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Week in Review - May 1, 2023

Ohio statehouse government affairs week in review January 2023

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 U.S. Supreme Court, by a 7-2 vote, ruled Friday to continue full access to mifepristone, a drug commonly used for medication abortions. This puts on hold a lower court's ruling out of Texas by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk that held the federal Food and Drug Administration was wrong to make the drug more widely available and thus suspended the approval altogether. The two dissents were from Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE Judge Mark Serrott of Franklin County Common Pleas Court, the judge presiding in a dispute between the OneOhio Recovery Foundation and Harm Reduction Ohio, ordered Tuesday that OneOhio must follow the open meetings law, but declined to order the freeze on hiring and money distribution that Harm Reduction Ohio had requested. However, Serrott plans to hold an additional hearing on the injunction request Wednesday, July 12. Attorney General Dave Yost is asking a Franklin County judge to make him a party in the litigation over OneOhio Recovery Foundation's adherence to open meeting laws. His office cites statutory authority for him to intervene in matters involving nonprofits and his desire to see opioid recovery money sent to local communities expeditiously. "Attorney General Yost seeks to intervene in this matter because Ohio must ensure that the settlement money flows to these public purposes as quickly as possible, and he seeks to protect and defend the urgent needs of the beneficiaries of the foundation's charitable mission," his motion to intervene in the case reads. AGRICULTURE The Ohio Expo Center is proposing to tear down over half its current facilities and reinvent the state fairgrounds as a "visionary" experience for all Ohioans. The long-term plan will take a quarter century under Gov. Mike DeWine's "Expo 2050" initiative, though the Ohio Expositions Commission is currently requesting a $190 million budget increase for a new Town Square to anchor the fairgrounds in addition to tens of millions of dollars in delayed maintenance for existing buildings that would remain. General Manager Virgil Strickler and Assistant General Manager Alicia Shoults of the Ohio Expo Center returned to the House Agriculture Committee for invited testimony echoing their remarks from Feb. 28 as well as their budget testimony earlier Tuesday in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT Member schools of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) will vote on whether the organization's executive director will retain -- with modifications -- the authority to suspend strict compliance of OHSAA rules under certain circumstances, such as a pandemic. That amendment to the OHSAA constitution is one of 13 proposed bylaw/constitution changes that will be considered during the annual referendum period. Schools can vote from Monday, May 1 through Monday, May 15, and results will be announced on Tuesday, May 16. The OHSAA "COVID Rule" was implemented in Spring 2020, and is set to expire at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. ATTORNEY GENERAL A day ahead of Earth Day 2023, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and his Environmental Enforcement team unveiled a $1.1 million initiative to help communities statewide crack down on polluters who use their backyard -- or someone else's property -- as an enormous garbage can. "Shine a Light on Dumpers" is a multi-pronged campaign designed to expose illegal open dumping of solid wastes -- including scrap tires, demolition debris and more -- and "to eliminate these inexcusable eyesores from Ohio neighborhoods," according to the AG. Shine a Light on Dumpers will be rolled out in phases, beginning with new online resources focusing on awareness, legal guidance, training, and investigative/prosecutorial assistance from the Ohio Attorney General's Office. Those resources can be found at AUDITOR OF STATE State Auditor Keith Faber says dedicated earmarks in the executive budget proposal for Ohio's Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) may not be enough to protect the essential law enforcement and emergency management tool from a funding shortfall in three short years. Faber recently released a 68-page performance audit as requested by the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS), which asked him last October to perform an in-depth analysis of MARCS current and future funding picture versus other states' communication systems to inform Gov. Mike DeWine's budget request for FY24-25. Though "limited in scope," the audit examines both the current MARCS user-fee structure and potential red ink by FY27 as well as dedicated funding the governor hopes to provide in the next biennium to eliminate reliance on subscriber payments by counties, municipalities and townships. BALLOT ISSUES Debates on the merits of raising the constitutional amendment passage threshold and on putting that question to voters in an unusual statewide summer election continued Thursday in separate House committees, as the clock ticks down for lawmakers to make a decision. Secretary of State Frank LaRose has urged lawmakers to put plans in place by Wednesday, May 10. The House Constitutional Resolutions Committee heard from sponsors and proponents Thursday on SJR1 (McColley), which would place an amendment on the ballot to require a 60 percent passage rate for future amendments. That committee has already adopted HJR1 (Stewart), the companion measure. The House Government Oversight Committee, meanwhile, took opponent testimony on SB92 (McColley-Gavarone) and HB144 (Manchester), which would authorize and fund an August special election for voters to decide the 60 percent threshold issue. Numerous witnesses in the oversight hearing said they'd shown up to speak after being denied the ability to testify on HJR1 in the resolutions committee recently. FY24-25 BUDGET A large, bipartisan majority of the House voted Wednesday to approve a two-year budget plan that advances implementation of the new school funding formula, boosts pay for direct service providers caring for older Ohioans and those with disabilities, and moves Ohio closer to a flat income tax structure. The chamber ducked consideration of any floor amendments to HB33 (Edwards) when, after several representatives favoring passage had spoken, Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) rose to call the previous question, triggering a vote to end debate, which passed 74-23. The bill itself then passed 77-19. During breaks in floor remarks, several Republicans repeatedly stood to call for recognition or move amendments, but Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) instead recognized others who were urging passage of the bill. Speaker Stephens also took the unusual step of avoiding reporters' questions after the day's session, stepping off the dais to make a short statement about passage of the budget and then walking away. "Today is a big day for Ohio. We passed a balanced budget that is focused on everyday Ohioans. We focused on tax cuts for middle income Ohioans. We've included education funding on all fronts for Ohioans. We're investing in our future on all fronts, and it's a really good day for Ohio, and I was really pleased with the support throughout the House," he said. Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), chair of the House Finance Committee, touted the bill's investments in economic development via the All Ohio Future Fund, support for families via increases in child care and preschool funding and a sales tax exemption on baby products, and growth in direct care workers' wages from $13 per hour now to $18 per hour by the end of the coming biennium -- this after the full committee accepted close to 200 additional changes to the operating budget Tuesday before passing it with only one dissenting vote. Changes to the HB33 (Edwards) adopted via an omnibus amendment address a state Next Generation 9-1-1 system, an expanded state role and funding for indigent defense, $15 million in additional support per year for foodbanks, and home purchase savings accounts supported by Gov. Mike DeWine and Treasurer Robert Sprague. Those voting against the budget on the House floor included Reps. Thad Claggett (R-Newark), Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria), Bill Dean (R-Xenia), Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville), Elliot Forhan (D-South Euclid), Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula), Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester), Marilyn John (R-Shelby), Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville), Angie King (R-Celina), Beth Lear (R-Galena), Susan Manchester (R-Lakeview), Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky), Derek Merrin (R-Maumee), Joe Miller (D-Amherst), Jena Powell (R-Arcanum), Reggie Stoltzfus (R-Minerva), Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) and Bernard Willis (R-Springfield). BUSINESS/CORPORATE Inflation and a difficult labor market are taking a toll on Ohio's small businesses, NFIB Ohio State Director Chris Ferruso said recently. "Small business owners need predictability, but the current economic climate is making it hard for them to plan ahead," Ferruso said. Ferruso made the comments as his organization released its latest NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, which decreased 0.8 points in March to 90.1. That is the 15th consecutive month below the 49-year average of 98, NFIB said. Twenty-four percent of owners reported inflation as their single most important business problem, down four points from last month. Small business owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months remain at a net negative 47 percent. CHILDREN/FAMILIES The House Public Health Policy Committee Tuesday heard from parents and individuals who are de-transitioning in favor of a proposed ban on gender services for minors, HB68 (Click). Prisha Mosely, Chloe Cole, and an individual who identified herself as Xandra, all testified that they began taking hormone therapy as teenagers to transition their gender to a male, and in some cases having cosmetic surgery, before later regretting it and moving back to being a woman. They described complications including damage to their genitals and infertility from the process. They also described struggles with mental health in the years before deciding to transition. Legislation that would make changes to a number of programs aimed at bringing down the state's infant mortality rate was officially unveiled Tuesday as the House Families and Aging Committee accepted a substitute version of HB7 (White-Humphrey), also dubbed the "Strong Foundations Act," replacing the legislative intent statement of the introduced bill with the full text of the proposal. White said the bill would help to address Ohio's infant and maternal mortality problems and is sharply focused on improving health and developmental outcomes for babies, mothers and families by expanding prenatal, postnatal and infant and toddler services and supports. CIVIL RIGHTS At the 43rd Governor's Holocaust Commemoration Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine told the audience that antisemitism is on the rise and everyone needs to be constantly vigilant to denounce it. DeWine said the commemoration is a time to reflect on history and to remember the victims, survivors, and the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. He said the commemoration grows more important every year as with the passage of time, more of the direct witnesses to the Holocaust are dying. DeWine noted the signing of an executive order a year ago that adopted a new definition of antisemitism based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition, which he said will give state agencies, departments, boards, commissions and public colleges and universities a single definition when dealing with an antisemitic act. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT The Ohio Judicial Conference (OJC) signaled opposition by common pleas judges Wednesday to the proposed overhaul of state funding to county public defenders' offices and expressed concern over the related amendment inserted in the FY24-25 budget within the previous 24 hours. OJC Executive Director Paul Pfeifer, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, told senators the indigent defense change to HB33 (Edwards) in Tuesday's 691-page omnibus amendment had "back-doored" a review panel comprising the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA), Office of the Ohio Public Defender (OPD), County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO), judges, county public defenders, lobbyists and others that have been meeting since last year in advance of the pending indigent defense study committee created by 134-HB150 (Hillyer). "They persuaded the House to include in the budget a provision that says if you contract with the state public defender to let the public defender administer indigent defense, you'll get 100 percent funding. Then the rest of the counties that don't have a contract will get to split what's left," Pfeifer said. EAST PALESTINE DERAILMENT Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw's claim that his company is on a "hiring spree" is misleading because the vast majority of new hires are leaving the company within one year, according to SMART Transportation Division Ohio State Legislative Director Clyde Whitaker. "Mr. Shaw is on a public relations propaganda tour," Whitaker told the Senate Select Committee on Rail Safety on Wednesday. Shaw had addressed the committee about the East Palestine train derailment last week. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) announced Tuesday the Minority Development Financing Advisory Board (MDFAB) had approved over $2.1 million to support six minority- and women-owned businesses around the state. Five of the six recipients received funds through the Women's Business Enterprise Loan Program, which has $3.4 million remaining. There is also $8.5 million available through the Ohio Minority Business Bonding Program and more than $5.2 million through the Ohio Micro-Loan Program. ECONOMY Ohio has regained all jobs lost during COVID-19 and continues to see unemployment drop steadily since December, based on figures released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Friday. The state's jobless rate of 3.8 percent in March is 0.1 percent less than in February but still well off the national average of 3.5 percent, which also fell 0.1 percent, and higher than neighboring Indiana's 3.1 percent and West Virginia's 3.4 percent unemployment. WalletHub now puts Ohio's overall employment performance -- a combination of the current jobless figure and the rate of change since the prior month and year-over-year results -- at 34th nationally, below West Virginia at 13th and Indiana at 28th but higher than Pennsylvania (4.2 percent) at 41st and Michigan (4.1 percent) at 42nd . EDUCATION The House-passed version of the state budget makes significant cuts to certain literacy investments compared to the executive budget proposal, though it increases education spending overall, Interim State Superintendent Stephanie Siddens said Thursday. Siddens and Ohio Department of Education (ODE) Budget Chief Aaron Rausch reviewed differences between the House-passed version of HB33 (Edwards) and the DeWine-Husted budget recommendations while presenting in the Senate Education Committee. "The DeWine-Husted budget recommends appropriations totaling $10.5 billion in FY24 (an increase of $680 million or 6.9 percent) and $10.7 billion in FY25 (an additional $196 million or 1.9 percent) from the General Revenue Fund (GRF) and Lottery Profits Education Fund (LPEF). The executive budget includes an additional $1.56 billion in new GRF and LPEF for primary and secondary education over the biennium. The House-passed version of the budget adds nearly $990 million in funding over the biennium, resulting in $2.54 billion in additional resources for primary and secondary education from the GRF and LPEF," Rausch said. According to the recently released 2020-2021 Prevention Services Data Report from the DeWine administration, 95 percent of Ohio schools offered prevention-focused programs and supports, while more than 81 percent of schools offered prevention-focused curricula. "Providing students with the tools they need to better cope with life stressors in healthy, safe, supportive ways helps individuals build resiliency and reduces risk factors," Gov. Mike DeWine said in a prepared statement. "Prevention services are part of educating the whole child, meeting their wellness, as well as their academic needs. This approach sets them up for success throughout their lives." ELECTIONS 2023 Former Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican who also served as secretary of state, wrote a letter on Monday urging state leaders to cease further action on SB92 (McColley-Gavarone), SJR2 (McColley) and HJR1 (Stewart). "I believe the Ohio General Assembly made the right decision when it enacted legislation last December to outlaw August special elections except for fiscal emergencies facing school districts. As secretary of state, I was all too aware that August special elections are too costly for the very low voter turnout that they attract. I concur with current Secretary of State Frank LaRose when he declared 'August special elections aren't good for the taxpayer, elections officials, voters or the civic health of our state,'" Taft wrote. "I also believe that it is especially bad public policy to revive the August special election for the purpose of voting on such a consequential constitutional amendment as SJR2 or HJR1, which would fundamentally change Ohioans' voting and constitutional rights. For more than 100 years, amendments to the Ohio Constitution have been decided by a simple majority vote. The decision to change such a deeply embedded practice should not be made at a low turnout election. Preferably, this type of issue should be submitted at a November general election when there is maximum voter turnout," he continued. However, the House began hearings Wednesday on legislation to authorize and fund an August special election as the chamber continues to count votes on a proposed constitutional amendment that could end up on that summer ballot. In the House Government Oversight Committee, Republican sponsors of companion elections bills fielded questions from Democrats on whether the measures are purely motivated by a desire to thwart the abortion rights amendment that could end up on the subsequent November ballot. Under HJR2 (Stewart) and SJR1 (Gavarone-McColley), future constitutional amendments would require at least 60 percent of the vote in order to pass, rather than the current threshold of a simple majority. Its passage in August would make it much more difficult for the abortion rights amendment, now in the signature gathering phase, to become part of the Ohio Constitution. ENERGY/UTILITIES A half million electric customers in 14 Ohio counties will be automatically re-enrolled in the Northeast Public Energy Council (NOPEC) next week unless they opt out of government aggregation. The move follows NOPEC's early transfer of 550,000 ratepayers last year to their local utility's standard service offer (SSO) and will provide returning customers kilowatt-hour (kWh) rates over a third lower than the four regional electric companies' average kWh cost. The announcement signals the end to the government aggregator's dispute before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) with Dynegy Energy Services over NOPEC's shift of ratepayers last fall to their local distribution utilities (EDU) prior to the scheduled termination period due to aggregation costs higher than the SSO during historic wholesale energy prices in 2022. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has granted the Ohio Consumers' Counsel's (OCC) request for a virtual public hearing on American Electric Power (AEP) of Ohio's pending rate plan in addition to five in-person hearings scheduled around the state. The utility had opposed remote proceedings. Administrative Law Judge/Attorney Examiner Greta See said members of the public wishing to testimony remotely must pre-register the day before, Monday, May 8, by 12 noon at or by calling the commission at 800-686-7826. The hearing also will be available for general online streaming at The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) approved construction of another solar generating facility, a 200-megawatt (MW) array backed by Palomino Solar in Highland County's Dodson and Union townships. The photovoltaic panels, to be ground-mounted on a tracking system, and related facilities including access roads, operations and maintenance, transformers, electric lines, weather stations and a collection substation is expected to occupy 1,410 acres within a 2,668-acre project area. ENVIRONMENT Leaders of state agencies involved in H2Ohio efforts discussed relevant funding levels and other parts of the House's substitute budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), with Hannah News Friday, following an Earth Day event at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI). Ohio Lake Erie Commission (OLEC) Executive Director Joy Mulinex said there were "small" changes, particularly addressing "more research in agriculture" and that she saw them as positive. Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director Mary Mertz spoke to ODNR's funding as a whole, saying the currently flat-funded budget "translates into a little bit of a cut." FEDERAL With the Biden administration working on interim rules that will increase the flexibility of certain federal COVID-19 funds and a federal funding bill giving an extension on the deadline for when the funds should be used, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) urged states to avoid diverting the funds for other purposes. NSCL released a statement saying it supports "smart, efficient use of funds provided for pandemic relief, such as the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF). Congress has only recently allowed increased flexibility for SLFRF as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023." Noting that the Department of Treasury is still working on providing interim rules governing how the funds may be spent under increased flexibility, NCSL said states have accordingly not acted and are reluctant to apply for funding until there is clarity. Neighboring U.S. Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) and Mike Carey (R-Columbus) met Monday at the intersection of their districts in downtown Columbus to announce their revival of the Civility Caucus. The two spoke at a gathering of the Columbus Partnership, whose CEO, Kenny McDonald, said the focus on civility and finding areas of agreement is important to an organization focused on getting things done for the Central Ohio region. Beatty and former U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, now head of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, previously formed a Civility Caucus a few years ago, and now she and Carey are bringing it back. GAMING/GAMBLING The Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio would be established under the latest version of biennial budget bill, HB33 (Edwards). The language creating the new commission was one of several changes made in an omnibus amendment accepted by the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. House Finance Committee Chair Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said he personally pushed for the language converting the Joint Committee on Sports Gaming into the 11-member Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio, consisting of four lawmakers from each chamber and state regulators overseeing casinos, lottery and horse racing. He said he foresees it looking both at the regulatory structure and the forms of gambling offered in Ohio. GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE Wednesday, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed SB16 (Wilson) and SB49 (Reynolds). According to Sen. Steve Wilson (R-Maineville) SB16 fixes an oversight addressing liability after the General Assembly previously passed legislation allowing food to be donated to certain nonprofit organizations that was past the "sell by date" but not past the "use by date." Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) supported the bill but said lawmakers will also need to address a food shortage and food insecurity crisis. Meanwhile, Sen. Michele Reynolds (R-Columbus) said her SB49 would provide three excused religious expression absences for students per year. She said the bill is similar to accommodations that were made for higher education institutions in 134-HB353. After session, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he likes the concept in the budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), added by the Ohio House, to collapse the middle tax bracket, but would like to expand it so it is truly an $800 million to $1 billion tax cut. He said the Senate could still add SB1 (Reineke) changing the functions of the State Board of Education to the budget, but said he is not sure where the House is in their process with the bill. The House Higher Education Committee Wednesday picked up where it left off the previous week, hearing another round of opposition to HB6 (Powell), a bill that would ban trans athletes from school and college sports. While proponents of the legislation have dubbed it the "Save Women's Sports Act" and said the bill is needed to ensure fairness in women's and girls' sports, many of those who testified Wednesday said they believe the bill will hurt women and girls by creating an "an environment of suspicion and rejection" and opening up girls to questions about their bodies. They told lawmakers HB6 has little to do with ensuring fairness in competition and more to do with forcing trans people "out of public spaces" while securing "political power." The Ohio Legislative Children's Caucus spent Monday's meeting talking about the state's educator shortage, including the reasons behind it and how other states are handling similar issues. Speakers during the meeting included Ohio Education Association (OEA) President Scott DiMauro, Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) President Melissa Cropper, and Molly Gold, senior education policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). House Democrats Tuesday held a press conference to highlight their "people first" legislative priorities, which are focused on a range of issues including infrastructure, workforce issues, education, the environment, health care and housing. The lawmakers highlighted legislative proposals like HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) to invest in economic and community developments; HB112 (Sweeney-Miranda) on campaign finance law to "close dark money loopholes"; HB9 (Manning-Lightbody) to establish the "Grow Your Own Teacher Program"; HB39 (Skindell-Isaacsohn) to create a refundable tax credit for working families; HB7 (White-Humphrey) to address infant and maternal mortality rates; as well as legislation for housing and workplace protections for LGBTQ people, increasing access to child care, gun violence prevention, increasing access to mental health services; improving affordability of senior care, housing tax credits and more. The Senate Community Revitalization Committee heard presentations at its Tuesday meeting from Jennifer Martinez, vice president of behavioral health operations for the Volunteers of America/Ohio and Indiana, and Teresa Lampl, CEO of the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers. Martinez testified on the Family Focused Recovery Program that her agency is looking to establish in Columbus. Lampl followed with extensive testimony on the current status of Ohio's community behavioral system of care. Noting that the "landscape" of behavioral health "has drastically changed in the past decade," Lampl highlighted those changes which include the overhaul of clinical and operational practices that have included "establishing a Medicaid fee schedule, elevating, and centralizing Medicaid payments with the state, rescinding antiquated cost reporting requirements, implementing behavioral health redesign, and the integration of the Medicaid benefit into managed care." In other action, the House Health Provider Services Committee reported out HB47 (Brown-Bird) which requires AEDs in schools; the House Ways and Means Committee reported out HB105 (J. Thomas) which addresses extensions for filing the municipal income tax; the House Public Health Policy Committee reported out HB28 (Humphrey) designating March as “Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Month”; and the Senate Government Oversight Committee reported out SB53 (Reynolds-Roegner) which lowers the minimum age for police officers to 18 from 21. GOVERNOR Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that he would sign legislation creating an August special election if the General Assembly sends such a bill to his desk. "I think that if both houses approve this, and that's the direction they want to go, I'm going to sign it. I think that there is some advantage to having these matters over with, and August will do that," DeWine told reporters following an event at the Columbus Ohio Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gov. Mike DeWine described his budget priorities and other reasons this is "Ohio's time" at a summit of CEOs organized by the Ohio Business Roundtable (OBRT) Thursday. He also told Hannah News the Expo 2050 task force's consultants considered and recommended against moving the Ohio State Fair, in regard to a House change to the budget that would require a study on that subject. Some of the reasons the governor said it is Ohio's time include tax policy, predictable regulations, its "abundance of water," and the efforts to re-shore supply chain manufacturing after the pandemic. DeWine cited American Nitrile, a Grove City company that will make medical gloves, as an example. GREAT LAKES Wisconsin Sea Grant (WISG) Friday announced it is expanding a successful marine-debris-prevention project in Milwaukee and will build on that success to spark similar awareness and action in a fellow Great Lakes city, Cleveland. Marine debris is an increasing global problem that causes negative impacts in oceans, the Great Lakes and other waterways, WISG notes in a release. Nearly 22 million pounds of plastics enter the Great Lakes each year, according to a Rochester Institute of Technology study. GUNS On a party line vote, the Senate Wednesday passed legislation that would prohibit local governments from requiring gun owners to purchase liability insurance or pay fees when purchasing a firearm or knife. Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), a co-sponsor of SB58 (Gavarone-Johnson), said the bill is "quite simple" and makes it illegal to require Ohio citizens to buy liability insurance. She said it was crazy to her that the legislation is needed, but argued "activists and politicians across the country never stop trying to trample on Second Amendment rights." Pushing back on arguments that the bill is a solution in search of a problem because no Ohio city has tried to pass the requirement or fee, she said there are direct challenges to the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens across the country and it can probably will be attempted in Ohio. The bill passed 24-7. HIGHER EDUCATION Several Ohio institutions of higher education were recently named "Voter Friendly Campuses," a designation given by NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the Campus Vote Project at the Fair Elections Center. Campuses were evaluated on the ability to complete a three-step process, which included developing a written plan for how to engage student voters in 2022, facilitating voter education and engagement efforts on campus, and writing a final analysis of their efforts. The designation lasts through 2024. Ohio institutions earning the designation included the following:

  • Ohio State University

  • Oberlin College and Conservatory

  • Cuyahoga Community College

  • University of Akron

  • Case Western Reserve University

  • University of Cincinnati

  • Miami University

  • Sinclair Community College

  • Otterbein University

  • Kent State University

  • Ohio Northern University

  • Denison University

  • John Carroll University

  • University of Mount Union

  • Columbus State Community College

  • Bowling Green State University

  • Mount St. Joseph University

  • Ohio University

  • Cleveland State University

  • Wilmington College

LIBRARIES Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine served as honorary chairs for the 17th annual Ohioana Book Festival held Saturday, April 22. The book festival, which was first held in 2007 with just 10 authors, connects readers with Ohio writers. The 2023 event is the first in-person festival after three years of virtual celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. MARIJUANA/HEMP U.S. Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have introduced legislation to help states expunge cannabis offenses. The Harnessing Opportunities for Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act aims to reduce the financial and administrative burden of expungement by providing federal grants, according to Joyce's office. "The vast majority of petty, non-violent cannabis law violations take place on the state and local level, precluding millions of Americans from fundamental opportunities such as housing and employment," Joyce said. "As both a former public defender and prosecutor, I understand firsthand how these barriers can negatively impact families and economic growth in Ohio and across the nation. The HOPE Act works to remove those barriers in a bipartisan manner to pave the way for the American Dream and remedy the unjust war on cannabis." MILITARY AFFAIRS Maj. Gen. John Harris went off script Thursday to affirm the military threat of the People's Republic of China to the state and nation and the Ohio National Guard's stake in protecting the U.S. from foreign attack. The Ohio adjutant general voiced his concerns during budget testimony before the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee. They came as part of larger comments about "kinetic" and cyber warfare and military and civilian readiness. "I believe we are living in a time of unprecedented change and accelerated change. [T]echnology, warfare and the way we execute our craft are changing very rapidly," Harris said. "I believe it's important that we must be proactive in preparing for a very, very uncertain future, both for our state and in our nation." At 16,000-strong, he emphasized the Ohio National Guard's role in national security as an office of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). NATURAL RESOURCES A recent acquisition by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife has added 492 acres to Woodland Trails Wildlife Area in southern Preble County. The total size of Woodland Trail now expands to 1,684 acres. This wildlife area is northwest of Camden and within a one-hour drive from the Cincinnati and Dayton metropolitan areas. The new parcel connects two earlier purchases that were separated by private land. Woodland Trails Wildlife Area was purchased over time from the Boy Scouts of America. OHIO HISTORY The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee Tuesday heard from the State Library of Ohio, Ohio History Connection (OHC) and other state library groups during an informal hearing on budget bill HB33 (Edwards) during National Library Week. In her testimony, Ohio History Connection Executive Director Megan Wood focused on the state's upcoming World Heritage designation of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks and the work of the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office. She said that "currently" HB33 includes an overall increase for line items specifically involving the Ohio History Connection by 29.2 percent in FY24 and by an additional 16.4 percent in FY25. Wood noted that not all line items underneath the nonprofit agency actually go toward its operating budget, as many pass through to various other commissions or for history grants. PEOPLE The Ohio Natural Energy Institute announced Bruce Tague is its new executive director. Tague comes to the institute with over 20 years of experience in both the public and private sector. He has worked for years in public policy, state and federal government, including his recent work with the Sportsmen's Alliance. SECRETARY OF STATE Secretary of State (SOS) Frank LaRose announced 18,881 new business filings in March 2023, a decrease of 527 from March 2022. The first quarter of 2023 saw the highest new business creation in state history with 51,881 new business filings. It is an increase of 1,485 over March 2022 quarterly numbers. STATE GOVERNMENT Fletch Zimpher announced Monday he will depart as president of the state Controlling Board for a position with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). Beginning Monday, May 1, Jill Schuler will take over as head of the Controlling Board. Zimpher has served as president of the Controlling Board since 2019. Regarding the Controlling Board’s Monday, April 24 agenda, members approved all items with the exception of three that were deferred at the request of the agency. Zimpher said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) requested a deferral of item 94 -- a request for approval of a total of nearly $43 million for remediation and conservation projects approved by the Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) Advisory Board. The Ohio EPA also asked for a deferral of item 98 -- a request for approval to waive competitive selection to contract with Biotage, LLC for the purchase of a new Biotage Horizon three-position extractor.

[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2023 Hannah News Service, Inc.]

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