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Week in Review May 13, 2024

Updated: May 20


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


Proposed legislation that would take Local Government Fund (LGF) money away from local governments that provide funding for abortion providers or related services received its first hearing before the House Government Oversight Committee Tuesday. Rep. Josh Williams (R-Oregon) testified that his HB475 "aims to safeguard taxpayer dollars by preventing municipalities, counties and other local authorities from using public funds to support elective abortions or abortion services." Williams said that last year, there were instances of cities such as Toledo and Cleveland or Cuyahoga County using funds "for out-of-state travel related to abortions." He said the bill ensures that taxpayers "are not compelled to finance services they fundamentally oppose."


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


The OneOhio Recovery Foundation Board put the official number for first-round grant applications at 1,500-plus and elevated former Zanesville Mayor Don Mason to permanent chairman during its Capitol Square meeting Wednesday, also announcing an audit of the agency. Mason, who has served as interim chair since Larry Kidd's congressional campaign departure in February, updated board members on the foundation's 2024 regional grant cycle following the Friday, May 3 application deadline.


AGRICULTURE


Row crop producers who farm in the state's 64 counties outside of the Lake Erie Western Basin will now have extra time to enroll in the H2Ohio program, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) announced. The department extended the enrollment deadline from Monday, May 6 to Friday, May 31, according to ODAg. The department will enroll 500,000 acres, and enrollment will be available on a first come, first served basis.


APPALACHIA


The Controlling Board Monday approved the Ohio Department of Development's (DOD) request to release $154.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for the Appalachian Community Grant Program.


Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Ohio Department of Development (DOD) Director Lydia Mihalik announced Monday the awarding of $152 million in funds for 21 projects focused on waterfront areas in Appalachian Ohio. The three spoke in Portsmouth, with additional stops by DeWine and Mihalik in Proctorville and Marietta. The DeWine administration recently announced a total of $154 million for Appalachian downtown areas in the Appalachian Downtowns and Destinations Initiative as well. This new funding, part of the "Wonderful Waterfronts Initiative," will support expanded access to local waterways, revitalization of historic riverfront downtown areas and creation of new tourism and recreational opportunities. Specific projects include outdoor infrastructure improvements such as river-to-downtown connections, downtown redevelopment and streetscape improvements, boat ramps, docks and parks. They aim to improve walkability within communities and increase tourism through improved riverfronts.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


In observance of Older Americans Month in May, the Office of Attorney General Dave Yost announced Friday it will be holding an Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference in June aimed at professionals who work with older Ohioans. This year's conference is themed, "Dollars and Sense: Financial Exploitation of Older Adults. The conference is one of various events and activities presented by the Attorney General's Elder Abuse Commission to increase awareness, detection and prevention of elder abuse throughout Ohio.


FY24-25 BUDGET


Higher than expected refund totals drove a $154.8 million shortfall in income tax collections compared to estimates for April, making up the bulk of an overall $224.4 million or 8.4 percent miss in tax revenues versus forecasts, according to preliminary data from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). Fiscal year-to-date tax revenues are now off by $446 million or nearly 2 percent, driven almost entirely by the personal income tax, which is 5.5 percent or $453.9 million below estimates. Tax collections for the first 10 months of FY24 reached $22.75 billion versus expectations of $23.2 billion.


FY25-26 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS


The Ohio Department of Development's (DOD) capital budget request, one of two dozen released to Hannah News in response to a public records request, includes $5 million for clean coal research and development and $2.1 million for service station cleanup across the FY25-26 biennium. Both amounts would be decreases from FY23-24 appropriations. The clean coal line-item previously received $3.07 million in FY21-22 and $12.28 million in FY23-24 while the service station cleanup line-item had $9.03 million in FY21-22 and $8.84 million in FY23-24. DOD also said it requests $5 million for clean coal research in both FY27-28 and FY29-30. "A focus of the FY25-26 capital budget will be to leverage these programs in a way that creates positive economic impacts in our communities, including the creation of new jobs, increased affordable housing, and more sustainable use of raw materials," DOD said in its introductory narrative.


Ohio's main program for supporting local school construction and renovation projects would get another $600 million in the upcoming capital biennium under the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission's request for FY25-26. The $600 million request matches what the House and Senate have included in dueling capital appropriations measures, HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) and HB27 (Matthew-J. Thomas). OFCC estimates it could authorize construction projects at 13 additional districts with the requested funding, assuming a state share of costs in the 45 percent to 50 percent range and an average project cost of $100 million.


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) needs an additional $8 million to build its new Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (ADDL), ODAg Director Brian Baldridge said in his agency's capital budget request. Baldridge said the funding will supplement the nearly $72 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding provided in 134-HB687 (Oelslager) to design and construct the new laboratory. ODAg broke ground on the new lab in November 2023. "Since that time, inflation, scarcity in the supply chain, and strong local demand for construction trades have resulted in significant cost increases," Baldridge said. "These increases have been addressed by implementing a 5,000 square foot reduction in building size and seeking this funding -- which will complete construction, provide instrumentation, furnishings, IT systems, and demolition of the old structure." Baldridge noted that the lab is the only full-service, all-species veterinary diagnostic laboratory in the state.


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) needs $191 million over the next two years for improvements to state park facilities, according to a copy of the agency's capital budget request. The department is seeking $72 million for restrooms, shelter houses and small projects across the state, which are intended to serve day use visitors and overnight campers. ODNR also seeks $31 million for marina and boating access improvements at the following five state parks: Catawba Island, East Harbor, Mary Jane Thurston, North Bass Island and Shawnee. Additionally, the department is seeking $30 million for campground electrical upgrades, new shower houses and full services sites, "which are in high demand." ODNR wants $17 million for cabin renovations at Maumee Bay and Mohican state parks, as well as design and assessment services at Lake Hope, Pike Lake and Tar Hollow state parks.


The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board's (CSRAB) FY25-26 capital budget request seeks about $14.6 million for Statehouse repairs and improvements. The FY25-26 request is a reduction from the agency's FY23-24 appropriation, which also included money for Capitol Square security and improvements to the Statehouse audio system. Nearly $11 million of CSRAB's FY25-26 request is for ongoing replacement of mechanical equipment.

Replacement of the Ashtabula County Ohio State Highway Patrol post building and a new helicopter for the patrol are among the top priorities for the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) in its nearly $29.5 million capital budget request. In a letter to the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) included with the agency's request, ODPS Director Andrew Wilson said the request "will ensure the continued service of the nine divisions of the Department of Public Safety while protecting the investments of the past to include our main headquarters at the Shipley Building, the state Emergency Operations Center, and Ohio State Highway Patrol posts located around the state." ODPS is looking for capital funds to purchase a new helicopter for use by the patrol, "which will be utilized as a resource for our federal, state and local agency partners upon request." Wilson stated that the purchase, estimated in the request at $16.5 million, would replace a 25-year-old aircraft "that is no longer capable of safely performing at the level required to conduct rescues or other key missions."


The capital request from the Ohio History Connection (OHC) represents what OHC Executive Director and CEO Megan Wood calls a bold vision, coming at a critical moment for the organization. OHC's total capital budget request comes in at $103,286,000 for FY25-26, a substantial increase from the $21,600,093 appropriated for FY23-24. The top priority listed in OHC's request to the Office of Budget and Management is $13,000,000 for the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks in FY25-26 after it was named a World Heritage Site last year. The site had not received any capital appropriations for FY23-24. The requested funding would fund the baseline documentation of the World Heritage Sites managed by OHC to record the status of the properties at the time of inscription and serve as the basis for site management planning. OHC's request says the project would be divided into three separate scopes of work: baseline documentation and planning; building and site improvements and visitor amenities; and coordinated interpretation, signage and exhibits.

The capital budget request for Ohio Deaf and Blind Education Services (ODBES) for FY25-26 mainly requests funding for building renovations, with additional consideration for the renovation of facilities for extracurricular activities including sports and band. In total, the capital budget request for FY25-26 for ODBES comes in at $9,897,000. From that total, just over $3 million is for the conversion of the facility's former elementary school into an early learning center. In the letter attached to the capital request, ODBES Superintendent Lou Maynus says, "Improving employment and college and career readiness is our ultimate (and long term) goal in meeting the needs of deaf, blind, deafblind, visually impaired, and hard of hearing students." Other major considerations in the FY25-26 capital request for ODBES include $1,727,000 for renovation of the Ohio State School for the Blind (OSSB) auditorium and $1,538,000 for OSSB gym renovation. Requests of $700,000 and $400,000 were made for FY25-26 for soccer field renovation and a band practice field, respectively.


The Ohio Adjutant General's Department requested a total of $106.7 million in the capital budget, with its readiness centers and armories being a major spending category. That money would include $28.8 million from the state and $77.9 million in matching federal funds in the Army National Guard Facilities Program. The department has conducted an extensive review of each readiness center and armory in Ohio based on their condition, adequacy of space and whether they are part of the future facility outlay. Under that approach, the previous biennium saw modernization and renovation of centers in Middletown, Newark and Stow. For FY25-26, the request seeks $21.6 million for continued renovation of centers in Kettering, Lebanon, Lorain, Akron-Hawkins, Brook Park and two facilities at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base.


The Ohio Expositions Commission submitted a relatively modest funding request for consideration as part of the capital budget but has more than $160 million worth of projects in mind for future capital biennia. The commission is asking for $10 million for FY25-26 -- $9.5 million for facility improvements, and $500,000 for emergency renovations and equipment replacement. The $9.5 million funding pool would go toward better lighting, wayfinding and fencing across the fairgrounds. The smaller, $500,000 request is for "minor but immediate building renovations" and replacement of aging or obsolete equipment.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Members of the Controlling Board on Monday unanimously approved $236 million in FY24-25 for a new federal program to ensure low-income children have access to food while school is out. The newly-authorized Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (S-EBT) program starts in Summer 2024. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' (ODJFS) request to increase appropriation authority for that program -- as well as all requests on the agenda -- were approved during Monday's meeting.


EDUCATION


At the same time as schools combat alarmingly high chronic absenteeism rates, school discipline practices that remove students from the classroom like suspensions and expulsions are also on the rise, according to a recent report by Children's Defense Fund (CDF) - Ohio. The "2024 State of School Discipline in Ohio" report says that school discipline "cannot be separated" from the state's high rates of chronic absenteeism and argues that "exclusionary" discipline practices, which it defines as those that remove students from the classroom, contribute to the "community-to-prison pipeline."

Instructors and students in teacher preparation programs Tuesday asked the Senate Education Committee to reverse budget bill changes that collapsed teacher licensure grade bands from three to two, arguing they ignore the realities of child development, dilute content knowledge and could worsen teacher shortages. Tuesday's committee meeting included proponent testimony on SB219 (Ingram), which would reinstate the preK-5, 4-9 and 7-12 licensure bands, which were converted into K-8 and 6-12 bands under HB33 (Edwards).


Schools have gone to the ballot more than 18,000 times since Ohio's main policy for controlling property tax increases took effect in the 1970s, averaging out to hundreds of levies per year, but residential millage rates have grown just about a tenth of a percent per year over that time, economist and education finance expert Howard Fleeter told lawmakers studying the property tax system Wednesday. "It's a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. …,” Fleeter told the Joint Committee on Property Tax Review and Reform. "We are largely running in place." Fleeter, who's been involved in Ohio school funding debates since the Voinovich administration, said the property tax controls of HB920 drive trends that make Ohioans vote on school funding issues more than any other states' residents, though he said the data to prove that assertion is hard to collect.


Staff at the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) Thursday provided an overview of potential updates to administrative code rules on school transportation and safety rules as well as updates to the state's fine arts learning standards. Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) rules 3301-83-01 through 3301-83-25 are being updated as part of a routine five-year rules review as well as to address changes in budget bill HB33 (Edwards). Some of the rules are also being updated to align with recommendations from Gov. Mike DeWine's Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group, which was convened following the August 2023 death of a Northwestern Local School District student who was killed after another vehicle collided with his school bus.


ELECTIONS


Reps. Angie King (R-Celina) and Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria) Tuesday gave sponsor testimony on legislation that would allow members of an opposing political party to bring challenges to a candidate's eligibility, which could have affected their November opponents had the bill already been law. HB471 (Creech-King) would allow any voter, regardless of party affiliation, to challenge a candidate's eligibility to hold office if that candidate isn't a U.S. citizen; isn't the minimum age to hold the office; exceeds an applicable term or age limit; would be ineligible to hold the office by reason of criminal conviction; or the candidate did not comply with the state requirement to provide a former name as required by state law. The issue came up earlier this year after a number of transgender candidates filed to run for legislative seats but did not use their former or "deadname" on their petitions as required by law, which states that any person who has changed names during the past five years for any reason must include his or her former name on the petitions. Those candidates argued that they were not properly informed of the requirement in the candidate guide or by the board of elections.


A longtime Republican campaign treasurer pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to stealing nearly $1 million in campaign funds. William Curlis, who has been a campaign treasurer for more than 100 candidates since the 1980s, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud as part of a plea agreement. He had been accused of defrauding candidates of approximately $995,231 between 2008 and 2023. As part of his plea, he will be required to pay that amount in restitution. Some candidates, including Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hillard), former Franklin County Engineer Cornell Robertson and former Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, had filed complaints against Curlis with the Ohio Elections Commission accusing him of filing inaccurate reports on behalf of their campaigns and the misappropriation of money, leading the commission to refer the case for prosecution.


ELECTIONS 2024


It's still unclear if President Joe Biden will appear on the November ballot after the General Assembly failed to send Gov. Mike DeWine a bill modifying Ohio's certification deadlines on Wednesday. The Senate took action on the issue on Wednesday, adding temporary language to campaign child care bill HB114 (Humphrey-Seitz) allowing Biden to appear on the ballot. However, the Senate also added language from SB215 (Gavarone-McColley), a controversial bill creating new requirements for ballot issue campaigns and banning contributions from foreign nationals. The Senate General Government Committee accepted a substitute version of HB114 during its meeting on Wednesday, with Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) calling the SB215 provisions a "poison pill" that wouldn't be supported by Democrats. DeMora opposed the measure in committee, and all Democrats voted against the bill on the Senate floor. The bill passed 24-7.


Secretary of State Frank LaRose Thursday sent a directive to county boards of elections to begin the process of removing inactive voters from the voting rolls as required by law. The directive requires each board of elections to provide a list of registrations in active-confirmation status as a result of the 2020 National Change of Address (NCOA) process. It also requires each county board of elections to provide a list of past-due registration cancellations, including registrations in active-confirmation status that have remained inactive for four consecutive years or more. The directive states that the secretary of state's office will publish a list of registrations that could be cancelled for inactivity to encourage a response to the notices that will be sent to registrants on the list.


Social worker Karen Brownlee has been chosen by the Hamilton County Democratic Party as the candidate for state representative in the 28th Ohio House District, replacing former Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati), who withdrew after becoming Hamilton County auditor. Having worked as a mental health therapist, Brownlee currently is a clinical training and development manager at Best Point in Cincinnati. She faces Republican nominee Jenn Giroux in November.


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) re-election campaign this week announced the launch of "Workers for Sherrod," which it called "a coalition of Ohio workers backing Sherrod's re-election." "Workers for Sherrod" co-chairs include Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga and Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Mike Knisley.


EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


Total nonfarm employment increased by 175,000 jobs in April, according to numbers released Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The national unemployment rate, at 3.9 percent, and the number of unemployed people, at 6.5 million, both changed little from March to April. The gain of 175,000 nonfarm jobs in April is lower than the monthly average of 242,000 over the previous 12 months. BLS reports job gains occurred in health care, in social assistance and in transportation and warehousing.


ENERGY/UTILITIES


AEP Ohio President and COO Marc Reitter announced a new leadership team. Ryan Forbes has been named vice president for distribution operations. Forbes previously served as director of distribution engineering and is replacing Tom Kratt, who retired in January 2024. Forbes has been with AEP since 2007 and AEP Ohio since 2020. Lisa Kelso was named vice president for customer experience, replacing Jon Williams, who recently retired. Kelso has held numerous management positions within AEP since joining the company in 2008. Matt McKenzie has been named vice president of regulatory and finance. McKenzie worked with AEP Ohio as a private attorney along with the company's regulatory team from 2021-2024 and in AEP's legal department from 2014 to 2021.


HB226 (Robb Blasdel-Jarrells) would allow water companies regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to shift lead line replacement costs for commercial as well as residential property to all consumers in the utility's service territory. President Bob Davis of Aqua Ohio, whose territory covers the vast majority of non-municipal lead service lines in the state, warned the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee of the "grave risk" to residents, businesses and their customers without proactive remediation of heavy metals on the owner side of water lines. He said Ohio is second only to Illinois with an estimated 650,000 lead service lines statewide. Though municipal and state-regulated water systems work to mitigate those risks with chemistry and "treatment techniques," said Davis, federal and state environmental protection agencies (EPA) are urging their complete removal.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The House Wednesday sent legislation that would require school districts to adopt a policy limiting cell phone use to Gov. Mike DeWine less than a month after he urged its adoption during his "State of the State" address. HB250 (Miranda-Richardson) originally revised the Military Enlistment diploma seal, but the Senate added a number of other provisions, including the cell phone restriction. Under the provision, each school district is required to create a policy minimizing cell phone use during school hours. It also directs the Department of Education and Workforce to create a model policy that schools can use.


A number of Republicans objected and a vote was taken for session to adjourn after the House did not take up the Senate amendments to HB114 (Humphrey-Seitz), which the Senate had passed earlier in the day after amending it to include an exemption for President Joe Biden to appear on the November ballot while also including provisions of SB215 (Gavarone-McColley) to ban foreign contributions to ballot issue campaigns.


The House said goodbye to former Rep. Jessica Miranda, now the Hamilton County auditor, and sat her replacement, University of Cincinnati Assistant Professor Jodi Whitted, who will serve out the remainder of Miranda's term while another Democrat, Karen Brownlee, takes Miranda's place on the ballot. Brownlee was unable to be seated as she does not reside in the current district but rather in the newly drawn District 28.


In other action, the House passed the following bills:


  • HB194 (K. Miller) To authorize a contract with a private vendor for the issuance of specialty license plates. Vote 87-3

  • HB234 (Williams-Rogers) To prohibit a court imposing a sentence on an offender for a felony or misdemeanor from considering whether the offender who entered an Alford plea shows genuine remorse for the offense. Vote 90-0

  • HB264 (Pizzulli-Johnson) To make certain steam-producing facilities waste energy recovery systems for purposes of the state's energy efficiency laws. Vote 86-4

  • HB265 (Wiggam-Hall) To exempt redaction request forms, affidavits, and the records of the work schedules of designated public service workers from disclosure under public records law. Vote 89-0

  • HB271 (Mathews-Peterson) To specify that state questions and issues appearing on ballots must be numbered consecutively based on the previous election. Vote 90-0

  • HB338 (White-Sweeney) To allow child support orders to be issued, modified, or extended for children over 18 with a disability. Vote 85-4

  • HB347 (Jones) To allow an alternative method for certain farmers to verify that certain trailers and vehicles are purchased for agricultural purposes and thus exempt from sales and use tax. Vote 89-0

  • HB466 (Schmidt-Brennan) To require a written agency agreement for a licensed broker to represent a buyer or seller in a real estate transaction. Vote 88-1

  • SB81 (Romanchuk) To authorize certain advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants to sign documents related to psychiatric inpatients; to revise the law governing the Board of Nursing's monitoring of impaired practitioners; and to modify the law governing insurance navigators and to amend the version of section 4723.431 of the Revised Code that is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 30, 2024, to continue the changes to that section on and after that date. Vote 89-1


Formerly incarcerated individuals re-entering society would have an easier time obtaining housing under legislation passed by the Senate on Wednesday. The Senate voted 29-1 to pass HB50 (Humphrey), which allows an individual who is subject to collateral sanctions for housing to file a petition for a certificate of qualification for housing (CQH). Sen. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati) voted against the bill, and Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware) abstained.


In other action, the Senate voted 31-0 to pass SB89 (Roegner), which would enter Ohio into the Cosmetology Licensure Compact.


The Senate voted 27-4 to adopt SR296 (Reineke-McColley), which urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to withdraw its proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.


Other bills passed by the Senate on Wednesday included the following:


  • HB114 (Humphrey-Seitz), which addresses the presidential election and campaign finance laws. The bill passed 24-7.

  • SB94 (Brenner-Landis), which addresses various laws on mortgages, towing and judicial practices. The bill passed 30-1, with Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) voting against it.

  • SB145 (Schaffer), which designates a portion of Refugee Road in Fairfield County as the "Cpl. David A. Johnston Memorial Highway." The bill passed 31-0.

  • SB175 (Lang), which addresses insurance regulations and taxes. The bill passed 31-0.

  • SB179 (Kunze), which creates the "Hilliard Davidson Wildcats" license plate. The bill passed 31-0.

  • SB195 (Manning), which establishes the Ohio Ireland Trade Commission. The bill passed 31-0.


House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) announced over the weekend new chairs for committees where he previously removed the chairs for reportedly supporting primary opponents of sitting caucus members. The shuffling filled five of the six chairmanships that were opened after Stephens had removed House Agriculture Chair Rep. Rodney Creech (R-Germantown), House Constitutional Resolutions Chair Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), House Energy and Natural Resources Chair Rep. Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville), House Primary and Secondary Education Chair Rep. Adam Bird (R-Cincinnati), House Public Health Policy Committee Chair Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin), and House State and Local Government Chair Rep. Marilyn John (R-Shelby). Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) will now chair the Public Health Policy Committee, giving up his chairmanship of the House Pensions Committee. Stephens said in a memo that the chair and first named member of the Pensions Committee "shall remain vacant until further action is taken by the speaker." The pensions committee last met on Feb. 6. Similarly, the Constitutional Resolutions Committee also remains without a chair. It last met on May 2, 2023. Other changes to committees include the following:


  • Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport) was designated chair of the House Agriculture Committee.

  • Rep. Thomas Hall (R-Middletown) was removed as chair of House Technology and Innovation and will now chair the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Melanie Miller (R-Ashland) was named the new chair of the House Technology and Innovation Committee.

  • Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) was named chair of the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee.

  • Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) was appointed to the House State and Local Government Committee and designated as its chair.


Stephens said he'd like to explore the idea of bonding authority or other financial instruments to address the periodic requests for large contributions from state coffers for sports venues. Stephens addressed the topic Tuesday after the House Rules and Reference Committee meeting when asked about a reported $600 million dollar request from the Cleveland Browns. "I think there are other ways the state can be helpful, and it's not just the Browns," he said. "I would like to see us figure out a way, either through municipal bonds or some sort of bonding authority, of helping professional sports teams stay in our cities, but being creative from a financial standpoint. That doesn't necessarily mean that taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium in Cleveland, and then everybody else will be wanting a stadium." The speaker did say sports teams are an important part of Ohio's culture.


Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), a leader in the House GOP faction at odds with Speaker Stephens, said Tuesday he's considering an ethics complaint against the speaker following the removal of several committee chairs last week. Stephens yanked six chairmanships, including Plummer's spot atop the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee, over campaign support given to primary challengers of incumbent Republican lawmakers. Plummer walked into the room where Stephens was addressing reporters after the Rules and Reference Committee meeting Tuesday morning and shared his plans after the speaker left, indicating he also plans to meet with the attorney general.


The Sunset Review Committee fielded one request for abolishment of an advisory panel Tuesday, otherwise hearing testimony from state agencies seeking to reauthorize various small entities throughout state government. Entities up for review Tuesday mostly fell under the aegis of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) and Ohio Department of Development (DOD).


Chair Sen. Louis Blessing (r-Cincinnati) Tuesday gave sponsor testimony on his minimum wage proposal, SB256, before his Senate Ways and Means Committee, where he was greeted with skepticism from his own members despite his raising the specter of the looming November ballot issue on the same issue. Committee Vice Chair Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) commented that the only thing she "likes less than government interfering with housing [referencing her comments earlier on SB244 (Reynolds-Craig)] is government interfering with minimum wage and the free market." Blessing responded that it is not a question of where "you want things to be. I think it is a comparison of this legislation versus where the ballot initiative is." He went on to say he is "firmly convinced that if the ballot initiative gets on the ballot, it will pass."


Reps. Haraz Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg) and Elgin Rogers (D-Toledo) Tuesday detailed their legislation to create a Nursing Student Loan-to-Grant Program as well as set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. HB285 (Ghanbari-Rogers) would appropriate $20 million for the Nursing Student Loan-to-Grant Program, which would be administered through the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE). The program would issue loans to nursing students of $3,000 per year for up to four years, for a total of $12,000. If the recipient stayed in Ohio for five years post-graduation, this loan would then convert to a grant, which would not need to be repaid.


Senate Government Oversight Committee Chair Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) commended some witnesses and admonished others during invited testimony on agency efficiencies Wednesday. She said the goal is to "streamline" government and make it more user-friendly through "tangible" reforms, including fewer regulatory burdens and lower fees. After a full slate of legislation, the committee took testimony on occupational licensing from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS), Accountancy Board of Ohio, Ohio Architects Board and Landscape Architects Board, and Ohio State Cosmetology and Barber Board.


Representatives of victims' advocacy groups and prosecutors both gave proponent testimony Tuesday to the House Criminal Justice Committee on how HB385 (Richardson-Williams) would greatly expand access to criminal record expungement for human trafficking victims, though some changes were suggested. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said that "exiting the life is only the start" and detailed how people who were human trafficking victims can struggle with drug addiction. They often have a criminal record that impedes employment and housing, he said. The requirement for a predicate offense of solicitation leaves out many sex trafficking victims as well as all labor trafficking victims, Yost said. People need an "on ramp to the highway for hope," he said, and HB385 provides that by removing the predicate requirement while ensuring the expunged offense was a result of trafficking.


The Ohio First Caucus held its first meeting this week, Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) announced. Johnson created the caucus and helped lead the first meeting, according to his office. "The term 'America First' does not suggest an isolationist policy, just the opposite. It is a policy that productively engages the world while promoting and protecting our nation's interests first and foremost," Johnson said. "By the same token, the Ohio First Caucus seeks to promote our state's interests with an informed and intelligent understanding of our role in global affairs, especially as we confront declared foreign adversaries who seek to do us harm."


In other legislative action, the House Behavioral Health Committee reported out HB352 (Baker-Carruthers), which establishes the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study Commission; the House Civil Justice Committee reported out HB390 (Brown-Swearingen) to revise law around excess funds in foreclosure sales; the House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB37 (Johnson-K. Miller),dealing with OVI penalties; the House Government Oversight Committee reported out HB331 (Mathews-Young), which addresses village dissolution; HR374 (Demetriou-Patton), which memorializes the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the U.S.; HB430 (Klopfenstein-Rogers), regarding county engineers; and SB92 (McColley-Gavarone), the Biden ballot fix; the House Transportation Committee reported out highway/bridge naming bills HB493 (King), HB494 (King), HB431 (Klopfenstein), HB383 (Fowler Arthur), HB439 (Patton), HB448 (Demetriou) and HB380 (Hillyer-K. Miller); the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out SB176 (Sykes-Romanchuk), which addresses support for disabled adult children; the House Insurance Committee reported out HB160 (Santucci), which deals with dental insurance; the Senate Government Oversight Committee reported out HB158 (Roemer-M. Miller), which revises cosmetologist and barber laws; the Senate Health Committee reported out SB95 (Reynolds), which addresses remote dispensing pharmacy operations; the Senate Transportation Committee reported out license plate bill SB179 (Kunze); and the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee reported out day designation bill SB225 (Roegner).


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine said he's keeping his eye on state tax revenue collections, which lag projections by more than $400 million for FY24 so far, but he isn't highly concerned yet. "I don't think anyone's becoming horribly alarmed, but it's something we're certainly watching," he said. Asked if he thinks the trends are driven by tax policy changes or economic activity, he said it's probably a combination of both.


The governor sat down with Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles Wednesday for a Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) forum to talk about his priorities, a month after giving his "State of the State" address in early April. He touched on a number of additional topics ranging from his relationship with the Legislature to sports teams requesting state money for new facilities. DeWine said that he had made the decision to devote his entire "State of the State" speech to the issue of children, saying that it has been a common theme throughout his political career. He said as he looks to the future, there is nothing more important than childhood education. He said his proposals are not just important to help every child to live up to their full potential, but also coincide with what is best for the entire state.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Gov. Mike DeWine Friday said Ohio State University (OSU) has done a "very, very good job" when it comes to handling the campus protests against the war in Gaza. Speaking to reporters after the Veterans Hall of Fame event in the Statehouse Atrium, DeWine said that he believes Ohio is a "good example" of the way to handle the protests and commended Ohio State President Ted Carter. "They have very well respected the First Amendment. They've respected people's rights to demonstrate. They've respected people's rights to disagree about the issue of what's going on in the Middle East and what our foreign policy should be," DeWine said. "But Ohio State has also said that their basic campus rules need to be followed -- these rules that they've had in place for a long time ... I think by having those rules outlined, articulated clearly to demonstrators, giving them the opportunity to demonstrate, but also saying these are the lines we cannot cross." He said the Ohio State Highway Patrol has assisted and will be available to assist with any demonstrations on other campuses. The units are there to support campus police and are specifically trained to handle "this type of a situation."


The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee continued its hearings on the capital budget requests of Ohio's public universities on Tuesday and Wednesday, hearing from the presidents of Cleveland State University (CSU), the University of Toledo (UT), Ohio State University and Youngstown State. Committee Chair Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) earlier this year had asked public universities to present information on their capital budget requests as well as other cost data, faculty and administration counts, and spending on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) or related subjects.


JUDICIAL


Ohio's latest class of aspiring attorneys were sworn in at a special session of the Ohio Supreme Court on Monday, May 6 at the Palace Theatre in downtown Columbus. The bar exam is administered twice a year by the Court. The latest test was last administered in February when a total of 370 aspiring attorneys took the exam, and 182 -- or 49 percent -- passed. Of the test takers, 153 sat for the first time with 97 passing, a pass rate of 63 percent. The applicants represented 51 Ohio counties and 15 states.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


There are now 424,468 patients registered in the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP), according to March 2024 patient and caregiver numbers released by the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Cannabis Control (DCC). Of registered patients, 25,544 are military veterans; 25,502 are classified as "indigent"; and 1,450 have a terminal diagnosis. However, only 167,153 patients have both an active registration and an active medical marijuana recommendation from a physician. There are now 39,214 caregivers registered in the program, and 611 doctors have certificates to recommend medical marijuana.


MENTAL HEALTH


Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) this month is hosting a Community Mental Health Expo in celebration of its 150 years providing mental health services in Southeastern Ohio. The public is invited to visit the hospital located at 100 Hospital Drive in Athens on Saturday, May 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The expo will feature speakers, informational displays, a behind-the-scenes tour of the hospital's treatment mall, food trucks, a patient art show, and more. ABH is one of six regional psychiatric hospitals operated by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS). The 92-bed hospital provides psychiatric care to civil and forensic patients from 17 counties, including Adams, Athens, Coshocton, Fairfield, Gallia, Guernsey, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Scioto, Vinton, and Washington.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is accepting applications for the 2024 H2Ohio Statewide Wetland Grant Program, which provides reimbursements of up to 100 percent funding for projects in the state. In each project application, the budget must be justified with a minimum funding request of $50,000. There is no maximum funding cap. In 2023, ODNR announced $8.2 million in H2Ohio grants to support 12 new wetland projects in 11 counties across Ohio. Grantees included a nonprofit, park districts, townships, and local county entities. Types of eligible H2Ohio wetland or natural infrastructure projects include the following: wetland creation; hydrologic restoration of wetlands on hydric soils; hydrologic enhancement of existing wetlands, floodplains, and riparian corridors; stream, conservation channel design and floodplain restoration; and restoration of forested riparian buffers.


OHIO HISTORY


The Statehouse will again host an exhibition of a vintage "base ball" game later this month as the Ohio Village Muffins and Lady Diamonds take on the Capital Cannons. America's pastime went by its two-word moniker back in the 1800's, the era this month's game will hearken back to. The west lawn of Capitol Square will see members of the Ohio General Assembly take on the travelling Muffins team from 5:30-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22. The event is free and open to the public and will feature cannon firing demonstrations and history displays before and after the action on the diamond. Cannon demonstrations will be provided by the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, Battery A. Concessions will also be available. More information about the Ohio Village Muffins and Lady Diamonds can be found at https://tinyurl.com/5wktwz72.


PENSIONS


Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday he's alerted numerous other state officeholders and authorities to "disturbing allegations" sent to him regarding the board of the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) and expressed his worry about the fact a governance consulting firm recently quit its contract with the pension fund. The STRS board has been closely divided and the system's executive director, William Neville, is on an extended leave over misconduct allegations, although outside investigators found accusations against him largely unfounded. Voting recently closed on a board seat election to replace Chair Dale Price, who declined to seek re-election, with results expected over the weekend. Meanwhile, the 10th District Court of Appeals recently reinstated STRS board member Wade Steen, whom DeWine had replaced over concerns about meeting attendance and perceived advocacy for certain investment managers. A statutorily required fiduciary audit commissioned by the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) recommended governance updates at STRS, including performance of more work at the committee level. STRS contracted with consulting firm Aon to carry out that work, but the firm reportedly bowed out of the agreement early.


Attorney General Dave Yost said Thursday he's considering whether to seek removal of State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) trustees over potential violations of fiduciary duty, after DeWine's office forwarded allegations about board member conduct to him and other state officials. Meanwhile, the Ohio Retirement Study Council also voted Thursday to formally alert other state officials to a governance consultant's decision to withdraw from doing business with STRS, something the governor called "a huge red flag" this week. DeWine's office shared a trove of documents with Yost and other state officials and also released them to Hannah News and other journalists. Yost said he's investigating STRS' "susceptibility to a hostile takeover by private interests," which is similar language as contained in an unsigned memo outlining a summary of concerns with STRS leaders that DeWine received and sent along to others.


POLITICS


Ohio Republicans paid their respects to Ohio Republican Party Vice Chair and Tuscarawas County Republican Party Chair Doug Wills after his passing on Sunday. He was 71. Wills had been selected by the State Central Committee as vice chair during its meeting last month. The Tuscarawas County Republican Party, where he served as chair for 35 years, announced his death on Sunday, saying Wills' love of Tuscarawas County "showed in his community involvement including the Tuscarawas County Fair Board, Performing Arts Center board member, and Dover Rotary. As an owner of Buehler's Fresh Foods, Doug was a well-respected leader for his employees and administrators alike."


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced $40.9 million in funding for 27 new traffic safety projects in 21 counties that will focus on protecting pedestrians and preventing roadway departures. Projects include upgrading or installing pedestrian hybrid beacons at mid-block crosswalks, raised enhanced crosswalks, new sidewalks or multi-use paths, curb bump outs, buffered bike lanes, and traffic calming measures. Roadway departure safety measures receiving funding include widening roadway shoulders, moving ditches and clearing trees and other obstacles further from the road. According to the governor's office, roadway departures are the top factor in fatal crashes, accounting for more than half of all traffic deaths in Ohio each year. In 2023, 615 people lost their lives in roadway departure crashes. Pedestrian-involved crashes resulted in 150 deaths last year.


TREASURER OF STATE


The state of Ohio has purchased a $30 million Israel Bond, Treasurer Robert Sprague announced Friday. "For 30-plus years, the treasurer's office has turned to Israel Bonds as a way to bring strong returns and balance to its investment portfolio," Sprague said. "With its long track record of providing competitive rates and timely and reliable repayments, Israel Bonds continue to be a sound investment for Ohio. We're proud to continue the state's long-standing history of purchasing these bonds." With the purchase settled on May 1, the bond will mature in two years, on May 1, 2026, with an interest rate of 5.37 percent. The purchase replaces $30 million in bonds that had recently matured, according to Sprague's office. After the purchase, the Ohio Treasury now holds a total of $262.5 million in Israel Bonds, continuing Ohio's standing as one of the largest government holders of these bonds in the U.S. This purchase brings Ohio's total purchases to $357.5 million since Sprague took office.


VETERANS


Seventeen individuals were inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor during a ceremony in the Statehouse Atrium on Friday. In order to be eligible for the honor, veterans must have received a military medal of valor and have been born or entered into military service in the state of Ohio. Those honored include Medal of Honor recipient David F. Winder; Silver Star recipients Marcus G. Collins, Stephen B. Cook, Henry R. (Rick) Hausman Jr., Gary Lee McKiddy, James B. (Brian) O'Keeffe, Joseph D. O'Meara, and Gregory A. White; Distinguished Flying Cross recipients Gregory R. Fleming and Arthur A. Wallace; Bronze Star with "V" Device recipients Arnold W. Bokesch, Matthew J. France, Michael R. Kelvington, Kent S. Knight, William G. Lee, and William L. Webster Jr.; and Army Commendation with "V" Device recipient Brad L. Bonnell.


In recognition of May as National Military Appreciation Month, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reminds all active duty and veteran servicemembers and their spouses of the free employment services provided by the department both on its website and at OhioMeansJobs centers. While registering for a free account on OhioMeansJobs.com, military members, their spouses and veterans are asked if they would like to be contacted by an employment specialist. The resumes of veterans are flagged with a red and blue "V" symbol, and the resumes of military spouses with a red and blue "S" to make them stand out to military-friendly employers. The "Military-Friendly Employer Registry" on OhioMeansJobs.com can be found under the "For Job Seekers" tab under the "Military Service" option. The website also offers assistance in translating military experience into civilian experience, additional help is available for posting resumes and learning about possible federal and state benefits current and former servicemembers may be eligible for.


WORKFORCE


The DeWine administration recently announced $811,086 will be provided through tax credits to 60 Ohio companies, helping to expand commercial driver's license (CDL) training programs for approximately 1,300 people. The funds will alleviate training costs and enable current and future employees to be upskilled. Employers of all sizes and industries registered to do business in Ohio and which employ Ohio residents as W-2 employees are eligible for the CDL Training Program. Employers can earn tax credits for half of the approved training costs, up to $25,000 in tax credits.

 


 

 

 

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



 



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