Week In Review - June 1, 2021



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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.

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ABORTION Lebanon City Council approved an ordinance late Tuesday night banning abortion and abortion-related services within city limits, becoming the first local government in Ohio to designate itself as a "sanctuary city for the unborn." According to anti-abortion organization Ohio Right to Life (ORTL), Lebanon joins more than 25 cities and towns across the U.S. that have passed similar measures. AGRICULTURE Ohio Tax Commissioner Jeff McClain did not abuse his discretion in adopting his department's Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) table in 2016, a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court ruled this week. Clark County farmer William Johnson had appealed the Board of Tax Appeals' (BTA) decision affirming McClain's June 22, 2016 CAUV journal entry, which included the per-acre valuation table for use by county auditors in assessing land. The Ohio Grape Industries Committee (OGIC) is requesting proposals for enology research projects for FY22-23, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg). Applicants have until Friday, July 23 to apply, ODAg said. The competitive enology research grant program will provide $90,000 each fiscal year for innovative applied and basic enology research projects that strive to enhance and improve the quality of Ohio wines and grape products made from Midwest-grown grapes, juice and/or bulk wine. Evergreen Grain Co. has been found insolvent by ODAg. The department made the finding after discovering the company was unable to cover its outstanding obligations to farmers, ODAg said. Evergreen Grain, located at 5485 State Route 101 E. in Clyde, was suspended on May 13 to prevent additional outstanding obligations and to facilitate a remedy through the Grain Indemnity Fund. ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules preventing student-athletes from receiving compensation from their name, image and likeness would be superseded SB187, sponsored by Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg). The bill would prohibit any institution of higher education or intercollegiate athletic association from blocking a student from participating in sports as a result of receiving such compensation. Under the bill, student-athletes would be permitted to obtain professional representation such as a sports agent and will be able to enter into contracts for endorsements. A student would be required to inform the college or university of their intent to enter into the contract at least 15 days before they enter it. Athletes would be prohibited from entering into contracts where they will be associated with marijuana, alcohol, tobacco or gambling. FY22-23 BUDGET Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) told reporters this week that his chamber plans to unveil its version of the operating budget on Tuesday, June 1. After a substitute version of HB110 (Oelslager) is accepted in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, an omnibus amendment will be considered at the end of the week. The chamber then plans to pass HB110 during its session on Thursday, June 10. BUSINESS/CORPORATE The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) announced Monday that it will hold a series of virtual workshops in June for small and minority businesses which have received certification in one of several state programs to provide equal opportunity access and fair treatment in government contracts. The DAS newsletter also noted that many professional licenses need to be renewed by July 1 after several pandemic-related extensions and that more information is available at elicense.ohio.gov. Charter Communications announced Wednesday that Ohio nonprofits located in its service area will be eligible for grants between $2,500 and $50,000 under this year's Spectrum Digital Education (SDE) Grant program, with the application window opening Tuesday, June 1 and closing Friday, June 25 at 5 p.m. The grants support nonprofit efforts to educate community members on the benefits of broadband and are part of Charter's overall commitment of $1 million to the SDE program. Grants will be announced in August and awarded in the fall, as they were in 2020. CENSUS Attorney General Dave Yost Tuesday announced he reached a settlement in his lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau over the release of the population data needed for Ohio's upcoming redistricting process, with the bureau agreeing to release the data no later than Aug. 16. Under the terms of the agreement, the Census Bureau agreed to also provide biweekly updates regarding whether it still anticipates providing the data to Ohio by that date. Ohio will agree to dismiss the case if the bureau follows through with its promise to provide the data by Aug. 16. CORONAVIRUS The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Thursday announced the phasing out of the Public Health Advisory System (PHAS) -- which classified counties based on COVID-19 levels, ODH Director Stephanie McCloud told reporters. The system had been updated weekly, with the latest information published on Thursday, May 20. McCloud said ODH will work to continue providing cases-per-100,000 data at the county level, and that it could revive the PHAS or a similar system if necessary. The county metrics of total cases and daily case trends in the state's general COVID-19 dashboard will also be maintained going forward, she told Hannah News. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and the Ohio Lottery Commission have urged Ohioans to exercise caution and avoid scammers seeking personal information claiming to represent the recent "Vax-a-Million" vaccination lottery initiative. The agencies warn that the only two ways to enter the Vax-a-Million lottery are online at www.ohiovaxamillion.com and by phone at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634). Ohioans are warned not to follow suspicious website links or call other phone numbers to enter. Two Southwest Ohioans won both prizes Wednesday night in the state's first Vax-a-Million drawing, Gov. Mike DeWine's initiative to boost uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines. Abbigail Bugenske of Silverton in Hamilton County won the first $1 million prize for adults and Joseph Costello of Englewood in Montgomery County won the first student prize of a full-ride scholarship to a state public college or university. According to DeWine, over 2.7 million Ohioans were registered for the $1 million prize with over 100,000 young Ohioans, ages 12 to 17, registered for the drawing to win a full-ride scholarship to any of Ohio's public colleges or universities. The contest has also generated 74 million views at the http://www.ohiovaxamillion.com/ registration page and led to an increase in vaccinations across the state. From May 14 through May 19, DeWine reported that vaccination rates rose 94 percent among those 16 and 17 years old; 46 percent among those 18 and 19 years old; and 55 percent among those 20 to 49 years old compared to the prior week. The Ohio Lottery conducted the first of five Ohio Vax-a-Million drawings at the Ohio Lottery's draw studio in Cleveland on Monday, according to ODH, using a Random Number Generator and observed by a representative of the Ohio Auditor of State. Nearly one in four Americans surveyed in a new poll by Quinnipiac University said they don't plan to get vaccinated, while close to half said they don't plan on having their children get vaccinated. Specifically, of those surveyed, 23 percent said they don't plan to get vaccinated, while 72 percent said they plan to or have already been vaccinated. In an April Quinnipiac survey, 27 percent said they didn't plan to get vaccinated, while 68 percent said they would or had already been vaccinated. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT If a person is accused of a crime and is a potential danger to the community, judges shouldn't use bail as a way to keep that person in jail, the sponsor of a bail reform bill told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Sen. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) and his joint sponsor Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) presented their SB182 to the committee, saying their bill would provide comprehensive reform to the bail process in the state and correct many inequities in the system. Three Ohioans shared stories of lives reclaimed from incarceration, drugs and other problems as part of Gov. Mike DeWine's Expedited Pardon Project Thursday. They gathered with Director Michele Reynolds of the Governor's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, Deputy Legal Counsel Sarah Ackman and Criminal Justice Policy Advisor Andy Wilson of the Governor's Office, and Director Joann Sahl of the University of Akron Law School's Legal Clinic for a virtual press conference on the Governor's Expedited Pardon Project. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Gov. Mike DeWine's administration announced Monday the approval of assistance for nine projects expected to create 3,214 new jobs and retain 4,520 jobs statewide. During its monthly meeting, the Ohio Tax Credit Authority (TCA) reviewed economic development proposals brought by JobsOhio and its regional partners. The projects are expected to collectively result in more than $187 million in new payroll and spur more than $606 million in investments across Ohio. One of those projects, Peloton, announced that it had selected Troy Township in Wood County to be the site of its first U.S. factory, with a groundbreaking expected in the summer. The company, which produces interactive fitness platforms, said that it conducted a rigorous selection process and expects production to begin at the factory starting in 2023. It will commit approximately $400 million to the facility, and received state tax credits with an estimated value of $49.4 million. EDUCATION At the inaugural meeting of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) Task Force on Best Practice Models for Black Students, members heard a presentation on current data surrounding the academic performance of Black students and the non-academic factors influencing that. State Board of Education (SBOE) President Laura Kohler said the committee will work through the historical context that has led to where the state is today, including segregation and other factors, but she called the current data indisputable. The Ohio STEM Learning Network is asking students to reimagine an existing physical space, system, product or service so that it is more equitable, accessible or efficient for the recently announced #STEMbuildsOhio Design and Entrepreneurship Challenge. Newly introduced legislation from Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport) would bar schools from teaching or requiring training for staff on a variety of topics related to race, sex, gender, social affairs of policy advocacy, a proposal he says is necessary to combat "critical race theory." The bill, HB322, would add three new sections of law including the first which bars requiring teachers of courses in history, civics, U.S. government and politics, social studies or "similar subject areas" from being required to "discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs." The second new section lists 11 topics on which state agencies and schools may not "teach, instruct or train any administrator, teacher, staff member or employee to adopt or believe." The third section states no teacher can be required by the state or a school district "to affirm a belief in the systemic nature of racism, or like ideas, or in the multiplicity or fluidity of gender identities, or like ideas, against the teacher's sincerely held religious or philosophical convictions." The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) this week released a draft plan for the use of federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding coming to the state for schools, inviting public comment through Tuesday, June 1. The department asked that comments be directed to ESSA@education.ohio.gov. The 95-page draft plan is posted at http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Reset-and-Restart. Ohio is slated for $4.47 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, and at least 90 percent of that must go to local education agencies. The latest state effort to expand broadband service will connect nearly 20,000 students with telehealth services, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Wednesday during an event at Zanesville High School. The "Muskingum Valley ESC's School-Based Telemental Health in Appalachian Ohio Project" will include 15 school districts across six Appalachian counties -- Coshocton, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry and Tuscarawas -- as well as giving four districts in that region the ability to access telemedicine supports for students with acute illness or chronic conditions through remote access to pediatricians and other providers. The project will be funded through a $1.15 million InnovateOhio appropriation. It is a collaborative effort that also includes BroadbandOhio and the Appalachian Children's Coalition. ELECTIONS The Ohio Supreme Court Monday in 6-1 decision sided with the Stark County Board of Elections in its dispute with the Stark County Commission over the purchase of new voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems for use in the county, granting a writ of mandamus ordering the commission to make the purchase. The elections board had argued that it had selected the Dominion ICX voting machines in a unanimous vote, but the commissioners would not fund the purchase, asking the board for more information on its decision making and noting "intense public interest" in the purchase. The board of elections sued in the Ohio Supreme Court, saying the Ohio Revised Code requires commissioners to purchase machines chosen by the board of elections. At a virtual meeting of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative Monday, Reps. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) and Erica Crawley (D-Columbus) discussed recent voting bill HB294 (Seitz-Ray) and other legislative priorities, such as addressing the impact of racism on health outcomes. Sykes voiced frustration with the legislative process on HB294 so far, criticizing sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) for speaking to Democrats in "the most belittling, condescending way" and House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) for cutting off Democrat questions due to a caucus meeting. ELECTIONS 2021 The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday certified all 15 candidates that filed for the 11th Congressional District special election to fill the seat formerly held by Marcia Fudge, now the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The candidates certified for the primary ballot include 13 Democrats and two Republicans. The Democrats include former Ohio legislators Nina Turner, John Barnes and Shirley Smith as well as Democrats Martin Alexander, James Jerome Bell, Shontel Brown, Seth Corey, Jeff Johnson, Will Knight, Pamela M. Pinkney, Issac Powell, Lateek Shabazz, and Tariq K. Shabazz. The two Republicans in the race are Laverne Gore and Felicia Washington Ross. The primary will be held Tuesday, Aug. 3, with the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 2. ELECTIONS 2022 U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) told the Youngstown Vindicator that he will not run for the open U.S. Senate seat next year, citing fundraising concerns as a large part of his decision. EMILY'S List announced its 2022 opposition program, including 27 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives that it will be targeting for defeat in the next election cycle, including U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati). The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • The gubernatorial campaign of Nan Whaley announced the endorsement of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4).

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced Friday that Ohio's unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in April, unchanged from March, as the state saw a 3,700 drop in jobs over the month. ODJFS said non-agricultural wage and salary employment went from a revised 5,312,000 in March to 5,308,300 in April, citing the latest business establishment survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in cooperation with ODJFS. The number of workers unemployed in Ohio in April was 273,000, up from 271,000 in March. The number of unemployed has decreased by 636,000 in the past 12 months from 909,000. The April unemployment rate for Ohio decreased from 16.4 percent in April 2020. The U.S. unemployment rate for April was 6.1 percent, up from 6.0 percent in March, and down from 14.8 percent in April 2020. For the week ending May 22, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 13,661 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That number is lower than last week, when the department reported 17,472 new jobless claims. The total number of initial jobless claims filed in Ohio over the last 62 weeks (3,334,009) is more than the combined total of those filed from 2013 to 2019, according to ODJFS. ENERGY So-called electric security plans (ESP) that all Ohio utilities favor over market-based rates have allowed regional power companies to charge Ohioans billions of dollars in ballooning bill "riders" over the past decade without a full accounting by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) -- thwarting the savings consumers would have enjoyed if the Legislature had held to a market rate offer (MRO) in 127-SB221, proponents of HB317 (Wilkin) told the House Public Utilities Committee Wednesday. Former Sen. Jeff Jacobson took what he regarded as primary blame for the current situation. ENVIRONMENT The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has awarded a total of $800,000 in brownfields grants to entities in Ohio, the agency announced this week. The city of Gerard will receive $500,000, while Rural Action Inc. will get $300,000. Companion bills offered Tuesday by Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) and Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) would prevent state and local officials from using emergency powers to restrict certain firearm rights, the two said at a press conference. Introduction of these bills follows legislation by former Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) that ran out of time to pass in the 133rd General Assembly. Imploring the members of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee to look at the documents they provided on the impact of HB282 (B. Young-D. Jones), a series of witnesses appeared Wednesday in opposition to the "commodification" of gas and oil waste or brine, as they said they have the previous two General Assemblies on 133-HB545 (A. Holmes) and 132-SB165 (Dolan-Skindell). [There is also a companion Senate bill to this bill, SB171 (Hoagland-Rulli).] FEDERAL President Joe Biden returned to Ohio Thursday for the second time in his presidency to tout his stimulus bill as well as push for passage of his infrastructure and family plans, saying it is time to start building America from the bottom up and the middle out instead of from the top down. The president, speaking at Cuyahoga Community College, noted it was a little more than a year ago when he had traveled to Cleveland to speak at Tri-C as a presidential candidate, only to have the rally cancelled as Gov. Mike DeWine had pushed to close down large indoor event because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden said 14 months later, the nation is "emerging into the light." Biden also acknowledged the success of Gov. DeWine's "Vax-a-Million" drawing to encourage vaccinations in the state. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said Tuesday he expects the release in about two weeks of a bipartisan report on the security response to the Jan. 6 insurrection, adding that he wants to ensure further study by a proposed Jan. 6 commission is similarly bipartisan, avoids duplication of that work and delivers recommendations fairly quickly. Portman said he and U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Gary Peters (D-MI) have worked on an investigation across two Senate committees to study the security preparations and response to Jan. 6. GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE Proponents of HB248 (Gross) to ban vaccine mandates testified in the House Health Committee Tuesday, with the committee hearing in-person testimony from medical professionals who advocated for bodily autonomy, as well as parents of children who had adverse reactions to vaccines. In total, 149 proponents submitted either written or in-person testimony. Meanwhile, 62 associations including the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators formed the new Ohio Vaccine Coalition in opposition to the bill. Then, on Wednesday, members of the Senate Health Committee debated SB169 (Brenner), a similar bill to ban vaccine mandates. Democrats said it goes against public health objectives and the bill's sponsor argued that it protects personal liberty. It would additionally ban requirements to disclose one's vaccination status. The Senate bill differs from its House counterpart, HB248 (Gross), in that SB169 only applies to COVID-19 vaccines, and the bill would also prohibit discrimination against individuals based on whether or not they have been vaccinated. A substitute bill was accepted at the hearing to insert the discrimination provisions following an objection from Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). Ohio schools will soon have access to $787 million in federal emergency relief funding after the Senate unanimously voted to pass HB170 (Bird-Richardson) on Wednesday. The House later concurred with Senate amendments to the bill, sending HB170 to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati) said the bill includes funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. The Senate also unanimously voted to concur with House amendments to SB4 (Roegner), which provides "designated public service worker" protections to several new classes of people, including emergency service telecommunications workers, certain Ohio National Guard members, protective service workers, forensic mental health providers, mental health evaluation providers and regional psychiatric hospital employees. Residential and familial information for these workers can now be exempt from disclosure under public records laws, and the workers can request redactions and other records services from government officials. SB4 now goes to the governor for his signature. In other action, the Senate passed SB54 (Gavarone), which would include both robocalling and spoofing as violations of Ohio's telecommunications fraud laws. The Senate also voted 31-1 to pass SB102 (Roegner), which eases restrictions on Ohioans who make their own beer or wine, exempting them from certain liquor permit laws and unanimously passed SB12 (Brenner), creating the "Little Brown Jug" license plate. Employers would no longer collect municipal income taxes based on where an employer is located, rather than where the employee is working under legislation that cleared the House Wednesday. This could affect the bottom line of municipalities around the state, who had relied on language passed as part of COVID-19 relief bill 133-HB197 (Merrin-Powell) that allowed for the collection based on employer location to make up for the number of employees suddenly forced to work from home after the pandemic closed many businesses around the state. Rep. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander) said the presumption when 133-HB197 was passed was that the shift for workers was temporary, and to continue to collect taxes in this way is "simply not fair to Ohio taxpayers." He said HB157 (Jordan-Edwards) sets a clear date to end "the unfair withholding practices," adding that the end date was a compromise between businesses and local governments. The House also split on HB123 (Fraizer-Cross), modifying the law governing community reinvestment areas (CRA). Property owners who invest in real property improvements within a CRA may be eligible for tax incentives with an agreement with local authorities and property owners. Rep. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) noted that the law is separated by two categories of whether the CRA was formed before 1994 when the law was changed or after. The bill passed 55-35 and included a floor amendment Fraizer said was technical in nature. Other bills passed by the House included HB4 (Plummer-Manchester), making changes to child abuse reporting and creating a children service ombudsmen office; HB228 (Roemer), making changes to state administration of municipal net profits taxes; SB27 (Hottinger), allowing new state government employees in the Ohio Public Employees Deferred Compensation Program; and SB30 (Dolan), designating Aug. 31 as "Ohio Overdose Awareness Day." House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) Wednesday acknowledged the difference in opinion in his caucus on whether to expel former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) from the chamber over a pending federal indictment, but from House Democrats and two House Republicans seeking to force the speaker's hand by announcing their intent to introduce resolutions pushing out Householder. Earlier on Wednesday, House Democrats had held a press conference to announce their resolution to expel Householder, who faces federal corruption charges with in connection to the passage of nuclear bailout bill 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin). The press conference came a day after Reps. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) and Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) said they were filing their own resolution to expel Householder. The parents of Stone Foltz, a Bowling Green University who died after a fraternity initiation ritual that left him with a blood alcohol level five times the legal limit, urged a Senate committee Wednesday to move new legislation cracking down on hazing. The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee held its third hearing on SB126 (Kunze-Gavarone), aka Collin's Law, named for another student who died following hazing at Ohio University, Collin Wiant. The legislation increases the severity of hazing offenses to first-degree misdemeanor or fifth-degree felony, establishes an offense for failure to report hazing, and requires institutions to adopt anti-hazing plans to offer student and faculty training, among other provisions. In other action, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out HR56 (Pavliga-Grendell) which urges Congress to eliminate the E-check program; the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee reported out SB153 (Hoagland) which expands the Electroencephalogram Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation; and the House Families, Aging and Human Services Committee reported out HB212 (Fraizer-Liston) which expands the eligibility for the handicapped children program. GUNS Members of the Democratic Ohio Gun Violence Prevention Caucus Monday cited a pair of weekend mass shootings in the state as clear evidence of badly needed gun reforms including universal background checks, "red-flag" mental health protections and closed gun show loopholes. State Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati), a former Cincinnati police officer, and Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati), both members of their chambers' public safety committees, joined gun safety advocate Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter died in Florida's 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and Ethan Nichols, a member of Students for Gun Legislation, in the caucus's inaugural meeting. Companion bills offered Tuesday by Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) and Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) would prevent state and local officials from using emergency powers to restrict certain firearm rights, the two said in a press conference. Introduction of these bills follows legislation by former Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) that ran out of time to pass in the 133rd General Assembly. Schaffer said the bill is "reaffirming and protecting the Ohio Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, and there's never a bad time for that." The shootings are a tragedy, he added, and Ohioans should be protected particularly in a state of emergency. The bill is "totally unrelated" to those events. HIGHER EDUCATION Ohio State University's (OSU) Board of Trustees recently approved a plan to raise tuition and fees for incoming first-year students by 3.8 percent, a $418 annual change from last year's rate. The new rate will then be frozen for four years for these students as part of the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee, which locks in tuition, housing and dining costs for each entering cohort. In Columbus, in-state tuition and fees would total $11,936 per year through 2025-26 for incoming first-year students. Including the most common housing and dining plans, the total rate for these students would be $25,288. Malone University President David King has announced he will retire at the end of the 2021-22 academic year, June 30, 2022. King will have served as president for over 10 when he retires from the Canton university. The Ohio University (OU) Board of Trustees on Thursday appointed Dr. Hugh Sherman as the institution's 22nd president, the university announced. Sherman will begin his two-year term on Monday, June 14, OU said in a news release. HUMAN SERVICES The Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) and the Ohio State University (OSU) College of Social Work are joining forces to identify successful caseworker recruitment and retention strategies, PCSAO announced Friday. Turnover has crippled children services agencies both prior to COVID-19 and during the pandemic, PCSAO Executive Director Angela Sausser said. JUDICIAL The Ohio Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded and imposed a $1,000 fine on longtime magistrate and former Hamilton County Common Pleas Court candidate Karen Falter for publishing false campaign statements about former Gov. John Kasich's delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention, Curt Hartman. LOCAL GOVERNMENT The Franklin County Board of Commissioners met Friday for the purpose of filling the vacancy left by the recent retirement Commissioner Marilyn Brown and appointed Dawn Tyler Lee to serve in an interim capacity. Ohio law provides for the remaining two commissioners to appoint a replacement to serve until the outgoing commissioner's political party names a permanent replacement to fill out the rest of the term. MARIJUANA/HEMP There are now 53 dispensaries operating under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP). The Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) on Friday awarded a certificate of operation to Firelands Scientific, located at 2300 University Dr. E. in Huron. The board has issued 58 provisional dispensary licenses, meaning there are now five dispensaries that have not yet received/passed their final inspection by OBP agents. Nearly 150,000 individuals have purchased cannabis under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP) since the state's first sale in January 2019, according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP). A total of 149,484 unique patients have bought marijuana at a dispensary, OBP said in a news release, citing data from the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS). NATURAL RESOURCES A suspension bridge connecting hikers to one of Ohio's most scenic views is now open at Mohican State Park. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) dedicated the bridge at the recently restored Clear Fork Gorge Overlook Trail. Registration is now open for Camp Canopy, according to ODNR. The camp runs from Sunday, June 13 through Friday, June 18. Students who have completed the eighth grade through high school seniors graduating in 2021 are invited to attend Camp Canopy, which was previously known as the Ohio Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Camp. The camp will be held at FFA Camp Muskingum on Leesville Lake in Carroll County. Sponsorships are available.

ODNR is offering $50,000 in Recreational Trails Program grants to build new Storybook Trails throughout Ohio. The $5,000 to $10,000 grants are available to cities, villages, counties, townships, special districts, state agencies, federal agencies and nonprofit organizations, according to the department. Angler surveys are under way at many popular public waterways in Ohio, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Lake Erie angler surveys began in March and will conclude in October. Angler surveys at inland lakes, rivers and reservoirs run from May to July, ODNR said. PENSIONS Financial reports provided by a vendor to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) are full of redactions based on a "frivolous" argument of trade secret protection, according to a new lawsuit filed in the Ohio Supreme Court seeking release of the full reports. The lawsuit was filed by former Attorney General Marc Dann and colleague Andrew Engel of Advocate Attorneys LLP, on behalf of Edward Siedle, proprietor of Benchmark Financial Services. He was hired last year by the Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA) to conduct a "forensic investigation" of STRS. In February, Siedle requested documents including contracts between STRS and consultant CEM Benchmarking Inc., as well as CEM's reports on investment expenses of STRS and on alternative investments. PEOPLE Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) announced recently that she participated with legislators across the Midwest in the first meeting of the steering committee for the Council of State Governments Midwestern Legislative Conference's new Forum on Social Justice. According to Howse, the purpose of the new nonpartisan forum is to provide legislators with opportunities to discuss and address a wide range of racial and social justice issues, including economic equity, systemic racism, discrimination, racial disparities in public health, education, corrections, police reform, voting rights and more. Former Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Amy Acton received a "Profile in Courage Award" for her response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual ceremony held by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation on Wednesday evening. Earlier this month, the foundation announced that Acton was among seven winners of the special award. POLLS/STUDIES Other findings of a new poll by Quinnipiac University include the following:

  • Heading into the 2022 elections, 85 percent of Republicans said they would prefer to see candidates running for elected office that mostly agree with former President Donald Trump. A majority of respondents overall, 53 percent, said they would prefer to see candidates running for elected office that mostly disagree with Trump.

  • Asked whether they want to see Trump run for president in 2024, 66 percent of Republicans said they would, while 30 percent said they would not. Among all respondents, 66 percent said they do not want to see him run.

  • Two-thirds of Republicans said they do not think President Joe Biden's victory is legitimate, while overall, 64 percent of all respondents said they see Biden's victory as legitimate. Among registered voters, it is also 64 percent to 29 percent who see his victory as legitimate, which Quinnipiac said is similar to its December and January polls. "The numbers fly in the face of any predictions that Donald Trump's political future is in decline. By a substantial majority, Republicans: (1) believe the election was stolen from him, (2) want Trump to run again, and (3), if they can't vote for Trump, prefer someone who agrees with him."

  • Biden has a 49 percent positive approval rating as president, with 41 percent disapproving and 10 percent with no opinion. Four months into his presidency, 21 percent said Biden is doing a better job than they expected, 24 percent say he's doing a worse job than they expected, and 52 percent said he's doing about what they expected.

PUBLIC SAFETY The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) announced Monday that it has begun a week-long initiative with neighboring state law enforcement agencies to focus on safety belt enforcement. The effort began at 12:01 a.m. Monday and will continue through Monday, May 31 at 11:59 p.m. The Ohio Community-Police Collaborative Advisory Board marked the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's police-inflicted death by adopting a new officer-agency wellness standard and updating the state on former President Donald Trump's deadly choke-hold ban, with news that more than eight out of 10 Ohioans are protected from the kind of law enforcement restraint that killed Floyd. The final wellness standard follows two years of testimony, discussion and review that have included presentations from Columbus Division of Police Wellness Bureau Commander Rhonda Grizzell, Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) executive board president and Sidney police Chief William Balling, and Cincinnati police Sgt. Don Scalf, who 20 years ago was involved in a fatal civilian accident during his first year on the job and has since developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and left the patrol division. REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT A group that includes former Democratic state lawmakers and various community leaders throughout Ohio has begun hearings seeking public input on redistricting, with the group planning to incorporate the feedback into mapmaking recommendations to Ohio lawmakers. The Ohio Citizens' Redistricting Commission (OCRC) announced its formation earlier this month, saying the multiracial group will hold public hearings to provide robust public input throughout Ohio's map-drawing process. The second of those hearings was held via Zoom Thursday night, May 27. STATE GOVERNMENT The Controlling Board Monday approved a late addition to the agenda that released more than $32 million in federal CARES funds to state agencies, including more than $26 million to the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund. The request, put before the board by the Office of Budget and Management (OBM), includes funds for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), the Adjutant General, the Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD), and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). TAXATION The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) on Thursday provided guidance for those who filed taxes prior to enactment of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, and thus did not claim the unemployment benefits deduction provided in the law. Taxpayers who filed federal and Ohio tax returns without the unemployment benefits deduction and are now waiting for the IRS to issue a refund are required to do all of the following, according to ODT:

  • File an amended Ohio IT 1040 (and an amended SD 100 for those who reside in a traditional tax base school district) to report a new federal adjusted gross income (AGI).

  • Include a copy of the IRS Tax Account Transcript showing the new federal AGI. Those are available at irs.gov/individuals/get-transcript or by calling 800-908-9946.

  • Complete the Ohio Reasons and Explanation of Corrections (Ohio form IT RE or SD RE).

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


After record low numbers for Memorial Day travel in 2020 as many Ohioans stayed home due the COVID-19 pandemic, more Ohioans are expected to hit the road this weekend. Kimberly Schwind of AAA Ohio Auto Club forecast an expected 57 percent increase in Ohioans' travelling 50 miles or more this weekend, with nearly 1.7 million expected to hit the road. Last year, only about 900,000 Ohioans traveled, the lowest since AAA began recording that number in 2000.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) -- both members of the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council (UCMIC) -- continued their push for the council to receive in-person testimony at its hearings during a Monday forum. The two legislators also spoke out against Gov. Mike DeWine's May 13 announcement that Ohio would be ending participation in the $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits effective Saturday, June 26.


Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Interim Director Matt Damschroder answered questions about how to hold companies contracted by the state accountable for failed services as well as how Ohio is addressing unemployment overpayments during Thursday's meeting of the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council (UCMIC).


UTILITIES


Bipartisan sponsors of HB260 (Lanese-Troy) say the time is hopefully ripe for the General Assembly to reverse a law costing consumers untold resources since its passage in 1953 -- $1.5 billion since 2009 alone, according to the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) -- by granting customer refunds of utility charges later ruled unlawful by the Ohio Supreme Court. Reps. Laura Lanese (R-Grove City) and Dan Troy (D-Willowick) told the OCC Governing Board they've seen some encouraging signs from fellow members, including those in the best position to give the bill legs.


VETERANS


The deadline for submitting nominations for the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, which recognizes outstanding service to others following military service, has been extended to Tuesday, June 15. This new deadline allows Ohioans two more weeks to identify veterans who are making a noticeable difference in their communities. To nominate a veteran, visit https://dvs.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/dvs/hall-of-fame/Nomination-Form.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) interim Administrator/CEO John Logue told the agency's board of directors that employees will be returning to in-person work gradually, in keeping with the Department of Administrative Services' (DAS) plan and the latitude it provides. In his enterprise report, BWC Chief Financial Officer Kevin Giangola said the operating revenue for April 2021 was $76 million, compared to $104 million in April 2020. Revenue for the fiscal year is currently $834 million, he continued, compared to $1.08 billion at that point in the previous year. BWC previously reduced the net rate charged to private employers by 7.1 percent, Giangola noted and those rates are "an obvious key factor into the generation of operating revenue."

[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2021 Hannah News Service, Inc.]


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