Week In Review: November 23, 2019



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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.


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AGING

Ohio Department of Aging (ODA) Director Ursel McElroy spoke before the House Aging and Long-Term Care Committee Thursday. Her presentation focused on three major priorities of the department: population health, economic stability and elder justice.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


Ohio Citizens for the Arts (OCA) announced Tuesday that Angela Meleca has been named executive director. Meleca succeeds Bill Behrendt, who now serves as OCA's legislative co-counsel. She previously founded the contemporary art Angela Meleca Gallery in downtown Columbus and worked as a political journalist and press secretary for the Ohio Senate. In 2019, she closed her gallery to pursue other opportunities, according to OCA.


AUDITOR OF STATE


The Ohio Auditor's Office will soon begin rating local governments and individual state agencies based on their adoption of best practices regarding public records and open meetings, Auditor Keith Faber announced Thursday. The Star Rating System (StaRS) will grade public entities on a one to four-star basis, and Faber told reporters he hopes it will encourage greater focus on the issue.


BUSINESS/CORPORATE


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted joined Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) and other Democratic lawmakers and business leaders at a Statehouse press conference Tuesday to outline their blueprint to strengthen Ohio's minority-owned businesses. The event kicked off Minority Business Day at the Statehouse.


CENSUS


The U.S. Census Bureau launched a national recruitment effort recently to hire approximately 500,000 temporary workers to help conduct the 2020 Census. Pay rates vary depending on where the position is located. In Ohio, 2020 Census takers can expect to make $12 to $19 hourly. The Census Bureau has opened, or will be opening soon, offices in Akron, Ashland, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and the village of South Point.


CIVIL RIGHTS


A number of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) services were held across the state on Wednesday, as Ohioans memorialized gender-variant individuals who have been killed over the last year. The TDOR has been held annually on Nov. 20 since its founding in 1999, according to advocacy group TransOhio.


DISASTERS


Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness (OCSWA) reminded Ohioans to take steps to prepare for severe winter weather as a part of Winter Safety Awareness Week, which takes place from Nov. 17-23. "Winter Safety Awareness Week is a good time to restock our emergency supply kits and prepare our homes and vehicles for the upcoming winter months," DeWine said. "It's also a good time to update safety plans, practice those plans -- such as home fire drills -- and to prepare for winter-related incidents."


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


While JobsOhio assists companies with workforce creation and retention, its grants carry requirements that can trigger claw-back efforts if they are not met. JobsOhio spokesman Matt Englehart said in a statement to Hannah News that JobsOhio officials monitor grant recipients to ensure they are held accountable for "the job creation, payroll and fixed asset investment committed to in their grant and loan agreements." This includes requirements for progress reports to be made at least annually regarding the grants' metric commitments, which have to be attained by specific dates and then maintained for a two-year period following that.


ECONOMY


Retail spending during this year's holiday season is expected to grow by 0.8 percent over 2018 numbers, the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants (OCRM) announced Thursday, with total spending forecast at over $25 billion for the second consecutive year. OCRM and its research affiliate, Focus on Ohio's Future, worked with the University of Cincinnati (UC) Economics Center to develop the annual report, which has now been published for the past 10 years. Ohio's holiday retail sales have increased 3.1 percent over the last five years.


EDUCATION


An Ohio Department of Education (ODE) steering committee honed in its recommendations for professionals on improving learning experiences and outcomes for students with disabilities at its meeting Friday afternoon, agreeing that any recommendations should be written clearly and should fit under ODE's "Each Child, Our Future" strategic plan for education. The final recommendations will be included in a report to be sent to special education professionals as well as families.


State Board of Education members said this week they're hearing lots of grumbling about last-minute revisions to the state budget that changed EdChoice voucher eligibility and the process for approving school district territory transfers, with the board's two ex-officio legislative members saying they'd like to seek remedies as well. The budget gave voters in townships split between two or more school districts the right to petition for an election on a transfer from one to another, and requires the board to approve any such transfer that wins at the ballot, removing the state board's usual discretion.


Ohio's charter school sponsor sector saw the highest number of organizations earning the state's top rating of "exemplary" amid a continued thinning of the ranks of nonprofits, universities, districts and educational service centers that contract to oversee the state's 300-plus charter schools. Six of 25 sponsors earned the "exemplary" rating for 2018-2019 school year, while 10 were "effective," five "ineffective" and four "poor." Last year 34 sponsors were rated.


As part of Winter Safety Awareness Week, the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness (OCSWA) announced that Ohio students in grades 1-6 have from now until April 15 to draw and enter posters in its annual Severe Weather Awareness Poster Contest. For poster contest information, instructions, teacher's guide and student activity sheets visit the OCSWA website at www.weathersafety.ohio.gov.


House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) spoke Wednesday about some of the school funding reforms he's contemplated to address the needs of high poverty districts, after the House Finance Committee delved into the subject earlier in the day in continued hearings on the Cupp-Patterson plan in HB305. The committee had focused on categorical funding -- money added on to base funding to represent the additional needs of certain student subgroups, such as those in poverty, with disabilities, learning English for the first time, or who need gifted services.


The U.S. Census Bureau's Statistics in Schools (SIS) program recently released new 2020 Census classroom activities intended to teach students the importance of the census next March. According to the Census Bureau's website, every school district superintendent in the U.S. will receive a letter from the Census Bureau inviting them and their teachers to join the SIS program. SIS offers K-12 educators free online activities, games and other resources focused on statistics and the census. For the 2019-2020 school year, the Census Bureau said SIS created 67 new activities, including a song, interactive videos and wall maps.


ELECTIONS 2020


Secretary of State Frank LaRose's office said Monday that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-MN) campaign filed paperwork to run in Ohio's March 17, 2020 presidential primary.


Sen. John Eklund (R-Chardon) announced Monday that he's going to run for the 76th Ohio House District seat currently held by Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland) in 2020, setting up a possible three-way primary. The other individual running is Frank Hall -- a former teacher and assistant football coach who became known for chasing shooter T.J. Lane through the hallways and out of Chardon High School after Lane opened fire in the school on Feb. 27, 2012.


Rep. George Lang's (R-West Chester) campaign for the Ohio Senate received a boost with the endorsement of the Butler County Republican Party. Lang is seeking the seat currently held by Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester), who is term limited. He is expected to face off against Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown) and West Chester Township Trustee Lee Wong.


EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


According to new figures released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Friday, Ohio's unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in October 2019, unchanged from September. Ohio's nonagricultural wage and salary employment decreased 1,000 over the month, from a revised 5,593,100 in September to 5,592,100 in October 2019. The number of workers unemployed in Ohio in October was 246,000, up 3,000 from 243,000 in September. The number of unemployed has decreased by 19,000 in the past 12 months from 265,000. The October unemployment rate for Ohio decreased from 4.6 percent in October 2018.


ENERGY


The total investment in Ohio's shale energy sector has reached $77.7 billion since tracking started in 2011, according to a Cleveland State University (CSU) study for JobsOhio that was released Wednesday. This includes $3.8 billion in investments during the second half of 2018 and is the most recent data available. Earlier this year, IHS Markit estimated that by 2040, nearly half of all U.S. natural gas production will be supplied by the Utica and Marcellus shale region -- of which Ohio is a significant part.


ENVIRONMENT


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) unveiled several wetland projects Thursday aimed at improving water quality in Lake Erie and throughout Ohio as part of Gov. Mike DeWine's H2Ohio initiative. "Now is the time to take action to ensure the future of clean, accessible water throughout Ohio," said DeWine. "Lake Erie is a vital resource, and these projects jumpstart our H2Ohio initiatives to secure its long-term health."


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


The House's assignment of conferees for SB7 (Hackett-Lehner) sets the stage for the two chambers to formally work out their differences on the bill. The House's non-voting session Thursday included the appointment of Speaker Pro Tem Jim Butler (R-Dayton) and Reps. Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek) and Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) to the committee. The Senate earlier had appointed Sens. Bob Hackett (R-London), a sponsor of the bill, Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). In addition, two other bills are awaiting deliberation in their own conference committees: HB276 (Ghanbari) and HB2 (Cross-Lepore-Hagan).


The Ohio House of Representatives announced new committee assignments Monday that were effective Friday, Nov. 15. Newly seated Rep. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) will serve on the House Aging and Long-Term Care; Commerce and Labor; Insurance; and Ways and Means committees. Fraizer replaced former Rep. Scott Ryan on Nov. 13. In addition, Rep. Craig Riedel (R-Defiance) was removed from the Commerce and Labor Committee and added to the Ways and Means Committee.


The Ohio Statehouse Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting will take place Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.


The House Tuesday unanimously rejected the Senate's amendments to legislation creating the TechCred Program and the Individual Microcredential Assistance Program, setting the stage for a conference committee on HB2 (Cross-Lepore-Hagan).


The House Tuesday unanimously passed HB17 (Ginter), which grants a homestead exemption for the widow or widower of a peace officer, firefighter or other emergency responder that dies in the line of duty or by an injury or illness sustained in the line of duty. The chamber also unanimously passed HB251 (Lang-Hillyer), which shortens the statute of limitations of actions on written and oral contracts to six years and four years, respectively. Additionally, the chamber unanimously passed HB312 (Powell), which allows for intrastate equity crowdfunding or "OhioInvests offerings" under certain circumstances.


After session, Speaker of the House Larry Householder (R-Glenford) told reporters that Sen. John Eklund (R-Chardon) is making a "huge mistake" by running in the primary against Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland). He went on to say he'd had the opportunity to be appointed to the seat before Grendell.


House and Senate members joined with business and advocacy groups Tuesday to urge Ohio to join Arizona and Pennsylvania in recognizing the professional licenses granted by others states and quickly allowing licensees in good standing to quickly pick up the tools of their trade upon moving here. Sens. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) and Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) and Reps. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) and George Lang (R-West Chester) said they'll sponsor legislation to grant universal licensure reciprocity, citing the freedom it would grant workers and increased access to skilled talent for businesses.


The House Wednesday unanimously passed legislation making changes to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) [HB81 (Perales)] and requiring drivers to be aware of on-track train equipment when approaching crossings [HB226 (Lepore-Hagan-Cross)].


Saying House and Senate Republicans are wasting time and harming Ohioans by focusing on legislation restricting abortion and "attacking the academic integrity of public schools," members of the House Democratic Caucus are encouraging GOP lawmakers to concentrate on passing bipartisan and Dem-backed bills that will strengthen families.


The Sunset Review Committee heard from the following four agencies on Wednesday: the Ohio Department of Veterans Services Director's Advisory Committee, Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission, Ohio Home Inspector Board and State Fire Council.


In other action, the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee reported out HB183 (Manchester-Patterson) to allow income tax credits for beginning farmers; the House Health Committee reported out HB364 (G. Manning), designating Feb. 13 as "Aortic Aneurysm Awareness Day"; the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB111 (Ingram) regarding the transfer of school records; the House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out HB144 (D. Manning), which prohibits hospitals from requiring nurses work overtime, and HB244 (Hillyer-Ingram), which deals with credit service contracts; the House State and Local Government Committee reported out HB49 (Greenspan), which provides that a concealed handgun license can serve as a photo ID for voting purposes, and HB264 (Wilkin-O'Brien), which permits OWDA to refinance loans for certain public water and waste water projects; House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB33 (Lanese-Carruthers); and House Financial Institutions Committee reported out HB38 (Hillyer).


GOVERNOR


Ohio State Medical Board (OSMB) President Michael Schottenstein announced Monday that the investigation requested by Gov. Mike DeWine into those with potential knowledge of former Ohio State University (OSU) Dr. Richard Strauss' sexual misconduct, as well as allegations against other physicians going back 25 years, will not be completed by early 2020, as expected, with OSMB pushing the board report out to late spring or early summer. Schottenstein addressed the Governor's Working Group on Reviewing the Medical Board's Handling of the Investigation Involving Richard Strauss, which met for the first time since the workgroup's Aug. 30 report. He was joined by fellow board member Michael Gonidakis, newly installed OSMB Executive Director Stephanie Loucka and OSMB Chief Legal Counsel Kimberly Anderson.


Appointments made during the week include the following:


- Geoffrey M. Bishop of Westerville (Delaware County) to the Ohio Fair Plan Underwriting Association Board of Governors for a term beginning Nov. 21, 2019 and ending Sept. 18, 2021.


- Megan D. O'Callaghan of Dublin (Franklin County) to the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors for a term beginning Nov. 21, 2019 and ending Sept. 24, 2021.


- Walid E. Gemayel of Worthington (Franklin County) reappointed to the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors for a term beginning Sept. 25, 2019 and ending Sept. 24, 2024.


GREAT LAKES


While Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) Executive Director Heather Taylor-Miesle supported former Gov. John Kasich's controversial July 2018 executive order seeking to force farmers in the Western Basin of Lake Erie to implement nutrient management plans to address harmful algal blooms, she said Thursday that she fully backs Gov. Mike DeWine's more lenient approach.


GUNS


When is "stand your ground" not "stand your ground"? When it is a "duty to retreat" as spelled out by Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) in sponsor testimony Wednesday on his SB237. Testifying Wednesday before the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, Johnson explained that the bill "modernize[s] Ohio's self-defense laws and conform[s] them to those of the majority of the states.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Friday announced it has been awarded $12 million in federal funding to address maternal mortality across the state. To coincide with the grant announcement, ODH also released a comprehensive report on pregnancy-associated maternal deaths, finding that women in Ohio died from pregnancy-related causes at a ratio of 14.7 per 100,000 live births from 2008-2016.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Michael Drake, who has served as the 15th president of Ohio State University (OSU) since June 2014, announced Thursday that he will retire from the role in 2020. Drake said the timing is right for OSU and his family.


HUMAN SERVICES


Following criticism from advocates reported in the media about none of the regional meetings of the governor's Children Services Transformation Advisory Council being scheduled for urban areas with the bulk of foster children, the group announced Tuesday three more hearings. These are scheduled for Cleveland on Monday, Jan. 13; Cincinnati on Wednesday, Jan. 8; and Columbus on Monday, Jan. 6.


INSURANCE


Physician groups and one of central Ohio's major hospital systems testified Wednesday in opposition to the House's version of legislation to end surprise billing, saying its laudable elements are overshadowed by flaws that could disrupt their contract negotiations with insurers. Monica Hueckel, senior director of government relations for the Ohio State Medical Association, said HB388's (Holmes) mechanism to pay the higher of three amounts -- median in-network rate, out-of-network rate or Medicare rate -- would essentially set a default payment rate for services. The median in-network rate would almost always be the highest rate, she said. Dr. Anthony Cirillo, representing US Acute Care Solutions, reiterated Hueckel's concern about the median in-network rate.


JUDICIAL


In a "straightforward question of statutory interpretation," the Ohio Supreme Court held 7-0 Wednesday that political jurisdictions deemed "negligent" in the hiring and training of police officers cannot be held liable for bystander injuries in a high-speed chase not ruled "willful and wanton" under R.C. 2744.02(B)(1)(a). The decision resolved a six-year-old dispute involving a Coitsville Township officer and Renee McConnell, a wife and mother of four T-boned by his cruiser during a police pursuit. The Court acknowledged "genuine issues of material fact regarding whether [his] actions constituted willful and wanton misconduct" on appeal but said generally that the officer had reached 76 m.p.h. before slowing to 35 m.p.h. at an intersection where "he had not noticed that the light was red," striking McConnell and sending her to the hospital with serious injuries.


LIQUOR/ALCOHOL


The Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of Liquor Control announced that it recently awarded the PAST Foundation $60,000 to create educational material around alcohol-related topics. Based in Columbus, the PAST Foundation is a nonprofit education organization that uses problem-based learning and a hands-on approach to teach students. The PAST Foundation's Innovation Lab will lead the crafting of six public service announcements (PSA) around alcohol-related topics, all created by the students participating in the program.


MARIJUANA/HEMP


The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP) has issued a mandatory recall for three rosin products that were manufactured using a "non-compliant method." It is the first mandatory recall issued by the program, Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) spokesperson Kelly Whitaker told Hannah News. A voluntary recall was issued on cannabis drops in July.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


CareSource, one of Ohio's Medicaid managed care companies, announced last week the state approved its new pharmacy network for next year. The network excludes Walgreens, a move that it says will affect about 90,000 CareSource members who use the pharmacy chain. Buckeye Health Plan, the second largest Medicaid plan after CareSource, later announced it would add Walgreens to its network.


Ohio needs a new approach to contract bidding, a longer timeline and expert help if it wants to find a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) that will truly help Ohio manage drug costs, consultant Linda Cahn told the Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee (JMOC) Thursday. The state needs an "air-tight" contract that anticipates all the loopholes with which PBMs now drive up their profits, essentially reducing PBM earnings to a straightforward administrative fee, said Cahn, CEO of Pharmacy Benefit Consultants, which has worked with other states,

municipalities, unions and insurers on contracting.


OHIO HISTORY


The Ohio Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission (WSCC) Monday continued developing plans to honor the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the right to vote and to encourage voter participation. The group discussed updates since its last meeting and the upcoming deadline for its installation proposal to the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB).


PEOPLE


Former Rep. Clayton Luckie (D-Dayton) on Friday was sentenced to 120 days in prison for mail fraud, according to media reports. Luckie is one of several individuals who have been charged in the federal government's investigation of public corruption in the Dayton area.


School Choice Ohio recently announced that James Ragland has joined the organization as its director of provider outreach. Ragland will be working out of Columbus to support schools and service providers statewide, the group said.


PUBLIC SAFETY


Ohio's 57 driver exam locations and more than half of the driving schools in the state will be receiving new customized virtual driving assessment systems through a first-in-the nation new initiative launched by Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday. DeWine announced the launch of the "Oho -- Ready, Test, Drive" program that will install the systems to help scientifically examine student driver preparedness and help make data-driven improvements to the state's driver's education curriculum.


STATE GOVERNMENT


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Treasurer Robert Sprague Wednesday announced a joint initiative for the maintenance and expansion of Ohiocheckbook.com. Under the proposal, management of Ohiocheckbook.com will be administered between the treasurer's office and the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) with support from the Office of Information Technology (OIT). Since its launch in 2014, management of Ohiocheckbook.com has resided solely within the treasurer's office. The partnership is intended to make administration more efficient and reduce costs by utilizing the state's data management systems, according to a statement jointly released by the lieutenant governor and treasurer's offices.


The State Medical Board of Ohio (SMBO) recently approved the hiring of Stephanie Loucka as executive director, according to the agency's website. Loucka previously served as director of the Ohio Department of Aging (ODA). Prior to that, she held senior leadership positions at both the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and ODA. Most recently, Loucka served as the human resources director at Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools. Former SMBO Executive Director A.J. Groeber is "going back to the private sector," agency spokesperson Tessie Pollock told Hannah News.


The Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) Friday announced it is seeking to prohibit 11 companies and individuals from doing business with the state, saying they had failed to comply with state laws and regulations. In moving to debar the companies and individuals, DAS cited two investigations released in the last few months by Ohio Inspector General (IG) Randall Meyer.


A new Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) rule allowing euthanasia technicians to humanely sedate or anesthetize animals as part of the euthanasia process cleared the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) on Monday even though the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) believes provisions of the rule are outside the agency's authority.


The Controlling Board Monday approved all requests on its agenda Monday, including funding to pay for the prosecutions in the high-profile Rhoden family murders in Pike County, and for the secretary of state's office to purchase USB drives for election night reporting.


TECHNOLOGY


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Friday that his InnovateOhio office has issued a request for proposal in partnership with the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) and Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS), to support a fix for the state's background check system. Husted's office said the current, fragmented way that Ohio's cities and counties feed data into the state and federal databases allows many people who should fail a background check due to their criminal history to pass due to incomplete data in the system.


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said Tuesday that state government will work to make Ohio the "aerospace capital of the world for generations to come" during the 2019 Ohio Aerospace Day, an annual event that brings together government, academic and industry leaders at the Statehouse. The forum has been hosted by the legislative Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Technology Committee (OAATC) and the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Council (OAAC), an industry group. The day's agenda also saw panel discussions on urban air mobility, workforce development, space technology and manufacturing maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), which have been topics at OAATC meetings.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


With a new influx of funds thanks to the Legislature's approval of a raise in Ohio's gasoline tax, the DeWine administration and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) will use less bonding in coming years to fund highway projects, a representative of the agency told a joint study committee Tuesday. The Road to Our Future Joint Legislative Committee, created in HB62 (Oelsalger), the transportation budget, spent its second hearing focused on ODOT's debt policies, structures and practices. Testimony was delivered by Sara Downs, ODOT's deputy director of finance, who told the committee that ODOT has historically incurred debt as a function of its bonding program, which allows the agency to borrow money in public markets to fund capital projects, with principal and interest on those bonds paid off over 10 to 15 years. ODOT has been issuing debt regularly since 1997, she said.


The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission announced Wednesday that Todd Audet will be joining the agency as chief of staff. A civil engineer with nearly 30 years of experience in engineering and leadership, Audet will begin his position Monday, Dec. 2.


UTILITIES


Ohio House Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) said Tuesday a solution to the state ban on so-called "retroactive ratemaking" rests with the regulatory agency that approves utility billing riders in the first place, not with a proposed legislative change allowing the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to order customer refunds of rates ruled unlawful by the Ohio Supreme Court. Addressing the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Governing Board, the chairman spoke of his conversations with Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston about a policy of utility refunds the agency has long advocated. Vitale explained the difficulty in modifying rate plans approved by PUCO.


Customers of American Electric Power (AEP) of Ohio will not be forced to subsidize the utility's proposed solar farms after the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) ruled unanimously Thursday that AEP had not met the statutory definition of "need" for additional generation within the 13-state electric grid managed by PJM Interconnection. Commissioners noted the 400 megawatt (MW) projects may still qualify for solar credits in HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) and could always proceed without subsidies of any kind.


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