Week In Review - March 7, 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 Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has been temporarily restrained by the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas from enforcing SB157 (Johnson-S. Huffman), an anti-abortion law that is due to go into effect on Wednesday, March 23. The decision grants relief requested by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Ohio, representing reproductive health care providers including Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region and Women's Med Dayton (WMD). The recently passed legislation would allow ODH to revoke ambulatory surgical licenses and "threatens to shut down procedural abortion services in Southwest Ohio."


Obtaining a medication abortion would be more difficult in Ohio under legislation proposed by Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City). Huffman said the "Ohio Chemical Abortion Safety Act" is necessary because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently removed the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone, also known as the abortion pill. The FDA still requires the drug to be prescribed by or under the supervision of a certified health care provider who meets certain qualifications.


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


Four companies involved with prescription opioids announced finalization of a national settlement agreement with states to address fallout of the addiction crisis, but Ohio's separate deal with those same companies was agreed to months ago. According to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, the national deal does not affect Ohio's agreement, nor does it affect the amount of money coming to the state.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) is now accepting applications for the 2022 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. To qualify for the grants, projects must raise awareness about and increase demand for specialty crops grown in Ohio. Eligible specialty crops include both fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. For more information on the 2022 program, available forms, or a copy of the request for proposal, visit ODAg's website at https://agri.ohio.gov/divisions/markets/resources/SCBG.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


While the dental care of children may often be overlooked, oral health issues can lead to a range of other health problems in adult life, according to oral health experts who presented at Monday's Ohio Legislative Children's Caucus meeting. The meeting was the first led by the caucus' new co-chair, Rep. Monique Smith (D-Fairview Park), who replaces new House Minority Leader Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington). Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) also co-chairs the caucus. Marla Morse, program director at Oral Health Ohio, described how interconnected a person's oral health is to their overall health. When discussing the topic, "it is important to have a lifespan perspective," she said. Tooth decay in children is a chronic condition that typically lasts into adulthood and can have wide-ranging effects on a person's health, leading to increased risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory issues and even adverse birth outcomes among pregnant women, Morse said.


CORONAVIRUS


The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday that it was easing mask guidance, ending the recommendation for universal school masking but recommending masks be worn in communities at a high level of risk. The CDC classifies low, medium and high risk based on community spread and strain for hospitals; data updated Thursday showed 15 Ohio counties were at a high level. They include Champaign, Clark, Gallia, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Logan, Meigs, Morgan, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Van Wert and Washington counties. The CDC also listed 20 Ohio counties at a low level, including Carroll, Columbiana, Erie, Fairfield, Hancock, Hocking, Holmes, Huron, Lorain, Medina, Miami, Portage, Sandusky, Seneca, Shelby, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, Vinton and Wayne. The remaining 53 counties are at the medium level. A full map of Ohio counties by CDC risk level is available at https://tinyurl.com/y2n29fkx.


While January marked a historic level of new cases, February's case numbers were on par with the previous year -- 72,995 in February 2022 and 71,630 in February 2021. It was the lowest number of cases since July 2021, which had 14,096 through its first 28 days. August had 78,655, for comparison, and subsequent months all had at least 100,000 cases. At its end, February also had a total of 4,993 hospitalizations and 508 ICU admissions reported by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), along with 3,509 deaths reported over eight update days. From Jan. 1-28, there were 10,476 hospitalizations, 930 ICU admissions and 3,624 deaths. In total, there have been 2.65 million cases, 112,363 hospitalizations, 13,229 ICU admissions and 36,580 deaths reported by ODH during the pandemic.


Columbus Public Health recommended Monday that the city lift its ordinance requiring mask use in indoor public spaces next week. The local agency said it was based on new guidance from the CDC


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Lawmakers should expand Ohio's "Good Samaritan" law and remove the ability of judges to veto a prisoner's transfer to transitional control, according to Ohio Office of the Public Defender (OPD) Legislative Policy Manager Niki Clum. Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association (OPAA) Executive Director Lou Tobin disagrees, saying both of those provisions in criminal justice reform bill SB288 (Manning) should be rejected. Clum and Tobin were two of several individuals who testified during Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on SB288, which focused on the wide-ranging bill's Good Samaritan, transitional control and speedy trial provisions.


Two Republican auditors now face public corruption charges and possible suspension from office after the Ohio Supreme Court appointed three retired judges to weigh allegations by the Ohio Attorney General's Office and Ohio Auditor of State's Office. The Ohio attorney general has secured a five-count indictment for bribery, unlawful interest in a public contract, unlawful use of authority and conflict of interest, with penalties ranging between a first-degree misdemeanor and a third-degree felony and up to three years in prison, against Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds. Meanwhile, Pike County Auditor Kayla Slusher is an insurance professional in her private life whom Ohio Auditor Keith Faber has linked to the disappearance of $2,600 in public funds. His Special Investigations Unit is prosecuting her on three counts of theft in office and one count of misuse of credit, with penalties ranging from a fourth-degree penalty to a first-degree misdemeanor and up to 18 months in prison.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


Chris Berry, president of nonprofit OhioX, and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted discussed how the state's venture capital (VC) climate has improved for local startup companies in the past 10 years during a virtual forum. Husted said they have gone from $121 million in VC investments in 2013 to over $2 billion in 2021. A "State of Startups" report released at the forum said that was the third consecutive year in which Ohio companies received more than $1 billion in VC investment as well. Berry also told the audience that five regional venture development organizations (VDOs) around Ohio have helped tech-based companies to generate "a $10 billion impact and more than 10,500 jobs created [from 2016 to 2020]."


Gov. Mike DeWine's administration announced Wednesday the approval of tax credits for 13 mixed-use development projects expected to result in more than $2.1 billion in new payroll and spur over $1.4 billion in investments across the state. The projects will be located in Canton, Cleveland, Columbus, Delaware, Elyria, Hamilton, Mentor, Newark, Van Wert and Wooster. They are part of the first round of the Transformational Mixed-Used Development Program, created by 133-SB39 (Schuring). A second round will open in the "coming months." The Ohio Tax Credit Authority (TCA) approved a total of $100 million in tax credits for the projects, which include construction or redevelopment of more than 5.8 million square feet of transformational space. Projects were recommended by the Ohio Department of Development (DOD), which administers the program.


Gov. Mike DeWine's administration announced Wednesday the approval of assistance for six projects expected to create 1,937 new jobs and retain 2,597 jobs statewide. During its monthly meeting, the Ohio Tax Credit Authority (TCA) reviewed economic development proposals brought by JobsOhio and its regional partners. The projects are expected to collectively result in more than $104 million in new payroll and spur more than $117 million in investments across Ohio.


EDUCATION


The Ohio Supreme Court referred Dublin City Schools and a parent dissatisfied with the district's explanations for its COVID protocols to mediation in a lawsuit over access to public records. Julia Fix, an attorney and parent to a Dublin student, filed suit against the district and Superintendent John Marschhausen. Fix's complaint describes how district parents started asking for information about the district's plans for the resumption of school last fall, and how it arrived at those decisions, charging they were often "rebuffed" by the district. She further argues the district "bungled" the rollout of protocols by, for example, announcing a mask recommendation but days later converting it to a mandate but with exemptions for high school students.


Officials from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and State Board of Education (SBOE) gave a legally required overview of proposed rules to implement the 5-star report card system Tuesday to the education committees of the House and Senate. Chris Woolard, interim chief program officer for ODE and previously the lead accountability official at the department, gave the bulk of the presentation, introduced by Interim Superintendent Stephanie Siddens, SBOE President Charlotte McGuire and Paul LaRue, chair of the board's Performance and Impact Committee, which last month voted to recommend rules to put the 5-star system into effect. Under HB82 (Jones-Cross), which implemented the new system, the SBOE is required to adopt rules for the report card by the end of this month, and before such adoption must present proposed rules to the General Assembly committees on education.


A select group of educators met Tuesday to start developing recommendations for the SBOE as it considers what criteria teachers must meet to be qualified to provide the expanded financial literacy lessons called for in SB1 (Wilson-McColley). Signed by the governor in October, SB1 requires that, beginning with freshman entering this fall, all high school students must complete a half-unit of financial literacy instruction, either as an elective or in lieu of a half credit of math. Students at chartered private schools are exempt if they attend without the assistance of a state scholarship program. Starting in the 2024-2025 academic year, teachers will need a special license validation in financial literacy in order to provide this instruction, unless they are already licensed to teach social studies, family and consumer sciences or business education.


Steve Dackin, a one-time finalist to become state superintendent and the board's point person on the search for a new one, has resigned as vice president of SBOE to make another bid for the top job at ODE. Dackin's application materials were among those submitted ahead of a Tuesday, March 1 deadline and provided to Hannah News, along with dozens of others.


The public comment period is now open for revisions to the model curriculum for computer science, ODE announced Wednesday. Interested parties have through the end of the day on Friday, March 18 to complete a public comment survey on changes on the model curriculum. The survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KRKGP28.


ELECTIONS 2022


Lawmakers used legislation meant to curtail state regulatory restrictions Wednesday to appropriate $9 million in assistance for local elections officials grappling with the chaos of Ohio's contentious and heavily litigated processes for drawing new General Assembly and congressional district lines. Democrats unsuccessfully sought to use the opportunity to delay the primary to make other election law changes.


The House attached an amendment moved by Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) to include the funding in SB9 (McColley-Roegner), which seeks to have state agencies reduce the load of regulatory restrictions within their administrative rules by 30 percent by the end of FY25. Secretary of State Frank LaRose praised the General Assembly for adding the funding to SB9.


Wasting little time following the Legislature's afternoon approval of additional funding for elections in SB9 (McColley-Roegner) and the morning approval of a new set of congressional district maps by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, Secretary of State Frank LaRose Wednesday night issued a directive to county boards of elections to include congressional candidates on the May 3 ballot. This directive was similar to the one he issued over the weekend regarding the primary election for members of the Ohio General Assembly. LaRose provided the county boards with the new congressional district data based on the map adopted that morning, along with instructions to take immediate action to reprogram their voter registration system by incorporating the updated congressional district boundaries and to follow updated procedures for filing and signature validity for congressional races. The directive also provides guidance for candidates who wish to file petitions to run for the U.S. House.


The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio announced the endorsement of Nan Whaley in the gubernatorial race.

  • #VoteProChoice announced the endorsement of Morgan Harper in the U.S. Senate race.

  • Democracy for America announced the endorsement of Nina Turner in her congressional race.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Jane Timken announced the endorsement of the Madison County Republican Party.

  • The congressional campaign of Emilia Sykes announced the endorsement of Emily's List.

  • The gubernatorial campaign of Jim Renacci announced the endorsement of We the People Convention President Tom Zawistowski and of the Butler County Republican Party.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Josh Mandel announced the endorsement of 114 pastors from across Ohio and of U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC).

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Tim Ryan announced the endorsement of Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb.

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Matt Dolan announced the endorsements of Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer, Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville and Mount Vernon City Councilmember Amber Keener.

FEDERAL


U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) continued to respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine Friday, with Brown joining other members of Congress to call for oil releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) and Portman proposing further sanctions, military aid and refugee support.


A nurse and the widow of a soldier who had been exposed to burning trash pits while serving in Iraq were to be guests of First Lady Jill Biden at the State of the Union address Tuesday evening. Refynd Duro of Galloway is a progressive care unit nurse at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. According to the White House, "Duro has been treating patients with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and at times has had to quarantine away from her family because of her job, including her four-year-old son." The other guest from Ohio was Danielle Robinson of Columbus, the surviving spouse of Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson. The White House said he was serving on active duty as a combat engineer in the Ohio National Guard when he was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder and stage 4 lung cancer. He passed away in May 2020.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Three people submitted applications to House Republicans by Monday's deadline to express interest in replacing former Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Westerville), including his predecessor. Carfagna officially resigned from the 68th District Seat over the weekend to take the role of vice president of government affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, a move he announced weeks earlier. Applicants included former Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl of Fredericktown, who left the House because of term limits at the end of 2016, and who previously held this seat; Beth Lear of Galena, vice president of government affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors; and Shawn Stevens of Sunbury, owner of a title company and former member of the Delaware County Board of Elections.


Wednesday, the House voted 73-13 to approve HB60 (Brent-Seitz), which adds autism spectrum disorder to the list of qualifying conditions that can get someone access to medical marijuana in Ohio. Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) likened the legislation to other "right to try" legislation on medical treatments, saying many of the other pharmaceutical treatments come with harmful side effects. Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) said some Ohioans in need of medical marijuana for this purpose are already getting it by leaving for other nearby states where it is already legal.


The House voted unanimously to approve legislation securing people's rights to visit loved ones in hospitals during health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic while also specifying the conditions hospitals can require for such visits, like symptom screening and use of personal protective equipment.


Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery), a minister, said his HB324 was inspired by two women from the church he pastors who died without being able to see family members or receive his pastoral counseling in the final moments. "We don't want there to be more stories like Shirley and Wilma's," he said, referencing the two women whose names the legislation bears.


The House also voted on the following measures on Wednesday:

  • HB27 (Patton), to increase penalties for unsecured loads, passed 76-9.

  • HB88 (Patton), to require licensure for commercial contractors, passed 69-15.

  • HB430 (Cross), meant to facilitate communications on safety when development happens near energy pipelines, passed 91-0.

The Commission on Eastern European Affairs and the Office of Eastern European Affairs would be created under legislation passed by the Senate on Wednesday. The Senate voted 32-1 to pass SB46 (Yuko-Rulli), with Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) casting the lone "no" vote.


The Senate voted 25-8 to adopt SCR14 (Schaffer), which urges Congress to allow children under 16 years old to work between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. during the school year. Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) said the change would help businesses recover from the pandemic, while Sen. Theresa Fedor (D-Toledo) said the resolution sends the wrong message, as children already have the important job of performing well academically, and they need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night.


The Senate unanimously voted to pass the following bills Wednesday:

  • HB136 (Lipps), which expands Medicaid's coverage of chiropractic services. That bill now heads to the governor's desk.

  • HB158 (Baldridge), which prohibits the use of Class B firefighting foam containing intentionally added PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. The bill is headed to Gov. Mike DeWine's desk as well.

  • SB239 (Blessing), which deals with qualifications for professional treatment staff.

  • SB249 (Wilson), which creates a regulatory sandbox program for novel financial products and services.

In other action, the House Civil Justice Committee reported out HB518 (Hoops), which creates the Fulton County Municipal Court in Wauseon; and HB531 (Ghanbari), which deals with county prosecutor legal services; the Senate General Government Budget Committee reported out SCR11 (Yuko-Dolan), which urges Congress to designate the Kol Israel Foundation Holocaust Memorial a nation memorial; the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out SB199 (Blessing), which revises the guardianship law; the House State and Local Government Committee reported out HB422 (Fraizer-West), which deals with unpaid municipal utility and other services; and the Senate Health Committee reported out HB138 (Baldridge), which deals with the scope of emergency medical services.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, co-chairs of the presidentially-appointed Council of Governors, issued a statement Friday condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and expressing their commitment to work with federal and international leaders to stand against the invasion. "At the direction of President Vladimir Putin, Russian forces have invaded Ukraine in violation of international law. This is unacceptable, and all freedom-loving people should stand against this unprovoked invasion," DeWine said.


Bills signed over the week include the following:

  • HB4 (Plummer-Manchester) addresses county child abuse and neglect memorandums of understanding, cross-reporting of child abuse and neglect reports by public children services agencies to law enforcement agencies, notification of reporter rights, home assessor eligibility, and creation of the youth and family ombudsman office.

  • HB229 (Wilkin-Swearingen) provides a qualified immunity to camp operators for harm arising from a risk inherent to camping and exempts sites that host historical reenactor camps from the recreational and camping operation license requirements.

  • SB181 (Gavarone) permits student religious expression in interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities.

  • HB37 (Manning), regarding emergency prescription refills.

  • HB238 (Hicks-Hudson-Crawley), which designates July 28 as Buffalo Soldiers Day.

  • SB105 (Sykes-Schuring), which requires political subdivisions to recognize state certifications of minority business enterprises, women-owned business enterprises, and veteran-friendly business enterprises.

Appointments made during the week include the following:

  • Judith M. Black of Byesville (Guernsey County) to the Zane State College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Feb. 25, 2022 and ending July 31, 2024.

  • Ben Mitchell of Glenford (Perry County) reappointed to the Hocking Technical College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Feb. 25, 2022 and ending Aug. 26, 2024.

  • Diana Gueits of Avon (Lorain County) to the Commission on Minority Health for a term beginning Feb. 25, 2022 and ending Sept. 2, 2023.

  • Jerry Ray Strausbaugh of Ashland (Ashland County) to the Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board for a term beginning Feb. 25, 2022 and ending Oct. 10, 2024.

  • Joseph Edward Quackenbush of Newark (Licking County) and Barbara Jean Wadsworth of Brunswick (Medina County) to the Board of Nursing for terms beginning Feb. 24, 2022 and ending December 31, 2023.

  • Gina Fay Woods of Canal Winchester (Fairfield County) and Tiffany Knepper of Orwell (Ashtabula County) to the Board of Nursing for terms beginning Feb. 24, 2022 and ending Dec. 31, 2025.

  • James E. Samuel of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed and Thomas F. Vorisek of Gahanna (Franklin County) appointed to the Wildlife Council for terms beginning Feb. 25, 2022 and ending Jan. 31, 2026.

  • Constance E. Hausman of Medina (Medina County) reappointed to the Forestry Advisory Council for a term beginning Feb. 28, 2022 and ending Feb. 27, 2026.

GUNS


The House followed passage of its own version of permitless concealed carry legislation in November with approval of the Senate version Wednesday, quickly gaining the other chamber's concurrence as well and sending the measure on to Gov. Mike DeWine's desk. Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro), chair of the House Government Oversight Committee, said SB215 (Johnson) "restores the people's right to keep and bear arms without intrusive government overreach. … This bill puts the law-abiding citizen on a little more equal footing with those who do not care about the law and who do not respect the law," he said.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Nationwide Children's Hospital Tuesday said it has formally assumed ownership of Mercy Health - Children's Hospital in Toledo after the two hospitals had worked collaboratively over the last two years. The Toledo hospital will now be known as Nationwide Children's Hospital - Toledo. Nationwide Children's Hospital and Mercy Health - Children's Hospital became affiliates on Jan. 1, 2020. Nationwide Children's Hospital said the two hospitals advanced subspecialty pediatric physician recruitment, enhanced continuing medical education and improved care coordination for families in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Wright State University (WSU) announced it will offer a three-year undergraduate nursing degree starting this fall in an effort to allow students to enter the workforce more quickly. The three-year degree program is advantageous for both students and the community, Wright State noted. Wright State nursing graduates can start their careers faster and area hospitals can fill critical bedside positions more quickly, said interim Provost Oliver H. Evans.


Ohio State University (OSU) announced that Charlene Gilbert will join the Office of Academic Affairs as senior vice provost of student academic excellence, and professor in the Department of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, effective Monday, April 4. Gilbert is currently dean of the University of Toledo's College of Arts and Letters, where she has served since July 2017. During her tenure, the college has seen record-high retention rates, graduation rates and external research funding.


Members of the House Higher Education and Career Readiness Committee heard from John Langell, president of the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), during their Tuesday meeting. The committee has been hearing ongoing presentations from higher education leaders around the state. Langell discussed NEOMED'S achievements as well as various workforce initiatives. NEOMED, established in 1973, is the state's newest public university, and it is the only one solely focused on the health sciences and health care workforce development, Langell said. The university has three colleges for pharmacists, doctors, anesthetists, public health experts and research scientists.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


Experts involved in affordable housing development Wednesday urged adoption of a uniform process to value such properties to cut down on costly and inefficient valuation challenges, but said valuing them based on market rents would throttle the building of affordable units in Ohio. The Federally Subsidized Housing Study Committee, created in the budget bill, heard from Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) Executive Director Shawn Smith; Tony DiBlasi, executive vice president of the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing; and Mark Snider, an attorney with Porter Wright Morris & Arthur versed in property tax issues.


JUDICIAL


"The United States of America is the greatest beacon of hope and democracy the world has ever known."


With this statement, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals introduced herself to the nation Friday as President Joe Biden's first nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Biden described Jackson as a "daughter of former public school teachers, a proven consensus-builder, an accomplished lawyer, a distinguished jurist on one of the nation's most prestigious courts" and "a brilliant legal mind with the utmost character and integrity."


MARIJUANA/HEMP


Nearly 225,000 patients are registered in the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP). Specifically, there were 224,611 patients registered in the program through January 2022, OBP said in its updated patient and caregiver numbers document. Of those registered patients, 16,184 are military veterans, 17,751 are classified as "indigent" and 1,006 have a terminal illness. In total, Ohio physicians have issued 424,118 recommendations to use medical marijuana since the beginning of the program.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is looking to showcase the work of 4-H students to celebrate this year's Earth Day on Friday, April 22. The department is seeking proposals for student-led programs to take place at participating Ohio State Parks. To find a list of participating parks and to apply go to https://tinyurl.com/2jm5yvbm. The deadline to apply is Monday, March 14. Those interested should contact Alyssa Yaple at alyssa.yaple@dnr.ohio.gov with any questions about project proposals. Winning proposals will receive recognition at ODNR's Natural Resources Park at the 2022 Ohio State Fair.


Ohio's 2021-22 deer hunting season concluded Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022, with 196,988 deer checked, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Ohio's average harvest compiled from the past three seasons is 184,746 deer. The final totals represent all deer harvested during archery, gun, muzzleloader, and youth hunting seasons that began on Sept. 25, 2021. Since September, hunters harvested 96,209 deer with archery equipment, while 79,805 deer were taken with firearms during the 2021 weeklong and two-day gun seasons. In addition, 12,141 deer were harvested with muzzleloaders in January 2022. Youth hunters found success during the November 2021 youth season with 7,634 deer checked.


Jeffrey Klinefelter's painting of three lesser scaup, a type of diving duck known for its distinctive blue bill, was selected as the winner of the 2022 Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp Design Competition, the ODNR Division of Wildlife announced. Klinefelter's painting will be displayed on the Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp that is issued in the fall of 2023. Judges selected Klinefelter's painting from a field of six original pieces of artwork. Klinefelter, from Indiana, is a six-time winner, most recently in 2019.


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry has approved grant funding for 57 projects totaling $394,274 for fire departments in rural areas of the state through the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) Grant program.


POLLS/STUDIES


Significant percentages of likely voters from both parties are still undecided in the upcoming primary elections for U.S. Senate and governor, according to a new poll from Emerson College and The Hill.


The survey shows 39 percent of Republican primary voters are undecided in the race for U.S. Senate, while 36 percent of likely GOP voters are undecided in the gubernatorial race. In the race to fill outgoing U.S. Sen. Rob Portman's (R-OH) seat, businessman Mike Gibbons leads the Republican primary with 22 percent, followed by former Treasurer of State Josh Mandel with 15 percent.


On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) leads with 31 percent, while tech executive Traci Johnson has 8.6 percent and attorney/community organizer Morgan Harper gets 3.7 percent. LaShondra Tinsley, a former case manager with the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services who announced a run for U.S. Senate but didn't make the ballot, got 5.1 percent in the poll.


PUBLIC SAFETY


The DeWine administration has added another sheriff's office to those certified under law enforcement standards developed by the Ohio Community-Police Collaborative Advisory Board, leaving 21 counties that have yet to achieve state compliance for use of force, including deadly force, and agency recruitment and hiring. Six of those have no certified agency of any kind, including sheriffs' offices. The Ohio Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) announced first-time certification of the Portage County Sheriff's Office Friday, bringing to 67 the number of sheriffs that have fully adopted statewide policing standards.


The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) joined the 6-State Trooper Project to enforce speed, safety belts, and OVI on Interstate 75. The trooper project ran from 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 18 to 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 20, during which time troopers cited 396 drivers for speed and 37 for safety belts and charged 11 drivers with OVI.


REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT


The Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC), Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ohio (CAIR-Ohio) and Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), along with individual petitioners, filed a motion late Thursday, Feb. 24 to intervene in the federal lawsuit Gonidakis et al v. Ohio Redistricting Commission and Frank LaRose.


House Minority Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Sen. Vern Sykes (D-Akron), Democratic members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, previously filed a motion to intervene, as did the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute of Ohio. The motion to intervene by OOC, CAIR-Ohio and OEC argues that the lawsuit "endangers their interests in having fair maps drawn for Ohio voters, as their case in the Ohio Supreme Court is ongoing." The petitioners are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and Reed Smith.


In redistricting action late Friday afternoon, Feb. 25, the Ohio Supreme Court announced that the "show cause" hearing called by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor for Tuesday, March 1 for members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission to appear before the Court was continued. In addition, Justice Sharon Kennedy filed her dissent to the "show cause" hearing, saying that such orders require the assent of at least four justices. Justice Pat Fischer also dissented without an opinion.


The plaintiffs in all three lawsuits against General Assembly maps adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission objected Monday to the third set of legislative maps adopted by the commission, arguing that the commission ignored anti-gerrymandering language in the Ohio Constitution as well as the Ohio Supreme Court's guidance after it rejected the first two sets of maps. The objections were just the latest in the battle over redistricting and come as Secretary of State Frank LaRose directed boards of elections to start preparing for the May 3 primary using the latest set of maps, and as the association representing elections officials asked legislative leaders to delay the primary for all contests. In their filings Monday, the plaintiffs made many of the same arguments that Democrats made in voting against the plan the previous week. Particularly, they argued that the new maps are even more of a disadvantage to Democrats than previous plans because many districts have a Democratic advantage from 50 to 52 percent, making them more of a tossup race, while no Republican district has that close of a margin in its political index.


The Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission responded Thursday to the latest objections by plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging General Assembly plans, saying those who are suing the commission are moving the goalposts and urging the Ohio Supreme Court not to declare any other plan constitutional. The two Democratic members of the commission, however, accused the Republican majority of "weaponizing" the upcoming May 3 primary date in order to get an unconstitutional plan adopted. The commission, on a 4-3 vote, adopted the latest General Assembly plan a week ago, with Republicans saying it meets the 54-18 proportionality the Court ordered when the previous maps were rejected, as well as reduces the number of Democratic districts that are indexed between 50 and 51 percent. Plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging previous plans objected on Monday, saying the majority is ignoring anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Ohio Constitution as well as the Court's guidance on drawing a fair map. Thursday was the Court-ordered deadline for commission members to file responses to those objections, and unlike the last time when Attorney General Dave Yost clashed with the Democratic members of the commission over who could respond to the objections, members of the commission and the commission as a whole submitted five separate responses. The only member who did not submit a response was Auditor Keith Faber, who voted against the most recent plan, saying it was gerrymandering for Democrats in order to reach a proportionality goal.


The Ohio Redistricting Commission Wednesday passed a new congressional redistricting plan along party lines, making a couple of small changes to the plan first introduced by Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) on Tuesday while rejecting two Democratic proposals. The Republican map would favor Republicans in 10 districts, Democrats in three, and has two toss-up districts that lean slightly Democratic. The issue is likely headed back to the Ohio Supreme Court, which rejected the first map that was passed as a part of SB258 (McColley). Republicans said they remedied the concerns of the Court in Wednesday's map, particularly splits of Cuyahoga, Hamilton and Summit counties. What happens next will be up to the Court, which will likely receive a challenge to the new map. Huffman said the new proposal introduced Wednesday was basically the same as Tuesday's map but made changes to the Central Ohio-based 15th and 3rd districts to make sure incumbents Mike Carey and Joyce Beatty live in their districts in the newly drawn map, as well as places Beatty's main district office within the district boundaries. In Hamilton County, small changes were made to the 1st and 8th districts to eliminate subdivisions splits. It still contains the city of Cincinnati as well as all of Warren County.


STATE GOVERNMENT


Former chief policy advisor Nicole Dehner of the Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) assumed leadership of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) division Monday after seven years as chief legal counsel to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. Public Safety Director Tom Stickrath announced the appointment of Dehner, who also led regulatory compliance at the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) under former Gov. John Kasich and the Crimes Against Children Initiative under former Attorney General Mike DeWine after previous stints at DPS and the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office. She replaces former OCJS director Karhlton Moore, who started his new job Monday as director of President Joe Biden's Bureau of Justice Assistance at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).


TELECOMMUNICATIONS/BROADBAND


BroadbandOhio released a new mapping resource Tuesday that "more accurately shows how many of the state's households are connected to high-speed Internet" and provides a better look at availability gaps. It can be found at https://broadband.ohio.gov/view-maps, and includes profiles for all 88 counties. BroadbandOhio previously released a map of existing service that includes counties and the legislative districts in place for 2012 to 2022. The map on availability gaps used 15 months of speedtest records to measure four different Internet speeds in Megabits per second (Mbps): under 10, under 25, under 50 and 50 to 100 or more. This supplements the other currently available data to provide more information to the public, state and federal officials, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other stakeholders.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


Gov. Mike DeWine and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed a new memorandum of understanding Monday for the two states to work together to build a new Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River. The agreement is nothing new as the states have sought to fix the aging structure that now carries twice the capacity of vehicles as it had been designed for. DeWine said it is the sixth iteration of the document. But this time, the governors said federal funding as a part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden will help build the bridge, and Beshear said it will be without tolls as previous agreements called for.


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission (OTIC) has fired the driver who plowed snow, ice and slush over a median divider into oncoming traffic in Erie County last month.


The House Criminal Justice Committee adopted several amendments Thursday to distracted driving measure HB283 (Abrams).


UKRAINE


Gov. Mike DeWine declared Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, a statewide "Day of Prayer" for the people of Ukraine following Russia's unprovoked invasion of the country. Additionally, the governor said he has directed the state Department of Commerce to cease the purchase and sale of all vodka made by Russian Standard until further notice.


Ohio's U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, together with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), on Tuesday introduced legislation to revoke free trade privileges from Russia and other countries that invade sovereign nations. The "No Trading with Invaders Act" would automatically revoke Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) for any Communist, or formerly Communist, country that commits an act of aggression against another member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It also would permanently reauthorize the "Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act," which authorizes the president to impose sanctions on individuals and entities involved in major human rights abuses and acts of corruption -- one of may steps Portman had outlined for reporters in a conference call that he said could still be taken against Russia.


Attorney General Dave Yost issued a letter to the leaders of Ohio's public pension funds strongly urging them to dump assets in Russian companies in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Gov. Mike DeWine said the state would not enter contracts with Russian businesses and called on the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation to divest assets from its investment portfolio "as soon as possible." "This is a matter of moral imperative, for Russia's aggression must not be supported with Ohio capital -- particularly the retirement assets of Ohio public employees, some of whom are of Ukrainian descent. One of Ohio's retirement systems has approximately $112 million in Russian investments; I'm sure others have significant holdings. If every state were to equally divest, billions of dollars would be removed from Russia's economy," Yost wrote. "Beyond the demands of morality, the pension systems have legal exposure. Russia shows no signs of backing down, and the severe pressure of its economic isolation in a globalized economy will degrade the value of virtually any Russia-based asset. These securities will continue to decline in value as they have over the last week. Widespread bankruptcies seem a likely outcome -- an outcome in which our Ohio public pension systems and their members should not share."


The Senate unanimously adopted SR258 (Gavarone-Yuko) condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. "The people of Ohio stand with the people of Ukraine in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin's savage invasion of his neighbor," Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) said. "There is simply no excuse for his actions. With this resolution, the Ohio Senate is making it clear that we stand with President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine. War in Europe is an unthinkable atrocity in this day and age. Americans have paid a heavy price to secure and keep the peace there, and we speak with one voice in letting Putin know we will not tolerate his butchery."


Gov. Mike DeWine ratcheted up efforts to prevent Ohio government funding from supporting Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion Thursday, signing an executive order that directs divestment "to the extent practical" for state agencies, boards and commissions, educational institutions and retirement systems. His order, 22-02D, also directs agency procurement officers to have specified contract language that prohibits the purchase of services from or investments in Russian institutions or companies. Quotations, statements of work and other proposals for work also must affirm meeting this criteria, his office said.


Spectrum announced this week that it is waiving charges for certain customers for all calls to Ukraine through the end of March. The announcement affects customers of Spectrum Voice and Spectrum Mobile. The company said it is waiving the charges to help customers communicate with friends and family affected by the conflict in Ukraine.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council (UCMIC) Co-Chair Rep. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) gave an overview of the latest draft of the final report during the council's meeting Wednesday, saying it now includes details on the "legislative response" through HB568 (Fraizer-Merrin) and a forthcoming Senate bill, along with results of investigations and state audits. UCMIC's meeting was the first since Nov. 4, and the previous draft report was approved in early August. Fraizer said they had since received a performance audit and another focusing on unemployment fraud from the auditor of state's office. An update from the P3 team set for the next UCMIC meeting may be included in the final report as well.


UTILITIES


The Ohio Manufacturers' Association (OMA) and Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) pushed back Wednesday on a "competitive power plan" model in HB317 (Wilkin), which they branded as a reboot rather than an actual "reform" of electric security plans (ESP) from the 14-year-old energy omnibus 127-SB221. OMA counsel Kim Bojko said the current bill, like most energy legislation in the Ohio General Assembly, is an "electric monopoly's policy wish list" rather than serious, consumer-conscious legislation.


Bokjo, an energy partner with Carpenter Lipps & Leland, and Jeff Jacobson of Strategic Insight Group, speaking for OCC, told the House Public Utilities Committee that HB317 falls well short of the electric utility overhaul Ohio needs.


The Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) has taken the rare step of asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's (PUCO) legal director to certify its appeal to the commission concerning the disputed work product of FirstEnergy auditors, who say they generated no findings on FirstEnergy's ill-fated "distribution modernization rider" (DMR) over the course of four fiscal quarters following Oxford Advisor's midterm report of June 2019. The consumers' counsel finds that claim problematic, to the extent Oxford issued a previous quarterly report of Oct. 16, 2018. Administrative Law Judge Gregory Price has confirmed the auditor's duty to produce "quarterly interim updates" and its responsibility to the commission as a quasi-staff subordinate. Price, however, has declined to grant OCC's subpoena of Oxford's work product between June 14, 2019 and Feb. 26, 2020, when commissioners led by former Chairman Sam Randazzo dismissed the case without a final report.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


The DeWine administration Friday put its imprimatur on the 10 percent rate cut for private employers in the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) state insurance fund that was announced in January. Businesses and other nongovernmental workplaces will pay $106 million less in overall premiums in the fiscal year starting Friday, July 1. BWC's Board of Directors approved the average 10 percent cut, which will vary across rate classes, individual employers' claims history, and projected claims by industry. The administration said the average 10 percent decrease reflects declining injury claims and "relatively low" medical inflation costs.


The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) announced Wednesday that Walt Stubbings has been hired as the agency's new director of investments. He joined the BWC's investment division on Jan. 31, assuming many of the duties and responsibilities of Co-CIO Lee Damsel, who retired on Jan. 31. BWC said Stubbings has extensive and diverse financial experience with proven investment management expertise. His solid record of results in fixed-income portfolio management and trading along with his background in equities, real estate, and commodities make him a valuable addition to the BWC team, the agency said in a statement.


WORKFORCE


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the latest application period for the TechCred program will run March 1-31. This is the 13th round for the program, which launched in October 2019. Further application periods will be bimonthly as follows: May 2-31, July 1-29, Sept. 1-30 and Nov. 1-30.


Results for the January round of TechCred applications were announced Thursday, with Husted saying 370 Ohio employers were approved for funding that will provide 4,434 tech-focused credentials. The 12th round saw 116 new employers approved for the first time. In total, 1,728 employers have been approved for funding to support 36,703 credentials.

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


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