Week In Review: February 3, 2020



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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.

ABORTION


Members of Ohio Right to Life (ORTL) were among the thousands of individuals attending the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday, which featured an address from President Donald Trump. It's the first time a U.S. president has attended the event, which is held annually to protest Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio has placed 10 billboards across the state reminding individuals that abortion remains a legal medical procedure across the U.S. The billboards will appear in the following seven Ohio cities for the next six weeks: Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Toledo, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, the organization announced Tuesday. The Ohio border city of Wheeling, WV will also be included in the campaign.


A new analysis by Pew Research Center shows that in states that have enacted various restrictions on abortions, public opinion tends to run much more against legal abortion than in states that have not passed these laws. According to Pew, seven states enacted legislation restricting abortions in 2019. Majorities of adults in four of the seven states -- Mississippi (59 percent), Alabama (58 percent), Kentucky (57 percent) and Louisiana (57 percent) -- say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Opposition to abortion falls short of a majority opinion in the other three states -- Missouri (50 percent), Georgia (49 percent) and Ohio (47 percent) -- but anti-abortion sentiment in these states is still higher than the national average of 39 percent.



AGING


Speakers from Miami University and LeadingAge Ohio led the House Aging and Long-Term Care Committee in a discussion on the "state of aging" in Ohio, suggesting that the share of older Ohioans will nearly double by 2040 -- a reality for which the existing state Medicaid system and other aging supports are not prepared. Miami University professor Bob Applebaum, who has spent the past 20-plus years leading the university's Ohio Long-Term Care Research Project, told the committee that the number of Ohioans over 60 will increase from about 1.9 million in 2000 to 3.4 million in 2040, while the number of Ohioans over 85 will increase from about 0.18 million in 2000 to 0.55 million in 2040.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) announced Wednesday that it had suspended the operations of Washington Court House company Vista Grain, LLC after it discovered the company could not cover its outstanding obligations to farmers. ODAg said it suspended the grain handlers' license on Jan. 28 "in order to prevent more outstanding obligations to be incurred and to facilitate a possible remedy via the Grain Indemnity Fund." The company also has branch locations in Buena Vista and Lyndon.


On Monday, Feb. 3, the Anderson-Douglas farm in Big Prairie (Holmes County) will receive the distinction of the 500th farm to be signed into the Clean Ohio Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP), according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg).


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


As several states draft legislation that would force student-athletes to play as their gender identified on their birth certificate instead of on a team that matches their gender identity, a team of political scientists investigated underlying factors that drive public opinion on transgender athletes. The study shows while women in general are more supportive than men of transgender athletes participating in sports by gender identity instead of biological sex, women who are sports fans are more likely to oppose it, holding views that resemble male sports fans. The research, recently published in the journal Sex Roles, investigated public attitudes toward the participation of transgender people in sports by using data from a 2015 survey of 1,020 adults across the U.S.


BALLOT ISSUES


Attorney General Dave Yost Monday certified the summary language for a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the state's minimum wage to $13 by 2025. In certifying the language, Yost said the petition contained both the necessary valid signatures from registered Ohio voters needed for it to be considered and that the summary of the proposed amendment was "fair and truthful." The proposed amendment would raise Ohio's minimum wage, currently at $8.70 an hour, to $9.60 an hour on Jan. 1, 2021, and then raise the minimum wage in equal increments annually for four years until it hits $13 on Jan. 1, 2025.


CENSUS


The Columbus area census office kicked off the 2020 Census Monday with an event highlighting the stakes of the upcoming census for Ohio and announcing updates to the census counting process. For the first time ever, individuals will be able to fill out the 2020 Census online. Kevin Boyce of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners expressed hope that the added convenience would mean a more accurate count for Ohio. Those who do not fill out the census online, by mail, or by phone will be approached by door-to-door census takers.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


Gov. Mike DeWine's administration announced Monday the approval of assistance for four projects expected to create 277 new jobs and retain 1,019 jobs statewide. The projects are expected to collectively result in more than $16 million in new payroll and spur more than $5 million in investments across Ohio.


EDUCATION


After three days of late nights negotiating changes to the EdChoice voucher system, the House moved Thursday night to give lawmakers more time to address the issue by attaching a 60-day delay in the application window to SB120 (McColley-Rulli), a bill originally dealing with university performance audits. House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) said he brought a long-term proposal to the Senate but they asked for more time, though Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) laid blame for the delay at the House’s feet. The Senate had acted Tuesday to address the issue via amendments to HB9 (Jones-Sweeney) that would shrink the list of EdChoice-eligible buildings in the coming school year from more than 1,200 to 425, but also increase the earning threshold for income-based vouchers from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 300 percent. That bill went to a conference committee that met only to organize and never took further action. The House also discussed attaching changes to SB89 (M. Huffman) in the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee for a time but likewise never acted. Householder said he’s hoping for a system that drops the school performance-based element entirely, using only income as a qualification. (See separate story, this issue for Friday's Senate action.)


At the outset of National School Choice Week, an annual rating of states' laws governing charter schools finds Ohio in the same place as last year at 23rd. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) annually evaluates the charter school laws of all states that have one against 21 "essential components" in the organization's model law. Ohio's score of 153 points out of 240 is the same as in 2019. The only evaluation area where Ohio earned zero points on the scoring rubric is the one that's caused the most tumult in Ohio's charter sector in recent years -- online schools. But Ohio is far from alone there: NAPCS' ranking report identified leading states for each of the 21 components, except that one.


Polling released by school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children showed majority support among respondents for school choice policies like charter schools, education savings accounts and tax credits for donating to organizations providing school scholarships. The poll finds for the general concept of school choice at 69 percent, versus 25 percent opposed.


The Graduation Requirements and High School Redesign Task Force of the State Board of Education met Monday afternoon to discuss graduation requirement updates and high school redesign initiatives and partnerships.


ELECTIONS 2020


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • The Ohio Senate campaign of Rachel Selby announced the endorsement of Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) for the 6th Ohio Senate District.

  • The Ohio Senate campaign of Bill Reineke announced the endorsements of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers Political Action Committee, the Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio Political Action Committee and the Ohio Society of CPAs.

  • The Ohio Senate campaign of George Lang announced the endorsement of the Ohio Society of CPAs.

  • The Ohio Conference of NAACP endorsed the Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections proposed constitutional amendment.

  • The Ohio A. Phillip Randolph Institute endorsed the Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections ballot initiative, according to the ACLU of Ohio.


EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


New figures released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Friday showed Ohio's unemployment rate at 4.2 percent in December, unchanged from November, while nonagricultural wage and salary employment increased 9,800 over the month, from a revised 5,600,800 in November to 5,610,600 in December 2019. ODJFS said the number of workers unemployed in Ohio in December was 243,000, down 4,000 from 247,000 in November. The number of unemployed has decreased by 24,000 in the past 12 months from 267,000. The December unemployment rate for Ohio decreased from 4.6 percent in December 2018.


ENERGY


The coal lobby and the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) took up the Senate's ongoing concern with electric grid reliability Tuesday as part of the upper chamber's "comprehensive energy plan" for the 133rd General Assembly. America's Power, a trade association representing coal-fired generation, and OCC each addressed a different piece of the reliability debate while acknowledging its overall importance during testimony before the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee.


Ohio's largest and smallest natural gas distributors have posted record lows at auction, drawing praise from the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) and a thumbs-up from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). OCC says this week's delivery price for Columbia Gas of Ohio and Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio "shows that the competitive energy market is working to save consumers money."


ENVIRONMENT


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has finalized its revised "waters of the U.S." (WOTUS) rule, drawing praise from various industry groups and criticism from environmentalists. The revised definition identifies the following four categories of waters that are federally-regulated under the Clean Water Act: the territorial seas and traditional navigable waters, like the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River; perennial and intermittent tributaries, such as College Creek, which flows to the James River near Williamsburg, VA; certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments, such as Children's Lake in Boiling Springs, PA; and wetlands that are adjacent to jurisdictional waters. The final rule also details which types of waters are not subject to federal control, including the following: features that only contain water in direct response to rainfall; groundwater; many ditches, including most farm and roadside ditches; prior converted cropland; farm and stock watering ponds; and waste treatment systems.


ETHICS


A bequest to a public servant is not prohibited supplemental compensation if it meets certain criteria, an advisory opinion released by the Ohio Ethics Commission on Wednesday states. The commission was asked for an advisory opinion on whether a person may bequest a sum of money to two public servants who are employed as city social workers if the bequest is substantially outside of the scope of the public servants' public duties and is not being given in exchange for any services provided by the public servants.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


State institutions of higher education would no longer be able to create "free speech zones" in generally accessible outdoor campus areas under legislation unanimously passed by the Senate Tuesday. Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) said SB40 (Brenner-McColley), the "Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act" (FORUM Act), would protect the rights of all students and speakers on college campuses equally, regardless of political ideology. In other action, the Senate unanimously passed SB229 (Schaffer), which designates the second week of November as "Ohio Diabetes Awareness-Heart Connection Week."

The Senate also passed HB9 (Jones-Sweeney), which included EdChoice school voucher program changes. The bill also seeks to simplify and improve the higher education system with regard to credit transfers.


The House Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to hold Gov. Mike DeWine's 2020 "State of the State" address in the House chambers on Tuesday, March 31, at noon. The House also approved Senate amendments to HB18 (Vitale-Crawley), which will exempt disability severance pay for veterans from Ohio's income tax.


On Wednesday, the House easily approved changes to the scope of practice for certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA), HB224 (Cross-Wilkin), and more narrowly passed immunity from liability for campground operators against injury claims arising from risks inherent to camping, HB355 (Wilkin-Swearingen). The House also appointed its conferees for HB9 (Jones-Sweeney), the vehicle for EdChoice school voucher changes, after voting unanimously to reject Senate changes to the bill.


The Controlling Board Monday approved a $6.55 million increase in appropriation authority for Attorney General Dave Yost's office after lawmakers questioned why the funds weren't requested during the budget process. Jay Easterling, the chief financial officer for the attorney general's office explained that the funds are coming from settlements that were finalized recently. He said the office did not include the potential funds in its budget request because settlement funds are unpredictable and undeterminable as to the amounts and when the funds will be received.


The Controlling Board also approved more than $34,000 in funds to help pay for the Pike County capital case related to the Rhoden family murders. Sen. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) noted that the General Assembly approved $1 million in HB166 (Oelslager) for the case and asked Easterling if he believes that will be sufficient. Easterling said he expects he will be coming before the Controlling Board for additional appropriations from that fund, but he can't predict if that will be enough to cover the entire case. He said the expenses coming in so far don't seem to be very large and the invoices seem to be coming in slowly.


Crowds demonstrated in the south wing of the Statehouse Wednesday as the House Public Utilities Committee passed critical infrastructure bill SB33 (Hoagland) along party lines after seven hearings and more than a 100 witnesses on legislation to protect oil and gas facilities and other sites from criminal trespass and "improperly tampering," among other crimes, the latter spurring a revolt by Democrats and possible dissent on the House floor. Chairman Jamie Callender (R-Concord) reminded dozens of would-be witnesses who had packed the room but were limited to written-only remarks that he had scheduled scores of hearings on the bill since last May in addition to the Senate testimony dating to last winter.


Rep. Steve Hambley (R-Medina), the chairman of the House Civil Justice Committee, released a statement Wednesday saying HB369 (Hillyer-Skindell), also known as the Ohio Fairness Act, is "not on the fast track," and explained the reasons why the hearing on the bill scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28 was pushed back until next week. The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination laws. Supporters have been lobbying hard for passage of the bill in this General Assembly after it received support from business groups.


In other action, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out HR247 (Roemer) which asks Congress to eliminate the E-Check Program; the House State and Local Government Committee reported out SCR4 (Hottinger) which designates Feb. 11, 2020 as James Buster Douglas 42:1 Odds Day; and HB325 (Miller-Howse) which designates Feb. 18 as "Toni Morrison Day"; the Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee reported out SB220 (N. Manning) designating Feb. 13 as "Aortic Aneurysm Awareness Day," and SB178 (Schuring) which gives podiatrists the authority to administer flu vaccinations; Senate Judiciary Committee reported out SB156 (Gavarone) which addresses defrauding an alcohol, drug or urine screening test; the Senate Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee reported out two license plate bills: SB158 (Kunze) creating the "Ohio Bullfrog" plate and SB163 (Kunze) creating the ALS Awareness plate; the House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB277 (Plummer) dealing with electronic recording of custodial interrogations; and the House Financial Institutions Committee reported out HB150 (Merrin) which deal with community bank tax limits.


GOVERNOR


The state should not dissolve academic distress commissions (ADCs), Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday. He was responding to a couple of legislative efforts addressing ADCs in Youngstown, East Cleveland and Lorain. The House passed ADC abolishment bill HB154 (Jones-J. Miller) in May 2019, while the Senate recently proposed to abolish only the Lorain ADC as part of its EdChoice voucher program reform proposal in HB9 (Jones-Sweeney).


Gov. Mike DeWine Monday signed a bill that eliminates certain employment barriers for military families stationed in Ohio at a ceremony held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. According to the governor's office, SB7 (Hackett-Lehner) gives military members and their spouses better employment opportunities by simplifying the process to transfer their occupational licenses to Ohio. The bill mandates state licensing agencies to issue licenses or certificates to military members and spouses who already hold a valid license to practice a trade or profession in another state. The new law becomes effective in 90 days.


Appointments made during the week include the following:


  • Christina M. Muryn of Findlay (Hancock County) and Patrick J. Tiberi of Galena (Delaware County) to the Prescription Drug Transparency and Affordability Advisory Council for a term beginning Jan. 27, 2020 and continuing at the pleasure of the governor.

  • David L. Spangler of Oak Harbor (Ottawa County) to the TourismOhio Advisory Board for a term beginning Jan. 27, 2020 and ending Sept. 27, 2021.

  • Daniel P. Sullivan of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the TourismOhio Advisory Board for a term beginning Sept. 28, 2019 and ending Sept. 27, 2022.

  • Michael E. Flowers of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Minority Development Financing Advisory Board for a term beginning Oct. 1, 2019 and ending Sept. 30, 2026.

  • George Mussi, Jr. of Westerville (Franklin County) to the Ohio War Orphans Scholarship Board for a term beginning Jan. 27, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2023.

  • William R. Creedon of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Ohio Public Defender Commission for a term beginning Jan. 13, 2020 and ending Jan. 12, 2024.

  • Semanthie B. Brooks of Macedonia (Summit County) and John A. Begala of Granville (Licking County) to the Ohio Advisory Council for Aging for terms beginning Jan. 29, 2020 and ending Nov. 21, 2020.

  • Misty Crosby of Belpre (Washington County) to the Ohio Advisory Council for Aging for a term beginning Jan. 29, 2020 and ending Nov. 21, 2021.

  • Stephanie Garrett of West Alexandria (Preble County) to the Ohio Advisory Council for Aging for a term beginning Jan. 29, 2020 and ending Nov. 21, 2022.

  • Diane C. Redden of Cincinnati (Hamilton County), Marian K. Schuda of Worthington (Franklin County), and Denise A. Shockley of Gallipolis (Gallia County) reappointed to the Ohio Advisory Council for Aging for terms Nov. 22, 2019 and ending Nov. 21, 2022.

  • Gwen Eberly of Dayton (Montgomery County) reappointed to the Ohio Landscape Architects Board for a term beginning Nov. 10, 2019 and ending Nov. 9, 2024.

  • Scott H. Neely of Westerville (Franklin County) and Ann M. Ream of Canton (Stark County) reappointed to the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood for terms beginning July 31, 2019 and ending July 30, 2021.

  • Gary Siciliano of Sagamore Hills (Summit County) reappointed to the Motor Vehicle Salvage Dealer's Board for a term beginning Aug. 1, 2019 and ending July 31, 2022.

  • Neal J. Barkan of Bexley (Franklin County), Joshua T. Fox of Miamisburg (Montgomery County), Robb Mitchell of Dublin (Franklin County), Michelle Primm of Akron (Summit County), Roy D. Sensabaugh, Jr. of Columbus (Franklin County) and Roberto Vazquez of Upper Arlington (Franklin County) reappointed to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Board terms beginning Oct. 5, 2019 and ending Oct. 4, 2022.

  • Mark L. Marchetta, Sr. of Hopedale (Harrison County), Stacey Martin of Dublin (Franklin County), Stacey Martin of Dublin (Franklin County), and Amy B. Raubenolt of Akron (Summit County) to the State Board of Emergency Medical, Fire, and Transportation Services for terms beginning Jan. 29, 2020 and ending Nov. 12, 2022.

  • David S. DeVore of Springfield (Clark County), Kevin T. Uhl of Sycamore Township. (Hamilton County), and Dudley H. A. Wright II of Johnstown (Licking County) reappointed to the State Board of Emergency Medical, Fire, and Transportation Services for terms beginning Nov. 13, 2019 and ending Nov. 12, 2022.


GREAT LAKES


The DeWine administration on Tuesday released an updated draft of the Ohio Domestic Action Plan (ODAP) to reduce phosphorus entering Lake Erie under the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Ohio Lake Erie Commission said it will finalize the update of ODAP in coordination with Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg), Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).


GUNS


The latest version of a "stand your ground" bill began its journey in the House Thursday as Reps. Candice Keller (R-Middletown) and Ron Hood (R-Ashville) gave sponsor testimony on HB381 before the House Criminal Justice Committee.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Amy Acton declared Friday the novel (new) coronavirus (termed 2019-nCoV) an immediately reportable disease, elevating it to a Class A disease.


Community health centers argue the savings they rely on from a federal drug discount program are being diminished by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and three lawmakers are pursuing legislation to push back against the contracting practices they label as "discriminatory." Reps. Susan Manchester (R-Lakeview) and Randi Clites (D-Ravenna) and Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London) this week introduced companion bills, HB482 and SB263, to address the issue.


The Ohio Collaborative Dialysis Coalition (OCDC) issued a new report Wednesday during a press conference held in the Statehouse Ladies Gallery. The report, titled "Dialysis = Life," provides information about how dialysis patients are served and how the dialysis industry contributes to the social and economic wellbeing of communities in Ohio. Additionally, it shows that Ohio's dialysis centers meet and exceed national standards for quality and patient satisfaction.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Four universities and a children's hospital will receive funding from the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) to conduct research regarding substance use disorders in Ohio. Campuses receiving funding are Cleveland State University, Wright State University, Bowling Green State University and Case Western Reserve University. The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital will also receive a share of the funds.


Three public universities and one independent university in Ohio will receive Research Incentive funding from ODHE to conduct research regarding infant mortality issues in Ohio. Campuses receiving funding are Cleveland State University, Ohio State University, Bowling Green State University and Mount St. Joseph University. The funding was allocated as part of a provision in the biennial budget bill, HB166 (Oelslager), which authorizes ODHE to use the funds to advance collaborative research in specified research areas. ODHE may award up to $1 million in FY20 and FY21 to support research of infant mortality issues.

ODHE awarded the University of Cincinnati (UC), Ohio State University (OSU), Ohio University (OU), and the University of Dayton (UD) incentive funding to conduct cybersecurity research, the department said Thursday. The funding was allocated as part of a provision in the biennial budget bill, HB166 (Oelslager).


The Youngstown State University (YSU) Foundation recently announced a new goal for its "We See Tomorrow Campaign" of $125 million after reaching the initial $100 million fundraising goal in just over two years.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


Ohio saw 154,650 home sales in 2019, a 1.6 percent increase from 2018's 152,208 sales, according to Ohio Realtors. The average sales price for 2019 of $193,663 represented an increase of almost 6 percent over 2018's average price of $182,843, while total dollar volume of almost $30 billion was 7.6 percent higher than the previous year's volume of $27.8 billion.


HUMAN SERVICES


On the same day the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced the availability of $3 million in incentives to help current publicly funded child care providers become rated or improve their rating in Step Up To Quality, Ohio's quality rating system for child care providers, the agency also announced the awarding of $6.2 million in grants to grow the number of publicly funded child care providers and improve the quality of existing providers. Grant recipients will work with child care providers across the state to create or improve programming, implement staff supports to improve recruitment and retention, and offer training to help them become Step Up To Quality rated or improve their rating.


Regarding the $3 million that will be awarded, unrated programs that submit a Step Up To Quality registration between now and Feb. 29 -- as well as one- and two-star programs that submit a registration during this time and improve their ratings to achieve three, four or five stars -- will be eligible for the one-time incentive payment upon approval of the rating. Qualifying child care centers will earn $4,000, and family child care providers will earn $2,000.


The Ohio Commission on Fatherhood (OCF) is sponsoring a free three-day training event on the evidence-based fatherhood curriculum, "Nurturing Fathers." The training is intended for new fatherhood practitioners who have not previously been trained on how to teach and facilitate classes using the "Nurturing Fathers" curriculum. The event will take place at Ohio University's Dublin campus, Tuesday, March 31 through Thursday, April 2, 2020.


INSURANCE


Ohio Department of Insurance (ODI) Director Jillian Froment was again selected to serve on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' (NAIC) Executive Committee and a number of other committees and task forces in 2020 to address issues associated with consumer protection, product pricing, fraud, financial monitoring of insurance companies and technology.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


Cleveland City Council voted Monday night to eliminate fines and jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana, making the "Rock and Roll Capital of the World" the latest Ohio locality to decriminalize low-level pot possession. Under Cleveland's ordinance, an individual possessing up to seven ounces of marijuana would not face prosecution. The city also decriminalized drug paraphernalia used to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana. Possessing paraphernalia to grow or manufacture marijuana is still illegal in Cleveland.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


The Ohio Attorney General's Office faces the uncommon situation Tuesday of defending a $100 million class action lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) from plaintiffs who failed to submit a merit brief but are nevertheless being allowed to participate in oral argument. The state says Lisa Rijos and Michael Pivonka's "low-dollar" claims of $703 and $7,108, respectively -- which launched the class action against ODM -- should have been heard first through administrative appeal before proceeding to trial. The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and 8th District disagreed, finding Rijos and Pivonka's claim that Medicaid subrogation of personal injury awards in R.C. 5101.28 violates federal anti-lien protections for non-medical expenses is a constitutional argument ill-suited for an administrative hearing.


MILITARY AFFAIRS


The traveling memorial dedicated to the fallen Marines and Navy corpsman of the Columbus-based Lima Company 3/25 has returned to the Ohio Statehouse through Friday, Feb. 7, the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) announced. The Eyes of Freedom: Lima Co. includes 23 life-sized portraits of the fallen members of Lima Company, one of the most heavily engaged units of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


PUBLIC SAFETY


Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) and the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) Friday unveiled a new video aimed at encouraging more Ohioans with communications disabilities to sign up for a database that would alert law enforcement to their disability during interactions such as traffic stops.


The voluntary program was created as a part of 132-HB115 (Gavarone-Wiggam), which took effect in August 2018. Under the program, Ohioans with communication disabilities can submit documentation of their disability signed by a physician or psychiatrist and have that information entered into the state's Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS). When a law enforcement officer would go to check on an individual in a traffic stop by entering a license plate number into LEADS, it would inform the officer of the disability.


TAXATION


Starting Monday, Jan. 27, Ohioans can file state and federal income tax returns, as well as Ohio school district income tax returns. Ohio Tax Commissioner Jeff McClain noted in a statement that recent tax law changes include income tax cuts and a reduction in brackets that will result in no state income taxes for Ohioans making $21,750 or less. McClain encouraged filers to send in returns electronically, which can result in refunds arriving within 15 business days for those who opt for direct deposit, versus up to 10 weeks for paper returns.


TECHNOLOGY


With SB52 (Gavarone) effective Friday, Jan. 24, the Ohio Adjutant General's Department is forming the first two of 10 planned teams in the new Ohio Cyber Reserve (OhCR), a civilian element of cybersecurity professionals who can provide training and emergency assistance.


Gov. Mike DeWine signed SB52, which created the OhCR and contained provisions regarding election security, in October. Mark Bell, adjutant general's department cybersecurity outreach coordinator, told Hannah News that the first teams are being established in the Central and Southwest Ohio regions by month's end.


The U.S. needs to expand its tech and innovation sector, the Brookings Institute wrote in a recent report that calls for the federal government to incentivize growth in "heartland" areas with Ohio having the highest number of cities named among the 35 potential candidates for federal support. With technology and innovation companies primarily located on the Northeast and West Coasts, those areas have outperformed the rest of the U.S., creating "a crisis of regional imbalance" according to the paper. More than 90 percent of sector growth between 2005 and 2017 was in Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and San Diego. One-third of all sector jobs are in 16 counties, and more than half are in 41 counties.


UTILITIES


The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to address the Ohio Consumers' Counsel's (OCC) challenge to an electric utility billing rider because OCC had not first broached the underlying argument with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). The ruling, written by Justice Sharon Kennedy, stated that the Federal Power Act did not divest the PUCO with the authority to consider a challenge to its right to approve the PPA. The consumers' counsel could have raised the issue with the PUCO, and the commission could have agreed with the argument by the consumers' counsel. But because it was not raised with the PUCO, the consumers' counsel cannot now raise the issue with the Ohio Supreme Court, the opinion stated. Because the consumers' counsel did not follow the PUCO process, the Court stated that it does not have jurisdiction to consider the challenge and dismissed the claim.


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) rebuffed arguments advanced by the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Wednesday against a state-brokered settlement with PALMco Energy allowing the troubled marketer to pay half the civil forfeiture once proposed by agency staff and to reenter Ohio in five years after its certificates expire in 2020. OCC nevertheless praised the commission for ordering consumer refunds and blocking further sales by the New York-based firm, highlighting PUCO's separate investigation into alleged price gouging and calls for a much larger, $10.2 million fine against PALMco.


PUCO staff originally recommended a $1.4 million forfeiture based on the company's "unconscionable" acts in charging three to four times the "Apples to Apples" price for competitive retail electric supply (CRES) and competitive retail natural gas supply (CRNGS), but agreed last July to cap the fine at $750,000.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) announced Thursday that private employers may receive a 13 percent rate reduction on July 1, under a proposal given to the BWC board of directors.


If approved at the board's Feb. 28 meeting, private employers would pay nearly $132 million less in premiums for the year, and this would mark the third rate cut in three years for private employers and the 11th rate cut since 2008. It would also be the third-largest cut in 60 years and would follow a 20 percent cut in 2019.


The House Insurance Committee approved an amendment to HB308 (Patton) by a 13-2 vote Tuesday, removing a proposed one-year cap on workers' compensation coverage for first responders' work-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) without an accompanying physical injury.


[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.]





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