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Week in Review - January 9, 2023


Ohio statehouse government affairs week in review January 2023

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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.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) Wednesday launched the beginning farmer tax credit, a program created by passage of 134-HB95 (Lightbody-Manchester). ODAg said the tax credit is now available to farmers entering the profession and those who help beginning farmers. "Agriculture and food is Ohio's number one industry," said ODAg Interim Director Tracy Intihar. "The beginning farmer tax credit will help keep costs down for new producers and encourage others to help them."


CIVIL RIGHTS


Ohio cities are among the highest-scoring municipalities in the U.S. for protecting LGBTQ+ individuals, according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation and the Equality Federation. The Municipal Equality Index (MEI) measures LGBTQ+ equality in municipal policies, laws and services in 506 cities across the country, including eight in Ohio, according to HRC. The average score for cities in Ohio is 97 out of 100, significantly higher than the national average of 68. Seven of the eight Ohio cities received the assessment's "All-Star" designation. The eight Ohio cities scored are as follows:


Akron: 100 (All-Star designation)

Cincinnati: 100 (All-Star)

Cleveland: 100 (All-Star)

Columbus: 100 (All-Star)

Dayton: 100 (All-Star)

Dublin: 100 (All-Star)

Lakewood: 81

Toledo: 94 (All-Star)

CORONAVIRUS/MONKEYPOX


The relatively large segment of older Ohioans who haven't received an updated COVID booster meant to protect against recent variants are at greater risk of serious illness or death, leaders of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio Department of Aging (ODA) said Wednesday. While nearly 87 percent of those 65 and older completed the primary vaccination series, just 38 percent have received the new boosters updated to target Omicron subvariants. Nearly 80 percent of Ohioans who've died of COVID were 65 or older; about 2,500 Americans and 90 Ohioans are dying per week, according to ODH. Those who are immunocompromised or have certain other chronic conditions also are at increased risk, according to ODH. "Based on the numbers, we have not given ourselves every advantage that we could," ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said. "Many of these deaths are, sadly, preventable."


Reported COVID-19 cases were down during the holiday period, with ODH data showing 17,891 in the week ending Dec. 22 compared to 13,037 for Dec. 29 and 13,895 Thursday. The latest numbers for hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths, however, either returned to around Dec. 22 levels or increased above them. There were 666 hospitalizations, 47 ICU admissions and 93 deaths in the Dec. 22 data, compared to 709 hospitalizations, 45 ICU admissions and 105 deaths in the latest figures. The Dec. 29 data included 608 hospitalizations, 35 ICU admissions and 88 deaths. Since the pandemic began, ODH has reported 3.32 million cases, 134,193 hospitalizations, 14,761 ICU admissions and 41,033 deaths.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/URBAN REVITALIZATION


Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted recently announced $88 million in state support for 123 brownfield remediation projects. The projects will clean up hazardous and underutilized sites throughout the state, the governor's office said. The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) is funding the awards through the Ohio Brownfield Remediation Program, which is designed to clean up and prepare hazardous brownfield sites for redevelopment. The projects announced will affect communities in 35 counties. The $88 million grant announcement includes approximately $79.3 million for cleanup/remediation projects and $8.8 million for 51 assessment projects. These grants are in addition to the $60 million in Ohio Brownfield Remediation Program grants awarded in April 2022 and $192 million awarded in June 2022.


ECONOMY


Economic experts gave their 2023 forecasts for the region at the Columbus Metropolitan Club's forum Wednesday, with Regionomics founder Bill LaFayette saying there may be a "bumpy road" ahead but the long-term future is bright for Central Ohio. He predicted a net gain of 10,300 jobs -- or 0.9 percent -- that would bring the Columbus metro area to 1.136 million jobs, but he said there will be declines in employment compared to 2022 for part of the year. With Intel underpinning his long-term outlook, LaFayette said there will be a "crucial unknown" regarding suppliers and other indirect sources and so the overall project could see the addition of up to 67,000 jobs. Construction will also be a "bright spot" for this year that will continue into the 2030s. Nationwide Mutual Chief Economist Kathy Bostjancic said she expects the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates to above 5 percent and hold them there for the rest of the year to try to reduce inflation. She also predicted a recession in the second half of 2023 but that it would not be "very severe."


EDUCATION


Though the most sweeping K-12 proposal of the lame duck session failed in the final hours, lawmakers still made a substantial number of education policy changes before wrapping up the 134th General Assembly. Senate GOP-backed SB178 (Reineke), which would transfer most K-12 policymaking and implementation authority from the State Board of Education and superintendent to the governor's cabinet, could not garner House approval in the late hours of the Wednesday-Thursday marathon sessions. With it fell an attempt to restrict participation of transgender student athletes via HB151 (Jones), which the Senate used as a vehicle to try to win passage of SB178. Teacher licensure bill HB554 (Lightbody-Bird) carried several new policies into law. Reps. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) and Adam Bird (R-New Richmond), respectively a former teacher and school superintendent, introduced the measure as a way to address educator shortages by making it easier for teachers with expired licenses to return to the classroom. But in the final week of legislative activity, the Senate Primary and Second Education Committee loaded it up with several amendments, including one that encompassed SB356 (Brenner), which expands the definition of children with a developmental delay, affecting special education funding levels for those students.


ELECTIONS 2022


In a settlement agreement approved by the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) on Thursday, Jan. 5, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Blystone admitted to violating campaign finance laws and will pay OEC a fine of more than $100,000. As part of the agreement, Blystone is also prohibited from running for public office for five years. The fine will come out of the campaign committee of Friends of Joe Blystone.


Before the holidays, Rep. Shayla Davis (D-Garfield Hts.) received a $250 fine from the OEC. OEC Executive Director Phil Richter said Davis was recently fined $100, which she paid in April. "We're back again. A report was late, and no response was submitted," Richter said. The commission voted 7-0 to fine Davis $250. Davis, who was appointed to replace former Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) in February, didn't pull petitions in time to run for the seat herself. She attempted to run for the seat as an Independent, but Secretary of State Frank LaRose disqualified her from the ballot for failing to "disaffiliate from the Democratic Party in good faith."


A case involving Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) was continued at the request of Upchurch's legal counsel, Don McTigue.


ENERGY/UTILITIES


Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Vice Chair Beth Trombold announced her resignation Thursday, Jan. 5 after a decade on the regulatory commission. The seat is up for reappointment, with Trombold making her departure effective Feb. 10, two months prior to the end of her term. The PUCO Nominating Council opened the application process for her seat just before the holidays. The term for her position commences April 11 and runs through April 10, 2028.


FirstEnergy Corp. has agreed to another $3.9 million fine for hiding $60 million in slush money to a nonprofit benefiting former Republican House Speaker Larry Householder and over $22 million to companies benefiting former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Sam Randazzo. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says the utility only admitted those payments in 2021 after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) held FirstEnergy's feet to the fire as part of a deferred prosecution agreement. The consent agreement was filed by FERC and FirstEnergy Friday, Dec. 30 and awaits final approval. The 11-page agreement notes that, as far back as 2019, FERC had launched an audit of the utility's "lobbying and governmental affairs expenses," corporate cross-subsidization, accounting, record keeping, reporting and document retention, including multiple data requests and three site visits.


ENVIRONMENT


Anne Vogel will be the next director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), Gov. Mike DeWine announced. Vogel is currently the governor's policy director. If confirmed by the Senate, Vogel will replace Ohio EPA Director Laurie Stevenson, who retired at the end of 2022. DeWine commented, "Because she worked with me as policy director, Anne knows my priorities and will provide leadership to this important agency charged with protecting Ohio's air, land and water." As policy director for DeWine during his first term, Vogel was charged with implementing the vision for the major initiatives of the DeWine-Husted administration.


Ohio EPA is now accepting grant applications for education projects. Ohio Environmental Education Fund (OEEF) grants can be awarded to preschool through university students and teachers, the general public and the regulated community, Ohio EPA said. The OEEF awards mini grants of $500 to $5,000, and general grants up to $50,000, with two application cycles annually (in January and July). Application guidelines for 2023 are now posted, and the next application cycle is open. To begin the application process, applicants may submit letters of intent through OEEF's electronic grant management system no later than Tuesday, Jan. 10. Completed applications must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17.


GAMING/GAMBLING


At least 28 companies were eligible to begin offering sports betting services on the universal start date for the new industry -- Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023. According to a preliminary list provided by the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC), 16 type A mobile sportsbooks and 12 type B brick-and-mortar sportsbooks had received final approval from the commission.


Ohio's new sports gambling industry began on New Year's Day without any significant problems, according to OCCC and the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC). "Anecdotally, there may have been some instances where maybe some of the operators, their apps or their websites weren't working precisely at midnight. But I am unaware of any issues at launch that would require the commission's attention. As far as we're concerned, it was a successful launch," OCCC spokesperson Jessica Franks told Hannah News. Similarly, OLC spokesperson Danielle Frizzi-Babb said, "Lottery sports gaming launched successfully on Jan. 1."


BetMGM, Caesars and DraftKings are each being fined $150,000 for violations of Ohio law and administrative rules pertaining to sports betting advertising and promotions, the OCCC announced Thursday. "The sports gaming industry has received multiple reminders of the rules and standards for advertising and promotions, yet continues to disregard Ohio law. These repeated violations leave the commission no choice but to pursue administrative action to bring operators into compliance," OCCC Executive Director Matt Schuler said.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


For the second time in the last few years, Democrats used their sway to pick the Ohio House speaker after a divided House Republican Caucus split, elevating Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) to the speaker's dais despite Republicans announcing Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) as the speaker-elect last year. Merrin had won a closed caucus vote over Stephens and Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) in November after Plummer encouraged his supporters to back Merrin. As the 135th General Assembly gaveled in, word had circulated through the Statehouse that Stephens and his supporters were lobbying Democrats to vote for him over Merrin. The last time a floor vote went differently than a caucus election was when former House Speaker Larry Householder enlisted the help of Democrats to defeat House Speaker Ryan Smith in 2019. Smith would later be replaced by Stephens after he resigned to take a job as president of the University of Rio Grande. Rep. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) was elected speaker pro tempore, though 14 Republicans voted against his election.


The Senate is launching two new standing committees but trying to keep membership consistent from the past two years on the remaining panels, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said. In a Monday media call and remarks after the Tuesday, Jan. 3 Senate session, Huffman shared committee structure plans and legislative priorities for the 135th General Assembly. Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario), a longtime member and leader of the Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee, will chair the new Senate standing committee on Medicaid. In addition, Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) will chair a committee focused on community revitalization, a follow up to the Addiction and Community Revitalization Committee of the previous General Assembly, a select committee that traveled the state to gather input. Huffman said it will focus on various "relief" programs for addiction recovery, seniors, people with disabilities and other communities.


The following are all of the Senate committees for the 135th General Assembly and their chairs:


  • Agriculture and Natural Resources - Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster)

  • Community Revitalization - Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott)

  • Education - Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell)

  • Energy and Public Utilities - Sen. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin)

  • Finance - Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls)

  • Financial Institutions and Technology - Sen. Steve Wilson (R-Maineville)

  • General Government - Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem)

  • Government Oversight - Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson)

  • Health - Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City)

  • Insurance - Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London)

  • Judiciary - Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville)

  • Local Government - Sen. Sandra O'Brien (R-Rome)

  • Medicaid - Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario)

  • Rules and Reference - Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima)

  • Small Business and Economic Opportunity - Sen. George Lang (R-West Chester)

  • Transportation - Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard)

  • Veterans and Public Safety - Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction)

  • Senate Ways and Means - Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati)

  • Workforce and Higher Education - Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland)

As for legislative priorities, Huffman expressed hopes for a "comprehensive and reform-minded budget" by the summer deadline. "I want to ferret out a lot of programs that maybe sometime in the past were a good idea but aren't anymore. We want to prevent duplicative programs. So a lot of that isn't terribly interesting," he said. "A lot of ideas for priorities I don't know about until senators come to me and say, here's a bill I'm going to introduce," Huffman said. As he vowed during the lame duck session, the plan to overhaul K-12 education governance will be back in the new General Assembly. Huffman had championed Sen. Bill Reineke's (R-Tiffin) 134-SB178, which would have transferred most authority of the State Board of Education and state superintendent to a new Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, led by a cabinet director answering to the governor. It ultimately fell short at the last minute after being paired with restrictions on transgender student athletes in 134-HB151 (Jones). Asked about passage of more abortion restrictions in the wake of last year's U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs ruling, Huffman said they are "logistically in the same place" as a few weeks ago, when he expressed a desire to "clarify" the existing fetal "heartbeat" law but did not ultimately bring forth a proposal.


After being unanimously elected minority leader during Tuesday's Senate session, Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said she's honored to be the first openly LGBTQ individual to serve in that capacity in Ohio history. "What that means to me is that the door is open. Everything is possible," Antonio said during her floor speech. "When there are disparaging remarks, when there is bigotry posed against members of any marginalized community -- but yes, the LGBTQ community -- I believe that most of the time, it's just a lack of understanding," she continued. "It's a lack of, perhaps, not knowing someone or getting to know what their life experience is like. Every time we have a conversation, everyone evolves, and we shift, and we move toward tolerance, toward acceptance and toward realizing that it takes all of us together to make an interesting and productive world." Antonio also mentioned her working class upbringing, saying she didn't expect to become a state legislator and that her parents would be "amazed" with where she is today.


On the Republican side, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) was unanimously re-elected to his leadership position on Tuesday. "The tone that we set and the things that we can create here are important. Really, the challenge of the future isn't just the laws we make in the state of Ohio, but it's also our relationship with the federal government," Huffman said during his floor speech. "We know that the federal government is a creation of the states, and that happened over 200 years ago. I do believe it's our duty to ensure that the federal government performs its responsibilities faithfully without overreach, and this, frankly, is a primary challenge to the sovereignty of the state of Ohio," he said.


A sprinkler head on the Statehouse fire suppression system popped off and sent torrents of water cascading down the columns and walls of the Senate chamber and adjoining sergeant-at-arms office and members' lounge Tuesday morning, Dec. 27. The flooding also brought water raining down via the ventilation system into the Statehouse Press Room, which sits under the Senate Chamber. The break was likely related to the deep freeze experienced across the state over the Christmas holiday.


The Senate Thursday, Dec. 22 released its 2023 session schedule. Unless otherwise noted, sessions will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 11 a.m. on Thursdays. After the opening day session on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the chamber is not expected to be back until Wednesday, Feb. 8, although an if-needed session is on the calendar for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31. Near the budget deadline and the start of the summer break, the chamber has sessions scheduled for Tuesday, June 27 and Wednesday, June 28, with if-needed sessions set for 11 a.m. on both Thursday, June 29 and Friday, June 30. Sessions will pick up again in the fall on Wednesday, Sept. 13 and are due to wrap up for the year on Wednesday, Dec. 13. This followed the House’s releasing its schedule, but with the upset in the speaker election in early January, that schedule will likely change.


After a career spanning all levels and all branches of Ohio government, Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) spoke with Hannah News as he was in the midst of his final tasks as leader of the Ohio House just before the Christmas holidays. "I've got packing up," he said. "Then I've got to find room in my home for all this stuff.” Cupp, who began his career in the Legislature in the midst of Ohio's Home State Bank failure, would later go on to help lawmakers address school funding after the Ohio Supreme Court declared Ohio's reliance on property taxes unconstitutional, and rounded that career out with his time as speaker during the worst pandemic in more than 100 years, succeeding a previous speaker who had been indicted. His political career also includes time as a county commissioner, appellate court judge, Ohio Supreme Court justice, and the top lawyer in the state auditor's office. Cupp said he doesn't know what's next for him.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine kicked off the new year Monday, Jan. 2 by signing 19 bills from the 134th General Assembly into law, including ones on prohibiting swatting, expanding income tax deductions allowed for contributions to 529 education savings plans, establishing domestic violence fatality review boards, requiring dementia-related training for medical service personnel and police, and more. He followed up Tuesday by signing a handful of other bills, while vetoing HB286 (Seitz), which would allow court challenges against state agency actions to be tried in plaintiffs' home counties rather than Franklin County. In his veto message, DeWine noted he'd previously stricken similar language and called the bill "simply too broad." On Thursday, he announced additional bill signings.


The governor signed the following bills, which become effective in 90 days unless otherwise noted:


134-HB23 (Plummer-West) to require emergency medical service personnel and peace officers to undergo dementia-related training and to increase the maximum allowable age for new state highway patrol troopers.


134-HB35 (LaRe-Click) to permit mayors to solemnize marriages anywhere within Ohio.


134-HB66 (Hoops) to amend Section 130.12 of H.B. 110 of the 134th General Assembly and Section 8 of SB18 of the 134th General Assembly as subsequently amended to revise the tax laws and to make certain operating appropriations for the biennium ending June 30, 2023, and capital appropriations for the biennium ending June 30, 2024. Eff. Immediately.


134-HB107 (Baldridge) to revise the Elevator Law and to repeal sections 4105.30, 4785.01, 4785.02, 4785.021, 4785.03, 4785.04, 4785.041, 4785.05, 4785.051, 4785.06, 4785.07, 4785.08, 4785.09, 4785.091, 4785.092, 4785.10, and 4785.99 of the Revised Code on the date that is 10 years after the effective date of this act to subsequently eliminate licensure of elevator contractors and mechanics in 10 years.


134-HB150 (Hillyer) to establish the Rural Practice Incentive Program, to establish a task force to study Ohio's indigent defense system, and to make an appropriation. Eff. Immediately.


134-HB178 (Schmidt-A. Miller) to limit the water pressure of water features at swimming pools and to name this act Makenna's Law.


134-HB254 (Boggs-Abrams) to establish domestic violence fatality review boards.


134-HB281 (Jarrells-T. Young), which updates terminology in the Revised Code regarding people with mental illnesses and people with disabilities, changes the name of a commission to the Commission on African-Americans and modifies the membership of the commission, and names the act the Mental Health and Disability Terminology Act.


134-HB343 (White) which implements Marsy’s Law, a crime victims rights constitutional amendment passed by Ohio voters.


134-HB353 (Click-Miranda) to enact "The Testing Your Faith Act" to require each state institution of higher education to adopt a policy providing students with religious accommodations.


134-HB392 (Ferguson-K. Miller) to authorize ambulance transport of an injured police dog when the dog is injured in the line of duty, to clarify when a person may ride in a moving fifth wheel trailer, and to revise the law governing the mounting of a vehicle safety device on the windshield of a motor vehicle.


134-HB405 (Stewart-Johnson) to make changes to county hospital trustees law, to allow the coroner's office to access the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, and to allow a county treasurer to electronically deliver tax bills.


134-HB423 (Roemer-B. Young) to designate the All-American Soap Box Derby as the official state gravity racing program, and to designate "Eugene 'Gene' F. Kranz Day," "Ohio Burn Awareness Week," "Ohio Public Lands Day," "Pollinator Week," and "Ulysses S. Grant Day."


134-HB462 (K. Miller) to prohibit swatting, to add swatting to the definition of an offense of violence, and to make changes regarding exempt employee pay ranges and pay ranges for certain State Highway Patrol officers.


134-HB487 (T. Young) to change the bidding process for contracts for ballot printing, to eliminate the requirement that all contracts for ballots for Ohio elections are rewarded to vendors within the state and printed within the state.



134-HB501 (Hall), which makes various township law changes, subjects small solar facilities to local regulation, and makes an exception to the Uniform Depository Act for the treasurer and governing board that is a member of the Little Miami Joint Fire and Rescue District for certain investments of interim funds.


134-HB504 (Johnson-Carfagna), which increases the penalty for "disturbing a lawful meeting" when committed with the intent to disturb or disquiet an assemblage for religious worship or to prevent, disrupt, or interfere with a virtual meeting or gathering for religious worship.


134-HB509 (John-Fowler-Arthur), which revises and streamlines the state's occupational regulations, extends the authorization for two boards set to expire under the Sunset Review Law, and amends the version of section 4723.481 of the Revised Code that is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 30, 2024, to continue the change on and after that date.


134-HB545 (Abrams-Baldridge), which allows for privileged testimonial communications between a peer support team member and an individual receiving peer support services or advice from the team member.


134-HB554 (Lightbody-Bird) which establishes a process for teaches with expired professional teacher’s certificates and professional educator licenses to obtain a temporary education license.


134-HB558 (Roemer-Jordan), which modifies the laws governing the drug repository program for donated prescription drugs and the laws governing access to overdose reversal drugs, authorizes a pharmacist to modify a prescription to include a drug delivery device, registers pediatric transition care programs, designates March as "Bleeding Disorders Awareness Month," and designates the fourth Wednesday of February as "Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Awareness Day."


134-HB567 (Stewart-Brown), which addresses records kept by the clerk of the court of common pleas, court of common pleas court orders made out of court, and common pleas court clerk maintenance of court materials, and provides immunity to clerks of court who post online a case document with personal identifiers; provides that documents received, created, or converted by the clerk of court in electronic format are considered the official version of the record; revises the duties of the board of county commissioners in relation to the clerk of the court of common pleas; amends the law regarding notaries public; allows the Tiffin-Fostoria municipal court and the Seneca County court of common pleas to continue to exercise concurrent jurisdiction in operating a drug addiction recovery program indefinitely; and exempts peace officers from the notary application criminal records check, and makes changes to the notarization requirements for motor vehicle and watercraft certificate of title documents when a licensed motor vehicle dealer is involved in the transfer of title.


134-HB569 (Holmes-White), which authorizes institutions of higher education to establish Ohio Hidden Hero Scholarship Programs.


134-HB575 (Cutrona), which modernizes fraternal benefit society solvency regulation and oversight.


134-HB578 (Roemer), which creates and amends various specialty license plates and designates and amends various memorial highways and bridges.


134-SB33 (Hottinger-Brenner) to expand the income tax deduction allowed for contributions to Ohio's 529 education savings plans to include contributions to 529 plans established by other states.


134-SB63 (O’Brien) to allow a board of county commissioners to authorize a county department of probation to accept payments by credit card.


134-SB131 (Roegner-McColley) to require an occupational licensing authority to issue a license or government certification to an applicant who holds a license, government certification, or private certification or has satisfactory work experience in another state under certain circumstances, to specify that individuals may not register as credit services organizations, to specify that individuals may not be licensed as manufacturers or wholesalers of fireworks, to maintain State Teacher Retirement System membership for certain school psychologists, and to revise continuing education requirements for licensed auctioneers.


134-SB164 (Hottinger-Yuko) to revise the law and penalties associated with companion animal cruelty and to generally prohibit an animal shelter from destroying a domestic animal by the use of a gas chamber.


134-SB202 (Hackett-Antonio) to prohibit a person's disability from being the basis to deny or limit custody, parenting time, visitation, adoption, or service as a guardian or foster caregiver, regarding a minor.


134-SB302 (Hackett-Reineke) to amend Section 8 of SB18 of the 134th General Assembly, as subsequently amended, to make changes to the Unemployment Compensation Law.


Appointments made during the week include the following:


  • Steve Boymel of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) to the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2023, and ending Jan. 1, 2031; and Michelle A. Gillis of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 2, 2023, and ending Jan. 1, 2032.

  • Beverly A. Vitaz of Concord (Lake County) reappointed to the Lakeland Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 20, 2022, and ending Oct. 12, 2027; and Paul Lienard Rupert of Kirtland (Lake Co.) and Jack C. Cornachio of Willoughby (Lake County) appointed for terms beginning Dec. 20, 2022, and ending Oct. 12, 2027.

  • Donald Louis Ortner of Oberlin (Lorain County) reappointed to the Lorain County Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Dec. 19, 2022, and ending Aug. 30, 2027; and Thomasina B. Patton of Avon Lake (Lorain County) appointed for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2023, and ending Aug. 30, 2027.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday, Dec. 22 signed Executive Order 2022-17-D, allowing the State Board of Pharmacy to issue an emergency rule that classifies tianeptine as a Schedule 1 controlled substance and bans its sale and use in the state. According to the pharmacy board, tianeptine is an atypical tricyclic antidepressant that is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The drug (marketed as Coaxil or Stablon) is approved for use in Europe, Asia and Latin America. In the U.S., tianeptine is known as ZaZa and Tianna Red by users, who can find it readily available in gas stations, convenience stores and online.


HIGHER EDUCATION


The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) has awarded nearly $28 million through the Choose Ohio First (COF) program, designed to increase the state's workforce in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The scholarships, which will be awarded over the next five years, will support an estimated 3,400 students pursuing STEM degrees and certificates. The funding marks the fourth round of grants for the COF program under the DeWine-Husted administration. It will create new scholarship opportunities at 45 colleges and universities across the state, including several schools that are new to the program.


JUDICIAL


Gov. Mike DeWine announced the appointment of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters Thursday, Dec. 22 to the Ohio Supreme Court, filling Justice Sharon Kennedy’s seat as she becomes chief justice. The appointment secures a conservative majority of four Republican justices, including three who have opposed Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and the Court's three Democrats in rulings on redistricting and other matters. Deters has served Hamilton County for two separate terms totaling 24 years as its longest-running prosecuting attorney, overseeing more than 170 employees. Prior to that, he was credited with modernizing the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Office after being elected to that post.


New Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Sharon Kennedy cited her problem-solving skills Tuesday as she prepares to preside over a 4-3 Republican majority on the high court. "My father told me I could be anything I wanted be," said a statement from Kennedy, a member of the Court since 2012. "There are only three rules to life -- decide and commit, work hard and have fortitude." The first-generation college graduate earned a degree in social work "to help people solve life problems," followed by her career as a Hamilton police officer and her admission to the Ohio bar. She served first as a part-time magistrate and then as a domestic relations judge in Butler County Area Courts. While in private practice, she partnered with Butler County Juvenile Court to develop the Compass Life-Skills Program.


A divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled in December that the absence of a fire extinguisher or other safety equipment in a classroom can be considered a "physical defect" such that an exception to immunity exists. In the case, two female students filed a complaint against Greenville City Schools and others in May 2020, alleging the school negligently caused their injuries when they suffered severe burns after a bottle of isopropyl alcohol caught fire and exploded in a science class. The students alleged in part that the school failed to provide proper safety equipment, "especially, but not limited to, a fire extinguisher inside the classroom." In the majority opinion, filed Wednesday, Dec. 28, Justice Melody Stewart writes that the Court affirms a prior decision by the Second District Court of Appeals, saying "on review of the cases addressing the issue, we agree with the courts that have held that the lack of safety equipment or other safety features could amount to a physical defect. We therefore conclude that the absence of a fire extinguisher or other safety equipment within a science classroom could be a physical defect such that an exception to immunity could exist under R.C. 2744.02(B)(4)."


Gov. Mike DeWine appointed two judges near the end of 2022. Judge Joan Synenberg of Bratenahl, defeated for re-election to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in November, was appointed to another seat on the bench, effective Saturday, Jan. 14. She will succeed Deborah Turner, who was elected to a different seat on the court. DeWine also appointed Rhonda Burggraf to Marion County Family Court to succeed retiring Judge Robert D. Fragale. Burggraf will take the bench Monday, Jan. 9 and must run in 2024 to retain the seat.


The Ohio Supreme Court has ended any doubt about the state's judicial branch authority to interpret laws passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, invoking the two-century-old U.S. Supreme Court finding in Marbury v. Madison (1803): "It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." That seminal decision coincided with Ohio's admission to the Union, though the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council (1984) that federal courts must defer to administrative interpretations of ambiguous statutes -- a position that Justice R. Patrick DeWine says "cannot be reconciled with Ohio law." DeWine wrote the opinion in Twism Enterprises v. State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors in the final days of 2022 after oral arguments last July. "We reject all forms of mandatory deference," he said flatly, mooting either an "ambiguous" or a "reasonable" test for executive branch interpretations.


NATURAL RESOURCES


After the holidays, live-cut Christmas trees can be repurposed as habitat for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. Recycled live-cut Christmas trees are used as fish habitat in both public and private waters. Christmas trees are donated to the Division of Wildlife by community recycling and drop-off programs. The trees are bundled together and weighted down so they sink to the bottom, attracting fish and providing cover.


NEWS MEDIA


The Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association (OLCA) met Tuesday for its biennial organizing meeting, and members voted to retain current officers. Noah Blundo of Hannah News is president for the 135th General Assembly; Jessie Balmert of the USA Today Network Ohio Bureau is vice president; Jeremy Pelzer of Cleveland.com is treasurer; and Mike Livingston of Gongwer News Service is secretary.


The Ohio Radio-Television Correspondents Association also elected its leadership Tuesday: Jo Ingles of the Ohio Public Radio-TV Statehouse News Bureau as president; Karen Kasler, also of public radio-TV, as vice president; Natalie Fahmy of NBC4 in Columbus as treasurer; and Morgan Trau of WEWS as secretary.


NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS


The Board of Directors for the Center for Community Solutions, a Cleveland-based think tank, announced the election of Kyle Miller as its new chair for the next two years. Miller is external affairs manager for Dominion Energy. Trained as an attorney, Miller previously worked in government affairs for the Sisters of Charity Health System and on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). Other officers are Vice Presidents Genesis Brown of Hyland Software, Seth Reimer of Stanford Road Advisors, and Tana Peckham of the Cleveland Public Library; Treasurer Heather Stoll of Sisters of Charity Health System; and Secretary Jenice Contreras of the Hispanic Business Center and Northeast Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost Wednesday announced the creation of a new "Charitable University" in his office to assist nonprofits with training and accountability. He says the online learning platform will educate nonprofit board members about their legal obligations and charitable best practices. His office annually oversees more than 60,000 active nonprofits with combined assets of more than $300 billion. To promote fraud-free organizations in 2023, the attorney general's office is requiring nonprofits to complete Charitable U. to apply for AG grant funds. Graduating nonprofits will be listed on its website and earn a certificate of completion that expires after three years, "as laws and best practices continually evolve," the attorney general said.


The Ohio State Bar Foundation (OSBF) has awarded $644,685 in grants to 16 nonprofit organizations during its fall grant cycle. "Each project supports the OSBF's mission to promote the pursuit of justice and public understanding of the rule of law," OSBF said. The grants will provide mentorship and leadership opportunities for students, legal and civic education for immigrant populations, and services that cover a wide range of issues including domestic violence, disability rights and homelessness.


PENSIONS


A special audit by the auditor of state’s office of the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) launched in response to allegations of mismanagement and secrecy found no evidence of illegality but includes several recommendations for how the pension fund could be more transparent and effective. The system should scrutinize its practice of bonus payments for investment staff and rely less on trade secrets exemptions that prevent some investment information from becoming public, for example. Auditor of State Keith Faber initiated the special audit in response to a 2021 report by Edward Siedle of Benchmark Financial Services, who was hired by the Ohio Retired Teachers Association to conduct an outside review of STRS amid retiree discontent over STRS management and the multi-year suspension of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).


PEOPLE


The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced Wednesday that Brittney Colvin has joined the Ohio team as director of policy and government relations. Most recently, Colvin served as the deputy director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Colvin will lead the organization's work across the state to develop and influence public policy outcomes "to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends."


Jean Botomogno, chief economist at the Legislative Service Commission (LSC), died unexpectedly on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at Riverside Hospital in Columbus. A celebration of his life for close friends and family will be held at a later date, according to his obituary. Botomogno had worked for LSC since 2000 after having been an enrolled agent for the IRS and a tax preparer for H&R Block.


PUBLIC SAFETY


The governor and legislators said the primary goal of distracted driving legislation signed Tuesday is deterrence and conceded another bill may be necessary to significantly expand punishment of smart phone use behind the wheel. Gov. Mike DeWine gathered for the bill signing in his Statehouse offices with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted; Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Charles Jones; WBNS-10TV sports anchor Dom Tiberi, whose daughter died in a distracted driving crash; and a half dozen legislators involved in the introduction and passage of distracted driving legislation as amended into criminal justice omnibus 134-SB288 (Manning). "With the signing of SB288 (Manning), we begin a change to the culture in Ohio with regard to distracted driving," DeWine said, calling the newly enacted primary offense a "teacher" of those who may be tempted to use smart phones while operating a motor vehicle. "This legislation is a compromise," he said, citing the prosecutors, defense bar and law enforcement that came to the table to put more teeth in Ohio's distracted driving laws. "The most important thing is the signal it sends."


Traffic fatalities were up this year for the Christmas holiday but down for New Year's weekend, the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) reports. Thirteen people died in seven accidents around the state between Dec. 23-26, followed by 11 fatalities in nine crashes between Dec. 30-Jan. 2. Those compare to 10 deaths over Christmas and 12 fatalities over New Year's in 2021.


SECRETARY OF STATE


Secretary of State Frank LaRose Thursday announced 13,420 new business filings in November 2022, down 93 filings from November 2021. "Ohio remains the destination for entrepreneurs and innovation with nearly 200,000 new filings each year," said LaRose. "As we look forward to 2023, we will continue to look for new ways to support new business growth." According to the secretary of state's office, 165,624 new businesses have been created in 2022 so far, averaging 15,056 per month; 184,494 had been created at the same point last year, which set the filing record with 197,010 business filings.


TOBACCO/SMOKING


Gov. Mike DeWine issued a second veto of lame duck legislation Thursday, Jan. 5, striking down legislation that would preempt local regulation of vaping and tobacco products, including the recently enacted ban on flavored products in Columbus. DeWine and health leaders said at a Statehouse press conference that flavored products are the major driver of rising youth vaping rates, which threaten to reverse downward trends in youth cigarette smoking given the propensity for teen vaping to lead to tobacco use later in life. Local government, health and anti-smoking groups cheered the veto of 134-HB513 (Cross-Roemer.)


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


In a rare show of bipartisan unity that included President Joe Biden, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and lawmakers and governors from both parties, the Brent Spence corridor project was celebrated during an event in Covington, KY Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 4. As Gov. Mike DeWine put it in his remarks, "Let's build this bridge. Let's get it done." DeWine said the legislatures of Ohio and Kentucky, as well as its governors, have been ready to put billions into the corridor, which speakers noted carries 3 percent of the nation's commerce each year. But he said the project could never get done without the help of the federal government. That help has come through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is providing more than $1.635 billion for the project.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


Former Attorney General Marc Dann is continuing his effort to force the state of Ohio to distribute benefits under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program that Gov. Mike DeWine cut off before the benefits expired. A consolidated complaint to restore $900 million in benefits was recently filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Dann told Hannah News in a phone interview.


WORKFORCE


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Thursday that 349 employers were approved for funding in the November round of TechCred, which will enable Ohioans to earn 4,466 tech-focused credentials. It is the 17th round of the program; manufacturing was at the top of industries that applied. In total, 2,173 employers have been approved for funding that supports 57,233 credentials. The six TechCred application periods in 2023 include the following:


  • Tuesday, Jan. 3 to Tuesday, Jan. 31.

  • Wednesday, March 1 to Friday, March 31.

  • Monday, May 1 to Wednesday, May 31.

  • Monday, July 3 to Monday, July 31.

  • Friday, Sept. 1 to Friday, Sept. 29.

  • Wednesday, Nov. 1 to Thursday, Nov. 30.




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


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