Week In Review - February 21, 2022



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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.


AGING


The Ohio Attorney General's next elder abuse forum, "Responding to Financial Exploitation, Scams and Fraud in Facility Settings," is scheduled virtually for Wednesday, Feb. 23 in partnership with the Ohio Association of Senior Centers (OASC), Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging (OAAAA) and Ohio Department of Aging (ODA). Featuring Senior Policy Analyst Lisa Schifferle of the Office for Older Americans at the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the seminar is free and open to the public but requires registration. More information and registration for the upcoming forum can be found at https://tinyurl.com/mrybfpxf.


AGRICULTURE


Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague opened the Ag-LINK application period Monday, announcing it will be available year-round for the first time. The program helps Ohio farmers and agribusinesses finance the upfront costs of the year's growing season by providing reduced interest loans. The period will now be broken into four quarters, with new reduced interest rate figures announced at the start of each quarter. As of Monday, Ag-LINK will provide a 0.5 percent interest rate reduction on loans at eligible banks, credit unions and farm credit lenders. Eligibility requirements include being organized for profit; having headquarters and at least 51 percent of operations in Ohio; using the loan exclusively for agricultural purposes; and complying with all program and financial institution regulations.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


Gov. Mike DeWine must pay up on his bet with California Gov. Gavin Newsom after the Cincinnati Bengals lost in the Super Bowl Sunday. That includes sending the following assortment of Cincinnati food products: steaks and seasoning from Jeff Ruby's; ribs from the Montgomery Inn; goetta and bratwurst from Queen City Sausage; potato Chips from Grippo's; and chocolates from Maverick Chocolate Company. In addition, Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine will send her Bengals Buckeye Brownies.


Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) Executive Director and CEO Nannette V. Maciejunes, 68, announced Monday her plans to retire at the end of the year, following the naming of her successor. Maciejunes has led the museum since 2003 and joined the staff in 1984 as a curatorial research assistant.


The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission (GCSC) received a $1.8 million state grant to help pay for costs associated with hosting the NBA All-Star Game, Ohio Department of Development (DOD) Director Lydia Mihalik said. "This is pretty standard for us when events of this magnitude happen," Mihalik told Hannah News.


As Ohio's arts and creative industry continues to suffer from the highest unemployment rate among all state business sectors, policymakers should immediately use $50 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to help these organizations survive, arts leaders from across the state said. "We are fortunate to live in a state rich with arts and creative businesses, and it is imperative that state lawmakers continue their investment in our creative sector," Ohio Citizens for the Arts (OCA) Executive Director Angela Meleca said. "Public support for these anchor institutions is as valid and wise an investment as any other economic development program Ohio funds."


AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY


While he called it a "work in progress," Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) said new legislation will expand the production of electric vehicles (EVs) in Ohio and provide necessary charging infrastructure for the future. It has the following four elements according to Rulli:


  • Providing $15 million for factory retooling and $10 million in education grants for workforce retraining.

  • Encouraging growth in EV usage within Ohio by both individual drivers and corporate fleets.

  • Creating an EV task force to identify how Ohio can stand out among other states in the next 20 years.

  • Providing more EV charging infrastructure, including through use of dedicated federal funds.

BUSINESS/CORPORATE


Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Monday that his office has drafted new filing forms and updated the Ohio Business Central filing system after passage of legislation that updated the state's limited liability company (LLC) laws. Gov. Mike DeWine signed 133-SB276 (Roegner-Manning) last year. It was the first major revision to the LLC laws since 1994. LaRose said as the office that receives and processes all new business filings for the state, there are now more options in place for LLCs to manage and structure themselves that include implementing flexibility for structuring LLCs; allowing a single LLC to establish one or more "series" of assets; and providing clarity and predictability for Ohioans looking to start and grow their limited liability company.


CORONAVIRUS


COVID cases and hospitalization figures have continued to decline as February is now half over, with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reporting 1,312 new cases, 99 hospitalizations and 22 ICU admissions Monday. The number of new cases reported by ODH has fallen each day since Tuesday, Feb. 8, when 4,385 new cases were reported. So far, the month has seen 52,703 new cases, 3,273 hospitalizations and 309 ICU admissions. By comparison, there were 291,596 cases, 5,216 hospitalizations and 478 ICU admissions between Jan. 1 and Jan. 14, though the case data included a backlog for Jan. 14.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) announced that its Office of Procurement Services has two upcoming training webinars on the OhioBuys program for suppliers of goods and services to the state. OhioBuys is the state's "new online purchasing solution that empowers both government buyers and interested bidders and suppliers," according to DAS. More information on the program is available at https://tinyurl.com/4myrnrr3. One webinar on "Access and Responding to Solicitations" will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. on Friday, March 18. A second webinar, on "Revenue Share Reporting," will be from 10 to 11 a.m. on Friday, March 25.


EDUCATION


The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) got three responses to its latest solicitation for companies that can run an afterschool stipend program for qualifying families, and hopes to sign a contract with a vendor by month's end. Agency officials updated the State Board of Education (SBOE) on the procurement process and plans to deter fraud in the program at Monday's meeting of the board's Emerging Issues and Operational Standards Committee. Lawmakers created the Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) education savings account program in the biennial budget, HB110 (Oelslager), providing $50 million in FY22 and $75 million in FY23, to be used to provide up to $500 per child for families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line. The money can be used for before- and afterschool programming, music lessons, museum admissions or other such purposes. The budget bill assigned ODE to determine families' eligibility but left program administration to a vendor.


The State Board of Education's (SBOE) Teaching, Leading, and Learning (TLL) Committee Monday postponed a vote on the upcoming Ohio Dyslexia Guidebook, choosing instead to continue revising the document. Under 133-HB436 (Baldridge), the guidebook, which is in its third draft, needs final approval from the SBOE prior to distribution, though there is no deadline. Signed into law last January, the bill created the Ohio Dyslexia Committee (ODC), charged with creating a guidebook focused on the best practices and methods for screening and teaching children with dyslexia or children displaying dyslexic characteristics.


The committee developing criteria for the SBOE to implement the reformed state report card for schools and districts voted Monday to approve sending proposed rules for the new rating system to the full board, which must adopt them before the end of March. The committee revised the proposed cut scores for the Early Literacy component, based on new simulations using 2021 data and stakeholder feedback urging the board to set a benchmark for the next two years with a commitment to revisit it -- the approach the board was already planning on other elements of the new report card.


The House Finance Committee Tuesday took a deep dive into the substitute version of HB290, the "backpack" bill from Reps. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) and Marilyn John (R-Shelby), which proposes to put into place an education program where "state educational dollars" will follow the child. McClain said it has been "a year in development" but the sub bill itself was not available for the committee or others until following the day's hearing. Both sponsors repeatedly stressed that their intent is to put the child at the center of the education puzzle, with their proposal allowing parents to choose the best educational setting for their student. There were scores of questions, ranging from Ranking Member Bride Sweeney's (D-Cleveland) about why the Legislature would pass this right after having just approved -- after four years' work -- the six-year Fair School Funding plan, to questions about what happens to the child if the private school won't take him or her or sends the child back to the public school for behavioral issues, which happens now, according to Rep. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon), who said he goes "back and forth" on the bill.


Attorney General Dave Yost's office recently told a judge the state does not object to a bid by EdChoice families to intervene in the litigation challenging the constitutionality of Ohio's school voucher program. Plaintiffs, meanwhile, argued that Yost essentially made their case for blocking the intervention by noting the state's capability in defending the program itself. Several school districts filed suit recently in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to allege the EdChoice program violates constitutional provisions requiring lawmakers to provide a "common" school system and barring the state from putting education funding in the control of religious groups. Several EdChoice families responded by filing a request with Judge Jaiza Page to be made parties to the case, arguing there's precedent for such a request.


Legislation to restrict teaching of "divisive concepts" in schools got another update Wednesday in the House State and Local Government Committee, which accepted a -12 substitute version of HB327.


Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Rock Creek), one of the bill's joint sponsors, described the changes briefly, saying they "simplify" some of the language and respond to concerns raised by witness testimony at prior hearings. She said the sponsors wanted everyone interested to have a chance to read the latest changes before further testimony, which was not taken at Wednesday's hearing. Democrats on the committee -- Reps. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati), Tavia Galonski (D-Akron), Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) and Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) -- voted against acceptance of the sub bill. The Ohio Education Association (OEA) and other bill opponents said the changes did not alleviate their concerns about the proposal.


Interim Superintendent of Education Stephanie Siddens informed the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee about ODE efforts to accelerate learning after achievement drops amid the pandemic, as well as other activities at the department. She was joined by department staff and SBOE President Charlotte McGuire and Vice President Steve Dackin, who expressed hopes for a stronger partnership with legislators as they work to improve student learning and preparedness.


ELECTIONS 2022


Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Wednesday released the list of statewide candidates whose filings have been verified by Ohio's county boards of elections and are therefore currently eligible to appear on the Tuesday, May 3 primary ballot. The Ohio Secretary of State's Office's directive containing the official form of the ballot for the primary will be issued on Tuesday, Feb. 22, after the filing deadline for write-in candidates. Protests against partisan candidates' petitions must be filed by 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18.


Candidates who filed to run but weren't included on the verified list were Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Graham; Democratic U.S. Senate candidate LaShondra Tinsley, a former case manager with the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services; Republican secretary of state candidate Terpsehore Maras, a QAnon influencer; and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Moreno, a businessman, who recently dropped out of the race.


U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) endorsed former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken to replace him in the U.S. Senate. "I believe Jane Timken is the best candidate to advance conservative GOP policies to help Ohio workers and families. Jane is smart and hardworking, and understands the needs of Ohioans. I believe Ohioans would be proud to have her representing us in the United States Senate," Portman tweeted.


The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) Executive Committee on Thursday endorsed U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) in the race for the U.S. Senate, giving the congressman an advantage in the primary against attorney/community organizer Morgan Harper and tech executive Traci Johnson. The ODP Executive Committee also endorsed candidates in the three uncontested Ohio Supreme Court primary races, putting party support behind Justice Jennifer Brunner for chief justice, 10th District Court of Appeals Judge Terri Jamison for justice and 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Marilyn Zayas for justice. At the request of the candidates, the party did not endorse in the gubernatorial race.


The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) said it was relaunching its "Truth Team" Facebook group, which consists of grassroots supporters who are "ready and eager to hold Republicans accountable and galvanize their networks and their communities to push back against GOP scandals, lies, corruption and misdeeds."


A poll released by Republican pollster Trafalgar Group shows former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel leading the field, but a quarter of the poll's respondents are undecided on the race. The poll found 21 percent supporting Mandel, followed by 16.4 percent backing Mike Gibbons. J.D. Vance has 14.3 percent of the vote, followed by Matt Dolan with 10.2 percent and Jane Timken at 9.8 percent. Twenty-five percent were undecided, and 3.3 percent said they would vote for someone other than the candidates named in the poll.


Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Morgan Harper and Republican candidate Josh Mandel announced they will debate again in Cleveland next week. Harper and Mandel met last month for a debate in Columbus. The Cleveland debate will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 21, at the City-God Baptist Fellowship, 742 E. 152nd St., Cleveland.


U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) said he has launched a new podcast that will feature conversations with guests of interest to the residents of Eastern and Southeastern Ohio. The podcast, titled "Red, White, and Bill with Congressman Bill Johnson," will be available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Johnson said the goal of the podcast is to engage guests on topics important to Ohioans. The first episode will be about the energy sector.


Dr. J.J. Sreenan was certified to the Republican primary ballot by the Allen County Board of Elections this week and will take on Rep. Susan Manchester (R-Waynesfield) based on the most recent, albeit unconstitutional, distrcts drawn by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, according to the Lima News.


Both are running for the seat currently held by House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima), who is term-limited. In redistricting plans adopted by the commission, Manchester's home was drawn into Cupp's district, though those maps have been declared unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Mike Gibbons announced the endorsements of Rep. Tom Young (R-Centerville) and London City Council President Henry Comer.

  • The Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund endorsed Nan Whaley for governor.

  • The Ohio AFL-CIO Endorsed Joyce Beatty, Shontel Brown and Marcy Kaptur for Congress and Jennifer Brunner for Ohio Supreme Court chief justice.

GAMING/GAMBLING


Ohio should join the 12 other states that provide some type of online lottery game for their residents, Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) told the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday. During sponsor testimony on SB269, Manning said he's hopeful that his iLottery bill will move forward with support from retailers, grocers, casinos, racinos and the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC). "We're certainly trying to work with all the interested parties on a compromise on how we can bring iLottery without infringing on other businesses," Manning said. Under the bill, the OLC would not be allowed to offer iLottery versions of "Pick 3," "Pick 4," "Pick 5," "Rolling Cash 5," "Classic Lotto" and "Lucky for Life."


The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) on Wednesday adopted resolutions commending Commissioners Jo Ann Davidson and Ranjan Manoranjan for their service over the last 11 years. Former House Speaker Davidson and businessman Manoranjan were both appointed to the OCCC on Feb. 21, 2011 and are ineligible to serve past that date in 2022 due to statutory term limits, OCCC spokesperson Jessica Franks told Hannah News. Also honored was Linda Dotson, who assisted Davidson and other members of the commission over the last 11 years.


Revenues at Ohio's casinos and racinos were higher in January 2022 than they were in January 2021, according to data provided by OCCC and OLC. The state's four casinos raked in $75.6 million in January 2022, compared to $64.9 million in January 2021. Video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Ohio's seven racinos pulled in $95.6 million in January 2022, compared to $88.5 million in January 2021. However, traditionalOhio Lottery ticket sales for January 2022 were down from the record-setting numbers set last year. Total traditional ticket sales for 2022 were $358.8 million, down from $441.1 million in January 2021.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The House Wednesday seated Shayla Davis as the replacement for former Rep. Stephanie Howse. Davis was selected to succeed Howse out of a field of applicants that included Sen. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland). However, Williams said on Twitter that she had been offered the appointment by the House but declined, recommending that Davis serve the remainder of the term. Williams is running for the House this year, but whether it will be the same seat is undetermined due to the prolonged redistricting process. Davis, a former Garfield Heights councilwoman, noted in her first floor speech that her district is one of the poorest in the state and her hope is to serve those needy residents.


Much of Wednesday's House debate centered around passage of HB109 (Abrams-Carruthers). Sponsor Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) said she believes freedom of speech is an important cornerstone of democracy, but vandalism, looting and violence are not free speech. She said these types of actions distract from the message that law abiding demonstrators are trying to express. Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said they went through "great pains" in committee to remove anything that would be seen as chilling free speech. He said he doesn't believe the bill is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech, but it is a penalty enhancement bill. The bill passed along party lines, 59-35.


The lower chamber also split on HB325, addressing emergency powers when suppressing a riot and gun rights. Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster), the bill's sponsor, said the bill prohibits the state and local entities from infringing on constitutional firearm rights under the guise of a declared emergency. He said the coronavirus restrictions in other states infringed on First and Second amendment rights. The bill passed 62-35.


The House unanimously passed HB447, which sponsor Rep. Brian Lampton (R-Fairborn) said would prohibit workers' compensation for non-work-related injuries that occur while working from home. He said employers can't mitigate potential dangers at home like they can for work spaces, and should not be responsible for injuries that don't occur on the job.


The House also unanimously passed HB427 (White-Manchester), which prohibits the use of a controlled substance or controlled substance addiction as a method of human trafficking or to compel prostitution; and HB405 (Stewart-Johnson), addressing boards of county hospital trustees and charter county hospital boards; and concurred with the Senate amendments to HB37 (Manning), addressing emergency prescription refills.


The Senate Wednesday unanimously approved Sen. Kirk Schuring's (R-Canton) overhaul of historic preservation and opportunity zone tax credits in SB225, which he called a "real economic boon for our state"; Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) disability changes in HB184 (Carfagna); designation of June 28 as Buffalo Soldiers Day in HB238 (Hicks-Hudson-Crawley); and certification of infant care centers and existing children's crisis facilities as Family Preservation Centers (FPC) in HB265 (Manning-Patton).


The House Commerce and Labor Committee heard legislation to reform cosmetology and barber licensing laws, with business associations and industry groups giving testimony in favor of HB277 (Powell). Tony Fiore, executive director of the Ohio Salon Association, opened by discussing the opportunities the industry provides for women and minority workers and owners. Salons and barbershops are working to recover from pandemic effects, and Fiore said unemployment and licensing barriers have driven staffing challenges to an all-time high currently.


In other action, the House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out HB88 (Patton), which requires commercial roofing contractors be licensed; the House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB27 (Patton), which increases penalties for failing to secure a load on a vehicle; the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out HB430 (Cross), which relates to property development; and HB434 (Stein), which enacts the ANTHEM Act; the House Health Committee reported out HB324 (Click-Lipps), dealing with hospital visitation during a public health emergency; the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee reported out HB516 (Hoops) and HB521 (Hillyer), highway naming bills; the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee reported out HB158 (Baldridge), which prohibits use of certain firefighting foam for training; and the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee reported out SCR8, which promotes the induction of Dick Schafrath into the Football Hall of Fame.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine's office announced he'll deliver his "State of the State" address at noon Wednesday, March 23. DeWine gave the traditional speech in the first year of his term, 2019, but hasn't delivered one since, as the pandemic disrupted life and state business. The speech will take place in the Ohio House chambers, the "traditional location," as DeWine's office put it. His predecessor, Gov. John Kasich, had taken all but his first address to other cities around the state.


With Thursday's signing of HB51 (Lampton) by Gov. Mike DeWine, government agencies' ability to meet remotely has been extended through the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022. This extends authority granted earlier in the pandemic in 133-HB404 (Manchester-Sweeney). The legislation also conforms the state tax code to recent federal changes.


Appointments made during the week include the following:


  • Kathleen L. Fischer of Sylvania (Lucas County) reappointed to the Banking Commission for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Jan. 31, 2026.

  • Sherri L. Bowyer of Alliance (Stark County) to the Chemical Dependency Professionals Board for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Dec. 23, 2023.

  • Robert B. Huser of Lebanon (Warren County) to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Board for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Oct. 4, 2024.

  • Kari Alexis Cunningham of Cleveland Heights (Cuyahoga County) to the Dentist Loan Repayment Advisory Board for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Jan. 28, 2024.

  • Nathan Douglas Sikora of North Canton (Stark County) reappointed to the Chiropractic Loan Repayment Advisory Board for a term beginning Feb. 21, 2022 and ending Feb. 20, 2024.

  • Jessica Spears Voltolini of Upper Arlington (Franklin County) reappointed to the State Chiropractic Board for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Nov. 1, 2025.

  • NeCole Cumberlander of Pepper Pike (Cuyahoga County) reappointed to the State Cosmetology and Barber Board for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Oct. 31, 2026.

  • Aparna Aggarwal Zimmerman of Dayton (Warren County) to the State Board of Psychology for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Oct. 4, 2025.

  • Larry E. Woods of Hilliard (Franklin County) reappointed and Wade Clark Baer of Leetonia (Columbiana County) appointed to the State Auctioneers Commission for terms beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Oct. 9, 2024.

  • Cy Leroy Prettyman of New Bloomington (Marion County) reappointed and Dennis Marshall Summers of Etna (Licking County) appointed to the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board for terms beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and Prettyman's ending Jan. 15, 2025.

  • Steven Craig Beam of Sabina (Clinton County) reappointed to the Ohio Thoroughbred Race Fund Advisory Council for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Jan. 31, 2025.

  • Elisha Renee Cangelosi of Grove City (Franklin County) and Grace Kolliesuah of Pickerington (Fairfield County) to the Early Childhood Advisory Council for terms beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and continuing at the pleasure of the governor.

  • Dennis John Mintus of Warren (Trumbull County) reappointed to the Waterways Safety Council for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Jan. 30, 2027.

  • Erik Yassenoff of Granville (Licking County), Gregory J. New of Beloit (Mahoning County) and James S. Aslanides of Coshocton (Coshocton County) reappointed to the Technical Advisory Council on Oil and Gas terms beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Jan. 31, 2025.

  • Megan C. Kelley of Delaware (Delaware County) reappointed to the Ethics Commission for a term beginning Feb. 11, 2022, and ending Jan. 1, 2028.

  • Jock Jeffrey Pitts of Oxford (Butler County) and Dasmine La'Rachel Wright of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Public Benefits Advisory Board for terms beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending June 30, 2024.

  • Sean Duncan Miller of Delaware (Delaware County), Edward James Dadosky of Blue Ash (Hamilton County) and Jennifer Diane Klein of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the State Emergency Response Commission for terms beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Jan. 13, 2024.

  • Kathryn Elizabeth Shelley of Toledo (Lucas County) and Kari Marie Akins of Canal Winchester (Fairfield County) to the Ohio Statewide Independent Living Council for terms beginning Feb. 11, 2022 and ending Oct. 26, 2024 and March 14, 2024, respectively.

GREAT LAKES


President Joe Biden visited Cleveland and Lorain on Thursday to tout the economic, cultural and recreational benefits of the Great Lakes and announce $1 billion from the recent federal infrastructure bill to restore the basin. Biden was joined U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) and Shontel Brown (D-Cleveland) at the speech. "That's what I want to talk a little bit about today, the historic investment we're going to make to restore the Great Lakes, strengthen the region's economy, provide clean drinking water, clean up our communities and create good paying jobs," Biden said. "For decades there was a lot of talk, a lot of plans, but very little progress. It was slow. That changes today," Biden said. Biden said the federal funding would help to accelerate the cleanup of six sites in the Great Lakes basin.


HIGHER EDUCATION


The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) says the U.S. District Court's "cramped and facile understanding of sex discrimination claims" has presented survivors of the late Ohio State University (OSU) physician Dr. Richard Strauss with a "Hobson's choice." "Instead of bringing a lawsuit that will be dismissed as time-barred, bring one that will be dismissed for failing to state a claim," RAINN's amicus brief says of federal Judge Michael Watson's Snyder-Hill v. OSU decision denying survivors' case as time-barred. "Too little or too late," the group says of former students' apparent conundrum. The New York firm of Kaufman Lieb Lebowitz & Frick is representing RAINN pro bono.


The House Higher Education and Career Readiness Committee led off Tuesday's hearing with an update from K.L. Allen, state director for Western Governors University Ohio (WGU Ohio), an online institution that Ohio signed a partnership agreement with in 2018. Allen outlined the institution's use of competency-based education, allowing students to work at their own pace, which he said is important because the typical students WGU Ohio admits are over 30, working and have families. Many are looking to move up in fields where they already work, or to transition to a new career, he said. He said most WGU Ohio students are from underserved populations.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


The legislative Federally Subsidized Housing Study Committee was set to hold its first meeting Wednesday, following its creation in the operating budget, HB110 (Oelslager). The Senate version of the budget would have required federally subsidized housing to have tax valuation based on market rents, but that provision was replaced in conference committee with language creating the study committee and requiring a report by July 1, 2022. It is co-chaired by Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati) and Rep. Adam Bird (R-Cincinnati). Other legislators include Reps. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati) and Sens. Steve Wilson (R-Maineville) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood).


JUDICIAL


One of the state's top prosecutors says an Rx distributor with a near-monopoly on amphetamine substitutes is trying to skate Ohio laws and administrative rules against drug trafficking by miring the Ohio Supreme Court in legal technicalities. Martek Pharmacal insists the state must identify the statutory sections the company allegedly violated in supplying several Ohio doctors up to 30,000 pills per month.


The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office says arguments advanced by Martek owner Drew Steck and the Troisi family, who together run the Jersey-based firm, are a procedural smokescreen to disguise felony drug trafficking in Ohio.


The Ohio Supreme Court has announced the adoption of final changes to the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio concerning the "rights and safety" of wards under guardianship. Amendments to Rules 66-66.09 seek to improve procedures for the disputed visitation of wards -- people under a court's care deemed unable to manage their affairs -- and to raise awareness of potential abuse, fraud and exploitation. Final rules remove draft changes concerning a ward's visitation wishes and a guardian's duty to report them to the court.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The State Medical Board voted Wednesday to recommend autism spectrum disorder and opioid use disorder for further consideration as eligible conditions under Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program.


The action follows House Health Committee passage of HB60 (Brent-Seitz), which would approve autism for cannabis treatment. In January, the medical board received a total of nine petitions for new qualifying conditions including anxiety; bipolar, anxiety, depression and sleep disorder; degenerative disk disease, chronic pain and PTSD; Gilbert's disease; insomnia; and Lupus.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced Tuesday it has completed the deal under which it will assume the current Medicaid managed care contract of Paramount Advantage. Anthem is among winners of a new round of contracts that are set to take effect in the coming fiscal year, while Paramount was unsuccessful in securing one of those new contracts in the latest round of bidding. The transaction required approval from the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM). Paramount had filed administrative and legal appeals of ODM's decision, alleging bias against it and in favor of large, out-of-state insurers. But after starting talks with Anthem, it said it would abandon the litigation if the deal closed. Paramount followed through on that Friday, voluntarily dismissing its case, which it had recently taken to the 10th District Court of Appeals, after losing at the trial level.


Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran gave a high-level overview Thursday of Ohio's Medicaid program and related DeWine administration initiatives, as part of the "nuts and bolts" approach Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee (JMOC) Chair Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario) said he'd like to take during his time in charge. Romanchuk said he was serving in the General Assembly when JMOC was created and recalled part of its purpose was to educate lawmakers on the program throughout the year so they'll be better prepared to make important decisions. "When the budget rolls around, there's no time to learn the subject matter. You better already know it," he said. "I want to try to move the committee in that direction moving forward." Among topics the committee questioned Corcoran on was distribution of Medicaid enrollees among managed care plans when the new contracts go live in July. Corcoran said "significant misinformation" has been circulating about the department's plans in this area.


MENTAL HEALTH


Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director Lori Criss gave more details Thursday about the planned roll out and cost of the federally-mandated 9-8-8 suicide prevention hotline and mental health crisis telephone line. Presenting interested party testimony on HB468 (Pavliga), which establishes the hotline, Criss told the House Behavioral Health and Recovery Supports Committee the 9-8-8 number is meant to build off the success of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Federal law enacted in October 2020 requires all states to transition from the 1-800 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number to the 9-8-8 number by July 16, 2022. While the 9-8-8 number is new, Criss said this system will build directly off the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline system, which has 18 certified call centers across the state.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Parks and Watercraft announced it is now accepting submissions through Monday, March 28 for the 2022 Ohio State Parks Photo Contest. ODNR is accepting photos that fall into the following categories:


  • Wildlife in Action

  • Recreation in the Parks

  • Wondrous Water

  • Novice Naturalist

  • Explore Trails

Visitors may submit up to five photos in this free contest. Each image must have been taken after Jan. 1, 2021 at any of the state's 75 state parks. Final winners will be announced by May 12.


About $3 million in grants are available for projects to improve water quality in the Ohio River Basin through the creation or restoration of wetlands, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director Mary Mertz announced recently. The program is funded as part of Ohio's 2022-23 operating budget, HB110 (Oelslager). This is the second round of funding available through the program, with $5 million awarded for 10 wetland projects in 2021. Wetlands help improve water quality by trapping, filtering, and removing excess pollutants and nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from the water before they flow into waterways and contribute to harmful algal blooms. ODNR is administering the Ohio River Basin H2Ohio Wetland Grant Program as part of the governor's H2Ohio initiative.


PEOPLE


Former House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina), who served nearly four decades in the Ohio House, passed away Saturday at the age of 79. "William G. Batchelder III passed away peacefully Feb. 12, 2022, at Western Reserve Masonic Home in Medina, OH, after a long illness," states an obituary posted on the website of Waite & Son Funeral Homes Medina Chapel. Batchelder served as the state representative from Medina County from 1968 through 1999, and later returned to the Ohio House in 2007, serving as the chamber's 101st speaker from 2011 to 2014. Batchelder practiced law for many years, and also served as a judge on the Medina County Common Pleas Court and on the Ninth District Court of Appeals. The funeral service was set for Friday, with a memorial service to honor his legacy being planned to take place in Columbus "in the near future."


Ohio's longtime head of the Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) under four governors has been named director of President Joe Biden's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon of the DOJ's Office of Justice Programs announced OCJS Executive Director Karhlton Moore's appointment Monday, effective Monday, Feb. 28. As BJA director, Moore will oversee grant programs, training and technical assistance, and other resources to prevent crime, lower recidivism and promote a fair and effective criminal justice system.


LeadingAge Ohio, representing mostly nonprofit aging services and post-acute care providers, announced its Board of Directors named Susan Wallace, the organization's chief policy officer, as the next president and CEO, succeeding Kathryn Brod. Wallace spent eight years with Midwest Care Alliance before it merged with LeadingAge Ohio in 2014. She has led advocacy work for the organization since 2019. She began her career as a social worker with Mount Carmel Hospice. Wallace will take over March 15, following the retirement of Brod, who has been president and CEO since 2014.


Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R-Bowling Green) announced he's been selected for a fellowship with the Rodel Leadership Institute, an independent organization meant to strengthen democracy and improve the quality of public leadership in the U.S. Secretary of State Frank LaRose nominated Ghanbari for the fellowship.


Aaron Mabe is now the legislative liaison for the State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO). Mabe. who started his new job this week, most recently served as senior legislative aide for Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London).


POLITICS


The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) should remain neutral in the U.S. Senate primary election, according to a letter signed by more than a dozen local party leaders and activists. "As you know, after calls from many party leaders and activists, Mayor Nan Whaley, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination in the Ohio gubernatorial race, recently asked that the Ohio Democratic Party remain neutral rather than endorse a candidate prior to the primary. Respectfully, we ask for the same in the U.S. Senate race," states the letter, sent to ODP Chair Elizabeth Walters, ODP Vice Chair Andre Washington and the ODP Executive Committee.


POLLS/STUDIES


Surveyed on a number issues ranging from racism to COVID-19 mandates to the U.S. Supreme Court, poll respondents tell the Quinnipiac Poll that it's all political. As Black History Month is currently being observed, only 27 percent of poll respondents say the American history they were taught in school reflected a full and accurate account of the role of African Americans in the United States, while 66 percent say what they were taught in school fell short on that, according to the poll. That view is shared among majorities of all but one group. Republicans are split with 47 percent saying the American history they were taught in school reflected a full and accurate account of the role of African Americans in the United States, while 46 percent say that account fell short.


In other findings, nearly eight in 10 respondents (79 percent) say efforts to ban certain books in schools and libraries in the United States are more about politics, while only 15 percent of Americans say those efforts are more about the content of the books.


REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT


The Ohio Redistricting Commission Thursday adjourned without adopting a new General Assembly redistricting plan after majority Republicans on the panel rejected a proposed map by its Democratic members. The Republicans did not offer a proposal of their own, with Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) telling his fellow commissioners that with a tight 10-day time frame given by the Ohio Supreme Court, it was difficult to start from scratch on a new map that would follow the Court's instructions and be constitutional. Secretary of State Frank LaRose said majority mapmakers told him that they don't think they can do what the Court has asked them to do. The Court struck down the most recent maps Feb. 7, giving the Ohio Redistricting Commission 10 days to come up with new plans for the Ohio House and Senate. Among faults the Court highlighted were the number of Democratic-drawn districts that were considered more of a toss-up as well as the commission's starting with a map that was already rejected by the Court and revising that map.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The Controlling Board approved all items on its agenda without objection Monday, though 10 were held for questions. They included four from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), three from the Ohio Department of Development (DOD) and one each from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).


TAXATION


Legislation that would make significant changes to Ohio's community reinvestment area (CRA) laws would "incentivize careless investment practices" and inappropriately restrict the ability of school officials to participate in the process, according to Guillermo Bervejillo of Policy Matters Ohio. "At the end of the day, this bill prioritizes hypothetical outside investors over the flesh-and-blood children of Ohio," Bervejillo told the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Bervejillo, who holds a Ph.D. in economic geography, was one of several opponents and interested parties who provided testimony on HB123 (Fraizer-Cross) during the hearing.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


A survey of academic economists in Ohio found the overwhelming majority disagreed that repealing increases to the state gas tax would benefit Ohio's economy. In December, Sen. Stephen Huffman (R-Tipp City) introduced SB277, a bill that would suspend for five years the increases to the state gas tax that became effective in 2019. The tax hike of 10.5 cents per gallon of gasoline and 19 cents per gallon on diesel was implemented to raise an additional $1 billion annually for Ohio Department of Transportation road and bridge maintenance projects.


In sponsor testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday, Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) said his SB277 would suspend the fuel tax increase enacted as a part of the 133-HB62 transportation budget for a period of five years. The bill would also suspend the annual hybrid and electric vehicle fee imposed by 133-HB62 for five years. The legislation would cease the collection of the increases beginning July 1, 2022. The fuel tax provisions of 133-HB62 increased the tax on gasoline by 10.5 cents per gallon and by 19 cents per gallon for diesel fuel, and the registration fee provisions increased the annual fee for hybrid vehicles by $100 and by $200 for all-electric vehicles for the purpose of helping maintain Ohio's highways, streets and bridges.


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission announced Thursday that it has reduced nearly $88.8 million in gross debt service payments over a 21-year period following the sale of its refunding bonds last week. The turnpike's 2022 series A junior-lien revenue refunding bonds received an A+ rating from Fitch Ratings; an Aa3 rating from Moody's Investors Service; and an A+ rating from S&P Global Ratings.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Friday released its quarterly update on unemployment overpayments, identifying approximately $5.8 billion in fraud and non-fraud payments since the beginning of the pandemic through Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. ODJFS said the overpayments are attributable to both fraudulent and non-fraudulent activity in both the traditional unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) programs. They include any weekly monetary add-ons claimants received, called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. The overpayments include the following:


  • $51 million in fraudulent overpayments in the traditional unemployment system.

  • $455 million in fraudulent PUA overpayments.

  • $784 million in non-fraud overpayments in the traditional system.

  • $4.5 billion in non-fraud PUA overpayments.

UTILITIES


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has given FirstEnergy until Tuesday, April 5 to disclose customer refunds for a wide range of misreported charges beyond its now-infamous "political" contributions, though the company claims it should not have to remunerate consumers for infrastructure costs dating back as far as seven years. FERC says FirstEnergy billed over a half billion dollars in administrative/general (A&G) expenses to construction projects, even though most workers questioned by the agency did not actually perform construction-related tasks. Federal investigators recently issued an 82-page audit of FirstEnergy covering a large number of accounting practices, including lobbying expenses and "unsupported costs" for political and related activities, improper fuel charges, unauthorized asset depreciation, and misreported construction payroll.

[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2022 Hannah News Service, Inc.]


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