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Week in Review July 8, 2024


Ohio statehouse government affairs week in review January 2023


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

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


AGING


Jenny Carlson, who has over three decades of experience in federal and state government and education, has been named the state director for AARP in Ohio, effective immediately, announced Sarah Jennings, AARP regional vice president. Carlson most recently was the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Aging (ODA). Prior to that, she was associate vice president for government affairs at the Ohio State University Office of Health Sciences. In this role, she managed policy and government relations for the health system, including Wexner Medical Center, the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and the Richard J. Solove Research Institute, seven health science colleges, and health-related research centers.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Council has voted to remove cannabis from the banned drug class for all sports championships, including postseason football. The policy is effective immediately, the NCAA said. Any penalties currently being served by student-athletes who previously tested positive for cannabinoids will be discontinued.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Attorney General Dave Yost announced new human trafficking training for EMS responders Monday as the latest in a series of real-life scenarios developed by the AG's Human Trafficking Commission's Healthcare Subcommittee. The latest video and Facilitator's Discussion Guide address a local fire department EMS unit responding to a call about a woman with an asthma attack. Medics come to suspect that she is being trafficked based on physical and verbal clues. The training portal can be found at tinyurl.com/bde74etf.


Yost also rolled out Human Trafficking 101 to raise awareness among adolescents and teens. The best practices guide was developed by the commission's Public Awareness Subcommittee as a how-to resource for anti-trafficking coalitions and community leaders across Ohio. The youth guide covers topics including how traffickers groom victims, dangers of social media and online gaming, and additional materials on understanding ACEs. It can be found at tinyurl.com/bdfz96cb.


Hamilton County tops a new round of awards announced by the Attorney General's Office and supported by the Ohio Supreme Court to place digital fingerprint scanners in law enforcement jurisdictions across Ohio and expand the state's criminal justice data system. Ohio law requires the AG's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCII) to maintain the state's Computerized Criminal History (CCH), a database of fingerprints and criminal records from 200-plus courts. These records inform criminal investigations, prosecutorial charges, sentencing decisions, corrections supervision release and background checks for license and firearm purchases, child care workers, and those working with the elderly and disabled. A total of 77 LiveScan fingerprint scanners worth $900,000 are going to 66 law enforcement entities in 42 counties, led by seven scanners spread across four agencies in Hamilton County.


BALLOT ISSUES


A group seeking to put redistricting in the hands of a 15-member citizens group Monday submitted its signatures ahead of the deadline to make the November ballot. Citizens Not Politicians said it submitted 731,306 signatures to the secretary of state's office. They need to have 413,487 valid signatures, or 10 percent of the total votes cast in the 2022 gubernatorial election, in order to be on the ballot. The group said it submitted 810 boxes of signatures collected from all 88 counties, and collected at least 5 percent of the total vote cast for governor in 57 counties, well above the 44 county requirement. It said the submission was the "third most" signatures any citizen-led group submitted in more than 110 years and since more restrictive rules went into effect in 2018.


FY25-26 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS


Gov. Mike DeWine, joined by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and others, signed capital budget HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) Friday, saying it invests in the future of the state. DeWine praised the work of the General Assembly, noting that all three capital budgets and all three operating budgets he has signed as governor were passed overwhelmingly and on a bipartisan basis. DeWine broke down funding in the $4.2 billion capital bill, saying the bill provides lifelines of support for mental health care. He highlighted the new mental health facility in the Miami Valley, which he said will bring much needed help to the region after Twin Valley Behavioral Health was closed 16 years ago. Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), appearing on behalf of Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and Senate Finance Chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), said the Senate had focused its work in the capital budget on significant increases to mental health services. She also highlighted other projects including libraries, police and fire facilities, and a wastewater system plant in Wayne County. The budget also funds VFW facilities that were in need of emergency roof repairs. Also speaking was House Finance Chair Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), who said that HB2 includes about 100 unique projects around the state. Every legislator had a project in their district, if not multiple projects. He also pointed to the jobs that will be created to renovate and build the projects in the capital budget.


CITIES


The Ohio Municipal League (OML) said that Emmanuel Remy, a member of Columbus City Council, was appointed to the OML Board of Trustees, the 24-member body that governs the organization.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/URBAN REVITALIZATION


The DeWine administration announced Monday the first Innovation Hub will be in Toledo, with a focus on the glass industry that has been historically prominent there. The hubs were created under the operating budget and are meant to support small- and mid-sized cities in a way similar to establishment of innovation districts in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. The "Northwest Ohio Glass Innovation Hub" will receive more than $31.3 million in state funding and $10.4 million in local investment. The Northwest Ohio Innovation Consortium (NOIC) will lead hub efforts to combine the talents of academic and research institutions, workforce and economic development partners, and private companies. It will focus on the glass sector and solar industry, which relies heavily on glass.


The Biden administration announced Tuesday that a Sustainable Polymers Tech Hub in Akron will receive an estimated $51 million under the CHIPS Act. Akron was selected in October 2023 along with 30 other regional hubs, and this funding represents the second phase. The exact award amounts will be finalized in the coming months. A total of $504 million is being provided to 12 hubs under Tuesday's announcement. The maximum amount given was $51 million, with hubs in Indiana, Illinois and Oklahoma also receiving that amount. The Akron hub will focus on sustainable polymers, with the Greater Akron Chamber serving as the lead agency. The Biden administration said it will address "severe climate and environmental impacts" that result from use of rubbers and plastics derived from fossil fuels by "accelerating sustainable polymer manufacturing and commercialization in the United States."


EDUCATION


The State Board of Education (SBOE) saved more money on operations and booked more licensure fee revenue than anticipated in the just-closed fiscal year, enabling it to take more time in deciding how to close its substantial FY25 budget shortfall, Superintendent Paul Craft told Hannah News Tuesday. Craft said after getting final numbers for FY24 and having "really productive discussions" with the DeWine administration, he no longer feels the need to ask board members to make major budget decisions at their Monday meeting. His comments mark a change from Monday, when board leaders learned they would not make next week's Controlling Board agenda. Lawmakers left town for the summer last week without approving the board's request for additional money. The House voted for a $4.6 million funding infusion, but the Senate failed to concur, with Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) indicating at the time Controlling Board action could take care of the problem but also suggesting the board look at its expenses. The governor's office subsequently said a licensure fee increase would be a "non-starter" but also that the board would need to live within its means.


ELECTIONS


A new state law not yet in effect on foreign campaign contributions violates the First Amendment, a new lawsuit filed in federal court claims. Two advocacy organizations, OPAWL - Building AAPI Feminist Leadership and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), and individual plaintiffs Elisa Bredendiek, Peter Quilligan and John Gerrath sued in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, seeking to block Attorney General Dave Yost and Secretary of State Frank LaRose from enforcing the law. The litigation describes as "extraordinarily broad" the enforcement of restrictions enacted in HB1 (Seitz) from the special session called by Gov. Mike DeWine to address foreign contributions and ballot access for President Joe Biden.


ELECTIONS 2024


Former U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles), who was also the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee in 2022, wrote in an opinion piece published by Newsweek on its website this week that Vice President Kamala Harris should be the 2024 Democratic nominee for president. Ryan, who also briefly ran for president in 2020 before endorsing President Joe Biden, said in the column that while he loves Biden, the president's debate performance last week was "deeply troubling. … But it isn't just about a 90-minute debate and a terrible performance. This election needs to be about generational change -- something about which I have been shouting for more than a year now," he wrote.


Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced this week that he was expanding a pilot program to help county boards of elections identify discrepancies in voter registration just a little more than a month after launching it in six counties. The tool gives counties access to county-specific digital dashboards to help identify voter registration discrepancies. The dashboards offer immediate access to registration records that have been flagged for additional review and correction, such as illegal characters in name fields, placeholder birth dates, unreasonably high ages, and improper birth/registration date combination, the secretary of state's office said.


ENERGY/UTILITIES


Ohio's first-quarter oil production from horizontal wells fell marginally to 7.2 million barrels (bbls) from its historical high of 7.8 million bbls in the last three months of 2023. It was good enough for shale oil's second highest showing in the Marcellus and Utica regions of Eastern Ohio. By comparison, natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" saw a statistically negligible decrease of less than 1 percent in January-March 2024 compared to the previous fourth quarter, topping out at 534 billion cubic feet (cf).


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Five voting sessions. That's what the Senate plans for the remainder of 2024, all of them in the lame duck period between the November election and the end of the year. The Senate clerk's office released its second half schedule Friday, outlining plans for committee meetings Tuesdays and sessions Wednesdays from the week after the November election to the week before Christmas, skipping Thanksgiving week. Specifically, sessions will take place Wednesday, Nov. 13; Wednesday, Nov. 20; Wednesday, Dec. 4; Wednesday, Dec. 11; and Wednesday, Dec. 18. The House has yet to release its second half schedule.


Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) announced several committee membership changes Friday, mostly related to Sen. Al Cutrona's (R-Canfield) recent appointment to take now-U.S. Rep. Michael Rulli's (R-Salem) old seat. The changes also reflect reshuffling of a few vice chair positions. Cutrona was appointed as vice chair of the Senate Community Revitalization Committee and member of the Senate Small Business and Economic Opportunity Committee, Senate Transportation Committee and Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee.


Following through on his vow to challenge a court ruling that wrested away control of caucus campaign funds, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) officially filed an appeal of the trial court ruling that gave rival House Republicans control of the Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA). Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Serrott recently issued a ruling that handed control of the OHRA Legislative Campaign Fund (LCF) to Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) and other lawmakers who challenged Stephens' control of the campaign account. The dispute stems from Stephens' surprise ascendance to the speakership via an alliance with House Democrats, which sidelined Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova), who'd won an internal caucus vote for leadership of the House.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine will sign single-sex bathroom bill SB104 (Cirino) if it reaches his desk as currently written, the governor told reporters on Friday. "I've looked at the particular language in this bill …. As it stands now, I would sign the bill," DeWine told reporters during a press conference on the capital budget. SB104 was originally focused on the College Credit Plus Program, but the House inserted language from HB183 (Bird-Lear) into the bill near the end of the last session before summer break on Wednesday, June 26. The bill prohibits public and private K-12 schools from allowing a "member of the female biological sex to use a student restroom, locker room, changing room or shower room that has been designated by the school for the exclusive use of the male biological sex." Likewise, it bans a "member of the male biological sex" from using such facilities "designated by the school for the exclusive use of the female biological sex."


The following judicial appointment was made during the week:


Kelly Linger has been appointed to the Columbiana County Municipal Court. Linger, of East Liverpool, will assume office on Tuesday, July 23. She will be taking the seat formerly held by Judge Katelyn Dickey, who resigned upon being appointed to the Ohio Seventh District Court of Appeals. Linger will serve the remainder of the unfinished term and will need to run for election in November 2025 to retain the seat. In 2001, Linger graduated from Kent State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She received her juris doctor from Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 2006.


JUDICIAL


U.S. presidents enjoy "absolute immunity" from prosecution for official acts within their core constitutional authority and at least presumptive immunity for all official acts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday, but former President Donald Trump still faces further trial court inquiry as which of his actions undertaken to challenge his 2020 electoral loss to President Joe Biden count as "official." The 6-3 ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, fell along ideological lines, with the other five Republican-appointed justices joining Roberts while Democrat-appointed justices dissented. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion, as did Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Kentanji Brown Jackson, the latter of whom wrote her own dissent as well. "We conclude that under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of presidential power requires that a former president have some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts during his tenure in office. At least with respect to the president's exercise of his core constitutional powers, this immunity must be absolute. As for his remaining official actions, he is also entitled to immunity. At the current state of proceedings in this case, however, we need not and do not decide whether that immunity must be absolute, or instead whether a presumptive immunity is sufficient," Roberts wrote.


The Ohio Supreme Court's annual rules package took effect Monday with new provisions for reopening criminal appeals based on claims of ineffective counsel, requiring judges to schedule a defendant's appearance within two court days, limiting depositions to a single seven-hour day, defining when trial testimony is "expert," and instructing juvenile courts to notify the prosecutor and victims if "formal action" is avoided -- the latter in observance of Marsy's Law. Those and other changes fall under separate entries for appellate, criminal, civil, evidentiary and juvenile rules of practice and procedure. The Court's annual rules package becomes effective every July 1 if the General Assembly does not challenge its provisions. The 2024-2025 Rules of Practice and Procedure's final version can be found at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/laws-rules/ohio-rules-of-court.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Cannabis Control (DCC) continues to award dual-use provisional licenses, but no certificates of operation have been issued yet. DCC spokesperson Jamie Crawford told Hannah News that the division has informed 127 facilities that they have qualified for a dual-use provisional license, including the following:


  • 65 dispensaries

  • 28 cultivators

  • 28 processors

  • 6 testing labs


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


Ohio can begin paying nursing homes a higher rate in October for private rooms in facilities that meet certain quality criteria, after the federal government agreed to the Medicaid policy proposed in the biennial budget. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an approval letter for the Ohio Department of Medicaid's (ODM) state plan amendment in mid-June, with an effective date of Tuesday, Oct. 1. Under HB33 (Edwards), lawmakers established two levels of incentive payments for private room Medicaid rates: $30 per day for rooms with their own bathroom, or $20 for those with shared bathroom access. "Most nursing home residents tell us that a private room greatly improves their sense of dignity, autonomy, and comfort, and we know that private rooms produce better health outcomes for residents as well," said Gov. Mike DeWine in a statement. "In Ohio, we have the capacity to provide a private room to every nursing home resident who wants one. Our proposal to make this a reality has now been approved by CMS and is also supported by the nursing home industry. We are working together to make private rooms more accessible in a way that's ultimately a win for everyone."


MENTAL HEALTH


The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) announced Friday it suspended admissions at a youth residential treatment facility in Youngstown, Youth Intensive Services (YIS), which was recently the subject of a highly critical report by Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) that alleged abuse, dangerous restraint techniques and other hazards.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced this week that the state's population of the bald eagle, a symbol of America, is thriving in Ohio. ODNR's spring survey estimated 841 active eagle nests around Ohio. That number of nests is lower than what the same survey found in 2023 (910), but other indicators from the survey indicate a resilient bald eagle population. The number of nests that have eggs or eaglets is up to 82 percent in 2024 from 73 percent in 2023 and 48 percent in 2022. The number of eaglets per nest in 2024 (1.6) is also higher than in 2023 (1.2) and 2002 (0.8).


NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS


During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, charitable giving from Americans to philanthropic causes reached its highest level on record. In fact, the $557 billion that Americans gave charitably in 2023 still makes the U.S. the largest country for charitable giving in the world. But following the surge in giving America saw during the pandemic, the amount of giving has not kept up with inflation. To answer the question of how organizations that seek charitable donations can reverse that trend, the Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) on Wednesday hosted leaders of various Columbus-area nonprofits and other experts in the field of philanthropic giving. Una Osili of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy said that even as charitable giving has grown in real terms in the past few decades, the same period has seen giving as a share of GDP stay the same. Osili says generosity to their communities and other causes is what unites Americans. The question then becomes how can organizations change the ways they seek charitable giving.


PENSIONS


Three of 11 seats on the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) Board of Trustees will have new occupants in the coming months following two departures and the looming term expiration for one member who battled the governor's office for the right to keep his seat. Dale Price, a representative of active teachers, was due to leave the board near summer's end but retired from his teaching job June 1, making him ineligible to continue serving in a seat designated for active teachers. Price had declined to run for re-election and would otherwise have left the board at the end of August. Members recently removed him as chair, elevating Rudy Fichtenbaum in his place. Michelle Flanigan, a Brunswick Schools teacher, won the election to succeed Price and will take office in September. Steven Foreman, also a representative of active teachers, resigned after the June board meeting, also citing retirement, according to STRS.


PUBLIC SAFETY


The Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of State Fire Marshal (SFM) Tuesday urged Ohioans to "put safety first" if they use consumer fireworks during the July 4 holiday as allowed by state discharge laws. Since 2022, use of 1.4G consumer fireworks has been allowed from 4 to 11 p.m. on Wednesday, July 3 through Sunday, July 7 unless prohibited by local laws. Another change made in 2023 allowed sale of fountain devices, which erupt sparks and often a whistle or crackle, according to SFM. They can reach heights up to 20 feet.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC) released the project agreements for the most recent annual round of infrastructure funding. These local government projects are selected by the state's 19 district integrating committees based on a variety of factors including health and safety, age and condition, and number of users. In addition, the committees send unfunded projects belonging to communities of 5,000 or less in population to compete in the OPWC Small Government Program. In total, 564 projects were awarded to communities in all Ohio's 88 counties for roads ($202.5 million), water supply ($52.8 million), wastewater ($27.7 million), bridges and culverts ($28.3 million), and stormwater ($12.5 million).


The application window for the Cemetery Grant Program is now open, the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing announced Monday. Applications from eligible nonprofit cemeteries throughout the state will be accepted through Wednesday, July 31. During this grant cycle, $104,000 is available to assist eligible Ohio cemeteries with costs related to upkeep and other "exceptional" operational expenses, according to DOC. The Cemetery Grant Program is designed to help cover costs related to exceptional maintenance or the training of cemetery personnel in the maintenance and operation of cemeteries. In general, exceptional maintenance is construed broadly to cover non-routine, non-repetitive maintenance items and projects. Eligible registered nonprofit cemeteries may apply for the grant by submitting applications online at https://cemeterygrants.com.ohio.gov.


The DOC Division of Financial Institutions (DFI) and 24 other state financial regulatory agencies have reached a settlement with several entities for operating a cryptocurrency company without meeting state licensing requirements, DOC announced Monday. DOC and the other agencies took collective action against Plutus Financial Inc., Abra Trading LLC, Plutus Financial Holdings Inc., Plutus Lending LLC (collectively known as "Abra"), and CEO and largest equity owner William Barhydt for operating the unlicensed crypto company, DOC said. “Under the settlement, Abra agreed to cease accepting virtual asset allocations from U.S. Abra Trade Account customers into their products and services, and ceased making, buying, selling or trading cryptocurrencies available to U.S. Abra Trade customers last summer," DOC said. The settlement terms require Abra to refund any remaining virtual assets on its platform for U.S. Abra Trade customers in Ohio and the other 24 settling states.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


AAA is projecting 70.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their home over the Independence Day holiday week, a period that AAA said includes the entire July 4 week, plus the Saturday before and the Sunday after the holiday. The auto club said the number of travelers predicted is a 5 percent increase over 2023 and an 8 percent increase over 2019. Of those predicted to travel this week, nearly 61 million, or 85.4 percent are predicted to travel by automobile, about 2.8 million more than 2023.


Gov. Mike DeWine was joined by Ohio Department of Development (DOD) Director Lydia Mihalik and Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Jack Marchbanks on Monday to unveil the latest in a series of re-imagined rest stops along Ohio's major roadways that are meant to improve the traveler experience throughout the state. The new welcome center will greet visitors to Ohio as they enter from Pennsylvania to the east. The newly renovated Ashtabula County Welcome Center, along I-90 westbound in Northeast Ohio, pays homage to the area's agritourism and fishing industries as well as other attractions, including the following the Historic Ashtabula Marina; Port Conneaut Marina; Holden Arboretum; Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge and other Ashtabula County covered bridges; North Coast WWII Museum; Ashtabula Arts Center; Geneva State Park; James A. Garfield National Historical site; Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum; and Lake Metroparks Farmpark.


WORKERS’ COMPENSATION


The DeWine administration announced Monday that Ohio's private employers are paying nearly $67 million less in workers' compensation insurance premiums to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) thanks to a rate cut that went into effect today, July 1, 2024. This follows 14 previous rate cuts since 2008, the administration pointed out.


The BWC Board of Directors opened Friday's meeting by discussing the funeral of former board member Michael Taylor, who passed away on June 16. Taylor, who was a firefighter representing the AFL-CIO on the board, attended his final BWC Board meeting on May 31. His term expired on Tuesday, June 11.


Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters President Jon Harvey was appointed to replace Taylor on the board. He has been sworn in, and now serves on the BWC Actuarial and Audit committees.


The Safety Grant Program has been reopened, the BWC announced Monday. The program assists employers with the purchase of equipment to protect their employees. The program is accepting applications for the following three grants: Safety Intervention Grant (SIG); Firefighter Exposure to Environmental Elements Grant (FEEEG); and School Safety and Security Grant (SSSG). The Safety Grant Program has $35 million available to employers in FY25, according to BWC. Information on eligibility and policies for each grant can be found at https://tinyurl.com/ycy4bhwp.

 

 





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



 



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