Week In Review - July 27, 2020



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This report reflects the latest happenings in government relations, in and around the Ohio statehouse. You’ll notice that it’s broad in nature and on an array of topics, from A-Z. This will be updated on a weekly basis.


Please feel free to share it with anyone else you believe may find it of interest, as well. Also, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions, concerns or if we can be of any assistance.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) is asking Ohioans to keep an eye out for the spotted lanternfly (SLF), an invasive insect that can cause significant damage to some plants and crops. The insect has not yet been confirmed in Ohio, but has been spotted in Pennsylvania, ODAg said. The SLF is of great concern to the grape and wine industry, as the insect is fond of grape and fruit trees, hops, blueberry, oak, pine, poplar, and walnut.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Wednesday the filing of a request to commence suspension proceedings for four members of the Toledo City Council charged with bribery and extortion. The request, filed in the Supreme Court of Ohio, states that Larry Sykes, Yvonne Harper, Garrick "Gary" Johnson and Tyrone Riley are charged with felonies stemming from alleged criminal activity that occurred in public office and that they cannot continue their duties as city council members while facing charges of bribery and extortion.


CENSUS


The timing of the coronavirus pandemic could not have been worse for 2020 Census operations. COVID-19 hit the U.S. at almost the same time the U.S. Census Bureau was beginning some of its most essential field operations, according to advocates who spoke recently on a webinar hosted by the Center for Community Solutions.


CIVIL RIGHTS


The Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) continued its ongoing discussion of race Wednesday with the forum "The Bias Hidden Within You," which focused on how implicit bias is viewed in the context of structural racism. Panelist Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, LLC, said racism is another form of tribalism. Tribalism, he said, is ingrained in human behavior and dates back to times when people lived in extremely small communities (tribes) and depended on these small groups for survival. If a person lost his or her tribe that would likely mean death and other tribes were an immediate threat, he said. Tribalism also shows up in political polarization, religious prejudices, and even sports team rivalries.


CORONAVIRUS


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) coronavirus case statistics showed an increase from 70,601 cases on Thursday, July 16 to 80,186 cases on Thursday, July 23. In addition, total COVID-19 deaths reached 3,256 as of July 23.


Although Gov. Mike DeWine used his appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend to explain the lack of a statewide mask mandate, by Wednesday he had announced one that went into effect at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 23. He cited "abundantly clear" evidence that masks help to halt virus transmission and the expected escalation of additional counties into the higher-risk "red" category of the state's health alert system.


Gov. DeWine confirmed the increase in the number of counties with a level three "red" designation under the Ohio Public Health Advisory System on Thursday, July 23, noting they now total 23. Newly-designated red counties include Clark, Defiance, Erie, Hardin, Henry, Lawrence, Marion and Medina. Those continuing at that level include the counties of Athens, Allen, Clermont, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Hamilton, Licking, Lucas, Montgomery, Pickaway, Richland, Scioto and Union.


U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently joined the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union in a national news conference calling for grocery stores, food processing plants, health care providers and other businesses to reinstate hazard pay for frontline workers, given what they said is a renewed danger from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen an uptick in reported cases in recent weeks.


Requirements for consumers to wear masks at public places like retail stores and restaurants are very similar to smoking bans, according to three university professors. Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the professors say mask requirements to stop the spread of COVID-19 should be considered "fundamental occupational health protections" for workers at stores, restaurants and other public places.


EDUCATION


One of Ohio's biggest school districts is hedging on earlier plans for a partial resumption of in-person learning, while some districts are eyeing a full return to classrooms. Citing a "sobering" report from public health officials on the spread of COVID-19 within the district, Columbus City Schools (CCS) Superintendent Talisa Dixon said the school system "will need to give serious consideration to beginning the school year with a fully remote learning model for grades K-12." The district's teachers' union, meanwhile, released an open letter Monday calling for an all-virtual beginning to the school year. The district previously discussed a plan to split the K-8 population in half, with each group attending two days per week, while high school classes would be remote for the first semester.


Among the state's other large school districts, Cleveland Municipal Schools, CEO Eric Gordon pushed the start of school from mid-August back to Sept. 8, although students at the district's year-round buildings will begin Aug. 24. The district announced it intends to unveil a full reopening plan by month's end. In Toledo Public Schools, students will be divided into A and B groups, with the former attending in-person on Mondays and Thursdays, the latter Tuesdays and Friday. Wednesday will be set aside for "deep cleaning." The district also has an all-virtual school that students can attend. The Akron Public Schools Board of Education discussed a plan that would have K-2 students in buildings five days per week, while grades 3-8 students would attend two days per week and high school students would learn online the entire week.


The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee drew a stream of opposition testimony Tuesday to legislation on arming school employees, while Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) raised the idea of using it as a vehicle for his proposal to create a school marshal program to improve school security. Though SB317 (Coley) was starred for a vote, Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester), chair of the committee and sponsor of the bill, said the panel would not take action on the legislation Tuesday.


While they acknowledged more work needs to be done to recruit women and minorities into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, representatives of the energy and business sectors said they are already seeing results from their diversity efforts. "In FFY17 [federal fiscal year 2017], our new hires were only 17 percent minority. In a brief period, we've started to turn that around. I'm happy to report that for FFY20 it is now 31 percent," U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Dan Brouillette told reporters following a closed-press roundtable discussion at COSI. He was joined by Ohio Business Roundtable President and CEO Pat Tiberi, Battelle Memorial Institute President and CEO Lou Von Thaer and American Electric Power (AEP) President and CEO Nick Akins.


U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) and Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) for an "Education Freedom Roundtable" Thursday morning hosted by James Ragland, director of provider outreach at School Choice Ohio. DeVos touted the Trump administration's position on school choice, saying educational freedom is more necessary now than ever before amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said now is a time to expand school choice as parents look for educational options, and noted that "there is a real opportunity" with the next round of COVID-19 relief to give more opportunities to students.


The attorney general's office recently deposed ECOT founder William Lager in the case alleging the contracts between the now-defunct online charter school and other companies linked to Lager were illegal. But the judge in the case, Judge Kim Cocroft of Franklin County Common Pleas Court, granted a request from the former school treasurer to cancel her deposition, as well as Lager's bid to extend other case proceedings given the pandemic. Meanwhile, Judge Michael Holbrook of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court granted Attorney General Dave Yost's request to file documents under seal in the case managing the remaining assets of the school.


ELECTIONS


Voting rights advocates and Secretary of State Frank LaRose urged lawmakers to authorize prepaid postage for absentee ballots applications and other voting law changes in a hearing on House-passed legislation, HB680 (Abrams), before the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, although LaRose said he was most interested in seeing quick enactment of the bill's change to the deadline for submitting a ballot application. The bill had been starred for a vote in its first hearing Tuesday, but Chairman Bill Coley (R-West Chester) said the vote would be delayed.


ELECTIONS 2020


The campaign of presumed Democratic president nominee Joe Biden Friday named four top staff members for Ohio. They include the following: Toni Webb as the campaign's state director for Ohio; Demeatrious St. John as the Ohio strategic advisor; Alan Bannister as Ohio political director; and Meredith Tucker as the Ohio deputy state director.


Former Gov. John Kasich has been approached about speaking at next month's Democratic National Convention and in support of presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden, according to media reports Monday. The Associated Press (AP) first reported Monday on the possibility of Kasich, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and is an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, speaking on behalf of Biden. The news met with opposition from some Democrats and Biden supporters, who cited Kasich's support for 129-SB5 (Jones) aimed at collective bargaining and his opposition to abortion.


"America, we've lost our way," wrote former Ohio Gov. John Kasich in a Boston Globe op-ed published Wednesday. The nation has been thrown off course, Kasich wrote, by President Donald Trump, whose "shocking words and divisive deeds" have forced the former governor to override his party loyalties and political convictions. While he tried to give Trump a chance when he was first elected, Kasich said his hopes were "quickly dashed" by the president's words, policies, positions and deceptions. Saying that Trump has lacked leadership during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Kasich said an initially rising stock market has been wiped out, leaving the president "no saving grace."


The Ohio Supreme Court and Secretary of State's Office announced a joint proposal Thursday to staff fall polling places with pro bono attorneys as available election volunteers remain questionable under COVID-19. Bar members will earn four credit hours of continuing legal education (CLE) for a single day of service under the "innovative" plan -- apparently the first of its kind in the nation, says the Court. Licensed attorneys wishing to volunteer must first complete training at their county board of elections and work a 14-hour day while polls are open on Tuesday, Nov. 3.


With more Ohioans expected to vote by mail this year due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary of State Frank LaRose's Ready for November Task Force was told that elections officials should work to "flatten the election curve." Using a play on words similar to flattening the curve of COVID-19 pandemic cases so that hospitals aren't overwhelmed, Tyler Fischer told the task force Thursday that elections officials should be prepared for increased early voting activity so that they are not overwhelmed by Election Day. By getting more voters to act early in requesting absentee ballots and casting those ballots, "the easier the work will be."


According to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission, three Democrats challenging the Republican congressional incumbents reported outraising their opponents in recent campaign finance filings, though the incumbents still maintained a cash advantage. Those incumbents include U.S. Reps. Steve Chabot in the 1st Congressional District; Mike Turner in the 10th Congressional District; and Troy Balderson in the 12th Congressional District. The challengers are Kate Schroder, Desiree Tims and Alaina Shearer, respectively.


U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) was joined on a conference call Friday by Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) where they lauded former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's recently released "Build Back Better" plan to invest in renewable energy, infrastructure and the auto industry, saying that Ohio is positioned to take advantage of the proposal.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


The Ohio Education Association announced that it has endorsed Jennifer Brunner and John O'Donnell for the Ohio Supreme Court.

  • The campaign of Jerry Cirino for the Ohio Senate reported that he has been endorsed by the Ohio State Medical Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Electricians Local Union #673.

  • The re-election campaign for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Youngstown) announced that he has been endorsed by the Ohio State Medical Association PAC.

  • The campaign for the re-election of U.S. Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati) announced that he has been endorsed by National Right to Life, Ohio Right to Life and Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati.

  • The campaign of Nancy Day-Achauer for the Ohio House announced that she has been endorsed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.


EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


Ohio's unemployment dropped to 10.9 percent in June from a revised 13.9 percent in May, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said Friday. The state added 208,000 nonagricultural wage and salary employment jobs over the month. ODJFS said the number of workers unemployed in Ohio in June was 631,000, down 166,000 from 797,000 in May. The number of unemployed has increased by 392,000 in the past 12 months from 239,000. The June unemployment rate for Ohio increased from 4.1 percent in June 2019.


About one-third of U.S. workers who were laid off or absent from work in April because of COVID-19 were back to work in May, according to a new analysis of employment data. Findings suggested that most returned to the same jobs they had before the pandemic. The results show that as stunning as the job losses were in April because of the pandemic, the return of jobs is also happening quickly, said Wei Cheng, lead author of the study, who received her Ph.D. in economics from Ohio State University (OSU).


ENERGY


After having another 24 hours to think about the "repugnant and disgusting" actions detailed in the charging documents against House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and others involved in the HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) racketeering case, Gov. Mike DeWine said the nuclear subsidy law will be "forever tainted" and therefore the Legislature should repeal and replace it. During his opening remarks at his coronavirus briefing on Thursday, the governor emphasized that he still supports the underlying policies in the bill, but said those policy goals should be reached through a transparent legislative process.


A member of House leadership, Assistant Majority Floor Leader Laura Lanese (R-Grove City) called for a return to "free-market principles" Thursday with the repeal of HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) and passage of a new Ohio energy policy not driven by government graft and expensive, legacy generation technologies but rather the energy innovation she says will lower Ohioans' bills. She called the bill a "one-off" that departed from business as usual in the General Assembly. She joined Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Westerville), co-sponsor of pending House repeal-and-replace legislation, and Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), joint sponsor of a companion Senate bill to overturn nuclear and coal subsidies, in a Statehouse news conference aimed at righting the Republican record on state utility priorities. All three had opposed passage of HB6.


ENVIRONMENT


The Toledo area will receive more than $12 million in federal funding to remove contaminated sediment and trash from the Maumee River watershed, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Monday.


Seven counties will receive a total of $1.75 million from the H2Ohio initiative to help low- and moderate-income homeowners repair and replace failing household sewage treatment systems, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) announced Tuesday. Health departments in Erie, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Sandusky, Williams and Wood counties will each receive $250,000 in H2Ohio funding to replace failing household sewage treatment systems.


The Ohio EPA released more details on its monitoring study that includes sampling from several of Ohio's municipal sewage and wastewater treatment systems to determine the presence of coronavirus ribonucleic acid (RNA) fragments. The study -- conducted in coordination with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), USEPA and the Ohio Water Resources Center (WRC) at Ohio State University (OSU) -- is being funded with $2 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.


Ohio EPA Director Laurie Stevenson has terminated her previous order that prohibited public drinking water systems from shutting off customers' water service due to non-payment. The previous order was issued to ensure that as many Ohioans as possible had access to water as they followed the now-expired stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


FEDERAL


Ohio's congressional delegation and other political figures expressed sorrow and sympathy after U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights icon, died at the age of 80 this past weekend after a six-month battle with cancer. He served in Congress for more than three decades, and was also known for his decades-long fight for civil rights, including helping to lead a march on Selma, AL, in 1965 for voting rights, where he was brutally beaten by heavily armed state and local police. The incident, which became known as "Bloody Sunday," helped galvanize support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Characterizing the U.S. House-passed Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act as "not bipartisan," U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. Senate plan for the next federal COVID-19 response package would include funds for states and localities, bolster testing, cut the payroll tax and expand broadband Internet access, but would not be as far-reaching as the House proposal.


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced Wednesday the introduction of a U.S. Senate resolution he is sponsoring along with U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) that would declare racism a public health crisis. He cited implicit biases in health insurance markets and the broader health care system, as well as biases in the criminal justice and legal systems, as contributing toward health outcomes among African Americans that are comparatively worse to other populations, and said passage of the resolution would recognize the systemic barriers that Black people continue to face.


Child care advocates from around Ohio asked U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH) for more financial assistance from the federal government as the pandemic continues to strain the child care sector. Kimberly Tice of the Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children (Ohio AEYC), Eric Karolak of Action for Children, and Leigh Anne Easterling of Mary Evans Child Development Center were all present at a webinar hosted Thursday by Groundwork Ohio. Shannon Jones, Groundwork Ohio's executive director, also joined the conversation. Balderson, who is on the House Small Business Committee, said one idea he and other lawmakers have for the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation is a tax credit of up to $25,000 for child care providers to use to purchase personal protection equipment (PPE).


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Noting the rarity of such charges, federal officials Tuesday said House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) had been charged as part of a racketeering case in which he and four other defendants allegedly received $60 million to "pass and maintain" HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), a controversial subsidy of FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) that passed last year. Also charged Tuesday were Matt Borges, a lobbyist and former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party; Juan Cespedes, co-founder of the Oxley Group; Neil Clark, president of Grant Street Consultants; and Jeff Longstreth, an adviser to Householder.


The news led to widespread calls for Householder's resignation from Gov. Mike DeWine and bipartisan legislative and state party leaders. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose also announced that he had referred 19 "apparent or alleged" violations of state campaign finance law related to the federal charges to the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC).


A day after Householder was arrested on federal charges, members of the House on both sides of the aisle, including those who helped to install him as speaker, said he should step aside to focus on his legal issues and that the pending case will make it hard for him to continue to lead the chamber.


The day before HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) passed in the House, an unnamed representative met with FBI agents to voice his concerns about the unusual process involved. Their conversation is detailed in the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday following the arrest of Householder and four others as part of an ongoing federal racketeering investigation. The 82-page document authored by FBI Special Agent Blane Wetzel alleges how approximately $60.89 million was provided by "Company A" to Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) organization purportedly controlled by Householder, with the funds used to support the election of his affiliated candidates in 2018, ensure passage of HB6 and prevent it from being overturned by ballot initiative.


As a result of the revelations surfacing following Householder's arrest over alleged racketeering actions around HB6, the Ohio Legislature is mounting a bipartisan/bicameral effort to repeal the energy subsidy law as Democrats and Republicans work on several proposals. Sen. Sean O'Brien (D-Cortland) joined Rep. Michael O'Brien (D-Warren), co-chair of the House Energy and Natural Resources Energy Generation Subcommittee that launched HB6 and Rep. Gil Blair (D-Mineral Ridge), a fellow member of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee and subcommittee, in announcing efforts Wednesday to overturn the taxpayer-supported subsidy. Sens. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) have also joined the efforts.


The Senate Tuesday unanimously passed five items on its agenda with little debate, including legislation that updates Ohio's laws regarding limited liability corporations (LLC), SB276. Senators also sent HB123 (Holmes-Manning) back to the House for concurrence, after unanimously adopting an emergency clause to the bill. The bill addresses school security and youth suicide awareness education, but was amended by the Senate Education Committee to include funding for e-schools that serve drop-out recovery students. Also passing were HB230 (Crossman) to designate May as "Brain Cancer Awareness Month," SB174 (Kunze) to designate Sept. 7 as "Ohio Grateful Patient Day," and SCR10 (Lehner), approving Ohio Department of Health rule changes on standards for local boards of health and procedures for payment of state subsidies for meeting these requirements.


After session, Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) told reporters that he is still talking with senators to decide whether to vote on overriding Gov. Mike DeWine's veto of SB55 (Gavarone). The bill addresses penalties for drug trafficking offenses near rehab facilities but was amended by the House to decriminalize penalties for violating state health orders, the latter of which led to DeWine's veto.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday he had no contact with federal investigators scrutinizing House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and doesn't know of involvement by anyone in his administration in the alleged corruption scheme. The governor said he'll donate any campaign donations from those charged in the probe to charity and is willing to call the General Assembly into session for a vote to replace Householder if necessary. "We don't have any involvement in this, didn't know anything about the investigation. We were surprised, as everyone was, yesterday morning," DeWine said.


Gov. Mike DeWine, who called for Householder to step down as speaker, said Wednesday he'll give the House time to sort out its leadership situation on its own but is willing to call the chamber into session if necessary.


During the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, DeWine was asked several times about media reports that his director of legislative affairs, Dan McCarthy, is a former president of Partners for Progress, a dark money group that is accused of funneling money to FirstEnergy Corp. to help Householder regain the speaker's gavel. DeWine repeatedly defended McCarthy, noting that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David DeVillers said there is "no evidence" linking the matter to the governor's office. DeWine said there isn't anything inherently wrong with running a dark money group.


As he said he would, Gov. Mike DeWine Friday vetoed SB55 (Gavarone) which had been amended in the House to decriminalize violations of state health orders. Speaker of the House Larry Householder (R-Glenford) had earlier called the potential veto a "very bad move." In his Friday veto message, DeWine wrote, "the bill was amended in a way that would make it difficult for local health officials to protect the public's safety and fight the spread of COVID-19. In the midst of this pandemic, now is not the time to change tactics and impede local health officials' ability to protect all Ohioans. Our collective goals are always to ensure the safety of the public, guard against the health care system from being overwhelmed, and allowing all Ohio workers and businesses to do what they do best, which is grow our economy. A robust public health system protects us from E-coli and Legionella outbreaks, threats of bioterrorism, or once-in-a-century pandemics."


Appointments made during the week include the following:


  • Karen L. Cousins of Galloway (Franklin County) and Adam G. Jacobs of Chagrin Falls (Cuyahoga County) to the State Board of Psychology for terms beginning July 17, 2020 and ending Oct. 4, 2023.

  • Mark E. Rich of Perrysburg (Wood County) to the State Chiropractic Board for a term beginning July 17, 2020 and ending Nov. 1, 2023.

  • Jon W. Rettig, Sr. of Columbiana (Columbiana County) reappointed to the Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors for a term beginning July 1, 2020 and ending June 30, 2025.

  • Ronald R. Soeder of Concord (Lake County) to the Ohio Commission on Service and Volunteerism for a term beginning July 17, 2020 and ending April 21, 2022.

  • Branden C. Meyer of Pickerington (Fairfield County) to the Automated Title Processing Board Bureau of Motor Vehicles for a term beginning July 13, 2020 and continuing at the pleasure of the governor.

  • Michael A. Sliva of Cadiz (Harrison County) reappointed to the Ohio Reclamation Forfeiture Fund Advisory Board for a term beginning July 17, 2020 and ending Jan. 10, 2024.

  • Frank J. Reed, Jr. of Bexley (Franklin County) to the Oil and Gas Commission for a term beginning July 17, 2020 and ending Oct. 14, 2024.

  • Timothy V. Kyger of Gallipolis (Gallia County) reappointed to the State Dental Board for a term beginning July 17, 2020 and ending April 6, 2024.

  • Janet W. Bay of Powell (Delaware County), Suresh D. Mendpara of Richfield (Summit County) and Thomas A. Tallman of Shaker Heights (Cuyahoga County) to the Medical Quality Foundation Board for terms beginning July 17, 2020 and ending July 20, 2022.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Two years after filing, a lawsuit on whether the state can release a consultant's report on pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) pricing is finally set for trial after the judge declined to send the dispute to mediation. CVS Caremark sued the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) near the end of the Kasich administration as state officials were preparing to release the full version of a report by HealthPlan Data Solutions (HDS). OptumRx, another PBM, later joined the lawsuit as well. The administration had previously released the executive summary of the report, which found a gap of nearly 9 percent or $223.7 million between the amount PBMs billed to Medicaid managed care companies and what they paid to pharmacies

University Hospitals (UH) clinicians and executives encouraged the head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to continue and expand telehealth initiatives kick-started by the COVID-19 pandemic, a sentiment also supported by Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran. Corcoran spoke to Hannah News by phone after listening in to the first of two roundtable meetings CMS Administrator Seema Verma held at UH's Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. "It's definitely been a bright spot in really pushing the health care system in this direction," Corcoran said.


HIGHER EDUCATION


The Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) Board of Trustees voted earlier this week to name Michael Geoghegan as the college's fifth president.


The University of Akron (UA) Board of Trustees approved a measure this week to eliminate 178 positions, including 96 unionized faculty members and 82 staff and contract professionals.


Ohio State University (OSU) recently unveiled new details of a plan meant to combat racism and racial inequality in wake of the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement and calls for greater racial justice across the country. OSU Provost Bruce McPheron and Dr. Hal Paz, Wexner Medical Center CEO, said the action plan has three key elements: a university-wide task force on racism and racial inequity, $1 million in seed funding for research and creative work on racism, and the Anti-Racism Action for the Wexner Medical Center and the health sciences colleges.


A new three-dimensional map, built after decades of collecting and analyzing data from the skies, shows how the universe has changed and expanded over an 11-billion-year period. The map, published online recently, is the largest 3D map of the universe ever created, and shows that about six billion years ago, the universe began accelerating more rapidly than it had in the previous eight billion years.


JUDICIAL


A veteran of the Statehouse press corps, Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins, went before the state's highest court Tuesday to ask justices to uphold the Ohio Court of Claims and overturn the 7th Appellate District finding that government video of common pleas Judge Joseph Bruzzese's deadly shootout with a father in the Steubenville rape case is a public "security" record shielded by Ohio law.


The Ohio Supreme Court is going to a remote bar examination in light of COVID-19 and social distancing, postponing the exam scheduled for Sept. 10 - 11 to Monday-Tuesday, Oct. 5 - 6. "The safety of the exam takers and the staff who administer the exam is our top priority, and that's why the Court felt compelled to make this change," Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said in a statement.


An Ashland County Common Pleas Court judge Thursday ruled that a restaurant's license must be immediately reinstated after the local board of health had shut the business down over a failure of its employees to wear face coverings. Judge Ronald P. Forsthoefel said in his ruling issuing a temporary restraining order that the restaurant, Cattlemans Restaurant in Savannah, OH, was not afforded procedural due process after the Ashland County health commissioner revoked the food service license for the business. The restaurant challenged the revocation in court with the help of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.


LIBRARIES


The Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) Foundation announced it received a $2.15 million grant from Battelle in support of the library's Young Minds programs and services.


LIQUOR/ALCOHOL


The Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU) has issued approximately 80 citations against liquor permits for violating coronavirus related public health orders since they were first put into place by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), OIU Agent-in-Charge Michelle Thourot told Hannah News. Agents in the law enforcement unit, which is part of the Ohio State Highway Patrol under the Ohio Department of Public Safety, visit establishments based on complaints and generally issue warnings and offer educational opportunities to help bar and restaurant owners comply with public health orders. After a liquor permit is cited for a violation, the holder of the permit has the opportunity to appear before the Ohio Liquor Control Commission. The first violation notices associated with the COVID-10 pandemic health orders are scheduled to occur from Monday, Aug. 3 through Friday, Aug. 7. Approximately 11 cases will be heard remotely during that week.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT


Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Carter Stewart and researchers with the Ohio State University (OSU) John Glenn College of Public Affairs will lead an independent review of the capital city's law enforcement response to anti-racism protests occurring between May 28 and July 18, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein announced Wednesday. Klein -- joined by Stewart, OSU Glenn College Dean Trevor Brown, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin and Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan for a press conference at the Michael B. Coleman Government Center -- said Stewart, a professor at the OSU Moritz College of Law, is the right person to lead the effort as a special investigative researcher.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


Medicaid reported an increase of about 200,000 enrollees from February, the last month before pandemic-related business restrictions were put into place, to June. Office of Budget and Management Director (OBM) Director Kim Murnieks has said the enhanced federal matching rate was a big factor in the state's ability to finish FY20 without dipping into the state's Rainy Day Fund. In addition, Ohio Department of Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran said the department is interested in seeing the Trump administration slow implementation of the Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation (MFAR), which she said entails significant cost.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) on Wednesday announced its approval of more than $400,000 in funding through the Coastal Management Assistance Grant (CMAG) program for five projects. The projects -- located in Mentor, Euclid, Jefferson, Rocky River and Rossford -- are intended to improve coastal planning, public access and water quality, the department said.


Earlier this month, the Ohio Wildlife Council received regulation proposals for fishing and white-tailed deer processing. If approved, these regulations will take effect Jan. 1, 2021. Division of Wildlife fisheries biologists recommended removing the daily bag limit restriction of four walleye in the Sandusky River and Sandusky Bay from March 1 to April 30, annually. Fisheries biologists also recommended removing the daily bag limit of six channel catfish at inland lakes and reservoirs less than 700 acres in surface area. A third regulation proposal updates how white-tailed deer and other cervids are handled by Ohio taxidermists and processors.


OHIO HISTORY


Ohio Humanities is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment with the Women's Suffrage Speakers Series. Every Tuesday in the coming weeks, a virtual presentation and conversation with Ohio Humanities speakers and scholars will explore topics that place the history of women's suffrage in the context of race, protest, rhetoric, women running for office, and more, the organization said. These events are free and open to the public but require registration. Visit https://tinyurl.com/y6nopeg4 to register for an event.


PEOPLE


Effective Monday, July 20 Chelsea Wonski took over the duties as policy/legislative liaison for the State Medical Board of Ohio. She succeeded Jonithon LaCross who held the position for eight years. Wonski moved from the Ohio Department of Insurance.


The Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) announced the selection of Robert M. Heard Sr., a 15-year member of the Cleveland Municipal School District Board of Education, as its nominee for president-elect in 2021. If elected during the OSBA November statewide conference, Heard would serve as president-elect in 2021 and become OSBA president in 2022.


SECRETARY OF STATE


Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose Friday announced 16,047 new businesses filed in June, which he said were the most new filings in one month ever. The number of new businesses created in June is a substantial 61 percent increase over June 2019 and a 24 percent increase over last month.


TECHNOLOGY


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the administration's plans to expand broadband access as students face uncertainties about whether they will attend school in-person full-time, part-time, or not at all. Pending Controlling Board approval, schools will be able to apply for a dollar-to-dollar matching grant program with the state for hotspots, in-home Internet, and Internet-enabled devices to students, Husted said. The $50 million program is provided through the federal CARES Act. In an effort to provide schools with the ability to search, review and compare prices for purchasing hotspots and equipment, a request for information (RFI) will be issued to Internet providers for everything from hotspots to laptops to tablets, Husted said.


The lieutenant governor also announced the launch of a new e-permitting system through InnovateOhio and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to make it easier to get broadband in the ground and to unserved or underserved communities. He said the online process will be more convenient for permit requesters and is expected to reallocate 24,000 hours of labor per year.


The pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of technology access, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said Thursday during a meeting of the CyberOhio Advisory Board, and there is a "huge digital divide behind the haves and the have-nots." That includes abilities for telework, telehealth and distance learning, he said, but cybersecurity is also an important aspect of the increased shift toward more technology. That is the mission of the group, Husted added in his brief opening remarks. Board members noted that the shift to distance learning in K-12 schools has involved various types of technology and a general lack of security standards regarding them.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Ohio State Highway Patrol recently announced the designation of a portion of U.S. 33 as the second distracted driving safety corridor. The corridor is a 12-mile stretch of U.S. 33 in Fairfield County. ODOT said its crews have installed signs along the route toalert drivers when they enter the corridor and to remind motorists to "ditch the distractions."


TREASURER OF STATE


Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague recently announced that the State Treasury Asset Reserve (STAR) of Ohio has reached $15 billion in assets for the first time in its history. The investment pool recently closed at an all-time high of $15,573,352,472. Nearly 1,700 entities currently participate in the program and there are almost 2,800 accounts across the state. In state FY20, the program distributed more than $217 million in interest earnings to Ohio government subdivisions.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


For the week ending July 18, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 30,138 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Ohio's weekly jobless claims have held steady since late May/early June, consistently totaling between 30,000 and 36,000 every week.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


Addressing the Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Board of Directors Thursday via teleconference, BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud said the agency "accomplished a great deal" before and after the pandemic began as part of a look back at its work in FY20. Items she mentioned included providing two dividends to employers that each totaled more than $1 billion, making drug disposal systems available to curb prescription opioid misuse, giving millions of masks to Ohio employers and transitioning the entire BWC staff to teleworking.


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

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