Week In Review: January 14, 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


The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has proposed revoking the operating license of Cincinnati's last abortion clinic. In a letter from ODH Director Amy Acton dated Dec. 26, 2019, Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region (PPSWO) Administrator Vanessa Hinsdale and PPSWO statutory agent Alphonse Gerhardstein were told they have 30 days from the receipt of the letter to request a hearing on the proposal.


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


If any entities should be held responsible for Ohioans receiving an "excessive volume" of opioids over the years, six pharmacy companies argued in a new court filling, it should be the physicians who wrote the prescriptions. The pharmacy companies, which are facing a federal trial in Cleveland as a result of lawsuits filed by Cuyahoga and Summit counties, are arguing in a third-party complaint that pharmacists should not be held liable for filling prescriptions written by doctors. CVS, Discount Drug Mart, Giant Eagle's HBC, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart filed the complaints in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division, which is scheduled to begin trial in October 2020.


AGRICULTURE


Ohio is one of the first entities to see their hemp production program approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The 2018 Farm Bill ended prohibition on hemp production in the U.S. and required the USDA to create a regulatory oversight plan for states and Native American tribes. Gov. Mike DeWine signed hemp legalization bill SB57 (S. Huffman-Hill) in July 2019.


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) on Tuesday released the official schedule for the 2020 fair season, which includes the state's 94 county and independent fairs and the Ohio State Fair. The Paulding County Fair will kick off the 2020 fair season on Saturday, June 13, and the season will wrap up on Saturday, Oct. 17 with the Fairfield County Fair.


APPALACHIA


Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas announced Wednesday that Appalachia's 13 governors have elected Gov. Mike DeWine to serve as ARC's states' co-chair for 2020.


AUDITOR OF STATE


An independent compliance and control audit of JobsOhio conducted by Deloitte was recently released by the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office regarding JobsOhio's adherence with 59 procedures. The sample cases cited in the report were in keeping with those procedures, which included 41 regarding JobsOhio and 18 regarding its Beverage System.


FY20-21 BUDGET


According to preliminary figures released Monday by the Office of Budget and Management (OBM), state revenues for December came in approximately $1.8 million or (0.1 percent) below estimates for the month. This was despite the state's personal income tax coming in $35.6 million or 4.5 percent over estimates. A shortfall in both the non-auto and auto sales tax nearly wiped out that excess alone with the two categories coming in a total of $34.7 million below estimates. The bulk of this was in the non-auto sales tax, which was $34.3 million or 3.9 percent below estimates. Both taxes remain over estimates for the first half of FY20 by nearly $79.5 million or 1.4 percent: the non-auto by $40.5 million and the auto sales tax by nearly $39.0 million.


BUSINESS/CORPORATE


The Fuyao Glass America plant in Moraine near Dayton will undergo another expansion, Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Monday, adding 100 new jobs and an additional 161,000 square feet at the facility. The plant has 2,300 associates currently, after starting with 800 workers in 2014. It supplies both Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and after-market customers, and the project announced Monday includes investment for research and development as well as purchasing equipment to help produce more after-market auto glass for companies such as Safelite, headquartered in Columbus.


The CEOs at 35 of Ohio's largest publicly-traded companies were paid more than 200 times their companies' median workers, Policy Matters Ohio (PMO) said in a recent report, though in some cases the median worker was employed part-time. PMO said the Dodd-Frank Act requires publicly-traded companies to provide the ratio of CEO pay to that of median employees, and 53 of Ohio's top 100 employers filed such reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Of the 53 companies, PMO's analysis found more than a quarter paid their CEOs over 500 times what typical employees made and six paid more than 1,000 times as much. In 1968, the ratio of CEO to worker pay at the largest U.S. companies was 20 to one.


CENSUS


As the 2020 Census approaches, a survey from Pew Research Center shows that while the majority of Americans are aware of the census and intend to participate in it, some people in the most vulnerable demographics say they are unsure whether to participate or not. The survey, released in October 2019, indicates that about 84 percent of U.S. adults say they intend to participate in the census and 98 percent say they have heard of it. However, the survey shows younger adults, black and Hispanic adults, and those with a low income are all significantly less likely to say they will participate in the census.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Both foster parents and former foster youth shared their experiences of feeling voiceless and unsupported during a Monday night forum for a DeWine administration advisory council to field ideas on how to reform the child welfare system. The meeting of the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council took place at Columbus State Community College, and many witnesses speaking are or were involved with the college's Scholar Network, a group that supports foster youth in their studies. One consistent message from foster care alumni was the need for an independent ombudsman for foster youth, housed outside the child welfare system hierarchy and separate from any ombudsman for foster parents. Multiple speakers suggested the Ohio Attorney General's Office would be a good place to establish the ombudsman position.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Gov. Mike DeWine's work group on community monitoring of convicted felons reviewed the GPS tracking report mandated by 132-SB201 (O'Brien-Bacon) Monday and the state's progress in upgrading the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS) to better forecast a predisposition to criminal violence. Released shortly before Christmas, the executive summary and final report on global positioning systems (GPS) show mixed results for electronic monitoring of released inmates and offenders diverted to community control.


Attorney General Dave Yost told the state's inaugural Human Trafficking Summit Thursday that "gaps" remain in ending the victimization of Ohioans and that he is prepared to address the demand side of prostitution and the positive or negative contributions of major corporate interests to the world's oldest profession. The AG summit drew thousands of advocates to Columbus for keynote addresses and workshops on residential recovery for juveniles and adults, specialty court dockets, multi-disciplinary interventions, and a special session on labor trafficking, with funding by American Electric Power (AEP) of Ohio and Salvation Army of Central Ohio.


ECONOMY


Central Ohio's employment will continue to grow in 2020, but the growth will remain slow, economist and Hannah News contributor Bill LaFayette said Wednesday in his annual "Blue Chip Economic Forecast" presented to the Columbus Metropolitan Club. LaFayette, the founder of Regionomics who writes "On the Money" reports for Hannah News, also said his forecast does not predict a recession for the nation this year, and he expects tensions in Iraq and Iran to ease and not have an effect on the national economy. Either one of those factors turning out the other way would have an effect on the Central Ohio forecast, and he said if that's the case, "All bets are off."


EDUCATION


Ohio's charter school sector continued to contract in number of schools and students enrolled in the previous academic year, according to the state's annual report on charter schools. The Ohio Department of Education's (ODE) annual report for the 2018-2019 school year shows the fifth consecutive year in which fewer schools and fewer students made up the sector. The sector had 320 schools and 102,563 students, down from 340 schools and 104,433 students the year prior and 395 schools and 120,893 students in the 2013-2014 academic year, the high water mark for the sector. Charter enrollment for 2018-2019 made up 6.2 percent of Ohio's total K-12 public school enrollment.


The court-appointed attorney minding Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow's assets said in a recent court filing that the defunct online school's old sponsor will prepare ECOT's final financial report to meet the demands of Auditor Keith Faber, though the filing says Faber's request is "unreasonable." The filing also provides another indication of FBI interest in ECOT's affairs. Myron Terlecky, appointed as interim master to supervise ECOT's assets by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Holbrook, acknowledged in the filing that he has turned school records over to the federal law enforcement agency.


ELECTIONS


Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose Wednesday issued a special notice to Ohio's 88 county boards of elections in response to heightened tensions with Iran, warning of potential threats and giving instructions on how to manage those threats. LaRose's office said state networks across the U.S. experienced an increase in suspicious cyber activity earlier this week coming from active Internet protocol (IP) addresses originating from several countries, including Iran. In response, LaRose required county boards of elections to block an identified set of Iranian IP addresses on county firewalls after working in coordination with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Ohio National Guard, and colleagues in Colorado and West Virginia.


ELECTIONS 2020


Two candidates who filed to run on Ohio's Tuesday, March 17 presidential primary ballot were disqualified due to paperwork errors, while a third will run as a write-in, as Secretary of State Frank LaRose officially certified the candidates on Tuesday. The Democratic presidential primary ballot was certified with 12 candidates: Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren. Democrat Andrew Yang qualified as a write-in candidate after he was disqualified due to a paperwork error. The Republican presidential primary ballot will only have one candidate -- President Donald Trump.


Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) will have to run as a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, March 17, in order to be re-elected after a paperwork error forced her to withdraw her petition. According to the Toledo Blade, Hicks-Hudson failed to submit a page that included her original signature. Rather than have the Lucas County Board of Elections disqualify the petition, she pulled her paperwork and said she will now run a write-in campaign for the primary.


Baldwin Wallace University (BW) announced this week that it will be polling in three states in addition to Ohio for 2020 and will conduct simultaneous surveys in four Great Lakes Polls. The first of the polls will be conducted later this month and will include surveys in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The latter three states decided the 2016 presidential election by razor-thin margins.


The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • The Ohio Senate campaign of Jerry Cirino announced the endorsements of Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) and Sen. John Eklund (R-Chardon).


ENVIRONMENT


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler Wednesday announced the appointment of Kurt Thiede of Wisconsin as the regional administrator for Region 5, overseeing environmental protection efforts in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Thiede succeeds Cathy Stepp, who is stepping down from her post in the Great Lakes region after several years. The move was applauded by Ohio EPA Director Laurie Stevenson.


FEDERAL


Newly released population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate Ohio could lose a congressional seat after the 2020 Census, according to an analysis of the data by the consulting group Election Data Services. The Census Bureau estimates Ohio's population at 11.7 million as of July 2019. This is a 1.3 percent increase since the last decennial census taken in April 2010. Ohio has the seventh largest population in the country. Despite the population increase, Election Data Services predicts Ohio will join nine other states, including neighboring Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, in losing one congressional seat.


Twelve members of Ohio's congressional delegation issued statements regarding the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization according to the U.S. Department of Defense, on Thursday, Jan. 2.


Members of Ohio's congressional delegation issued statements regarding Iranian ballistic missile strikes on U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq around 5:30 p.m. EST Tuesday. The attacks, launched from Iran and targeting multiple bases, followed the Jan. 2 assassination of Soleimani.


During a call-in with reporters Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) discussed the upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate, the status of the U.S. and Iran, and his legislative goals. Portman commented that the Senate should follow the only modern precedent they have for the impeachment trial which is the case against former President Bill Clinton in 1998. He said the precedent established by that trial set up a two-step process: in the first step, the Senate listens to both sides, the managers from the House and the president's lawyers. In the second step, the Senate fills in gaps and determines if witnesses are needed.


GAMING/GAMBLING


While Ohio's seven racinos experienced an increase in revenue from their video lottery terminals (VLTs) year-over-year, the state's four casinos saw a dip in earnings during that time period, according to data released by the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC) and Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC). Racinos pulled in $94.9 million in December 2019, up from $89.7 million in December 2018. Casinos collected $74.4 million in December 2019, down from $76.3 million in December 2018.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said Wednesday he's confident both chambers will act to address recent concerns with the EdChoice scholarship program in the next few weeks. Obhof did not offer specifics on what EdChoice legislation would entail. Local school officials have raised the alarm over a substantial expansion of the number of school buildings at which students are or will be eligible for vouchers. Some of that expansion relates to changes made in the biennial budget, HB166 (Oeslager), while some is the delayed effect of laws on the books for a few years.


GOVERNOR


Managers of the state's 88 county fairs are in a unique position to influence members of the General Assembly, and should lobby lawmakers to protect Ohioans from gun violence, Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday. "Frankly, I would ask for your help," DeWine said near the end of his remarks at the Ohio Fair Managers Association Convention at the Hyatt Regency. DeWine's proposal, SB221 (Dolan), has received three hearings in the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee since being introduced in October 2019.


Appointments made during the week include the following:


  • Kevin S. Reardon of Hilliard (Franklin County) to the Board of Building Standards for a term beginning Jan. 9, 2020 and ending Oct. 13, 2020.

  • Jimmie J. Blevins of Columbus (Franklin County) and Mark A. Funke of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) to the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission for a term beginning Jan. 9, 2020 and ending July 1, 2021.

  • Rick E. Meade of Fairborn (Greene County) to the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission for a term beginning Jan. 9, 2020 and ending July 1, 2023.

  • Elizabeth E. Tracy of New Albany (Franklin County) reappointed to the Ohio Ethics Commission for a term beginning Jan. 2, 2020 and ending Jan. 1, 2026.

  • Gregory A. Moon of Upper Sandusky (Wyandot County) to the Marion Technical College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Jan. 9, 2020 and ending April 29, 2021.

  • Gregory P. Hartmann of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) to the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees for a term beginning Jan. 9, 2020 and ending Jan. 1, 2029


HIGHER EDUCATION

Fall 2019 postsecondary enrollment estimates released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show a national decline of 1.3 percent in college enrollment compared with fall 2018. Ohio, which has the sixth largest population of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions in the country, experienced a slightly smaller decline of 0.9 percent from the previous year. The research center said that for the first time this past decade, the nation's fall enrollments fell below 18 million students and declined by more than two million students.

The University of Akron (UA) has launched two new esports teams due to overwhelming popularity of the program, according to the university's website. The new teams, Fortnite: Battle Royale and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, bring UA's esports team total to seven.


Central State University (CSU) was recently named a 2018-19 Fulbright Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Institutional Leader. CSU is one of 19 HBCUs to receive the distinction from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).


Recent research out of Ohio State University (OSU) may indicate college students who post about feelings of depression on Facebook are unlikely to be encouraged to seek mental health help. In the study, published online in the journal JMIR Research Protocols, none of the 33 participating students who posted to Facebook said their friends told them they should reach out to a mental health professional to discuss their problems. Instead, most friends sent motivating or supportive messages.


Miami University's Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program has signed a three-year, $872,907 contract with the Ohio Department of Medicaid. The initiative is meant to link students at the state's medical schools and schools of allied health with older Ohioans living with dementia. OMA committed to establishing 36 such partnerships, which could include required field placements, clinical placements and capstone courses, said Elizabeth Lokon, director and founder of OMA, which is based in Miami's Scripps Gerontology Center.


Capital University recently announced the appointment of Renee Dunnington as dean of nursing. Dunnington succeeds Ann Peden, who retired in June 2019 after 10 years in the role. Dunnington has been serving as interim dean since June, and her appointment is effective immediately.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


Federal and local leaders working to reduce homelessness in general, and among veterans specifically, met Wednesday at the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) for a series of three announcements by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD Midwest Regional Administrator Joseph Galvan said first that CMHA and the city of Columbus will be one of 34 designees in HUD Secretary Ben Carson's initiative to create "Envision Centers," which Galvan defined as "a joint effort to connect low-income households with a variety of resources offering pathways to economic opportunity and self-sufficiency." The other programs promote family self-sufficiency and provide supporting housing for veterans.


HUMAN SERVICES


Gov. Mike DeWine signed two executive orders over the holidays directing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding to initiatives that provide support services to Ohio families. Implemented through Executive Order 2019-28D, the FY20 grants for recovery and children's programs range from a low of up to $10,000 for the Franklin County program Men 4 The Movement to a high of up to $1 million for the statewide Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. A second set of grants, Capacity Building Grants for public-private partnerships for housing, reentry, workforce development, food security, personal development, children's initiatives, and recovery initiatives, were executed through Executive Order 2019-29D. A total of 18 grants were awarded in this category.


JUDICIAL


Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor announced $3.2 million in Ohio Supreme Court grants to 54 local court projects Monday under the Ohio Courts Technology Initiative. Selected projects include case management upgrades and security improvements and were scored by a 27-member panel of judges, court administrators, clerks, information technology professionals, security experts and other personnel from local courts.


A judicial appointee of Gov. Mike DeWine faces an uphill 2020 election season after the former staff attorney for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) pleaded guilty to drunk driving four months after taking office. Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Alfonso Gonzalez joined Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Monica Hawkins, a Democrat, in answering OVI charges last year, with both informing officers at the scene that they were members of the judiciary.


The Ohio Supreme Court is set to review the state of Ohio's claim that the half-century-old federal precedent shielding public employees from self-incrimination does not protect hundreds of thousands of board-licensed Ohioans from criminal charges corroborated by their statements to state investigators. The Court has accepted the state's appeal of a 3rd District opinion that testimony before an Ohio Medical Board officer investigating sexual misconduct allegations are privileged and immune from prosecution -- a 5-2 decision opposed by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and Justice Michael Donnelly.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT


The governor and attorney general await a January hearing on suspended Sandusky County Prosecutor Tim Braun's permanent removal from office after female employees charged him with sexual harassment and lodged complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) on Friday awarded a certificate of operation to Have a Heart Cincy, a medical marijuana dispensary located at 8420 Vine St. in Cincinnati. There are now 47 dispensaries operating under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.


A total of 78,736 patients have been registered in the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP).


The State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO) has received 28 petitions from individuals and groups seeking to add new qualifying conditions under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), including a presumably facetious proposal to allow the long-suffering fans of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns to relieve their misery by consuming cannabis. The qualifying condition petition period opened on Nov. 1, 2019 and ended on Dec. 31, 2019. SMBO spokesperson Tessie Pollock told Hannah News that the petitions are currently being reviewed and expects the SMBO Medical Marijuana Expert Review Committee to meet in February.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


The new year brought Ohio Medicaid's debut of a unified preferred drug list (UPDL), a tool meant to better manage and monitor pharmaceutical costs and simplify pharmacy benefits in general. Previously, Ohio's Medicaid managed care plans ran their own lists. Plans will transition to the new list in the first quarter of 2020, and will be formally monitored for compliance with the list starting April 1.


Behavioral health (BH) providers in Medicaid will soon have one-stop shopping for enrolling with managed care plans and will be able to seek state certification online versus the long-time practice of paper-based forms. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) said recently that the state's Medicaid Information Technology System (MITS) will soon be the only place providers will need to update their enrollment and affiliation information. Providers had been updating information in MITS as well as updating rosters with the managed care plans. The change is pending testing this month to ensure all managed care plans are able to accept a provider master file that will be sent from MITS daily.


Paramount Advantage, the Medicaid managed care subsidiary of Toledo's ProMedica, will stop operating in one of three state managed care regions later this year, withdrawing its plan from the area covering Central and Southeast Ohio. Maureen Corcoran, director of the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM), said her agency will work with Paramount and the other managed care plans for a "warm handoff" of the approximately 31,000 Medicaid beneficiaries who will be affected.


NATURAL RESOURCES


Ohio's white-tailed deer hunters took advantage of an extra weekend of gun hunting and checked 13,995 deer on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21-22, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. During the 2018 season, 9,625 deer were taken during the same period.


Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court Judge Edward O'Farrell has ordered the owner of a dam to halt unapproved construction at the site after inspectors deemed the structure unsafe, the Ohio Attorney General's Office announced Friday. "This dam was already in rough shape, but now it's just plain dangerous because of these illegal construction projects," Attorney General Dave Yost said in a release. "My office and our partners at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) won't allow this guy to gamble with the public's safety."


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) will provide more than $6.64 million in grants to improve trails for hiking, biking, walking, running and other activities. The grants are being awarded through the Clean Ohio Trails Fund, according to a news release from ODNR. The funding will benefit 20 trail projects in Ashtabula, Clinton, Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Lorain, Medina, Summit, Warren and Williams counties.


OHIO HISTORY

Secretary of State Frank LaRose joined the Ohio Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission (WSCC) at its Wednesday meeting to continue developing plans to honor the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the right to vote and to encourage voter participation. The group discussed updates since its last meeting and an upcoming presentation to the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) on plans for a Statehouse installation.


PENSIONS


Ohio Retirement Study Council staff will be looking to ensure standard insurance requirements in contracts with vendors specifically address cybersecurity protections, after a discussion of the matter at Thursday's meeting of two council subcommittees. The subcommittees met to approve requests for proposals for a fiduciary performance audit of the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) and an actuarial audit of the Highway Patrol Retirement System (HPRS).


PEOPLE


VentureOhio CEO Falon Donohue stepped down Dec. 31, 2019 to become a partner at Narya Capital, though her departure was first reported Wednesday. The Ohio-based Narya, an early-stage venture capital firm, was announced Thursday as having been co-founded by J.D. Vance and Colin Greenspon.


PUBLIC SAFETY


State Fire Marshal Jeff A. Hussey recently announced the FY20 awardees for the MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communications Systems) grant, which includes 283 fire departments in 43 counties throughout Ohio. The MARCS radio system allows first responders to communicate with other agencies responding to an incident (i.e. fire departments from neighboring areas, law enforcement, etc.).


The Ohio Department of Public Safety's (ODPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) announced the first-time certification of four law enforcement agencies and the recertification of nine more Monday under statewide standards adopted by the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board.


The Ohio Emergency Management Agency (Ohio EMA) said this week that it is accepting applications for its Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program. Under the program, Ohio homeowners may receive reimbursement for the purchase and construction or installation of a tornado safe room inside or outside their homes. According to the Ohio EMA, a safe room is a structure specifically designed to provide near-absolute protection in extreme weather events. The rebate program provides a rebate of up to 75 percent to homeowners selected for the program.


The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) announced the promotion of Capt. Chad J. Neal to the rank of major and commander in its Office of Planning, Research and Development.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS


The new year means a new area code for Dayton area residents and businesses. Customers served by the 937 area code should prepare for the introduction of the new 326 area code on Sunday, March 8. The 326 area code will be added as an overlay to the region meant to continue the supply of telephone numbers in the area. The 937 area code is near "exhaust," meaning all of the telephone prefixes within that area code are assigned, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). PUCO said an overlay is the addition of another area code (326) to the same geographic region served by an existing area code (937) and noted an overlay does not require customers to change their existing phone numbers, nor will it change the price of a call, coverage areas or local calling. Customers are currently in a six-month permissive period which began Aug. 10, 2019. During this period, local calls can be made using seven, 10 or 11 digits.

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) should not move to a leasing model for its fleet vehicles, a new performance audit of the agency released Thursday found. Auditor of State Keith Faber Thursday announced the results of his office's first phase of a performance audit on ODOT, which made nine recommendations that his office said could yield a 77:1 return on investment.

UTILITIES


The Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) has been joined by Industrial Energy Users (IEU) Ohio and other powerful voices in urging the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to reject American Electric Power (AEP) of Ohio's rehearing request for proposed wind and solar charges denied by commissioners late last year. AEP claims the decision could prove "fatal" to its four-year campaign to fund the projects. OCC says the requested "clarification" is a thinly veiled pitch for an advisory opinion on ways to bill customers for renewable energy. The agency had warned of such a work-around in November.


The state's leading electric utility has billed Ohioans hundreds of millions of dollars in special charges for "enhanced" reliability with the backing of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's (PUCO) while suffering increasing power outages in recent years, the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) states in a new complaint. It says the commission has neglected its commitment to restrict American Electric Power (AEP) of Ohio to "prudently incurred costs" and should reconsider AEP's enhanced service reliability rider (ESRR).


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





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