Week In Review - February 22, 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.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) is switching up its annual "Ag Day at the Capital" event, which is typically a jam-packed, one-day function where county agricultural leaders visit with state lawmakers in Columbus. This year, farmers are engaging legislators virtually or on their farms during "Ag Week," OFBF announced. The five-day event ran through Friday, Feb. 19.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Attorney General Dave Yost says "circumstantial evidence" supports Cleveland off-duty policeman Jose Garcia's claim that Desmond Franklin was pointing a gun at him when the officer shot and killed the 22-year-old driver last April. None of several witnesses except Garcia testified to seeing the pointed weapon, though a bloody pistol with four rounds was found on the driver's side floorboard.


FY22-23 BUDGET


The operating budget for FY22-23 was formally introduced as HB110 (Oelslager), following introduction of the transportation budget as HB74 (Oelslager), workers’ compensation budget as HB75 (Oelslager) and Industrial Commission budget as HB76 (Oelslager).


Transit agencies told lawmakers that they may have to cut routes and stop investing in new and innovative services for Ohioans if the executive budget recommendation for transit remains the same. They are a part of HB74 (Oelslager). Transit saw a spike in funding in the last biennium as lawmakers dedicated about $70 million in each fiscal year under 133-HB62 (Oelslager), although the pandemic reduced the amount that went to the local agencies. Transit agencies also saw help from the federal government in federal stimulus bills last year, but they told members of the House Finance Committee Wednesday that those funds are not enough to plan around over the next two years.


CENSUS


The U.S. Census Bureau Friday announced that it will not be releasing redistricting data, which is used to draw new congressional lines, until Sept. 30, citing delays due to COVID-19. The bureau had originally planned to deliver the data to states by March 31. The bureau said that it will also release the data for all states all at once, a procedure different from previous years when the data was released on a flow basis. The change was made "because of COVID-19 related shifts in data collection and in the data processing schedule … enables the Census Bureau to deliver complete and accurate redistricting data in a more timely fashion overall for the states."


CIVIL RIGHTS


This Black History Month, the U.S. House of Representatives has the largest share of Black lawmakers in U.S. history. In recent decades, Black Americans have also gained a greater foothold in political leadership through the cabinets of recent presidents, and Kamala Harris, who is of mixed Jamaican and Indian heritage, is the first Black American, first person of Asian descent and first woman to hold the second-highest office in the country. However, the analysis by Pew Research Center shows gains have lagged in other areas, such as in the U.S. Senate and in governorships.


CORONAVIRUS


The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 complained recently that a number of its members who work as case managers, mental health nurses, classification specialists, and other staff in Ohio's prisons have been excluded from the current vaccination effort by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC).


Ohio's centralized scheduling system for COVID-19 vaccination appointments is "functional and ready from a technical standpoint" but needs a "critical mass" of providers to sign up before the state will launch it for public use, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday.


The General Assembly would be granted the power to use concurrent resolutions to terminate states of emergency declared by the executive branch, rescind orders of the governor or Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and invalidate emergency administrative rules under SB22 (McColley-Roegner) which passed the Senate by a vote of 25-8 on Wednesday. Republicans argued that the legislation simply provides a check on executive power, while Democrats said the bill is unconstitutional, undermines the work of the DeWine administration and would hamper the state's ability to react effectively to an emergency in the future.


The Columbus-based Ohio Council of Churches Wednesday said it presented each member of the Ohio Senate with a face mask for use in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. The group said that as Ash Wednesday was being observed, "One of the things we grieve is the lack of mask wearing in the Ohio Statehouse during the budget season. It is our hope that our act of good will shows our genuine concern for the health and well-being of all who enter the halls of the Ohio Statehouse."


CORRECTIONS


County jail construction projects should receive state funding under a formula similar to the one used for school construction projects, Reps. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said Tuesday. Discussing their recently-introduced HB101 at a Statehouse press conference, Stephens said the proposal would allow the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) to develop a funding formula that would rank counties based on need. Criteria would include income per capita, property values and sales tax revenue capacity.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Gov. Mike DeWine Friday announced more than $1.6 million in grant funding to 47 Ohio law enforcement agencies, courts, victim service groups, probation and parole departments, and corrections facilities as part of the Ohio Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program.


Medina County leads Ohio in its share of more than a half million dollars in justice assistance grants (JAG) to 56 law enforcement agencies around the state, the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced Wednesday. Awards range from just over $2,000 at the low end to $44,000-plus.


The 133rd General Assembly introduced and passed fewer bills containing mass incarceration provisions compared to recent legislative sessions, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio.


DEATH PENALTY


Ten years after she first introduced legislation to abolish the death penalty, Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) is more optimistic than ever that Ohio lawmakers are ready to end capital punishment and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Antonio was joined by Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City), who will be the main Republican cosponsor in the Senate. Other lawmakers participating in the press conference were Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson), Sen. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland), Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland), Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland).


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


Ohio's third planned "innovation district" was announced by Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Central Ohio leaders Wednesday, following similar announcements for Cleveland in January and Cincinnati in March 2020. It is expected to create 20,000 jobs and $3 billion in economic impact in the next decade. JobsOhio, Ohio State University (OSU) and Nationwide Children's Hospital are working together on the project, with the university investing $650 million alongside $350 million from the hospital and $100 million from the private economic development organization. The $1.1 billion in initial investment is expected to generate another $2 billion in private development, including housing for the new workers.


EDUCATION


While every Ohio school district but one had made a commitment to in-person or hybrid learning after March 1 as part of the staff vaccination effort, Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday evening that some have signaled they may go back on that pledge. At the unusual evening news conference, he urged them not to. "We have learned that some kids have really not done very well remotely, and some kids -- particularly in our urban schools -- have been out of school now for almost a year. It's time to get them back in school," DeWine said. "We have seen some of the consequences and heard some of the consequences of children not being in school -- social consequences, mental health consequences, academic consequences. We saw that in some of the testing that has been done recently."


However, on Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine, apparently seeking to lower the temperature following his Friday public criticism of school districts that might miss his Monday, March 1 deadline to return to in-person learning, said he wanted to focus on the successes of his educator vaccination program instead of the problems.


The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new advice Friday for the safe resumption of in-person schooling. "This operational strategy presents a pathway to reopen schools and help them remain open through consistent use of mitigation strategies, especially universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing," the document states. In addition to masks and distancing, which the document presents as the two most important mitigation strategies, the CDC also urged adherence to other "essential" strategies including "handwashing and respiratory etiquette," "cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities," and "contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the health department."


The Ohio History Connection will host its first-ever Statehood Day event via Zoom on Monday, March 1 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. The event will be hosted along with more than a dozen other history related organizations.


ELECTIONS


The Ohio Elections Commission Thursday dismissed a complaint filed by the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) against the Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) with no comment after both sides had agreed to ask for the dismissal. The commission was scheduled to hold a full hearing on the complaint filed by ORP, arguing that ODP had improperly used its State Candidate Fund to promote Ohio Supreme Court candidates in the mailers. Both sides had asked for the matter to be dismissed at its preliminary hearing last year, but the case went to a full hearing after ODP asked the commission to make a finding that ORP's filing was frivolous. The dismissal on Thursday did not include any such finding.


ELECTIONS 2021


Secure absentee ballot receptacles will continue to be limited to locations outside county boards of elections, according to a new directive issued Friday by Secretary of State Frank LaRose. "Ohio law is generous when it comes to absentee voting and offers voters at least four different ways to cast a ballot. Even though Ohio law does not explicitly provide for the use of secure receptacles, commonly known as 'drop boxes,' for an absentee voter to return their ballot ..., this directive, once again, provides for the continued use of secure receptacles outside of the boards of elections," LaRose wrote.


ELECTIONS 2022


U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) became the latest officeholder to say she will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2022.


ENERGY AND UTILITIES


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Nominating Council will have a diverse group of professionals to pick from when it interviews a second round of candidates for former Chairman Sam Randazzo's unexpired commission seat on Friday, Feb. 19. Along with first-round candidates encompassing energy, utilities regulation, consumer interests, law and business, among other fields, the council is currently reviewing applicants with experience including oil and gas, engineering, aerospace, the courts, and additional background in utilities and consumer advocacy.


Customers of Dominion Energy Ohio will see no price increase this year over what they've been paying for natural gas, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) said following Tuesday, Feb. 9's approved auction for the utility's standard service offer (SSO) and standard choice offer (SCO). Commissioners approved a retail price adjustment (RPA) of 15 cents per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) for the service period April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022. The price adjustment reflects auction winners' cost estimate to deliver gas from the production site to the service area.


Legislation introduced Tuesday would repeal the nuclear and solar energy subsidies created by scandal-tainted 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), Reps. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) and Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) said. The House Public Utilities Committee, which Hoops chairs, informally heard sponsor testimony on HB128 (Hoops-Stein) Wednesday, Feb. 17.


The General Assembly is a step closer to repealing at least a portion of scandal-tainted energy subsidy law 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) following Senate passage of SB10 (Romanchuk) on Wednesday. The upper chamber voted 33-0 to pass the bill, which eliminates the "decoupling" mechanism created in HB6.


State lawmakers are mounting another run at windmill referendum legislation that would allow local voters to veto turbine projects approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB). Lead co-sponsors on wind referendum 133-HB401 (Reineke) from the previous General Assembly, Reps. Craig Riedel (R-Defiance) and Dick Stein (R-Norwalk), are returning this year with a bill to grant home rule petition power over wind farm applications.


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Nominating Council announced it will be meeting on Friday, Feb. 19, to interview six finalists for the seat held by former Chairman Sam Randazzo.


The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) has spent close to $400,000 so far in preparing for and administering the duties it gained under controversial energy subsidy legislation 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) and was anticipating about $300,000 in ongoing annual expenses related to it, the agency's chief told lawmakers in a budget hearing Wednesday. Christina O'Keeffe, executive director of OAQDA, told members of the House Finance Agriculture, Development and Natural Resources Subcommittee that the executive budget proposal for her agency does not include any revenue related to HB6 functions. "The authority continues to work with the administration and legislative leaders to identify an appropriate source as the future of the program continues to be discussed," she said.

The current energy situation in Texas amplifies the importance of sound state energy policies, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said during Wednesday's meeting of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee. Encouraging his fellow committee members to review the written testimony provided by several proponents of nuclear subsidy repeal bill SB44 (Rulli-Cirino), the senator said he empathizes with Texans as the state deals with the failure of its grid.


"I'm trying to figure out what's still left in HB6." Rep. Laura Lanese (R-Grove City) asked the question confronting many on Capitol Square Wednesday with the swirl of legislation to repeal various provisions of the controversial House bill. They include Senate passage of SB10 (Romanchuk) to revoke FirstEnergy's "decoupled" profit guarantees and "significantly excessive earnings" -- the latter in budget bill 133-HB166 (Oelslager) -- and the pending repeal of nuclear subsidies forecasted by Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) in SB44 (Rulli-Cirino). Lanese and Reps. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) and Michael O'Brien (D-Warren) addressed the House Public Utilities Committee on the reintroduction of "clean" repeal legislation from the 133rd General Assembly. House Public Utilities Chairman Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) and Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) also presented joint sponsor testimony on HB128, which would reverse nuclear and solar subsidies, decoupling guarantees, OVEC language, and FirstEnergy's exemption from the significantly excessive earnings test (SEET) -- also granting customer refunds of collected charges -- but would not restore RPS mandates.


Ohio now has 35 solar farms in some stage of approval or construction, including the 274-megawatt (MW) Yellowbud project 35 miles south of Columbus cleared by the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) Thursday. Yellowbud Solar's 2,040 acre project will occupy parts of Deerfield, Union, Deer Creek and Wayne townships in northwest Ross County and south Pickaway County west of Circleville.


ENVIRONMENT


The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) has approved more than $1.1 million in bond financing and grants for two Central Ohio projects. OAQDA approved up to $915,000 in bond financing to assist Stoneridge Investment LLC, which is part of Alterra Real Estate Advisors, with its air quality facility project.


FEDERAL


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) came to different conclusions following the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Brown voted Saturday, Feb. 13 to convict Trump for his role in inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, while Portman voted to acquit the former president. Brown was among 57 senators voting "guilty," while Portman was among the 43 senators voting "not guilty." The Senate needed 67 votes to convict Trump, which could have barred him from holding political office in the future.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Hannah News’ interview series with freshman legislators featured Rep. Adam Bird (R-Cincinnati), former superintendent of New Richmond Schools, and Rep. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester), an Air Force veteran and nurse practitioner.


Severe winter storms disrupted the week’s legislative schedule, with House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) cancelling all House committee meetings Tuesday and the Senate delaying its Wednesday session start time.


Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said Tuesday the automatic appointment process to which the governor's office has grown accustomed will end under his leadership to provide a "check" on the executive branch. Huffman announced his intentions in a policy discussion of Gov. Mike DeWine's pending appointment to replace former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Sam Randazzo. Addressing the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Governing Board, the new Senate president also laid out a template for the "piecemeal" repeal of energy subsidy bill 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) and a larger review of utility ratemaking under the energy omnibus, 127-SB221.


In addition to approving legislation to partially repeal 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) and to curtail the executive branch’s emergency health powers, the Senate on Wednesday passed SB4 (Roegner), regarding professionals whose residential and familiar information is exempt from disclosure, and SB28 (Hoagland), to allow owls to be used in falconry.


Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) and Rep. Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta) announced forthcoming legislation Wednesday that they said will enable Lordstown Motors Corporation to sell its Endurance model of electric light duty truck directly to customers while protecting traditional car dealerships. State law "generally" prohibits direct sales of vehicles, but a release issued by Lordstown Motors said the "narrowly defined" bill would permit direct sale by the manufacturer.


The Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) reconvened Wednesday after a 10-month hiatus to elect officers and appoint a new executive director. Sen. Nathan Manning (R-N. Ridgeville) was named chairman; Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus), vice-chairman; and Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus), secretary. Chris Albanese, House Speaker Bob Cupp's (R-Lima) former policy director, was appointed executive director in a unanimous vote. He joins the existing deputy director, Travis Ricketts, and three analysts to bring CIIC to full staffing.


GOVERNOR


LeeAnne Cornyn, director of children's initiatives for Gov. Mike DeWine's office, will become director of cabinet affairs, DeWine announced Wednesday. Kristi Burre, head of the Office of Children Services Transformation, will replace Cornyn as head of children's initiatives. Both staffing changes were prompted by the departure of Ryan Burgess, previously director of cabinet affairs, to become CEO of Goodwill Columbus.


Gov. Mike DeWine's office said Friday he's appointing Amy Lewis, a juvenile court magistrate, as a judge on the Greene County Common Pleas Court's Juvenile Division, effective Monday, March 1. She replaces Judge Adolfo Tornichio, who was appointed to the court's General Division. Lewis will have to run for re-election next year to complete the term that expires at the end of 2024. She has a law degree from Ohio Northern University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Dozens of community-based and statewide advocacy organizations Tuesday announced the launch of a new coalition to "shine a light on the disparities and inequities related to oral health in Ohio." The group, Ohioans for Dental Equity, discussed the urgency of addressing oral health disparities, and outlined a response to help address oral health deficiencies in Ohio by creating a “dental therapist” license.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Ohio State University (OSU) President Kristina Johnson discussed her first six months in the post during a forum of the Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) recently, saying it has been "challenging" to start work during the pandemic but they have made "great strides" in the university response. The current on-campus positivity rate is below 0.2 percent, Johnson said, and she credited the work of students, faculty and staff who are remaining socially distanced and conducting other safety efforts.


The U.S. Air Force awarded the University of Toledo (UT) $12.5 million to develop photovoltaic energy sheets that would live in space and harvest solar energy to transmit power wirelessly to Earth-based receivers or to other orbital or aerial instruments, such as communications satellites.


The five regional campuses of Ohio University (OU) have joined together to host the 15th annual Celebrate Women conference virtually on Friday, March 19, 2021. The conference is free of charge with registration, according to the university.


JUVENILE JUSTICE


Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice James Celebrezze died Wednesday, Feb. 10, the Court announced. He was 83. Celebrezze was the 138th justice on the Court, serving from 1983 to 1985, joining his brother, Frank Celebrezze, who was then chief justice.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said Friday afternoon it is moving to revoke Ohio's approval to institute work requirements for enrollees in the Medicaid expansion population. Ohio Department of Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran lamented Tuesday the "politicized" deliberations over Medicaid work requirements and expressed interest in asking the Biden administration to reconsider plans to cancel approvals for Ohio's requirement. "I think it's very unfortunate that it has become so politicized. I mean, these are broad authorities, they're demonstration waivers to demonstrate things, to try things. And certainly, once the Supreme Court rules, depending on which way it goes, like it or not, that'll be the final word. But in the meantime, this is a demonstration, to demonstrate something," she told Hannah News.


MILITARY AFFAIRS


The Ohio Adjutant General's Department announced Wednesday that a member of the Ohio Cyber Reserve (OhCR) had recently been deployed to assist a government agency following a cybersecurity breach, though details were limited due to security considerations.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Geological Survey has published a new booklet that highlights the diversity of fossils found in Ohio's Capitol. "Statehouse Fossils: A Guide to Fossils of the Ohio Capitol" offers readers information, illustrations and maps designed for self-guided explorations, according to ODNR.


Deer management permits should be expanded to all 88 counties from Saturday, Sept. 25 to Sunday, Nov. 28, according to ODNR Division of Wildlife biologists. That proposed change is one of the several hunting rule amendments recently proposed to the Ohio Wildlife Council, according to ODNR.


Anglers looking for an access point to Lake Erie for ice fishing should visit Camp Perry in Ottawa County, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Camp Perry is an Ohio National Guard training facility located near Port Clinton, on the shore of Lake Erie. Ice fishing access at Camp Perry opened on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, ODNR said.


PEOPLE


Grove City Mayor Richard L. "Ike" Stage has been elected to the board of directors of the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), according to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC). Stage's election to NARC will give him a leading role in the organization and its advocacy efforts on behalf of regional councils throughout the United States, MORPC said.


POLITICS


A current and a former Republican strategist told a City Club of Cleveland forum Friday that many in the Republican establishment still fear former President Donald Trump and are still trying to placate his most adamant supporters in the wake of his loss and second impeachment. The forum, titled "The Republican Reckoning: The Future of the Party Post-Trump," featured Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and publisher and founder of Republican Voters Against Trump, and Tim Miller, a writer for the Bulwark and Rolling Stone who said he has left the GOP. Both said Trump's lasting impact on the party can be seen in the emerging Ohio Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2022 after U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced that he will not be running again.


Three-quarters of Republicans would like to see former President Donald Trump continue to play a "prominent" role in the Republican Party, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll of 1,056 adults released Monday. Only 21 percent of Republicans surveyed said Trump shouldn't remain a prominent figure in Republican Party politics, while 4 percent said they didn't know.


POLLS/STUDIES


A new Quinnipiac University finds nearly three quarters of Americans it surveyed are either very confident or somewhat confident that people in their state who want a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get one by the end of the summer, while a quarter are not so confident or not confident at all.


Four weeks after he was sworn-in, 50 percent of respondents approve of President Joe Biden's job performance, compared to 38 percent who disapprove. The rating is little changed from a Feb. 3 Quinnipiac Poll where 49 percent approved and 36 percent disapproved. The poll found a sharp partisan divide, with 91 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of independent voters approving and 82 percent of Republicans disapproving. When considering the responses of only registered voters, Biden's approval rises to 52 percent, while 38 percent still disapprove. The poll said it is nearly the inverse of former President Trump's negative 38 percent approval to 55 percent disapproval rating at the same period during his presidency in a Feb. 22, 2017 poll.


TAXATION


The IRS and Ohio Department of Taxation opened the income tax filing season for the 2020 tax year Friday, Feb. 12. In the days beforehand, the IRS issued a statement urging filers to submit returns electronically, something the agency encourages every year but says is especially useful this year because of pandemic-related issues.


Two new lawsuits were filed in Ohio courts this week arguing that it is unconstitutional for cities to tax the income of workers who do not live in those cities and have been remotely working during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuits challenge the use of the provision by Columbus and Cincinnati. Conservative think tank The Buckeye Institute said it sued on behalf of Eric Denison of Westerville and Josh Schaad of Blue Ask in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas and Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas respectively, seeking to have the provision struck down.


TECHNOLOGY


The House approved a major broadband service expansion measure with an overwhelming majority Wednesday, matching Senate action last week but with a much larger appropriation attached to the House version. The chamber voted 88-5 to approve HB2 (Carfagna-Stewart), and 88-8 to attach an emergency clause that will put it into immediate effect upon the governor's signature. Joint sponsor Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Westerville) said that will allow the Development Services Agency (DSA) to get a faster start on drafting rules for the program. The House measure carries a $210 million appropriation, with $20 million for this fiscal year, $170 million for FY22 and $20 million for FY23, while the Senate version provides $20 million for FY22, with an option to carry unspent funds into FY23. Gov. Mike DeWine's executive budget proposes $290 million for broadband expansion efforts.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


Despite having a long list of witnesses on the proposed transportation budget, HB74 (Oelslager), the House Finance Committee heard only from Ohio Trucking Association (OTA) President and CEO Tom Balzer at its hearing on Thursday. Balzer laid out the OTA's five priority areas for the budget: passage of the governor's distracted driving initiative "Hands-Free Ohio"; revision of the registration system for commercial trailers; expansion of truck parking; hiking weight limits for personal delivery devices; and restoring financial assistance for truck driver training.


Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland) Thursday said she is introducing amendments to HB74 (Oelslager) that would eliminate a proposed vehicle registration fee increase that would be used to help fund the Ohio State Highway Patrol.


The Ohio Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave Ohio's infrastructure a slightly better grade than the national average in its first report in more than a decade, but the group said the Buckeye State needs to take more action to improve its overall grade of "C-". Ohio's grade was higher than the national average of "D+" but saw low grades among the 16 rated categories in areas such as levees, roads, and transit.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


For the second week in a row, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) has reported more than 140,000 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). "Of the 147,002 initial claims reported this week, at least 33,000 have been flagged for potential fraud," ODJFS said. Last week, ODJFS reported 140,444 new jobless claims, with at least 44,000 being flagged for suspicious activity. The week before that, the department reported 47,786 new jobless claims to the DOL.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


While the enacted version of 133-HB308 did not create the level of support for first responders' post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment sought by sponsor Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville), it is seen as a step in that process which will likely lead to future action in the 134th General Assembly. Patton told Hannah News recently he wasn't "particularly enamored" by the changes and believed the existing workers' compensation system is suitable for PTSD claims that do not have an accompanying physical injury. He credited the work of Sen. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) in making sure the bill did not die in the Senate, however, and said that his hope is the resulting study will lead to “a workable plan.”


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

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