Week In Review - February 15, 2021



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This report reflects the latest happenings in government relations, in and around the Ohio statehouse. You’ll notice that it’s broad in nature and on an array of topics, from A-Z. This will be updated on a weekly basis.


Please feel free to share it with anyone else you believe may find it of interest, as well. Also, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions, concerns or if we can be of any assistance.


FY20-21 BUDGET


The state's revenues continue to exceed estimates with January's coming in $81.3 million or 3.6 percent over estimates, the Office of Budget of Management (OBM) announced Monday in releasing the preliminary January figures. Compared to a year ago, revenues for FY21 are running $1,055.5 million or 7.6 percent ahead. A total of nearly $15,027.8 million has been collected through January 2021 compared to nearly $13,972.3 million collected through January 2020.


FY22-23 BUDGET


The House Finance Committee Thursday posted a draft of the FY22-23 operating budget bill which Chairman Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) has filed with the House Clerk's Office for formal introduction on Tuesday, Feb. 16 when it will receive an official number. That document can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/2kn5oojg.


Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that his proposed transportation budget will make distracted driving a primary offense in the state and would introduce new provisions to state law to crack down on the offense. The transportation budget was introduced Tuesday as HB74 (Oelslager) -- the same day it began its hearings in the Ohio House, with the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) and the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) impressing on lawmakers the need to address a shortfall in funding for the patrol in the upcoming biennium. "Quite frankly, we're in a hole," ODPS Director Tom Stickrath told the House Finance Committee. Under the executive budget, the DeWine administration is proposing an increase of $10 in the registration fees for all commercial and non-commercial vehicles, and a $2 increase to the auto title fee. That increase would provide sufficient funding for an estimated 10 years, the director said.


Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran, in her opening testimony on the proposed FY22-23 Medicaid budget Wednesday before the full House Finance Committee, highlighted the various ways the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her department, including the infusion of millions of dollars in federal funds and the resulting trade offs for the state. Corcoran described for the committee the challenges the department faces when those additional federal funds go away -- now projected to happen at the end of 2021 -- while the state is left with an inflated caseload for which redeterminations have been on hold since early 2020.


Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Director Kimberly Henderson spent the majority of her time in the House Finance Committee Wednesday fielding questions from lawmakers about the number of fraudulent unemployment claims in the state and what the department is doing about the issue moving forward. Henderson's testimony on the FY22-23 executive budget highlighted several major priorities beginning with ensuring stable Ohio families. Henderson outlined various programs the department oversees such as food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other pandemic-related programs such as the Pandemic Child Care Program, which served more than 24,000 children of essential workers last spring.


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Stephanie McCloud outlined the department's budget priorities Wednesday in the House Finance Committee. The state health director, who just took on the role in November 2020, said the department's budget request totals approximately $1.205 billion in FY22 and $888 million in FY23. This consists of an increase in General Revenue Funds (GRF) from $113.7 million in FY21 to $143.4 million in FY22 (an increase of $29.7 million or 26.1 percent) and $126.7 million in FY23 (a decrease of $16.8 million or 11.7 percent).


Ohio Department of Aging (ODA) Director Ursel McElroy said that budget cuts to the department originating in 2010 have been at odds with Ohio's growing population of older Ohioans, noting that the highest age brackets in the state are also the ones experiencing the greatest population growth. McElroy emphasized the high percentage of COVID-19 deaths were older Ohioans, saying that 10,829 older Ohioans died as of Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. She outlined the various services and functions of the department, saying that they include management of Ohio's elder justice system for individuals who have been abused; management of the state ombudsman program; support for senior community services; support for senior centers; support for adult day services; and the Golden Buckeye Card Program.


Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director Lori Criss appeared before the House Finance Committee Wednesday evening to give a "high-level" overview of the executive budget recommendations regarding her agency and how her staff worked to address the "tremendous difficulties for the behavioral health field and the mental health of Ohioans" caused by the pandemic. OhioMHAS' basic efforts include assisting in financing and delivery of prevention, treatment, recovery support and harm reduction services; allocating funds to local partners; operating six state regional psychiatric hospitals as well as addiction recovery services in state prisons; leading policy and regulatory oversight; and promoting outreach on key issues, according to Criss.


With his testimony beginning after 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DoDD) Director Jeff Davis provided a brief overview of the developmental disabilities system, a review of the budget passed two years ago and a summary of the proposal now before the House Finance Committee. He reminded the committee of the significant increase in the hourly wage to $13.23 for direct care staff provided for in the current budget. He noted that the second phase of the increase just went into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. He said it is maintained in the FY22-23 proposal.


Ohio Department of Education (ODE) Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria said the state's education system was "tremendously disrupted" by the COVID-19 pandemic, but teachers rose to the occasion in meeting the needs of students learning remotely, in hybrid models and in in-person settings.


In outlining the ODE budget, he said the department "annually expends nearly $24 billion" for a system "which consists of 609 public school districts, 49 joint vocational school districts, 51 educational service centers (ESCs) and 315 community schools. ... Ohio's public schools enroll approximately 1.7 million students served by more than 111,000 licensed teachers and 329,000 credentialed education personnel, including teachers, principals, administrators, aides, counselors, coaches and other staff." DeMaria said 98 percent of these funds flow to schools, while 2 percent support ODE operations.


Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Chancellor Randy Gardner listed raising the rate at which students and parents complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) among his top recommendations on what Ohio can do to reduce the cost of college, during a House Finance Committee hearing on the department's budget Thursday. In detailing the department's budget, Gardner said ODHE serves more than 635,000 students, and that funding priorities include need-based financial aid and the state share of instruction (SSI) which helps fund public universities.


Budget testimony from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) and Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) leadership Thursday presented a major contrast in dollars, resident population and lawmakers' concerns. Members of the House Finance Committee questioned DRC Director Annette Chambers-Smith on COVID-19 losses, parole officer workloads, and future brick-and-mortar needs and DYS Director Ryan Gies on youth mentoring, prevention and national reports of Ohio as an outlier for sexual misconduct in youth detention.


BUSINESS/CORPORATE


The Ohio Chamber of Commerce released its public policy priorities for the 134th General Assembly Thursday, saying they "build on recent, pro-growth policy successes that have resulted in Ohio now being recognized nationally as among the 10 best states for businesses" while also seeking more action to help address economic effects of the pandemic. In addition to advancing policies that make the state "more business-friendly and competitive," the Ohio Chamber has also partnered to support the U.S. Chamber's "Equality of Opportunity Agenda." As a result, the chamber's list of priorities include recommendations on race-based opportunity gaps.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Some children eligible for the expanded Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program started receiving benefits Saturday, Feb. 6, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Cash and Food Assistance Policy Section Chief Betsy Suver. Children already enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) likely saw new benefits on their cards over the weekend, while new P-EBT cards will be going out in a week or two, Suver said during a PEBT webinar hosted by the Center for Community Solutions (CCS) on Friday.


Social service, public assistance and early childhood professionals working with children and families that have experienced trauma can now obtain related certificates, which were announced Thursday. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and Ohio Child Care Resource and Referral Association (OCCRRA) used close to $1 million in COVID-19 relief funds to develop the three-tier certificate and curriculum program, according to a joint release. Training will be free, and the certificates are effective for two years.


CORONAVIRUS


The state's coronavirus curfew has been completely lifted after Ohio saw fewer than 2,500 hospitalizations for seven straight days, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during his briefing on Thursday. The curfew was initially moved back to 11 p.m. two weeks ago after the state experienced seven straight days with coronavirus-related hospitalizations below 3,500. Within that two-week period, the state's hospitalizations dropped quickly enough to completely avoid the potential midnight curfew, which would have been in place if hospitalizations were under 3,000 for seven straight days, but higher than 2,500.


Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday announced that Ohio Department of Health Director (ODH) Director Stephanie McCloud signed an amended health order that allowed buffets, salad bars, and other "self-service food stations" in restaurants, bars, banquet and other catering facilities to reopen as long as they meet certain conditions. The new order took effect at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.


The rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Ohio's nursing homes have "skyrocketed" in the last three months of 2020, according to AARP Ohio. "The latest release of AARP's Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard depicts a worsening crisis from coast to coast, including Ohio," the organization said. In the four-week period ending Dec. 20, more than 72 percent of nursing homes in the state reported residents with confirmed cases of coronavirus. More than 94 percent of nursing homes reported at least one staff member diagnosed with the virus.


The state's COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rate for nursing home employees is even lower than the anecdotal evidence provided by Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Health Care Association (OHCA), according to a new report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The estimated median percentage of staff members at Ohio skilled nursing facilities enrolled in the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program who received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine between Dec. 18, 2020 and Jan. 17, 2021 was less than 40 percent, the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) says.


The Ohio Department of Health said Wednesday it is adding about 4,000 deaths to the count of COVID deaths, vastly increasing a number that stood at 11,856. “Process issues affecting the reconciliation and reporting of these deaths began in October,” ODH said, adding that it is had been working with Auditor Keith Faber’s office on an audit of COVID-19 data since September.


The House State and Local Government Committee heard sponsor testimony on HB90 (Wiggam-Edwards), which would check “all orders” of administrative agencies, boards and commissions affecting public health emergencies. "As we've witnessed for nearly a year, these orders have been constantly extended with no oversight or insight from the Legislature, giving the executive branch the ability to serve as the Legislature," joint sponsor Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) told the House State and Local Government Committee, which he chairs. "This legislation gives the General Assembly a much-needed seat at the table" with its own "experts."


Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said Wednesday that he expects SB22 (Johnson-McColley) to pass his chamber overwhelmingly later this month as opponents raised concern about the bill in committee earlier in the day. The bill would create a new oversight committee on health orders issued by the executive branch and allow lawmakers to repeal certain orders. Sponsors and supporters said the bill is about the separation of powers and will give legislators more checks on the executive branch.


CORRECTIONS


Aramark will continue as the food service contractor for Ohio prisons after the DeWine administration announced Friday the negotiation of a new agreement with the vendor. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) said the $130 million contract commencing July 1 is expected to save $12 million over two years, improve meal options and expand work training programs. DRC said it considered a proposal for in-house food service operations but found Aramark "provided the most cost-saving benefits while still offering quality food service and programming."


State investigators have yet to say whether either of two female guards used a weapon during an altercation with a male inmate who reportedly attacked them around 3 p.m. Saturday at the Correctional Reception Center near Orient. Inmate Michael McDaniel, 55, serving a 16-month sentence for aggravated assault, later died of an "unknown cause" at Mt. Carmel Grove City. "All of the circumstances surrounding this incident are part of the investigation and can't be released at this time," patrol Lt. Craig Cvetan told Hannah News.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Democrats on the Ohio Supreme Court have parted ways with its 4-3 Republican majority in a case prompting a stinging rebuke of the state's plea deal system. The Court's senior minority member, Justice Michael Donnelly, said the state routinely "ambushes" criminal defendants who are promised a lighter sentence in exchange for a plea and for stating on the record that their sentence was not in fact induced.


EDUCATION


The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) will take nominations for the 2022 Ohio Teacher of the Year awards through Friday, April 9. Full details of the nomination process are available at https://tinyurl.com/te1zgvaq.


The State Board of Education heard an overview Monday of the findings by Auditor Keith Faber and his Ohio Performance Team in the recently released performance audit of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). Lawmakers ordered a performance audit of ODE in the last biennial budget bill, 133-HB166 (Oelslager). Faber and Betsy Bashore of the Ohio Performance Team walked the board through the five general areas reviewed in the audit: student success; student assessments; Education Management Information System (EMIS) and data management; state foundation payment process; and information technology.


Gov. Mike DeWine reaffirmed his commitment to getting students back to in-person learning next month during his Tuesday briefing. The governor said his executive budget, announced last week, would expand the investment in student wellness and success programs to $1.1 billion. DeWine also asked that school districts design plans to meet the needs of the students in their districts that include ending the school year later than scheduled, beginning the new year early, or even extending the school day.


The State Board of Education deferred action Tuesday on a proposal to convert emergency pandemic child care regulations into permanent rule after some members expressed concerns and a key lawmaker also urged delay. The board also voted on a resolution to urge return to in-person learning.


Co-sponsors Reps. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) presented HB1 to the House Finance Committee Thursday, a bill they said is identical to 133-HB305, the much-discussed Cupp-Patterson school funding overhaul. In providing a context for HB1, Callender outlined a history of school funding in the state, invoking the DeRolph Ohio Supreme Court opinions, which ruled the state's school funding system "unconstitutional and inadequate." Sweeney said the genesis of 133-HB305 came from concerns with the state's current school funding formula raised by now-Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and former Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson), as well as by the "Fair School Funding Workgroup" of school treasurers and leaders.


The governor's recommendations for the Broadcast Educational Media Commission's (BEMC) FY22-23 budget came in slightly below what the agency requested. BEMC Executive Director Geoffrey Phillips gave details on the budget recommendations during the agency's Thursday meeting. Though the recommendations are below the agency's proposed "optimal budget," Phillips said the figures are still mostly in line with their expectations.


ELECTIONS


Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Monday that five reports have been made to his office under the vulnerability disclosure policy his office created last year. The policy establishes procedures for outside researchers to inspect the secretary of state's website for vulnerabilities. Once those vulnerabilities are reported, it allows 120 calendar days for LaRose's office to repair the vulnerability before the researcher may publicly announce its discovery. Having a defined time period provides assurances to the cybersecurity community that reporting of potential vulnerabilities will be treated with the seriousness they deserve.


ELECTIONS 2022


Jane Timken resigned Friday as chair of the Ohio Republican Party and forecast news of her plans "in the coming weeks" as she considers a bid to succeed U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who is not seeking re-election next year. In announcing her decision, Timken re-stated her support for former President Donald Trump as Republicans' leader and vowed to pursue "America First" policies in her next endeavor.


Former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel announced Wednesday that he is running for the U.S. Senate. It will be the third time he has sought one of Ohio's two Senate seats. He lost to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in 2012, and had campaigned against Brown again in 2018 before dropping out for an unspecified family issue. On Wednesday, Mandel said on Twitter, "Watching this sham impeachment has made my blood boil and motivated me to run. I'm going to Washington to fight for President Trump's America First Agenda."


EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


The U.S. unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage points to 6.3 percent in January, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Non-farm payroll employment increased slightly as the American economy added 49,000 jobs, BLS said.


Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will again be available to 134,000 Ohioans following the completion of system upgrades over the weekend, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced Monday. These Ohioans have been waiting to access these benefits since the original program expired on Dec. 26, ODJFS said. The upgrades also allow Ohioans to submit new PUA applications.


According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), if the December employment rebound after the initial COVID-19 disruptions continues throughout 2021 in a similar magnitude, total employment is predicted to increase at an annual rate of 1.92 percent for the next six months in Ohio.


ENERGY AND UTILITIES


Another defendant in the federal corruption case targeting former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) pleaded guilty. Jeff Longstreth, a Householder adviser who has already pleaded guilty to charges related to the alleged multi-million-dollar scheme to bring Householder to power and win passage of nuclear subsidy law 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), also entered a guilty plea in his role as head of Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) organization allegedly involved in the scheme.


Energy subsidy legislation 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) faced its first successful repeal effort Tuesday as the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee moved to kill FirstEnergy profit guarantees with unanimous passage of SB10 (Romanchuk). Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) and Democrats failed to expand the bill to reverse legacy coal subsidies and restore renewable standards, among other key provisions of HB6.


ENVIRONMENT


The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) is accepting nominations for drinking water infrastructure improvements that need financial assistance through the state's Water Supply Revolving Loan Account (WSRLA). In order to be considered for program year 2022 funding, project nomination forms and supporting information must be submitted by email to defamail@epa.ohio.gov by Wednesday, March 3, Ohio EPA said.


FEDERAL


U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) said recently that she has been again named chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I).


The man who led the charge against former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and other players in the 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) bribery scandal is stepping down at the behest of President Joe Biden. U.S. Attorney David DeVillers of the Southern District of Ohio announced his resignation Tuesday following a statement by the Biden administration affecting all U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Donald Trump.


Commenting on the upcoming vote on whether or not to convict former President Donald Trump on charges that he incited violence at the Capitol, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said it will be the "most bipartisan impeachment vote in American history," and that the vote will send a message to future presidents that they "cannot endorse violent insurrection." "I know what Republicans say privately, and some of them were terrified when the president made that speech," Brown said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "I hope they show some spine at the vote."


GAMING/GAMBLING


January revenues at the state's four casinos and seven racinos improved from last month, but are still lagging the numbers reported by the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) and Ohio Lottery Commissions (OLC) in January 2020. The four casinos earned $64.9 million in January 2021, up from December 2020's $59.9 million. The casinos pulled in $73.1 million in January 2020. The seven racinos made $88.5 million in January 2021, up significantly from last month's total of $72.7 million. The racinos raked in $94.3 million in January 2020.


Ohio's four casinos, seven racinos and their "skin" partners should be the exclusive operators of retail and mobile sports betting in the state, Penn National Public Affairs and Government Relations Senior Vice President Eric Schippers told the Senate Select Committee on Gaming on Wednesday. Penn National currently operates four of Ohio's 11 licensed gambling facilities -- Hollywood Columbus Casino, Hollywood Toledo Casino, Hollywood Gaming Dayton Raceway and Hollywood Mahoning Valley Race Course.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


A bipartisan group of lawmakers are making a bicameral push to reignite fuel quality testing at the county level after the Legislature left the state regulatory program in 2007's transportation budget unfunded. Sens. George Lang (R-West Chester) and Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) and Reps. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) and Thomas Hall (R-Middletown) say only Ohio and Nebraska among the contiguous 48 states lack a fuel quality program to go along with weights-and-measures testing at diesel and gas pumps. They say county auditors could easily perform both duties during fuel inspections at no cost to the service station or consumer and only minimal cost to the taxpayer.


The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) will celebrate Black History Month throughout February with a free "living history" performance each Tuesday at noon, which will be livestreamed on www.OhioStatehouse.org.


Hannah News’ interview series with freshman lawmakers featured Rep. Marilyn John (R-Shelby), former Shelby mayor and Richland County commissioner.


The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) would receive an appropriation of up to $500,000 in FY21 to install security upgrades at the Ohio Statehouse under legislation proposed by Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell). "The funds will pay for, install and replace a minimum of 60 high-definition cameras and include new imaging software that will enhance Statehouse security operations as well as other security enhancements deemed appropriate by CSRAB staff. After several conversations with Laura Battocletti, director of CSRAB, the need for security upgrades is great and long overdue," Brenner told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.


The Senate’s Wednesday session included passage of SB8 (McColley), regarding broadband service expansion; SB2 (Gavarone), regarding competency evaluations and mental health treatment in criminal cases and proposing to enter Ohio into the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact; SB11 (Brenner), designating Feb. 7-14 as “Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week;” SB18 (Roegner-Schaffer), tax conformity legislation; and SCR3 (Hottinger), to adopt the legislative code of ethics.


Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) presented two bills to the House Government Oversight Committee Thursday that would allow for virtual testimony (HB55) and require members to wear masks (HB56), telling the committee repeatedly through testimony and questioning on both bills that if the majority doesn't want to have one, they need to allow for the other. Kelly said she would be fine to have both bills put into House rules instead of the Ohio Revised Code, but introduced them as bills to have a better debate after Republicans voted down previous measures.


Coshocton County officials this week sent a letter with 25 signatures asking Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) to remove Rep. Larry Householder (R-Glenford) from the chamber, saying the indicted former speaker has not been an effective voice for them as he faces federal charges. Meanwhile, a former opponent said Thursday he will be running for the seat in 2022. The letter, which was signed by all three county commissioners, Prosecutor Jason Given, Coshocton Mayor Mark Mills, and a number of city council members, among others, said that "it is clear that Rep. Householder cannot effectively serve the interests of Coshocton County while the criminal charges are ongoing."


In other legislative action, Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee reported out SB28 (Hoagland), regarding use of owls in the sport of falconry; Senate Judiciary Committee reported out SB4 (Roegner), to include emergency service telecommunicators and certain National Guard members among those whose residential and familial information is not public record; and Senate Health Committee reported out SB3 (Roegner), to enter Ohio into the Nurse Licensure Compact.


GOVERNOR

  • Kimberly J. Hammersmith of Columbus (Franklin County) to the Dentist Loan Repayment Advisory Board for a term beginning Feb. 5, 2021 and ending Jan. 28, 2023.

  • Randall Blanchard of Dublin (Delaware County) reappointed to the Ohio Board of Motor Vehicle Repair for a term beginning Feb. 5, 2021 and ending Jan. 1, 2024.

  • Elizabeth Blount McCormick of Columbus (Franklin County) and David C. Jehnsen of Galena (Delaware County) reappointed to the Ohio Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission for terms beginning Feb. 5, 2021 and ending Dec. 30, 2023.

  • Damon E. Wrobel of Akron (Summit County) and Matthew A. Smith of Pataskala (Licking County) to the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council for terms beginning Feb. 5, 2021 and ending Feb. 4, 2023.

  • J. Randal Van Dyne of Findlay (Hancock County) reappointed to the State Emergency Response Commission for a term beginning Feb. 5, 2021 and ending Jan. 13, 2023.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


The Ohio Academy of Family Physicians (OAFP) is seeking nominations for its 2021 Family Physician of the Year award, which recognizes an Ohio family physician who has exhibited extraordinary, beyond-the-call-of-duty merit, and encourages OAFP members and medical students to pursue the ideals of family medicine and to convey these ideals to the public.


HIGHER EDUCATION


With an additional $11.4 million in support, NASA extended a University of Toledo (UT) led project to change how K-12 science is taught in the U.S. by using more hands-on experiments and direct observations to solve environmental problems. NASA extended the project, which began in 2015 with $10 million in funding, for five more years.


JUDICIAL


The Ohio judiciary will have "a major role in determining eligibility for $100 million in new federal Home Relief Grants announced by the DeWine administration to assist renters facing eviction or utility disconnection due to the COVID-19 downturn," according to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. The governor announced the latest round of funding this week from the Federal Consolidated Appropriations Act, which is providing the grants during the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention's eviction moratorium running through March 31.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT


Leaders in the Ohio Mayors Alliance (OMA) laid out their priorities for 2021 during a press call Monday, particularly in regard to the pandemic recovery and ensuring resiliency and equity for residents. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said mayors face ongoing challenges from 2020, including the pandemic and associated economic and human services crises. Leaders in the OMA said their highest priority is to preserve the current temporary provisions that earnings tax will be paid based on an employers' location, not where remote work occurs. Should that be changed, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said, it would "collapse" the home rule agreement and their basis for city operations and regional economic development. Cities would likely have to declare bankruptcy "right away" as there would be "no path forward" without that revenue, she continued, and communities of all sizes would be affected.


The County Commissioners Association of Ohio released its legislative platform for the 134th General Assembly, focusing on three key areas: revenue stability and fulfillment of state funding responsibilities; a greater role for counties in economic development; and preserving the sales tax base.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The State Medical Board of Ohio's (SMBO) Medical Marijuana Committee on Wednesday voted to further examine whether six proposed conditions should qualify for treatment under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP). Those conditions are autism, restless leg syndrome, Huntington's disease, panic disorder with agoraphobia, spasticity/persistent muscle spasms and terminal illness.


There are 168,571 patients registered in the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), according to numbers released by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) on Thursday.


MILITARY AFFAIRS


The Ohio National Guard announced Thursday that it is now assisting in vaccine efforts alongside the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Ohio Department of Aging (ODA) and community partners in order to ensure eligible Ohioans can receive the COVID-19 vaccination.


NATURAL RESOURCES


One of the state's most successful white-tailed deer hunting seasons concluded Sunday, Feb. 7, with 197,735 deer harvested, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. That total is the highest since 218,910 deer were taken during the 2012-2013 hunting season, ODNR said.


The ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, the Nature Conservancy in Ohio and Ohio State University will host the 16th Ohio Botanical Symposium on Friday, March 26. The event will be offered virtually and will be free to attend, ODNR said. Registrations will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 24, or until the symposium is full. For registration form and more details, visit https://tinyurl.com/y6rajjkv or contact Rick Gardner at 614-265-6419.


The ODNR Division of Forestry has approved grant funding for 55 projects totaling $382,855 for fire departments in rural areas. The grants were made through the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) grant program, ODNR said.


Nine community boating safety education programs received a total of nearly $208,000 this year through the Boating Safety Education Grant, according to ODNR.


POLLS/STUDIES


The Quinnipiac University Poll released survey results this week on Americans' willingness to be vaccinated against COVID19, the financial struggles they've faced amid the pandemic, and their views on former President Donald Trump's upcoming impeachment trial. After releasing results on the general outlook for the country Wednesday, the poll announced findings on Trump, vaccination sentiments and other pandemic topics Thursday and Friday.


POVERTY


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published its revised poverty guidelines for 2021 in the Feb. 1 issue of the Federal Register, although the guidelines became applicable on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The guideline for a one-person household is $12,880, and for a four-person household, $26,500, with $4,540 added for each additional person in the household.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The Controlling Board Monday approved a request from the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) that would invest state money to include 200 more households in a pilot project to provide telehealth services. The request from DAS transfers $100,000 from InnovateOhio to Smart Columbus, which is conducting the pilot project.


The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) and Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) will host a webinar on how improvements in HVAC systems can reduce COVID-19 transmission. The event will be held from 10 to 11:15 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18, and interested attendees can register at https://bit.ly/3jdakTy. Attendees, who can receive continuing education units (CEU) from OFCC and BWC, will hear presentations on "a step-wise approach to assessing and managing [indoor air quality (IAQ)] and reducing COVID-19 transmission risks."


TELECOMMUNICATIONS


To illustrate the problems with broadband access in Ohio, Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Westerville) Tuesday told the House Finance Committee of a public library in Athens County where 50 percent of its WiFi usage comes when the library is closed. "Just think about that for a moment. There are people literally sitting in their cars in the parking lot, after hours, with kids doing schoolwork, or people doing job searches, applying for work, or doing basic online banking," he said. Carfagna called the introduction of broadband expansion legislation HB2 (Carfagna-Stewart) a "labor of love" from his time in the cable industry and as a township trustee. The bill is a reintroduction of 133-HB13 (Carfagna-O'Brien), which passed the House but did not clear the Senate before the end of session last year.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


The huge increase in initial unemployment claims filed between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6 is suspected to have been caused by fraudulent activity, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced Thursday. The 140,444 new jobless claims represent a 194 percent increase from the prior week. At least 44,000 of last week's claims have already been flagged for suspicious activity and are under review, according to the department.


The Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council held its first meeting Thursday, with Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Director Kimberly Henderson and Ohio Auditor Keith Faber among those who testified and took questions.


Possible victims of unemployment fraud must report the suspected fraud or they could face higher taxes, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT). The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) has already identified more than 80,000 cases of unemployment fraud by criminals using stolen identities, and thousands more could be identified in the weeks ahead. Victims of that identity theft who have received a 1099-G from ODJFS showing that they received unemployment benefits -- but never applied for benefits -- could potentially pay federal and state tax on that unreceived benefit if they don't act to correct the record.


UTILITIES


Ohio's largest government aggregation of energy users is redoubling the call for a "consumer-friendly" appointment to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) following the resignation of former FirstEnergy consultant Sam Randazzo and the federal raid of his Columbus home. The Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC) sent Gov. Mike DeWine a letter this week ahead of Thursday's application deadline on a second round of applicants for Randazzo's commission seat. The chairmanship, which the former energy lobbyist held, is a separate decision of the governor.


VETERANS


Charter Communications, Inc., the company which operates telecommunications brand Spectrum, donated $1,500 to the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, the company announced recently.


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

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