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Week in Review May 28, 2024


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.


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


The DeWine administration is awarding over $2.1 million to 35 local drug task forces to disrupt the illegal drug trade and promote substance abuse awareness, prevention and recovery. Thirty-one counties are marked for grants from the RecoveryOhio Law Enforcement Fund to help officers identify high-level drug traffickers, dismantle large drug trafficking organizations, interrupt the flow of money and drugs from international cartels, and prevent the sale of illegal narcotics.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) announced recently that 93 acres have been added to the Farmland Preservation Program, with two farms owned by Roberta and Larry Miller in Clark County now the fourth and fifth to join the program this year. ODAg noted the local sponsor Tecumseh Land Trust played a significant role in securing the agreement. The program represents a voluntary agreement between landowners and ODAg where the land will be perpetually maintained predominantly for agricultural use. The landowner either receives compensation or may be entitled to a tax deduction.


APPALACHIA


The DeWine administration awarded $51.8 million to 18 projects recently as part of the final round of the Appalachian Community Grant Program, which was the subject of several recent announcements. Thursday's funds were a second round of the "Wonderful Waterfronts" initiative, which previously saw $152 million announced for 21 projects. The funds will support improvement of waterfronts, trails, parks and historic downtown districts in Ohio's Appalachian region.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


Professional sports stadiums would be required to use natural grass fields under legislation announced by Reps. Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland). Specifically, HB605 will require professional stadiums to have fields that are at least 90 percent natural grass and maintained at industry standard levels for high performance field surfaces, Creech's office said.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Joining the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Ohio and 29 other states reopened a bipartisan legal front Thursday against Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation Entertainment, accusing the companies of acting as a highly coordinated monopoly to block competitors from live music and comedy performances and expanding their share of the industry.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


The perinatal period -- from conception to about one year after a child's birth -- is a time when between 70 and 80 percent of birthing parents, both women and men, can experience mental health problems like anxiety and mood disorders. To better explain what actions the state of Ohio might take to address such perinatal mental health issues, experts joined the Ohio Legislative Children's Caucus on Monday to discuss their efforts currently underway. Tonya Fulwider, executive director of Mental Health America of Ohio (MHAOhio), told the caucus during a Zoom meeting that the organization is focused on helping moms and birthing parents get quality care and peer support through its Perinatal Outreach & Encouragement for Moms (POEM) program. Fulwider said POEM is the only program of its kind in the country and has won awards for its efforts in helping moms through mental health issues during the perinatal period.


House lawmakers advocated Tuesday for a collection of tax, regulatory and other policies to address the costs and availability of child care and problems with placements for children in state custody. Rep. Andrea White (R-Kettering) led a press conference on several recently introduced bills, joined by a few colleagues who are sponsoring them. She noted many ideas stemmed from the recent work of a study committee on publicly funded child care and the Step Up to Quality (SUTQ) rating system. "We are determined we are not going to let a study committee go to waste," she said. "Everywhere you go, we have a workforce crisis, we have a child care crisis, and we have an early learning crisis, when you have 65 percent of your kids or so, depending on the year, showing up not ready for kindergarten. And those who are investing in preschool are finding that it pays great dividends in saving money on remediation," White said.


Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment and Reducing Trauma) announced this week the expansion of its evidence-based intervention program for child welfare sobriety and resiliency to Adams, Madison, Montgomery and Pike counties. This addition brings the total number of counties participating in Ohio START to 56. The START program is designed to safely keep children with their families so that they don't have to enter foster care.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Ohio should consider passing its own version of a Florida law that provides funding to counties to plan, implement or expand initiatives that increase public safety, avert increased spending on criminal justice and improve the accessibility and effectiveness of treatment services for individuals with mental illnesses, Miami-Dade County Court Judge Steve Leifman told the Governor's Work Group on Competency Restoration and Diversion on Thursday.


Auditor of State Keith Faber and Attorney General Dave Yost Thursday announced a fourth former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium official has been charged as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of more than $2.29 million from the zoo. Faber's office said Tracy Murnane, the zoo's former director of purchasing, was charged with counts of grand theft; complicity in the commission of theft of a motor vehicle; forgery; telecommunications fraud; and filing incomplete, false, and fraudulent returns, plus misdemeanor counts related to the acquisition of motor vehicles without obtaining certificates of title in his name.


DEATH PENALTY


Attorney General Dave Yost made an appearance before the House Government Oversight Committee Tuesday to advocate for the passage of legislation that would enact the use of nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method, saying that if Ohio is going to have the death penalty, it needs to have ways to enforce it. Yost opened his testimony by telling of his prosecution of Gerald "Bob" Hand, who murdered four people and was sentenced to the death penalty. All of Hand's appeals ran out in 2018, but Yost said that he still sits on Death Row, 21 years after his conviction because pharmaceutical companies will not sell Ohio the drugs the state needs to carry out capital sentences. HB392 (Stewart-Plummer) "puts an end to this stalemate," authorizing the state to use nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative means of execution, Yost said, adding that nitrogen is easily obtained and administered.


EAST PALESTINE DERAILMENT


The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Thursday announced they have reached a more than $310 million settlement with Norfolk Southern Railway Company over the February 2023 train derailment in East Palestine. DOJ said that under the settlement, Norfolk Southern will be required to take measures to improve rail safety, pay for health monitoring and mental health services for the surrounding communities, fund long-term environmental monitoring, pay a $15 million civil penalty and take other actions to protect nearby waterways and drinking water resources.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/URBAN REVITALIZATION


Gov. Mike DeWine's administration announced Monday the approval of assistance for three projects expected to create 345 new jobs and retain 77 jobs statewide. During its monthly meeting, the Ohio Tax Credit Authority (TCA) reviewed economic development proposals brought by JobsOhio and its regional partners. The projects are expected to collectively result in more than $20 million in new payroll and spur $180 million in investments across Ohio.


Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Development (DOD) Director Lydia Mihalik kicked off "Ohio Tourism Day" at the Statehouse on Tuesday, telling attendees that there are fun attractions across the Buckeye State. More than 120 travel and tourism industry exhibitors were set up on the lawn of the Statehouse for the event. "Tourism Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate and promote the diverse attractions and destinations that make our state the best place to visit and raise a family," DeWine said. "The tourism industry significantly contributes to Ohio's economy, helping Ohio's people, businesses and communities thrive."


ECONOMY


Ohio's unemployment rate increased to 4.0 percent in April, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), up from 3.8 percent, as the state lost 2,500 nonagricultural wage and salary jobs over the month. The number of workers unemployed in Ohio in April was 230,000, up from 220,000 in March, ODJFS said. The number of unemployed has increased by 33,000 in the past 12 months from 197,000. The April unemployment rate for Ohio has increased 0.6 percentage points from 3.4 percent in April 2023. The U.S. unemployment rate for April 2024 was 3.9 percent, up from 3.8 percent in March 2024 and up from 3.4 percent in April 2023.


EDUCATION


The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) is recognizing coaches across the state for their sportsmanship, ethics and integrity. Throughout the 2023-24 school year, the coaches' associations of the sports sanctioned by OHSAA select one of their own for an OHSAA Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award.


ELECTIONS


Supporters of election security bill HB472 (Willis-Peterson) testified Wednesday before the House Homeland Security Committee, led off by Marcell Strbich of Dayton who said, "For Ohio to maintain or exceed its election 'Gold Standard' reputation, this appropriately assigned committee can advance critical and long-standing election shortfalls in all the bill's main categories spanning Voter Registration Data Validation, Independent Auditing of Voter Registration Databases, Identity and Citizenship Verification, Enhanced Vendor Cybersecurity Standards, Election Administration and the County Voting System Backup." Other witnesses followed, going into each of those areas in detail.


ELECTIONS 2024


About two weeks after the Ohio House failed to take up legislation to fix the issue keeping President Joe Biden from November's ballot, Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) told reporters Tuesday the problem will likely not be fixed legislatively after all. Stephens said there is "just not the will to do that from the Legislature." But Gov. Mike DeWine said multiple times over the week that he believes lawmakers have an obligation to make sure Biden can be on the ballot, culminating in a Thursday evening press conference where he announced he’ll use his constitutional authority to call a special session starting Tuesday, May 28 to address the issue. "This is ridiculous. This is an absurd situation," said DeWine. He added that it's important that when Ohio voters cast a ballot in the fall, they can cast a vote for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. The Senate had added amendments to HB114 (Humphrey-Seitz), which included an exemption to get Biden on November's ballot while including provisions of SB215 (Gavarone-McColley) which deals with the contributions of foreign nationals to ballot campaigns. The House, on the other hand, had amended SB92 (McColley-Gavarone) both to rectify the conflict between when Ohio requires major parties to submit the names of their presidential candidates to the state and when the Democratic National Committee (DNC) holds its convention this year. Then, earlier this week, the Senate again added SB215 language to a different bill, HB305 (Stewart-Brown), and passed it, but the House did not take up the bill.


The re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) this week announced it is launching "Veterans & Servicemembers for Sherrod," a coalition of Ohio veterans, service members, and military families backing Brown's reelection.


ENERGY/UTILITIES


The Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission (OGLMC) on Monday selected winning bids to lease mineral rights under two Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) properties. The bids are for properties along State Route 721 in Noble County and State Route 7 in Monroe County. Every lease agreement includes a 12.5 percent royalty paid to the state for production, per state law, with an additional financial incentive paid by the winning bidder to the state. Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code, royalties and incentives paid to the state would go back to the agency that leases the mineral rights. The total lease bonuses for ODOT properties selected by the commission amount to $8,092. This is in addition to the extra financial incentives and royalties on production. Antero Resource Corporation won the bid for the property along State Route 761, while SWN Production LLC won the bid for the property along State Route 7.


More than 250 communities in 78 counties are receiving $2.2 million in H2Ohio grants to help pay for equipment to maintain public drinking water distribution systems, Gov. Mike DeWine has announced. "H2Ohio continues to have a tremendous impact in our communities," DeWine said in a news release. "Ohioans deserve to have reliable, clean drinking water, and these H2Ohio grants will help municipalities all over the state make needed investments to their local drinking water systems."


ENVIRONMENT


Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio EPA recently announced that 30 municipalities and counties will receive $1.7 million in grants as part of the first grants to be awarded under the new H2Ohio Rivers Chloride Grant program. Of the grants awarded, more than $1.12 million will help 22 local governments upgrade road salt equipment, and $569,000 will help nine local governments pay for upgrades or new construction for salt storage and loading areas that will help prevent over application of salt on Ohio roads and reduce runoff into streams, rivers, and lakes.


FEDERAL


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) should provide Ohio communities with flexibility as they work to comply with mandates under the Clean Water Act (CWA), U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and J.D. Vance (R-OH) wrote in a letter to USEPA Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore. The senators are asking the agency to utilize the CWA's Financial Capability Assessment (FCA) Guidance to ensure compliance requirements are not overly burdensome and consider the financial capabilities of communities. "We urge you to fully utilize the 2023 CWA FCA Guidance and engage with communities to take a holistic approach in calculating an area's financial capacity for CWA compliance as Ohio communities work to fulfill their unfunded federal mandate under the act," the senators wrote.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Legislation seeking to address Ohio's infant and maternal mortality rates was reported out of the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. Every member present except Reps. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) and D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) voted to approve HB7 (White-Humphrey) after the committee added three amendments to the bill. The amendments reduce funding attached to the bill; incorporate the language of HB512 (Weinstein-B. Young), regarding hearing aid coverage for children and youth; and remove language on doulas that was already dealt with in separate legislation.


The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee Tuesday heard the latest testimony for and against SB60 (Gavarone), which would create licensed certified mental health assistants (CMHAs), but didn't hold a vote that was scheduled as possible. Chair Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said there is a "mental health tsunami" in Ohio and the bill is "the only concrete legislation" that has been offered to address it. He also said legislators' job is to solve problems, not create them, and he wanted to be sure this is done correctly. At the end of the hearing, Cirino requested that opponents send him a list of their top 10 items in the current bill they want changed or eliminated. He asked for that by the end of the current week or the next, as the committee will meet again in three weeks.


The House Commerce and Labor Committee accepted and reported out Tuesday a substitute version of HB327 (Wiggam-Swearingen), which requires the usage of E-Verify by government contractors, private nonresidential contractors and certain employers. It was numbered as the -6 version and received opposition from Chris Runyan of the Ohio Contractors Association and Andrea Ashley of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Ohio. Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) read a long list of the changes, which included the areas of covered public contracts; removing provisions on remedies, liabilities and penalties for breach of public improvement contracts; how the attorney general's office would enforce the bill; exceptions to use of E-Verify during rehiring; the creation of an E-Verify Enforcement Fund; and how "nonresidential contractor" is defined.


Legislation originally focused on modernizing and streamlining judicial processes throughout the state became a catch-all bill on Wednesday, with senators adding various cleanup provisions as well as controversial language on final appealable orders and foreign donations. The Senate Judiciary Committee accepted an omnibus amendment into HB305 (Stewart-Brown) early on Wednesday, and the full Senate voted 24-7 along party lines to pass the bill in the afternoon. Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) said the language creating new requirements for ballot issue campaigns and explicitly banning contributions from foreign nationals is similar to language the Senate added to campaign child care bill HB114 (Humphrey-Seitz) earlier in May. The House adjourned Wednesday without taking up the amendments to HB305. Asked about the legislation after session, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hills) expressed some puzzlement about the Senate action and noted his chamber had introduced a standalone bill on the foreign contributions, HB609. "We've been having very good discussions this week. It kind of surprised me that they would again put the same language -- I guess, I don't know, 206 pages, who knows if it's exactly the same -- back in an otherwise pretty good clerk of courts bill," Stephens said.


In other action at the Wednesday Senate session, the chamber passed SB37 (Blessing-Ingram), regarding driver’s license suspensions; SB63 (Lang), regarding asbestos litigation; HB158 (Roegner-M. Miller), regarding barber and cosmetology regulation; SB95 (Reynolds), regarding remote dispensing at pharmacies; highway naming bills SB114 (Schaffer), SB141 (Sykes) and SB183 (Antonio); SB208, regarding open enrollment for military children; and SB225 (Roegner), designating Sept. 22 as “Veterans Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day.”


The House unanimously passed legislation Wednesday to boost penalties for repeat drunken drivers who cause deadly wrecks and to expand the use of ignition interlock devices, inspired by the parents of a crash victim who called out the relative laxness of state laws on habitual offenders. Lawmakers speaking in favor of HB37 (Johnson-K. Miller) recognized the advocacy of Bryan and Teresa Wright, whose daughter, Olivia, was killed by a drunken driver with a prior offense who'd crashed into a tree and a parked car shortly before hitting her. They watched the day's vote from the gallery and received a standing ovation from House members after passage of the bill by a vote of 92-0.


In other action at the Wednesday House session, the chamber passed HB352 (Baker-Carruthers), to establish a study commission on adverse childhood experiences (ACES); HB30 (Humphrey), regarding access to feminine hygiene products for incarcerated women; SB360 (Seitz-Brennan), to designate Aug. 24 as “Ukraine Independence Day”; HB372 (Grim-Hoops), regarding on-track railroad equipment; HR374 (Demetriou-Patton), which marks the 100th anniversary of U.S.-Ireland relations; and SB56 (Roegner), to have Ohio join the Interstate Massage Compact; and concurred with Senate amendments to HB50 (Humphrey), regarding housing for returning prisoners.


The Senate Government Oversight Committee continued its hearings on occupational licensure review Wednesday, hearing from the Ohio Department of Commerce, Ohio Casino Control Commission, the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors and the Common Sense Initiative.


In other legislative action, House Behavioral Health Committee reported out HCR16 (Somani-Ray), regarding perinatal mental health; House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB385 (Richardson-Williams), regarding criminal records of human trafficking victims; House Finance Committee reported out HB164 (Jarrells-Seitz), to create the Foster-to-College Scholarship Program; House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB432 (Jones), regarding career-technical education; House State and Local Government Committee reported out HB315 (Hall-Seitz), regarding township law; House Transportation Committee reported out road naming bills HB453 (Jones) and HB456 (McNally); Senate Education Committee reported out SB112 (Rulli), regarding school building safety standards; House Homeland Security Committee reported out HB303 (Hall-Santucci), regarding EMS training; Senate Judiciary Committee reported out SB237 (Gavarone-Manning), regarding legal actions and protected speech); Senate Transportation Committee reported out SB233 (DeMora-Kunze), regarding on-track railroad equipment; and Senate Ways and Means Committee reported out SB186 (Blessing-Ingram), regarding property taxes.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


Matt Damschroder, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), reported back to legislators Tuesday on the progress that his department has made in the redesign of Ohio's employment and training (E&T) program for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- approximately six weeks ahead of the July 1 deadline legislators had written into the budget bill, HB33 (Edwards). He noted that that budget provision required ODJFS to redesign the SNAP E&T "to meet the needs of employers," adding that this came as the department received a notice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that Ohio's E&T plan must change because of poor results.


HIGHER EDUCATION


The Ohio State University (OSU) Board of Trustees has approved an increase to the university's tuition and fees for the 2024-25 academic year. Tuition and fees for incoming freshmen will increase by $385 starting in Autumn 2024, or 3 percent more than last year's rate. Trustees also approved the continuation of the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee, which locks in tuition, housing and dining costs for undergraduate students. Paired with the tuition guarantee, the effective annual tuition increase is 0.75 percent, according to the university. In Columbus, in-state tuition and fees will total $13,244 per year for incoming first-year students. The most common housing and dining plans will total $14,810, an increase of about $428 year-over-year. General graduate tuition and fees would increase by 3 percent for Ohio residents -- a change of about $404 for students on the Columbus campus. In-state tuition and fees for incoming students would be $9,488 for the Lima, Mansfield, Marion and Newark campuses and $9,441 at the Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, a 3 percent increase.


The University of Akron (UA) Board of Trustees announced recently that President Gary L. Miller has stepped down from the role of president in anticipation of his retirement on Oct. 4, 2024, after five years in leadership. Robert J. (R.J.) Nemer, dean of UA College of Business, has been appointed as the next president with the "full endorsement" of UA's shared governance and key internal constituency groups. Nemer will step into the president's role effective immediately. Miller will remain as a special consultant to the president to provide transition support through his official retirement. A search will be conducted for the new dean of the College of Business.


Leaders of teacher preparation programs at several private colleges and universities told lawmakers Tuesday they're confident they'll be aligned to new state literacy policy ahead of a January 2025 deadline, while sharing their concerns about faculty recruitment and other issues. The House Higher Education Committee continued its hearings on institutions' implementation of new science of reading standards established in the budget, HB33 (Edwards). Witnesses included Lisa Vernon Dotson, education dean for Ashland University; Mary-Kate Sableski, reading program coordinator for the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Dayton; Carla Higgins, director of education and associate professor at Defiance College; Mary Heather Munger, a faculty member at the University of Findlay; and Laura Saylor, education dean for Mt. St. Joseph University. On Wednesday, the committee continued the hearing series with testimony from the leaders of teacher preparation programs at the University of Akron (UA) and Ohio University (OU). Administrators from both schools said they will be in compliance with the new standards well before the January 2025 deadline and are largely already in alignment.


The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Wednesday announced that two new universities have been designated as Collegiate Purple Star campuses for their efforts to support students with military backgrounds. John Carroll University and Ohio Northern University earned the latest Collegiate Purple Star Award, bringing the total number of schools that have earned the designation to 53. "Congratulations to these universities on becoming the latest to earn the Collegiate Purple Star," Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement. "By providing essential resources to ensure military-connected students can pursue their educational goals with confidence, these institutions exemplify Ohio's unwavering commitment to supporting our service members."


JUDICIAL


The law restricting gender transition services for minors and banning transgender women and girls from playing women's and girls' school sports will remain blocked until at least Monday, July 15. In a continuance order, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook wrote that the temporary restraining order (TRO) against HB68 (Click) will remain in effect until the conclusion of the hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction and trial on the merits. That combined hearing is now scheduled to begin on Monday, July 15 at 9 a.m. and "will continue day-to-day until completed," Holbrook wrote. Holbrook originally issued a TRO against the law in mid-April, and then extended the TRO until Monday, May 20.


Attorney General Dave Yost's emergency motion to narrow the application of a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking enforcement of HB68 (Click) was denied by the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday. Yost had asked the Court to rule that Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook's TRO only applies to the plaintiffs, and not the entire state. The law, which restricts gender transition services for minors and bans transgender women and girls from participating in women's and girls' school sports, remains completely blocked at least through mid-July.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has initiated the formal rulemaking process to move marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced recently. "This is monumental," President Joe Biden said in a social media video. "It's an important move towards reversing longstanding inequities," the president continued. "Look folks -- no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana. Period. Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana and I'm committed to righting those wrongs. You have my word on it." The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposed the reclassification in April.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


The Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) recently announced it had authorized $10 million in funds to support Intensive Home-Based Treatment (IHBT), a "much-needed" mental health service. This is being offered in partnership with the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Center of Excellence at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and will launch or expand IHBT access in 59 counties. ODM said IHBT helps youth with serious emotional disabilities and their families in the home, school and community where they live. The goal is to safely maintain youth in the least restrictive, most normative environment. The treatment involves a clinician or team of providers offering comprehensive clinical and rehabilitative services to intensively treat the mental health conditions significantly impairing functioning.


MENTAL HEALTH


The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) is rebranding the six, state-run regional behavioral health care hospitals. The rebranding will promote a "cohesive look and feel with unified hospital names and logos," and it is intended to increase public understanding of the services provided at the facilities and to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness, the agency said. OhioMHAS currently operates six regional psychiatric hospitals, with locations in Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus, Massillon, Northfield and Toledo. As part of the rebranding, all six will receive updated logos. In addition to each hospital's name, the new logos will also identify the facilities as part of OhioMHAS, and the hospitals will receive the "Heart of Hope" tagline.


Gov. Mike DeWine and other state officials participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Central Ohio Behavioral Healthcare (COBH) hospital in Columbus Wednesday. The facility replaces the nearby Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare (TVBH) Kosar Building as the state's regional psychiatric hospital serving central Ohio. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) recently announced it was rebranding Twin Valley, which opened in 1977, as Central Ohio Behavioral Healthcare.


MILITARY AFFAIRS


Gov. Mike DeWine this week ordered the flags of the U.S. and the state of Ohio to be flown at half-staff at all Ohio National Guard installations to honor the life of former Ohio Adjutant General Richard C. Alexander, the state's first African American adjutant general, who died Sunday, May 18. Alexander was 88.


State leaders Thursday attended the annual Statehouse wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the sacrifices of fallen service members. The program included renditions of "America the Beautiful" and "Danny Boy" by students from Olentangy Liberty Middle School, which is recognized as a Purple Star school by the state for its efforts to assist and serve military families. Representatives of county veterans services offices lined the walkways of the Statehouse Veterans Plaza. Theresa Mecionis, a Gold Star mother whose son, Sgt. Joseph Collette, was killed in Afghanistan in 2019, spoke about enduring and navigating the emotional difficulties of loss.


NEWS MEDIA


Jodi Rudoren wants to challenge readers, not just to say what happened. As the editor-in-chief of The Forward, a website that bills itself as "news that matters to American Jews," Rudoren said that includes challenging American Jews about their own feelings about Israel following the events of Oct. 7 and the subsequent Israel-Hamas War. In a talk on Friday to the Cleveland City Club entitled "Independent Journalism in an Era of Polarization," Rudoren said it's important for news consumers to see news coverage and viewpoints that upset them so readers can challenge their own thoughts, saying, "it's on us to be discerning consumers of news and information."


PENSIONS


The end of the Thursday, May 16 State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) Board meeting had members wondering who'll represent and foot the bill for two trustees whom Attorney General Dave Yost seeks to oust, and whether they can investigate the source of anonymous allegations that helped drive Yost's lawsuit. Representatives of the attorney general's office warned they should hear from an employment lawyer and emphasized the "ethical walls" in place to prevent conflicts of interest when the office has multiple clients at odds with one another. "This is a difficult board to staff right now," Bridget Coontz, chief counsel and ethics officer for Yost, said at one point in the discussion. Hours before the start of this month's STRS board meeting, Yost filed suit against board members Wade Steen and Rudy Fichtenbaum, alleging breaches of fiduciary duty related to their interactions with QED, an investment management firm tied to a former state treasury official that pitched STRS on making large investments. Both men strongly denied the allegations, and the contingent of board members dissatisfied with the recent direction of the system succeeded the same day in removing board Chair Dale Price and elevating Fichtenbaum to replace him.


Two unions representing beneficiaries of the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) of Ohio voiced their support Monday for Rudy Fichtenbaum, who was both elected chair of the STRS board and hit with a lawsuit seeking his ouster as a trustee within the span of hours last week. A majority of STRS trustees succeeded at last week's board meeting in ousting Dale Price as chair and installing Fichtenbaum in his place. Monday, the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and Ohio Federation of Teachers released a statement from their respective leaders, Executive Director Sara Kilpatrick and President Melissa Cropper, supporting Fichtenbaum and calling the lawsuit "frivolous" and the anonymous claims about him "spurious."


PEOPLE


Ohio Women's Alliance (OWA) Executive Director Rhiannon Carnes has been recognized with a "Women of Vision Award" from the Ms. Foundation, OWA announced Wednesday. Carnes said, "As a Black mother and grandmother with a nearly 30-year reproductive life cycle -- including adoption, miscarriage, abortion and giving birth -- reproductive freedom was critical in every chapter of my life, allowing me to access life-saving care and become a better parent to my children. The fight for reproductive justice is not binary. It's not simply a choice between terminating pregnancy and giving birth. Reproductive justice means complete autonomy and self-determination when making decisions about our physical and mental health, without the threats of state violence, systemic oppression, and societal misogynoir that have a daily, lasting impact on people of color around the world."


The Ohio Manufacturers' Association (OMA) announced this week that former state Rep. Jay Goyal, president of Goyal Industries, has joined OMA's Board of Directors. "Jay's unique background as both a manufacturer and former state rep is a strong addition to OMA's board," OMA's President Ryan Augsburger said. "We are thrilled to have his expertise and guidance in pursuing Ohio's manufacturing competitiveness." Goyal served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 2007 to 2013, representing Ohio's 73rd District.


PUBLIC SAFETY


The Ohio Traffic Safety Office (OTSO) announced a free advanced-driver summer training program for teen drivers. A division of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS), OTSO is launching a public-private partnership with DriveTeam, Professional Driving Systems, and Ford Driving Skills to address the leading cause of youth crashes. Advanced driver training allows students to practice skid recovery, anti-lock braking system exercises and other skills with licensed instructors on a closed course. Highlighting the need for the program, the DeWine administration says the state had 102 fatal crashes involving teens last year during the "100 deadliest days." It notes 31 percent of all Ohio accidents involve youth, who otherwise represent only 13 percent of licensed drivers.


The DeWine administration announced $1.6 million in state funding Tuesday for violent crime reduction. Eighteen law enforcement agencies in 15 counties are part of the Ohio Violent Crime Reduction Grant Program's 13th round.


The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) announced Thursday its troopers will be "highly visible" on Ohio's roadways during Memorial Day weekend to promote traffic safety. OSHP specifically reminded drivers to use their safety belts and be responsible by designating a sober driver.


STATE GOVERNMENT


All but one item on the Controlling Board's agenda were approved Monday, with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) requesting deferral of an item that would provide an additional $4.5 million toward grants for eligible emissions reduction projects under the Ohio VW Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. Eleven items were held for questions by board members, with responses given by representatives of the Ohio Secretary of State's office (SOS), Ohio Auditor's Office and the departments of agriculture (ODAg), development (DOD), natural resources (ODNR) and transportation (ODOT).


The Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Unclaimed Funds recently announced it currently holds around $4 billion that it seeks to return to Ohioans, as part of an effort to dispel "misconceptions" regarding that process. In 2023, DOC returned over $139 million. Unclaimed funds stem from lost or forgotten money that businesses and banks report after accounts become inactive, which typically takes between three to five years. They can be in checking and savings accounts, refund or credit balances, uncashed cashier's checks, stocks and bonds, forgotten utility deposits and final paychecks.


The Tuesday, May 21 meeting of the Joint Sunset Review Committee saw three committees within the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) recommended for sunset by their representatives. Those DOC committees included the Electrical Safety Inspector Advisory Committee (ESIAC), the Ohio Fire Code Rule Recommendation Committee (OFCRC) and the 2000 Fireworks Exhibition Safety and Mortar Rack Stability Rules Committee (FESMRS).

Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) Executive Director Joy Bledsoe Thursday reported over $2.6 billion in project activity across 307 projects in either construction or design as of March 24. In March alone, the agency approved 44 contracts worth over $180 million. Bledsoe said OFCC expects to soon award another $85 million for Appalachian Community Innovation Centers to support K12 school districts, joint vocational school districts, regional councils of government, or other political subdivisions located in Ohio's Appalachian counties. An initial round of funding was announced in February.


TAXATION


The County Auditors Association of Ohio (CAAO) suggested a handful of changes to Ohio's property taxation system Wednesday to the legislative study panel assessing that system and potential solutions to the major tax increases seen as a result of recent valuation cycles. In testimony presented by Ashtabula County Auditor David Thomas; Greene County Auditor David Graham; and former state representative and Franklin County Auditor Michael Stinziano, the association said it focused on policies that could provide direct relief to people who own and occupy homes as a primary residence. Thomas is set to join the General Assembly in the new year; he is unopposed in the 65th House District race.


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) recently announced its BroadbandOhio office is seeking input from key stakeholders to ensure Ohioans currently lacking high-speed Internet connectivity are represented in its efforts. Ohio received $793.7 million in June 2023 as part of the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program and the requested input is part of that process. From Tuesday, May 28 through Monday, June 17, Internet service providers (ISPs), local governments and nonprofits will be able to submit challenges to the federal broadband map by identifying all eligible addresses in their communities. Following that, there will be a 21-day rebuttal phase to provide counter evidence from Monday, July 1 through Monday, July 22 and then a final, 30-day determination phase will be held from Tuesday, July 23 to Wednesday, Aug. 21. After that process, the map will be posted on the BroadbandOhio website.


TOBACCO/SMOKING/VAPING


Franklin County Judge Mark Serrott Friday ruled a state preemption on local regulations of tobacco and alternative nicotine products was unconstitutional and enjoined the law after 14 cities had sued the state over it. Lawmakers had inserted the preemptive language in budget bill HB33 (Edwards), but Gov. Mike DeWine used a line item veto on it. Majority Republicans in both chambers overrode the veto in January. Cities, including Columbus, Bexley, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dublin, Gahanna, Grandview Heights, Heath, Hilliard, Oxford, Reynoldsburg, Upper Arlington, Whitehall, and Worthington, sued the state over the law, and Serrott had put a temporary restraining order on it last month.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


The Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) Thursday approved projects through two grant programs funded by the General Assembly in biennial budget HB33 (Edwards). Lawmakers funded $10 million for a wayside detector program for railroads following a new state mandate passed in transportation budget HB23 (Edwards) requiring wayside detectors, which are sensors that monitor real-time conditions with locomotives and rail cars, to be installed every 10 miles. HB33 also provided $1 million to address "orphan" or abandoned rail crossings around the state. Under the program, Class II railroads would receive 60 percent of a project's cost in state funding, while Class III railroads would receive 85 percent of a project's cost. ORDC staff said the commission received applications from 17 rail companies requesting $13.7 million in grant funding from the wayside grant detector program to install detectors at 123 locations. The commission approved $9.6 million for 15 applicants for 98 locations, with two other applicants not currently meeting the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's (PUCO) data and reporting requirements, having not submitted compliance plans yet to the PUCO.


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission Monday heard of new scams involving the E-ZPass toll collection system, including one involving text messages and the fraudulent purchase and use of E-ZPass transponders. Executive Director Ferzan Ahmed told the commission that some Ohio Turnpike customers reported receiving fake text messages as part of the "smishing" scam that the commission issued a warning about last month. The latest scam is text-based where individuals are told they owe an unpaid toll and are directed to a website to pay the balance. Ahmed also said they are working with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and contacted the FBI about another scam involving the purchase of multiple E-ZPass transponders using prepaid credit cards, and then using the transponders for more than their value. He said they are working to identify the individuals involved and plan to press charges.


 



 

 

 

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



 



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