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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The state of Ohio and its capital city have one less abortion clinic following Founder's Women's Health Center's (FWHC) announcement that it was closing this week. The clinic, located at 1243 Broad St. in Columbus, announced on its website that its last patient was seen on Thursday, July 9.
The vast majority of Ohio's county and independent fairs plan to hold events during the 2020 season despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio Fair Managers Association (OFMA) Executive Director Howard Call told Hannah News.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will waive rules on school meals through the coming school year in response to the pandemic, extending waivers granted in the spring as the shuttering of school buildings disrupted usual meal service. The flexibility relaxes requirements to serve meals in group settings, allowing grab-and-go and other options, as well as the ability for families to pick up meals for students who are learning remotely.
ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
The state's most well-known professional golf tournament will be played without fans on-site this year due to the "rapidly changing dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic," the PGA Tour and the Memorial Tournament announced Monday. The annual tournament, which takes place at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, was set to become one of the first professional sporting events in the country to host fans since the beginning of pandemic-related restrictions on mass gatherings.
The coronavirus pandemic and related disruptions to commerce turned a quarter billion dollar surplus into a $1.1 billion shortfall in the space of four months, preliminary revenue figures from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) showed Tuesday. Taxes generated $22.6 billion in FY20 compared to the $23.7 billion projected, a 4.6 percent drop. The state brought in 3.7 percent or $866.4 million less in FY20 than it did in FY19.
Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kimberly Murnieks was the latest guest on Ohio State University's (OSU) "Policy Brief" video and podcast series, discussing the state's initial planning to address the economic effects of the pandemic and her hopes for long-term recovery in an episode released Saturday. Murnieks' discussion with Trevor Brown, dean of OSU's John Glenn College of Public Affairs, was recorded in June. The two also discussed the then-forthcoming end of FY20, with Murnieks saying they'd been prepared to use the Rainy Day Fund if needed but had the goal of saving it for FY21 or later.
With about four in 10 households having yet to respond to the 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau announced recently it plans to conduct multiple follow-up activities aimed at ensuring a complete count.
With new expenses for pandemic precautions and falling income from mandates for smaller classes, child care providers are facing a crisis that could see nearly half of them close absent state and federal help, child care advocate and providers said Thursday. In Cleveland, there are 16,000 fewer early childhood education and after-school program slots available, according to PRE4CLE, which works to expand the number of Cleveland children in high quality child care and early learning programs.
Ohio Department of Health (ODH) coronavirus case statistics showed an increase from 54,166 cases on Thursday, July 2 to 61,331 cases on July 9. In addition, total COVID-19 deaths topped 3,000 this week, reaching 3,006 as of Thursday, July 9.
A new color-coded, four-tier warning system for reporting indicators of COVID-19 prevalence county-by-county should help local and state officials target their resources and policies in fighting the virus, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday, July 2. The new Public Health Advisory System will look at trends across seven data indicators to sort counties into categories of yellow (lowest risk), orange, red and purple (highest risk.) No county is at the purple alert level now. By week's end, a total of 12 counties were in the "red alert" category: Butler, Clermont, Cuyahoga, Fairfield, Franklin, Hamilton, Lorain, Montgomery, Pickaway, Summit, Trumbull and Wood.
That classification also means that, as of the order Gov. Mike DeWine issued on Tuesday, residents of those "red alert" counties must also use face masks.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced short-term "return to play" guidelines for sports. The guidelines were developed in conjunction with ODH and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). The guidance goes through July 15 for contact sport competitions. During this period, practices and open gyms with another team or club and inter-club/team play are also permitted as long as all teams involved agree to comply with the requirements set forth in the current ODH order.
After being excoriated by Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) for allegedly failing to contact all members and employees about a COVID-19 infection of a Senate staffer, Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) and Senate GOP Chief of Staff John Barron sent memos to all senators and staffers detailing what should be done if someone tests positive or has been in contact with an infected individual.
Over the past week, a number of Ohio cities issued their own orders requiring the wearing of masks. They include Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Bexley, Dublin, Grandview Heights, Hilliard, Upper Arlington, Westerville, Whitehall and Worthington, Springfield and Yellow Springs. Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania have all instituted statewide mask requirements as well.
Ohio and its long-term care residents and families will have a voice in making recommendations to the federal government on how to better respond to COVID-19 in nursing homes and prepare for future disease outbreaks. Beverley Laubert, the veteran state long-term care ombudsman for Ohio, is one of 25 experts chosen to sit on the Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes. Laubert told Hannah News she applied to the commission after talking with counterparts in other states about the need for a long-term care ombudsman to have a seat at the table. She said she's also pleased to see a nursing home resident on the commission -- Penelope Ann Shaw of Massachusetts.
The Ohio National Guard has again sent medical personnel to an Ohio prison to provide assistance due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a seven-member team deployed to the Trumbull Correctional Institution (TCI) in Leavittsburg on July 1. Personnel are taking temperatures, vitals and providing other support related to their medical training due to "a prison medical staffing shortage and increase in patient cases caused by COVID-19," according to a release the adjutant general's department.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Director Annette Chambers-Smith Tuesday announced the reopening of in-person visitation at select facilities. Six facilities have received approval to re-open outdoor-only visitation with indoor locations identified for circumstances such as inclement weather, etc. Visiting at Dayton Correctional Institution is already underway, Chambers-Smith said. Madison Correctional Institution (Zone B only), Noble Correctional Institution, and Southeastern Correctional Institution were scheduled to resume visitation on Wednesday, July 9; Grafton Correctional Institution and Warren Correctional Institution are currently expected to resume visitation on Sunday, July 19 and July 26, respectively.
The Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA) announced Tuesday that the 30-day comment period for the state Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Action Plan is running now to Sunday, Aug. 9. The CDBG-DR plan, which can be accessed at https://development.ohio.gov/cs/cs_cdbg-dr.htm, outlines how DSA's Office of Community Development will administer federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery grant funds as a result of the presidential declared disasters resulting from the May 27-29, 2019 tornadoes in Southwestern Ohio.
The state released guidance Thursday for schools to resume in-person classes in the fall but with health precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Mike DeWine emphasized the decision-making authority of local school officials in implementing the guidelines, and also the importance of returning children to classrooms. The guidelines are based on five general principles:
Vigilant assessment of symptoms, including daily temperature checks, requirements that students and staff who are sick stay home, and development of a testing protocol with local health authorities.
Frequent handwashing, as well as provision of hand sanitizer in high traffic areas.
Thorough cleaning of schools to prevent spread of the virus via common surfaces.
Social distancing, with a goal of maintaining at least six feet between people as often as possible in all areas.
Mask use, including development of a face covering policy by every district and a general mandate that school staff wear masks.
A chain of southwest Ohio charter schools is owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by its management company and board members, Auditor Keith Faber's office found in a series of recent reports. Audits released last week for four Richard Allen charter schools found overpayments to management company Institute of Management Resources in amounts ranging from $15,686 to $614,870, for a total of $852,618 as of the end of FY17, when the management contract was cancelled.
The Columbus Division of Police (CDP) on Monday issued "abolishment notices" to 20 high school resource officers and two sergeants regarding their assignments with Columbus City Schools (CCS). On June 30, a three-year contract between CDP and CCS expired and no new contract is in place, CDP said.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) Board of Directors dismissed its executive director Monday evening, replacing Jerry Snodgrass with Interim Executive Director Bob Goldring effective immediately. OHSAA did not offer any reasons for Snodgrass' ouster, and the former executive director was publicly answering questions and communicating with coaches and administrators on Twitter over the weekend and on Monday.
Health and education officials emphasized the importance of reopening schools in the fall for the wellbeing of children during a White House summit Tuesday, though they said that should include plans for reacting to local COVID-19 outbreaks with temporary closings or other responses. The role of schools in nutrition and health services, the social and emotional effects of prolonged separation from peers and teachers, and the racial and socio-economic disparities laid bare by the pandemic were among reasons mentioned as necessitating a push to reopen school buildings.
The Ohio Supreme Court considered Wednesday how to judge the response of educators to reports of bullying under Ohio's immunity statutes for political jurisdictions. Justices heard oral arguments in Toledo Public Schools' (TPS) challenge to a Sixth District Court of Appeals decision that opened the possibility of liability for educators in the saga of A.R., an early entrant to kindergarten at DeVeaux Elementary School, and S, a classmate alleged to have repeatedly teased and bullied A.R.
Saying the framers of the U.S. Constitution left the rules for the Electoral College vague, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court Monday ruled that states can sanction members of the Electoral College who refuse to vote for the candidate they are pledged to -- otherwise known as "faithless electors.” The case was brought by three members of the Electoral College for Washington State. As the Court noted in its decision, when Americans cast ballots for presidential candidates, their votes go toward selecting members of the Electoral College, which each state appoints based on the popular returns. States have devised mechanisms to ensure that the electors they appoint vote for the presidential candidate that their citizens preferred. Most states also compel electors to pledge to support the nominee of that party.
As Ohio boards of elections continue to prepare for the Nov. 3 General Election amid a COVID-19 pandemic, a task force led by Secretary of State Frank LaRose turned to Ohio's southern neighbor to get ideas on how to safely conduct in-person voting and direct people to mail-in voting. LaRose's Ready for November Task Force heard Thursday from Gabrielle Summe, the Kenton County, KY clerk and a Kentucky election official, who told of having to scramble after the outbreak hit her state. The state's election was pushed back from May to June, and lawmakers in the Bluegrass State authorized no-fault absentee balloting for the primary only, something that had never been done in the state.
A week later, the president of the association representing Ohio's local health commissioners told the task force to consider the number of barriers between voters and poll workers at polling locations. David Covell, the Lorain County public health commissioner and president of the Ohio Health Commissioners Association, addressed considerations and precautions the elections officials should take for both in-person and vote by mail in November. He encouraged elections officials to contact their local health commissioners and work with them on developing plans for November. He said the COVID-19 outbreak is mainly spread person-to-person and stressed that the number of barriers put between each person is key. "If I am wearing a mask and you are wearing a mask, and there is six-feet of space between us, that is three barriers," he said. "If one of us is not wearing mask, then there are only two barriers."
Secretary of State Frank LaRose Monday issued a directive detailing how Ohio's county board of elections must use federal dollars to improve election infrastructure, hire temporary personnel, enhance their supply of personal protective equipment, and recruit poll workers. According to LaRose, Ohio is receiving nearly $12.9 million in federal CARES Act funds designated for the 2020 election. Of those funds, 87 percent will be sent directly to county boards in support of their efforts to run a safe, secure, and accurate election.
Monday, July 6, was the last day for Ohioans to register to vote if they want to cast a ballot in the Tuesday, Aug. 4, special election. According to the secretary of state, voters in 10 counties will be weighing in on 18 issues for the special election. The issues include eight from the Bowling Green City School District that involve property transfers to other school districts.
The following endorsements were made over the week:
The Giffords PAC, the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, endorsed Kate Schroder for Ohio's 1st Congressional District.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio endorsed Jennifer Brunner and John P. O'Donnell for the Ohio Supreme Court; Joel O'Dorisio, Kathy Wyenandt, Mark Fogel, Daniel Brown, Charles Ballard, Ryan Ottney, Crystal Lett, Betsy Rader, Tom Jackson, Craig Swartz, and Michael Fletcher for the Ohio Senate; and Alison Theiss, Joan Sweeny, Monique Smith, Nancy Day-Achauer, Dontavius Jarrells, Sara Bitter, Matt Shaughnessy, Joe Campbell, Willis Blackshear Jr., Leronda Jackson, Cate Berger, Amy Cox, Nancy Larson, Michelle Novak, Morgan Showen, Zach Stepp, Chris Stanley, Adam Dudziak, Erin Rosiello, Alan Darnowsky, Rachael Morocco, Donna Beheydt, Kevin Barnet, Mark Carr, Kim McCarthy, Garrett Westhoven, Charlotte Owens, Cynthia Richards, Tiffanie Roberts, Chris Liebold, Alexis Miller, Scott Dailey, Beth Workman, Katie O'Neill, Alaina Swope, and Richard Dana for the Ohio House.
The national unemployment rate for June fell to 11.1 percent for the month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), though it remains 7.6 percentage points above the pre-pandemic February rate. BLS said the latest figures represent a drop of 2.2 percentage points from May's reported 13.3 percent, though the May rate may have been three points higher due to misclassification issues that were largely corrected in the June data.
Unemployment compensation (UC) reform bill HB614 (Fraizer-Richardson) should advance through the committee process expeditiously, Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Bill Coley (R-West Chester) told Hannah News recently. "We want to hold hearings on it and move on it as quickly as possible. It's a very important issue for Ohio, and we want to make sure we get it through as quickly as possible," Coley said during a phone interview. "It's an issue that has vexed us, and we need to get it fixed."
Up to 20 weeks of Extended Benefits (EB) will be available to eligible Ohioans who exhaust both the maximum 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits and 13 weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced Monday. The additional weeks are possible because Ohio's insured unemployment rate exceeded a minimum threshold. The insured unemployment rate is a measure of the number of people receiving unemployment benefits as a percentage of the labor force.
In its monthly report, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said that if the May employment rebound after the initial COVID-19 disruptions continue throughout 2020 in a similar magnitude, total employment is predicted to increase at an annual rate of 16.28 percent for the next six months in Ohio.
The stalled Lake Erie wind farm planned within sight of Cleveland says the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) is usurping powers granted by the state Legislature and knows full well its heavily conditioned approval of the six-turbine project in May has effectively "killed" the nation's first freshwater wind facility. Fending off claims of a last-minute betrayal, the board countered that a 22-percent rollback of Lake Erie Energy Development's (LEEDCo) generation capacity addresses potential threats to "avian activity" and is a financial hurdle the Norwegian-backed company will have to overcome.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) have joined in "protest" to urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to close a regulatory loophole allowing American Electric Power (AEP) and other providers to charge customers 85 percent of their transmission costs with almost no checks or balances at the state or federal level.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of a law creating the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that allows its single director to be only fired for cause, but left the rest of the agency in place. The CFPB, whose first director was former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and given the task of ensuring that consumer financial products are safe and transparent.
In a press conference Wednesday, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and leaders from advocacy organizations around Ohio called on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to support passage of the "HEROES" Act providing further aid during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill has already passed in the U.S. House.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Wednesday touted recent legislation he introduced that he said would address the issues of children in foster care being left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic. On other issues brought up by reporters, Brown, an avid Cleveland Indians fan, said he called the team owner and left a message suggesting the "Cleveland Buckeyes" as a potential new name as the team explores a possible name change. He noted that the "Cleveland Buckeyes" was the Negro League team for Cleveland that won a championship.
House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) said in a memo Thursday he's sending staff back to work from home "out of an abundance of caution," following staff exposure to COVID-19. The policy begins Friday morning and will last "until further notice." House Democrats complained in social media statements Thursday that they'd been left in the dark about the situation, claims that Householder rebutted.
Meanwhile, the Senate is not considering following suit, Senate GOP spokesman John Fortney said in an email. "We continue to follow our measured approach of staggered work days for staff at the Statehouse, and remain committed to making sure the Senate is open and working for constituents across Ohio."
The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) said Wednesday that it will cost $158,263.57 to repair damage to the Ohio Statehouse and Capitol Square grounds due to protests from May 28 through June 18. CSRAB said the estimate does not include expenses incurred by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, or the costs to repair the damage that occurred on other state property.
House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) was named the 2020 winner of the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award by EMILY's List. Sykes was one of six finalists for the national award that recognizes women elected officials who demonstrate commitment to their communities. The award will be presented at the virtual We Are EMILY Conference on Monday, July 27 and will feature remarks by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Citing lowered levels of respect and challenges to free speech on all sides, Rep. Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake) issued a call for better communication and courtesy in a recent "guest column" letter. Such steps, he said, are needed to address local, state and national issues. Defining courtesy as "the showing of politeness in one's attitude and behavior toward others," Greenspan said he believed increased use of technological communication rather than face-to-face conversation was driving "our overall lack of empathy and compassion for others."
After putting his signature on legislation that would significantly reduce the penalties for violating public health orders during a pandemic, House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) lamented SB55's (Gavarone) almost certain fate -- a veto by Gov. Mike DeWine. "Signed SB55 during lunch in Licking County today. SB55 included House amendments that decriminalizes violations of health orders. No Ohioan should be jailed or heavily fined for violating an ORDER ... an ORDER is not a LAW," Householder wrote on Facebook Monday.
In a video posted to social media Monday, Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) said she tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. "You go back and forth on if you want to say anything or not. What I do know is, I have an obligation, being a public figure, to spread this information," Howse said.
Following recent vandalism at the Ohio Statehouse, proposed legislation would give the Ohio Attorney General (AG) the authority to investigate and prosecute the vandalism and other crimes on state property owned or leased by the state, Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester) explained Monday. The bill would apply not only to future crimes but also to those that have already occurred on state property and haven't yet been prosecuted. LaRe noted that the legislation comes after a series of protests in downtown Columbus resulted in widespread damage to the Statehouse with reports that a number of charges stemming from the protests were dismissed by the Columbus city prosecutor.
The Western Basin of Lake Erie will experience a "moderate" harmful algal bloom (HAB) this summer, according to experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Heidelberg University and Ohio State University (OSU), among others. The 2020 bloom is expected to measure 4.5 on the severity index -- among the smaller blooms since 2011 -- but could possibly range between 4.0 and 5.5, compared to 7.3 last year. Last year, these same forecasters predicted a 7.5, close to the actual result.
Ohioans for Concealed Carry warned the Supreme Court of Ohio Wednesday that capital-area leaders could mount another attempt to override uniform, statewide gun laws strengthened last year by the Republican majority, and that the group's legal standing to fight more local firearm restrictions is hardly a dead issue. Ohioans for Concealed Carry (OFCC) and Buckeye Firearms Foundation (BFF) have challenged Columbus' former ban on "bump stocks" and other "rate-of-fire acceleration" accessories as violations of 126-HB357 (Aslanides) and 132-HB228's (Johnson) preemption of municipal laws limiting "firearms, their components and their ammunition," as defined in R.C. 9.68. The Franklin County Common Pleas Court threw out the ordinance, but the 10th District overrode, finding gun groups are not taxpayers, can't suffer direct injury from such ordinances and thus lack standing to oppose them, leaving individual plaintiff Gary Witt to argue the case.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
At Wednesday's meeting of the Prescription Drug Transparency and Affordability Council, members heard from pharmaceutical industry groups on the state of prescription drug costs, with the groups saying that industry middlemen including pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) as well as the high cost of research have resulted in high prescription drug prices in Ohio and across the U.S. Kipp Snider, national vice president for state policy with Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade group representing large pharmaceutical manufacturers, said his organization has been transparent about the fact that prescription drug costs remain high.
State and local public health departments have faced cuts across the nation since 2010 and continue to face cuts amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to a new investigative report by the Kaiser Family Foundation's Kaiser Health News (KHN) and the Associated Press (AP). At least 38,000 state and local public health jobs have been eliminated since the Great Recession in 2008, which KHN writes has left an inadequate workforce among public health systems. Jobs cuts were driven by funding cuts, with spending on state health departments dropping by 16 percent per capita, and in local health departments by 18 percent per capita since 2010, in 2019 dollars after adjusting for inflation, according to the KHN and AP analysis. In Ohio, public health staffing has dropped by 14 percent between 2010 and 2019, while public health funding per resident has dropped 27 percent between 2010 and 2019.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio (PPGOH) announced it is expanding its new telehealth program, which allows patients to access health care services by phone or through a private video conferencing platform that connects them with providers.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that minimum standards and best practices to help colleges and universities reopen for the fall semester would be available shortly and that additional CARES Act funding in the amounts of $200 million for higher education and $100 million for K-12 schools would be provided.
That is in addition to the separate CARES Act distribution of $440 million for K-12 schools and $198 million for colleges, DeWine said, and there will be considerable flexibility in how the new allocation can be spent after the requested Controlling Board approval on Monday. DeWine noted he had discussed this with the top Senate and House leaders already.
Members of Midwest chapters of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) are dissatisfied with the way college and university administrators are handling fall reopening plans. The coalition of chapters wrote an open letter saying "universities' responses to the COVID-19 crisis are imperiling public health and the future of higher education" and calling for several changes to that response. The letter was signed by the Ohio AAUP State Conference as well as the AAUP chapters of Bowling Green State University, Miami University, Ohio State University, Ohio University, University of Cincinnati and Wright State University, as well as several other universities in neighboring states.
Immediate past president of Ohio State University (OSU), Michael V. Drake, has been named the 21st -- and first Black -- president of the University of California (UC) system. Drake ended his six-year tenure as OSU president on June 30. Prior to OSU, Drake's entire academic career has been at UC, including as chancellor of UC Irvine for nine years from 2005 to 2014 and as the systemwide vice president for health affairs from 2000 to 2005.
International students studying at U.S. colleges and universities will have to leave the country or face deportation if their school switches to online-only courses for the fall semester, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced this week. ICE said temporary changes will be made to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) for the Fall 2020 semester, including that students who fall under certain visas attending schools operating entirely online "may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States."
Four Democrats from the Toledo area Wednesday sent a letter to Auditor Keith Faber, demanding he conduct a performance audit of the University of Toledo Medical Center's (UTMC) finances, and also said Faber was too quick to dismiss a whistleblower's complaint that alleged two UT trustees intentionally harmed the hospital to help rival ProMedica.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau's "Household Pulse Survey" shows that an estimated 503,500 Ohioans were unable to pay their rent in June. The survey looked at the payment status of renters over the age of 18, and found that 1.7 million Ohioans paid their rent in June, while 503,500 did not, meaning that 29 percent of Ohio renters over the age of 18 were not able to pay their rent in June. Nationwide data shows that 56.7 million renters over the age of 18 were able to pay their rent, while 12.2 million renters were not, meaning that about 21 percent of renters over the age of 18 nationwide were not able to pay their rent in June, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data.
The Ohio Supreme Court is acting quickly to implement a leading recommendation from its new Foreclosures and Civil Justice report to help local jurisdictions assist Ohioans threatened by COVID-19, unemployment and housing loss. On the heels of the recent 70-page report and recommendations, the Court has implemented a temporary rule waiving its normal training requirements for mediators supporting mortgage work-outs that exceed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act's intervention for federally backed loans affecting roughly 60-70 percent of Ohio homeborrowers. "The temporary rule is aimed largely at the anticipated increase in foreclosure and eviction cases due to the joblessness in Ohio caused by the pandemic," the Supreme Court says.
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor invoked the late President John F. Kennedy and anti-racist Ibram X. Kendi in charging public officials and judges in particular to right past wrongs and embrace data-driven reform of the justice system to inspire new confidence in persons of color and other marginalized groups.
"Life is not fair, but our government must be ...," O'Connor wrote, quoting Kennedy in an open essay.
"From the beginning of our democracy, state and federal judges developed and enforced policies and procedures that caused people in America to be treated unequally, with bias and without the recognition that all people are created equal in the eyes of God," she says in an effort to "identify a meaningful path forward for the courts of Ohio."
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Wednesday federal regulations that allow exemptions for employers with moral and religious objections to the requirement that health insurance plans cover contraception. The decision expands on a 2014 ruling on religious exemptions from the coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA.) Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion in the 7-2 ruling in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Alito also wrote a concurrence joined by Gorsuch. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a concurrence joined by Justice Stephen Breyer. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. This ruling was accompanied by another religious rights case Tuesday regarding employment law and religious schools in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berry.
Court funding, statutory interpretation and "collateral" consequences to lawbreakers are at the center of two new rulings of the Supreme Court of Ohio, which says the General Assembly currently does not require judges to consider a defendant's ability to pay court costs that can run into the thousands of dollars. Judges, on the other hand, should not expect their legal fees to be remunerated by the county when sidestepping the statutory process for obtaining outside counsel in turf wars with local officials.
Nominations for the Ohio State Bar Foundation's (OSBF) John and Ginny Elam Pro Bono Award are due Friday, Aug. 14, the Ohio Supreme Court announced. Nominees' work may consist of "pro bono representation necessary to make the system of justice available to all, support to organizations that provide pro bono representation to indigent clients, or time and skills donated to community, governmental and other activities that promote the common good," says OSBF.
Attorney General Dave Yost is moving to halt violations of state and federal liquor laws linked to more than 40,000 illegal shipments of wine, whiskey and other spirits to Ohio in 2019. Citing loss of various sales and excise taxes and profits on government-controlled liquor, the AG is seeking a preliminary injunction against seven out-of-state companies he says are trying to squeeze out the state of Ohio. Yost filed suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against Wine.com, U.S. Beverage Advertising Corp. d/b/a ReserveBar, Houdini d/b/a Wine Country Gift Baskets, ShakeStir d/b/a Cocktail Courier, Pacific Wine & Spirits, Winc, and AWS Hopkins d/b/a Ace Spirits.
Discussing city responses to the pandemic and racial issues, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin recently sat down with Ohio State University's (OSU) John Glenn College of Public Affairs Dean Trevor Brown for the latest episode in a series of videos with "policymakers, policy influencers and public service professionals." In the video on the pandemic, which was posted recently but recorded before protests over the killing of George Floyd began, Brown first asked how Columbus has avoided some "pretty drastic economic steps" including furloughing workers, even as other major Ohio cities have had to take them.
The State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO) on Wednesday unanimously voted to add cachexia as a qualifying condition under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), the first time the board has approved a new condition to be treated with cannabis. SMBO President Michael Schottenstein said those seeking to include cachexia -- also known as wasting syndrome -- made a very strong case for its addition. In other action, the full board again unanimously rejected proposals to add anxiety and autism to the list of qualifying conditions.
Citizen scientists can participate in surveying Ohio's wild turkey and ruffed grouse populations by reporting sightings in July and August, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. Every summer, the division conducts a turkey and grouse brood survey to estimate population growth. The brood survey relies on the public to report observations of all wild turkeys and ruffed grouse seen during July and August. Observations can be reported at the wildlife species sighting page at www.wildohio.gov.
ODNR Director Mary Mertz designated the Blanchard River Water Trail as Ohio's 14th state water trail, the department announced. "The Blanchard River Water Trail offers a quiet paddling experience through a beautiful green corridor in Hancock County," Mertz said. "ODNR is proud to partner with the Hancock Park District to enhance the recreational opportunities in the area." Hancock Park District worked with several local municipalities and communities to obtain the water trail designation. The Blanchard River Water Trail provides 11 public access points from which paddlers can get out and explore Hancock County's rural areas or enjoy views of the city of Findlay.
The ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft is encouraging Ohioans to stay alert and engage in safe practices when swimming at public beaches this summer. "It's important that all visitors understand the dangers of swimming in dark waters, especially for young children and inexperienced swimmers," division chief Glen Cobb said. "Paying attention and watching out for each other is one of the best ways to make sure everyone has a safe and fun time at the beach."
The way the media portrays Black individuals and Black communities, as well as the lack of diversity in many newsrooms, helps perpetuate racial biases that favor White individuals over Black and Brown people, panelists at Wednesday's Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) forum said.
The Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission (WSCC) met virtually Thursday to discuss its plans for an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote and for placing a women's suffrage memorial on Statehouse grounds. Secretary of State Frank LaRose joined members briefly to endorse moving plans for a public event to the summer of 2021 for the 101st anniversary of women's suffrage. He suggested framing the event as "the beginning of the next century" of women being included in civic life. LaRose also supported the commission's desire to have a statue placed on the Statehouse grounds. He noted there are no female statues on Statehouse grounds other than mythological figures like angels. He said having a statue outside is even more important given the recent protests as it has become clear that the Statehouse is where people go when they "want to engage in very difficult conversations."
House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) pressed the House to return to session to address issues including police reform and voting access in the most recent "Ohio Promise" virtual town hall. She noted recent protests calling to defund the police, and she said those calls have inadvertently been answered by Republican leadership through cuts to the Local Government Fund. Also on the call were Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) and Akron NAACP President Judi Hill.
Concerns over public health and economic hardship are expanding dates and eligibility requirements for this year's Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) "summer crisis" funding, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA). The HEAP Summer Crisis Program helps income-eligible Ohioans pay electric bills, purchase air conditioners and fans, or make central air conditioning repairs until Sept. 30. Qualifying households receive up to $500 if customers of a state-regulated utility and up to $800 if customers of electric cooperatives and municipal utilities. Gross household income must be at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level or, for example, no more than $45,850 for a family of four.
Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) recently announced the release of $2.1 million in federal funds to local law enforcement agencies, probation and parole offices, local courts, victim service providers, and adult, juvenile and community corrections agencies to support their response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
With less than a week to go until the Wednesday, July 15 income tax filing deadline, about five million Ohio taxpayers have filed their Ohio income tax return. Ohio typically has about 5.5 million total filers, the Ohio Department of Taxation notes. The tax filing deadline this year was extended three months beyond the traditional April 15 deadline due a federal delay resulting from the general and widespread disruptions caused by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Ohio Tax Commissioner Jeff McClain is urging those who have not filed yet to choose to file an electronic return to help expedite the process for all involved.
For the week ending July 4, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 33,483 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That number is slightly lower than last week's total, which was 35,623.
Five members of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus' campaign staff have joined the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 75 and have finalized a collective bargaining agreement with the caucus, both organizations announced Thursday. The groups said it is one of the first collective bargaining agreements by a statewide caucus in the country. The agreement includes union protections for full and part-time employees, guaranteed paid sick leave, paid holidays, including Juneteenth, paid vacation and personal days, a $15-per-hour minimum wage; protections for employer-paid health care benefits, and expedited arbitration process for campaign workers to resolve grievances.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) imposed $1 million in fines on Dominion Energy of Ohio Thursday following a six-month inquiry into the natural gas explosion in Pepper Pike. PUCO cited the failure of its 30-inch gas main as the primary cause of the Nov. 15, 2019 explosion.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said Thursday that, under an executive order issued Thursday, July 2, Ohio employers will not be charged for layoff aversion benefits paid to employees. On that day, Gov. Mike DeWine signed Executive Order 2020-26D, which enabled ODJFS to draw down federal funding authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for the purpose of paying SharedWork Ohio compensation through the end of this year. SharedWork Ohio is the state's layoff aversion program that allows workers to remain employed and employers to retain trained staff during times of reduced business activity. Under the program, participating employers agree to reduce the affected employees' hours, between 10 percent and 50 percent, for up to 52 weeks. In return, those employees receive SharedWork compensation (which is a prorated unemployment benefit) and, while federally available, may also receive the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit each week.
[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.]