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.
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A group backing a proposed voting rights amendment to the Ohio Constitution announced Monday that it had resubmitted its petition language to Attorney General Dave Yost after he had rejected the first version last month. The amendment would make changes to Ohio law on a number of voting issues such as automatic voter registration, guaranteed early voting periods and same-day voter registration, among other provisions. Yost rejected the first summary petition of the "Secure and Fair Elections" amendment, citing two reasons, including that the summary was longer than the actual amendment itself, and that the summary included a paragraph of text that is not included in the proposed amendment. The amendment is being backed by the ACLU of Ohio.
Medical doctors would face criminal charges for providing certain medical treatments to children who are gender non-conforming or transgender under legislation announced on Tuesday. The legislation, co-sponsored by Reps. Bill Dean (R-Xenia) and Ron Hood (R-Ashville), would prohibit doctors from providing people under 18 with hormones to delay puberty. It would also bar doctors from performing surgeries on people under 18 if the purpose is to aid in gender transitioning.
A group of Ohio River Valley residents recently met with DeWine administration staffers to discuss the potential large ethane cracker plant in Belmont County, hoping to persuade Gov. Mike DeWine to drop his support for the project. While no final decision has been made on whether PTT Global Chemical America (PTTGC America) and Daelim Industrial Company will move forward with the project, economic development nonprofit JobsOhio approved a $30 million grant to support initial site preparation work in July 2019.
The EdChoice saga continued this week with the launch of a packed hearing schedule for public comment on the issue but little sign the House and Senate are any closer to an agreement on how to address the pending expansion of voucher eligibility to several hundred more school buildings. The HB9 (D. Jones) Conference Committee scheduled nine hearings over a 10-day period from Tuesday, Feb. 11 through Thursday, Feb. 20, including Saturday and holiday meetings, drawing dozens of parents, local school officials and others in the first few gatherings. The bill includes the Senate's proposal to pare back the list of schools at which students are eligible for performance-based vouchers from a projected 1,200-plus to 425 in the coming school, but expanding eligibility for income-based vouchers up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Meanwhile, the Senate voted Wednesday to reject House amendments to SB89 (M. Huffman) that would end almost all future performance-based vouchers in favor of a system only based on income, with a 250 percent earnings threshold. Organizations representing local school administrators and boards of education held a press conference Tuesday to endorse the House proposal in SB89, which would also eliminate academic distress commissions now in control of East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown schools.
Public education leaders from across Ohio held a news conference Wednesday at the Statehouse to support the House-passed version of SB89 (M. Huffman), which would implement an almost completely income-based model for the EdChoice program, sunset controversial territory transfer provisions and remove three northeastern Ohio school districts from state control by dissolving academic distress commissions. They included the Ohio School Boards Association, Ohio Association of School Business Officials and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.
At Monday morning's meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE) Teaching, Leading and Learning Committee, members approved a "framework revision" of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES), which rates teachers' classroom performance and directs them to complete professional development measures. Required components of a full teacher evaluation will include a formal holistic observation followed by a conference; the teacher's completing a professional growth plan; walk throughs on specific areas identified for support; and a summative conference.
The State Board of Education's (SBOE) Continuous Improvement Committee voted to send operating standards Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) 3301-35-01 through OAC 3301-35-10 to the full board at their Monday meeting. Initially, the board intended to consider the operating standards at their March 2020 meeting; however, board member Stephanie Dodd requested the board's vote be delayed until they heard an opinion from the Ohio Ethics Commission. During the Continuous Improvement Committee, Dodd was told by Ohio Department of Education (ODE) legal counsel she could not vote on the operating standards due to a conflict of interest.
The newly reconfigured Dropout Prevention Recovery (DOPR) Schools Study Committee held its first meeting Wednesday. The State Board of Education (SBOE) must submit the committee's recommendations to the General Assembly by Friday, April 17 -- about nine weeks from now. Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria suggested the committee aim to submit its recommendations to SBOE for the April meeting (April 6-7).
Elections-related legislation backed by Secretary of State Frank LaRose that would update Ohio's voter registration process and allow for online absentee ballot requests received hearings in the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday. Sens. Vern Sykes (D-Akron) and Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) gave sponsor testimony to their SB186 aimed at creating a more streamlined voter registration process, nearly 10 months after LaRose announced the formation of a bipartisan working group aimed at crafting legislation to update Ohio's voter registration laws.
The Ohio Republican Party's State Central and Executive Committee pulled its endorsement of Joe Dills, a small business owner, for the 65th House District after concerns were raised about his use of a dating website. The committee had endorsed him last month, notably doing so after it went against the recommendation of House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) to endorse former U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) for the seat.
As Ohio's boards of elections have come into compliance with a secretary of state order to upgrade their cybersecurity, officials Monday said they fear the weakest link in elections security could come through campaigns. Secretary of State Frank LaRose hosted the University of Southern California's Cybersecurity Initiative training session in the Statehouse Atrium on Monday. The Google-supported initiative is on its second stop across the nation, which is offering resources to campaigns, election workers, elected officials, and concerned citizens to reinforce cybersecurity measures.
Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill announced on Facebook that he is considering a run for the Ohio House as an independent this year. O'Neill posted that he has taken out petitions for the 76th House District, writing "Our government is broken." The seat is currently held by Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland), who is running to retain the seat after she was appointed to it this session.
The re-election campaign of President Donald Trump has asked Ohio Senate candidate Melissa Ackison to remove a picture of the two of them from her campaign website. Ackison is running for the 26th Ohio Senate District and is in a Republican primary with Rep. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin), who has won the endorsement of the Ohio Republican Party.
The following endorsements were made over the week:
The re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) announced the endorsement of the AFL-CIO.
Americans for Prosperity-Ohio (AFP-OH) endorsed Mark Romanchuk for Ohio Senate and Thad Claggett for Ohio House.
Ohio Right to Life endorsed Brad Wenstrup, Bob Gibbs, Rob Weber, Laverne Gore, Troy Balderson, and Christina Hagan for Congress; Jeff Rezabek, Matthew Byrne and Bill Coley for the Ohio Court of Appeals; George Lang, Niraj Antani, Terry Johnson, Mark Romanchuk, Bill Reineke and Sandra O'Brien for Ohio Senate; and Scott Wiggam, Marilyn John, Nathan Martin, Tom Young, Mark Welch, Thomas Hall, Diane Mullins, Jean Schmidt, Allen Freeman, Darrell Kick, Mark Fraizer, Brian Lampton, Diane Grendell, Brian Stewart, Gary Click, Mark Johnson and Jason Stephens for Ohio House.
Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) endorsed Pete Buttigieg for president.
Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections announced the endorsement of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
The Ohio Senate campaign of Niraj Antani announced the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce PAC endorsed Scott Wiggam, Mark Welch, Darrell Kick, Mark Fraizer, Diane Grendell, Brian Stewart and Shayne Thomas for the Ohio House; and George Lang, Niraj Antani, Terry Johnson, Mark Romanchuk, and Bill Reineke for Ohio Senate.
The national unemployment rate rose to 3.6 percent in January even though total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 225,000 in January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on Friday. The national unemployment for December 2019 was 3.5 percent, but rose to 3.6 percent in January because the number of unemployed persons rose from 5.8 million to 5.9 million over the month.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) has updated its website on labor market information, providing a more streamlined and better organized view of the data. That content remains the same, ODJFS spokesman Bret Crow told Hannah News. The new site can be viewed at https://ohiolmi.com/, while the former site is still accessible through March 31 at http://archive.ohiolmi.com/.
Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston will ask the General Assembly to adopt legislation banning a competitive energy practice that has cost some Ohio consumers two to four times their utility's standard offer for natural gas. The Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) has joined Dominion Energy Solutions and Dominion Energy Ohio, Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy (OPAE), Interstate Gas Supply, Direct Energy Services, Retail Energy Supply Association and staff of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) in a settlement agreement to resolve marketing concerns first raised by OCC nearly two years ago. The agreement still needs commission approval, though PUCO staff corroborated OCC's concerns last fall.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) is now accepting financial assistance applications for drinking water infrastructure improvements through the state's Water Supply Revolving Loan Account (WSRLA), Gov. Mike DeWine has announced. In order to be considered for program year 2021 funding, all project nomination forms and supporting information must be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday, March 4, according to Ohio EPA.
Ohio's casinos and racinos enjoyed much higher earnings in January 2020 when compared to the same month in 2019, according to data released by the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) and Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC). The state's four casinos made $73.1 million in January 2020, up from $62.4 million in January 2019. Ohio's seven racinos raked in $94.3 million in January 2020, up from $78.3 million in January 2019.
Freshman legislator Rep. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark), who has considerable political experience for his 31 years, told Hannah News that the death of his father when he was 15 makes him "realize time is precious and you want to focus on the betterment of others." He added that he never expected to be in the Legislature.
The Conference Committee on HB276 (Ghanbari) Tuesday restored five items the Senate deleted from the highway naming bill back in November. Both houses went on to agree to the conference report during their Wednesday sessions. Those items include the following:
The naming of a bridge over the Maumee River in Henry County the "Damascus Bridge."
The Veterans Suicide Memorial Mile on I-71 in Warren County.
The Trucks Bridge in the village of Plymouth in Huron and Richland counties.
The Ronald H. Barron Memorial Highway in Cuyahoga County that is part of I-271.
The addition of Cpl. Sam Boggs and Sgt. Robert Boggs back into the Pfc. William Boggs Memorial Highway.
The Ohio House Wednesday passed legislation that would allow first responders to apply for workers' compensation due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as lawmakers in support urged their colleagues to take care of those "who take care of us first." No one spoke against HB308 (Patton) on the floor, but the bill still saw a split vote of 74-22, with no votes coming from a number of Republicans.
The House rejected Senate amendments to HB16 (Perales) which would grant residency status to military service members and their families for purposes of in-state college tuition.
The House Wednesday also passed the following bills:
HB150 (Merrin) addressing taxes for financial institutions, including exempting taxes for newly formed banks for their first three years.
HB151 (Carfagna), which creates the Ohio chiropractic repayment program similar to repayment programs for doctors, dentists, and dental hygienists in underserved areas.
HB341 (Ginter) addressing the administering of addiction treatment drugs.
HB364 (Manning) designating Feb. 13 as "Aortic Aneurysm Awareness Day."
The Senate unanimously sent HB158 (Blessing) to the governor for his signature at its session on Wednesday. That bill waives the filing fee for indigent individuals to obtain limited driving privileges if their license is suspended for failure to maintain proof of insurance.
The Senate also unanimously passed SB156 (Gavarone), which would prohibit the manufacture, sale and possession of synthetic urine as well as the following. Other bills passed by the Senate include the following:
SB178 (Schuring), which allows podiatrists to administer influenza vaccinations.
SB220 (Manning), which designates Feb. 13 as "Aortic Aneurysm Awareness Day."
SB236 (S. Huffman), which clarifies the law regarding the Ohio Department of Health's Radiation Control Program.
Led by House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron), House Democrats outlined their "Ohio Promise" bill package with a focus on promoting education and ending wage disparities at a media conference Thursday. Sykes said the package is meant to ensure that Ohioans can "live the American Dream right here at home."
The Sunset Review Committee heard from six organizations at their Tuesday meeting -- five for continuation and one for sunset. Those seeking continuation included Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board; Small Business Advisory Committee; Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee of the Department of Medicaid; Child Care Advisory Council; and Child Support Guideline Advisory Council. The one that is a "good candidate" for sunset, according to Chair Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson), is the Ohio Healthier Buckeye Advisory Council.
In other action, the Senate Local Government, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee reported out SB73 (Brenner) addressing the law governing yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks; and HB158 (Blessing) which waives the fee for seeking limited driving privileges; the Senate Ways and Means Committee reported out SB125 (Hottinger-Brenner) which expands the income tax deduction for contributions to 529 education savings plans to those plans in other states; the Senate, Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee reported out HB65 (Carfagna) which deals with parental notice of serious risks to the health or safety of children in child care; SB230 (Craig-Antonio) and SR406 (Craig-Antonio) which both deal with recognizing Diabetic Ketoacidosis Day; and SCR7 (Craig-Antonio) which supports the "Screen at 23" campaign regarding screening Asian Americans for type 2 diabetes; and the Senate Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee reported out HB295 (Hoops) establishing requirements for low-speed electric scooters.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) said Friday that the number of influenza-related hospitalizations has hit its highest peak for the 2019-2020 flu season, with 832 people newly hospitalized in the most recent week that data has been available. According to ODH, the 832 people hospitalized from Sunday, Jan. 26 through Saturday, Feb. 1, is an increase of more than 36 percent over the previous week of flu reporting.
Proponents testifying in the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee Wednesday on SB254 (Gavarone-O'Brien), regarding parity for mental health and substance use disorder benefits, received questions from multiple senators who said the bill would go beyond simply aligning Ohio and federal laws.
Current and former Ohio State University (OSU) officials, including U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana), ignored repeated complaints of sexual misconduct by Dr. Richard Strauss and are now trying to cover it up, OSU Athletics Hall of Fame wrestler Adam DiSabato told the House Civil Justice Committee on Tuesday. During proponent testimony on HB249 (Hillyer), DiSabato said as captain of the wrestling team, he approached multiple OSU officials himself and asked them to address the sexual misconduct issues in the program, but was told to "shut up." He also said that Jordan has called him, "crying, groveling," asking him "to go against my brother. â€¦ That's the kind of cover-up that's going on there."
Central State University has named Jack Thomas as its ninth president, the university announced Friday. Thomas will replace Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, who served as the university's president for eight years. He is currently a senior fellow with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Previously, he served as president of Western Illinois University (WIU), a state-run university, where he served for nearly a decade.
Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) President Barbara Snyder announced Monday her intention to leave that post this year. According to CWRU's website, Snyder will be taking on a leadership role with the Association of American Universities (AAU) by the end of the fall 2020 semester. She became president of CWRU in July 2007.
Ohio State University (OSU) announced Thursday additional information about the search for the 16th president of the university, including a series of public forums and the release of the services agreement with the search firm. Starting Feb. 12, the Presidential Search Committee is holding a series of public forums to solicit feedback from the university community about the qualities, skills, attributes and experiences desired in a candidate. The other two forums were set for Friday, Feb. 14 and Wednesday, Feb. 19.
While cautioning that nothing has been finalized, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that he is "very enthusiastic" about a potential plan on how to split potential opioid lawsuit settlement money among the state and local communities. Asked about it on Thursday during a press conference, DeWine said he is cautious about the plan but satisfied with where they are on negotiations right now. Under the plan, DeWine said local communities would get 30 percent of all settlement money right away. Another 55 percent would go into a trust fund where the local communities collectively would have control of how it is spent "by a significant number."
The Supreme Court of Ohio has issued its first-ever bench book for the one class of courts not included in the state judiciary. So-called mayor's courts, presided over as they are by the executive branch, are not courts of record but still follow rules sanctioned by the General Assembly and promulgated by the Supreme Court. The state is providing the 86-page guide to help mayors' courts comply with day-to-day responsibilities "more smoothly and efficiently," the Court says.
The Ohio Supreme Court partnered with the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) in sponsoring a seminar on preventing sexual harassment in the legal system, "Not Another Sexual Harassment Training: Empowering Attorneys and Judges to Create a Culture of Civility and Respect."
Speaking at the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) Small Business Advisory Council (SBAC) Thursday, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the state is launching an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to help reform Ohio's regulatory landscape by performing research and analysis much faster than human staffers can. Husted had previously discussed plans for the tool, saying it would be software that reads the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) and Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) and learns more along the way to provide "a degree of interactivity" without being "some robot at a desk." Due to the terms of the software license, he told Hannah News the tool would not be able to include any public-facing search functions.
Following the one-year anniversary of their taking office, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted recently noted the successes of his and Gov. Mike DeWine's work on economic development and strengthening Ohio's workforce, particularly through his InnovateOhio initiative.
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) on Friday awarded a dispensary certificate of operation to Herbology, located at 1220 Buchholzer Blvd. in Cuyahoga Falls. The board has now issued 49 operating licenses. A total of 57 dispensaries have received provisional licenses, meaning there are still eight awaiting state approval to begin providing medical marijuana products to patients.
Patients dealing with generalized anxiety disorder, autism spectrum disorder and cachexia could soon gain the ability to legally treat their conditions with medical marijuana. The State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO) Medical Marijuana Expert Review Committee on Wednesday decided those three conditions warranted further review by subject matter experts after reading through all of the petitions submitted by people hoping to add new qualifying conditions under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP).
When asked what changes could be made in Ohio's Medicaid system that would have an immediate effect on coverage, Ohio Department of Medicaid Director (ODM) Maureen Corcoran joined Health Policy Institute of Ohio head Amy Rohling McGee in saying the forms and notices must be simplified. Each spoke from their own recent experiences in helping others secure and/or maintain Medicaid coverage, saying that they found it difficult and intimidating to decipher the paperwork and to traverse a system that does see two-hour waits on the phone. Rohling McGee added that, "This must be attended to if we want the full engagement of people in the process."
Ohio's white-tailed deer hunters harvested 184,465 deer during the 2019-2020 season, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. Deer hunting in Ohio began Sept. 28, 2019, and concluded Feb. 2, 2020. The final harvest total represents all deer taken during archery, gun, muzzleloader and youth seasons. During the 2018-2019 deer hunting seasons, 172,670 deer were checked.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is seeking public input on its five-year coastal resources improvement plan. The 2021-2025 Assessment and Multi-Year Strategy Plan outlines two strategies deemed priority opportunities to enhance Ohio's coastal resources through improvements to the Ohio Coastal Management Program, according to ODNR. The first strategy is coastal resources and resiliency, while the other is public access enhancement.
The League of Women Voters (LWV), along with Honorary Chairperson Loann Crane of the Ohio History Connection, will host a special event "Celebrating 100 Years and Embracing the Future" in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 100th Anniversary of LWV. The event will be held at Ohio State University's Fawcett Center on Tuesday, March 31 at 7 p.m., and is open to the public. Information regarding tickets can be found online at https://tinyurl.com/tsvsq2u.
With benefit and funding changes recently enacted or under consideration by multiple state pension systems, the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) on Thursday heard the first of what are meant to be quarterly updates from retirement fund leadership on their plans. The five retirement systems are more than seven years past the last major round of reforms in 2012, and some have recently implemented or are studying cutbacks in health care, cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) and other changes.
Gov. Mike DeWine joined Sens. Sean O'Brien (D-Cortland) and Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and the families of people killed by distracted driving Thursday to announce a "Hands-Free Ohio" bill that will make distracted driving a primary offense for all drivers. Under current law, using a wireless device while operating a motor vehicle is only a primary offense for 16- and 17-year-old drivers, and a secondary offense for adult drivers, meaning a police officer must witness another traffic offense first before executing a traffic stop.
The Ohio Emergency Management Agency (Ohio EMA) recently released a tabletop exercise toolkit designed to help houses of worship prepare for "active aggressors" who may strike. The toolkit is offered as part of the STRONG Ohio initiative announced following the Dayton mass shooting. Toolkits are available at on the EMA website at https://tinyurl.com/yx3x5hh3.
The state has surpassed the midway mark for law enforcement agencies certified by the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board, with 450 of nearly 900 departments having completed or in the process of completing statewide standards for use of force, including deadly force, and agency recruitment and hiring. The Ohio Department of Pubic Safety's (ODPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) added more recertified agencies Monday, including the Cincinnati Police Department (Hamilton County), Ohio University Police Department (Athens County), Dayton International Airport Police Department (Montgomery County), Guernsey County Sheriff's Office, Washington County Sheriff's Office, West Chester Police Department (Butler County), West Milton Police Department (Miami County) and Terrace Park Police Department (Hamilton County).
The Controlling Board Monday approved all remaining requests after two were deferred, though items from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) and Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) both received questions from multiple members. The Ohio EPA item was accepted without objection, while the ODM item was approved over the objections of Reps. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) and Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro). The deferred items were a request by Hocking Technical College to release $226,593.13 for purchasing equipment and an Ohio Department of Commerce request for $2 million to pay statutorily obligated fees to contingency auditors.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) recently placed Ohio among the worst states for its highway traffic laws in the group's annual report grading all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their laws. The 17th edition of the report found 395 proven measures have not been enacted by states, which the group said could be saving lives.
TREASURER OF STATE
Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague announced Wednesday that the State Treasury Asset Reserve (STAR) of Ohio hit an all-time high with $13,851,926,775.83 in assets. He said it is the second time that the previous record has been exceeded this fiscal year, after the reserve peaked in July with assets of $13,820,524,503.53.
The Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA) awarded $24,565,849 in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits (OHPTC) for the rehabilitation of 24 historic buildings late in 2019. Together, the projects are expected to leverage approximately $261 million in private investments in seven communities, DSA said.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) announced a new program to provide $2 million in safety grants for employers to purchase equipment protecting workers during trenching and excavation, as well as a new website on trench safety. The program provides four-to-one matching funds, up to $12,000, for Ohio private and public employers covered by the State Insurance Fund for such equipment purchases, such as trench boxes and hydraulic shoring. BWC is also providing training and educational materials on the basic requirements of trench safety, and the new website trenchsafetyohio.com (https://tinyurl.com/rwn3tvt) has additional information.
[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.]