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Week in Review June 24, 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.



ABORTION


There were 2,780 more abortions in Ohio in 2023 than there were in 2020 -- a 13 percent increase -- according to the Guttmacher Institute. A total of 1,026,690 abortions were performed across the U.S. in 2023, which is a 10 percent increase from 2020, the abortion rights organization said in announcing the findings of its Monthly Abortion Provision Study. That is the highest number measured in the U.S. in more than a decade, the group said. "This increase demonstrates that people continue to seek and obtain abortion care despite the drastic reduction in abortion access in many states," the Guttmacher Institute said. "Since the Dobbs decision in 2022, 14 states have banned abortion with limited exceptions. In addition, seven states -- Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina and Utah -- have implemented laws that restrict abortion access on the basis of gestational duration," the organization continued. "While access has decreased dramatically in states with bans, almost all other states have experienced substantial increases in the number of abortions provided. As a result, the United States continues to face a fractured abortion landscape, with access varying widely based on where people live and what resources they have."


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


In 2017, over 2,500 people of employment age (25-64 years) in Ohio died of an opioid overdose. Meanwhile, only about half of Ohio businesses have a significant written substance abuse policy and just over one quarter of businesses conduct annual drug-free workplace employee education. As the state of Ohio continues to grapple with the effects of opioid use and addiction throughout the state, a dual effort of public and private agencies announced on Monday a new tool to help employers deal with opioid usage among their workforces. Information available in the new opioid toolkit gives an overview of the legal and operational issues an employer must consider in dealing with an employee's use of opioids and other substances. It is available at https://tinyurl.com/32bv2vty.


AGRICULTURE


Local fairgrounds will receive $10 million in grants from the state, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday. The funding was awarded as part of Ohio's County and Independent Fair Grant Program, the governor's office said. The program was established to support county and independent agricultural societies with improvements including upgrades to grounds, electrical systems, sanitation systems, machinery, equipment and ADA accommodations. Grants will support a variety of projects, including new grandstands, repairing or replacing dilapidated buildings, building new or improved restroom facilities, upgrading parking and camping sites, and implementing ADA accessibility enhancements like ramp additions and improved pathways. Several projects include electrical upgrades, lighting improvements, and additional directional and traffic signage. All 94 county and independent fairs applied for and received funding, which was provided through budget law HB33 (Edwards). All applicants were awarded up to $106,831, with two fairs requesting a lower amount. The program is administered by the Ohio Department of Development (DOD).


AMERICA 250-OHIO


Ohio's instrumental role in the history of aerospace developments in America is getting its own spotlight as part of the multi-pronged celebration of the country's semiquincentennial taking place statewide and nationwide until 2026. The America 250-Ohio Commission announced recently the launch of the Ohio Air & Space Trail. The trail is the first of six thematic experiential trails plotted throughout Ohio to celebrate the country's 250th anniversary in the next two years. Additional information about the Air & Space Trail, including a contact form for suggesting additional stops along the trail, can be found at https://tinyurl.com/4jt5jy99.


The America 250-Ohio Commission has awarded $600,000 in grants for 61 community-based projects as part of the lead up to Ohio's recognition of the U.S. semiquincentennial on July 4, 2026. More than 170 organizations submitted applications for the second round of the grants program, which is managed in partnership with Ohio Humanities. Projects funded in this round must be completed between June 15, 2024 through May 31, 2025.


BALLOT ISSUES


Citizens Not Politicians, the group behind a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a 15-member citizens board to oversee legislative and congressional redistricting in the state, announced Thursday that it has received the backing of Ohio Health Advocates for Democracy, a nonpartisan group of over 100 health care providers, including physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals from across Ohio. The group published an open letter at https://tinyurl.com/4bbvt8tn, arguing that more representative government, enabled by ending gerrymandering, will lead to better public policies that support the overall health of Ohioans.


BUSINESS/CORPORATE


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, JobsOhio President and CEO J.P. Nauseef and leaders of Tipp City-based nonprofit Aileron announced Monday a new program to help support Ohio small businesses as they grow. It will offer a 12-month program that blends in-person and virtual events as facilitated by Aileron, which guides business owners in building an organization-wide system that creates sustainable change and drives lasting results. The first year will involve a cohort of 25 businesses that previously received JobsOhio incentives, who can apply if interested. Small business owners will be notified of their selection for the program in August. The program is scheduled to begin in September.


FY25-26 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS


Both chambers Monday introduced capital budget legislation -- SB292 (Dolan) and HB629 (Edwards). The legislation incorporates projects from the $700-plus million One-Time Strategic Community Investment Fund (OTSCIF), which debuted last week as SB280 (Dolan), as well as the typical capital budget funding for state parks, universities, other agencies and another, smaller list of community projects worth about $150 million. According to Senate Republicans, the total price tag is $4.2 billion. Both bills include an emergency clause, which would allow the legislation to go into effect immediately upon the governor's signature but requires a two-thirds majority to approve in both chambers. Both Senate Finance Chair Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) and Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) had indicated that lawmakers will eventually use HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) as the vehicle to pass both the traditional capital budget and the OTSCIF projects.


Capital spending plans for FY25-26 are "manageable and sustainable" and would keep Ohio well below the 5 percent debt service cap, Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kim Murnieks told lawmakers Tuesday. Murnieks testified on capital budget bills HB629 (Edwards) and SB292 (Dolan) before finance committees of the House and Senate. Though FY24 state tax collections through May lagged projections by more than $400 million, Murnieks said the state can support the billions in capital budget spending because of good economic and other budget trends. While FY24 tax revenues are 1.7 percent below expectations, spending is 4.2 percent below estimates. Meanwhile, state treasury investment earnings are higher than expected, the unemployment rate remains low at 4 percent, and credit agency ratings for Ohio are "stronger than any point in history," she said. Murnieks told the House Finance Committee OBM projects the state would spend 2.65 percent of GRF revenues on debt service should the capital budget pass, well below the 5 percent cap. She told the Senate Finance Committee debt service levels are at one of the lowest levels in state history, in part because the state was able to use cash in the previous capital budget, blunting the effects of higher interest rates.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Ohio has over four million workers whose jobs won't allow them to take extended paid leave from work upon the birth or adoption of a child. To Dawn Huckelbridge, a federal policy granting that time off to workers "seems quite common sense." Huckelbridge is the founding director of advocacy group Paid Leave For All. She spoke about paid parental leave to the City Club of Cleveland on Friday. She says there is a lot of confusion in Congress about paid parental leave and its proximity to benefits like paid sick days, paid time off or paid vacation. But she said the issue came to the fore in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Huckelbridge said when COVID hit and employers and employees were "scrambling," some in Congress realized what it meant to have a pandemic hit when safety nets like paid leave don't exist for many people. She said at the time, Congress was faced with passing two large-scale relief packages, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, the latter of which would have provided Americans with guaranteed paid leave and relief for child care expenses, among other things. But the jobs plan took priority, and the issue of paid leave didn't become law.


In the first of its monthly meetings on Monday, June 3, the newly created Children's Vision Strike Force focused on the issues facing the current state of getting appropriate eye care for Ohio's children and several groups' efforts to address those issues. The strike force heard a presentation from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) on the pros and cons of different methods of delivering vision screenings to Ohio's youth, from school-based health centers to doctor visits to schools to mobile "vision vans" that could travel between events during summers where several children are at once, like summer camps or other community festivals. Another presentation outlined the equipment, personnel and costs of such mobile examination models. The next meeting of the Children's Vision Strike Force will be on Friday, July 26 from 9 a.m. to noon at the ODH offices at 246 N. High St.


CITIES


The Cleveland city government reopened City Hall to the public at noon Thursday, following a cyberattack that led to the closure of that building and the Erieview satellite offices for nonessential staff on June 10. Cleveland City Hall had reopened for all employees on Wednesday, June 12 but remained closed to the public. In an announcement made Tuesday, June 18, the city said "select operations" would be resumed at noon Thursday and noted there could be lines and delays as employees work quickly to assist residents.


CIVIL RIGHTS


The day before state offices were closed to honor Juneteenth, the federal holiday honoring the end of slavery, Rep. Dontavious Jarrrells (D-Columbus) hosted a press conference to put a spotlight on what he called "one of Ohio's darkest untold stories" -- that of the Randolph Freedpeople. According to the Piqua Library, John Randolph of Roanoke, VA, freed his 400 slaves in his will upon his death in 1833. After a more than 13-year-fight with his family, who had contested the will, the slaves were freed, and Judge William Leigh, enforcing the will, purchased 3,200 acres of land in Mercer County, OH, for a new home for the slaves. However, when the former slaves arrived, they were met and turned away by an angry mob. The Randolph Freedpeople eventually headed south and settled in small towns along the Miami Erie Canal. Many of them lived in Shelby and Miami counties. They built communities in Rumley (Shelby County) and Rossville, Hanktown, and Marshall Town (Miami County). Jarrells on Tuesday said he is seeking justice for the descendants of the Randolph Freedpeople, whom he said Ohio has turned its back on.


CORONAVIRUS/MONKEYPOX


A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) offered a new definition of "Long COVID" and urged government leaders, medical officials and businesses to adopt that definition going forward. NASEM described Long COVID as "an infection-associated chronic condition that occurs after COVID-19 infection and is present for at least three months as a continuous, relapsing and remitting, or progressive disease state that affects one or more organ systems." The condition has "profound medical, social, and economic consequences worldwide," NASEM continued. There has not been a common, agreed upon definition. This lack of clarity challenged the health care sector, researchers and policymakers while also negatively affecting patients.


DEATH PENALTY


Gov. Mike DeWine extended Ohio's de facto execution moratorium Friday with three more reprieves, again citing issues with acquiring the drugs needed to carry out death sentences without endangering access to other pharmaceuticals for Ohioans. Inmates scheduled to die this fall and winter are now scheduled to have their sentences carried out in 2027. Lawrence Landrum, scheduled to be put to death in October, got a new execution date of Oct. 13, 2027. Warren Henness, scheduled to be put to death in December, got a new execution date of Dec. 15, 2027. Sean Carter, scheduled to be put to death in January, got a new execution date of Nov. 17, 2027.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/URBAN REVITALIZATION


Google officials, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and members of Ohio's congressional delegation took part Tuesday in the company’s announcement that it will invest $2.3 billion in Ohio for its three sites in Columbus, Lancaster and New Albany. This follows past investments that total over $4.4 billion since the New Albany data center had its groundbreaking in 2019. These data centers are essential to Google's services and "engines behind the growing digital economy" according to the company. They also support its artificial intelligence (AI) innovations and customer base.


ECONOMY


Recent reports by personal finance site WalletHub ranked Ohio the seventh-lowest state in terms of racial equality in their economies and 11th-lowest in education systems. The report on equality in economies had metrics including the difference between White and Black Americans in areas such as annual income, unemployment rate and homeownership rate, while the education report measured areas such as high school and college degrees, test scores and graduation rates. WalletHub said that nationally, a recent study found that only 7 percent of managerial positions and 4 to 5 percent of senior managerial positions are held by Black Americans, even though they represent 14 percent of U.S. employees.


ELECTIONS


The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week filed a statement of interest in an Ohio lawsuit challenging state law on what assistance can be given to voters with disabilities in casting an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters of Ohio and ACLU of Ohio filed the lawsuit in December over 134-HB458 (Hall), alleging harm to voters with disabilities from provisions restricting who can help such voters in dropping off or mailing their ballot. Many voters with disabilities cannot personally travel to deliver or mail their absentee ballots and do not have one of the relatives legally allowed to do it for them, the plaintiffs allege. The relatives listed in law as able to assist with ballots include spouses, parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. The federal agency's statement of interest says Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act permits voters with disabilities in need of assistance to get it from anyone they choose, except an agent of their employer or union. That assistance includes all action necessary to make their vote effective, DOJ says. It also says Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public entities to provide equal opportunities to vote absentee and allows voters with disabilities to have someone of their choice help them.


ELECTIONS 2024


The Ohio Republican Party (Ohio GOP) said Monday that it is formally deploying its "Buckeye Battalion," an all-encompassing, coordinated field effort by the Ohio GOP, local Republican organizations and candidates across Ohio to support Donald Trump, Bernie Moreno, and Republicans up and down the ballot in November. The Ohio GOP said that it will be doubling its efforts to grow its ranks ahead of the November election in order to defeat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was joined Tuesday in an online press conference by Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga and Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Mike Knisley to preview a statewide press tour to highlight what they said was Brown's record of fighting and delivering for Ohio workers. Brown said the tour, known as "Workers for Sherrod," will highlight the wins the state has had in creating good paying jobs for Ohio workers and his work in the U.S. Senate. "Workers for Sherrod" is co-chaired by Burga and Knisely.


The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) announced that its Organizing For Ohio coordinated campaign has launched its voter access volunteer team to "protect Ohioans' right to vote" ahead of November's election. The volunteer coalition will oversee a number of efforts ranging from a voter protection hotline that Ohioans can call with questions, to poll observing on Election Day to protect Ohioans' voting rights, ODP said.


The ODP continued its attacks on Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bernie Moreno Thursday over his opposition to abortion issues. Holding a virtual press call ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Lauren Beene, who served as an executive committee member of last November's successful Issue 1 campaign on abortion and reproductive rights, retired pediatrician Arthur Levin, and Catherine Romanos, an abortion provider, all criticized Moreno for what they said is his support of a federal abortion ban.


ENERGY/UTILITIES


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has increased the budget, if not the scope, of the independent audit of FirstEnergy's political and charitable spending and potential links to the 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) bribery scandal behind eight criminal indictments, four convictions, and two suicides to date. Commissioners expanded accounting firm Marcum LLP's budget by more than 25 percent to $689,000 to cover inflationary costs since granting the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel's request for the FirstEnergy audit during the previous federal administration. It is one of two ongoing FirstEnergy audits related to HB6, along with two that have been concluded. After launching its political spending probe of the company in September 2020, PUCO opened three more investigations into its delivery capital recovery (DCR) rider, distribution modernization rider (DMR), and corporate separation of the distribution utility from its generation and marketing affiliates. All include outside auditors of their own -- the DCR by Blue Ridge Consulting Service and the DMR and corporation separation by Daymark Energy Advisors.


ENVIRONMENT


A recent report distributed by One Columbus said the region is in need of "immediate action" to address a shortage of "wet" laboratories that support life sciences research. Wet labs are a specialized space with unique features including equipment, ventilation and storage, according to One Columbus. The report has input from state and national experts concerned about the lack of available wet lab space and what consequences that will have on the future regional growth in life sciences and other industries. It said Columbus currently faces an "inflection point" that will determine the growth trajectory of future years. Lack of available space for emerging startups and private companies could curtail the continued expansion of the life sciences sector and Columbus' broader economy. Progress occurring in other regions is also a topic of the report, which found several states have made "encouraging progress" in expanding their wet lab investments. Those states included Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts.


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and River Rangers International have cleaned up an illegal dump site along the banks of the Little Beaver Creek State Wild and National Scenic River. The effort was part of the H2Ohio Rivers program, which received funding in budget law HB33 (Edwards). Gov. Mike DeWine said, "Part of the H2Ohio Rivers program is designed to take on these types of projects that clean up litter to restore our waterways and prevent contamination." River Rangers International is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep waterways safe and clean in Ohio. That team and ODNR employees tackled a site where trash was illegally dumped near the creek many decades ago. The illegal dump site included litter such as household trash, steel drums and more than 300 scrap tires.


FEDERAL


The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday a new passport office will be added in Cincinnati, one of six new ones that are planned. The others will be in Salt Lake City, UT; Kansas City, MO; Orlando, FL; Charlotte, NC; and San Antonio, TX. This will expand the passport network to 35 agencies and centers, along with over 7,400 public passport acceptance facilities nationwide. The agencies and centers will provide service to travelers with urgent needs, while those who do not require urgent service can apply at the acceptance facilities which include post offices and other local government facilities. The State Department noted over 99 percent of Americans already live within 25 miles of an acceptance facility.


GAMING/GAMBLING


The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) approved all items on its agenda during its meeting this week. Among the items approved was a casino gaming license for gaming-related vendor IGT, and casino gaming licenses for several casino key employees. The commission also approved several sports gaming key employees. Additionally, commissioners approved the initial filing of a rule amendment on sports betting promotions and bonuses, which OCCC spokesperson Jessica Franks said would clarify what promotions are acceptable.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts) on Monday temporarily appointed Speaker Pro Tem Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) chair of the House Health Provider Services Committee to replace Rep. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield), who will soon join the Senate. Meanwhile, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) appointed Sen. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) as chair of the Senate General Government Committee, previously held by U.S. Rep.-elect Michael Rulli (R-Salem). Monday's House journal also indicated Cutrona was appointed chair of the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee, which had lacked a chair since Stephens removed Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) from the post in May, part of a wave of chair changes sparked by internal caucus conflicts over the primary election. Senate Republicans plan to seat Cutrona as Rulli's replacement at the Wednesday, June 26 session.


With Rep. Cutrona’s pending shift to the Senate next week, five Republicans have expressed interest in taking his spot on the ballot for the 59th Ohio House District, according to the Youngstown Vindicator. The Mahoning County Republican Party, which along with the Columbiana County Republican Party, will choose the ballot replacement for Cutrona, and has set a deadline of Thursday, June 27, for those wanting both the nomination and to likely fill Cutrona's unexpired term in the Ohio House for the remainder of 2024 to submit letters of interest, the newspaper said. Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Tom McCabe told the newspaper that the five who have expressed interest so far are Jim Murphy, a precinct committee member; Meghan Hanni, daughter of Court of Appeals Judge Mark Hanni and Aim Leasing Co.'s supervisor of licensing and permits; Canfield City Council President Christine Oliver; Joey Cilone, co-owner and president of Inspira Health Group; and Tex Fischer, co-founder and partner of H&F Strategies LLC, a political consulting firm.


In other action, the House Health Provider Services Committee reported out SB144 (Romanchuk) which addresses health care changes including immunizations administered by pharmacists; the House Insurance Committee reported out SB175 (Lang) which deals with insurance regulations and taxes; and the House Public Health Policy Committee reported out Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness bill HB397 (Hoops-Baker).


GREAT LAKES


Construction is underway on a barrier wetland in Sandusky Bay as part of Gov. Mike DeWine's ongoing H2Ohio initiative to address complex issues addressing Ohio's waterways. Located between Lake Erie and the mouth of the Sandusky River, Sandusky Bay is a prominent tributary to the lake and a valuable resource for both recreational and commercial activities. The project sees the construction of a unique, nature-based wetland just offshore of Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area in Sandusky County as part of H2Ohio's effort to preserve habitat and improve water quality within Ohio.


HIGHER EDUCATION


While House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has previously suggested higher education reform bill SB83 (Cirino) doesn't have the votes to pass the House floor, Majority Floor Leader Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and House Higher Education Chair Rep. Tom Young (R-Centerville) are circulating a letter to gauge support for passing the bill before the General Assembly breaks for the summer. The bill passed the Ohio Senate 21-10 in May of last year and passed out of the House Higher Education Committee 8-6 in December. SB83, dubbed the "Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act," would prohibit, in most cases, mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training at colleges and universities. It requires universities to make commitments to "intellectual diversity," and prohibits them, in most cases, from endorsing or opposing "any controversial beliefs or policies" that includes such issues as climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion.


The House Higher Education Committee Tuesday continued its review of the progress of universities' implementation of new science of reading literacy education standards, hearing from Miami University and the University of Toledo.


The Campus Accountability and Modernization to Protect University Students (CAMPUS) Act – HB606 (Pizzulli-Jarrells) -- is necessary to prevent racial, religious and ethnic harassment and intimidation on college campuses, representatives of the Inter-University Council (IUC) and several Jewish organizations told the House Finance Committee on Thursday.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


Reps. Latyna Humphrey (D-Columbus) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) Tuesday were joined by other lawmakers and housing advocates to celebrate the passage and upcoming signing of legislation meant to reduce barriers for people returning from prison to obtain housing. The lawmakers said they expect the governor to sign HB50 (Humphrey-Seitz) on Friday. The bill allows individuals convicted of crime who are subject to collateral sanctions for housing to file a petition for a certificate of qualification for housing, or CQH. Collateral sanctions are the legal and regulatory penalties that individuals face after serving their sentences.


JUDICIAL


The full U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will review a lawsuit over Attorney General Dave Yost's handling of a proposed constitutional amendment on qualified immunity after the court granted Yost's application for an en banc review of a three-judge panel's ruling in the case. The panel ruled 2-1 last month saying that Yost must forward the proposed constitutional amendment, which would repeal constitutional immunities and defenses in cases alleging a civil rights violation by government actors, on to the next step in the ballot initiative process, saying Ohio law that gives Yost power to review and potentially reject petition summaries violates First Amendment free speech protections. Yost has rejected the petitions of the committee behind the amendment eight times, arguing that it was not a fair and truthful summary of the proposed amendment. A district court had rejected a motion for preliminary injunctive relief by the plaintiffs, but the appeals court reversed it. In asking for the full review by the appeals court, Yost's office argued the state has a compelling interest in a "fair and truthful process."


"I think Pfeifer had some way of messing with that marble." That and other revelations about the state's highest court, its years under the late Chief Justice Tom Moyer, and fellow members including former justice and current Ohio Judicial Conference (OJC) Director Paul Pfeifer emerged during Thursday's forum, "In Session: Behind the Curtains of Ohio's Supreme Court." The City Club of Cleveland talk featured Justice Patrick Fischer as moderator and former Justices Terrence O'Donnell and Yvette McGee Brown as panelists, the latter issuing the good-natured indictment of Pfeifer's alleged influence on which justice's marble fell from the sacred leather flask that identifies the majority opinion writer for the Court. "There's an air of secrecy about what goes on," added O'Donnell, who called the august room's proceedings strictly confidential.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Cannabis Control (DCC) has issued eight dual-use provisional licenses to cultivators, processors and testing laboratories, DCC spokesperson Jamie Crawford told Hannah News on Friday. "To help ensure an efficient supply chain leading up to non-medical sales, these initial dual-use provisional licenses have been issued to testing labs, cultivators and processors who have met dual-use qualifications requirements. No dispensaries have been issued a dual-use provisional license to date," Crawford said in an email. It's unclear exactly how many dual-use provisional licenses were awarded to each of the three license types, but eight total were awarded to cultivators, processors and testing labs. As of Friday at noon, DCC had received 219 applications to convert active Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP) licenses to dual-use licenses, Crawford said. The division has also received 134 10(B) dispensary applications. These are additional dispensary licenses authorized to be issued by the initiated statute.


The DOC Division of Cannabis Control's rule eliminating registration fees for medical marijuana patients and caregivers officially took effect over the weekend. The division's proposal to eliminate the $50 fee for patients and $25 fee for caregivers went into effect on Sunday, June 16. DCC temporarily reduced the fees to $0.01 in March while the rule rescission process played out. Additionally, the Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) has proposed a number of rules on the adult use cannabis tax.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Controlling Board Monday approved the acquisition of 1,241 acres of land from American Electric Power (AEP) for the Jesse Owens State Park, though Republicans on the panel continued to push the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) on the need to keep land privately owned. Kendra Wecker, the chief of ODNR's Division of Wildlife, told the Controlling Board that AEP had informed the state that the land was available for purchase, and ODNR saw an opportunity to make the purchase. Although the land is currently owned by AEP, ODNR has managed it since the 1990s. Rep. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) noted his continued preference for land to remain in private hands, and asked Wecker if it would make sense to release more of its holdings for sale in light of the purchase. Wecker said that they do look at their land inventory and work with district managers to sell property when it is deemed no longer in the state's interest to hold. Wecker also noted that the state has been making investments in its other holdings in the area in order to bring in more tourists.


Fourteen communities have received a total of $6.2 million from the Clean Ohio Trail Fund, distributed by ODNR. The money from this fund can go towards a variety of trail project elements including land acquisition, construction, engineering, and design. Trails in downtown metropolitan areas, a trail to a newly-constructed library, and pedestrian bridges are among the projects that will be funded by the grants.


Ohio's population of sandhill cranes appears to remain on its upward trajectory following the annual Midwest Crane Count across seven states, including Ohio, in April 2024. During this year's count, volunteers spotted and recorded 412 sandhill cranes in Ohio across 26 of the 32 counties observed. In 2023, only 357 cranes were observed. Growth in population likely reflects a growing breeding population as well as a growing number of volunteer counters for the effort. Counties in Ohio with the highest numbers of sandhill crane sightings in 2024 included the following: Wayne (106); Lucas (56); Geauga (48); Holmes (28); and Richland (27).


ODNR broke ground earlier this month on a new visitor center at Mohican State Park expected to open by the fall of 2025. ODNR says the new center will be inspired by traditional forest lodges, featuring a well-lit interior and heavy timber trusses. It will feature exterior porches, stone chimneys and a fireplace to give guests more time outdoors. The visitor center will also feature interactive and educational opportunities for visitors.

ODNR is accepting proposals for up to $20 million in grants for development projects in the state's former coal mining areas. The Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) funds, managed by the ODNR Division of Mineral Land Management, encourage economic and community development to improve communities and local economies with historic abandoned mine lands that were mined for coal before the 1970s, when state and federal mining laws were enacted. Complete information about the AMLER grant program can be found at https://tinyurl.com/25nxv3sr.


NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS


The Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce Executives of Ohio (CCEO) announced the hiring of Matt Owen as the new executive director of the organization. Earlier this spring, a new partnership between the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Southern Ohio Chamber Alliance and the Northern Ohio Chambers of Commerce was formed to strengthen and re-imagine the over 100-year-old chamber professionals' organization. Owen will start Monday, July 8, 2024 and will be headquartered at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce offices, which is the home base for CCEO.


The Ohio State Bar Foundation (OSBF) Board of Trustees has approved $435,645 in grants to nine Ohio nonprofit organizations through its spring grants cycle. Each project supports the OSBF's mission to educate the public about the rule of law and build a better justice system, OSBF said. OSBF President Belinda Barnes said, "These grants address a wide range of critical issues, including mentorship for minority students in law, pro bono services, improved access to justice, civics education, trauma-informed lawyering, and more. The collective efforts of these organizations are making a significant, tangible difference, fostering a more equitable and just society for all Ohioans."


PENSIONS


The State Teachers Retirement System Board of Trustees (STRS) changed how its leaders are chosen Thursday, calling for outright election of a chair and vice chair each August rather than election of a chair in June who would move up to the chair's position in September of the following year. Trustees recently ousted Dale Price as chair and Carol Correthers as vice chair and installed Rudy Fichtenbaum and Elizabeth Jones, respectively, shortly after Wade Steen was restored as a trustee by appellate judges who found Gov. Mike DeWine removed him illegally.


PEOPLE


The Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC) said Thursday that it has named Avi Zaffini as its new president and CEO, starting Monday, July 15. Zaffini, who most recently held a senior position at the Ohio Business Roundtable, will lead the association representing the presidents and trustees of the state's 23 public two-year colleges. At the Ohio Business Roundtable, Zaffini served as senior vice president of business engagement and strategic initiatives, leading business development efforts, member engagement, and the design and launch of private sector projects. He also oversaw the Ohio CEO Summit. Previously, Zaffini served as chief of staff in the Ohio Lt. Governor's Office following Jon Husted's election to the state's number-two post in January 2019. Prior to the start of the DeWine-Husted administration, Zaffini helped lead the Gubernatorial Transition Committee and was deputy campaign manager for DeWine-Husted for Ohio. He also served in various leadership roles for the Ohio Secretary of State. In addition, OACC announced that it has promoted Laura Rittner to serve in its newly created position of vice president of operations and student success. Rittner currently serves as the executive director of a center aimed at boosting outcomes for Ohio's community college students.


Ohio Citizen Action (OCA) Thursday announced it has hired Scott Palider as its chief political officer. Palider, an Ohio native, will manage legislative and electoral campaigns and provide strategic guidance to organizational leadership and board members. The position is new within the Ohio Citizen Action structure. Most recently a lobbyist for the Ohio Schools Boards Association, Palider also spent two years as the chief lobbyist, legislative, and national security coordinator at the American Legion Department of Ohio.


POVERTY


The traditional story of economic mobility that says a person can make good choices, work hard and climb out of poverty is not reality, according to Emily Campbell, CEO of Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions (CCS). In a recent opinion piece in Crain's Cleveland Business, Campbell says there are fundamental flaws in social support systems that leave entrants into some public assistance systems "stuck in poverty." The additional income that comes from getting a raise at work or working extra hours can put a family over the income eligibility threshold for programs that would have helped them meet basic needs, writes Campbell. She says these "benefit cliffs" can be a built-in disincentive to work. Once a person loses access to a public benefit, the financial burden of having to cover those expenses can be a significant disruption. Campbell points to the costs of finding child care arrangements without a voucher, enrollment in a new health plan after losing Medicaid coverage or moving out of subsidized housing. In such cases, Campbell says, even while people are earning more, they aren't getting ahead.


PUBLIC SAFETY


With extreme heat warnings being issued for Ohio, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Friday urged Ohioans to prepare for the summer heat going forward. Ohio EMA is focusing on preparedness and resilience when it comes to extreme heat with the #BeatTheHeatOhio summer safety series on its social media accounts. Understanding extreme heat threats that may affect Ohio will put residents at an advantage to be better prepared, the agency said.


All Ohioans pay the price for individuals who refuse to wear their safety belts while traveling in a vehicle, Ohio Insurance Institute (OII) President and CEO Dean Fadel said during proponent testimony on HB536 (Cross-K. Miller) on Tuesday. "One of the most common arguments we hear against the proposal laid out in HB536 is that the decision to wear a seat belt is a matter of personal freedom. If you decide not to wear a seat belt, the only person impacted is you, right? On the surface, that argument seems logical, but when you look deeper into the data, you'll find very different results," Fadel told the House Criminal Justice Committee. "Approximately 20 percent of Ohioans do not wear their seat belts on a regular basis, but, according to Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) data, more than 60 percent of traffic fatalities involved someone not wearing a seat belt," he continued. "And we know that crashes involving fatalities and serious injuries are the most costly, both personally and financially." Citing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Fadel said 54 percent of crash costs are paid by private insurers, 14 percent is paid by charities, and 9 percent is paid by public revenue through tax-subsidized emergency services.


STUDIES/POLLS


Ohio was recently ranked the 17th "most stressed" state in the country, according to a recent report by personal finance site WalletHub. That put it third-highest among neighboring states, behind West Virginia at sixth nationally and Kentucky at eighth. Indiana was ranked 22nd, followed by Michigan at 27th and Pennsylvania at 33rd. The top five states were Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and Arkansas, with first indicating the most stressed. WalletHub also measured states by four sub-rankings. Ohio was 16th and first among neighboring states for family-related stress; 18th and third among neighbors in health and safety-related stress; 24th and fourth among neighbors in money-related stress; and 28th and fifth among neighbors in work-related stress. "There are plenty of small ways for people to manage stress, from staying active and participating in hobbies to taking vacations from work and getting help from a mental health professional. What many people don't realize, though, is that changing location can also be a big stress reducer. For example, states that have lower crime rates, better health care and better economies tend to have much less stressed residents," said WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe.


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


The Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Ohio Emergency Management Agency (Ohio EMA) will be offering free training to a range of groups on drones at three events in July through a partnership with New Mexico Tech and the State University Law Enforcement Association (SULEA). DPS said the training is for a "diverse audience" including law enforcement and other first responders, emergency management officials, military personnel, staff at state and federal agencies, higher education leaders and private sector partners. The curriculum will cover Drone Assessment and Response Tactics (DART), Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Development (UASPD), and Unmanned Systems and Terrorism Case Studies. Attendees must be registered through Public Safety Training Campus (PSTC) in order to attend the listed courses.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


Significant changes are needed on U.S. Route 23 from Worthington to Waldo, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials said Monday. DeWine, ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks, and ODOT District 6 Deputy Director Toni Turowski announced the safety recommendations during a press conference at the Columbus State Community College Delaware campus, which is located right off U.S. Route 23. The administration's U.S. 23 Connect recommendations include plans to add traditional freeway interchanges, connector road interchanges, overpasses/underpasses and restricted crossing U-turns. The plan also calls for road widening and the removal of 32 of the 39 traffic lights on the stretch of road. The plan -- which is split into seven segments -- would cost approximately $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion, Marchbanks told reporters.


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission Monday adopted five professional engineering service contracts while discussing the difficulty it has in finding bidders for certain projects. During discussions of the contracts, commission member Guy Coviello asked Chief Engineer/Deputy Executive Director Chris Matta about getting single or no bidders for a number of contracts. Matta explained that he believes that a number of contractors have been "tapped out" between commission contracts and those put out to bid by the Ohio Department of Transportation, municipalities, and counties. He said that it is the goal of turnpike staff to put many of the 2025 projects out for bid in the fall in order to get them locked up for next year.


ODOT and Gov. Mike DeWine's office recently announced that nearly $5 million will be invested in 14 projects through ODOT's Transportation Improvement District Program. The projects receiving funding include the construction of roundabouts and turn lanes as well as improvements to pavement, intersections, and drainage. The projects will support 22,735 jobs and over $3 billion in private sector capital investments, the administration said.

 


 





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



 



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