Week In Review - January 11, 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.


AGING


COVID-19 cases and deaths in Ohio nursing homes continued to increase through Thanksgiving, according to a special report by the AARP's Public Policy Institute. The report, issued as a supplement to the organization's monthly Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, analyzed data from Ohio nursing homes from Nov. 16 through Dec. 6. It showed nursing homes experienced the following:

  • 2.33 COVID-19 deaths per four weeks per 100 residents, up from 0.95 between Oct. 19 and Nov. 15.

  • 16.9 new COVID-19 cases per four weeks per 100 residents, up from 8.0 between Oct. 19 and Nov. 15.

  • 13.7 new staff COVID-19 cases per four weeks per 100 residents, up from 7.0 between October 19 and November 15. The full report can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/ya9xlh8n.


AGRICULTURE


There is less than one month left to apply for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' (ODNR) Water Quality Incentive Program (WQIP). The new H2Ohio incentive program is designed to encourage farmers to aid in conservation and improve water quality. ODNR is accepting applications through Friday, Jan. 29.


Plain City farmer Josh Yoder has been elected chair of the Ohio Corn Checkoff for 2021, according to the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA). Fairfield County farmer Jon Miller was elected as vice chair, while Hocking County farmer Clark Sheets will serve as secretary/treasurer.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has announced it will stage the entire 2021 men's basketball tournament in Indiana, with most of the games taking place in Indianapolis.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Attorney General Dave Yost issued a warning recently on scams related to the COVID-19 vaccine, saying that consumers may see attempts to impersonate distributors, providers or local health department officials and claims that personal information such as a Social Security number is needed to get on a list to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Other scam attempts may involve claims that advanced payment is needed for a place near the front of vaccine lines, and could be made through email, phone call, postal mail, text message or social media accounts. Yost also said that while cards will be provided to consumers who have received a first dose of the vaccine, they do not provide a means to gain entry into bars, restaurants or other public areas, or to bypass public health orders. As such, any attempt to buy the cards is fruitless.


Ohio will receive a share of $2.4 million from Sabre Corporation after Attorney General Dave Yost agreed to a settlement of its data breach. Twenty-seven states participated in the investigation of an IT hack involving 1.3 million credit cards, including Ohioans'. Sabre Hospitality Solutions, a business segment for the corporation, facilitated reservations between hotel customers and business travel coordinators, travel agencies and online booking companies.


Attorney General Dave Yost recently filed an amicus brief in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of three Christian schools and Citizens for Community Values' (CCV) lawsuit to overturn a Toledo-Lucas County Health Department order shuttering all in-person education for students in grades 7-12. The brief argues that the order violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.


AUDITOR OF STATE


Auditor of State Keith Faber announced recently that Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart will join his office as the liaison to law enforcement offices throughout Ohio.


FY20-21 BUDGET


Sales tax collections beat estimates by nearly $50.0 million in December, while income taxes were about on target, the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) reported in preliminary revenue figures Thursday. Total tax collections were up 3.3 percent or nearly $64.2 million in December and are ahead by 3.7 percent or $457.7 million halfway through this fiscal year, which began July 1.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Following the recent signing of SB310 (Dolan) which includes language authorizing the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) to pay kinship caregivers, Gov. Mike DeWine signed Executive Order 2020-43D requiring the department to develop a system to pay kinship caregivers no later than June 1, 2021. He also ordered ODJFS to pay caregivers retroactively from the date the bill was signed.


CORONAVIRUS


Before the holidays, three more members of the Ohio House confirmed that they tested positive for COVID-19, while Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) said she has become the first of the Ohio General Assembly to receive the vaccine. Reps. Jon Cross (R-Kenton), Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson), and Michelle Lepore-Hagan all confirmed their diagnosis through social media or through a statement. They joined Reps. John Rogers and John Patterson who came down with it earlier in December.


Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine discussed the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, explaining that Ohio is currently in its 1A phase for distribution with the vaccine going to hospital frontline workers and nursing homes, and he said that will continue for most hospitals next week. DeWine said he hopes to begin the 1B vaccination phase starting on Monday, Jan. 18, when the vaccine will be made available to Ohioans age 80 and above. He said they believe there are about 420,000 to 450,000 Ohioans that are in that group.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced that the seventh application period for the TechCred program opened Monday, Jan. 4 and will close Friday, Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. The program "helps businesses upskill their current and incoming workforce with tech-focused credentials," providing $2,000 in reimbursement for each credential up to $30,000 per employer in each period.


ECONOMY


According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), if the November employment rebound after the initial COVID-19 disruptions continue throughout 2020 and into 2021 in a similar magnitude, total employment is predicted to increase at an annual rate of 1.16 percent for the next six months in Ohio.


Ohio business leaders discussed what they expect from the Biden administration, particularly in the event of full Democratic control in Congress, and offered a review of the pandemic's economic effects during Wednesday's noon Columbus Metropolitan Club Forum.


EDUCATION


The Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC) extended the deadline for its contest soliciting public service announcements made by students to promote the Safer Ohio School Tip Line. The new deadline is Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. Students in grades 6 and above are encouraged to submit videos which "spread awareness and encourage participation with the state's tip line," according to OSSC. The creators of winning video submissions will be invited to OSSC when it's safe to do so to produce a professional quality version of their original submission. The newly produced PSA will then be used in a statewide marketing campaign for the Safer Ohio School Tip Line.


Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) President Melissa Cropper held a press conference Thursday morning to address changes to school quarantine procedures as well as the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to teachers and school staff. Cropper said the federation has some "major concerns" about changes to school quarantine policy, which Gov. Mike DeWine announced shortly before the New Year. Under the new guidance, students and teachers exposed to a COVID-19 positive person in school are no longer required to quarantine as long as the exposure occurred in a classroom setting and all students and teachers were wearing masks and following other appropriate protocols.


ELECTIONS 2020


Secretary of State Frank LaRose Tuesday posted the results of county post-election audits for the first time, saying counties that utilized a percentage-based audit had a 99.98 percent accuracy rate in the presidential election.


EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


For the week ending Jan. 2, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 29,709 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That number is slightly higher than the number of claims reported during the week ending Dec. 26, which was 28,790. For the week ending Dec. 19, ODJFS reported 31,134 claims. All of those numbers are significantly lower than the number reported for the week ending Dec. 12, which was 38,327.


FEDERAL


Protests by supporters of President Donald Trump fought with counter protestors at the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday, though the incidents did not reach the level of violence that occurred in Washington, D.C. as a joint session of Congress met to certify the results of the Electoral College. Video of the Ohio Statehouse protests were posted by Ohio media outlets, showing members of far-right group Proud Boys scuffling with Black Lives Matter protestors on the west and north sides of the Statehouse, and Columbus police and Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers seeking to separate them. Lt. Craig Cvetan, a spokesman for the patrol, told Hannah News that there were no arrests from the protests in Columbus, which began around 11 a.m., but were mostly dispersed by early evening. State and federal officials condemned both rioters and the president for what some called an "insurrection" attempt.


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) joined calls from other Democratic lawmakers to remove President Donald Trump from office through the 25th Amendment following Wednesday's riot at the U.S. Capitol. Under a provision of the 25th Amendment, the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet can declare a president unfit for office. The vice president then becomes acting president. The section of the amendment specifically addressing this procedure has never been invoked.


Five Ohio members of Congress objected to the counting of the Electoral College results during a joint session of Congress Wednesday that had been interrupted by protestors breeching the Capitol building, with four of the five members objecting to the results from two states. U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana), Warren Davidson (R-Troy), Bob Gibbs (R-Lakeville), and Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) had said ahead of the votes that they would be objecting to the results from certain states and followed through on their objections. The lawmakers had argued that some states violated the U.S. Constitution and disregarded their own laws when counting ballots. Objections were ultimately made Wednesday -- and early Thursday morning -- to the counting from two states -- Arizona and Pennsylvania. According to reports, Jordan, Davidson, Gibbs and Johnson, objected to the Arizona results, and were joined by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati) in objecting to the Pennsylvania results.


The U.S. attorneys representing the Northern and Southern Districts of Ohio said they will prosecute any Ohioans who were involved in Wednesday's breach of the U.S. Capitol. Protestors backing President Donald Trump broke windows and pushed past barriers to enter into the building, where some tangled with Capitol police as both the U.S. House and Senate debated objections to the count of Electoral College votes from the presidential election. David DeVillers, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio who is leaving his position later this week, retweeted links to an FBI website seeking information on individuals "instigating violence in Washington D.C.," with the federal bureau saying it will accept tips and digital media "depicting rioting or violence in and around the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6."


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) gave details on policy priorities for Democrats as Democrats won both Georgia runoff races to take control of the U.S. Senate. Brown, who is the ranking member for the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said he will likely become chair of the committee effective Thursday, Jan. 21 with Democrats in the majority.


U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced Tuesday that Matt Lloyd has joined his office as deputy chief of staff and communications director, where Lloyd will oversee communications for the office. Portman said Lloyd is joining the office as the senator is taking on responsibilities as ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Emily Benavides will serve as Portman's communications director for the committee.


U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) announced that President Donald Trump had signed their bill to rename NASA's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky after astronaut Neil Armstrong.


A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) community-based outpatient clinic in Youngstown will be named after U.S. Army veteran Maj. Carl Nunziato, members of Ohio's congressional delegation announced Wednesday.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The opening day of the session for the Senate in the 134th General Assembly was held with the usual first day swearing-in of members and the passing of resolutions setting staff pay and travel reimbursement but was missing its leader as newly-elected Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) was unable to attend after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 over the weekend. Huffman told reporters on a conference call after the session that he feels fine and the positive test was sparked after he and his wife did not feel well at the end of last week.


While the conventional pomp and circumstance of the occasion was somewhat subdued due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the House did return to its tradition of displaying unity as the chamber elected its leaders during the 134th General Assembly's opening session.

While recent speaker elections have featured public displays of division and rancor as different factions of the chamber struggled for power, on Monday House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) was elected 91-0 to retain the leadership position he gained following the removal of scandal-plagued Rep. Larry Householder (R-Glenford) from the speakership in July 2020.


Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) takes over as the new president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) for the 134th General Assembly from outgoing president Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland). Other OLBC officers include the following:

  • First Vice President-elect Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland)

  • Second Vice President-elect Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati)

  • Treasurer-elect Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus)

  • Sergeant-at-Arms-elect Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus)

  • Secretary-elect Rep. Sedrick Denson (D-Cincinnati)

  • Parliamentarian-elect Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron)

Newly sworn in Rep. Tom Young (R-Centerville) -- who succeeds now Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) in the 42nd House District, told Hannah News he brings years of experience serving the public including a stint on the Wright State University Board of Trustees to this new position.


Term-limited Rep. Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek) recapped his eight years in the Ohio House for Hannah News. Having previously served in the U.S. Air Force for 15 years, Perales said he brought a commitment to military families and veterans to the Statehouse. By his count, this included work on approximately 60 related bills during his years as a legislator.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine opened his Thursday update on COVID-19 and vaccination efforts by decrying the violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as protestors supporting President Donald Trump breeched Capitol security while Congress was debating the results of the Electoral College. Calling it a "sad day in American history," DeWine criticized Trump, whom he supported and served as a co-chair of his reelection campaign, for the president's remarks to protestors before the incident, saying Trump had given an incendiary speech that "served only to fan the flames."


In an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, Gov. Mike DeWine said there should be a bipartisan commission studying election security from a "big picture" view beyond the scope of the 2020 presidential outcome. That has been recommended by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and DeWine called it a "good proposal."


Over the last several days, Gov. Mike DeWine signed the following bills:


- SB27 (Uecker) To impose requirements on the final disposition of fetal remains from surgical abortions.

- SB39 (Schuring) which authorizes insurance premiums tax credits for certain projects. This bill became effective immediately on its signing on Dec. 29, 2020.

- SB123 (Dolan-Manning) which designates the Dunkleosteus terrella as the official state fossil fish.

- SB175 (Schaffer) which includes "stand your ground" provisions regarding self-defense.

- SB263 (Hackett) which allows providers to receive discounts on certain outpatient drugs and corrects a situation with federal 340B drug discount programs where PBMs were claiming the savings for themselves through contracts.

- SB310 (Dolan)which provides federal COVID funding to local subdivisions as well as enacts the capital appropriations for FY21-22. This bill became effective immediately on its signing on Dec. 29, 2020.

- HB7 (Ghanbari-Patterson) which protects the state's waterways.

- HB24 (Hambley-Kick) which revises humane society law.

- HB32 (Stein) which will establish a procedure for retiring a state flag and which will designate several times of awareness pertaining to diseases, including Hirschprung's Disease Awareness Month, Sanfilippo Syndrome Awareness Day, Diabetic Ketoacidosis Day and Cardiac Amyloidosis Recognition Month.

- HB33 (Lanese-Carruthers) which will expand the list of mandatory reporters of animal abuse.

- HB231 (Greenspan) which addresses the availability of EpiPens in schools through information on free programs and which requires training regarding food allergies for public schools and higher education institutions.

- HB312 (Powell) which permits certain intrastate equity crowdfunding. The legislation increased appropriations in the amount of $105.2 million in FY21 for the Facilities Establishment Fund Group to allow three projects to proceed to the Controlling Board: Columbus Crew SC ($25 million), Sherwin Williams Company ($35 million) and Origin Malt ($10 million).

- HB405 (Cross) which creates the adoption linked deposit program.


GUNS


Despite his frequent criticism of the 133rd General Assembly for failing to act on his gun law reform proposals following the 2019 mass shooting in Dayton, Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday signed 133-SB175 (Schaffer), which allows individuals to use deadly force against another person if they believe they are in immediate danger of death or serious bodily harm in nearly any location or situation. He did express disappointment that his proposals to make it harder for dangerous criminals to illegally possess and use guns were not passed.


A study conducted by Ohio State University (OSU) found that both gun owners and non-gun owners support universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods and gun storage requirements, but the level of support for those policies is underestimated for both groups. More than 90 percent of both gun owners and non-gun owners said they supported universal background checks. About 85 percent of non-gun owners and 72 percent percent of gun owners supported mandatory waiting periods, and 83 percent of non-gun owners and 63 percent of gun owners supported safe storage laws.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Ohio START recently announced that the national START program has been approved for inclusion in the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse as a promising practice. The clearinghouse is a registry that helps to identify and share information about evidence-based practices that support children and families and prevent foster care placements. Evidence-based practices are those with empirical research that show their effectiveness.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Ohio University (OU) announced that Jackie Rees Ulmer is the new dean of the College of Business, effective Feb. 1, 2021. She will be the first women to serve in the role. Rees Ulmer currently serves as the Union Pacific Professor of Information Systems and Associate Dean for Professional Masters Programs in the Ivy College of Business at Iowa State University.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


A number of national advocacy groups have warned of an impending eviction crisis as a federal moratorium on evictions is set to expire on Jan. 31 and landlords are expected to call in months of unpaid rent from tenants, some of whom have been left unemployed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Stateline.org reported.


JUDICIAL


Recently elected Ohio Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner was officially sworn in as the 162nd member of the Court during a socially distanced event featuring Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor on Saturday, Jan. 2, the first day of her term. The oath was then played during a virtual ceremony over Zoom with friends, family and colleagues.


In a profoundly mixed ruling in State v. Weber, the Ohio Supreme Court held Wednesday that R.C. 2923.15 restrictions on intoxicated persons' carrying firearms -- even when they are unloaded and civilians are in their own homes -- does not violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.


Ohio's third branch of government is losing dozens of seasoned jurists this year to retirements and losses to COVID-19 and November's defeat of former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French. The Hon. Patrick M. McGrath, who sat on assignment at the Court of Claims following retirement, succumbed to the virus on Dec. 16, while other judges withdrew for personal reasons or aged out under Ohio law. More than 40 members of the judiciary have departed in 2021, with a number of them tallying as many years on the bench. Outgoing 8th District Judge Patricia Blackmon, Ohio's first African American woman to reach the appellate division, served for 33 years.


LIBRARIES


Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine recently announced that partnerships and funding have been established in all 88 Ohio counties for the Ohio Governor's Imagination Library Program. The Ohio Governor's Imagination Library Program partnered with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in 2019 to take the program statewide. State lawmakers provided $5 million in funding to match county funds so that children's books ($2.10 each) are provided at no cost to Ohio families, with nonprofit organizations in each county administering the program. Ohio is the largest among seven states to offer the program statewide.


LIQUOR/ALCOHOL


Agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU) issued citations to 12 liquor-permitted establishments for violating health orders during the New Year's weekend, often for operating past hour restrictions. Lack of social distancing and mask wearing was also reported in some cases.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT


Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce was unanimously elected board president by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning. Boyce previously served as a state representative, Ohio treasurer and Columbus city councilmember.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO) has received 30 petitions for potential new qualifying conditions under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP). The SMBO Medical Marijuana Committee is expected to meet on Wednesday, Feb. 10, during which members will decide which petitions to consider. A final vote on new qualifying conditions is expected to occur sometime in the summer.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


Gov. Mike DeWine recently signed Executive Order 2020-42D as an emergency rule to preserve the public health by providing the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) the flexibility to ensure eligible individuals can quickly and efficiently receive health care services during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The order addresses the following rules:


- OAC Rule 5160-9-05 which allows ODM to adopt Medicare reimbursement rates for COVID vaccine administration. Additionally, it authorizes ODM to reimburse authorized pharmacies for COVID vaccine administration at nursing facilities and other community settings.

- OAC Rule 5160-3-80 which extends the use of existing emergency reimbursement rates for people covered by Medicaid and receiving COVID recovery support at state-designated health care isolation centers (HCIC).


MENTAL HEALTH


Federal CARES Act funding totaling $13.8 million has been sent to Ohio behavioral health providers including almost 500 certified prevention providers, adult care facilities, peer-run organizations and recovery housing operators, according to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS).


OhioMHAS announced that Elaine Crnkovic had been appointed CEO of Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) in Athens, effective Monday, Jan. 4. She replaced Jane Krason, who retired after leading the OhioMHAS psychiatric hospital for 19 years.


MILITARY AFFAIRS


The Adjutant General's Department announced that Ohio Air National Guard (ANG) Brig. Gen. James Camp, state assistant adjutant general for air, was promoted to major general. Camp has held his current position since November 2017, and is responsible for directing ANG operations and establishing policy to ensure the mission readiness of more than 5,000 personnel assigned to four flying wings and six geographically separated support units in the state.


NATURAL RESOURCES


A recent study from researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) has implications for the future of wildlife, and people, as urbanization increases, the climate continues to warm, and other land-use changes harm water quality and threaten biodiversity. The new five-year study shows that city living appears to improve reproductive success for migratory tree swallows compared to breeding in more environmentally protected areas. But urban life comes with a big trade-off -- health hazards linked to poorer water quality.


Ohio's white-tailed deer hunters completed the 2021 muzzleloader season with 9,708 deer checked from Saturday, Jan. 2 to Tuesday, Jan. 5, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. Over the last three years, an average of 12,695 deer were taken during the same four-day period, ODNR said.


NEWS MEDIA


The Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association (OLCA) Monday elected Darrel Rowland of The Columbus Dispatch as president for the 134th General Assembly. He succeeds Jim Provance, a reporter for The Blade, who becomes the immediate past president. Noah Blundo of Hannah News was elected vice president; Jessie Balmert of the Cincinnati Enquirer, treasurer; and Jeremy Pelzer of Cleveland.com, secretary.


NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS


Financial advisory website WalletHub found Ohio to be the fifth most charitable state in the country. WalletHub ranked all 50 states across two dimensions, "Volunteering and Service" and "Charitable Giving," which were evaluated using 19 metrics ranging from the volunteer rate to the share of income donated.


OHIO HISTORY


Fish fossil Dunkleosteus terrelli is Ohio's newest state symbol, joining the Ohio Buckeye (state tree) and the cardinal (state bird). Gov. Mike DeWine signed state fossil designation bill SB123 (Dolan-Manning)


PEOPLE


Former Ohio Sen. Grace Drake of Solon, OH died Dec. 30, 2020. Born May 25, 1926 in New London, CT, she was 94 years old. Drake served 16 years in the Ohio Senate from 1984 to 2000, representing constituents in Cuyahoga, Medina, and Wayne counties. She was a graduate of the Williams School (WMI) in Connecticut. Most recently, Drake served as executive in residence, director of the Ohio Center for the Advancement of Women in Public Service, at Cleveland State University, where she also received her Honorary Doctorate degree.


Former Rep. Dwight Wise, a Sandusky County farmer who served 12 years in the Ohio House of Representatives, died Dec. 22, 2020 at ProMedica Memorial Hospital. He was 90. Wise, a Democrat, served in the Legislature from 1983 through 1994. He also served for 18 years on the Lakota Board of Education as well as helping found the Vanguard Vocational School and as a charter trustee on the board of what is now Terra Community College, an article in The Blade noted.


Cheryl J. Lyman, executive director of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC), announced that Melanie Drerup, chief of planning at OFCC, has been selected to serve a one-year term on the International Board of the Association for Learning Environments -- a professional organization that works to improve education by influencing the planning, designing, equipping and maintaining the physical environment for student learning. Drerup will also serve as the Midwest representative on the board of the National Council on School Facilities. In addition, Lane Beougher, OFCC program manager, will chair the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Documents Committee from January 2021 through December 2022.


POLITICS


A number of Ohio Republicans traveled to Georgia in recent days to aid in the U.S. Senate runoffs on Tuesday. According to the Ohio Republican Party, Ohio Republicans committed time, resources and volunteers to ensure U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler retain their seats. However, both lost which means Democrats and Republicans will tie in the number of Senators with Democrat Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaker.


Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley announced on social media Wednesday that she will not run for re-election, though she did not announce what she planned to do next. In a video message, she noted the challenges during her eight years in office, ranging from fighting the opioid crisis, dealing with tornadoes, and responding to the Oregon District mass shooting to addressing COVID-19, and said that each time the community came together.


PUBLIC SAFETY


In an effort to curb work zone crashes, the Ohio State Highway Patrol has released the Work Zone Dashboard -- a detailed view of work zones across Ohio and the work that troopers around the state are doing to make them safer. The Work Zone Dashboard contains an interactive map with high-priority work zones highlighted throughout the state, as well as videos of troopers enforcing work zone violations. The dashboard was developed as a part of the Ohio Statistics and Analytics for Traffic Safety program.


The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) reported 10 deaths on Ohio's roadways during the 2020-2021 New Year's holiday according to provisional statistics. Two fatalities were the result of not wearing a safety belt when available, four were OVI-related and five were pedestrians. The four-day reporting period began at midnight Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020 and ran through 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2021.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The Controlling Board held two short emergency meetings this week, including one on Wednesday to extend the date for local subdivisions to expend coronavirus relief funds transferred to the subdivisions by the General Assembly and the date for local subdivisions to pay any unexpended balance to the state treasurer. According to the Office of Budget and Management (OBM), the most recent capital budget, SB310 (Dolan), allowed the Controlling Board to extend the dates at the request of the OBM director. The request approved without objection Wednesday extended the deadlines to Friday, Dec. 31, 2021.


Also on Wednesday, the Controlling Board approved a late add-on that allows the Ohio Department of Health to use $125 million in federal funds to support the state's COVID-19 vaccines distribution and testing efforts to respond to the pandemic.


TREASURER OF STATE


Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague recently announced that the Ohio Market Access Program (OMAP) has now "enhanced and lowered interest costs" for $1 billion in local government notes. OMAP is a credit enhancement program that leverages the state's excess liquidity and high short-term credit rating to help improve market access and lower borrowing rates for local governments. Since its 2014 launch, OMAP has supported more than 190 deals, ranging from $390,000 to over $100 million. There have been no defaults, and to date, OMAP has generated more than $3.8 million in estimated savings for local governments.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


Those who qualify for the additional $300 weekly benefit under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program will need to wait until at least the third week in January to receive their money, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). The $300 benefit, approved as part of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and down from the $600 benefit provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, will be provided for up to 11 weeks for eligible claimants in multiple programs. It will be available for the weeks of unemployment between Dec. 27, 2020 and the week ending Saturday, March 13, 2021.


UTILITIES


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) announced it has initiated an audit of FirstEnergy's distribution modernization rider. The commission granted a Sept. 8, 2020 motion by the Ohio Consumers' Counsel and directed PUCO staff to issue a request for proposal seeking an independent third-party auditor to conduct a review of FirstEnergy's Ohio utilities' distribution modernization rider. The request for proposal will be issued in the near future.


Ohioans' statutory utility advocate, the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC), is beginning 2021 with an open call to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). OCC is asking regulators to show as much concern for the average ratepayer as they do for entities like Verde Energy USA, which four commissioners re-upped as an electric/gas supplier on a quiet Dec. 30 after PUCO had documented the Texas-based company's "unconscionable" and "systemic" call spoofing, account slamming, and robo-calling and labelled Verde "managerially unfit" to continue operations in the Buckeye State.


OCC is urging Gov. Mike DeWine to break from his predecessors and appoint a bona fide advocate for average Ohioans to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston is recommending Executive Director Greg Poulos of Consumer Advocates of the PJM States (CAPS), who is a past OCC staffer, for the seat vacated by former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo.


The Ohio Manufacturers' Association (OMA) and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) say last week's commission repeal of the 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) Clean Air subsidy requires no further action from the Ohio Supreme Court -- at least for the time being -- with OMA and PUCO's request for dismissal Thursday drawing further support this week from the Ohio Attorney General's Office.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


Public employers will pay nearly $15 million less in Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) premiums in 2021 following a rate reduction that took effect Jan. 1. On average, this lowers the rate by 10 percent for Ohio's approximately 3,700 counties, cities, public schools and other public taxing districts.


The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) announced recently that it was extending the deadline by three months for long-term care facilities to seek reimbursement for investments in indoor air quality regarding COVID-19. Facilities now have until Wednesday, March 31 to apply. The COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Assistance Program includes $28 million in federal CARES Act funding and is administered by BWC. Recent federal legislation extended the usage of CARES Act funds beyond the original Dec. 30, 2020 deadline.


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

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