Week In Review - May 23, 2022



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This report reflects the latest happenings in government relations, in and around the Ohio statehouse. You’ll notice that it’s broad in nature and on an array of topics, from A-Z. This will be updated on a weekly basis.

Please feel free to share it with anyone else you believe may find it of interest, as well. Also, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions, concerns or if we can be of any assistance.


ABORTION


Ohioans should be able to vote on whether individuals have a constitutional right to reproductive health care such as abortion and contraception, Reps. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) and Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati) told Hannah News on Friday, May 13, ahead of a Monday news conference. Lepore-Hagan said she and Miranda will introduce an abortion rights resolution in the House, while Sens. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) will introduce a similar measure in the Senate. The resolutions are being proposed in response to a leaked draft copy of a U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion across the U.S.


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


Gov. Mike DeWine brought 19 regional members of OneOhio Recovery Foundation's Board of Directors up to speed Monday on the state's "unique" local approach to Ohio's $808 million opioid settlement and allocation for drug prevention, intervention and treatment. The board gathered for the first time at the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) headquarters with most members present or in virtual attendance. The governor said their job is to identify a disbursement timetable for OneOhio's $444.4 million, 55 percent share of the settlement, and how to spend it. Unlike tobacco settlement spending under former Republican and Democratic governors, when relatively little money went to intervention programs, DeWine said the OneOhio has the opportunity to ensure individuals, families and communities battling the drug epidemic benefit directly from opioid dollars.


AGING


Complaints from residents in long-term care facilities are 50 percent higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic started, the new interim state long-term care ombudsman Erin Pettigrew told the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee on Wednesday. Committee Chair Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) had asked about the effectiveness of the Ohio Department of Aging's (ODA) ombudsman program during the pandemic following occupational licensing testimony from Alex Lapso, ODA's legislative liaison. Lapso said ODA is happy with the performance of the ombudsman program, but asked the agency's leader of that program to explain the situation in more detail.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) this week began using $50 million to temporarily reduce costs for families receiving publicly funded child care (PFCC) by waiving copayments. The funding, which was authorized by the biennial budget, HB110 (Oelslager), will be used to directly reimburse providers the amount of copayments, waiving those copayments for families receiving PFCC. ODJFS began covering the copayments on Sunday, May 8, and the agency said the program will continue until funding runs out.


The House Families, Aging and Human Services Committee Thursday spent a marathon meeting debating a bill aimed at preventing minors from transitioning to a different gender. In the second hearing on HB454 (Click-Grendell), referred to as the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act by proponents, members spent hours questioning seven witnesses who spoke in favor of the bill. The proponents argued that minors lack the maturity and forethought necessary to make decisions with long-term consequences, such as transitioning genders. Characterizing certain hormonal treatments as "experimental," the proponents also said that these types of treatments hurt minors' physical and mental health and are often pushed on parents and youth by hospitals and "gender clinics."


CORONAVIRUS


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff held the first COVID-19 briefing in "a few weeks" Wednesday, saying conditions have been "fairly stable" but cases are rising in Ohio and the U.S. due to Omicron subvariants. Vanderhoff contrasted the currently rising numbers to those of January, when the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA) reported a peak of 6,700 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The latest OHA numbers show 614 hospitalized patients, and Vanderhoff said that includes many who tested positive but are in the hospital for other reasons. The latest CDC map has all but one Ohio county at the low transmission category, with Lawrence County at the medium level.


Ohio had nearly 20,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in the seven days ending Thursday, according to the ODH, rising from 15,970 in the period ending May 12 to 19,536 through May 19. There were 473 new hospitalizations and 32 ICU admissions, compared to 353 and 36 in ODH's May 12 update. The number of reported deaths fell from 57 to 40 for the week. In total, Ohio has seen 2.74 million cases, 116,307 hospitalizations, 13,566 ICU admissions and 38,590 deaths. According to the Ohio Hospital Association, there are currently 640 hospital patients and 79 ICU patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. Those numbers increased from 522 and 68 on May 12.


DEATH PENALTY


The state will not put Kareem Jackson to death on Thursday, Sept. 15 as scheduled, Gov. Mike DeWine's office said Friday, May 13, citing the drug supply problem that has halted all executions during his term. DeWine issued a reprieve for Jackson until Dec. 10, 2025. This announcement marked the fourth reprieve for Jackson by DeWine. The state has been unable to find a supplier of drugs needed for its lethal injection protocol without endangering supplies of drugs for therapeutic purposes.


DISABILITIES


The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has released the final version of the long-debated Ohio Dyslexia Guidebook. Legislation from the last General Assembly, 133-HB436 (Baldridge), created the Ohio Dyslexia Committee (ODC), which was charged with creating a guidebook focused on the best practices and methods for screening and teaching children with dyslexia or children displaying dyslexic characteristics. That document needed final approval from the State Board of Education (SBOE), which it received earlier in May.


EDUCATION


Several Ohio families who use EdChoice scholarships to send their children to private schools are now formal parties to litigation filed by several school districts and public school families to challenge the constitutionality of the state voucher program. Judge Jaiza Page of Franklin County Common Pleas Court issued an order Thursday, May 12 to grant two motions to intervene by groups of families, one filed in January, one in March.


Ohio high school athletes are still unable to sign endorsement deals without losing their amateur status. Member schools of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) voted 538 to 254 against a proposal that would have allowed high school athletes to financially benefit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). Schools voted from May 1 through May 16. The NIL proposal mirrored recent changes made at the collegiate level and would have allowed student-athletes to sign endorsement agreements so long as their teams, schools and/or the OHSAA logo were not used; the endorsements did not happen on school property or in school uniform; and provided there were no endorsements with companies that do not support the mission of education-based athletics, such as gambling, alcohol, drugs and tobacco.


The Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee turned legislation providing school districts continued flexibility on qualifications for substitute teachers into an education omnibus Tuesday, adopting several amendments with more on tap next week. Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell), chair of the committee, said HB583 (Bird-Jones) might also be amended to incorporate his bill on tutoring for pandemic learning recovery, SB306 (Brenner), which also was heard and amended in the committee Tuesday. The committee adopted an omnibus amendment to HB583 with various changes, as well as a standalone amendment revising implementation of last session's dyslexia effort, 133-HB436 (Baldridge). Under the dyslexia amendment, mandated screenings that were to begin in the coming school year will be delayed a year, although districts that are ready to administer them will be permitted to do so. The amendment also addresses schools' and districts' requirement to follow statutory provisions outlined in the dyslexia guidebook, recently developed by the Ohio Dyslexia Committee (ODC) and adopted by the State Board of Education.


A bill requiring public and nonpublic schools and public colleges participating in the College Credit Plus Program to post course curricula and other related information online got its first hearing in the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee Tuesday. Rep. Bill Roemer (R-Richfield) stressed in sponsor testimony for HB529 (Hillyer-Roemer) that the bill is not an attempt to aid or encourage efforts of censorship in schools, nor does it deal directly with other controversial education legislation, such as bills dealing with critical race theory or sex education. Roemer and fellow sponsor Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Dennison) did say, however, the legislation was needed in light of increasingly "heated" altercations at school board meetings in many communities.


Members of the House Technology and Innovation Committee took time Wednesday to hear from a slew of organizations and state partners from around Ohio about efforts to increase STEM education among Ohio students. Committee Chair Rep. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) said he had invited the presenters to shed light on some of the discussions the committee has been having on how to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and access in the state as well as increase the STEM workforce. Fraizer's own HB577 (Fraizer-Holmes), establishing the Ohio STEM Gateway Program under the College Credit Plus Program, is aimed at growing the STEM workforce. Among the presenters was Kelly Gaier Evans, director of the Ohio STEM Learning Network, a network managed as a public/private partnership between Battelle and Ohio.


Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday announced $4.8 million in grants to 98 Ohio schools for safety and security updates at their buildings. The 98 schools span 27 counties. Funds will be used to cover expenses like security cameras, public address systems, automatic door locks and visitor badging systems. The funding comes from Ohio's K-12 School Safety Grant Program, which is administered by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) in partnership with the Ohio School Safety Center. The program was funded in the capital appropriations bill, 133-SB310 (Dolan).


ELECTIONS


In a letter to members of Congress that was sent in response to inquiries regarding misinformation and disinformation about Ohio's elections, the Ohio Association of Elections Officials (OAEO) pushed back on a number of myths, misinformation and disinformation about Ohio's elections. The group said in the letter to the U.S. House Administration and the House Oversight and Reform committees that during deliberations on the biennial budget -- HB110 (Oelslager) -- it became aware of a narrative that outside organizations were attempting to influence Ohio's elections through grants to Ohio's county boards of elections.


While proponent testimony to the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee Wednesday about HB487 (T. Young) -- a bill changing laws on ballot printing contracts -- largely reflected prior comments to the House Government Oversight Committee, the first primary election held on May 3 was also identified as a reason for updates. Terry Burton, legislative co-chair of the Ohio Association of Election Officials (OAEO), gave testimony matching that from February and told Chair Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) some counties have struggled to make sure their absentee ballots went out on time and are available on Election Day. Burton also told Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) local boards of elections do not want to eliminate buying locally, but ballot printing has become "extraordinarily specialized," and it has become much more efficient to outsource mailing to companies that can do it more efficiently. He also cited paper shortages.


ELECTIONS 2022


The Ohio Elections Commission Thursday voted to impose a $500 fine on the campaign of Democratic Ohio Secretary of State candidate Chelsea Clark for issues related to information on her designation of treasurer form, keeping track of contributions and expenditures and lacking proper disclaimers, while finding no violations in regard to other items in a complaint against her. The commission heard from complainant Trevor Knapp, a Pickerington resident, and Clark's attorney Micah Kamrass. Executive Director Philip Richter recommended to find violations of Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Sections 3517.10(D)(1) and (2) and ORC 3517.20 and to impose the fine, with no violations of ORC Section 3517-081 and 3517.10(A). He told commissioners the fine was in "direct correlation" to past findings against Clark as well.


ENERGY/UTILITIES


A minority-owned marketer joined the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Tuesday to oppose the latest proposed subsidy under the 14-year-old policies of 127-SB221, passed during a pre-shale era of rising energy prices. Instead of allowing utilities to bill all customers for electric vehicle (EV) charging they may not use, witnesses said the state should ensure non-monopolies compete on a level playing field for the emerging EV market. Officially appearing as an interested party, Director Michael Haugh of OCC's Analytical Department-Competitive Services told the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee his comments were consistent with the consumers' counsel's historical opposition to energy subsidies that "tend to subvert or even prevent Ohio consumers from receiving the benefits of the free market," which he defined as lower prices and greater innovation. Haugh said OCC's position on SB307 (Rulli) would move to open opposition if the Legislature doesn't remove the proposed EV billing rider under SB221's continuing system of electric security plans (ESP).


GAMING/GAMBLING


The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) will unveil the universal start date for sports gambling on Wednesday, June 1, the commission announced Wednesday. "The universal start date will be announced at the commission's June 1 meeting and is likely to be close to, if not exactly on, Jan. 1, 2023," OCCC said in an update on its website. Under sports gambling legalization law HB29 (Wiggam-A. Miller), the OCCC is required to set a universal start date no later than Jan. 1, 2023.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) Monday did not take action on any of the rules on its agenda, allowing nearly 40 new rule packages and 12 no change rule packages to go into effect. There were no witnesses who appeared to testify on any of the rules on Monday's agenda.


The new study commission on bolstering efficiencies and anti-fraud efforts in public assistance kicked off Tuesday with an overview of the Medicaid, food and cash benefit programs and the work counties do to administer them. The Public Benefits Accountability Task Force was created in the state budget bill, HB110 (Oelslager), and is required to issue a report within 18 months of first meeting. Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), co-chair of the task force, told Hannah News that he doesn't have a specific timeline in mind for when the group will complete and publish its report. The next meeting is to focus on a November 2020 state auditor's report on eligibility determinations, but beyond that, Schaffer said he wants to hear from other task force members on which issues to focus on at future meetings. He said he hopes to meet monthly, if schedules permit.


House Republicans pulled back Wednesday from plans to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment and accompanying bill to specify public safety as a consideration in judicial bail decisions, but House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said he thinks they will still clear the General Assembly in time to make the November ballot. Headed into Wednesday's session, HJR2 (LaRe-Swearingen) and HB607 (LaRe-Swearingen) were on the chamber's voting calendar, but they were informally passed. The proposals respond to the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling in Dubose v. McGuffey, which said the risk of non-appearance, not public safety, should determine the financial level of bail. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of legislators has been pursuing a broader bail reform effort that would place limits on the use of cash bail.


The House voted Wednesday to provide $422 million to smaller jurisdictions that did not receive COVID relief funding directly from the federal government. Under HB377 (Hall-Swearingen), non-entitlement units (NEU) of local government, including townships, will share in another $422 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, following distribution of the initial $422 million via HB168 (Fraizer). The bill passed on a vote of 75-9.


The House voted 84-0 to pass HB343 (White), crime victims' rights legislation meant to implement principles in Marsy's Law, the constitutional amendment adopted by Ohio voters in 2017. Rep. Andrea White (R-Kettering), the bill sponsor, said the bill ensures crime victims' right to be heard, to get timely notice of proceedings, to have privacy when needed and to be present at proceedings.


The House approved legislation creating new regulations and an appeal process on the use of municipal tax liens for unpaid service charges. Reps. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) and Thomas West (D-Canton), sponsors of HB422, said they were trying to address the problem of cities' levying tax liens on properties when renters failed to pay water, sewer or trash bills, pinning costs on the property owner. Fraizer said the bill would ensure the person responsible for the cost of services is clearly defined. The bill passed 64-20.


The closest vote margin for legislation on the floor Wednesday came on HCR28, Rep. Brian Stewart's (R-Ashville) proposal urging the NCAA to restore vacated wins from the 2010 Ohio State University football season, the year of the Tattoogate scandal. The resolution passed 48-30 after Reps. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) spoke against it. Callender said the resolution would be sending the message that it's OK to break the rules while Vitale called it "a colossal waste of time."


The House offered temporary relief to small township fire departments in need of staff via HB564 (Koehler), which allows townships to have first responders work up to 38 hours per week for the next 18 months while still being considered part-time employees, meaning they do not need to be provided benefits.


The chamber consented to Senate changes to HB338 (Hoops), a motorcycle safety bill that picked up numerous revisions in the upper chamber, including amendments meant to enable the Ohio Department of Transportation's pursuit of a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge, a major highway crossing from Cincinnati to Kentucky. Among other amendments were those addressing tolling violations, commercial driver's licenses and funding for VFW facilities.


Also passing the House Wednesday were the following:


  • HB242 (B. Young-Weinstein), designating April as "Autism Acceptance Month." It passed 82-0.

  • HB333 (Miranda-White), requiring the Ohio Department of Education to develop a recommended job description for school counselors and designate a school counselor liaison. It passed 70-13.

  • HB353 (Click-Miranda), requiring state colleges and universities to have policies for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices, such as the need to miss class for religious holidays. It passed 79-0.

  • HB364 (Patton), revising the application process for the waterworks infrastructure improvement surcharge. It passed 68-15.

  • HB372 (Ray-Roemer), updating building inspection laws. It passed 77-7.

  • HB567 (Stewart-Brown), requiring courts of common pleas to have online general civil dockets. It passed 83-1.

  • SB236 Wilson-Lang), allowing insurers using online platforms to automatically enroll consumers in digital communications. It passed 82-0.

  • HB542 (Roemer-Sobecki), revising cosmetology and barber regulations. It passed 82-0.

  • HB545 (Abrams-Baldridge), encouraging mental health supports for first responders by allowing privileged testimonial communications for those receiving peer support team assistance. It passed 82-0.

The House seated Bishara Addison, director of job preparation at the Fund for Our Economic Future, as the new 9th District representative, succeeding former Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights), who left for a federal post.


The Senate Wednesday passed legislation that allocates federal funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill for roads and bridge projects in the state, as well as other federal dollars for projects through other state agencies. The Senate Transportation Committee had earlier in the day amended HB338 (Hoops) to add a number of transportation-related provisions as part of an omnibus amendment. The bill originally addressed motorcycle safety laws, including allowing those seeking a motorcycle license to take other end-of-course evaluations that meet or exceed Motorcycle Oho standards. In addition to appropriating federal dollars, other provisions allow for qualified military veterans to obtain a CDL without a driving or written test as well as giving the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) the ability to bid more for contracts related to the Brent Spence Bridge project. The bill passed 30-1.


The Senate also unanimously passed HB30 (Wiggam-Kick), which revises the lighting and reflective material requirements for animal-drawn vehicles often used by Amish residents. Kunze said the changes are needed as people of these communities are tired of family members and friends being hurt or potentially killed by accidents that could have been avoided. Antonio said the transportation committee had heard compelling testimony on the subject, and she said there is a simple solution in the bill that they hope will save lives.


The chamber unanimously passed SB278 (Peterson) designating the first week of February as "Ohio Burn Awareness Week" and SCR8 (Hottinger-Romanchuk) encouraging the induction of former Cleveland Browns player and state Sen. Dick Schafrath into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. HB321 (Kick-Young), which updates Ohio's auction laws, passed 30-1 with Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) voting against it.


After session, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he expects the General Assembly will pass a ban on abortions should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade but said he doesn't expect lawmakers to pass a trigger ban before summer break that would automatically take effect if the Court does act as expected based on a leaked draft opinion.


Speaker of the House Bob Cupp (R-Lima) Wednesday announced the following changes to committee assignments:


House Rules and Reference Committee: Appoint Rep. Marilyn John (R-Shelby).


House Health Committee: Appoint Rep. Shawn Stevens (R-Sunbury).


House State and Local Government Committee: Remove Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro); appoint Rep. Stevens.


House Criminal Justice Committee: Designate Rep. Andrea White (R-Kettering) vice chair.


House Government Oversight Committee: Designate Rep. DJ Swearingen (R-Huron) vice chair.


In other action, the House Health Committee reported out HB591 (Sweeney-Click) which designates "Eating Disorder Awareness Week"; the House Higher Education and Career Readiness Committee reported out HB569 (Holmes-White) which authorizes establishing Ohio Hidden Hero Scholarship programs; the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB606 (Bird-Ingram) which requires schools to have a seizure action plan for students with a seizure disorder; and HB554 (Lightbody-Bird) which deals with temporary educator licenses; House Transportation and Public Safety Committee reported out SB282 (O'Brien), a bridge naming bill; the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee reported out HCR22 (Young-Plummer) which deals with securing the southern border; the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee reported out HR75 (J. Miller-A. Miller) which recognizes the Ohio National Guard for assistance during the pandemic; the House State and Local Government Committee reported out HR194 (Stoltzfus-Ginter) which urges action on Canada's violations of religious freedom; the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee reported out HB340 (Bird-Blackshear) to designate September as "International Underground Railroad Month"; the Senate Transportation Committee reported out SB255 (Antonio-Williams), a street naming bill; the House Behavioral Health and Recovery Supports Committee reported out SB204 (Roegner) which enters Ohio into the Counseling Compact; and the House Families, Aging and Human Services reported out HB142 (Crawley-Brinkman) which deals with doula services.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, during a briefing Wednesday, discussed steps the department is taking to address shortages in infant formula nationwide, a matter that has the department "very concerned." ODH is doing all it can to help affected families, he said, including communicating with manufacturers who have assured them they are working to meet demand. Ohio's Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program has been working with federal agencies and manufacturers to mitigate the effects as well. Vanderhoff said the WIC program currently has waivers in place to add additional formula choice and size options for affected specialty formulas to provide greater options for families, and has sought more from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are working with individual families to help them find formula they need as well. Diluting formula or attempting to make it at home is dangerous, he said, and ODH recommends asking store staff about what is in stock and talking with health care providers.


A bill requiring the Ohio Board of Nursing to license certified midwives and certified professional midwives (CPM) was lauded in the House Families, Aging and Human Services Committee Thursday. About 70 individuals submitted proponent testimony on HB496 (Koehler) with 12 of those appearing in person to speak on behalf of the bill. Members heard from both midwives and women who had sought the care of midwives during their pregnancies. Supporters of the bill said it would be particularly beneficial for women in rural areas who may have limited access to health care and would help to reduce the state's high infant mortality rate, which is disproportionately high for Black babies.


HIGHER EDUCATION


In its ongoing look into career readiness programs and institutions of higher education around the state, the House Higher Education and Career Readiness Committee heard presentations from Carrie Phillips, a Microsoft education account executive, and Chris Mundell, vice president for institutional engagement at the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD). Phillips described Microsoft's numerous education programs and initiatives created to help students and teachers gain digital skills. The Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program, for example, has been supporting Northeast Ohio schools since 2017. The program is aimed at building "sustainable" computer science programs in high schools. Currently, 40 schools across Ohio are using TEALS, Phillips said. The classes are supported by volunteers from local industry such as Hyland Software, PNC Bank, Acumen Solutions and others. Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) asked if Ohio was doing enough to ensure students are graduating with coding and IT skills. Phillips reiterated Microsoft's commitment to building capacity for computer science education.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio's (COHHIO) Board of Directors on Monday announced housing and health care advocate Amy Riegel would become the organization's new leader starting Wednesday, June 1. Riegel will take over from founding Executive Director Bill Faith, who will be retiring this summer. Riegel most recently served as the senior director of housing for CareSource, a Medicaid managed care organization based in Dayton. Under her guidance, CareSource ramped up its efforts to address housing insecurity and improve the underlying conditions that affect the health and wellness of low-income Ohioans. Previously, Riegel helped oversee housing and homelessness policy and programs for the city of Dayton.


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Marcia Fudge, U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther Monday to discuss steps the Biden administration will take to increase affordable housing in the state and nationwide through 2027. A White House fact sheet said this plan starts with creation and preservation of hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units in the next three years, paired with other policies such as rental and down payment assistance. It includes rewarding changes to zoning and land-use policies; improving current forms of federal financing; ensuring that more government-owned homes go to owners who live in them rather than large institutional investors; and working with the private sector to finish building the most new homes in 2022 for any year since 2006. As part of the plan, President Joe Biden is continuing to urge Congress to pass investments in housing production and preservation, provide tax credits for building and rehabilitation of 125,000 homes for low and middle-income buyers and provide Housing Supply Fund financing to develop 500,000 units for low and moderate-income renters and homebuyers.


HUMAN SERVICES


Officials with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) told members of the Ohio Legislative Children's Caucus Monday the agency will soon open a new ombudsman office to field concerns from foster youth and resource families. Foster youth, alumni and families have consistently urged the DeWine administration's Children's Service Transformation Advisory Council to establish an independent ombudsman program, and such a recommendation was included among dozens sent to Gov. Mike DeWine in 2020 when the council released its report. Lawmakers codified the Youth and Family Ombudsman Office within ODJFS via HB4 (Manchester-Plummer), which takes effect Monday, May 30; they also provided funding for the office via the state budget.


JUDICIAL


A unanimous Ohio Supreme Court made short work of the 15-year debate over traffic cameras Thursday by upholding the General Assembly's authority to withhold state funds from jurisdictions that deploy them. In an opinion totaling a scant 13 pages, the Court that has repeatedly foiled traffic camera controls said 133-HB62's (Oelslager) last-minute offsetting local government funds (LGF) by camera fines is just as constitutional as municipalities' home rule powers to assess them. The Court had shot down limits on traffic cameras in 2014 and 2017 after former Gov. Bob Taft vetoed a previous effort in 2008. The Legislature conceded local governments' right to install the cameras in 2019 but inserted a provision in the HB62 conference committee reducing LGF by a jurisdiction's annual fines and requiring municipalities to pre-pay all court costs for camera appeals.


LIQUOR/ALCOHOL


Nearly 80 Ohio breweries celebrated American Craft Beer Week -- Monday, May 16 through Sunday, May 22 -- with the second edition of a statewide collaboration brew. "From the Heart Vol. 2" is a fundraising beer made to benefit the Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA), the nonprofit trade organization working to promote, preserve, diversify and unify the state's craft beer industry. The beers were released by participating breweries starting Friday, May 13. Many of the breweries also offered limited edition From the Heart pint glasses, while supplies last. A limited number of breweries will offer From the Heart Vol. 2 in cans, though most will have it available on draft in their taprooms.


Agents with the Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU) and the Ohio Division of Liquor Control (DOLC) are reminding high school students not to use drugs or alcohol during graduation celebrations. Agents are also encouraging parents to refrain from furnishing alcohol or a place to consume alcohol. "Hosting a graduation party with alcohol is not giving your children and their friends a safe place to gather," said OIU Senior Enforcement Commander Erik Lockhart. "Adults who choose to host a party with drugs and alcohol are not only opening themselves up for jail time, fines and civil suits but could ultimately be responsible for the loss of life."


LOBBYISTS


Savion, a Shell Group portfolio company, announced Tuesday that it had appointed Patrick Tully to its newly created position of manager of state policy. Tully has over 15 years of public policy experience, and will be responsible for state government relations supporting Savion's renewable energy project portfolio. This includes solar, energy storage and co-located solar and energy storage facilities.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


Ohioans will not get the chance to vote on marijuana legalization in November. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) on Friday, May 13 announced it will not place its initiated statute on the 2022 general election ballot following a settlement with Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima). Under the settlement order signed by the parties and Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye, LaRose will re-transmit the petition on Jan. 3, 2023, and the Legislature will have four months to consider the proposal. If lawmakers don't act on it by May 3, 2023, CRMLA can begin collecting signatures to place the measure on the November 2023 ballot.


The Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) on Monday issued 70 provisional dispensary licenses (PDLs) under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP). Board members unanimously approved all OBP staff recommendations during the special virtual meeting. Recommendations included 70 approvals and 17 denials. Ten were declared ineligible because an application with the same proposed address was drawn higher in the lottery. One application was designated "abandoned," while another was deemed ineligible because it would have exceeded the number of licenses an applicant was willing to accept. OBP Medical Marijuana Operations Director Justin Sheridan said three dispensary applications are still under review, and those locations could be issued a PDL at a later date.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


The Biden administration appears to have opted for another quarterly extension of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) beyond mid-July. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has promised states 60 days' advance notice of the end of the PHE, which in April was extended to July 15; it did not provide such notice by Monday, May 16. The PHE brings Ohio a host of benefits and regulations, most notably about $100 million per month in enhanced federal matching funds for Medicaid -- a supplement that comes with a mandate that the state not remove anyone from the Medicaid programs except in very limited circumstances, regardless of their eligibility status. Other programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also are operating under special parameters and with additional benefits available during the PHE.


While states do have the authority to withdraw from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) public health emergency (PHE) at any time, doing so would likely result in "noise," "drama" and increased scrutiny from the federal government, Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran told lawmakers Thursday. "Nobody has ever done this before," Corcoran told members of the Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee (JMOC), responding to a question from Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), who asked if ODM could withdraw from the PHE on its own or if the General Assembly would need to act. "My assessment would be that like every other major decision that affects the Medicaid program, there would need to be a discussion among the leaders -- the governor, and the speaker and the president. ... I would view that as being the place to begin with any decision of this sort," Corcoran said.


MENTAL HEALTH


Gov. Mike DeWine Friday, May 13 announced his administration plans to use $85 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to boost Ohio's behavioral health care workforce. DeWine made the announcement in Columbus with Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director Lori Criss and Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Chancellor Randy Gardner and various leaders of Ohio's behavioral health care and higher education communities. The governor's office said the funds will give the state an opportunity to make education more attainable and affordable for students committed to behavioral health care careers. The funding will be dedicated to enhancing paid internship and scholarship opportunities for students working to achieve behavioral health certifications and degrees at Ohio's two- and four-year colleges and universities and other educational career development settings. It will also help remove financial barriers to obtaining licenses, certifications and exams necessary for employment in these careers; support providers in their ability to supervise and offer internships and work experiences; and establish a technical assistance center to help students navigate the federal and state funding opportunities available to them.


As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, Gov. Mike DeWine Monday announced the Pediatric Behavioral Health Initiative, an $84 million investment to increase access to care and expand capacity across the state so kids and their families can get services and supports for their behavioral health needs in or near their communities. This initiative uses dedicated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to expand infrastructure and strengthen local partnerships so Ohio kids can get the specialty care they need. The funding was allocated in HB168 (Fraizer-Loychick) which passed by the General Assembly last year. It will expand inpatient and outpatient behavioral health supports regionally.


The House Behavioral Health and Recovery Supports Committee Thursday heard from 18 witnesses representing the state's mental health and drug addiction boards and their partners highlighting the many updates to legislation governing their operations made in the substitute version of HB523 (Swearingen).


Chief sponsor Rep. DJ Swearingen (R-Huron) described the major changes made from the "as introduced" version, noting that the intent is to "revitalize" the mental health/drug addiction boards in the state. Ohio Revised Code Sec. 340 has basically not seen an overhaul since it was first enacted 30 plus years ago.


PEOPLE


Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Canal Winchester) gave birth to her son, Davis Lee Maharath, on Thursday, May 12. The birth was announced by Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) on the Senate floor during Wednesday's session. She said the boy weighed 6 pounds 14 ounces. Maharath has one other son.


Former Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) Director Craig Butler and former Rep. Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake) are among the new leaders joining the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum (OHCEF). Columbus Partnership Vice President for New Business Ventures Mark Patton and Northwest Ohio Regional Economic Development President Jerry Zielke also joined the OHCEF Leadership Council, the organization announced Thursday. Butler, Greenspan, Patton and Zielke will serve alongside current OHCEF Leadership Council members McClure Farms President Terry McClure and Regional Financial Senior Relationship Product Manager Zach Upton.


PUBLIC SAFETY


Ohio's Division of State Fire Marshal said his office will receive a $250,000 grant for new computers at its forensic lab. This will provide more processing power to reduce turnaround time and eliminate digital evidence backlogs. The grant is part of the Ohio Crime Lab Efficiency Program. "Investing in our forensic science equipment is critical to public safety," State Fire Marshal Kevin Reardon said. "These high-tech additions will allow our scientists, lab professionals and forensic specialists to more efficiently discover evidence that solves crimes and brings justice to victims." Forensic Lab Bureau Chief Chad Wissinger added that they will also install field pole cameras at high-risk locations, serving as a deterrent to arson. The overall program is providing millions to Ohio's 14 certified crime labs through American Rescue Plan Act funds, and is meant to eliminate backlogs, increase lab efficiency and decrease evidence processing times.


SECRETARY OF STATE


Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Thursday that there were 15,488 new business filings in April 2022, a 20 percent decrease from the previous month and a 30 percent decrease from April 2021. LaRose said that as inflation continues to rise to record levels throughout the nation, small business optimism has reached an all-time low, citing the NFIB National April Small Business Optimism Index which reached the lowest point in the survey's 48-year history, citing inflation as a major problem facing small businesses.


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


The second "GovTech Summit" was held Wednesday by OhioX, a nonprofit dedicated to growing the state economy through technology and innovation. A wide array of public and private officials were set to speak at the virtual event, including keynote remarks by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima). Rep. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark), chair of the House Technology and Innovation Committee, was due to speak on a "Building Ohio's Tech Hub" panel along with Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), ranking member of the committee; Rep. Adam Holmes (R-Nashport), a committee member and chair of the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Technology Committee; and former Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe, now partner at High Bridge Consulting.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS/BROADBAND


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Wednesday members of Ohio's Broadband and 5G Sector Partnership, including industry, education and government entities. Ohio State University (OSU) was picked to develop the associated curriculum and the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) was previously named as the industry partner. The sector partnership is working to design and distribute curriculum and training programs, along with promoting career awareness, to meet industry workforce needs. It is estimated these programs will support filling 1,250 jobs for broadband access expansion and 32,000 jobs for 5G deployment in Ohio. Partnership members will have their first official meeting at OSU on Thursday, June 9. The full list of partners named Wednesday includes the following:


  • Industry: Fiber Broadband Association; Horizon; NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association; NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association; Ohio Cable Telecom Association; Ohio Telecom Association; Ohio Wireless Association; Power & Communication Contractors Association; Team Fishel; TRC Companies; and USTelecom.

  • Education: Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Ohio; the Foundation for Excellence in Education; Inter-University Council; Ohio Association for Career and Technical Education; Ohio Association of Career Technical Superintendents; Ohio Association of Community Colleges; Ohio Excels; and the Management Council.

  • Government: BroadbandOhio; Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation; JobsOhio; and the Ohio departments of education; higher education; job and family services; rehabilitation and correction; and veteran services.

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


Preeti Choudhary has been selected by Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Jack Marchbanks as the new executive director of DriveOhio, effective Monday, May 9. According to DriveOhio, Choudhary is a senior intelligent transportation systems engineer with a diverse background in systems engineering analyses; connected and automated vehicle (CV/AV) strategic planning and programming; and technology pilot deployments. Her technical background and communication skills make her a bridge between engineers, policy makers, and stakeholders, the department said.


Transportation officials in Ohio and Kentucky Monday said they are taking the next steps to improve the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor (BSBC) just a week before grant applications for the project are due to the federal government. Under the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, states have until Monday, May 23 to apply for grant funding through the federal Multimodal Projects Discretionary Grant, which includes funding set aside for projects that are so large that traditional funding and grant mechanisms are not an option. On Monday, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) said it has requested proposals from consultants to support contract administration, public outreach, project management and control tasks necessary to manage the eventual design-build project. The selected consultant will be co-managed by a joint team within ODOT and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC).


The Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) approved a $614,456 grant that will make improvements on the Midland Subdivision rail line by Indiana & Ohio Railway (IORY) in Cincinnati and Clinton County. ORDC said IORY is matching the grant at $614,456, for a total project investment of $1,228,912. The work consists of two related elements on the Midland Subdivision: installation of a crossover near Oakley Yard in Cincinnati, and improvements to Midland Yard in Clinton County.


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission (OTIC) will extend its Business Inclusion Program for an interim period of one year. Commissioners approved a resolution extending the program during OTIC's monthly meeting on Monday. OTIC Contracts Administration Director Aimee Lane said the move was necessary to allow for the continuation of the commission's diversity, equity and inclusion work with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). Later in the meeting, Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg) suggested that the OTIC should provide livestreaming video of its meetings, similar to how legislative committee meetings are broadcast on the Ohio Channel.


According to early numbers released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this week, Ohio had 1,351 reported traffic fatalities in 2021, a 9.8 percent increase over the previous year, when 1,230 traffic fatalities occurred. NHTSA said Ohio was one of 44 states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to have an increase in 2021 as compared to 2020, while one state was unchanged and five states had decreases. The Midwest region, which includes Ohio, saw an overall 9 percent increase in fatalities in 2021.

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


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