Week In Review - March 28, 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.


ABORTION


The preliminary injunction hearing on anti-abortion law SB157 (Johnson-S. Huffman) has been moved to Friday, April 15 at 11 a.m., according to a filing from Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alison Hatheway. "The court will extend the temporary restraining order (TRO) to April 15, 2022," Hatheway wrote, noting the parties agreed to delay the hearing due to scheduling conflicts. If not for the TRO, SB157 would have gone into effect on Wednesday, March 23.


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


The DeWine administration said Monday it's launched a pilot drug education program -- the Drug Resilience Education Awareness Mentorship (DREAM) program -- in several elementary schools which offers videos for students, including a series with prominent Ohioans acting as role models to deliver positive messages on hard work, the dangers of using or abusing drugs, and the importance of never giving up on dreams. In the first round of videos, elementary school students interview U.S. National Team gymnast Shilese Jones; Erin Bender, executive director of The Point at Otterbein University; and Angela Gould, media specialist at Glacier Ridge Elementary. Also available are instructional videos for educators on how to implement the program in class, and informational videos for families to aid in discussing sensitive topics. The videos are available at www.dream.ohio.gov.


AGRICULTURE


Rock band Foreigner, country music singer Scott McCreery and R&B group Dru Hill with singer Raheem DeVaughn will headline concerts at the 2022 Ohio State Fair, state officials announced Monday.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


The Ohio Attorney General's Office has launched regional trainings through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) in conjunction with five partnering institutions around the state. "OPOTA Close to Home" is rolling out with new course offerings at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Kent State University in Kent, Clark State College in Springfield, Hocking College in Nelsonville and Great Oaks Career Campuses in Cincinnati.


FY23-24 CAPITAL REAPPROPRIATIONS/APPROPRIATIONS


The capital reappropriations bill, HB597 (Oelslager), passed unanimously in the House after remarks by Reps. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) and Bride Sweeney (D-Cleveland). Oelslager discussed how reappropriations were constitutionally necessary for previously approved projects to continue and talked about the effects of the pandemic on the projects' schedule. The bill reflects that Ohio is in a "very strong fiscal position" and well below the Ohio Constitution's 5 percent debt service limitation.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


The General Assembly's Black Maternal Health Caucus highlighted Thursday the positive effects of a Franklin County program that used housing assistance as a means to address infant mortality, with program supporters expressing hope the General Assembly will put American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward expansion to other communities. The Healthy Beginnings at Home program was initially implemented by CelebrateOne, which coordinates efforts to address infant mortality in Columbus and Franklin County. It provided rental assistance and housing stabilization services to participants.


CORONAVIRUS


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Thursday that Ohio and the U.S. appear to have put the most recent COVID-19 surge behind them, but the pandemic has a "real habit of throwing us curveballs" and so worldwide trends need to be monitored. As an example, he discussed the Omicron variant's surge in Europe, largely driven by the subvariant BA.2. The two are related and hold similar severity, but BA.2 appears to be more contagious. Vanderhoff added that it is rare to see an infection of BA.2 after contracting the BA.1 subvariant that hit the U.S. first, which means natural immunity overlaps to the newer subvariant.


CORRECTIONS


Earned credit and transitional control programs are two of the most effective methods to reduce recidivism, former Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Director Gary Mohr told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. "Research -- including three years of study conducted by the University of Cincinnati in every one of Ohio's prisons evaluating all programs identified as 'evidenced-based' -- has clearly established what reduces future crime in the community and violence inside prisons," Mohr said during proponent testimony on criminal justice reform bill SB288 (Manning). "That brings me here today to support this legislation. The foundation for my support comes from my belief that how a person spends time in prison should matter," he continued. "Earned credit is a critical public safety tool, and SB288's provision to expand earned credit will lead to significant safety benefits both for our Ohio communities and inside our prisons."


EDUCATION


Enrollment in Ohio K-12 schools is expected to decline for the next several years as a result of the pandemic, Senior Planning Manager for the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) Joe Macneil told the commission Thursday. Macneil explained how enrollment projections are formulated and what they mean for schools. He said the state uses them to determine how many students are likely to be at a school in five to 10 years' time. That not only affects the size of a school but also the budget for it. Major inputs into this formula include factors like historical enrollment data, which are also used to determine the retention rate or cohort rate at a school, and the last 15 years of live births within the district.


A group of parents who use Ohio's EdChoice scholarship to send their children to Catholic schools are the latest to seek official party status in the lawsuit from several school districts challenging the constitutionality of the voucher program. The districts filed suit early in the year, alleging EdChoice violates the constitutional mandate for lawmakers to provide a "common" school system, as well as the prohibition on giving control of education funds to religious groups.


Thursday marked a quarter century since the March 24, 1997 Ohio Supreme Court ruling in DeRolph v. State, in which the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state was not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide "a thorough and efficient system of common schools." The Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which spearheaded the litigation, observed the anniversary and likened the case to its new fight over the constitutionality of the EdChoice voucher program. William Phillis, head of the coalition, said in a statement that state leaders have made progress but not fully answered the lawsuit.


ELECTIONS 2022


A Republican candidate for secretary of state left off the ballot over petition defects lost her bid in the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn that decision. Terpsehore Maras' petitions were rejected by many counties' boards of elections for lack of an accompanying declaration of candidacy, leaving her short of signatures needed to qualify as a candidate. Secretary of State Frank LaRose then declined to certify her candidacy. In a unanimous, unsigned opinion issued Friday, justices denied Maras' request.


Unlike last week's U.S. Senate Republican primary debate, Tuesday night's Nexstar debate didn't feature vulgar insults or any of the candidates' threatening to start a physical altercation. However, the top five contenders to replace U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) continued to verbally attack one another in the hour-long televised debate, with all of them seeking to tie themselves to former President Donald Trump -- even Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls). Dolan, investment banker Mike Gibbons, former Treasurer of State Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken and author J.D. Vance answered a variety of questions from NBC4's Colleen Marshall and FOX 8's Joe Toohey during the program. Asked to explain the confrontation during the previous debate, Mandel said, "I'm a fighter. I'm a Marine, and I'll never back down from a fight." Gibbons, noting that his son is a U.S. Navy pilot, characterized the situation as a "disagreement over what the private sector is."


The secretary of state's office this week sent a letter to Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Blystone's campaign highlighting more than two dozen issues in his 2021 campaign finance filings, including contributions that appeared to be in excess of limits and expenditures missing a purpose. Among the issues the audit found were several cash contributions above $100 that are prohibited under Ohio law. The office said that the campaign will have to refund those amounts above $100 and listed a number of contributors, with the total of all the questioned contributions over $100,000.


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley Wednesday announced her agenda for Appalachian Ohio, which includes rolling out universal broadband through the region and addressing the opioid crisis.


ENERGY


Ohio Citizen Action's Power a Clean Future Ohio (PCFO) coalition, noting the hundreds of billions of dollars for green energy, smart grids and carbon reduction in the Biden administration and Congress' Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), is launching the Infrastructure Grant Assistance Program (IGAP) to help jurisdictions and institutions compete for federal IIJA funding.


FirstEnergy is asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to overrule its administrative law judge and reject the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) and Ohio Manufacturers' Association's (OMA) "intrusion" into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) investigation of the company and its ties to energy subsidy 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin). The utility is appealing Administrative Law Judges Megan Addison and Jack St. John's grant of OCC and OMA's motion to compel release of FirstEnergy documents, communications and "data sets" supporting FERC's audit findings. PUCO had ruled last summer that parties to its investigation of the company's "political and charitable spending" would have to wait until the federal agency had finished the audit before ordering the company to disclose information sought by OCC and others. Federal officials issued the audit last month and have now given FirstEnergy until Tuesday, April 5 to identify a wide range of misreported customer charges for refund beyond its now-infamous political contributions.


ENVIRONMENT


The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) recently issued air quality revenue bonds for $18.6 million to finance the development of a sustainable residential building in the Hyde Park area of Cincinnati in Hamilton County. The development project, 3660 Michigan LLC, is part of PLK Communities. It is the first efficiently designed whole-building project to be approved as an air quality facility through the Clean Air Improvement Program (CAIP), according to OAQDA.


GAMING/GAMBLING


The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) has submitted its second batch of sports betting rules to the Common Sense Initiative (CSI). The rules address Type A (mobile sportsbook) licenses, Type B (brick-and-mortar sportsbook) licenses, mobile management services provider licenses and management services provider licenses. The rules also deal with sports gaming equipment approval/testing, sports gaming systems, location-based technology providers and the process by which the commission can approve or restrict sporting events and wager types.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Governors, state lawmakers, members of Congress, jurists, former staffers and many others joined family of the late Speaker William G. Batchelder III for a Columbus memorial service Tuesday to recall his faith, principles and wit. In front of hundreds who packed the Statehouse Atrium, he was frequently described as a lifelong learner and a man whose faith guided him always, with a preference for the rough-and-tumble House over the staid Senate. Though speakers at time fought through tears, the tales of his life and experiences more often drew laughter from the crowd. "It's fair to say he did not love government, but he loved the Ohio Legislature -- OK, he tolerated the Senate," said his son, William Batchelder IV, who delivered the eulogy.


The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee Tuesday heard presentations on the operations of three state boards as part of the General Assembly's ongoing occupational licensure review. Under 132-SB255 (McColley), legislative committees are assigned to periodically review licensure requirements. The House began its review last October in the House State and Local Committee, with recommended revisions wrapped into HB509 (John-Fowler Arthur). Members of the Senate committee heard from Elizabeth Moore, executive director of the State Chiropractic Board; Gregg Thornton, executive director of the Ohio Speech and Hearing Professionals (SHP) Board; and Brian Carnahan, executive director of the Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist (CSWMFT) Board.


The Ohio House passed HB487 (T. Young) Wednesday to modernize the ballot and printing procurement statutes for county boards of elections, as described by sponsor Rep. Tom Young (R-Centerville). However, the bill's emergency clause failed by a 58-37 vote. An attempt by Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) to delay the 2022 primary election to June 28 via an amendment to the bill was tabled by a 62-33 vote as well. HB487 passed by an 82-13 vote.


Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) spoke in favor of SB47 (Brenner-Peterson), calling it "business-friendly" and saying it would "modernize Ohio's overtime statute" to incorporate a common law doctrine laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court. This would provide clarity on what is subject to overtime pay and what is not. The bill was passed by a 56-37 vote, with Republican Reps. Scott Oelslager (North Canton), Nino Vitale (Urbana), Ron Ferguson (Wintersville), Diane Grendell (Chesterland) and Jennifer Gross (West Chester) joining Democrats in opposition.


Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) also spoke in favor of his HB434, the Advanced Nuclear Technology Helping Energize Mankind (ANTHEM) Act. He said it had three goals of enabling the state to obtain "delegated authority" from the U.S. Department of Energy, address issues on managing spent fuel and leverage the need for new research and development reactors on medical isotope production. Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) voiced support, saying there were concerns about nuclear production but also benefits and that he hoped the bill would be a bridge to a green future. The bill was passed on a 75-18 vote.


Two other bills passed with near unanimous support. HB509 (John-Fowler Arthur), revising occupational regulations, received a 92-1 vote with Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) voting against it. HB537, which designates Feb. 12 as "Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Day," received a 93-1 vote with Rep. Bill Dean (R-Xenia) voting no.


In other action, the House Health Committee reported out HB431 (Schmidt-Liston) which establishes a stroke database; the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB403 (Fowler Arthur-A. Miller) which deals with teachers' retiring under threat of investigation; and HB583 (Bird-Jones) which addresses educator licenses for substitute teachers; the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee reported out HB584 (Grendell) and HB589 (Ferguson), highway naming bills; the House Ways and Means Committee reported out HB515 (Hoops-Riedel) which enacts an income tax exemption; HB519 (Roemer-Lanese) which modifies the municipal income tax law; and HB482 (Cutrona-Edwards) which creates a Tax Fraud Study Commission; the House Insurance Committee reported out SB256 (Wilson) which seeks to modernize insurance law; the Senate Health Committee reported out SB278 (Peterson) which designates a "Burn Awareness Week"; and the House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB276 (Powell-Schmidt) which addresses issues around prostitution; HB390 (Lanese-John) which addresses sexual assault exam kits; and HB504 (Carfagna-Johnson) which deals with disturbances at religious gatherings.


GOVERNOR


Judicial appointments made during the week include the following:


David M. McNamee was appointed to the Xenia Municipal Court in Greene County. McNamee, of Sugarcreek Township, will assume office on Monday, April 11, 2022, and will be taking the seat formerly held by Judge Ron Lewis, who was appointed to a different bench. McNamee must run for election in 2023 in order to complete the unexpired term ending Dec. 31, 2025.


Robert G. Hanseman and Kimberly A. Melnick were appointed to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, General Division. Hanseman, of Washington Township, will assume office on Monday, April 11 and will be taking the seat formerly held by Judge Greg Singer, who retired. Hanseman will run for election in 2022 in order to complete the remainder of the unexpired term ending July 1, 2025.


Melnick, of Dayton, will also assume office on Monday, April 11 and will be taking the seat formerly held by Judge Michael Krumholtz, who retired. Melnick must run for election in 2022 in order to complete the remainder of the unexpired term ending Jan. 4, 2025.


GUNS


Both homicides and suicides have significantly increased in Ohio over the past two decades, as have the proportion of those deaths involving firearms, according to a recently released analysis by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO). Between 1999 and 2020 (the most-recent year in which data is available), suicide deaths in Ohio increased 49 percent from 1,102 to 1,644, and homicides increased 123 percent from 450 to 1,004, according to the analysis. The percent of homicides in which a firearm was used has also risen steadily over those two decades. In 1999, HPIO said a firearm was used in 57 percent of homicides, by 2020 that percentage increased to 82 percent, the greatest proportion of any year in the last two decades. In 2019, 78 percent of homicides involved a firearm and in 2018 that figure was 72 percent. In 2020, a firearm was used in 54.9 percent of suicides.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Ohio Dominican University (ODU) recently announced its plans to launch a new Bachelor of Science in Data Science during the upcoming fall 2022 semester. The Columbus university said the new major is meant to help address a workforce shortage due to industry growth as well as an expanding talent gap.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


Ohio saw the same level of home sales in February as it did a year earlier, but with a double digit increase in average prices, according to Ohio Realtors. The state saw 9,382 sales in both February 2022 and 2021, but the average sales price in the more recent month was $235,359, an 11.9 percent jump from February 2021's average of $210,379.


IMMIGRATION


President Joe Biden's immigration policy has hit a major roadblock after a federal judge in Ohio ruled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has no legal authority to ignore Congress by releasing illegal aliens from detention during deportation hearings and by delaying their removal after deportation is ordered. The temporary injunction against the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) discretionary policy around detention and deportation "demands uniform application across the country," says Judge Michael Newman of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio's Western Division in Dayton. "All Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staff must follow the policy," he ruled Tuesday.


JUDICIAL


Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor recently joined Democrats in a split high court ruling, though not dealing with redistricting maps. The 4-3 Supreme Court says mineral rights to land acquired through the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund cannot be transferred without Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC) consent, even if oil and gas drilling does not impact the property's green space. Led by Justice Jennifer Brunner, the Court ruled that the oil and gas lease and sale of mineral rights to 228 acres in shale-rich Belmont County for more than $3.9 million was improper and subject to repayment of the $430,000 Clean Ohio grant, liquidated damages up to roughly $1 million payable to the state of Ohio, and other common law remedies for disputed land easements under the 2000 constitutional amendment creating the conservation fund.


Talawanda High School in the Miami University town of Oxford has won its first mock trial championship against "Ohio's most dominant program," the Ohio Supreme court announced. The Talawanda "Brave" defeated Indian Hill High School in its first final appearance after losing 2021's semifinal to the Cincinnati powerhouse. Indian Hill, a six-time champion, has been a finalist nine times in the past 20 years.


Investors suing FirstEnergy answered a federal court's high-noon demand for the identity of current or former executives and officers who approved 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) bribes Wednesday with a short list of names: former CEO Chuck Jones and former Senior V.P. for External Affairs Michael Dowling. On Tuesday, Judge John Adams of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio's Eastern Division in Akron charged plaintiffs' counsel with a string of red herrings in attempting to conceal principal parties behind the roughly $60 million in company payments to an entity associated with former House Speaker Larry Householder and another $22 million to former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Sam Randazzo.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT


Townships Tuesday testified against legislation that would limit the ability of local entities to regulate short-term rentals such as the ones found through websites including VRBO and Airbnb. HB563 has been introduced by Reps. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Rock Creek) and Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville), who said in their sponsor testimony that local governments have been placing burdensome regulations or outright bans on short-term rentals. They also said the bill allows property owners to retain their constitutional right to use their property as they see fit. Those testifying against the bill in the House State and Local Government Committee said local governments are the best to address the issues, with some pointing to complaints residents in their areas have made against such rentals.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The House Government Oversight Committee heard opponent and interested party testimony Thursday on the bill to change Ohio law regarding medical marijuana, SB261 (S. Huffman). Several witnesses had previously testified in the Senate Small Business and Economic Opportunity Committee.


NATURAL RESOURCES


Research conducted jointly by the University of Toledo (UT) and Queen's University in Kingston found that current water guidelines don't do enough to address the salinity of freshwater ecosystems caused by road de-icing salts, agriculture fertilizers, mining operations and climate change. The research, conducted in collaboration with dozens of scientists across North America and Europe, shows significant damage is being done to freshwater lakes by salt concentrations that are below ranges government regulators have deemed safe and protective of freshwater organisms.


PEOPLE


Dr. Catherine Krawczeski has been named chief of the Department of Pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital (NCH). Krawczeski will also serve as chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University (OSU) College of Medicine, pending approval from the OSU Board of Trustees. Krawczeski is expected to assume her new roles in Summer 2022, according to NCH.


The group U.S. Term Limits recently announced that Bernie Moreno, Ohio businessman and former candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, will serve as its Ohio state chair. According to the group, "Moreno brings a depth of both private and public service to this role. He has seen first-hand the need for term limits at the federal level and will work tirelessly in his role as Ohio state chair to see that Ohio adopts a resolution for term limits."


PUBLIC SAFETY


The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) on Friday released a new dashboard devoted to seatbelt enforcement and education. The "Safety Belt Dashboard" is a detailed view of unbelted crashes across Ohio and the work that troopers around the state are doing to ensure motorists are buckled up. The dashboard can be viewed at http://www.SafetyBeltDashboard.ohio.gov.


The DeWine administration announced a multi-agency webinar on human trafficking awareness hosted by the Governor's Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. The Tuesday, March 29 webinar will be co-hosted by the Ohio Division of Emergency Medical Services (Ohio EMS) and the State Fire Marshal's Office and joined by the Ohio Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) and the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC). EMS and fire personnel will learn more about the nature and prevalence of sex and labor trafficking in Ohio and how to identify and respond to human trafficking.


The state recently announced a partnership between the Ohio Traffic Safety Office (OTSO) and the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) to raise awareness about the resources available to help teens drive safely. OTSO houses the Teach Your Teen to Drive (TYTTD) website, which includes links to short videos for teens to learn how to safely enter and exit a highway, change lanes, and manage intersections. Other links feature a guide with tips and tricks to prepare for behind-the-wheel practice, Ohio driving laws and requirements, and a tool to help families track their progress and record which driving environment their teens need more practice with. The website can be found at https://tinyurl.com/54jbr3ym.


REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT


Secretary of State Frank LaRose told legislative leaders and the governor in a letter Friday that the federal Department of Justice approved the plan enabled via SB11 (Brenner), which authorized a delay in the deadline for sending military and overseas ballots to Tuesday, April 5, with provisions for expedited delivery of the ballots and up to 20 days post-election for them to arrive at boards of elections. However, LaRose's office said the directive prohibiting the sending of ballots until further notice remains in effect. In the letter, he said sending of those ballots will be delayed, though is still expected to be complete by April 5.


Separately, LaRose filed a memo in federal court Friday saying it's "prudent" to appoint a three-judge panel that could act in the event state-level proceedings fail again to produce legislative maps. Several hours later, such a panel was appointed. The plaintiffs in that case are a group of Republicans including Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis and former Rep. Margy Conditt. Late Friday, Judge Algenon Marbley lifted his stay and Chief Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals appointed Marbley, Sixth Circuit Judge Amul Thapar and U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Beaton of Western Kentucky to serve on the panel in the case.


Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling on state legislative districts drew a call from Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) for the removal of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. "It's time to impeach Maureen O'Connor now," he wrote on Twitter. Conservative activist Tom Zawistowski also sent out a message urging people to call lawmakers to encourage her impeachment. Other Ohio media, including the Columbus Dispatch and Ohio Capital Journal, reported further discussion among lawmakers on the topic. At a separate press conference Friday on broadband assistance, Gov. Mike DeWine addressed the calls to impeach O'Connor. "I think it's always dangerous, no matter how much we disagree with judges or Supreme Court justices," DeWine said of attempts to erode an independent judiciary. "Not a good idea."


Monday saw a flurry of activity on redistricting as the Ohio Redistricting Commission voted to retain two independent consultants to help draw new General Assembly maps, two of the commissioners asked the Ohio Supreme Court to delay the primary, and a new challenge was filed in the Ohio Supreme Court to challenge the newest congressional map. Monday evening's commission meeting saw Sykes put forward University of Florida professor Michael McDonald as their choice for mapmaker, while Cupp put forward Douglas Johnson of the National Demographics Corporation.


Rep. Allison Russo (R-Upper Arlington) and Sen. Vern Sykes (D-Akron) Monday filed a motion with the Ohio Supreme Court seeking to have the Court move the May 3 primary to June 28, "or to any other date that indisputably allows sufficient time for the commission to adopt and implement a new, constitutional set of maps." In their filing, the Democrats pointed to a federal case on the General Assembly redistricting maps where plaintiffs filed a motion Monday asking a three-judge panel to implement the third redistricting plan struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court last week. That motion noted the proximity of the primary. However, on Thursday, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously denied the Russo-Sykes motion to move the primary.


Secretary of State Frank LaRose late Wednesday issued a new directive ordering county boards of elections to remove candidates for the Oho House, Ohio Senate, and state central committees from the primary ballot, saying it is not possible to include those contests on the May 3 ballot in the wake of the Ohio Supreme Court's most recent decision striking down the third General Assembly plan adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. In his directive, LaRose also noted a separate federal lawsuit seeking to have the third redistricting plan to be used for the primary, but said as of Wednesday, the federal court has not made a decision. Likewise, the General Assembly has not changed the date of the election, he said. The directive orders the races to be removed from May 3 primary ballots, as well as from Uniformed Services and Overseas Citizens' (UOCAVA) ballots that are to be sent no later than Tuesday, April 5.


In other action, the commission unanimously approved Catherine Geyer and Scott Coburn to mediate issues that arise during the creation of the fourth set of General Assembly maps. Geyer and Coburn both serve as circuit mediators under U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jeffrey Sutton, and their services are being provided free of charge. Geyer, the chief circuit mediator for the court, said the Sixth Circuit's mediator program is one of the longest-running programs in the country. She also noted that her department mediates about 600 cases per year. However, she told House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) that her department has never handled a redistricting case before.


The Ohio Redistricting Commission is now officially scheduled to meet every day through the Ohio Supreme Court's deadline to finish the fourth set of General Assembly maps on Monday, March 28. That means there are sessions set for Saturday and Sunday, March 26 and 27.


Outside mapmakers hired by the Ohio Redistricting Commission to assist the process of drawing a fourth round of Ohio General Assembly maps -- University of Florida Prof, Michael McDonald and Douglas Johnson of National Demographics Corporation -- made their first appearance before the panel Wednesday evening, with the commission approving guidance for those mapmakers to work under at that time. The commission did not have any questions for them, though they did answer questions as the commission went through the rules under which the mapmakers will work. Under the rules, the mapmakers will work in public view with the designated workspace located in Statehouse Hearing Room 116. The Ohio Channel will livestream the process whenever they are working in the room on three to four different cameras.


Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit backed by the former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) refiled their challenge to the latest congressional map passed by the commission earlier this month. The Ohio Supreme Court had dismissed the challenge last week on procedural grounds, saying it had ended its jurisdiction when it ruled in January, but told plaintiffs they could file a new lawsuit. The new lawsuit was filed by a number of Ohio voters against Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima), and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), in their official capacities, as well as the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Responding to the new case, defendants said Tuesday that the 2022 primary election is already underway using the new map and that any action by the Court should be deferred until after the 2022 election cycle. Ohio Redistricting Commission Wednesday told the Ohio Supreme Court that the justices' moving the May 3 primary election until June or later would violate the Ohio Constitution, the Ohio Revised Code, and separation of powers inherent in the Ohio Constitution. Plaintiffs in the case, however, argued differently, saying the Court has the power to move the primary date for General Assembly offices, but also said the Court may await the results of its orders directing the commission to draw a fourth plan before ordering the primary move. In a separate filing, Secretary of State Frank LaRose called the motion to move the primary date "a thinly-veiled attempt to circumvent the power of the General Assembly and to achieve an alleged strategic advantage" in a federal case to implement the third redistricting plan. He said the Court lacks the authority to grant the relief the Democrats are looking for.


On Tuesday, plaintiffs including the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) filed a new, separate challenge to the congressional maps. However, they are asking the Court to implement remedies in time for the 2024 congressional election rather than the current election. However, on Wednesday, Andre Washington, the Ohio state president of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute (APRI), said his group believes the congressional map passed by the Ohio Redistricting Commission would harm Ohio voters immediately and must be remedied prior to the 2022 election. He said APRI is withdrawing from the lawsuit. Specifically, this lawsuit asks the Court to make changes to districts in Hamilton and Franklin counties ahead of the 2024 election.


STATE OF THE STATE


Ohio should upgrade and expand community mental health treatment, invest in state parks and natural areas and prioritize the development of its Appalachian communities, Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday in his "State of the State" before a joint session of the General Assembly. The governor at first took a victory lap on priorities and good news from his first three years in office, including the Intel chip manufacturing announcement, water quality investments through H2Ohio and support for child welfare and health. He then turned to plans for the investments in mental health, parks and Appalachia, as well as advocacy for enactment of new laws on public safety and crime. The event put the Ukrainian fight against Russian invaders front and center as well. "On behalf of the people of the state of Ohio and all who love freedom, I say in salute, glory to Ukraine," said DeWine at the beginning of his speech, shortly after the invocation was delivered by a Ukrainian priest, Bishop Bohdan Danylo of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat. DeWine also paid tribute to the late Speaker of the House Bill Batchelder, inviting Judge Alice Batchelder, his wife of several decades, and other family members to come forward.


Majority leadership in the General Assembly sounded generally positive tones Wednesday on the initiatives Gov. Mike DeWine previewed in his "State of the State" speech on mental health, state parks and Appalachian development. Like DeWine, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said improving the mental health system will help people unlock their potential and participate in the workforce. "There's a lot of reasons to do that besides simple compassion for our fellow man," he said.


However, key Democratic legislators -- Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights), House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) -- expressed disappointment at what they did not hear in the speech. They also argued Democrats have in fact been the ones enabling Ohio's recent strides via billions in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and a new bipartisan infrastructure law passed by Congress. "The Democrats' American Rescue Plan came at the right time to combat the virus and revive Ohio's economy," said Yuko. They did, like Huffman and Cupp, express general support for the areas in which DeWine pledged investment.


Gov. Mike DeWine's "State of the State" address elicited reactions from advocacy organizations, politicians and other entities across Ohio on Wednesday.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS/BROADBAND


Gov. Mike DeWine announced three quarters of a billion dollars in broadband investments Friday to move over a third of the state into the 21st Century and provide locals and transplants new opportunities in rural and Appalachian Ohio. Joined by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, DeWine said grants of $232 million to 11 Internet service providers in 31 counties will be more than doubled by matching industry dollars and additional investments, bringing reliable, affordable broadband to nearly 100,000 households in underserved areas.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


State leaders were on hand Monday for the grand opening of Honda's latest Ohio operation, a $124 million wind tunnel at the new Honda Automotive Laboratories of Ohio (HALO) facility at the independent Transportation Research Center. According to Honda, the facility includes the world's most advanced wind tunnel, with three testing functions for aerodynamics, aeroacoustics and racing.


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission (OTIC) launched a new two-year apprentice program designed to increase diversity and inclusion among the ranks of its maintenance roadway workforce. OTIC Executive Director Ferzan Ahmed mentioned the new program during his report to the commission on Monday. Eight apprenticeships -- one per maintenance building -- are available through the "Maintenance Worker Class II Roadway Trainee" development program, which requires the trainees to sign a two-year agreement, Ahmed said. The commission also appointed Jennifer Rieker as its new general counsel. She has served as the deputy general counsel of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority for the past three years.


UTILITIES


Ohio's largest generation company joined the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and PJM Power Providers (P3) Tuesday to warn state senators of recent decisions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that could force Ohioans to subsidize other state's energy policy preferences. The Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee hosted a panel including Director Lori Sternisha of PUCO's Office of Federal Energy Advocate, P3 President Glen Thomas, and Chief Economist J. Arnold Quinn of Vistra Corp. Panelists said FERC changes over the past 14 months to the wholesale capacity market's minimum order price rule (MOPR), which stabilizes electricity prices by shielding competitively generated power from subsidized energy, is threatening Ohio and other states in PJM Interconnection's 13-state region that have largely deregulated electric production.

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


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