many aspects of a student-athlete's individual athletic performance, otherwise known as player prop bets," NCAA President Charlie Baker wrote in a letter to OCCC Executive Director Matt Schuler.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


In a filing with the Ohio Supreme Court Monday, Attorney General Dave Yost argued a lawsuit challenging his rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment petition based solely on the petition's title should not be accelerated because the plaintiffs have not shown the likelihood that they will qualify for the 2024 ballot. Groups behind a constitutional amendment that would enshrine certain voting procedures in Ohio's Constitution took Yost to the Ohio Supreme Court after he rejected their proposed summary for the second time when he took issue with the title of proposal, which on the second submission is the "Voters Bill of Rights." Yost argued that the title "does not fairly or accurately summarize or describe the actual content of the proposed amendment."


Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is co-leading an appeal to Congress to halt a projected loss of $700 million this year in Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds supporting victims and surviving family members. Yost and 41 other attorneys general say a 41 percent shortfall over 2023 will prove "devastating" to victim services and jeopardize public safety in the U.S. Led by Yost and AGs for Illinois, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) is urging House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to shore up VOCA funding until it is replenished by criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties, and assessments collected by federal courts and prosecutors and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). "The revenue for the VOCA fund is generated from offenders convicted of federal crimes, not from taxes," they remind Congress.


FY24-25 BUDGET


Tax revenues are down about half a percent for the fiscal year so far after another underperformance in January, but the overall revenue picture and sizable underspending leave Ohio's budget on solid footing, Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kim Murnieks told Hannah News Wednesday. Outsize refunds linked to a 2022 tax law change are the main driver of under-estimate income tax collections, she said. According to preliminary revenue figures from OBM, the income tax missed estimates by 5.1 percent or $57.6 million. Sales taxes were under estimates by about $18.5 million, with a 2.2 percent or $24 million underperformance in the non-auto sales tax, which was partially offset by a 4 percent or $5.8 million overperformance in the auto sales tax. Total January tax revenues of $2.58 billion were $70.4 million or 2.7 percent below estimates.


EAST PALESTINE DERAILMENT


Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told reporters Friday he is continuing "to press forward for answers and to get to a place of restorative justice" for the residents of East Palestine and Columbiana County, nearly a year after the Feb. 3, 2023 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride. While Yost said there have been rumors a settlement to the lawsuit against Norfolk Southern was in the works, from the state's point of view "nothing could be farther from the truth." He added there are too many unanswered questions, saying a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) final report which will be "indispensable" is not expected to be completed until late spring or early summer.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/URBAN REVITALIZATION


Intel is no longer expected to meet the initial target of bringing production online in 2025 at its first two fabs in Licking County, according to media reports, but a company spokesperson told NBC4 they still see that happening between 2025 and 2027, three to five years after the September 2022 groundbreaking. The initial 2025 date was mentioned when Intel announced it had selected Central Ohio for the project. State support for the project includes a $600 million grant agreement finalized in June 2023 which requires the two facilities be completed by Dec. 31, 2028.


ECONOMY


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced Friday that the nation added 353,000 nonfarm jobs in January with the unemployment rate remaining at 3.7 percent. BLS said the number of unemployed persons, at 6.1 million, was little changed in January. Among the major worker groups, unemployment rates for adult men (3.6 percent), adult women (3.2 percent), teenagers (10.6 percent), Whites (3.4 percent), Blacks (5.3 percent), Asians (2.9 percent) and Hispanics (5.0 percent) all showed little or no change in January. The number of long-term unemployed, those jobless for 27 weeks or more, was little changed at 1.3 million. The long-term unemployed accounted for 20.8 percent of all unemployed persons.


EDUCATION


The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) released the initial list of curriculum and instructional materials aligned to new state mandates for schools to adopt literacy teaching methods that follow the "science of reading." The biennial budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), provided tens of millions of dollars for schools to buy curricular and instructional materials approved by DEW, and generally requires schools to use approved materials by the coming school year. The bill specifically bars use of "three-cueing" instructional approaches, absent a waiver from the department.


Eight Ohio institutions of higher education will offer Ohio Teacher Bootcamp programs for up to 655 K-12 educators. The program connects them to local businesses to learn more about in-demand workforce skills so they can help students with career readiness. Approved institutions include Ashland University, Lake Erie College, Malone University, Miami University, Sinclair Community College, University of Cincinnati, University of Findlay and Youngstown State University.


ELECTIONS 2024


Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Friday that the 88 county boards of elections had begun sending ballots to military and overseas voters, officially starting the primary election set for Tuesday, March 19 in the state. Information for members of the military and other U.S. citizens living internationally on how to request and return an absentee ballot is available at http://tinyurl.com/2s4h54kf. All other Ohio voters can begin voting on Wednesday, Feb. 21 either in-person or via mail-in absentee ballot.


Challenges from the right for Republicans who voted with Democrats to install House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) are among the most eyed races for the Tuesday, March 19 primary. Other big races see multiple candidates facing off in a seat that is open due to term limits. Whether the incumbents can hold off their primary opponents and go on to win in the General Election in what are considered mostly safe Republican seats may play into Stephens' future in the next General Assembly, with Capitol Square political observers expecting a potential speaker challenge from now Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who is term-limited and running unopposed for the House. Of the 22 Republicans who chose Stephens over caucus pick Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee) -- often referred to as the "Blue 22" -- five have either resigned, are term-limited, or are running for the Ohio Senate while 12 have a primary opponent in March.


Year-end fundraising reports for candidates seeking open seats in Ohio's congressional delegation this year show a number of candidates willing to put their own money into their efforts. Republican candidates in both the 2nd Congressional District, which will be open after this year due to the retirement of U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati), and the 6th Congressional District, which is open now after U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson took a job as president of Youngstown State University, reported loans from themselves to their campaigns among their finance totals. In the 2nd District, a crowded Republican primary field was led by David Taylor, who reported raising $1.27 million, but a majority of that came from a $1.25 million loan he gave to his campaign. He spent $129,315 and has $1.14 million on hand. He was followed by Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), who reported raising $613,725, spending $48,605, and having $565,121 on hand. In the race to replace Johnson in the 6th Congressional District, State Rep. Reggie Stotlzfus (R-Minerva) leads Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) in cash on hand, but both candidates have given their campaigns personal loans.


Democrat Colin Flanagan announced on social media that he has decided to withdraw from the 41st House District race, leaving only one Democrat still running for the Lucas County seat. The seat is currently held by Rep. Josh Williams (R-Oregon), though last fall's redistricting has Williams running for re-election in the 44th House District seat currently held by term-limited Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova), making the 41st District an open seat.

Loveland resident Joe Wessels has dropped out of the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional House District and is endorsing Republican Phil Heimlich, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Heimlich and Wessels issued a joint press release announcing the move, with Wessels noting the difficulty of winning as a Democrat in the district. Heimlich, a former Hamilton County commissioner and Cincinnati councilman, had previously lost a bid for Congress against U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Troy) in 2022. He is an outspoken critic of former President Trump.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • The Ohio Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (OCCPAC) endorsed George Lang, Jyl Hall, Kyle Koehler, and Sandra O'Brien for the Ohio Senate; and Dontavius Jarrells, Leo Almeida, Patrick Barnacle, Mark Sigrist, Brian Stewart, Gordon Short, Angel Washington, Cindy Abrams, Jack Daniels, Derrick Hall, Thomas Hall, Sara Carruthers, Kellie Deeter, Michelle Teska, Adam Mathews, Beth Lear, David Thomas, Sharon Ray, Kevin Miller, Levi Dean, Gail Pavliga, Jeff LaRe, Sally Culling, Meredith Craig, Jon Cross, Tracy Richardson, Gina Collinsworth, Kevin Ritter, and Mark Hiner for the Ohio House of Representatives.

  • The state representative campaign of Republican Mark Hiner announced the endorsement of Rep. Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville), who Hiner is seeking to succeed.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Frank LaRose announced the endorsement of the Buckeye Firearms Association.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Bernie Moreno announced the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Frank LaRose announced the endorsements of A1S4 Protection PAC and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Centerville).

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Bernie Moreno announced the endorsements of the Franklin County Republican Party and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

ENERGY/UTILITIES


House Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) stopped short of calling HB260 (Seitz-Robb Blasdel) the Legislature's vehicle for utility reform Wednesday but said it's supported by the sector's leading voice. The regulatory overhaul of 15-year-old energy omnibus 127-SB221 appeared quietly last fall and saw initial committee testimony two weeks ago. It follows electric security plan (ESP) repeal 132-HB247 (Romanchuk), reintroduced this session as SB143 (Romanchuk); and 134-HB317 (Wilkin), which like Seitz's bill is a mix of new and old ratemaking reintroduced with changes last spring as SB102 (Wilkin). Asked whether HB260 now appears to be the primary vehicle for ratemaking reform, Seitz was agnostic. "It's the only vehicle pending in the House. I don't know where the Senate is with Wilkin or Romanchuk's bill," he said. "I think [leadership] would be generally deferential to what I have to say on this because the utilities are all on board, and that's no small feat."


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has given the green light to PJM Interconnection's capacity market reforms backed by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and House and Senate public utility committee chairmen and opposed by the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) and PJM's Independent Market Monitor (IMM). FERC said this week that PJM's pending overhaul of wholesale markets for grid capacity -- a power plant's ability to meet electric demands 24/7/365 -- was "just and reasonable." "[I]t will help to ensure that PJM's capacity market design more accurately represents the PJM system's reliability needs, as well as the expected ability of both individual resources and the fleet as a whole to meet those needs," commissioners state in the 145-page order.


The PUCO announced 436 as the new area code overlay of the existing 440 area code in the northeast corner of Ohio, including the southern and western suburbs of Cleveland and extending east to the Pennsylvania border north of Youngstown. Existing phone numbers in the 440 area will not need to change their numbers. But beginning on Friday, March 1, 2024, new telephone customers in the geographic area the 440 area code currently covers may be assigned a number in the new 436 area code.


ENVIRONMENT


The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) has closed on nearly $116,000 in bond financing to support an air quality project for an auto repair shop in Marion. Buckeye Collision Service Inc. will also receive a grant of up to $20,000, OAQDA announced.


FEDERAL


Ohio U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) and other members of the Democratic Women's Caucus Friday urged President Joe Biden to take steps to protect people against the "criminalization of pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes. … We write to bring to your attention the longstanding pattern of criminalization of people on the basis of their pregnancies and pregnancy outcomes that has intensified in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization," the caucus wrote in a letter to Biden, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Thursday. The letter cites the case of Brittany Watts, an Ohio woman who was charged with felony abuse of a corpse after she spontaneously miscarried a non-viable fetus into a toilet at her home. A grand jury in Trumbull County last month declined to return an indictment against Watts.


Ohio's General Assembly should be the next state legislative body to call for a convention of states under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, conservative activists told the House Government Oversight Committee on Tuesday. Proponents of HJR3 (McClain-Willis) packed the committee room and provided testimony for more than three hours during the hearing. Michael Farris, co-founder of the conservative-led Convention of States organization, said 34 states are needed to call such a convention, and 38 states would need to ratify any proposal to add it to the U.S. Constitution.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The House Wednesday passed a $2 billion infrastructure bill that appropriates $350 million of the $700 million in One Time Strategic Community Investments funding a day after it was announced, though the debate in the chamber had not ended before Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) made it clear that he was not on board. House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) had announced the plan Tuesday to amend the funds into HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) and pass it, while planning to address capital appropriations at a later date. The bill cleared the House Finance Committee Wednesday morning with nary a witness save the two co-sponsors -- Reps. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) -- and with only one question from committee member Rep. Dan Troy (D-Willowick). The committee was told the bill includes $600 million for school buildings; $400 million for the Public Works Commission infrastructure program; nearly $400 million for numerous higher education projects; and $250 million for local jail construction across Ohio. In addition, it appropriates $350 million -- the House share of the $700 million One Time Strategic Community Investments Fund that was created in the FY24-25 budget bill, HB33 (Edwards) -- for 318 projects across the state.


Huffman, however, said in a memo that there is no agreement between the House and Senate on HB2, and there were not any negotiations with the Senate or with himself. "Approving a large spending bill without additional debate would be irresponsible and an abdication of the duties of the Senate. Normally, both chambers work together to create an agreed upon bill. For unknown reasons, the House chose to break from that process," Huffman wrote Wednesday. "The Senate will continue to follow its timeline announced in December for this year's capital budget process which includes the additional $700 million for the One Time Strategic Community Investment Fund, with the goal of both chambers passing a single agreed upon bill later in May or early June."


In a busy Wednesday session, the House also paid its respects to former Senate President Stan Aronoff, seated new member Rep. Veronica Sims (D-Akron), elected Rep. Michele Grim (D-Toledo) as assistant minority whip, set a date for the "State of the State" address, and passed six bills. However, the session was not without fireworks, as a number of Republicans continued their feud with Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), who refused to recognize them to make motions throughout the session. Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee), who has battled with Stephens since losing the speaker's race after Stephens and his supporters joined with Democrats to elect Stephens speaker over caucus pick Merrin, had previewed before the session that they would be bringing up higher education overhaul SB83 (Cirino) on the floor. Other representatives also told media members after session that they had planned to bring up Second Amendment Preservation Act HB51 (Loychik-Schmidt). However, despite their calls for his attention, he did not recognize them.


Among legislation the House did pass was HCR13 (Stephens-Russo), which authorizes a joint convention of the House and Senate for the "State of the State," setting the date for Wednesday, April 10.


The House also passed SB17 (Wilson), which Rep. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) said would add free market capitalism into materials for the required high school financial literacy class. As he spoke, Rep. Beth Lear (R-Galena) held up a sign saying "Capitalism Trumps Socialism." The bill passed 64-26, with most Democrats voting against it.


The House also passed HB238 (Fowler- Klopfenstein), which makes changes to the state's occupational regulations. Rep. Roy Klopfenstein (R- Haviland) said the bill reduces burdensome regulation and eliminates fees where appropriate. He said through the process, the State and Local Government Committee reviewed 244 licenses, identifying 25 licenses that need to be eliminated and 14 licenses that benefit from having a fee reduction. The bill passed 61-30, with Democrats voting against it.


Other bills that cleared the House included HB226 (Robb Blasdel- Jarrells), which permits water utilities to recover costs for replacing certain customer-owned water service lines; HB324 (McClain-Klopfenstein), which authorizes a temporary nonrefundable tax credit for the retail sale of high-ethanol blend motor fuel; and SB106 (Schaffer), which addresses workers' compensation coverage for testing for medical professionals who are exposed to chemical substances or bodily fluids.


The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) will host weekly programs during February in the Statehouse Atrium each Tuesday starting at 12 p.m. to celebrate Black History Month. Remaining scheduled programs include the following:


  • Feb 13. - Librarians from the Columbus Metropolitan Library will discuss Ohioans' role in the Underground Railroad. Presenters will also talk about how to find homes along the Underground Railroad route.

  • Feb. 20 - Opera Columbus Executive Director Suzan Bradford will speak about the history of the Lincoln Theater in Columbus and the efforts to restore it. Bradford will also be joined by a singer for a short performance.

  • Feb. 27 - Comedy and magic performer Rory Rennick will present "The Henry Box Brown Show." Henry Box Brown was an escaped slave, magician and abolitionist. Rennick's performance will also feature a question-and-answer segment.

House Speaker Stephens and his allies should be enjoined from making expenditures related to the Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA) Legislative Campaign Fund (LCF) while litigation over who controls the campaign fund proceeds, according to a court filing from Rep. Merrin and his allies. The motion for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and expedited discovery also asks Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott to enjoin Stephens and his allies from operating the OHRA LCF in any manner, including issuing statements attributed to the OHRA LCF.


In other legislative action, the House Civil Justice Committee reported out HB301 (Swearingen) which addresses laws governing nonprofits; the House Government Oversight Committee reported out HB313 (Calender-Mathews) which addresses training for fire investigators; and the House Ways and Means Committee reported out HB324 (McClain-Klopfenstein), which provides a tax credit for high-ethanol blend motor fuel.


HANNAH NEWS RACES TO WATCH


Two Republicans are vying for the seat currently held by term-limited Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin) in a heavily Republican seat in Warren County. Michelle Teska, a business owner who formerly worked in the media industry, has received the backing of Lipps to succeed him, and has lined up other endorsements from groups including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce PAC, Warren County Right to Life and Americans for Prosperity's Ohio affiliate. She also has the backing of Sen. Steve Wilson (R-Maineville). She faces Ben McCullough, a U.S. Army veteran who currently is a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army Reserve. The race started out more crowded, but Republicans Kim Lukens, Scott Hughes, and Thomas Goodwin have all withdrawn. The winner faces Laura Marie Davis, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary, in November. The district is heavily Republican.


One newcomer and a familiar face are challenging incumbent Sen. George F. Lang (R-West Chester) in the Republican primary for Ohio's 4th Senate District in March. Mark Morgan is challenging for the seat after returning to his native Ohio in 2018. Morgan had been a commissioner in Washington, D.C., representing the LaDroit Park community. Prior to that, Morgan worked for the Maryland Republican Party and the Maryland Environmental Services state agency. Former Rep. Candice Keller is again seeking a return to office in the Statehouse after most recently running alongside former state Rep. Ron Hood in Hood's Republican primary bid for Ohio governor in 2022. Keller also previously challenged Lang for the 4th District Senate seat in the Republican primary in 2020. Keller served as state representative from the 53rd House District from 2017-2021.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is rolling out new resources for health care providers who serve suspected victims of labor trafficking to mark the culmination of National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The video training will help medical professionals identify and treat potential labor trafficking victims through real-life scenarios developed by the Healthcare Subcommittee of Yost's Human Trafficking Commission. "Make no mistake, human trafficking is modern-day slavery -- and my goal is that no person is bought or sold, whether it's for sex or for labor," he said. "Training like this is crucial because one of the few people a trafficking victim might see on the outside is an emergency room nurse or doctor. That care provider might be the victim's best shot at freedom." The AG's training video homepage can be found at tinyurl.com/mwstr7jh. The discussion guide is available at tinyurl.com/53jf73br.


The Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) and the Ohio Board of Nursing (OBN) are seeking input on doula services in Ohio as they establish standards for doula care. The agencies asked those who have worked as doulas or that have had professional relationships with doulas to share their thoughts on doula policies in a survey, available at http://tinyurl.com/359pf3wu.


The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) will spend February accepting public comments on a package of rule revisions related to licensure of nursing homes. The board recently issued notice of plans to create new rules 3701-17-03, -03.2 and -11; rescind the prior versions of -03 and -11; and amend -01, -02, -03.1, -04, -05, -06, -07, -07.1, -07.2, -08, -09, -10, -12, -13, -14, -15, -16, -17, -18, -19, - 20, -21, -22, -23, -24, -25, -26. ODH wrote in the notice publicizing the draft rules for comment that they result from a two-year process of working with stakeholders to provide a holistic review, keep changes cost neutral where possible, and remove regulatory restrictions in keeping with 134-SB9.


Recertification interviews for Ohio's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be in place in all 88 counties beginning Friday, March 1, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said Tuesday, including the 23 counties that had received a federal waiver over the past year. Those 23 counties have been operating for the past year under the federal waiver that was issued in 2022, which allowed them to opt-out of conducting interviews as part of the recertification process. Counties participating in the waiver include Athens, Cuyahoga, Defiance, Fayette, Franklin, Geauga, Highland, Huron, Jackson, Logan, Lucas, Madison, Mahoning, Medina, Montgomery, Paulding, Portage, Richland, Hocking, Ross, Vinton, Stark, and Williams.


The DeWine administration's proposed administrative rules on gender-affirming care would no longer apply to adult patients, according to memos from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS). In separate but similar memos, ODH and OhioMHAS thanked the individuals and organizations who provided public comments on their original proposed rules, which were announced in January. The rules will now go through the rule adoption process, which includes review by the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) and Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR).


HIGHER EDUCATION


A report released recently by personal finance site WalletHub found Ohio has the 18th-highest amount of median student loan payments, at $192 per month. The report referenced new rules from the Biden administration, but also said around 43.8 million Americans owe a combined $1.64 trillion in loans. This averages out to over $37,000 in debt for each borrower as the payment moratorium has come to an end. Ohio was also second-highest among neighboring states. Their rankings include the following:


  • Pennsylvania, 13th-highest nationally at $205.

  • Michigan, 32nd-highest nationally and tied with Idaho at $177.

  • Indiana, 34th-highest nationally at $176.

  • Kentucky, 47th-highest nationally at $159. This equated to fourth-lowest nationally.

  • West Virginia, lowest nationally at $139.

The full report is available at https://tinyurl.com/5fzn3yra.


JUDICIAL


A trial court's conversion of an oral deposition for Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) to written questioning in the EdChoice litigation blunts Huffman's attempt to appeal and avoid questioning on the basis of legislative privilege, school districts argued in a new filing. A coalition of districts and resident families are suing the state in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to challenge the constitutionality of the EdChoice scholarship program. That lawsuit sparked a separate legal battle in the 10th District Court of Appeals over Judge Jaiza Page's decision on the schools' attempt to subpoena Huffman for a deposition.


JUVENILE JUSTICE


Department of Youth Services (DYS) officials and others Thursday briefed members of the Ohio Juvenile Justice Working Group on gang activity in the state's youth facilities. The virtual meeting was the group's eighth, chair Tom Stickrath said, since it was formed in November 2023 following the publication of an investigation of Ohio's youth prisons by newspapers with the USA TODAY Ohio Bureau. The committee heard from Jack Vicencio and Ryan Smith with DYS; Adam Watkins, a professor at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) who studies gang activity among minors; Laron and Angela Douglas, founders of reNOUNce deNOUNce - Gang Intervention Program; and Mike Crispen, chief of police for the city of Whitehall.


LOBBYISTS


Thomas P. Pappas & Associates (TPP) Thursday announced that state government policy professional Alex Moormann has joined its office as a lobbyist. He most recently served as a legislative liaison for the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce. In that position, Moormann worked to pass and implement education legislation related to fair school funding, report card reform, teacher licensure reform, career technical school grants and financial literacy. Additionally, Moormann served in both government relations and public relations roles for the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities agency, assisting people who have disabilities in finding and maintaining meaningful employment.


Hicks Partners, a business consulting firm, announced the promotion of Lauren Strope to the position of manager, government relations and association management, and the addition of Mallory Bailey as grants coordinator. Since joining Hicks Partners, Strope has worked in various sectors, including health care, criminal justice, education, grant writing and local government. Her experience also includes health care policy, association management, event planning and grant writing. Bailey’s background includes roles with the Ohio Credit Union League, Ohio Department of Medicaid, OhioHealth and the Ohio Legislature. She holds a certificate in advanced grant proposal writing from Ohio University.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT


Ohio's Indigent Defense Task Force heard contrasting views on court-appointed counsel and public defender offices Thursday from commissioners representing separate counties. In one, indigent defense (ID) costs actually fell more than 5 percent to $1.7 million, despite increasing hourly rates, while in another county, ID more than doubled to the same figure -- both occurring over a 10-year period. Allen County Commissioner Cory Noonan said he has only come to understand the importance of indigent defense funding through the course of his 12-year tenure. He said the county gradually transitioned from a court-appointed model to a public defender's office in 2021, bringing its attorneys within statutory caseload requirements.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


Ohio's ability to avoid stumbling blocks that have tripped up other states in the post-pandemic Medicaid "unwinding" process is a factor in the volume and pace of disenrollments here, a senior Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) official said this week. Patrick Beatty, deputy director and chief policy officer for ODM, was among presenters for a Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO) virtual gathering on the unwinding process. Ohio is nearing the end of this special unwinding period. The state started eligibility redetermination work in February 2023 in advance of processing the first cases in April 2023; March of this year will be the final month of the unwinding.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) approved a Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) of over $1.4 million for the renovation of DeRivera Park B Dock, situated in the heart of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. The project aims to modernize one of the most popular destinations on Lake Erie by providing a new facility for boaters, ODNR said. The project's objectives include the construction of 1,100 linear feet of new fixed docks capable of accommodating up to 75 vessels. Additionally, marina improvements will be designed and implemented to cater to boats over 26 feet in length. This change will offer utilities and flexible mooring. The overarching goal is to create a safe harbor, support educational activities, and achieve Ohio Clean Marina standards, which promote sustainability and environmental stewardship, the department said.


ODNR recently held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Clark Island and Delaware/Horseshoe Island restoration projects. Th project will rebuild Clark and Delaware/Horseshoe islands and the downstream portion of Delaware/Horseshoe Island which have deteriorated over the years due to erosion. The process of restoring the islands will improve water quality by reducing sediment and nutrients in the Maumee River and ultimately Lake Erie, the department said. The projects are part of the H2Ohio initiative. H2Ohio has invested more than $8.7 million into the island restoration, including for the project's engineering and design work and the construction.


The ODNR Division of Wildlife stocked 40.8 million fish of 11 species in Ohio waters in 2023. Fish were stocked during spring, summer, and fall at 239 locations statewide. The Division of Wildlife operates six state fish hatcheries that raise sport fish for stocking in Ohio waters. Ohio's hatcheries raise saugeye, walleye, yellow perch, rainbow trout, steelhead trout, brown trout, muskellunge, hybrid-striped bass, blue catfish, channel catfish and bluegill. The majority of Ohio's fish populations are sustained through natural reproduction; however, stocking expands and diversifies fishing opportunities in waters where existing habitats do not support some fish populations.


ODNR recently joined the Appalachia Ohio Alliance (AOA) to officially declare Bison Hollow as the 146th state nature preserve. "State nature preserves play a significant role in protecting Ohio's natural wonders," Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement. "From the cliff faces to the towering trees, there are so many features at Bison Hollow that sum up the beauty of this state." Bison Hollow, which weaves from Hocking County to Vinton County, is the first nature preserve to be dedicated in Vinton County.


Registration is open for the third Ohio Rivers Symposium, which will be held on Friday, March 22 in Columbus. ODNR is hosting the event. which will focus on the connection between groundwater resources and healthy streams. Last held in 2022, the 2024 symposium will feature nine presentations including ones on the new H2Ohio Rivers program, watershed planning, cold water habitat, and an update on Ohio's Scenic Rivers Program. The event also offers exhibits and a student poster presentation. This year's keynote speakers include ODNR Director Mary Mertz and Craig Nelson with the ODNR Division of Geological Survey who will present on the aquifers of Ohio. Other scheduled speakers include representatives from Ohio State University, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Geauga Park District, and Miami Conservancy District. For more information and to register, go to http://tinyurl.com/4d4fmvfs.


OHIO HISTORY


The Ohio History Connection announced that it is undertaking a series of renovations to its campus on East 17th Street over the next year that the organization is calling Campus 2.OH. Ohio History Connection says the project will involve several construction, renovation and event activities beginning in the summer of 2024, after the conclusion of the Ohio State Fair. The goal of the project is to improve and expand the physical spaces located on the campus near the Ohio Expo Center & State Fairgrounds, including the Ohio History Center and Ohio Village. Temporary closures of some facilities are planned, to conclude by the project's completion in 2026.


PENSIONS


An appellate magistrate recommended Tuesday that ousted State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) board member Wade Steen be reinstated as a trustee. The decision must be adopted by judges of the 10th District Court of Appeals in order to take effect, and STRS will have an opportunity to file objections to the recommendation. Gov. Mike DeWine removed Steen as a trustee in May of 2023, after he declined to resign, in part citing Steen's attendance record at board meetings and concerns he appeared to be advocating for a specific investment firm. Steen sued in June, arguing he was appointed to serve a specific term and does not serve at the pleasure of the governor. DeWine appointed investor G. Brent Bishop in Steen's place.


The House Pensions Committee got an overview of trends in public pension finance and economic outlook trends nationwide Tuesday, while also hearing continued debate on the proposal to raise employer contribution rates for police officers in the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund. The committee called a fifth hearing on HB296 (Abrams-Hall), which would gradually increase the current employer contribution rate of 19.5 percent for police officers until it matches the 24 percent rate for firefighters. The committee also adopted an amendment that specifies the four-year phase-in of such increases would be dated from the effective date of the bill, rather than the calendar years proposed in the original bill.


The General Assembly should not pass HB261 (Patton-Sweeney), according to the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC). Members of ORSC voted 7-1 to approve the recommendation of ORSC staff to oppose HB261, with gubernatorial appointee Ed Montgomery being the lone "no" vote. The legislation, which has received three hearings in the House Pensions Committee, would allow emergency medical services (EMS) workers to participate in the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) public safety division rather than the regular OPERS program. ORSC Deputy Legal Counsel Alex Strickmaker said council staff recommended opposition to the bill because EMS workers do not receive certification from the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA).


PEOPLE


Roger Geiger, who most recently served as the vice president and executive director of Ohio for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), has joined the Ohio Chamber of Commerce as the executive director of its Ohio Small Business Council (OSBC). Geiger had served in the executive director role at NFIB for 20 years, where he had helped to grow the association's membership from 10,000 members to more than 21,000. Prior to that, he served as NFIB's state director for Ohio for 14 years.


PUBLIC SAFETY


The Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) added six police departments to jurisdictions certified under state law enforcement standards issued by the Ohio Community-Police Collaborative Advisory Board. OCJS, an office of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS), says police in Baltimore (Fairfield County), Delta (Fulton), Galion (Crawford), Jackson Center (Shelby), McConnelsville (Morgan) and Perry Township (Columbiana) have satisfied minimum state requirements for use of force, including deadly force, and agency recruitment and hiring.


TAXATION


Business organizations told lawmakers studying property taxes Wednesday that the issue is a top concern for companies and urged a holistic look at how many taxing entities Ohio has. The Ohio Farm Bureau, meanwhile, expressed interest in finding a way to control volatility and to have the retrospective calculations in the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) somehow take into account current-day dynamics. The Joint Committee on Property Tax Review and Reform called its third hearing Wednesday, with testimony from Chris Ferruso on behalf of National Federation of Independent Business-Ohio (NFIB), Tony Long on behalf of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and Nikki Cooper of the Ohio Business Roundtable, as well as Leah Curtis of the Ohio Farm Bureau.


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


The House Aviation and Aerospace Committee's goal during 2023 was to get members up to speed on technical aspects of drone development and operation, Chair Adam Holmes (R-Nashport) told Hannah News in a recent interview, and he plans to advance several bills on that topic in the coming months. HB77 (Willis), which establishes requirements and prohibitions on the usage of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the state, will be the first to move. The bill has already received four hearings and was amended twice, with Holmes saying he plans to have it reported out at a committee hearing sometime in February. While HB77 provides "security first," he said, the next step will be protecting the public's rights through two bills. HB149 (Willis), which has not yet received a hearing, addresses law enforcement use of UAVs. Another bill that has not been introduced as yet will regulate private use of UAVs or drones.


A forum at the Cleveland City Club Thursday examined how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used in hiring, particularly among health care and senior living facilities. Panelists included Bethany Friedlander, president and CEO of NewBridge; Ann Conn, president and CEO of the McGregor Foundation, and Neal Bruce, chief product officer at Arena Analytics. Arena Analytics has developed an AI tool which much of the discussion focused on, while NewBridge is a learning center working to promote health equity and the McGregor Foundation supports the McGregor Home for senior residents. The panel was moderated by Jeff St. Clair, host and producer at Ideastream Public Media. In opening the discussion, St. Clair said AI "is already being used across many sectors" and has already begun "fundamentally changing our world in ways that are difficult to predict.”


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


The Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) approved a draft list of 18 transportation projects that will receive $127.3 million over the next four years. The list is now open for public comment until Friday, Feb. 23. The final list is scheduled to be voted on at TRAC's Wednesday, Feb. 28 meeting. Comments can be emailed to trac@dot.ohio.gov.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission Monday announced electric vehicle (EV) charging on the 241-mile toll road surpassed more than 100,000 charging sessions last month.

 


 


 


 



 



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


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