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Week In Review: March 9, 2020

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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Legislation prohibiting abortion except when necessary to save the mother's life was introduced Tuesday as HB538 (Becker), anti-abortion organization Ohio Right to Life (ORTL) announced. The "Human Life Protection Act" would take effect only if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which held that a woman's choice to end her pregnancy is protected by her constitutional right to privacy.

In a mostly party-line vote, the Senate Wednesday adopted legislation that will prohibit abortion-inducing drugs from being prescribed through telehealth services. Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) described his SB260 as a matter of safety for the patient. Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) argued against the bill, saying telemedicine is becoming increasingly popular and the technology improves constantly.


Attorney General Dave Yost affirmed a distinction between those who sell sex against their will and those who do so willingly Monday, announcing eight arrests in a Trumbull County human trafficking sting. He said multiple state and local authorities had partnered to target individuals who buy sex online.

Attorney General Dave Yost took a step toward his goal of making Ohio the "most aggressive state in the union in combating illegal robocalls" by announcing a new Robocall Enforcement Unit on Wednesday.

Ohio has joined a 45-state appeal urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the right of individual states to fight rising prescription drug costs with new regulations on reimbursement rates, "gag" orders, and other forms of "self-dealing" by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Attorney General Dave Yost is among 46 attorneys general, including the District of Columbia's, that have filed a friend-of-court brief supporting Arkansas's appeal of an 8th Circuit decision to overturn that state's minimum drug reimbursement rates. In a win for the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), the appeals court found the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 bars state efforts to regulate PBMs.


In a party-line vote Monday, the Ohio Ballot Board split a proposed elections reform constitutional amendment, "Secure and Fair Elections," into four separate issues. The board also certified a proposed amendment limiting Ohio legislators to a 16-year lifetime term limit as one issue. The proposed elections reform amendment was submitted by Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections and backed by the ACLU of Ohio, and would put a number of election-related provisions in Ohio's Constitution, including automatic voter registration, guaranteed early voting periods and same-day registration, among other provisions. The campaign group responded with a lawsuit Thursday, saying the split violates Ohio Supreme Court precedent set in 2010 on a case involving the health care freedom amendment that's not part of the Ohio Constitution. But the group also filed with the attorney general's office for approval of four petition summaries on the issue as split by the board.


Major tax revenue sources exceeded estimates by nearly $40 million, and timing issues pushed the overage to more than $100 million in February. The state is almost a quarter billion dollars ahead of forecasts for this fiscal year so far, according to preliminary data for the month from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM).


The Children Services Transformation Advisory Council on Tuesday began to draft some of the recommendations that could end up in its final report to Gov. Mike DeWine, focusing the day's deliberations on prevention, practice and workforce topics.


The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 7-0 Thursday that state law allows federal agents to electronically surveil Ohioans in the county where a cell phone call is placed or any county where the agent is monitoring the conversation.


Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and former Gov. Ted Strickland joined Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) and the Ohio Catholic Conference Wednesday to announce a new bipartisan effort to end the death penalty in Ohio. A reintroduction of legislation Antonio has sponsored every General Assembly since 2011, the pending bill now will be jointly sponsored by Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) and matched by bipartisan legislation in the House, where Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) has voiced interest in abolishing state-sponsored executions in favor of life in prison without parole.


JobsOhio followed up on its "best year yet" in 2018 with its second-best year for new payroll commitments and third-best year for capital investment in 2019, according to the annual report released Friday. These successes came amid new leadership by President and Chief Investment Officer J.P. Nauseef and Board of Directors Chairman Bob Smith, as well as other new board members.


The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) reports that its testing assessment vendor, the American Institutes for Research (AIR), has been acquired by Cambium Learning Group so AIR Assessment will now be known as Cambium Assessment, Inc.

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria chose cut scores slightly above the "basic" performance level as the new "competency" threshold for Algebra and English assessments under Ohio's new graduation requirements for the classes of 2023 and beyond.

Families and schools suing over delay in the state's EdChoice application window on Monday again urged the Ohio Supreme Court to expedite their case.

Emergency plans that schools are required to submit to the state should include responses to flu and other disease outbreaks as a best practice, and the Ohio Department of Education is encouraging schools to review their plans in light of the spread of coronavirus.

Preschools set in the natural environment should be licensed separately from traditional preschools, Cleveland Metroparks Preschool Administrator Beverly Walborn said Wednesday. "Right now, all the licensing policies refer to indoor preschools, and not to outdoor preschools," Walborn said during the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) 2020 Wildlife Diversity Conference on Ohio State University's campus. Her organization, called Ohio Nature-Based Early Childhood Education, is a group of educators that either currently participate in a program or would like to do so.

An Ohio Department of Education (ODE) panel assigned to establish a framework for how to educate the "whole child" held a broad discussion Thursday morning, with members discussing what supports schools and community partners can provide to keep students engaged and willing to challenge themselves in the classroom. The Whole Child Advisory Group brought together more than 40 teachers, administrators, school counselors, educational service center officials and other service providers to provide input on high-level concepts to guide the work of the department until a June meeting where members will discuss how to implement services.


The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday threw out a lower court ruling finding Ohio's absentee ballot request deadline for jailed electors is unconstitutional, with the appeals court ruling that the state's interests are important and weighty enough in setting the deadline that it overcomes the "moderate burden" that the deadline places on confined electors. The appeals court reversed the lower court ruling granting summary judgement to two plaintiffs as well as the decision to give class status to the lawsuit.


The Tuesday, March 17 primary ballot features numerous lawmakers looking to land offices in local government, some even the same positions they occupied before coming to the Statehouse. Current members of the General Assembly on the ballot include Reps. John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake), running for Lake County commissioner; Steve Hambley (R-Brunswick), running for Medina County commissioner; Gary Scherer (R-Circleville), running for Pickaway County commissioner; Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek), running for Greene County commissioner; and John Becker (R-Cincinnati), running for Clermont County commissioner; and Sen. Dave Burke (R-Marysville), who is running for Union County commissioner. In Summit County, Rep. Anthony DeVitis (R-Uniontown) is running for Summit County Council.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose Tuesday said that 243,719 absentee ballots have been requested by mail or in-person and that 84,149 have been cast statewide as of Monday, March 2. Of the 243,719 requested absentee ballots, 40,442 were requested in person and cast. Another 43,707 have been cast by mail, with 159,570 outstanding absentee ballots.

Two Democrats running for Ohio Supreme Court outraised the Republican incumbents in the previous reporting period, though both trail in overall cash on hand. Thursday was the deadline for candidates on the Tuesday, March 17 primary ballot that have spent or received $1,000 or more between their last report and Feb. 26 to file their pre-primary campaign finance reports. The legislative caucuses also reported their activity for the upcoming primaries. While fundraising was lighter, spending was heavier, with the Republican caucuses looking to defend their incumbents from primary opponents.

The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • The presidential campaign of Democrat Joe Biden announced the endorsements of former Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Warrensville Heights).

  • Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio endorsed Sen. Vern Sykes (D-Akron) and Reps. Phil Robinson (D-Solon), Kent Smith (D-Euclid), Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights), Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland), Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland), Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland), Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood), Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland), Adam Miller (D-Columbus), Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus), Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester), Beth Liston (D-Dublin), David Leland (D-Columbus), Allison Russo (D-Columbus), Erica Crawley (D-Columbus), Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati), Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati), Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati), Sedrick Denson (D-Cincinnati), Emilia Sykes (D-Akron), Tavia Galonski (D-Akron), Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson), Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo), Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo), Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon), Thomas West (D-Canton), Michelle Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) and Randi Clites (D-Ravenna) for reelection.

  • The Ohio Senate campaign of Bill Reineke announced the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.


Ohio has set another record for natural gas output and narrowly missed the previous high mark for oil production, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) reports in new "fracking" numbers for the Utica shale region. Horizontal drilling in the final months of 2019 beat the previous, third-quarter record by 11 billion cubic feet of natural gas and year-over-year figures for Q4 2018 by nearly twice that.


The Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC) is now accepting applications through Wednesday, April 1, for its 13-month Legislative and Media Production Fellowship Program. The commission will hire 24 fellows to serve in the Ohio General Assembly during 2021.

In addition to passage of a measure to prohibit prescription of abortion-inducing drugs via telemedicine, Wednesday's Senate session included passage of SB212 (Schuring), regarding neighborhood development areas; and SCR7 (Craig-Antonio), urging support of the "Screen at 23" campaign for diabetes; and rejection of House amendments to SB9 (S. Huffman), regarding health plan information.

In other legislative action, Senate Finance Committee reported out SB89 (Maharath), which would create the Ohio Asian-American and Pacific Island Affairs Commission; and Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee reported out SB252 (Hackett-Craig), regarding treatment coverage for stage four advanced metastatic cancer.


Family members and legislators crowded the Statehouse Rotunda Wednesday as Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB276 (Ghanbari), a bill meant to honor distinguished veterans and community leaders with several road-naming and highway designations. "It's a highway bill and that may not sound so exciting, but behind each highway that is being named is an individual -- an individual who served our country," DeWine said in opening remarks.

Appointments made during the week include the following:

  • Deborah A. Feldman of Dayton (Montgomery County) to the Miami University Board of Trustees for a term beginning March 1, 2020 and ending Feb. 28, 2029

  • Amitoj Kaur of West Chester (Butler County) to serve as a student member on the Miami University Board of Trustees for a term beginning March 1, 2020 and ending Feb. 28, 2022.

  • Scott A. Wilkes of University Heights (Cuyahoga County) to the Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board for a term beginning Feb. 28, 2020 and ending Oct. 10, 2022.

  • Joseph S. Geig of Blacklick (Franklin County) to the Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board for a term beginning March 9, 2020 and ending Oct. 10, 2022.

  • Benjamin J. Burkam of Dublin (Franklin County) to the Ohio Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Athletic Trainers Board for a term beginning Feb. 28, 2020 and ending Aug. 27, 2022.

  • Teresa M. Teeple of Columbus (Franklin County) and Richard L. Zwayer of Richwood (Union County) to the Ohio AMBER Alert Advisory Committee for terms beginning Feb. 28, 2020 and ending Feb. 6, 2021.

  • Blaine P. Brockman of West Jefferson (Madison County) reappointed to the STABLE Account Program Advisory Board for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2023.

  • Daniel J. Guttman of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the Ohio Thoroughbred Race Fund Advisory Council for a term beginning Feb. 1, 2020 and ending Jan. 31, 2023.

  • Josh E. Knights of Columbus (Franklin County) to the Public Benefits Advisory Board for a term beginning Feb. 28, 2020 and ending June 30, 2022.

  • Lee E. Czerwonka of Blue Ash (Hamilton County) to the Statewide Emergency Services Internet Protocol Network Steering Committee for a term beginning Feb. 28, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2022.

  • Louise A. Jackson of Toledo (Lucas County) to the Accountancy Board for a term beginning March 4, 2020 and ending Oct. 20, 2026.

  • Craig R. Miesse of Celina (Mercer County) and Kimberly A. Riker-Brown of Monclova (Lucas County) reappointed to the State Veterinary Medical Licensing Board for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2022.

  • John E. Leland of Kettering (Montgomery County) reappointed to the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Technology Committee for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2020 and ending Dec. 31, 2020.


Attorney General Dave Yost reported Friday that a federal judge had invalidated the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), declaring it unconstitutionally vague and saying it exceeded the power of municipal government in Ohio. The decision came down on Thursday. LEBOR asserted that Lake Erie should have legal rights as an ecosystem. In February 2019, Toledo voters approved an amendment adding it to the city's charter.


Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost released the annual report on concealed handgun licenses (CHLs) Monday, saying that 132,385 CHLs were issued in 2019. There were 54,426 new licenses and 77,959 renewals, a process required every five years. Those numbers marked a 21 percent decrease in the number of renewed licenses and a 21.5 percent decrease in new licenses compared to 2018.


Coronavirus preparations and precautions were at the forefront this week, as Gov. Mike DeWine and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced restrictions on attendance at the massive Arnold Sports Festival, DeWine convened a state summit for local public health officials on COVID-19, and the Ohio Department of Health started publishing statistics on suspected cases in the state daily instead of twice weekly. As of Thursday afternoon, Ohio still had no confirmed cases, but the number of persons under investigation (PUI) increased from one to three. DeWine and Ginther initially announced an agreement with Arnold festival organizers to bar most spectators and call off the trade show, but after organizers came back with requests for more leeway, Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton issued a formal order to ban spectators except for those with tickets to finals events and parents watching their minor children compete. At the state public health summit Thursday, DeWine and Acton stressed a message of preparedness, and Acton said the state had received a testing kit that, once calibrated, will allow for faster results than the previous approach of sending samples to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DeWine also convened an advisory group of hospital and physician representatives to help steer the state's response.

Speaking in Dayton Friday, Gov. Mike DeWine joined mental health and suicide prevention leaders to unveil the first state collaborative plan on suicide prevention for the next three years. Plan priorities include the state's raising awareness of warning signs and risk factors; concentrating efforts to integrate suicide prevention practices into health care, public safety and education services on the local and state levels; building suicide prevention capacity and infrastructure at the organizational, local, and state levels; focusing prevention efforts on groups identified as having higher rates of suicide, including youths ages 10-24, males ages 25-59 and veterans and military members; and standardizing, gathering and utilizing data to continuously inform and evaluate the state's approach.

A report from LeadingAge shows that Ohio is among the top states in the nation for its number of nursing home closures, with 26 nursing homes closing over a four-year span, ranking it the third-highest in the nation, tied with California. The authors write that nursing home quality ratings awarded through the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have little bearing on whether or not a nursing home closes, but instead closures are related to other factors, such as adequate Medicaid payments, regulatory reform and the creation of a "critical access" designation for rural nursing homes.

The U.S. Supreme Court will revisit its ruling on Congress' use of taxing powers to institute a health care purchase mandate, agreeing Monday to hear a multi-state lawsuit alleging elimination of the tax penalty for failing to secure insurance renders the mandate unconstitutional. Justices issued an order Monday accepting an appeal from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that without an associated penalty, the mandate is void. A U.S. District Court judge had reached the same conclusion and found elimination of the mandate requires upending the entire federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), but the Fifth Circuit ordered the lower court to reconsider the issue of whether the mandate is severable from the broader health care law.

An Ohio University (OU) researcher recently published a study in the journal Depression and Anxiety that suggests marijuana use, especially for military personnel experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, may negatively affect suicidal thoughts and behavior.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) and Mount Carmel Health System (MCHS) have reached a settlement regarding violations related to the alleged actions of Dr. William Husel, who has been charged with 25 counts of murder for overprescribing the powerful opioid fentanyl.


Ohio University (OU) recently announced that "voluntary separation plans" and "early retirement incentive plans" are available to 608 faculty members. The development is due to decreased enrollments and is part of an effort to rebalance the university's budget, according to a release from OU.

The University of Toledo (UT) recently announced two new undergraduate degrees in data science and analytics. Beginning in fall 2020, UT will debut a bachelor of arts degree in data analytics in the College of Arts and Letters, and a bachelor of science degree in data science in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.


The Ohio Supreme Court's yearly edit of its Rules of Practice and Procedure -- normally a staid affair -- drew pointed questioning Wednesday from a Senate Judiciary Committee that has received numerous letters of opposition from the Ohio State Bar Association and other parties concerned with proposed changes to bail requirements, pre-trial discovery, juveniles' right to counsel and waiver of civil summons, among other worries. Supreme Court Legislative Counsel Jess Mosser provided members the annual overview of rule amendments affecting civil, criminal, juvenile, appellate and evidentiary rules of procedure. He noted a final draft reflecting a second round of public comments must be filed with the Legislature by May 1 and becomes effective July 1 "unless prior to such day the General Assembly adopts a concurrent resolution of disapproval," in the words of Article IV, Section 5(B) of the Ohio Constitution.


An organization seeking to legalize marijuana for adults age 21 and older filed the "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol" (RMLA) constitutional amendment with the Ohio Attorney General's Office on Monday. The group is seeking to put the issue before voters in November 2020, according to a news release from attorney Tom Haren, general counsel and spokesperson for RMLA.

Ohioans interested in farming and processing hemp can start submitting license applications on Tuesday, March 3 at noon, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) announced Monday. All Ohio hemp cultivators and processors are required to be licensed under the ODAg Hemp Program, and those interested can apply online at

Enrollees in a state retirement system who receive monthly disability income will now qualify for "indigent status" under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) Executive Director Steven Schierholt said Thursday.


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the state fire marshal are encouraging Ohioans to burn debris carefully during the spring. Outdoor debris burning is prohibited from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during March, April and May, according to a news release from ODNR.


Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director Mary Mertz on Monday announced the selection of Eric Vendel as chief of the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.

Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) Director Matt Damschroder Monday announced the appointment of Peter Renner as deputy director of the agency's Human Resources Division.


Nearly half of black Ohioans in a new survey said crime, drugs, violence and discrimination are the top problems in the state. The survey, touted as the first to significantly ask black Ohioans about the issues most important to them, was conducted by the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics in conjunction with the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus Foundation. The $55,000 poll was paid for jointly by the foundation and the university, which used endowment funds set aside for research purposes.


The Ohio Department of Public Safety's Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) on Friday announced three newcomers to the list of agencies around the state that are in full compliance with law enforcement standards promulgated by the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board. Goshen (Clermont County), Grove City (Franklin County) and West Farmington (Trumbull County) police have adopted and implemented state standards for use of force, including deadly force, and agency recruitment and hiring.


Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer recently released his office's 2019 annual report, including details on the 58 cases closed and released during the year and the 278 complaints received and assessed. Results from the 58 cases included 31 cases leading to a total of 181 agency recommendations; 24 leading to referrals; and six leading to a total of 15 criminal charges. Nine cases had an identified monetary loss, combined at over $3.5 million.


Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday the creation of BroadbandOhio, an office dedicated to improving access to high-speed Internet across Ohio. Establishing an office committed to increasing high-speed Internet access was part of the Ohio Broadband Strategy released by InnovateOhio in December 2019.


The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) announced that its new "SmartLane" in Columbus will see its speed limit increased when active starting Monday. The "SmartLane" corridor is the first such corridor ODOT has established in the state, running from downtown Columbus to the east outerbelt in the capital city along Interstate 670. On Monday, ODOT is raising the speed limit when the SmartLane is open from 45 mph to 55 mph.


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) granted final approval this week to a five-month-old agreement between Texas-based Verde Energy and commission staff that allows the embattled retail provider to resume Ohio operations in October and pay a reduced civil forfeiture of $675,000 -- less than half of staff's original proposal but ranking as PUCO's largest-ever fine against a competitive retail electric supplier (CRES) or competitive retail natural gas supplier (CRNGS), the commission noted Wednesday.

Bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) is celebrating its re-christening as Energy Harbor Corp. with Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station's long-awaited refueling, which the company had cast doubt over due to prolonged negotiations over HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) and Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts' (OACB) referendum effort to overturn the energy subsidy legislation.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) began taking applications Monday for the 2020 Hazardous Materials Training Grant Program. Last year, the commission authorized $400,000 in grants to eight local governments and educational institutions. Funding comes from fines paid by hazardous material carriers and shippers.

The leading voice for Ohio manufacturing informed a cost-conscious Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee Tuesday that piecemeal ratemaking under 127-SB221 is driving up distribution charges and blunting competitive electric savings. The Ohio Manufacturers' Association (OMA) redoubled the Ohio Consumers' Counsel's (OCC) recent testimony that regulatory "gold-plating" by the major utilities side-steps R.C. 4909.15's "used and useful" requirement for distribution infrastructure with an ongoing stream of non-bypassable billing riders.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has announced no immediate plans to review Columbia Gas of Ohio's safety standards and compliance in light of the federal government's newly imposed $53 million fine against Columbus Gas of Massachusetts/NiSource, Inc. over the Merrimack Valley explosion in September 2018. The company previously settled a raft of third-party lawsuits for $143 million. Until last week, NiSource was the parent company of Columbia Gas of Ohio and the Massachusetts division, selling the latter to Eversource on Feb. 26.


Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud told her board of directors Friday the agency is moving quickly to implement measures announced by the governor in response to the global coronavirus outbreak. She reiterated his assurance that Ohio has no confirmed cases of the deadly contagion but said the bureau and member employers must prepare.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) will host its annual Ohio Safety Congress & Expo at the Greater Columbus Convention Center this year from Wednesday, March 11 through Friday, March 13.

Two House lawmakers who voted against legislation that would allow first responders to claim workers' compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) without an underlying condition announced this week that they are introducing separate legislation that would create an alternative fund from which EMTs, firefighters and law enforcement officers could draw instead.

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

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