Week In Review - June 22, 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.

ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


Reps. Jeff Crossman (D-Parma), Adam Holmes (R-Zanesville) and Jim Butler (R-Dayton) introduced a package of new bills this week aimed at combating the state's ongoing opioid epidemic. The five bills, HB698-702, were dubbed the Comprehensive Ohio Drug Addiction Solution (CODAS) and do the following:


  • Establish more accessible and effective treatments for addiction.

  • Fund the construction of new addiction treatment facilities and juvenile addiction treatment facilities with Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) oversight.

  • Create the Re-entry Ohio Program, a transition path for those transitioning out of prison.

  • Increase penalties for drug trafficking violations and modify penalties for drug possession violations.

  • Create restitution work programs that allow courts to release on probation work details to those offenders who are eligible and apply to the program.

  • Work to end prescription drug abuse through directing the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Ohio MHAS) to negotiate with Vivitrol manufacturers for a requirement contract for unlimited supply.

AGING


In an online conference with aging care providers and advocates hosted by the Center for Community Solutions, providers outlined the challenges they've faced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that could be addressed by increasing testing capacity. Providers said need for PPE was vital due to their work with seniors, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.


APPALACHIA


Struggling business owners and entrepreneurs in Appalachian Ohio counties and Mid-Ohio Valley counties of West Virginia facing economic challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for the Resilience Fund. Qualified businesses can receive a grant amount between $500 and $3,000. Funds can be used to purchase business inventory, pay rent and utilities, secure staff jobs and support other needs that may be hindering operations.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


The Ohio Attorney General's Office is weighing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Columbus Division of Police following the Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission's call for greater "legitimacy" in investigating all police uses of force (UOF) and Mayor Andrew Ginther's announcement ordering police Chief Thomas Quinlan to refer all UOF involving "serious injury" to the AG within 30 days for independent investigation as a crime. The Ohio Attorney General's Office later said its Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) has always been available for external investigations of officer-involved "critical incidents," has no formal agreement with the city of Columbus, and could not disclose the nature of a future MOU.


Ohio has joined a coalition of 51 states and territories suing generic drug manufacturers for allegedly conspiring to inflate prices, reduce competition and restrain trade for topical preparations sold across the U.S. The 26 corporate and 10 individual defendants look like a who's-who list of pharmaceutical giants and include Pfizer, Bausch, Tarro, Sandoz, Activis and many others. The Ohio Attorney General's Office says the complaint is the third action in what some have described as the "largest domestic corporate cartel case in U.S. history" and focuses on 80 topical generic drugs representing billions of dollars in U.S. sales.


AUDITOR OF STATE


In response to two months of teleconference discussions, Auditor of State Keith Faber announced the launch of a website detailing pandemic-related fiscal relief resources for local governments Tuesday. A release from Faber's office said the website provides "guidance and information to assist local governments navigate the evolving fiscal landscape created by the pandemic."


BALLOT ISSUES


Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE), a group seeking a constitutional amendment to make changes to Ohio's voting laws, announced Thursday that it was suspending its ballot initiative campaign after the COVID-19 pandemic made it too difficult for the group to get enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot and legal challenges seeking a delay in the deadline and the use of electronic signatures failed.


CENSUS


Leaders in Appalachian Ohio are worried there will be an undercount of the region's population once again and are taking steps to encourage people to fill out the 2020 Census. In an effort dubbed Appalachian Ohio Counts, three groups -- the Mayors' Partnership for Progress, Ohio University's Center for Campus Community Engagement, and the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council -- have raised $44,000 to get the word out in 22 Southeast Ohio counties about the census. Leaders of the groups say the emphasis on online responses complicates response efforts in a region with a shortage of broadband access.


CIVIL RIGHTS


Columbus State Community College (CSCC) announced Tuesday it will dismantle and store the Christopher Columbus statue that has been displayed on the college's downtown Columbus campus since 1988. "In taking this action, we are being mindful of societal change and forward movement," said Columbus State Board of Trustees President Anthony Joseph. "We do not seek to erase history, but to make an intentional shift in what we visibly honor and celebrate as an institution. This is the first of many steps in what will be a lengthy journey as the college seeks to build on and improve our ongoing efforts toward broadened diversity and inclusion."


In addition, the Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus City Hall appears to be on the same track when Mayor Andrew Ginther announced it will be removed and put in storage "as soon as possible," although a local citizens' group has sought an injunction against the move. Meanwhile, Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights), who sits on the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB), urged leadership to call a special meeting to discuss removal of the Christopher Columbus statue from the Statehouse grounds.


Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce and Columbus City Council member Priscilla Tyson discussed racial equity in Central Ohio during a Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) forum on Wednesday. Both the county and the city have already declared racism a public health crisis. Boyce said the process that led the Franklin County Board of Commission to this conclusion began two years ago in 2018, when members asked themselves why Franklin County, Ohio's largest county, was seeing prosperous growth and low unemployment numbers, but also a significant growth in poverty.


As racial inequality has been brought into the spotlight once more in recent weeks, the financial advisory website WalletHub ranked states according to racial equity accounting for unemployment and wealth gaps. WalletHub said that only 3.2 percent of executive or senior-level positions belong to black Americans, even though that demographic makes up 13 percent of the U.S. population, and the overall black unemployment rate is consistently higher than the white unemployment rate. Additionally, the average white family has a net worth of $171,000, compared to just $17,150 for the average black family. Ohio was ranked 45th overall and was also named as one of the states with the highest unemployment rate gaps between white and black people. Neighboring states of Indiana (40), Michigan (46), and Pennsylvania (42) fared similarly, but Kentucky (14) and West Virginia (11) were among the top half of states with the most racial equity.


The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) recently announced a three-part commitment to end racism and help create a business environment that offers equal opportunity for all. The group said it recognizes its role as a leading voice in the business community and wants to put action behind its words on the need for societal change when it comes to racism.


CORONAVIRUS


While much of the state has been on a downward trend of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday said state and local health officials have been seeing the trendline in five counties in Southwest Ohio -- Montgomery, Greene, Clark, Warren, and Hamilton counties -- going up, something he called "worrisome." In response, DeWine said he is deploying the Ohio National Guard to the area and is directing more testing sites, and encouraging anyone in those five counties, especially those in zip codes that have seen the biggest increases, to get tested.


Later Thursday, DeWine signed an executive order that expands the definition of "good

cause" for employees who refuse to go back to work to continue to collect unemployment. It now includes the following situations:

  • A medical professional recommends that an individual not return to work because that person falls into a category that is considered high-risk for catching COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the employer cannot offer teleworking options.

  • The employee is 65 years of age or older.

  • There is tangible evidence of a health and safety violation by the employer that does not allow the employee to practice social distancing, hygiene, and wearing personal protective equipment.

  • The individual has been potentially exposed to COVID-19 and subject to a quarantine period as prescribed by a medical or health professional.

  • The individual must stay home to care for a family member who is suffering from COVID-19 or subject to a prescribed quarantine period by a medical or health professional.

An Erie County judge ruled Friday that the DeWine administration cannot enforce its order closing Ohio waterparks, allowing the parks to open immediately. The lawsuit was filed against Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law on behalf of Kalahari Resorts. Meanwhile, organizers of two music festivals scheduled for August filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to have state health orders shutting down large gatherings declared an unconstitutional violation of their First and Fourteenth amendment rights.


Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost asked a court in Cambridge to dismiss a criminal charge against a restaurant owner who opened before the date permitted under the Ohio Department of Health's "Dine Safe Ohio" order. Yost noted in his motion for leave to dismiss that the General Assembly provided for two separate mechanisms to enforce an emergency health order: a suit for injunctive relief, or the second-degree misdemeanor charge. "Unless there's something really unusual, Ohio's policy is better served by a civil injunction," said Yost, explaining his decision to drop the charge.


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Interim Director Lance Himes issued an order Tuesday allowing county fairs to operate with minimum coronavirus safety standards in place, noting that actions above those guidelines would be beneficial. Animal exhibitions on county fairgrounds can also be held in compliance with health orders. The governor had previously voiced his desire to at least have junior fairs be held.


EDUCATION


The recent flurry of legislative activity included final passage of numerous education policy and funding changes. The bulk of changes relate to temporary flexibility schools sought as they contend with the disruptions to education from the spring shutdown and now plan for a fall reopening that will have to include pandemic health precautions. The vehicle for those changes, HB164 (Ginter), started out as a measure on student religious expression in schools and use of school facilities for faith-related activities, a proposal that's been introduced in past sessions at least as far back as the 130th General Assembly.


ELECTIONS 2020


Edward Foley, the Ebersold Chair in Constitutional Law at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Tuesday told the "Ready for November" Task Force formed by Secretary of State Frank LaRose that other states are now experiencing voting issues that Ohio worked to solve over 15 years ago when long lines led the state to adopt no-fault absentee voting. As a result, Ohio has three forms of voting: in-person on Election Day; in-person early voting; and absentee vote by mail.


Ohio Democratic leaders Tuesday condemned HB680 (Abrams), legislation passed by the House earlier this month that would make adjustments to the state's voting system, and called for Secretary of State Frank LaRose to do more to implement election policies he has publicly favored. During a call with reporters, Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) said that while the worst provisions were taken out of HB680, the bill did not do enough for voters -- an overwhelming majority of whom have shown they want more vote-by-mail and early voting in-person options. She noted when the bill was in committee, it received almost no proponent testimony, but many people came forward for opponent testimony.


The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday refused to reconsider its earlier ruling that overturned a lower court's order allowing ballot campaigns to collect electronic signatures. Cleveland.com reported that a group of local campaigns seeking to decriminalize marijuana possession in cities and villages across Ohio had asked the court to reconsider its ruling, but the court denied the motion.


Four Ohio House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Frank LaRose Thursday urging him to include return postage on absentee ballot application forms that will be mailed to all voters, and on absentee ballots that are ultimately returned by voters. In the letter signed by Reps. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo), Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown), Catherine D. Ingram (D-Cincinnati) and Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland), the legislators said that paying postage "is a matter of health and survival."


If the election for president were being held today, former Vice President Joe Biden would receive 49 percent of the vote and President Donald Trump would receive 41 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll of registered voters released on Thursday. Trump has gained slightly on Biden since last month's national poll from Quinnipiac, when Biden led Trump 50 to 39 percent.


The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • Ohioans for Gun Safety announced the endorsement of former Ohio Treasurer and Attorney General Richard Cordray for its proposed background checks for gun safety issue.

  • The campaign of Ohio House candidate Nancy Day-Achauer announced the endorsement of the Columbus Building Trades Council.


ENERGY


A group of eight economists, engineers and public policy analysts sent a joint letter Monday to Gov. Mike DeWine, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, voicing their concerns that the sought-after ethylene cracker plant project in Belmont County would not be successful and could be part of a loss of "hundreds of millions of dollars" in public funds across the three states. The letter also raised concerns about other planned development projects in the Appalachian area spanning the three states, including a recently cancelled ASCENT ethane cracker plant in West Virginia's Wood County, the failure of a proposed Appalachian Storage Hub (ASH) to attract private investors and lack of follow-through on a Chinese announcement to invest $84 billion in the region.


FEDERAL


Citing agreement on increased training requirements for police officers, as well as implementing greater use of body cameras, de-escalation tactics and community policing practices nationwide, U.S. Sen Rob Portman (R-OH) said there is greater bipartisan agreement on police reform measures than has been portrayed in some national media. Portman said the Senate will soon consider a police reform bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Scott (R-SC), while President Donald Trump will soon sign an executive order on police reform, and U.S. House Democrats have a police reform bill of their own. Republicans and Democrats disagree on the issue of qualified immunity, which Portman said has been reported in media outlets, but he added that there is more overlap on the issue than there is contention.


GAMING/GAMBLING


Even though the Ohio Lottery didn't receive any revenue from racino video lottery terminals (VLTs) in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency's profits for the month still totaled $93.8 million -- only $2.8 million less than its commitments and $6.7 million less than last year, according to Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC) Finance Director Gregory Bowers. Revenue generated from VLTs in May 2019 totaled nearly $96 million, according to the OLC. However, the significant increase in traditional lottery sales mitigated the effect of the racino closures, Bowers said, as those games brought in $351.9 million in May -- $69 million, or 24.4 percent more than last May.


During its first meeting since February, the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) convened virtually on Wednesday to address a number of items, including a debt proposal from the owner of Jack Cleveland Casino. Following an executive session during which commissioners and executives from Jack discussed confidential portions of the proposal in more detail, the commission voted unanimously to approve the debt transaction. The commission also unanimously approved an emergency declaration allowing the OCCC's executive director to consider and decide upon waivers, variances and internal control amendment requests that pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Individuals involved in Ohio horse racing have been receptive to the state's coronavirus safety protocols, Ohio State Racing Commission (OSRC) Executive Director Bill Crawford told Hannah News on Thursday. While Ohio's seven racinos did not reopen until Friday, June 19, horse racing without spectators has been occurring in the state since May 22. The state is limiting the use of video lottery terminals (VLTs) and race betting windows when the facilities reopen.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) issued a statement Friday criticizing Sen. Steve Huffman's (R-Tipp City) comments earlier and said its leader had spoken to Huffman about them. "The Ohio State Medical Association opposes the racially insensitive comments made by state Sen. Steve Huffman on Tuesday [June 9] during a legislative hearing on whether racism should be considered a public health crisis in Ohio. Sen. Huffman is an emergency room physician and long-time member of the OSMA. Today, OSMA President Anthony Armstrong, M.D., spoke directly to Sen. Huffman expressing the association's concern with his comments and together they discussed how the association, Legislature, public health officials and community members can work together to seek a greater understanding of race and its impact on health care in Ohio.”


Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) held all 31 items containing waivers of competitive selection on the Controlling Board's 111 item agenda. Citing potential cost savings, Wilkin asked state agencies to provide information regarding the age of the contracts for which they sought waivers, the last time those contracts were bid, and whether the agencies intended to competitively bid those contracts in the future. In each instance, legislative liaisons from the respective state agencies explained the reasons for waiving competitive selection, and then the items were approved. Common reasons for waiving competitive selection included requiring maintenance on machinery that only one vendor could perform, receiving only one bid on a contract, or appropriating funds to finish a previously bid contract with the intent of furnishing a request for proposal (RFP) within the coming year.


Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) said Friday that she and other black lawmakers are in a hostile work environment. Howse, the president of the Legislative Black Caucus, was speaking Friday on a live Facebook event with fellow Rep. Allison Russo (D-Columbus) and Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce, a former state representative, that was hosted by the House Democratic Caucus. A frustrated Howse said that black legislators have to go into an environment where the rights of animals are more highly regarded than those of black Ohioans, referencing an earlier debate on banning the sale of the Confederate flag by vendors at county fairs and festivals, saying it would infringe on First Amendment rights.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday signed the following five bills into law. Three of the five included term-limited Rep. Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek) as sponsor or co-sponsor. All bills become effective in 90 days.


  • HB16 (Perales) which allows active duty military personnel and their families, who are stationed in Ohio, to pay in-state college tuition costs versus having to pay out-of-state college tuition.

  • HB81 (Perales) which provides workers' compensation coverage of post-exposure medical diagnosis services for a detention facility employee's exposure to another person's blood or bodily fluids.

  • HB168 (Hambley) which creates an affirmative defense that allows a bona fide prospective purchaser (BFPP), if conditions are met, to claim immunity from liability to the state of Ohio for contaminants at a purchased brownfield site.

  • HB285 (Greenspan-Brent) which establishes a permanent Driver's License Reinstatement Fee Debt Reduction and Amnesty Program.

  • HB287 (Russo-Perales) which updates Medicaid home- and community-based waiver services for relatives of active duty military.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Dr. Mark Hurst is on leave as Ohio Department of Health (ODH) medical director and will retire July 20, after filing paperwork to do so in early May, according to the department. Hurst's departure, while in the works for weeks, will leave the department without two key leaders, as Dr. Amy Acton recently announced her resignation as ODH director. Acton is remaining in the administration as the new chief adviser on health issues to Gov. Mike DeWine.


Directors or staff of four state agencies discussed their efforts to control and monitor prescription drug spending Monday at the virtual meeting of the Prescription Drug Transparency and Affordability Council. During her agency's presentation, Ohio Department of Medicaid Director (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran also announced that, starting in the next week, pharmacists will be able to bill the program for administering COVID-19 tests. She said the process will be similar to how pharmacists are reimbursed for administering vaccinations. Corcoran also said ODM will post rules in the next two weeks as part of planning for implementation of 132-SB265 (Dolan), which allows for pharmacists to be reimbursed as health care providers for certain clinical services. The department plans to implement this change Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, and Corcoran said three managed care plans are conducting pilots with pharmacists as providers now. Besides Corcoran, Miranda Williams, who directs the Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Pharmacy Program; Brandon Haas, chief of Ohio Pharmacy Services at the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Ohio MHAS); and Greg Pawlack, benefits manager for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS), also spoke.


HIGHER EDUCATION


The University of Toledo (UT) Board of Trustees this week announced the appointment of Gregory Postel as the special advisor to the Board of Trustees. Postel will become the interim president upon President Sharon L. Gaber's departure from the university. He is the former interim president of the University of Louisville (UofL), as well as its former executive vice president for health affairs. UT plans to launch a national search for its 18th president in the coming months.


Additionally, ProMedica recently announced it has decided to respond UT's request for proposal (RFP) for the sale of the UT Medical Center (UTMC). ProMedica said it offers a "unique, local solution" and its proposal presents a model for the joint operation of UTMC by UT and ProMedica "that would enable UTMC to become financially sustainable." Under the model, ProMedica said UT would maintain ownership and ultimate control of UTMC, and ProMedica would provide management and other services. UT has said they are still reviewing proposals and more updates will come during the next Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for Monday, June 22.


In other university news, UT has selected Mark A. Merrick as the new dean of the College of Health and Human Services. Merrick, who earned his baccalaureate and doctoral degrees at Toledo, has spent the last two decades at Ohio State University (OSU) as director of the Athletic Training Division in OSU's College of Medicine. His appointment begins July 1.


Ohio State University (OSU) and the University of Cincinnati (UC) recently announced more details for their plans to bring students back to campus for the fall semester. Additionally, Ohio University (OU) announced Thursday it has created a new test-optional admission pathway, permanently suspending the requirement of standardized test scores (ACT or SAT) for incoming first-year students on the Athens campus.


A soil scientist at Ohio State University (OSU) has been awarded this year's World Food Prize for increasing the global food supply by helping small farmers improve their soil. Over five decades, Rattan Lal, a distinguished university professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), has reduced hunger by pioneering agricultural methods across the globe that not only restore degraded soil but also reduce global warming, the university said.


IMMIGRATION


The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision Thursday that the Trump administration had not followed required procedures in its attempt to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, calling the attempt "arbitrary and capricious." The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the issue was remanded to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be reconsidered. The dissent, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, called the majority opinion "an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision." President Donald Trump also responded by calling the decision politically motivated.


JUDICIAL


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision on Monday. The majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA -- authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- holds that the plain text of the law prohibits employers from engaging in discrimination against LGBTQ people. "In our time, few pieces of federal legislation rank in significance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There, in Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids," wrote Gorsuch.


A unanimous ruling from the 10th District Court of Appeals upheld a trial court decision rejecting the assertion by several school districts that the attorney general's political history with Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) founder William Lager made him unsuitable to represent their interests in the case. In the decision, the appellate court noted that a government agency charged by law with representing the interest of a potential intervening party is presumed to be an adequate representative, placing the burden of proof on the intervenors.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


While the State Medical Board of Ohio's (SMBO) Medical Marijuana Expert Review Committee recommends adding cachexia as a qualifying condition under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), the panel is once again recommending that the full board reject proposals to add anxiety disorder and autism spectrum disorder. Cachexia, also known as wasting syndrome, was unanimously approved by the committee after hearing from subject matter expert Dr. Anastasia Rowland-Seymour.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry (DOF) Scioto Trail Carpentry Shop was plagued by waste and mismanagement during the Kasich administration, according to an investigative report issued by Ohio Inspector General (IG) Randall Meyer's office. The ODNR under Gov. Mike DeWine has since made several changes in response to the investigation, including the creation of a Carpenter Shop Committee.


PENSIONS


The Ohio Retirement Study Council discussed Thursday new emergency rules from the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) passed in anticipation of first responder furloughs by local governments that are facing tight budgets, with council staff raising concerns about possible inequities between employees in large and small jurisdictions.


POLITICS


Former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges has formed a new political action committee that will target Republican voters to convince them to vote against President Donald Trump and for likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November. Borges spoke with multiple media outlets about his effort, known as Right Side PAC. The group's website said it is time for Republicans to "be on the right side of history."


Political candidates' use of humor on social media could sometimes backfire with potential supporters, new research from Ohio State University (OSU) suggests. People were more likely to view messages using humor as inappropriate for a political candidate they didn't know, the study found. That led participants to rate a candidate using humor as less credible than one who didn't -- and less likely to get their vote.


POLLS/STUDIES


A new Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday shows more than two-thirds of respondents believe discrimination against black people in the U.S. is a serious problem, but there are wide gaps depending on political ideology. The pollster found a big swing in support for removing Confederate statues from public spaces around the country, with 52 percent now in favor compared to 44 percent against. Quinnipiac said that is a 19-point swing in the gap of support since an Aug. 23, 2017 poll when 39 percent supported the removal of Confederate statues and 50 percent opposed.


POVERTY


U.S. food insecurity and unemployment rates are at an all-time high due to the unforeseen

effects of COVID-19, according to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks (OAF). "In Ohio, more than one in seven workers remain unemployed, and recent polls show one in four Americans missed last month's rent or mortgage or have little to no confidence they can pay next month on time. Food insecurity rates have nearly doubled in Ohio from 13.9 percent to 23 percent, according to the Census Household Pulse Survey. The Census found that just in the past week, nearly 350,000 Ohio households have reported receiving free food from a food pantry, school or children's program, or other source, such as a neighbor."


PUBLIC SAFETY


Ohio should treat law enforcement officers like doctors, barbers or other professionals who are licensed by the state and subject to discipline and revocation of their ability to work in the field, Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost said Wednesday in announcing a package of policing reforms they're sending to the General Assembly. Licensure was one of several legislative proposals including a bar on using chokeholds in most situations; a permanent funding source to finance advanced training in de-escalation and other topics; independent investigation of shootings by officers and in-custody deaths, as well as independent prosecution of such cases; a requirement for a psychological evaluation to determine fitness for service before beginning law enforcement training; and consistent, public data collection on incidents where police use force. DeWine said he'd like to see lawmakers take up the proposals soon. DeWine and Yost repeatedly stated their belief that most law enforcement officers are dedicated professionals, but said state licensure and psychological exams would be vehicles to address those who are exceptions.


Speaking to reporters ahead of Gov. Mike DeWine's announcement on statewide police reforms, leading Ohio mayors announced in a livestreamed press conference Wednesday that they are forming a "Police Reform Support Network" to help cities implement best practices on addressing racial bias and improving community-police relations. Asked about their involvement in DeWine's proposals, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said the Ohio Mayors Alliance (OMA) had participated in discussions and were supportive, though they had concerns about what statewide policy changes would receive legislative support. He also said his experience with police unions was that they too "are frustrated" over the actions of "a small handful of officers." They have not yet faced law enforcement opposition, Kapszukiewicz added, and the unions know this is a time for change.


The Ohio State Highway Patrol reported Monday that there were 3,915 drugged driving crashes in Ohio in 2019. More than one in four of those crashes took place in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties. Drug-related related crashes had been on the rise in 2016 and 2017, which had almost 5,000 drug-related crashes, before easing in 2018 with 4,121 drugged driving crashes and slowing even further last year. From January to May of 2020, there were 1,443 drug-related crashes, which is up slightly from the same time last year, according to Ohio's crash statistics. Of the 1,041 fatal crashes which occurred in Ohio last year, the patrol said 35 percent had at least one driver or pedestrian test positive for an illegal or prescription drug, and of those, 19 percent were only drugs, while 16 percent involved drugs and alcohol.


Cuyahoga County is finally pursuing certification under community-police standards for use of deadly force five years after the best practices were first promulgated by the state. Half of Ohio's law enforcement agencies have already signed on, though the city of Cleveland and other areas have resisted the certification process for standards that cover agency recruitment and hiring and use of force not resulting in death. A handful of sheriffs began certification this year, even as a fourth of all counties and a number of high-profile communities remain silent on the policing standards. The Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) released an updated list of compliant and non-compliant agencies Monday under best practices issued by the Ohio Community-Police Collaborative Advisory Board.


The Ohio Department of Public Safety's (ODPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) announced Wednesday that it had launched a new website to provide crime statistics based on data shared with OCJS through the Ohio Incident-Based Reporting System (OIBRS). The new site offers access to OIBRS crime data regarding certain violent and property crimes in the state and can be used to research information on specific law enforcement jurisdictions and years as well. Approximately 575 agencies, representing around 80 percent of the state population have reported crimes from 2018 and 2019.


SECRETARY OF STATE


Secretary of State Frank LaRose Thursday announced 12,892 new businesses filed in May, which he said was the most filings in May of any year on record.


STATE GOVERNMENT


Tom Stickrath, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS), opened Tuesday's meeting of the working group reviewing the Richard Strauss investigation by saying the pandemic has made focusing on that work difficult. Stickrath said he believes the group remains on a "trajectory of compliance" toward its goals and will have further meetings throughout the year -- either virtually or in-person -- before providing a report on its findings as well as recommendations for the future.


TAXATION


Several hundred thousand Ohioans have yet to file their income tax returns after two months of a three-month extension granted amid the pandemic have passed. Returns so far show refunds trending higher this year, according to data from the Ohio Department of Taxation. Income taxes are due Wednesday, July 15, a delay granted in alignment with the federal government's decision to push back its filing deadline as COVID-19 disrupted daily life and commerce throughout the spring. About 700,000 fewer returns had been filed as of Friday, June 12, compared to the same date last year. Taxpayers who have yet to file can still request an extension until October, however, though they must pay any tax due by the revised deadline.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission may allow some employees to work remotely permanently after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. In a report to the commission during its meeting Monday, Executive Director Ferzan Ahmed said that employees have learned to telework during the pandemic while improving operations at the same time, and therefore, he is exploring it as a permanent option.


DriveOhio, an initiative of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), announced that it will be piloting an initiative to improve road safety around work zones by partnering with Nexar, a software company that analyzes roadway data from a connected network of AI-powered consumer dash cameras. DriveOhio said that it will use Nexar CityStream's technology to identify and monitor construction zones, as well as digitally map road signs and monitor them for changes. The pilot program will run through August along Ohio's 33 Smart Mobility Corridor.


TREASURER OF STATE


Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague discussed the "COVID-19 Community Response Initiative" created by his office to help local governments, including school districts, Thursday during a webinar hosted by the McDonald Hopkins law firm. The initiative includes sponsorship of pooled short-term note issuance, with a fact sheet from Sprague's office stating that issuance of tax anticipation notes can ease liquidity strain, accelerating fiscal year cash flows and addressing temporary shortfalls caused by delayed revenue. Interested entities must apply to the treasurer's office by Friday, June 26 to participate.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


Ohio started borrowing from the federal government to cover unemployment compensation

(UC) shortfalls caused by the COVID-19-induced recession, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday. "Today is the first day that Ohio has had to borrow money to meet its unemployment obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state has requested basically a line of credit of $3.1 billion from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That total exceeds what we think we will need to have ... so we can have that just in case we need it," DeWine said during a coronavirus briefing, later telling reporters during the question-and-answer portion that the federal government is not charging interest on the loans at this time. DeWine said California and Texas are among the other states that have started borrowing to cover UC costs, and noted that Ohio and many other states had to borrow money from the federal government for similar reasons during the Great Recession in 2008-2009.


For the week ending June 13, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 32,788 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That number is slightly lower than last week's total, which was 35,430. The agency said it has distributed more than $4.1 billion in unemployment compensation payments to more than 700,000 claimants over the last 13 weeks. "Of the more than one million applications the agency has received, more than 94 percent have been processed, with less than 6 percent pending. In addition, ODJFS has issued more than $2.1 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments to more than 262,000 claimants," ODJFS said.


UTILITIES


The Public Utilities Commission Ohio (PUCO) continued the restoration of normal electric and natural gas operations Wednesday, clearing its docket of suspended case approvals and restarting door-to-door marketing, at the same time rejecting the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) and Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council's (NOPEC) argument that commissioners had violated utility corporate separation laws by approving FirstEnergy Advisors as a new energy marketer. The commission gave formal, voting approval to eight dozen docket items delayed by Ohio's state of emergency.


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

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