Week In Review - March 14, 2022



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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.


AGING


Home and community-based providers of long-term care services will begin receiving federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds as early as this week, the Ohio Department of Aging (ODA) announced Monday. The funding for the PASSPORT program and assisted living providers is intended to help them continue to respond and adapt to COVID-19 and ensure quality care for older Ohioans, ODA Director Ursel McElroy said. A total of $59 million is expected to be distributed for these services.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) presented the H2Ohio Lifetime Conservation Advocate Award to the Henry County Soil and Water Conservation District, Legacy Farmers' Cooperative, and Steve Davis of the Natural Resource Conservation Service.


Country music superstar Toby Keith and Midwest rap icon Nelly are among the artists scheduled to perform at the 2022 Ohio State Fair. "The 12-day Ohio State Fair will feature a diverse selection of entertainment that appeals to many Ohioans and out-of-state fairgoers, including Christian, country, R&B and comedy," the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair said on Monday. Other headliners include Christian rock artist Zach Williams and comedian Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Attorney General Dave Yost is signing on to a lawsuit led by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita to probe U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) records related to an October memo on contentious interactions at local school board meetings across the U.S. That memo followed a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) requesting federal law enforcement assistance to respond to threats against school leaders, which also likened some acts to "domestic terrorism." The Ohio School Boards Association cited the letter in its decision to cut ties with the national group. Filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the lawsuit seeks to compel DOJ to hand over records responsive to a pending Freedom of Information Act request submitted in late October. DOJ has only acknowledged the request but not responded.


FY22-23 BUDGET


Lower than expected income tax refunds drove tax collections a quarter billion dollars over estimates in February, according to preliminary figures from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). Income tax collections of $301.9 million were more than 150 percent above estimates because of the fluctuation in refunds. For the fiscal year so far, income tax collections are 11.7 percent or $669.1 million above estimates, reaching more than $6.3 billion total. Sales taxes also beat estimates, bringing in $20.2 million or 2.5 percent more, with roughly equal contributions from the non-auto sales tax ($11.1 million or 1.6 percent above estimates) and auto sales tax (up $9.1 million or 7.9 percent). Sales taxes so far this fiscal year are ahead of estimates 3.8 percent or almost $308 million.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


After law enforcement officers found a trafficked 16-year-old girl who had been missing for 111 days, Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department Detective John Morgan said the local juvenile detention center wouldn't take her because she didn't have a felony warrant. His agency's only option was to send her to the "completely overwhelmed" Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Morgan told attendees of the 13th Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Summit, hosted by Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron), Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Rep. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville).


Gov. Mike DeWine announced that 11 organizations will receive more than $1.3 million in grants to develop and implement human trafficking prevention programs in Ohio. The grants are from a collaboration among the Governor's Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, the Ohio Children's Trust Fund (OCTF), and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' (ODJFS) Children's Justice Act Task Force. The programs will assist minors who are victims or at risk for human trafficking and professionals that serve minor victims. The effort will also expand human trafficking prevention education, increase direct intervention services and provide more training to minors at risk of victimization.


Ohio should pass legislation making 50-50 shared parenting agreements the default choice for divorced/separated parents, experts and fatherhood advocates told the House Civil Justice Committee on Tuesday. More than 20 witnesses provided proponent testimony on HB508 (West-Creech), which would make a number of changes to Ohio law to help ensure both parents are able to be equally involved in the lives of their children.


CORONAVIRUS


On March 9, 2020, Statehouse reporters gathered for a scheduled press conference on telehealth services for rural schools. Instead, they were told of the first three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency that Monday, with event cancellations, school closures and other executive and health orders issued in the days and weeks that followed. The 2020 primary election was delayed, though DeWine pledged to Ohioans in a March 17 news conference that "the sun is going to come out again." In the two years since that first announcement, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has reported 2.66 million cases in the state, 113,002 hospitalizations and 13,288 ICU admissions as of Wednesday. The ODH mortality update from Tuesday showed 37,212 Ohioans have died from COVID-19.


ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff announced Thursday that the state will transition from daily to weekly COVID-19 data reporting amid what Vanderhoff called a "new phase" of the pandemic. With case numbers, hospitalizations, deaths and community transmission all trending steadily downward in recent weeks, Vanderhoff said COVID-19 is "evolving from that of a pandemic to more of an endemic state." Daily reporting of the state's key metrics including case counts, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and vaccinations will continue through Sunday, March 13. ODH will move to weekly Thursday updates beginning Thursday, March 17. COVID-19 deaths, which are currently reported twice weekly, will also be updated weekly on Thursdays, as will data about long-term care facilities and reports from ODH partner agencies.


EDUCATION


After a series of memos and filings on the proposition of EdChoice families' joining a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the state's education voucher program, the judge in the case has scheduled a hearing on the issue. Several sets of parents of EdChoice students filed a motion to intervene in the case, in which a group of Ohio school districts and families attending district schools claim that the scholarship program violates the constitutional mandate for a "common" school system and the prohibition on giving religious groups control of education funding.


Speakers representing some of the dozens of organizations opposed to legislation restricting school instruction on certain controversial topics cast the bill as an attempt to evade important discussions out of fear or cynicism, and said they're ramping up their efforts to ensure it doesn't move. The Honest For Ohio Education coalition said further at a Wednesday Statehouse press conference that the bill does a disservice to students and is designed to make educators shy away from discussions of race, sex or other hot-button issues out of hesitation that they might imperil their jobs or their schools' funding. The bill, HB327 (Grendell-Fowler-Arthur), is in the House State and Local Government Committee and has undergone multiple revisions, most recently in mid-February.


K-12 schools across Ohio are reporting increased concerns around a variety of mental health issues since COVID-19, according to a statewide Student Needs Assessment conducted by the Miami University's Ohio School Wellness Initiative (OSWI) and the university's Discovery Center between May and July 2021. When asked to evaluate their perceptions of changes in student needs since the pandemic began, about 75 percent of participating school officials reported increased concern for moderate to severe depression, significant anxiety, and social isolation among students. Nearly 60 percent of participants also reported increased concern for suicidal ideation/attempts and trauma exposure/posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


ELECTIONS


Gov, Mike DeWine announced Tuesday the appointment of John A. Lyall of Powell (Delaware County) and former Rep. Christina M. Hagan-Nemeth of Alliance (Stark County) to the Ohio Elections Commission. Hagan-Nemeth's term began Monday, March 7 and Lyall's, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Both terms end Dec. 31, 2026


ELECTIONS 2022


The maneuvering to alter military and overseas voting processes amid the primary election time crunch resulting from redistricting chaos concluded Thursday as the Senate approved legislation to fund expedited ballot shipping and allow more time for those ballots to be returned, sending it to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. The chamber had voted Tuesday on the plan via an amendment to HB188 (Lampton-Cross), but the emergency clause that would have put it into immediate effect couldn't garner the 66-vote supermajority needed for House approval on Wednesday, as Democrats withheld support. That prompted the House later Wednesday to add the military voting plan as an amendment to SB11 (Brenner), along with an appropriation for $200,000 to enable the expedited ballot shipping. Appropriations for current expenses can take effect immediately without an emergency clause. However, that necessitated the Senate's calling a Thursday voting session to concur with the House changes to SB11 which they did by a vote of 26-2. In addition to the $200,000 appropriation, according to a Legislative Service Commission (LSC) analysis of the amendment, it applies only to the May 3, 2022 primary election and it will do the following:

  • Uniformed services and overseas absent voters' ballots must be ready for use not later than 29 days before the election, instead of 46 days before the election.

  • Voted uniformed services and overseas absent voters' ballots must arrive at the board of elections by the 20th day after the election, instead of the 10th day, but still must be voted by the close of the polls.

  • The secretary of state must take steps to expedite the delivery and return of uniformed services and overseas absent voters' ballots.

  • The secretary of state may adjust the deadlines for the boards of elections to conduct the canvass of the election returns, in order to accommodate the delayed ballot return deadline.

With the constitutionality of the latest congressional map before the Ohio Supreme Court, candidates filed for the new congressional districts, including most of the current incumbents. Friday was the filing deadline for those seeking one of the 15 seats in Ohio's delegation, having been delayed previously by SB258 (McColley). The only incumbent not to file for re-election was U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles), who has already filed to run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.


Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday, March 10 signed SB9 (McColley-Roegner), a regulatory reform bill that now also includes $9 million to help local boards of elections with the primary. The funding portion went into effect immediately.


The Ohio Debate Commission (ODC) on Tuesday announced moderators for each of its four primary debates. All of the primary debates will be held at the Paul Robeson Cultural and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Central State University in Wilberforce, according to ODC. The statewide non-partisan organization also posted its online question submission and general public ticket request links on its website, https://www.ohiodebatecommission.org/.


Gov. Mike DeWine has turned down an offer to debate his primary challengers at an upcoming event held by the Ohio Debate Commission (ODC). The commission announced DeWine's decline Thursday, saying he is the first candidate to do so in the primary debates the commission is holding in the U.S. Senate and governor's race on Monday, March 28 and Tuesday, March 29 at Central State University. The commission said it will still hold a Republican primary debate that will feature Jim Renacci and Joe Blystone, though it has not received official confirmation from former Rep. Ron Hood, the fourth candidate in the primary race. On the Democratic side, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley will appear in that debate.


Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters and Chelsea Clark, Democratic candidate for Ohio secretary of state, held a media teleconference Friday, March 4 to criticize Secretary of State Frank LaRose's conduct in the adoption of General Assembly and congressional maps and his decision to press ahead with placing candidates on the May 3 ballot despite outstanding legal challenges to the maps. Walters and Clark alleged the approved maps are an "unconstitutional gerrymander," and said that by directing counties to certify congressional and General Assembly candidates before the Ohio Supreme Court rules on the latest maps, he's likely setting Ohio up to waste millions of dollars printing ballots that will have to be tossed out.


Republican House candidate Scott Pullins released a statement over the weekend urging the General Assembly to move the entire primary to August, saying "voters and candidates are confused and frustrated by constant changes in districts and the uncertainty about the May primary election." Pullins, who under the current map adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission is running for the 98th House District, said candidates have been unnecessarily handicapped by the constant changes and uncertainty of new districts.


Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Cranley this weekend called for Ohio's five public pension funds to divest from Russia. Speaking at a stop at Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Youngstown, Cranley said Gov. Mike DeWine and the Legislature could pass a bill to force the divestment if the pension funds are unwilling to act on their own.


While acknowledging that Josh Mandel is "the one who I'm going to have the most trouble with" in the U.S. Senate Republican primary, businessman Mike Gibbons said the former state treasurer has "baggage" that could become a significant liability in the general election. "He's got a lot of issues going on. He has a lot of baggage, and a lot of that hasn't come out yet. I'm not going to bring it up, because the last thing I want to do is be responsible for his kids seeing his baggage. But there is a real risk that if he does get [the nomination], that Tim Ryan won't feel that way, and I don't know if he's elected, because it's pretty bad, and it's fact," Gibbons told supporters during the opening of his Central Ohio campaign office in Hilliard on Wednesday.


Ohio Citizen Action this week launched a campaign calling on Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted to reject regulated electric utility campaign contributions and to spearhead reforms at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). The group argued that the administration should take decisive action in the wake of the $61 million scandal surrounding 133-HB6.


The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Action Fund endorsed Tim Ryan for U.S. Senate and Emilia Sykes for Congress.

  • Ohio Right to Life PAC announced its endorsements of Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Attorney General Dave Yost, Auditor of State Keith Faber, Treasurer of State Robert Sprague, Justice Sharon Kennedy, Justice Pat DeWine and Justice Pat Fischer.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Matt Dolan announced the endorsements of former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson and former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said Friday, March 4 that total non-farm payroll employment rose by 678,000 in February, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.8 percent, with job gains coming in the leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, health care, and construction sectors. The number of unemployed persons fell to 6.3 million, BLS said. In February 2020, prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, and the number of unemployed persons was 5.7 million. Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.5 percent) and Hispanics (4.4 percent) declined in February. The jobless rates for adult women (3.6 percent), teenagers (10.3 percent), Whites (3.3 percent), Blacks (6.6 percent), and Asians (3.1 percent) showed little or no change over the month.


ENVIRONMENT


The H2Ohio initiative is investing $4 million to locate, remove and replace toxic lead pipes in various communities throughout the state, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday. Most water service lines in the U.S. are currently made of copper or galvanized iron, but an estimated 6.1 million lead water lines remain across the nation. Lead primarily enters drinking water when materials containing lead in water distribution systems and household plumbing corrode.


More Ohioans are likely to contract bone cancer if the state continues to allow entities to de-ice roads with brine from oil and gas wells, Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) said Tuesday during a Statehouse press conference. Ohio is one of only 10 states that permits the use of radioactive wastewater from oil and gas wells as a de-icing or dust-inhibiting application by spraying it on roads and earth surfaces, Lightbody said. She encouraged the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee to quickly begin hearings on her HB579, which would expressly prohibit the use of oil and gas brine on Ohio roadways.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Wednesday, House Republicans voted to name Shawn Stevens of Sunbury as the replacement for Rep. Rick Carfagna, who recently resigned to take a position with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Stevens, who owns a title company, bested former Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl and Beth Lear, who works for Associated Builders and Contractors, for the caucus nod.


Also passing the House Wednesday were the following:

  • HB518 (Hoops), which replaces the Fulton County Court with a Fulton County Municipal Court and also makes changes to the Housing Division of Toledo Municipal Court and the Hamilton County Municipal Court.

  • HB531 (Ghanbari), which allows county prosecutors to provide legal services to metropolitan planning organizations, regional transportation planning organizations and regional councils of government.

A memorial for former Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder will be held on Tuesday, March 22, in the Ohio Statehouse Atrium, according to his family. Batchelder, who served for nearly four decades in the Ohio House, including as speaker from 2011-2014, died Feb. 12 at the age of 79. The memorial will begin at 1 p.m. and will be followed by a toast to Batchelder at 4:30 p.m. at the Athletic Club of Columbus, 136 E. Broad St., Columbus. Guests are invited to join friends and family of Batchelder "to share their favorite stories about the speaker in recognition of his tremendous record of public service to the state of Ohio."


All items cleared the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) during its Tuesday meeting, which focused on an Ohio Department of Education (ODE) presentation. The regular and no change agenda items received no questions or comments from JCARR members. However, ODE interim Chief Counsel Tony Palmer gave a presentation on ODE's efforts to increase engagement with the community school sector regarding regulations. Stakeholders had raised issues with JCARR regarding blended learning, dropout prevention and recovery schools, oversight of community school sponsors, sponsor evaluations, new e-school applications and operator risk assessments.


In other action, the House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out SB47 (Brenner-Peterson) which addresses overtime pay; House Health Committee reported out HB537 (Abrams) which designates Feb. 12 as "Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Day" and HB242 (B. Young-Weinstein) which designates April as "Autism Acceptance Month"; and the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee reported out HB493 (Liston) and HB555 (Ray), license plate and highway naming bills, respectively.


GOVERNOR


Mary Elizabeth Struewing, the mother of First Lady Fran DeWine, died Thursday, March 3. She was 95. Gov. Mike DeWine announced her death on social media on Monday, saying he had known her all of his life. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 12 at St. Paul Catholic Church, 308 Phillips St., Yellow Springs. Burial will follow in St. Paul Catholic Cemetery.


Gov. Mike DeWine said it is time for Ohio to take action to improve safety on Ohio roads by passing a distracted driving bill, saying lawmakers should make its passage a priority. DeWine renewed his calls for passage of the bill at an event held Wednesday to announce the next phase of the I-70/I-71 split. The project will build new ramps to move traffic into downtown Columbus, as well as replacing and improving bridges and infrastructure through the corridor. The governor noted that the corridor averages 900 crashes per year, and said the next phase of the project, which will cost $280 million, will help improve road safety in downtown Columbus.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Charitable pharmacies told lawmakers Tuesday they repeatedly turn away would-be donors of unused medicines that they know other patients desperately need because currently Ohio law doesn't allow individuals' donations. The witnesses on HB558 (Roemer-Jordan) in Tuesday's House Health Committee hearing said the legislation would prevent such waste and enable them to serve more people in need. Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin), chair of the committee, said the legislation had generated tremendous interest.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Dilip Das, assistant vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs at the University of Michigan for the past 15 years, has been selected as the University of Toledo's (UT) vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, effective Monday, May 2.


Kent State University alumnus Earl K. Miller and his wife, Marlene M. Wicherski, pledged $2 million to support research programs and students in Kent State's Brain Health Research Institute, the university announced. The Brain Health Research Institute is a recently established, cross-disciplinary institute that focuses on research and education to understand the influences that impact brain health across the lifespan and uses this knowledge as a window into the prevention and treatment of brain disease.


Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Chancellor Randy Gardner Tuesday unveiled a new "Collegiate Purple Star" designation to recognize public and independent colleges and universities in Ohio that are "supportive and inclusive" of military-connected students. The designation is a continuation of the state's "Purple Star" recognition awarded annually to PreK-12 schools. That award was created in 2017 under the Kasich administration as a way to encourage schools to better serve military families.


Ohio State University (OSU) announced that beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, March 11, masks will be optional in most indoor spaces on the university's campuses, including residence halls, dining facilities, classrooms, offices and the Ohio Union. The university will continue to require masks in clinical health care settings, including at the Wexner Medical Center, COVID-19 testing locations, child care centers and on public transportation. Public events, such as those that take place at the Schottenstein Center and the Covelli Center, are mask optional.


The Central Ohio Technical College (COTC) recently announced a plan to offer free tuition to eligible Knox County residents. "Through its ambitious new Knox Promise, COTC guarantees to fund the gap between tuition (instructional and general fees) and remaining student need after all other private scholarships, institutional, federal and state aid are exhausted," the college said. The program will be available to eligible students starting in COTC's upcoming autumn semester, which begins on Wednesday, Aug. 24.


IMMIGRATION


Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) will host a summit in Northeast Ohio on Thursday, March 17, targeted to ensuring service organizations are prepared to assist in potential relocation of Ukrainian refugees due to the Russian invasion. The event will bring together resettlement agencies, faith-based organizations, charities and other groups to help them understand their possible roles in refugee resettlement. ODJFS' Refugee Services Program works to provide the federal government with information on capacity and oversees programs to help refugees achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment.


JUDICIAL


The resort to "hybrid public- and private-sector lawyers and judges" in counties with small budgets and fewer licensed attorneys has prompted the latest opinion of the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct. The board points to the delicate balance of judges and assistant prosecutors' who work part-time as private attorneys -- sometimes for the same practice -- and whose paths may cross in court. With that as a backdrop, the board seeks to answer the following question: "May a county prosecuting attorney, who employs a part-time assistant prosecutor, appear before a part-time municipal court judge who also employs the same part-time assistant prosecutor in a private law firm?" In general, the board's first Advisory Opinion of 2022 says all parties implicated must carefully consider potential conflicts of interest between not only private and public interests but also between the separate fact-finding roles of prosecutors and judges. It notes "the state is the client of the prosecutor's office when the office is prosecuting violations of state law."


The Ohio Supreme Court is responding to "overwhelming" demand by more than 10,000 active attorneys in the state with the proposed end to self-study caps on mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) hours. Those willing to attend in-person CLE, on the other hand, could obtain up to 12 hours of credit per biennium as precinct election officials under rule amendments released for public comment Wednesday. The Court attributes the proposal to virtual CLE success under COVID-19, when in-person classes have been waived for three overlapping biennial compliance periods.


MENTAL HEALTH


The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) announced Tuesday that Courtney Patel had been appointed as CEO of Summit Behavioral Healthcare effective Monday, March 14. She will replace Liz Banks, who retired after more than 20 years of service to the state. The Cincinnati psychiatric hospital has approximately 450 employees and 291 patients.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) will host the second Ohio Rivers Symposium on Friday, March 25. The biennial event features presentations on invasive species, river prairies, headwater streams and streambank restoration, as well as exhibits, sponsors, and posters, the department said.


The ODNR Division of Geological Survey announced it has awarded research grants to three earth science students at Ohio colleges and universities. The grant recipients are Abigale O'Connor of Miami University, Daniel Gunther of Denison University and Clare Helmer of Kent State University. Each student will receive $2,500 to support their research projects.


ODNR announced that the first restocking of rainbow trout will occur on Tuesday, March 15 at Adams Lake in Adams County. About 80,000 of these coldwater fish will be stocked in 71 public lakes and ponds throughout March, April, and May 2022, the department said. Rainbow trout are raised at Ohio's state fish hatcheries and measure between 10-13 inches when they are released by ODNR's Division of Wildlife.


NEWS MEDIA


Several public radio stations throughout the state have announced their plans to form the "Ohio Newsroom," a statewide reporting partnership meant to expand news coverage in Ohio. The initiative is meant help address the "information gaps" many communities experience due to the shrinking number of media outlets throughout the country. "In this decade alone, Ohio has lost more than 1,200 newspaper newsroom jobs -- that's a staggering 42 percent reduction since 2012," Richard Eiswerth, general manager at Cincinnati Public Radio, said in a promotional video on the new collaborative.


PENSIONS


Ohio's public retirement systems are moving as quickly as possible to dump Russian assets in response to that country's invasion of Ukraine, pension fund directors told the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) on Thursday. However, they said it's currently impossible to move some assets because Russia's stock markets remain closed. All of the pension fund leaders addressed the council after ORSC Senior Research Associate Jeff Bernard provided a brief history on divestment efforts in the past 40 years, including the mid-2000s push to divest from Iran and Sudan. Bernard said the General Assembly has never implemented a legislative mandate to sell or divest holdings in response to divestment movements, even when the Legislature had more direct control over the pension funds in the 1980s and pressure was high to divest from South Africa due to apartheid.


Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) was officially elected as the chair of ORSC at the beginning of Thursday's meeting. Former Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Westerville), the previous chair of ORSC, predicted last month that Plummer would succeed him.


PEOPLE


Former Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director Joseph J. Sommer died Monday in Canton. Sommer served as the head of ODNR from 1985 until 1991. The agency said on social media that Sommer considered his six-year tenure as director his "dream job." He was inducted into the Ohio Natural Resources Hall of Fame and the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association Hall of Fame for his contributions to conservation and outdoor recreation. In addition to his time with ODNR, he also served as a Stark County commissioner, head of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, director of the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, executive secretary of the Ohio House of Representatives, chief of administration in the Auditor of State's Office, and chief of staff for Gov. Richard Celeste.


PUBLIC SAFETY


With daylight saving time beginning Sunday, leaders in the State Fire Marshal's office recommended Ohioans check their smoke detectors and gave other advice to prevent home fires during a virtual webinar Thursday. State Fire Marshal Kevin Reardon led the discussion, saying 20 percent of fire fatalities are related to smoking, and this is the top cause of all known fatalities. Hobbs said that his investigators have increasingly reported a "remarkable trend" of fires due to smoking while on oxygen in 2021 and so far this year as well.


REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT


The Ohio Supreme Court should strike down the latest congressional plan adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, according to a new filing from plaintiffs in congressional redistricting lawsuit Regina C. Adams et al. v. Gov. Mike DeWine et al. "In decision after decision, this Court has given the Ohio Redistricting Commission clear directions for how to draw districting plans that comply with the Ohio Constitution. But the commission refuses to follow those directions," attorneys for Adams and other voters wrote in a motion to enforce the Court's order on Friday, March 4.


Because the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the Ohio Redistricting Commission from a lawsuit challenging a new congressional districting plan enacted as a part of SB258 (McColley), the Court now does not have jurisdiction to a challenge to the latest congressional map drawn by the commission, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) argued in Court filings on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in a separate case against the congressional maps filed their own motion for the Court to enforce its previous order to draw a constitutional congressional map while suggesting changes mainly to districts in Franklin and Hamilton counties. Responding to a challenge filed by the plaintiffs in Adams v. DeWine against the new congressional map passed by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, Cupp and Huffman argued that in order to have their claims against the new maps adjudicated, they must file a new case.


Responding to a filing by plaintiffs in one congressional redistricting case challenging the latest map drawn by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, attorneys for House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said redistricting is not an "endless beauty contest." The response by the legislative leaders came after the League of Women Voters, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, and other plaintiffs asked the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this week to order the General Assembly and/or the Ohio Redistricting Commission to fix what they said were constitutional issues in the latest map involving Franklin and Hamilton counties. Their approach differed from the plaintiffs in the separate Adams v. DeWine case, who have asked the Court to reject the new map entirely, with a suggestion that the Court could order a different map that has already been submitted be considered instead.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The Controlling Board approved several million dollars for contracts to address the strained unemployment compensation system Monday, after the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) answered lawmakers' questions about the state of the program. Board members asked for a general update on the system, which was overwhelmed by high demand at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and has also suffered from substantial levels of fraud. The state signed various contracts to help meet call-center demand, adjudicate claims and screen for signs of fraud.


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who serves as director of InnovateOhio, announced Thursday that Bernie Moreno had been appointed as a member of the initiative's executive committee. Moreno had previously served on the committee before his U.S. Senate campaign, which he ended in February.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


The Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) Wednesday approved a $50,000 grant to assist Cincinnati Bulk Terminals (CBT) with its on-site rail expansion needs. CBT plans to expand its rail infrastructure to allow for greater flexibility in shipping and receiving activities with its serving railroad, the Central Railroad of Indiana (CIND), ORDC said. The grant will allow CIND to move more cars at one time through CSX's Queensgate Yard in Cincinnati, aiding in the reduction of congestion in that area.


UKRAINE


U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) continued to advocate for Ukraine amid its invasion by Russia, with Portman speaking at a rally outside the White House Sunday and calling on the Biden administration to provide further military aid including anti-tank and anti-air weaponry. Portman also urged the Biden administration to help European countries provide Ukraine with old fighter aircraft in exchange for receiving American fighters, stop buying Russian oil and remove all Russian banks' access to the international banking system. Portman also took part in a bipartisan videoconference call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Saturday regarding needed U.S. support.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


Except for a one-week spike to more than 15,000 in mid-February, Ohio's initial unemployment claims stayed between 9,000 and 13,000 over the last five weeks, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). For the most recent week ending March 5, ODJFS reported 11,919 jobless claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That compares to 10,799 the week ending Feb. 26, 12,896 the week ending Feb. 19, 15,109 the week ending Feb. 12 and 9,719 the week ending Feb. 5. The eight-week average of initial jobless claims is 12,664, according to ODJFS. Ohioans filed 56,833 continued traditional unemployment claims last week, which was 2,718 fewer than the previous week. The eight-week average for continued traditional unemployment claims is 59,171.


UTILITIES


Gregory Price, senior attorney examiner for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), informed commission Chair Jenifer French on Friday that he's withdrawing from four cases involving FirstEnergy companies' conduct during the 133-HB6 saga. Price wrote it's been his "privilege" to review legislation and advise commissioners on it during his time at the commission, and he's subsequently presided over cases on implementation of such legislation once enacted.


The Ohio Attorney General's Office is invoking the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) and Ohio Supreme Court in opposing the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) legal appeal for alleged missing audit material on FirstEnergy's mis-titled "distribution modernization rider" (DMR), which cost Ohioans a half billion dollars in unrefunded charges before it was declared unlawful by the Court. In its latest filing, the AG's Public Utilities Section (PUS) answers the consumers' counsel petition for PUCO Legal Director Angela Hawkins to certify its appeal of Administrative Law Judge Gregory Price's order denying OCC legal discovery of former FirstEnergy auditor Oxford Advisors. In a previously released text, fired FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones disclosed former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo's "burning" of the audit before its final release.


The PUCO resolved the purported conflict between the General Assembly's grant of "ample" discovery rights to parties before PUCO and commissioners' "broad" rulemaking powers restricting discovery Wednesday by invoking the Ohio Supreme Court's Rules of Civil Procedure, enlisting all three branches of government in a single legal finding. Along the way, the commission rebuffed the OCC appeal of Administrative Law Judge Gregory Price's denial of legal discovery aimed at FirstEnergy auditors Oxford Advisors.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


The Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) announced Wednesday that it will provide $30 million in grants for research and development of personal protective equipment (PPE) innovations enhancing workplace safety, to be administered through the new Workforce Safety Innovation Center (WSIC). Data collected from BWC claims will be used to identify "priority areas of focus" to reduce the frequency and severity of on-the-job injuries. Applicants must be Ohio nonprofit higher education institutions or research organizations. The WSIC will be led by Sandi Golden-Vest, who joined BWC in November 2021 and previously served as federal grants administrator at the Ohio Department of Health.

[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2022 Hannah News Service, Inc.]


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