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Week In Review - February 28, 2022

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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AGING AARP Ohio invites local organizations and governments across the state to apply for the 2022 AARP Community Challenge grant program. Grants are targeted to "quick-action" projects that help communities become more livable in the long-term by improving public spaces, transportation, housing, civic engagement, coronavirus recovery, diversity and inclusion, and more. Now in its sixth year, the grant program is part of AARP's nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places to live. The application deadline is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22. All projects must be completed by Nov. 30, 2022. To submit an application and view past grantees, visit AGRICULTURE The DeWine administration announced official dates for the 2022 Ohio State Fair, expected to be the first full-scale event since 2019. The fair will run from Wednesday, July 27 through Sunday, Aug. 7. The fair was cancelled in 2020 and was restricted to just agricultural and educational activities in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The fair said general parking will be free to visitors in the main lots north of the Cardinal Gate. A Top Thrill Dragster accident that resulted in a head injury to a Cedar Point visitor will not result in administrative action against the amusement park company, according to a report released by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) on Friday. In August 2021, a bracket dislodged from a Top Thrill Dragster train car and struck the head of a woman waiting in line for the ride. The Ohio State Fair should remain at its current location in Columbus, according to nine major Ohio agriculture advocacy groups. "We adamantly recommend preserving the historical presence of the Ohio State Fair in Columbus and maintaining its easily accessible location," the groups wrote in a recommendation document sent to Gov. Mike DeWine, the Ohio Expositions Commission and the Expo 2050 task force, among other entities. "At its current location, the fair entertains, engages and educates consumers about food, agriculture and the state. Moving the venue would be detrimental to the mission and to the financial viability of the state fair. It is well-documented that the most dynamic and successful state fairs are located in highly-populated urban areas," the groups wrote. Producers in the 10-county expansion area of Gov. Mike DeWine's H2Ohio Initiative are eligible to apply for the next phase of the program, which expands the available conservation practices. Producers in that area are now eligible to sign up for the remaining H2Ohio BMPs: VNMP implementation, variable-rate phosphorus fertilization, subsurface nutrient placement, manure incorporation, conservation crop rotation - forages, and drainage water management structures. Producer agreements for this phase of the H2Ohio program will include commitments for 2023, 2024, and 2025. Producers must have an approved VNMP on file with their local soil and water conservation district (SWCD) to be eligible to sign up for more practices. Applications with approved VNMPs are due to local SWCD offices by Saturday, April 30. ATTORNEY GENERAL Human trafficking busts during weekend National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game events in Cleveland, Feb. 18-20, included several johns predominantly in their forties. The Ohio Attorney General's Office coordinated "Operation Fouled Out" with 15 other state, federal, county and municipal law enforcement authorities, including the AG's Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission and Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCII), Ohio Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Ohio Investigative Unit and the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force led the effort. BUSINESS/CORPORATE The Columbus Metropolitan Club discussed Ohio's role in the future shape of supply chains and logistics during its Wednesday forum, as well as roots of the current problem. The panelists included Ken Ackerman of the K.B. Ackerman Company, Ohio State University (OSU) Professor of Logistics Keely Croxton and Columbus Regional Airport Authority Director of Operation and Aviation Business Services Charles Goodwin. It was hosted by Columbus Business First Assistant Managing Editor Eleanor Kennedy. Regarding how this began, Croxton said it includes the pandemic itself, shifting product demands at first that are now increasing across the board above pre-pandemic levels and supply constraints worldwide. The supply chains were designed to be "brittle" in recent decades and couldn't withstand the disruption, she added. Croxton and Goodwin also discussed the effects of workforce shortages on the logistics and manufacturing industries. CITIES The Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) discussed the city's downtown region Wednesday, following nearly two full years of pandemic effects on its businesses and the local economy. Marc Conte, executive director of the Capital Crossroads and Discovery Special Improvement Districts, opened the forum with details from a year-end report released on Monday. The downtown residential population is a "bright spot" as it rose to 11,200 by the end of 2021 and is at levels not seen since the early 1970's, Conte said. It may grow to almost 15,000 by the end of 2024. The apartment occupancy rate also rose to 92 percent, even as 880 new units came to market. Regarding specific industry sectors, Conte said hospitality data remained "mixed" as traffic begins to rebound but major events hadn't returned in 2021. Several downtown festivals are in store for this year, along with 163 events planned so far for the Greater Columbus Convention Center and more are expected. CORONAVIRUS Ohio is continuing to see downward trends in its COVID-19 numbers as it nears the second anniversary of the first reported cases, but Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Thursday that people should make decisions based on spread in their area. Ten counties are now below the rate of 100 cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks, which the CDC uses to measure "high" transmission. The statewide rate is 160.7 as of Thursday, and Vanderhoff noted that no county has fallen back below 50 cases and a "substantial" transmission category. He said this threshold would likely be reached soon, however. The state has gone from days with over 20,000 new cases during January to a consecutive eight days below 2,000. On Thursday, ODH reported 1,321 new cases, 151 hospitalizations and 17 ICU admissions. The latest 21-day averages are 2,307 cases, 165 hospitalizations and 17 ICU admissions. The Ohio Hospital Association reported 1,264 active COVID hospitalizations and 249 ICU admissions through Thursday. DEATH PENALTY Gov. Mike DeWine issued three more reprieves to Death Row inmates whose capital sentences were to be carried out in the coming months, a routine occurrence given the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's inability to secure drugs to administer lethal injections. DeWine has repeatedly put off executions throughout his term, noting pharmaceutical companies' threats to cut off Ohio from medicines used for a variety of purposes if it uses their drugs for lethal injection. The latest reprieves were issued for the following:

  • Percy Hutton, scheduled to be put to death June 22, now has an execution date of June 18, 2025.

  • Douglas Coley, scheduled to be put to death July 20, now has an execution date of Sept. 24, 2025

  • Cedric Carter, scheduled to be put to death Aug. 24, now has an execution date of Aug. 27, 2025.

ECONOMY The scope of federal COVID relief funding and its effects on the economy and people's livelihoods show national leaders learned their lesson from the Great Recession by responding on a greater scale and for longer, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). CBPP officials and allies held a media teleconference Thursday to discuss the organization's new analysis of federal pandemic relief efforts, as well as that of Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi. Sharon Parrott, president of CBPP, noted that unemployment skyrocketed north of 14 percent but then fell about 10 points by year end in 2020, whereas unemployment remained above 9 percent for two years after the 2008 financial crisis. The drop in the number of people with annual incomes below the poverty line of about eight million thanks to government assistance represented the largest drop on record based on data going back to the late 1960s, she said. EDUCATION The U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the National Comprehensive Center, released a resource to help states share their progress on deploying Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds through the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The funds, totaling $122 billion, help states "support safe in-person instruction; address the effects of lost instructional time due to COVID-19; and meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs of students." This tool, called the "ARP Partnership, Assistance, Transformation, and Heightened Support (ARP PATHS)," will help states describe their strategies and offer an example to other states regarding this funding. Nearly half of school superintendents responding to a national survey said they're thinking about leaving their jobs amid the stresses of political battles. In the survey from the Education Advisory Board, which offers data, research and other services to schools and higher education institutions, 80 percent of superintendents surveyed said "managing politically divisive conversations" is now the most challenging part of the job. The survey drew 141 responses from superintendents in 32 states, including Ohio, from December to early February. Rural district superintendents were the most likely to respond, making up 55 percent of respondents, followed by suburban (34 percent) and urban (11 percent). A Franklin County judge overseeing assets of the defunct Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) has agreed to pull the plug on the servers holding the former online charter school's data. The Ohio Department of Education and Auditor Keith Faber's office did not object to ending a contract with a technology vendor to preserve the servers, the attorney overseeing school affairs on the court's behalf told Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook in a motion requesting termination of the contract. Faber's office is working to complete the final audit of ECOT. Ohio Dyslexia Committee (ODC) Chair Mike McGovern of the International Dyslexia Association proposed Tuesday that members of his committee and members of the State Board of Education's (SBOE) Teaching, Leading, and Learning (TLL) Committee meet to discuss the upcoming Ohio Dyslexia Guidebook. The ODC, compiled of experts on dyslexia, was created under 133-HB436 (Baldridge) and charged with creating a guidebook focused on the best practices and methods for screening and teaching children with dyslexia or children displaying dyslexic characteristics. However, the guidebook has been the source of confusion and some tension at the SBOE, with members voicing uncertainty about what exactly their role is in approving the guidebook, which much first be approved by TLL and then the full board. Members have also expressed concerns about the financial toll to districts and teachers and suggested the guidebook could be perceived as "insulting" to teachers. ELECTIONS Attorney General Dave Yost was right to suggest ranked choice voting (RCV) as a possible alternative to the primary process if elections aren't held on time, according to representatives from Rank the Vote Ohio. "Attorney General Yost was correct to advise the General Assembly to consider instant runoffs with RCV as a solution to their problem," Rank the Vote Ohio Co-Executive Director Kyle Herman said. ELECTIONS 2022 Secretary of State Frank LaRose sent a letter to legislative leaders Tuesday evening saying he does not see a scenario in which the Ohio Redistricting Commission can pass new General Assembly and congressional redistricting maps and have those maps go through judicial review "within a timeframe conducive to a May 3, 2022 primary election." LaRose said that "with each passing day, we miss critical legal and administrative deadlines essential to the administration of a successful May 3, 2022, primary election." Tuesday was the deadline for LaRose to certify the form of the official ballot of the primary. The secretary of state said in his letter that based on discussions with Attorney General Dave Yost, he issued a directive for races not affected by redistricting litigation. He said the secretary of state's office and boards of elections can only proceed with districts and data they have available to them, and the boards will still need adequate time to program, proof, and print ballots, as well as conduct logic and accuracy testing to ensure the ballots are correct and can be tabulated accurately. As noted above, LaRose Tuesday issued a directive that laid out the official form of primary ballots for statewide candidates. The directive does not apply to congressional, Ohio General Assembly and State Central Committee races, as the congressional and legislative maps are still being worked out by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. The secretary of state said no write-in candidates for statewide office were filed for the May 3 primary election. After hours of discussion and multiple failed attempts by some members to block endorsements of Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) State Central Committee (SCC) voted 36-26 to endorse all statewide executive officeholders for re-election. "We are proud to support Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Attorney General Dave Yost, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber and Treasurer Robert Sprague," ORP Chair Bob Paduchik said in a statement after Friday's meeting. Republican secretary of state candidate Terpsehore Maras filed an expedited lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court Friday in an effort to get her name on the ballot after her candidacy was rejected by the secretary of state's office. The lawsuit, filed on Maras' behalf by Scott Pullins, himself a candidate for the Ohio House, argues that Secretary of State Frank LaRose abused his discretion when his office failed to certify her petition for secretary of state. It argues that the campaign filed 1,761 signatures with her petitions, but a letter to the campaign by the secretary of state's office said boards of elections only certified 556 valid signatures. Maras' argues in the lawsuit that the secretary of state's office improperly rejected petitions and did not forward them to boards of elections due to a paperwork violation where the declaration of candidacy was not attached to petitions. Gov. Mike DeWine's re-election campaign announced Monday that Ohio Republican Party communications director Tricia McLaughlin has joined the campaign as its new communications director. McLaughlin joined the Ohio Republican Party as communications director last March. Before working for the state party, she served as chief of staff to the under secretary for Nuclear Arms Control and International Security at the U.S. State Department. She also worked as an acting deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the Treasury Department. In that role, she was the chief spokesperson for the administration's economic sanctions program. NARAL Pro-Choice America Wednesday announced its endorsement of Tim Ryan for Ohio's U.S. Senate race. "Over the course of his career, Rep. Ryan came to believe that we must trust pregnant people and families to make the best decision for their lives," NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju said in a statement. "Because of this, he has fought for the fundamental rights of his constituents by advocating for reproductive freedom and fighting back against restrictions on abortion access." However, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Morgan Harper slammed the national organization's backing of Ryan, saying, "Tim Ryan spent years in Washington opposing our fundamental rights and siding with anti-choice Republicans. Tim Ryan only started to support women's fundamental rights when the political winds changed direction." Former Ohio Treasurer and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel launched his first ad of the primary campaign. The 30-second spot, titled "Marine," focuses on Mandel's military experience; he served two tours in Iraq in the U.S. Marines. The ad also declares Mandel as "Pro-God, Pro-gun, Pro Trump." Anti-abortion activist Janet Folger Porter has filed paperwork to run for a Northeast Ohio congressional district seat. In an email to supporters, Porter said she is running for Congress "to fight for our liberty as hard as she fought for life." The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • The re-election campaign of Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the following endorsements: Fulton County Commissioner Jon Rupp; Erie County Commissioner Stephen Shoffner; Allen County Commissioner Beth Seibert; Hardin County Republican Party Chairman Rob Radway; Waterville Mayor Tim Pedro; Henry County Commissioner Bob Hastedt; Waterville Councilman Anthony Bruno; former Toledo Councilman Rob Ludeman; Hancock County Republican Party Chairman Bill Johns; Bellevue Mayor Kevin Strecker; Sandusky County Commissioner Scott Miller; Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn; Napoleon Mayor Jason Maassel; Henry County Commissioner Jeff Mires; Fremont Mayor Danny Sanchez; Fulton County Auditor Brett Kolb; Allen County Commissioner Cory Noonan; Toledo Councilman George Sarantou; Allen County Sheriff Matt Treglia; Woodville Mayor Ty Tracy; Perrysburg City Council President Johnathan Smith; former Toledo Mayor Mike Bell; Sylvania Councilman Doug Haynam; Findlay Mayor Christina Muryn; Monclova Township Trustee Barbara Lang; Erie County Treasurer and Republican Party Chairman Caleb Stidham; Paulding Mayor Greg White; Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner; Gibsonburg Mayor Steve Fought; Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough; former Fulton County Republican Party Chairman Sandy Barber; Ohio GOP State Central Committee members Mark Wagoner and Dee Talmage; former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens; and Ohio GOP State Central Committee member and former Rep. Steve Arndt.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Matt Dolan announced the endorsements of Kettering Mayor and former Sen. Peggy Lehner, Huber Heights Mayor Jeff Gore, Huber Heights Vice-Mayor Mark Campbell, Huber Heights Councilwoman Kate Baker, Troy Councilman Samuel Pierce, and former Cedarville Mayor Bob Fudge.

  • The gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Nan Whaley announced the endorsement of Cuyahoga Councilman and former Rep. Martin Sweeney.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Jane Timken announced the endorsements of U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Deb Fischer (R-NE).

FEDERAL U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) touted the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) once more in a press call with reporters Wednesday. The senator also fielded questions on the U.S. response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) -- who co-chairs the body's Ukraine Caucus -- said Thursday that Russia was waging an "illegal, unjustifiable assault" on Ukraine. Other Ohio officials and candidates also weighed in on the events that began late Wednesday night. "The events of the past 24 hours are tragic for the people of Ukraine and the democratic world order that has kept the peace in Europe for more than 80 years," Portman said. "This unwarranted brutality will kill thousands of innocent people and create a massive humanitarian crisis. President Putin's justification for this attack, to 'de-Nazify' Ukraine, along with his comments about the illegitimacy of the sovereign nations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, is cause for further alarm." He continued that the U.S. should lead the international community in holding Russia accountable, noting his previous support for sanctions, and called for the "strongest sanctions possible" to be applied against "Russian banks, key oligarchs and President Putin and his associates." GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) and Capitol Square Foundation announced applications are open now through 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28 for school transportation grants to help offset school field trips to the Ohio Statehouse. The grants are based on one-way mileage from a visiting school to Columbus. CSRAB will use a random number generator to select winning schools. Eleven grants will be awarded in each of three categories: $200 grants for up to 50 miles of travel distance; $300 for 51 to 100 miles; and $400 for more than 100 miles. Any Ohio school that receives state funding is eligible to apply, but grants are limited to trips by fourth through 12th grade students in the current academic year. Only one grant per school can be awarded, regardless of how many students or buses will be visiting. Only online applications will be accepted, and they must be submitted by an authorized teacher or administrator. More information is at House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) on Thursday named a screening committee to interview candidates interested in replacing Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Westerville). Carfagna will be stepping down from his 68th House District seat on Sunday, Feb. 27, according to Cupp's office. Carfagna announced last month that he would be leaving the House to join the Ohio Chamber of Commerce where he will serve as vice president of government affairs for the business advocacy organization. Ohio's Black Maternal Health Caucus held its first meeting of 2022 Thursday, highlighting the work of Queens Village in Cincinnati, an initiative of Cradle Cincinnati that seeks to lower the infant mortality rate and provide support for Black mothers. The caucus heard from Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith, director of community and equity strategies for Cradle Cincinnati and Queens Village, as well as Josselyn Okorodudu, senior program manager for Cradle Cincinnati and Queens Village. HIGHER EDUCATION The University of Toledo (UTO) announced Monday that it has selected Bryan B. Blair, the chief operating officer and deputy director of athletics at Washington State University, as the university's new vice president for intercollegiate athletics and director of athletics. Blair will begin at UT on May 1, following current athletic director Mike O'Brien's retirement after leading the university's athletic program for 20 years. HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS Home sales in January were just less than 1 percent higher than figures from a year earlier, according to the Ohio Realtors. Sales of 9,540 houses in January were 0.9 percent above the 9,451 seen in January 2021. The average price of $228,636, however, was 8.4 percent higher than the $210,845 seen in January 2021. JUDICIAL A divided Ohio Supreme Court concluded Wednesday that it would be "improvident" to address head-on the proposed refund of $3.2 million in traffic camera fines imposed through an administrative process now banned by the General Assembly. Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor had questioned whether a ruling on the merits of the class action suit warranted the Court's time. Justice R. Patrick DeWine wrote in dissent that the citizen-initiated complaint affected not only tens of thousands of Ohioans ticketed over a 20-month period in a town of 2,200, but also raised larger concerns about the power of local administrators to contrive guilt-finding mechanisms for a litany of minor violations lacking due process. A UCLA professor and the Cincinnati Enquirer have won a unanimous victory at the Ohio Supreme Court to unmask a Cincinnati police officer who claims he has been threatened by protesters accusing him of being a White supremacist. The Court says Ofc. Ryan Olthaus, whose name the newspaper previously published apart from the public records case, cannot litigate his damage claims under the pseudonym M.R. in a separate defamation complaint against nationally known food reviewer Julie Niesen and others. JUVENILE JUSTICE The Ohio Community-Police Collaborative Advisory Board scheduled its proposed standard on law enforcement interactions with juveniles for more debate Wednesday after members split over the scope of data collection on "age, race and officers' use of force." The board gathered for the first time since November, when Cleveland State University Prof. Robert Dunn had urged swift passage of the standard along with Sen. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) as its lead proponents. NATURAL RESOURCES The 1,450-mile Buckeye Trail was officially designated a State Trail by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). It is only the third trail in Ohio to receive this recognition. "Following the Buckeye Trail is one of the best adventures you can find in Ohio's great outdoors," Gov. Mike DeWine said. The designation as a State Trail recognizes the prominence of the Buckeye Trail in the network of Ohio's recreational trails and solidifies the partnership between ODNR and the Buckeye Trail Association (BTA), the department said. ODNR announced four Ohio State parks are planning maple syrup festivals in March with activities ranging from live historical demonstrations to maple syrup demonstrations. The parks include Hocking Hills, Hueston Woods, Indian Lake and Malabar Farm. The ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management has an opportunity to receive more than $500 million in federal and state funds over the next 10 to 15 years, division Chief Eric Vendel told reporters Tuesday, and they hope to use it to identify and plug as many orphan wells as possible. Ohio could be one of the top two funded states under the 2021 infrastructure bill and has one of the best-funded orphan well programs in the nation, according to Vendel. Thirty percent of the state's collected severance tax on oil and gas is allocated for plugging orphan wells in the following year, Vendel explained, and that totaled approximately $22 million this biennium. The initial indication from the federal government is $326 million for Ohio through 2035, and he said the total federal and state funds could be around $634 million if production remains steady through 2035 as well. The state is awarding more than $28,000 in grants for new or improved children's literacy trails in Ashland, Athens, Champaign, Ottawa and Preble counties, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday. The grants, awarded as part of the ODNR Recreational Trails Grant Program, will fund trail and trailhead construction, maintenance, and storybook signage for each trail. Similar to ODNR's Storybook Trails at 11 state parks, the local trails are meant to promote the benefits of early literacy and a heathy lifestyle. NEWS MEDIA The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus (LWVMC) announced it will use this year's Democracy in Action Award to honor "the crucial role of strong and steadfast local journalism in amplifying democracy and civic engagement in the central Ohio community." The award, which is the league's highest honor, usually goes to an individual in recognition for outstanding participation in civic affairs; however, this year the league plans to honor both an individual journalist, Lee Leonard, as well as the professional journalists who comprise the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association (OLCA), including Hannah News. The award ceremony will take place Thursday, May 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. at WOSU Public Media Headquarters, 1800 N. Pearl Street, Columbus, 43201. Tickets will be available through the league's website at NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS The Ohio Children's Alliance (OCA) announced it was awarded a grant from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) to help increase recruitment of adoptive and resources families for kinship and foster care through innovation, and the formation of new community partnerships. OCA will develop regional marketing campaigns aimed to increase available homes by driving attention to the "It Takes Heart Ohio" campaign run by ODJFS. REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT The Ohio Redistricting Commission Thursday evening adopted a third version of the General Assembly map plan on a 4-3 vote with Auditor Keith Faber joining Democrats in voting against it, making it another four-year map that will head to the Ohio Supreme Court for approval. The new plan, which Republicans said would favor their party in 54 seats in the House and 18 seats in the Senate, was introduced by Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) Thursday afternoon. The plan did not get uploaded to the commission's website until shortly before 5 p.m., and the commission voted for it within a couple of hours after that. The commission's actions came after Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor earlier Thursday ordered the members of the commission to appear before the Court on Tuesday, March 1 at 10 a.m., to explain in-person why they did not meet the Court's Feb. 17 deadline for adopting a new General Assembly map. The Court also said the members can be accompanied by their counsel and that no continuances will be granted. Justices Sharon Kennedy and Pat Fischer filed separate letters with the Court noting their dissent with the order. As a result, Justice Pat DeWine, the son of commission member Gov. Mike DeWine, recused himself from the hearing and Chief Justice O'Connor appointed Fifth District Court of Appeals Judge Scott Gwin, a Democrat, to take Justice DeWine's place at the March 1 hearing. Action around redistricting began the evening of Friday, Feb. 18 when the Ohio Supreme Court issued a show cause order to the Ohio Redistricting Commission, requiring it to provide an explanation by noon Wednesday, Feb. 23 as to why it should not be held in contempt for failure to adopt a new General Assembly map by the Thursday deadline justices previously set. The Supreme Court said in the order it would not entertain any requests for more time to respond, and it prohibited the clerk from accepting late responses. Meanwhile on Friday, several plaintiffs including the head of Ohio Right to Life and a former GOP lawmakers asked a federal court to order adoption of General Assembly maps invalidated by the Ohio Supreme Court, saying without new boundaries in place their cut out of participation in the political process. The new federal litigation was filed in the Southern District of Ohio, where plaintiffs are requesting a three-judge panel rule on their complaint. Those plaintiffs include Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life and a Dublin resident; Mary Parker of Galena; former Rep. Margy Conditt from Butler County's Liberty Township; Beth Vanderkooi, head of Greater Columbus Right to Life; Linda Smith of Westerville; Delbert Duduit of Lucasville; Thomas Kidd Jr. of Waynesville; and Ducia Hamm of Savanah. It argues that using old maps for this year's elections will leave districts out of proportion with growth and population shifts, and a lack of valid new maps leaves them unable to vote for their state officials. In a motion seeking to intervene, House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), the Democratic members of the commission, argue the action is not presently justiciable, and the federal court currently lacks the jurisdiction to issue the relief sought. The two Democrats asked the court to deny the lawsuit's request to convene a three-judge panel to rule on the complaint. Instead, they ask for the case to be stayed "to allow the proceedings before the Ohio Supreme Court. The plaintiffs have filed this lawsuit to 'race to beat the Ohio Supreme Court to the finish line.'" In a separate motion to intervene, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute of Ohio, the plaintiffs in one of the redistricting lawsuits before the Ohio Supreme Court, argue their legal interests "would be impaired and inadequately represented absent intervention." Then, on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Algenon Marbley of the Southern District of Ohio ordered Wednesday a telephone status conference for Friday. The redistricting commission reconvened on Tuesday to begin drawing congressional maps after the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the first plan adopted as part of SB258 (McColley). After Co-Chairs Speaker of the House Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) provided brief remarks on the congressional redistricting hearing process, Gov. Mike DeWine quickly turned the commission's attention to state legislative maps. "We have an obligation to follow the constitution. We have an obligation to follow the two Court orders. Finally, we have an obligation to produce a map," DeWine said. "It's my understanding that we have some progress being made on that, but I just wanted to say again publicly that this is what we have an obligation to do. We have an obligation to produce a map." Also on Tuesday, Attorney General Dave Yost sent a letter to legislative leaders urging them to address the problems created by the failure to draw constitutionally-compliant maps before important election administration deadlines. "[T]oday is the statutory deadline for the secretary of state to certify the ballot for the 2022 primary election. Without valid maps, he cannot certify candidates to county board of elections, because there is no way to tell which precincts are in which districts -- or, for that matter, which candidates are in which districts, because there are no districts. Yet Ohio law requires a primary election to be held on May 3, and the General Assembly has reserved the power to move that date to itself -- a decision properly within the Legislature's authority. Neither court nor executive may change that," Yost wrote. "So, a primary election will be held, and the secretary of state will certify a ballot today without legislative candidates, because no certification is possible without maps," Yost continued. "For each and every one of you, your voters will go to the polls on May 3 -- and they will not see your name. Indeed, none of you even know who your voters are. The secretary of state will have fulfilled his statutory duties, but few would view this outcome as sufficient." Yost said the "obvious" solution is for the General Assembly to move the primary date, even if he personally has "immense distaste" for that solution. The Ohio Redistricting Commission Wednesday heard testimony on two congressional maps submitted by the public as Republican mapmakers continued to work behind the scenes to come up with new state legislative maps. The Ohio Supreme Court should "reserve judgement on any contempt filing for the time being" because policymakers are currently working on a new General Assembly map that "could be approved in the coming days," the Ohio Redistricting Commission said in a filing on Wednesday that was in response to the Ohio Supreme Court's order to explain why the commission and its members shouldn't be held in contempt for failing to produce a General Assembly map by the Thursday, Feb. 17 deadline. Separate responses were also filed by House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima); House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Columbus) and Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron); Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Auditor of State Keith Faber; and Gov. Mike DeWine. Attorneys for Cupp and Huffman wrote that a contempt finding is "inappropriate" in this case, citing the commission's "good-faith effort" to comply with the Court's order. SECRETARY OF STATE Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that 16,571 new businesses were created in the first month of 2022. This is a 32 percent increase from December (12,516), and higher than January 2021. LaRose said it serves as a remarkable start to the new year for new Ohio businesses. In 2021, 197,010 new businesses formed in Ohio, breaking 2020's record numbers by more than 25,000 filings. STUDIES/POLLS After a major corporate fraud case hits a city, financially motivated neighborhood crimes like robbery and theft increase in the area, a study from Ohio State University (OSU) suggests. Researchers from OSU and Indiana University found that corporate accounting misconduct is linked to about a 2.3 percent increase in local financially motivated crimes in the following year. Corporate fraud had the strongest effect on local crimes in smaller cities with fewer job opportunities and higher income inequality. The researchers said they confirmed the finding using several different methods and showed the link applied only to financial crimes and not violent offenses like murder or rape. TELECOMMUNICATIONS/BROADBAND The Ohio Broadband Expansion Program Authority voted to accept 114 application challenges during its Friday meeting, leading to 79 applications suspended temporarily pending review and affecting around 212,000 addresses. According to the Department of Development, there were 217 total applications as part of the grant program aimed at expanding broadband service in unserved and underserved areas. TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced this week that it has opened the application process for airports to submit projects for grant funding from the first $1 billion of the Airport Terminal Program. The program is funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and makes available funding for safe, sustainable and accessible airport terminals, "on airport" rail access projects and airport-owned airport traffic control towers. Projects may also include multimodal development. The FAA said it welcomes projects that will improve airfield safety through terminal relocation, replace aging facilities, increase capacity, encourage competition, improve energy efficiency (including LEED accreditation standards) and increase or improve access for passengers with disabilities and historically disadvantaged populations. Projects that relocate, reconstruct, repair or improve an airport-owned air traffic control tower are also eligible. TREASURER OF STATE Treasurer Robert Sprague and Ohio State University Extension are encouraging Ohioans to focus on financial stability by observing "Ohio Saves Week," which coincides with "America Saves Week," which ran this week. Sprague's office said that during last year's Ohio Saves Week campaign, participating Ohioans made an average pledge to save $1,240 toward self-selected goals, with general savings, emergency savings and saving for homeownership making up the top three goals. A pledge from America Saves allows setting of goals and plans to achieve greater financial stability. More information is at UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported that initial unemployment benefit filings increased by about half last week, rising to 15,109 the week of Feb. 6-12 versus 9,719 the week prior. That also represents an increase over the eight-week average of 13,434. Initial claims had been above 15,000 for the weeks ending Jan. 15 and Jan. 22, before dropping to around 10,000 the weeks ending Jan. 29 and Feb. 5. Continuing claims of 59,673 were also above the average of 55,772 for the past eight weeks, but not far off recent weeks' reports, including two in the past month with 60,000-plus. UTILITIES Administrative Law Judge Gregory A. Price of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has rejected the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) subpoena of a disputed draft audit of more than $440 million in FirstEnergy distribution modernization rider (DMR) charges struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court and currently under investigation for possible connection to alleged bribes supporting 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin). Invoking the Ohio Attorney General's Public Utilities Section, Price ruled Friday that independent auditor Oxford Advisors had generated no draft findings on FirstEnergy's use of DMR profits between Oxford's midterm report of June 2019, which he called a "mistake," and PUCO's dismissal of the case without a final report in February 2020. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) ruled unanimously Wednesday that although Suburban Natural Gas Co.'s pipeline project may be a reasonable hedge against inflation in steel and labor costs, it was not "useful" or needed for existing customers, as the Ohio Gas Association, JobsOhio and PUCO staff had argued, and can only be billed at 41 percent of its completed length. The legal battle over Suburban's 4.9-mile pipeline in fast-growing Central Ohio has forced PUCO to reexamine its regulatory practices around the "used and useful" standard for all utility rates in the Buckeye State. The Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) appealed commissioners' grant of the entire pipeline length under former Chairman Sam Randazzo, and the Ohio Supreme Court found they had mishandled the baseline metric for distribution charges. The commission followed with an interim order halting billing for the entire 4.9 miles and requiring Suburban to subject disputed charges to refund. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) agree that lobbying and political spending on the Legislature and other public offices should not be charged to customers. OCC adds that only civic, political and charitable activities with a "direct, primary benefit" to consumers are billable, including dues paid to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and other associations. The consumers' counsel and PUCO filed comments Wednesday along with five dozen state regulatory bodies, consumer groups and other stakeholders in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) investigation of utilities' "industry association dues and certain civic, political and related expenses." FERC launched the inquiry on Dec. 16, 2021 in a post-133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) environment, framing its "notice of information" (NOI) with 22 questions addressing which industry expenses should be charged to ratepayers "above the line" and which should be borne by utility shareholders "below the line."

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

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