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Week in Review January 22, 2024


Ohio statehouse government affairs week in review January 2023


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


AARP Ohio is now accepting applications for the nationwide 2024 AARP Community Challenge grant program. These grants are available to fund quick-action projects designed to help communities become more livable by improving public places, transportation, housing, digital connections and more. The program is part of AARP's nationwide Livable Communities program, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places for their residents to live, especially residents aged 50 and older. Applications are being accepted between now and Wednesday, March 6, 2024 at 5 p.m. EST. All projects must be completed by Sunday, Dec. 15, 2024. To apply and view past grantees, visit http://tinyurl.com/233cv2hm.


AGRICULTURE


Businesses that work "in the middle" of the food chain sector are eligible to apply for financial support from the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) using funds from the federal Resilient Food System Infrastructure (RFSI) Program. ODAg said it has received $12.6 million through the RFSI program to fund projects that support supply chain coordination activities, create more and better processing centers, and increase accessible, affordable, and efficient distribution of Ohio products. Projects may also include the construction, expansion and modernization of supply chain facilities. ODAg has entered a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) to administer the program. Detailed guidelines, including project requirements and eligibility can be found at http://tinyurl.com/4w2mkcve.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has joined the Ohio-led lawsuit that challenges the NCAA's transfer eligibility rule, Attorney General Dave Yost announced Thursday. Yost argues that the rule is an illegal restraint on college athletes' ability to sell their name, image and likeness (NIL) and control their education. Also joining the lawsuit on Thursday were the states of Minnesota, Mississippi and Virginia and the District of Columbia, bringing the total number of attorneys general who are backing the litigation to 11.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


The Ohio Attorney General's Office is seeking award nominations for this year's Two Days in May Conference on Victim Assistance, which will honor work to empower victims and survivors of crime. The AG's Crime Victim Services Section will present the Promising Practice Award, Robert Denton Special Achievement Award, and Special Courage Award. The nomination form and award specifics can be found at tinyurl.com/mstffed5. Entries must be submitted electronically to TDIM@OhioAGO.gov by Friday, Feb. 9.


BALLOT ISSUES


Groups wanting to put a constitutional amendment before Ohio voters that would enshrine certain voting rights and procedures in the Ohio Constitution have resubmitted their proposed summary language after Attorney General Dave Yost had rejected the first submission late last year. Among Yost's reasoning for rejecting the previous submission was the title of "Secure and Fair Elections," with Yost telling the group that "the proposed amendment is a compilation of specific election regulations. While the petitioners may believe that these proposed regulations may ultimately result in secure and fair elections, the title is completely untethered to the actual substance of the proposed amendment. Thus, the title is misleading and fails to fairly and truthfully describe the content of the proposed amendment." The new title of the ballot initiative is "Ohio Voters Bill of Rights," which is similar to a 2014 effort that did not make it to the ballot.


BUSINESS/CORPORATE


Small businesses in four Ohio cities/areas can now apply for advertising and marketing support from the "Pay It Forward" initiative from national communications firm Spectrum Reach. "Pay It Forward" winners will receive free advertising in the form of marketing consultation services; educational resources; networking opportunities; and a linear and streaming TV ad campaign worth up to $15,000 to run through April, May and June. The "Pay It Forward" program will offer access to Spectrum's advertising services to 250 underserved small businesses in more than 35 designated market areas nationwide, including Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio. Preference will be given to any business that is majority-owned by an ethnic or racial minority. More details on application eligibility and a program application can be found at http://tinyurl.com/35479rpn.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted appeared with Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Dublin) and Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) at a Tuesday news conference to highlight legislation aimed at limiting minors' ability to view pornographic material online. SB212 requires pornographic websites to verify users' ages before allowing them to access content on their website if more than one-third of the website's content is harmful to juveniles. Husted said SB212 tries to apply the same rules from the physical world to the digital world for the ability of minors to access adult products, likening pornography to alcohol and tobacco. Husted said the online content children can see is leading to issues including depression, bullying, eating disorders, academic decline and low self-esteem, citing the U.S. Surgeon General who has called this a public health issue.


CIVIL RIGHTS


Personal finance site WalletHub recently measured states' rate of "racial progress" since the Civil Rights Movement in regard to gaps between Black and White residents across 22 "key indicators of equality." Ohio was ranked 38th, fourth among its neighboring states behind Kentucky, fifth; West Virginia, 14th; and Indiana, 21st. Pennsylvania was 42nd and Michigan was 44th. The report also ranked states by subrankings, with Ohio 25th in Education; 30th in Social and Civic Engagement; 40th in Health; and 43rd in Employment and Wealth. Ohio was third-to-last among neighboring states in Social and Civic Engagement and second-last in the other subrankings.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Acting on an Ohio Department of Development (DOD) referral, the Office of the Ohio Inspector General (OIG) announced Thursday it found BridgePort Digital (BD), an online IT training provider, had colluded with other companies to receive improper reimbursement through the TechCred program. DOD's referred complaint involved BD and 26 companies whose employees purportedly received training from it with TechCred reimbursement. DOD had concerns about the legitimacy of submitted documents, payment verification and course completion, according to OIG. Under the TechCred program, employers can receive up to $2,000 in reimbursement for each formally employed staff member who receives a W-2 tax form each year and completes an approved upskilling course to receive technology-focused credentials. OIG found the companies had failed to comply with program guidelines, leading to improper reimbursements totaling $1.09 million. They additionally found the companies typically did not incur the cost of training before receiving reimbursement as required, and that the individuals receiving the training were not W-2 employees of the companies and thus were ineligible for reimbursement. OIG also found the companies were routinely submitting requests for payment in excess of the $2,000 maximum amount.


DEATH PENALTY


Housing for most of Ohio's male Death Row inmates will move across Rt. 104 from Chillicothe Correctional Institution to Ross Correctional Institution, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) said Friday. The change will put the Death Row population in a higher-security prison -- Ross is a high-security facility, while Chillicothe a medium-security one -- and allow the Chillicothe space to be changed into quarters for 300 lower-security inmates, DRC said. The move is expected to take place in the spring.


DISABILITIES


A federal judge this month affirmed a 2016 federal administrative finding that three Ohioans with disabilities should get back pay and damages to make up for the subminimum wage they were paid in a sheltered workshop. The court ruling and the underlying federal administrative ruling set a new, higher standard for employers to meet in order to justify paying less than full wages to people with disabilities, according to Disability Rights Ohio (DRO). Meanwhile, state data show far fewer Ohioans with disabilities working in subminimum wage positions today versus several years ago, following the state's adoption of the Employment First policy. And a new grant-funded program now in the pilot stages aims to get more than 1,400 additional Ohioans with disabilities into full-wage jobs. The ruling from Judge Jeffrey Helmick of the Northern District of Ohio in Seneca Re-Ad Industries v. Department of Labor upholds a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) decision to award payment of minimum wages, back pay and liquidated damages to Ralph Magers, Pamela Steward and Mark Felton. The three were employed by Seneca Re-Ad Industries, which contracts with the Seneca County Board of Developmental Disabilities to provide employment for people with disabilities within a flooring factory.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/URBAN REVITALIZATION


Dozens of buildings across the state will be rehabilitated with support from the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program, Gov. Mike DeWine has announced. In total, 46 projects involving the renovation of 54 buildings will be awarded more than $67.5 million in tax credits as part of the program. The projects are also expected to leverage approximately $732 million in private investments, according to DeWine's office.


The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) recently announced it is accepting applications for the state Opportunity Zone Tax Credit Program through 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1. Over $28 million in tax credits are available this round, and Ohio Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) investments made from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2023 are eligible for consideration. More information on the DOD program is available at http://tinyurl.com/44kmj2kb.


EDUCATION


Two vacancies now exist on the State Board of Education (SBOE) following the resignation earlier this month of Brandon Kern, an appointee of Gov. Mike DeWine. Kern's resignation letter, dated Jan. 8, did not include a reason for his departure, but simply stated it had been an honor to serve. Kern is director of public policy and issues analysis for the Ohio Soybean Association, and his prior experience includes work for Treasurer Robert Sprague, Ohio Farm Bureau, the Ohio Senate and the late U.S. Sen. George Voinovich. Kern's resignation follows that of Christina Collins, the elected member for District 7, who left to become executive director of Honesty for Ohio Education.


The DeWine administration announced Tuesday the availability of grant funding to provide training for educators to teach computer science. Up to 1,100 educators can get training through the Teach CS grants, created in the biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards). Of those, 650 would be newly credentialed, while the remainder would get continuing education. Seventeen education institutions across the state will be awarded $6 million to cover training costs. More information about Teach CS is at http://tinyurl.com/3y574wa2.


Attorney General Dave Yost Wednesday announced $6.7 million in safety grants for the 2024-25 academic year with funding from budget bill HB33 (Edwards). Ohio's 600-plus school districts can now apply for a grant of $2,500 or $4.50 per student, whichever is greater, to support safety planning, training and classroom programs. Publicly funded community schools, private schools, STEM schools, education service centers (ESC), and schools operated by county boards of developmental disabilities also are eligible. This year's grants seek to allow school leaders flexibility in determining how best to improve student safety. Funds may be used for the following, among other programs: Certification training for school resource officers; active-shooter response training and equipment; and educational resources for all grades.


Ohio schools should have a preliminary list by month's end of instructional materials that meet new state literacy standards, according to the Department of Education and Workforce's (DEW) point person for reading, Melissa Weber-Mayrer. She said by the end of January the agency expects to publish a preliminary list of qualifying materials, with plans to continue reviewing additional materials and to put out a final list by March.


DEW leadership convened its second public meeting Thursday, something the agency is required to do every other month to provide updates on initiatives and programs. The public meeting mandate was included in the HB33 (Edwards) governance transition provisions for K-12 education, which converted the Ohio Department of Education into DEW and put it under authority of the governor's office rather than the State Board of Education. The board retains oversight mostly of educator licensure and professional conduct enforcement.


ELECTIONS


Whether or not to find Rep. Jean Schmidt's (R-Loveland) campaign did not properly report expenditures that benefited it is now up to the Ohio Elections Commission to decide after months of hearings that wrapped up Thursday. Conservative activist Chris Hicks brought the complaint against Schmidt in 2021, tying it to former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and candidates he had backed in his quest to become speaker. Hicks has alleged that there were consultants who worked on Schmidt's behalf who did not appear on her campaign reports. Schmidt testified again during the hearing after she testified during the first hearing. She again argued that she ran her own campaign and had no knowledge of anyone else working for her campaign other than friends, family, and volunteers.


ELECTIONS 2024


Hannah News published an updated list of candidates running in the Tuesday, March 19 primary. The list reflects changes made by county boards of elections after certifying candidates.


The Ohio Supreme Court has been asked to decide whether former Rep. Steven Kraus (R-Marblehead) can run for the 89th House District despite the felony conviction for theft that caused him to lose his House seat previously. Kraus won the seat in 2014 over former Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island), then the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, but was later found guilty of the fifth-degree felony charge of theft from an elderly person, stemming from his work as an auctioneer and real estate agent. The Ohio Revised Code bars those convicted of felonies from holding certain public offices, including state representative, and he was removed from office immediately after his conviction. In December, Kraus filed to run against Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron), telling local media at the time that he is eligible to run for the seat because his record had been expunged. This week the Erie County Board of Elections argued in a filing that the plaintiff -- Dennis Schreiner, a resident of House District 89 and a Republican voter -- lacks standing and that the suit is frivolous.


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) re-election campaign announced Friday that it will report raising $6.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2023. The campaign said the total breaks previous Ohio fundraising records without self-funding for the same quarter. The campaign will report that it has $14.6 million on hand.


Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old entrepreneur born in Cincinnati, announced Monday evening that he was ending his presidential bid after finishing fourth in the Iowa Republican caucuses. He endorsed former President Donald Trump during his speech.


Republican Matthew Henderson, a resident of Brown County who is seeking the nomination for the Second Congressional District, filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court after the Clermont County Board of Elections ruled that he did not have enough valid signatures. The board ruled that a circulator of Henderson's petition had inadvertently not completed a section, while another did not keep different counties on separate forms.


A write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 39th Ohio House District is facing a charge of driving under the influence, according to the Dayton Daily News. Dion Green, a survivor of the Oregon District mass shooting and founder of the Fudge Foundation, named after his father Derrick Fudge, who was killed in the shooting, was arrested on Dec. 17, the newspaper said. The arrest occurred after Green allegedly backed into a vehicle parked in a lot in downtown Dayton.


According to media reports, former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich filed paperwork this week to potentially run as an independent candidate for the 7th Congressional District. Kucinich served in Congress until 2012, when he lost a re-election bid in the Democratic primary to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) after both were drawn together during redistricting. Since then, he has had unsuccessful campaigns for governor and mayor of Cleveland, a position he formerly held, as well as served as campaign manager until October last year for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s presidential campaign.


Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dolan announced the formation of his campaign's statewide "Women for Matt" coalition. The group is initially comprised of more than 150 women leaders, activists and elected officials from around Ohio who will advocate in support of Dolan's candidacy. Members include Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), former Attorney General Betty Montgomery, Findlay Mayor Christina Muryn, and former Rep. Marlene Anielski.


The League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWVO) announced Tuesday that it has begun sending questionnaires to all General Assembly and congressional candidates in the March primary. All candidate responses are published in VOTE411 (www.vote411.org), the league's digital voter guide. All candidate responses received by Sunday, Jan. 28, will also be featured in print voter guides distributed by local leagues across Ohio.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Bernie Moreno announced the endorsements of U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KA); the Brown County Republican Party; U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who also serves as Senate GOP chairman; the Preble County Republican Party; and the Strongsville Republican Party.

  • Lt. Gov. Jon Husted endorsed Donald Trump for president.

  • The congressional campaign of Republican Shane Wilkin announced the endorsement of the Buckeye Firearms Association.

  •  Republican congressional candidate Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus (R-Minerva) announced the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Tipp City).

ENERGY/UTILITIES


Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chair Jenifer French officially applied to retain her commission seat alongside 10 other applicants. The PUCO Nominating Council will next narrow the list of applicants, interview finalists on Thursday, Jan. 25 and submit four candidates for consideration by Gov. Mike DeWine, who will have 30 days to make a decision or ask for a new list. The new term begins Thursday, April 11.


The Office of Consumers' Counsel (OCC) is pushing back on PJM Interconnection's forecast of potential electric grid problems after 2027, calling it a chicken-little scenario. OCC has sent the regional transmission organization (RTO) a letter questioning the February 2023 PJM report that undergirded former PUCO chairman and PJM Interconnection Vice President Asim Haque's testimony to the Legislature last year. Haque said the RTO's generation queue of future power plants lacks sufficient megawatts (MW) and 24/7 baseload sources to support projected growth in the 13-state region encompassing Ohio, prompting concern within the General Assembly and the governor's office.


The OCC is accusing the PUCO of violating its own rules and state law by refusing to admit the government agency as a party and thwarting public transparency in an investigation targeting Inspire Energy Holdings. OCC says the company and commission's arm's-length deal raises a "cloud of secrecy" around closed-door negotiations culminating in a $160,000 civil forfeiture by the Philadelphia-based energy marketer. PUCO's call center began receiving complaints in 2022 against Inspire's misleading and deceptive statements regarding utility savings and discounts, fraudulent enrollments, and company marketers falsely identified as city officials.


FEDERAL


Among the speakers at the city of Columbus' breakfast to reflect upon Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy was U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). In his remarks, Brown spoke about how King challenged a nation to live up to its own ideals of equality. Brown discussed King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," spoke about King's teaching about the connection between workers' rights and civil rights, and recognized the continued need to push for progress. Brown said, "We recommit to fighting for King's vision."


Brown discussed the importance of swiftly passing a bipartisan tax deal in a call with reporters Wednesday, saying it should be done by Jan. 29 to take effect before filing season begins. He was joined on the call by Ohio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Stivers, Ohio Business Roundtable President and CEO Pat Tiberi and East Palestine Councilwoman Linda May. Specific areas of the tax deal Brown described as relevant to Ohio included child tax credit benefits, reducing taxes for businesses that invest in research and innovation, preventing East Palestine residents from having to pay taxes on the money provided by Norfolk Southern and increasing affordable housing. The provisions are all "wins" for Ohio and won't add to the deficit, he added. "A few months ago no one thought we could work together to deliver a deal that cuts taxes for working families and supports Ohio manufacturers. We put politics aside .... We need to get this passed before the tax season so Ohio parents and Ohio manufacturers can start saving money," Brown said.


U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Kenneth L. Parker announced new appointments to his management staff on Friday which were effective Saturday, Jan. 13. Kelly A. Norris replaced Salvador A. Dominguez as first assistant U.S. attorney.

Dominguez's retirement took effect Friday. Norris' previous management role of deputy chief (Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force) will now be filled by Frederic Shadley. Friday also marked the retirement of Andrew M. Malek as civil chief in the Columbus office. That role will now be filled by Brandi Stewart. Stewart's previous role as deputy civil chief will now be filled by John Stark. The office's criminal chief, Karl P. Kadon, is also retiring soon, and that position will be filled by Christy L. Muncy, who was previously executive assistant U.S. attorney.


GAMING/GAMBLING


Calls to Ohio's problem gambling helpline increased 55 percent in the state's first year of legal sports betting, according to Ohio for Responsible Gambling and the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio (PGNO). There were 10,637 calls to the helpline in 2023, up from 6,835 in 2022, the organizations said. "While we knew calls would increase and anticipated this due to the increases seen in other states already operating sports betting -- such a dramatic increase was surprising and lets us know there is a lot of work still to be done for responsible gambling advocates statewide," PGNO Associate Director Michael Buzzelli said. Call numbers increased every month in 2023, including 1,013 calls in December 2023, compared to 635 calls in December 2022.


Two long-serving leaders of the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) are leaving the agency. During its Wednesday meeting, OCCC members approved resolutions recognizing the accomplishments of Deputy Executive Director Rick Anthony and Licensing and Investigation Division Director Anna Marin Russell. Anthony is retiring, while Russell is joining the senior leadership team at the Ohio Department of Taxation, OCCC Executive Director Matt Schuler said.


All cashing services are restored for Ohio Lottery customers, Ohio Lottery Communications Director Danielle Frizzi-Babb told Hannah News on Thursday. "Customers can receive their winnings up to $25,000 through the Ohio Lottery mobile app or by visiting one of the state's seven racinos. We also have a complete list of 'Super Retailers' on our website who can cash prizes up to $5,000. Otherwise, players can claim prizes as they always have by submitting a claim form at one of our regional offices or mailing it in," Frizzi-Babb said. The Ohio Lottery recently announced it was hacked, exposing customer and retailer data.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) resigned as assistant minority whip for the Senate Democratic Caucus but is remaining in her 11th District seat, according to Wednesday's Senate Journal. The resignation took effect immediately, and Hicks-Hudson said she has "appreciated the opportunity to assist in guiding the Minority Caucus and supporting its members." She is running for a seat on the Lucas County Board of County Commissioners.


Summit County Councilwoman Veronica Sims was the lone applicant to fill the vacancy in the 33rd House District that was created when former Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) resigned to become Summit County Clerk of Courts, according to the House Democratic Caucus. Sims, a Democrat, was also the only candidate to file to run for the seat this year on either side of the aisle, although an independent candidate may still file to run by the Monday, March 18 deadline.


With experience in a large manufacturing company, small business and energy development, Sen. Brian Chavez (R-Marietta) says he's focused on laying the groundwork for economic development in the Appalachian region he represents. "Being able to share my experiences and my knowledge firsthand is a big thing I'll be able to bring to the Legislature," Chavez told Hannah News in an interview.


The publishing of public notices, the use of new community authorities, and the enforcement of zoning citations are among the items in the biennial omnibus township bill introduced to the House State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday. Reps. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and Thomas Hall (R-Middletown) gave sponsor testimony on the bill, HB315 (Seitz-Hall). Seitz noted that the Legislature has successfully passed a township omnibus bill containing recommendations in just about every one of the 12 General Assemblies he has served in, and this bill again seeks to accomplish that goal.


The Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio will hold its first meeting in late February, Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) announced Friday. Meeting dates are Tuesday, Feb. 20, Thursday, Feb. 22, Tuesday, March 19 and Wednesday, March 20, according to Edwards' office.


Human traffickers face 25 years to life behind bars for kidnapping, abducting, transporting or otherwise dealing in teens under 18 if the General Assembly passes and the governor signs legislation introduced Thursday by Reps. Nick Santucci (R-Warren) and Josh Williams (R-Oregon). Those trafficking adults would receive 15 years to life under the Human Trafficking Prevention Act. Sex and labor trafficking are currently a second-degree felony in Ohio and carry a sentence of 10-15 years in prison. The joint sponsors explained the penalty increase to a first-degree felony by noting Ohio's dubious distinction of having the fourth highest number of human trafficking cases in the nation -- over 97 percent involving commercial sex.


The DeWine administration's proposed administrative rules on gender-affirming care could block access to health care for transgender children and adults, the Senate Democratic Caucus said Tuesday. "Many of these proposed restrictions are extreme, burdensome and not evidence-based. They will make access to care so difficult that such care is effectively banned. These medical decisions should continue to be left to parents and individuals in consultation with their health care providers," Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine. "This proposal demonstrates harmful government overreach for Ohioans who want access to essential health care." They went on to submit their comments to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services by the deadline.


The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus Foundation (OLBCF) is accepting applications to join its Board of Directors. The organization is seeking individuals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, including professionals from sectors such as education, health care, business, law and community activism, fundraising and public policy. Those interested in applying can send inquiries or nominations to Board President Derrick Clay at dclay@shumakeradvisors.com and President/CEO Shayla L. Davis at president@olbcfoundation.org. OLBCF requests that applicants include a resume along with a statement of interest. The application deadline for submissions is Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024.


In other legislative action, the House Transportation Committee reported out the following naming bills: HB318 (Swearingen), HB299 (Jones), HB307 (Cutrona), HB316 (Edwards), HB330 (Lear-John), HB365 (Barhorst) and HB292 (Pavliga).


GUNS


The Ohio Supreme Court should affirm that cities have the right to enact measures to protect residents from gun violence, according to a new filing from the city of Columbus. Because state leaders have rescinded most firearm restrictions, the city should be permitted to take "reasonable action" to "promote responsible gun ownership to keep kids and communities safe," Columbus leaders said.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has donated supercomputing resources to the University of Cincinnati (UC) to be used for testing and creating learning environments at the Advanced Research Computing Center (ARCC) at Digital Futures, an interdisciplinary research facility at UC. ARCC is designed to accelerate computational research and scholarship. It provides tools and services used by researchers for artificial intelligence (AI), modeling and simulation and machine learning, UC explained.


Ohio State University (OSU) Tuesday announced that Ross Bjork will become the university's next senior vice president and athletics director, pending approval by the Board of Trustees. Bjork, who will replace long-time OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith, will begin on July 1, 2024, at the time of Smith's retirement. Bjork, a former student athlete, currently serves as director of athletics at Texas A&M University. He has more than 30 years of experience in intercollegiate athletics.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) has closed on bond financing for $22.8 million to support clean energy elements of a new residential/commercial building in the University of Cincinnati area. The urban redevelopment project is being undertaken by 47 WHT LLC, the agency said. The building design incorporates upgraded energy-efficient components and envelope including roof and windows; high-efficiency mechanical systems; energy-efficient lighting; and Energy Star appliances. A solar photovoltaic system installed on the roof will provide clean onsite power.


JUDICIAL


The Ohio Supreme Court refused Tuesday to protect millions of dollars of former FirstEnergy lobbyist and Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Sam Randazzo's assets from judicial seizure. While justices unanimously upheld the trial court and overruled the 10th District on procedural grounds, they found a judge's conclusion that creditors will suffer "irreparable injury" without seizure or attachment of funds is valid on its face and cannot be challenged by a defendant under R.C. 2715.045.


JUVENILE JUSTICE


The Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) should use capital dollars to build smaller correctional facilities, according to Ohio Juvenile Justice Working Group Chair Tom Stickrath. He also suggested bringing in “some fresh eyes and ears immediately to assess operations in our DYS facilities."


LOBBYISTS


Americans for Prosperity-Ohio (AFP-OH) named Hannah Kubbins as its legislative director. The group said she will be responsible for overseeing the legislative agenda. Kubbins previously served as deputy legislative director for AFP-OH, and has worked with other advocacy organizations in Ohio, including America's Future.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


Gov. Mike DeWine appeared with Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Andy Wilson, Ohio Department of Health Assistant Director Lance Himes and Dr. Gary Wenk of the Ohio State University Medical Center at a Wednesday press conference to encourage legislators to pass a bill that would prohibit the sale of intoxicating hemp, such as Delta-8 THC, to minors. DeWine said the House could move to pass the Senate-approved version of marijuana bill HB86 (LaRe), which he said includes language that would restrict sales of Delta-8 THC to minors. If HB86 doesn't pass, DeWine said a separate bill should be passed. He noted that Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) is working on a separate piece of legislation. DeWine also said he intends to push for legislation that prohibits the use of colorful packaging, animated characters, and confusing labeling that is being "marketed towards kids."


There are now 407,123 patients registered in the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), according to the November 2023 patient and caregiver update from the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC). DOC is now the primary administrator of the MMCP, as provided for in budget law HB33 (Edwards). The Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) now has a very limited role in regulating the medical cannabis industry. Of registered patients, 23,744 are military veterans, 24,692 are classified as "indigent" and 1,401 have a terminal diagnosis.


The Ohio Conference of Teamsters announced that Strawberry Fields in Columbus recently became the first cannabis dispensary in Ohio to join that union.


Rocket Systems Inc. is issuing a voluntary recall of various hemp products because they were produced without an inspection from the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg). The issue was discovered during a routine inspection conducted by ODAg, according to a news release issued by Rocket Systems and shared by ODAg. There have been no reports of illness involving products addressed in the recall.


MENTAL HEALTH


Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Wednesday announced a statewide effort to address an increase in suicide rates among Black children and young adults. Black youth have the fastest growing suicide rate nationally compared to their peers of other racial and ethnic groups. Between 2007 and 2020, the suicide rate among Black youth ages 10-17 increased by 144 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Black Youth and Young Adults Suicide Prevention Initiative will fund local and regional efforts to increase access to culturally responsive prevention and early intervention services that focus on reducing and strengthening protective factors.


NATURAL RESOURCES


According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife, Ohio hunters checked 12,712 white-tailed deer during Ohio's four-day muzzleloader season that concluded on Tuesday, Jan. 9. The total accounts for all deer taken with muzzleloader and archery equipment between Jan. 6-9. During the 2023 muzzleloader season, hunters checked 13,611 white-tailed deer. Over the last three years, the four-day season average was 12,255. During the 2024 muzzleloader season, hunters took 3,327 antlered deer (26 percent of deer taken), 7,797 does (62 percent), 1,284 button bucks (10 percent), and 304 (2 percent) bucks with shed antlers or antlers shorter than 3 inches.


NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS


The Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO) announced the launch of a new website meant to improve navigation and organization. HPIO said the new site includes work organized by focus area; a library of data graphics, featuring the graphic of the week; information about events, including recordings of past HPIO events; downloadable, presentation-ready data graphics from reports for public use; and an archive of all health policy news articles. Learn more at http://tinyurl.com/4m7r49ss.


PEOPLE


The Ohio Conservative Energy Forum (OHCEF) recently announced the appointment of Shayna Fritz as its new executive director. OHCEF noted her experience in government relations, political mobilization and coalition building. Fritz was previously with the American Motorcycle Association and has also held positions with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Prevention Action Alliance and the Tennessee General Assembly.


Groundwork Ohio announced the promotion of Lynanne Gutierrez to president. Gutierrez joined Groundwork Ohio in 2017 and most recently served as the organization's chief operating and policy officer. "Lynanne's passion and dedication to children is unmatched as is her thoughtful, skilled and expert approach to policy advocacy," said Shannon Jones, CEO of Groundwork Ohio.


POVERTY


Helped by the expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the COVID pandemic in 2020, food insecurity among low-income adults in the U.S. fell by nearly 5 percent, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers based their findings on the results of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) from 2019, 2021 and 2022. The year 2020 was not included in the study's findings because of pandemic-era restrictions on completing the survey. The research showed that food insecurity among low-income adults decreased from 20.6 percent in 2019 to 15.5 percent in 2021, then rebounded to pre-pandemic levels at 20.1 percent in 2022. Among the subset of survey respondents receiving SNAP benefits, food insecurity decreased from 34.6 percent in 2019 to 21.6 percent in 2021, and remained lower than pre-pandemic levels at 27.0 percent in 2022.


PUBLIC SAFETY


Local law enforcement agencies across Ohio are set to receive nearly $4.8 million to help cover costs associated with body-worn camera programs, according to Gov. Mike DeWine. The funding is part of the third-round of the Ohio Body-Worn Camera Grant Program. A total of 108 law enforcement agencies will receive funding; 32 will use funding to create new body-worn camera programs and 76 agencies will dedicate funding toward expanding or upgrading existing technology.


STATE GOVERNMENT


Cheryl Lyman Thursday announced she will retire effective Feb. 29 as executive director of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC), which oversees capital projects at state agencies, manages public K-12 school facility programs for construction and renovation projects, and administers funding for community, cultural and sports facilities projects. The announcement came during the commission's January meeting. Lyman has nearly 35 years of experience in public service. During her tenure as executive director, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded OFCC a national leadership award and recognized Ohio as a global leader in Leadership in Energy and Design certified public buildings. Lyman received the Exceptional Women in Building Award from the National Institute of Building Services. OFCC also highlighted her oversight of DeWine administration initiatives such as the Ohio K-12 School Safety Grant and the Career Tech Construction Grant programs, as well as her role in planning Expo 2050, which include renovations and improvements at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair grounds.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission (OTIC) heard reports on 2023 data during its meeting Tuesday, with Chief Financial Officer Lisa Mejac saying toll revenues for the year included $226.5 million for commercial vehicles and $134.3 million for passenger vehicles. Passenger toll revenues were approximately 7.1 percent over 2022 levels while commercial toll revenues were approximately 0.2 percent higher. The latter figure reflected toll rate increases, as miles traveled by commercial vehicles decreased approximately 2.2 percent.


Reports of the death of those funny electronic messages on highway signs in Ohio have been greatly exaggerated. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recently updated its manual on uniform traffic control devices, which governs various signs and signals across the country for uniformity, so drivers for example, know that a green light in California or Nebraska both mean "go." That recent update issued last month included language that warned states that the electronic signs used by states to inform drivers of highway conditions or crashes should not display "messages with obscure meaning, references to popular culture, that are intended to be humorous, or otherwise use nonstandard syntax for a traffic control device" because they can be misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users and, therefore, degrade the overall effectiveness of the sign as an official traffic control device. However, Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) spokesman Matt Bruning said that the feds weren't telling states to stop with the funny messages, but to be more mindful of those displays. He said the message was originally sent out in a memo to states in 2021 that told states they were pushing the envelope too far, and that they needed to remember the original intent of the signs to be used for emergency and traffic information.


Three projects to eliminate dangerous railroad crossings were approved for grants by the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) on Thursday. The projects are the first funded through the new Ohio Grade Crossing Elimination Program (OGCEP), which was created in budget law HB33 (Edwards). The budget provides $100 million for the program in FY24.


WORKFORCE


The Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation recently updated the state's "Top Jobs" list as required every two years, providing new information on which occupations are in-demand or deemed critical. The in-demand jobs must pay at least 80 percent of the state median wage of $17.22 an hour, have an annual growth in the number of jobs higher than the statewide average; or have more than 641 annual job openings. Among the newly added jobs are avionics technicians, at a median salary of $58,000; biomedical engineers, at a median salary of $93,000; and chemical engineers, at a median salary of $99,000.

 



 



[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2023 Hannah News Service, Inc.]


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