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.
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ABORTION Ohio Right to Life (ORTL), Right to Life of Northeast Ohio (RTLNO) and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society (CPLS) plan to file legal complaints with state, federal and local agencies following what they said was the recent discovery of an aborted fetus and other biological materials outside of the Northeast Ohio Women's Center in Cuyahoga Falls. They announced the suit Wednesday during a livestreamed press conference. ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday announced that his administration is awarding $2 million in grants to 27 existing local drug task forces to disrupt the drug trade and promote substance abuse awareness, prevention and recovery. The grants are being distributed through the RecoveryOhio Law Enforcement Fund and will be used to intensify efforts to identify high-level drug traffickers, dismantle large drug trafficking organizations, interrupt the flow of money and drugs from Mexican cartels, and prevent the sale of illegal narcotics to those suffering from substance abuse disorder. FY20-21 BUDGET Ohio notched double-digit increases over projections for major tax categories in June, adding $367.6 million in excess revenue to end FY21 $1.54 billion ahead of estimates. The personal income tax beat forecasts by the greatest amount in June, coming in 26.7 percent or $227 million over estimates to reach $1.08 billion, versus $853.9 million expected. For the fiscal year, collections were $435.5 million or 4.5 percent over estimates, reaching $10.2 billion. Sales taxes beat forecasts by 13.9 percent or $135 million in June to reach $1.1 billion versus $972 million expected, with the non-auto sales tax up 11.8 percent of $98.3 million and the auto sales tax up 26.6 percent or $36.6 million. For FY21 as a whole, sales taxes exceeded forecasts by 9 percent or roughly $1 billion, reaching $12.2 billion versus $11.2 billion expected. FY22-23 BUDGET Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director Lori Criss enumerated state budget provisions relevant to her department in a recent virtual presentation, saying that the budget supports department priorities including youth and early adult intervention, expanding crisis services, and providing services for adults with serious mental illness. Criss said Gov. Mike DeWine asked the department to listen to Ohioans, to do what works, and to be pragmatic in its initial budget request, which Criss said remained largely intact or bolstered when comparing the final HB110 (Oelslager) to the governor's recommendations. This session's biennial budget follows the long tradition of queuing up numerous studies on policy issues, this time covering topics from local traffic safety to workforce education to police training to probation officer workloads and several others. Ohio voters are expected to continue getting an absentee ballot request form in the mail for the 2022 election cycle thanks to language included in HB110 (Oelslager), the FY22-23 biennial budget now signed into law. That anguage "authorizes the Controlling Board, upon request of the secretary of state, to approve cash and appropriation transfers from the Controlling Board Emergency Purposes/Contingencies Fund to the Absent Voter's Ballot Mailing Fund to be used by the secretary of state to pay the costs of printing and mailing unsolicited applications for absent voters' ballots in the 2022 general election." CHILDREN/FAMILIES Early childhood advocacy group Groundwork Ohio introduced Wednesday its new Center for Family Voice with the release of a report highlighting the potential improvements from focusing on the individual needs of those served by child care and health providers. Groundwork Executive Director Shannon Jones and Assistance Director Lynanne Gutierrez were joined by Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran, Molina Healthcare of Ohio President Ami Cole and Sherri Killins Stewart of the BUILD Initiative for a virtual discussion on the importance of the work to achieving equity for families. CORONAVIRUS Trinity Health -- the parent company of Mount Carmel -- announced Thursday that the national health system will require all colleagues, clinical staff, contractors and those conducting business in its health care facilities be vaccinated against COVID-19. "The requirement applies to Trinity Health's more than 117,000 employees in 22 states nationwide in an effort stop to the spread of the virus and keep all patients, colleagues and the broader communities safe," the health system said. The policy applies to nearly 12,000 employees and clinical staff at Mount Carmel, which provides health care services in Central Ohio. A study released this week by the Boston University (BU) School of Medicine said lottery-based incentives such as Ohio's "Vax-a-Million" did not increase vaccination rates. A spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine said that is not what the office's own internal data showed. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT The Ohio Organized Crime Investigation Commission's (OCIC) "Red, White and Bust” yielded 45 drug trafficking indictments from the south U.S. 23 corridor. The sting targeted fentanyl, tramadol, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine sales in Fayette, Ross, Hocking and Highland counties under the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force, part of OCIC in the Ohio Attorney General's Office. The Ohio Attorney General's Office on Tuesday announced indictments of an alleged insurance fraud ring in Northeast Ohio involving arson, fake burglaries and more than $1 million in illegitimate policy claims. A county grand jury has indicted seven individuals for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties between 2011 and 2017. ECONOMY The Ohio Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation released a report Tuesday on "Opportunities for Ohio in a Post-COVID Economy" that includes highlights of a recent discussion with Ohio Department of Development (DOD) Director Lydia Mihalik, JobsOhio Director for North American Business Development Charlie Rowell and Heartland Forward Chief Research Officer Dave Shideler. EDUCATION Lawmakers used the new biennial budget to adjust high school diploma standards created in the previous budget, modifying both the methods to demonstrate competency in certain subjects and the criteria for earning diploma seals. Children visiting libraries this summer, including many coming to the summer meal sites hosted at libraries, can pick up "Learning Lunchboxes" full of science activities to address learning loss resulting from the pandemic. The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus and the Ohio Library Council (OLC) have distributed more than 8,700 of the space-themed kits, built in partnership with NASA, and plan to provide more than 12,000 total. The kits include five days' worth of activities tied to state learning standards for K-8 children. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) announced the availability of the extended version of learning standards for English language proficiency designed for English learners, including those with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The extended standards correspond to the Ohio English Language Proficiency Standards and are the basis for the Alternate Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment, which will be available in the 2023-2024 academic year. ELECTIONS 2021 Tuesday marked the registration deadline and Wednesday the start of early voting for Ohio's two special congressional elections this year. Tuesday, Aug. 3 will be the primary election for both the 15th and 11th District races. U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Warrensville Heights) resigned to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, leaving the 11th District vacant, while U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) resigned to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, leaving the 15th District vacant. The general election for both seats will be Tuesday, Nov. 2. ELECTIONS 2022 The crowded 2022 Republican primary for U.S. Senate expanded on Thursday, July 1 as J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, officially launched his campaign in his hometown of Middletown. "What we need in Washington is not just leaders who talk about doing things but have actually done them and will continue to do them," Vance said during his remarks. Forest Park City Councilwoman Chelsea Clark announced Wednesday that she is running for secretary of state in 2022. Elected to Forest Park Council in 2017, Clark also founded STEM Lab, a full-service organization for children to help provide opportunities to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math to underserved families. EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT The nation saw an increase of 850,000 jobs in June though the national unemployment rate saw a slight rise from 5.8 percent in May to 5.9 percent in June as job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, public and private education, professional and business services, retail trade and other services, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said Friday. BLS said the 9.5 million unemployed persons in June was little changed from May, and down considerably from a year ago as the nation emerges from lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann announced Tuesday that he had filed a lawsuit to rescind the state's terminated participation in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs. Dann was joined by Brian Flick of DannLaw and Andrew Engel of Advocate Attorneys. The lawsuit argues that Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Section 4141.43(I) requires Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Director Matt Damschroder to "... cooperate with the United States Department of Labor to the fullest extent ... [and] take such action ... as may be necessary to secure to this state and its citizens all advantages available under the provisions of the 'Social Security Act' that relate to unemployment compensation ...." Panelists at an event hosted by the Ohio Women's Public Policy Network Wednesday said the end of additional federal unemployment benefits in Ohio would not bring people back to the workforce, arguing many women can still not secure reliable and affordable child care, which prevents them from working. Executive Director Elizabeth Brown, who also serves as president pro tempore on the Columbus City Council, moderated the event, which featured panelists Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo), Innovation Ohio President and CEO Desiree Tims, and Leah Haenszel with Unemployed Action Ohio. For the week ending July 3, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 10,900 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That number is slightly higher than the previous week, when the department reported 10,473 jobless claims. Ohioans filed 173,803 continued traditional unemployment claims last week, which was 7,313 fewer than the previous week, ODJFS said. ENERGY/UTILITIES The Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) got the lump-sum customer refund it was seeking Wednesday when the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) ordered FirstEnergy to pay Ohioans $27.5 million in principal and interest for "decoupling" charges reversed by 133-HB6's (Callender-Wilkin) repeal. OCC had urged the "prompt" return of FirstEnergy's decoupled profit guarantees under repeal legislation HB128 (Hoops-Stein), which took effect last Wednesday. The Ohio Manufacturers' Association (OMA) is calling on the PUCO to break from its past regulatory practices in enforcing scandal-plagued 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) and approach one of the bill's two remaining energy subsidies in the spirit of reform by inserting customer refund language should the solar generation fund (SGF) be overturned, among a list of requests. American Electric Power (AEP) of Ohio and AES Ohio (formerly DP&L) counter that the commission should not depart from its statutory interpretation in implementing the original language of HB6. GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE According to the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB), the Statehouse garage renovation project is entering its final stages, and along with that the final round of closures. Beginning Monday, July 12, the south driving entrance and exits will be closed on Third and State streets. Customers are asked to use the north driving entrance and exit on Broad Street for garage access. GOVERNOR Matt Damschroder shed his interim title and became permanent director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Service (ODJFS) as of Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced. Kathleen Madden, chief of staff for the Ohio Department of Health, will fill Damschroder's prior role as director of the Department of Administrative Services. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES The State Board of Emergency Medical, Fire, and Transportation Services and the Ohio Department of Public Safety Division of Emergency Medical Services (Ohio EMS) highlighted the shortage of blood in Ohio and called on Ohioans to consider donating blood. "There is great concern that some patients may not be able to receive life-saving infusions of blood and blood products despite current efforts to conserve these resources," Ohio EMS Executive Director Rob Wagoner said. "As we move through these summer months, the seasonal increase of trauma patients will further stress this critical shortage." HIGHER EDUCATION Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday signed SB126 (Kunze-Gavarone), the Ohio Anti-Hazing Act, otherwise known as Collin's Law. The legislation, which passed both the Ohio House and Senate unanimously, will become effective in 90 days in October. For the bill signing DeWine was joined by a slew of university presidents and lawmakers as well as the parents of Stone Foltz, a Bowling Green State University (BGSU) student who died of alcohol poisoning in March following a fraternity initiation ritual, and Collin Wiant, for whom the bill is named. An Ohio University (OU) freshman, Wiant died in 2018 after inhaling nitrous oxide at an off-campus fraternity event. IMMIGRATION Gov. Mike DeWine took two steps to respond to the immigration situation at the U.S. Southwest border. On Friday, he announced he’d approved a request from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Guard Bureau (NGB) to deploy 185 members of the Ohio National Guard to the Southwest border with Mexico. The Ohio Army National Guard members will be deployed to provide non-law enforcement support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the border. The service members will be deployed on federal Title 10 status to assist CBP in late 2021. Then on Monday, he announced 14 troopers and supervisors from the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) will be sent to assist local law enforcement in Texas with border surveillance later in the week. These personnel will be present for two weeks and will not make arrests, according to DeWine's office. MILITARY AFFAIRS The longest mission in Ohio National Guard (ONG) history officially came to an end on Friday, July 2. Gov. Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine, Ohio Adjutant General John Harris, Ohio Association of Foodbanks (OAF) Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt and Mid-Ohio Foodbank (MOF) Executive Director Matt Habash were among those gathering at MOF's onsite food pantry in Grove City to thank ONG members for their dedication to ensuring Ohioans could access food during the COVID-19 pandemic. NATURAL RESOURCES The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry (DOF) has approved $75,718 in grant funding for 37 projects helping fire departments in Eastern and Southern Ohio. Community Wildfire Risk Reduction (CWRR) grant projects focus on supporting hazard mitigation, emergency preparedness, public education and firefighter training, according to ODNR. ODNR and Ohio State University's (OSU) Ohio Sea Grant are educating boaters and the general public about the serious risks of spreading aquatic invasive species (AIS). The education programs were part of the third annual Great Lakes AIS Landing Blitz, which ran through Sunday, July 4. Three ODNR wildlife officers were honored by ODNR Director Mary Mertz for their lifesaving actions after Ohio wildlife investigator Kevin Behr was shot while on assignment in December 2020. Officers Jason Keller, Eric Lamb and Matt Roberts were each presented with the Director's Award of Valor at a special ceremony. ODNR law enforcement officers and partner agencies issued six boating under the influence (BUI) violations over Independence Day weekend, the department said Thursday. Officers contacted more than 1,800 boaters statewide from Friday, July 2 through Sunday, July 4, the department said. The effort was part of Operation Dry Water, a nationwide initiative aimed at removing impaired boaters from public waterways. PEOPLE John Mahaney Jr., a Statehouse fixture known as "The Chief" who led the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants as president and CEO for more than 40 years, died Thursday, July 1 at age 89. Calling hours for Mahaney will be 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 11 at Schoedinger Northwest Chapel, 1740 Zollinger Rd., Columbus. Funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Monday, July 12 at St. Andrew Catholic Church, 1899 McCoy Rd., Columbus. PUBLIC SAFETY The Ohio Fireworks Safety Coalition Friday, along with the Ohio affiliate of Prevent Blindness, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, the Franklin County Dog Shelter, and the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, urged Ohioans not to use backyard fireworks, pointing to an increase in fireworks injuries last year. At a press conference at the Franklin County Dog Shelter, Sherry Williams, the president and CEO of Prevent Blindness' Ohio affiliate, attributed the increase in injuries to more Americans seeking to make their own fireworks displays in 2020 as many public displays were shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ohio State Highway Patrol reported Tuesday that 16 people died in 15 crashes over the holiday weekend from Friday, July 2 through Monday, July 5. The patrol said impairment was a factor in at least five of the deadly crashes. This was a reduction from 25 deaths in 24 crashes a year earlier, with 17 crashes and 18 deaths found to involve drugs and/or alcohol. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Wednesday his office will not pursue charges against the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) police officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Arthur Keith after the grand jury Yost convened found the officer had "acted reasonably." Yost seized the opportunity to redouble his call for legislation requiring the independent investigation and potential prosecution of all officer-involved shootings (OIS) and other critical incidents and the licensing of peace officers under a new state oversight board. Yost also announced BCI had completed its investigation of Columbus police's fatal shooting of Andrew Teague, 43, on March 8 and Ma'Khia Bryant, 16, on April 21 and referred them to Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack, who will handle the cases himself, but was careful to note the investigative bureau "does not determine whether a use of force was legally justified." The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry is sending crews to help battle wildfires in California. Because there is currently a high risk of wildfires in Northern California, ODNR has sent three highly-skilled firefighters along with one engine to help with fire suppression, according to the department. REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT A coalition of advocacy organizations, labor unions, and progressive groups announced Thursday the formation of the Equal Districts Coalition to "push for an open, transparent and truly fair redistricting process." Desiree Tims, president and CEO of Innovation Ohio, said the past few weeks in the Legislature have shown the need for fair districts. "These extreme, harmful policies do not represent the people of Ohio," she said. "They are the direct result of real gerrymandered districts. Lines are drawn so certain political parties always win." A policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court this week against the Ohio House of Representatives for what he said was a failure to timely fulfill his public records requests relating to the Ohio Redistricting Commission. According to the lawsuit, J. Collin Marozzi, a policy strategist at the ACLU of Ohio, sent the public records request in February to the House Republican leadership team including Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and House staff including Heather Blessing, Sheila Boehner, and House Clerk Brad Young. STATE GOVERNMENT The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) met Thursday to approve more than $242 million in state funding for nine school construction projects. Additionally, the commission celebrated its 100-year anniversary. Combined with $208 million in local funding, the nine projects represent over $450 million in public construction work. During Thursday's meeting, the commission, which oversees capital projects undertaken by state agencies, manages Ohio's school facility programs, and administers the funding for community-based cultural and sports facilities projects, celebrated 100 years of public construction with a video detailing the commission's history going to back to its enactment on July 1, 1921. TAXATION Congress overstepped its bounds with a provision in a federal COVID response law that bars states from using billions in relief funding to "directly or indirectly offset" tax cuts, a U.S. district court judge ruled recently in a case filed by Attorney General Dave Yost. The federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) provided hundreds of billions of dollars to states to deal with the effects of the pandemic, with more than $5 billion coming to Ohio. The law placed numerous restrictions on use of the funding, including the so-called "tax mandate." Yost sued over that provision in March, arguing it violated state sovereignty. The Tax Expenditure Review Committee, dormant since the 132nd General Assembly, is no more, following lawmakers' adoption in the budget of Senate-proposed language to eliminate it. The General Assembly created the committee in 2016 via 131-HB9 (Boose), and it met for the first time in 2018. The committee of six lawmakers and the tax commissioner was assigned to review tax expenditures on a rolling basis such that each one was reviewed at least every eight years. Lower-income senior citizens, permanently disabled Ohioans and disabled military veterans would see their homestead exemptions increase under legislation introduced by Reps. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester) and Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill). The lawmakers announced the introduction of HB357 during a press conference at the Statehouse on Tuesday. UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) is in the "final stages" of a web application for unemployment compensation (UC) claimants who were overpaid through no fault of their own to seek a waiver on returning the money, ODFJS Director Matt Damschroder announced Thursday. He added that ODJFS will, "in the coming days," notify claimants in both traditional UC and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) programs by email and regular mail on how to apply for the waivers.
[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2021 Hannah News Service, Inc.]