Week In Review: March 16, 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.


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ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost announced Wednesday that they have worked out an agreement with local governments representing 85 percent of the state's population on a plan to jointly approach settlement negotiations and litigation with drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids. DeWine and Yost said the list of local government entities joining the "OneOhio" agreement includes 73 of Ohio's 88 counties, with participation from rural, suburban and urban areas alike.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) is seeking public comment during its four-year reassessment by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Assessors are set to conduct a four-day, onsite evaluation at BCI headquarters starting Monday, March 23, including a public call-in session and in-person hearing.


BALLOT ISSUES


The Ohio Supreme Court agreed Friday to a request from Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections to expedite the lawsuit challenging the Ohio Ballot Board's decision to split the campaign group's proposed constitutional amendment into four initiatives. Justices set a schedule for all briefing to conclude by Thursday, March 19. The campaign group also had submitted four petition summaries on the issue as split by the board, based on a two-pronged approach, and Attorney General Dave Yost approved those summaries.


The Ohio Attorney General's Office rejected the summary language for a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution Tuesday that would make changes to Ohio's marijuana laws -- the "Amendment to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol" -- which had been filed with the AG's office on Monday, March 2. According to a letter sent to attorney Donald McTigue, who represents the group behind the proposal, the AG found that the summary language "completely fails" to inform a potential signer that "findings and declarations" listed in the amendment would be elevated "to a constitutional standard."


CENSUS


Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA) Director Lydia Mihalik, Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) and several Southeast Ohio mayors on Tuesday discussed the importance of high census participation for the region and how that will be achieved, including ways they may adapt to coronavirus concerns.


The Census Bureau announced that the 2020 Census invitations will arrive Thursday, March 12 through Friday, March 20. During this period, about 95 percent or 143 million households in the country will receive an initial invitation to respond to the 2020 Census.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine Tuesday launched the Ohio Governor's Imagination Library Program in Hamilton County -- the 16th county since to December to be added to the program. This brings the total number of counties participating in the program, which sees all children from birth to age five receiving a free, new book once a month mailed to their home, to 67. A total of 140,000 Ohio children statewide are currently receiving free books.


CIVIL RIGHTS


The Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) announced Friday it is seeking nominations for the 2020 class of the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.


CORONAVIRUS


Ohio leaders confirmed the first cases of the coronavirus strain known as COVID-19 in the state and escalated the official response to the virus' spread over the week, eventually getting to the point of ordering schools to close and barring most gatherings of 100 or more people. The Ohio Department of Health is posting daily updates on confirmed and suspected cases and test results at www.coronavirus.ohio.gov and has established a call center hotline at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634), which is available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director (ODH) Amy Acton held daily press conferences over the week. On Saturday, they announced ODH's capability to perform virus testing on its own and plans for hospitals and private labs to complement that capability in the days that followed. On Monday, they confirmed the first three cases -- a couple who'd been on a Nile River cruise and a man who'd attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C. That prompted DeWine also to declare an official state of emergency. On Wednesday, the administration confirmed the state’s first case of "community spread" to a 53-year-old Stark County man with no history of travel outside the U.S. and no known contact with someone who had the virus. On Thursday, ODH confirmed a fifth case and said at the time that 52 people were under investigation for suspected cases, while 30 had seen negative test results for the virus. DeWine also issued protocols to limit visiting at nursing facilities and orders to restrict mass gatherings and close school buildings for three weeks, the latter beginning at the end of the school day on Monday, March 16. The mass gatherings order includes exceptions for religious gatherings and other activities protected by the First Amendment, and is not meant to apply to stores, restaurants and transportation hubs. He telegraphed the mass gatherings order a day ahead of time, encouraging professional sports teams and others to take steps on their own, and many followed by barring spectators from games and then cancelling tournaments and suspending and/or delaying seasons. The governor also urged all Ohio college and universities to move to online classes only, something many institutions announced plans to do over the week.


Numerous government agencies cancelled or drastically scaled back planned meetings and events. The Bureau of Workers' Compensation cancelled its Board of Directors meeting and the annual Safety Congress & Expo, which was set to bring thousands of people to Columbus but instead offered some online-only sessions. The Statehouse suspended guided tours, and the Ohio Democratic Party postponed its Legacy Dinner, among other cancellations.


The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said state leaders are in talks about waivers for testing requirements, report cards, attendance reporting and the like should the virus start to prompt school closings. They also encouraged schools to stay in contact with local health and emergency planning officials, and to cancel any large gatherings. ODE has an FAQ for school-related coronavirus concerns at its website, www.education.ohio.gov.


Lawmakers and staff in the Ohio General Assembly took precautions after staff were potentially exposed to the virus at out-of-town conferences. An intern in the Senate self-quarantined after attending the AIPAC conference, and House staff who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) stayed home from work as well.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it would grant waivers to rules for free and reduced-price school meals amid the outbreak -- specifically the requirement that meals be served in a group setting -- to help ensure students can access meals should schools close.


Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders cancelled planned rallies in Cleveland Tuesday as a precaution against further spread of the coronavirus.


Swiftly passing federal paid sick leave legislation is one of the most important actions the government could take to blunt the spread of novel coronavirus, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told reporters in a call Wednesday. Brown introduced a bill on that as part of a broader package put forward by Senate Democrats, saying all are at risk when those without paid sick leave have to work while ill to avoid going without pay. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House Wednesday as well, and Brown said he expected that would be passed by the House in the coming days.


Speaking to the press and general public over Facebook Live Thursday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost discussed how local governments can change practices due to coronavirus and called on Ohioans not to buy excessive quantities of products such as toilet paper or hand sanitizer.


In a video message to schools Thursday, Superintendent Paolo DeMaria sought to reassure them that state leaders are prepared to waive testing and other requirements and that it's safe for schools to host polling locations in next week's March 17 primary election.


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) followed Monday's executive order declaring a state of emergency from the coronavirus with a six-page order of its own Thursday urging regulated utilities to reexamine their policies and billing charges and seek needed approval from the state to prevent service disconnections at homes and offices and to head off infection from "social contact" with consumers.


Policy Matters Ohio (PMO) said Thursday that "workers, employers and policymakers" all have steps they can take to ensure the unemployment compensation (UC) system provides the maximum support possible. "Ohio's unemployment compensation system is an essential support, especially when the economy turns down," PMO Research Director Zach Schiller said in a release. "Steps should be taken to bolster it so it can help a larger share of the unemployed, including those who are able and willing to work but unable to do so because of coronavirus's effect on the economy."


Ohio State University (OSU) announced Thursday that it would continue with virtual instruction for the remainder of the spring semester after previously cancelling in-person classes until March 30.


The Ohio Republican Party Thursday said it will stop participation in any public, face-to-face events due to concern over the coronavirus until April 12, including a Summit County Lincoln Day Dinner that was to feature Vice President Mike Pence.


CORRECTIONS


Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Monday to implement a raft of changes to state monitoring of former inmates proposed by his Working Group on Post-Release Control. Reforms include real-time crime scene matching with GPS data on ex-offenders in a central database, a 34 percent drop in parole caseloads, and specialized parole officers for sex offenders and the mentally ill, among others. DeWine says DRC will coordinate with the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) and InnovateOhio to equip law enforcement to match the physical addresses of crime scenes to the GPS locations of ex-felons.


EDUCATION


A new collaborative pilot project will use $1 million in existing funds over the next two years to expand broadband access, allowing students in Monroe County's rural Switzerland School District to talk with mental health counselors via videoconferencing known as telehealth. Developed as a partnership between InnovateOhio, Ohio Children's Initiatives, the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) and the newly announced BroadbandOhio, the project is part of the state's broadband strategy to expand access to the approximately one million Ohioans without high-speed Internet.


The State Board of Education postponed its planned vote on updated operating standards for Ohio schools Tuesday following member questions and objections to changes from representatives of private schools. The operating standards, which set minimum expectations for schools on topics from basic health and safety to staffing to graduation and course requirements, are due for the five-year review mandated for all state administrative rules. During the public testimony portion of the board agenda, the Ohio Association of Independent Schools (OAIS) and Buckeye Christian Schools Organization (BCSO) expressed opposition to rule language approved by the board's Continuous Improvement Committee.


Ohio charter schools with for-profit management companies would have three years to switch to a nonprofit operator under House legislation announced Wednesday to cap what management companies are paid. The bill from Reps. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Jeff Crossman (D-Parma) also would subject charter schools to the same laws as district schools for state audits and open records. Leadership from Ohio teachers unions joined the lawmakers Wednesday at a press conference to show support for the proposal.


ELECTIONS


Legislation that would create a more streamlined voter registration process began hearings in the House Wednesday, with Secretary of State Frank LaRose's office recommending that lawmakers give a longer implementation period on the legislation. HB540 (G. Manning) is similar to SB186 (Sykes-N. Manning), which is being heard in the Senate and already has received proponent testimony from LaRose himself last month. The sponsor of HB540, Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), told the House State and Local Government Committee Wednesday that the bill will allow Ohioans to register to vote or update the address on their voter registration when they go to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) to get or renew a driver's license or state identification card.


ELECTIONS 2020


A week before Ohio holds its primary election, a national Quinnipiac University Poll shows that the Democratic contest is essentially a two-person race. According to survey of 1,261 self-identified registered voters nationwide, 54 percent of Democrats and Independents who lean Democratic said they would like to see Joe Biden win the Democratic nomination, while 35 percent would like to see Bernie Sanders win.


My School, My Choice announced that it has released a 2020 primary election Ohio voter guide. The group said it compiled the guide through a candidate survey so its members and supporters could understand the positions of legislative candidates on school choice issues. Their answers include a copy of the original survey sent to the candidates. Those who are not included in the results did not respond. A copy of the guide can be found at https://tinyurl.com/rnuxkvr.


As the state continues to respond to the first confirmed cases of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Tuesday that he has ordered all polling locations located in nursing or senior facilities to be moved elsewhere for the Tuesday, March 17 primary.


Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said it's a "moral disgrace" that U.S. and Ohio political leaders aren't doing more to address the number one fear among American children -- being shot at school. "I will do everything in my power, and I will never give up this fight until we stop the carnage that is occurring as a consequence of the NRA and gun manufacturers. If you stand with me, we'll pass laws to ban killer assault weapons and hold gun-makers liable. We can do this, and the reason we can is because of the moms standing behind me," the former vice president said during a Columbus campaign event at Driving Park Community Center, where he was joined by Moms Demand Action Founder Shannon Watts, Brady President Kris Brown and local gun violence survivor Crystal Turner.


Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders cancelled planned rallies in Cleveland Tuesday as a precaution against further spread of the coronavirus.


With one week to go until the Tuesday, March 17 primary, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said last Tuesday that 336,531 absentee ballots have been requested by-mail or in-person, and that 194,522 votes have been cast statewide.


The Oho Republican Party said Wednesday that it has sent a cease and desist letter to 65th House District candidate Joe Dills after it claimed he is sending mail to households in Clermont County claiming he has the state party's endorsement. The party's State Central Committee voted to endorse Dills earlier this year over former U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt for the Republican nomination for the seat, but pulled the endorsement after reports emerged of his use of the dating website Ashley Madison, which brands itself as a website for married people seeking affairs.


The following endorsements were made over the week:


  • Ohio Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) announced he is endorsing Joe Biden for president.

  • Communications Workers of America, District 4 endorsed U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) for Congress.

  • The presidential campaign of Joe Biden announced the endorsements of Richard Cordray, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Canal Winchester) and Reps. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati), Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati), Sedrick Denson (D-Cincinnati), former U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus, former U.S. Rep. David Mann, Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady, Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown, Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus, Hamilton County Commissioner Victoria Parks, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin, Columbus City Councilman Rob Dorans, Columbus City Councilman Emmanuel V. Remy, Columbus City Councilwoman Priscilla R. Tyson, Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin, Franklin County Clerk of Courts Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, Columbus City Auditor Megan Kilgore, Franklin County Recorder Danny O'Connor, Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz, South-Western City Schools Board of Education member Anthony Caldwell, Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith, Montgomery County Recorder Brandon McClain, former U.S. Attorney Ben Glassman, Ohio Young Democrats President Jen House, and Ohio Young Democrats Vice President Chris Anderson.

  • The presidential campaign of Democrat Joe Biden announced the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo).

  • Reps. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron), Kristen Boggs (D-Columbus), Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo), and Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester) endorsed Joe Biden for president.

  • The presidential campaign of Democrat Joe Biden announced the following endorsements: Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid); Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson); Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire); Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland); Sen. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights); Sen. Sean O'Brien (D-Bazetta); Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood); former U.S. Attorney and 2018 attorney general candidate Steve Dettelbach; Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, former ambassador to Malta; Cleveland council members Matt Zone, Kevin Kelley, Phyllis Cleveland, Kevin Conwell, Brian Kazy, Kevin Bishop, Joseph Jones, Kerry McCormack, Brian Mooney, and Kenneth Johnson; Cuyahoga Falls City Councilman Russ Balthis; Richmond Heights City Councilman Kim Thomas; Parma City School District Board of Education member Amanda Karpus; Parma Law Director Tim Dobeck; Lima Mayor Dave Berger; Wyoming Mayor Thaddeus Hoffmeister; former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman; Cincinnati Councilman Greg Landsman; Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon-Wozniak; Lorain County Commissioner Sharon Sweda; Xenia City Councilman Bishop Edgar Wallace; Forest Park Councilwoman Aharon Brown; Stark County Clerk of Courts Louis P. Giavasis; Ohio Senate candidate Daniel Brown; Ohio congressional candidate Ken Harbaugh; Cincinnati Board of Education member Ben Lindy; former Sen. Lou Gentile; former Rep. Johnnie Maier; former Mansfield City Councilman Don Bryant; Darrell Gammel, former political director of Ohio Building Trades; Herb Asher, professor emeritus at Ohio State University; Susan Saxbe, community arts advocate; and Fran Ryan, senior advocate for Franklin County Office of Aging.

  • The presidential campaign of Democrat Bernie Sanders announced the following endorsements: Rep. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood); Fairview Park Council President Michael Kilbane; Cleveland Councilwoman Jasmin Santana; Lima Councilor Jamie Dixon; Oxford Councilor Chantel Raghu; Newburgh Heights Councilwoman Gigi Traore; Akron City Board of Education Vice President N.J. Akbar; former Sen. C.J. Prentiss; former Barberton Councilwoman Shannon Wokojance; Columbus Area Commissioner Atticus Garden; Area Commissioner Rachel Wenning; Cleveland Pastor Kyle Earley; and Cincinnati activist Megan Anderson.


EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) released January jobs numbers Friday showing the state's unemployment rate was 4.1 percent, down slightly from the 4.2 percent reported for December, though the state's non-agricultural wage and salary employment decreased 6,300 over the month from a revised 5,591,900 in December to 5,585,600 in January. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released national unemployment numbers for February, showing the nation added 273,000 jobs over the month and that the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent from 3.6 percent in January.


ENERGY


House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) joined state and energy industry leaders Thursday in a groundbreaking for the Hillcrest Solar facility, the largest photovoltaic project in Ohio history. When completed, the 200-megawatt facility will power approximately 39,000 homes. It is Ohio's first utility-scale solar project and is part of its effort to use clean air resources. In July 2019, Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) into law, creating the Ohio Clean Air Program meant to facilitate and encourage electricity production.


ENVIRONMENT


American political leaders who ignore climate change science need to be held accountable at the ballot box for the planet to avoid disaster, according to former Gov. John Kasich, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Hollywood icon/former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "It is going to change when you will not tolerate any more politicians who want to put their heads in the sand. They will become afraid to go to a town hall meeting where they don't have an answer for this," Kasich told a crowd at Otterbein University. It hosted the launch for "World War Zero," a broad coalition of leaders in politics, business, national security, science, arts and entertainment who want to address climate change.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) said that the third phase of the Ohio Statehouse parking garage repair project begins on Monday, March 30. During Phase 3, the garage will remain in service, although at a reduced capacity. Approximately 25 percent or 300 spaces will be under construction throughout the entire project. Reserved spaces will be moved in this phase.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday signed HB158 (Blessing), legislation on driving privileges. It authorizes a court to grant limited privileges to an offender on a first offense for failure to maintain financial responsibility for a motor vehicle. The legislation also waives the filing fee on a petition for limited driving privileges for any individual whose license is suspended as a result of failure to maintain proof of financial responsibility and who qualifies as indigent.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


The Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) Business Relations Program recently was named a 2020 Harvard Innovations in American Government award finalist by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University. According to a release from OOD, the innovations award has been given out for more than 30 years and recognizes public-sector programs that make American government more efficient and effective in addressing social problems and providing public services. This year, the award program specifically sought out models of government innovation promoting economic opportunity for all.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Ohio State University (OSU) Friday announced that it has reached a monetary settlement in 11 of the 18 lawsuits filed against OSU by survivors of sexual abuse related to Dr. Richard Strauss, a university physician from 1978 to 1998.


Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced nearly $8 million in awards for Ohio's public colleges and universities as part of the Ohio Department of Higher Education's (ODHE) Regionally Aligned Priorities in Delivering Skills (RAPIDS) program. The program is meant to help public institutions purchase up-to-date equipment and increase students' job preparedness, according to a release from ODHE.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


Housing advocates Tuesday urged state and federal policymakers to take more aggressive action to reduce the shortage of 256,875 rental units that are affordable and available to extremely low-income Ohioans. According to a release, The Gap report, released jointly by the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, reveals a severe lack of housing for people working in low-wage jobs. In Ohio, there are only 44 rental units affordable and available for every 100 extremely low-income households.


JUDICIAL


The Ohio Supreme Court will decide whether a municipal tax on vehicles for hire violates the state's authority to impose an annual fee on vehicles licensed in Ohio, or whether Put-In-Bay's annual $50 levy on horse-driven cabs, pedi-cabs and similar modes of transportation is a legitimate exercise of its home rule power to tax business. Justices heard oral arguments in the case Tuesday.


The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct urges lawyers to advise clients on the inherent "risks" of pro se litigation as part of "limited scope" representation, in which attorneys provide some but not all services required by a specific legal matter. The conduct board has issued a new "Ethics Guide on Limited Scope Representation" following recommendations on "unbundled" legal services in the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on Access to Justice's final report.


Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor led a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday in awarding the lucrative surface mining industry a major win in its dispute with local officials

over the right to locate in parcels zoned for other commercial and residential purposes. The Court said boards of zoning appeals (BZA) must grant aggregate mining permits but may invoke restrictions to preserve "public health and safety."


MARIJUANA/HEMP


A medical marijuana dispensary company accused of misleading regulators about its ownership structure will donate $500,000 to the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS) as part of a settlement with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP), according to a copy of the agreement announced Friday.


NATURAL RESOURCES


Anglers interested in fishing Cold Creek in Erie County this year will need to enter a special lottery drawing conducted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. Those interested must enter the lottery by paying a $3 non-refundable fee by Tuesday, March 31, ODNR said in a news release. Approximately 100 adult permits and 90 youth permits will be issued. Only one application is allowed per person.


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) on Wednesday announced more than $2.8 million will be provided for 21 recreational trail projects through the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) has partnered with the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Park District to dedicate W. Pearl King Prairie Savanna -- a rare ecological landscape that is home to several threatened or endangered plant species -- as the 137th state nature preserve.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The Controlling Board Monday approved requests from the Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA) to help promote Ohio's tourism message in and outside of the state.


TOBACCO/SMOKING


A recent report from the American Cancer Society rating all 50 states on their tobacco prevention and cessation efforts gave Ohio high marks for its smoke-free laws and expanded Medicaid coverage but said the state should spend more on tobacco use prevention.


UTILITIES


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) opened an investigation Wednesday into PALMco Energy's alleged "unconscionable acts" and state enforcement officials' call for a $10.2 million fine against the New York-based firm -- the electric/natural gas provider's second commission complaint in eight months -- separately cancelling its scheduled "access to natural gas" forum due to COVID-19 fears.


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




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