Week In Review - November 30, 2020



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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.


ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE


Researchers from Ohio University (OU) recently published a study analyzing what hospitals are doing to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic and giving strategies for how they could better address the problem in communities. The study, led by Berkeley Franz, assistant professor at the OU Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, is published in Public Health Reports, the official journal of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service.


AGING


Volunteers trained in "friendly caller" techniques will be available to long-term care residents for conversations through the holidays, part of a project from Medicaid and area agencies on aging (AAA) to counteract the isolating effects of the pandemic. With widespread viral spread and the majority of Ohio deaths suffered by residents of long-term care facilities, pandemic restrictions meant to prevent further spread are also leading to "increased loneliness and despair," the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) said.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA) announced it supports the efforts of U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Cleveland) to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Biden administration. Fudge has told media outlets that her experience overseeing food and nutrition programs during her time in Congress gives her the experience necessary to lead the agency. She has served on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee since 2011.


ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT


A total of 296 of the state's performing and cultural arts organizations are in the process of receiving $20 million in much-needed funding through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to Ohio Arts Council (OAC) Executive Director Donna Collins. "We're nearly through that whole process. We expect that every grant award will be made by [Tuesday] afternoon," Collins told Hannah News in an interview. "Record time -- less than 30 days."


ATTORNEY GENERAL


Attorney General Dave Yost announced a $17.5 million agreement with big box giant Home Depot Tuesday to settle its six-year-old data breach. The security failure exposed 40 million consumers' payment card information and triggered a nationwide investigation involving 46 states and the District of Columbia after Home Depot revealed the hack in 2014.


BUSINESS/CORPORATE


Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that with 15,470 new business filings in October, Ohio has already surpassed the record total for the entirety of 2019. Ohioans have submitted a total of 145,157 new business filings this year versus last year's record of 130,621 new filings from January to December.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


Gov. Mike DeWine asked lawmakers to prioritize children's services and foster care in future budgets during a news conference Friday morning highlighting the release of a report and recommendations from the governor's Children's Services Transformation Advisory Council. The governor said it will be important for the state to financially support children's services, which are administered at the county level, given the scope of challenges the system currently faces.


CORONAVIRUS


Gov. Mike DeWine held a press conference Monday with hospital executives to again urge Ohioans to take precautions during the Thanksgiving holiday as the state continues to set records with what DeWine called a "runaway freight train" in the spreading COVID-19 virus. The press conference came as the state shattered the record for the daily reported caseload of the coronavirus, with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reporting 11,885 new cases in the last 24 hours. However, DeWine said Monday's jump was likely in part related to issues at testing labs at Mercy Health and the Cleveland Clinic over the weekend, which caused those test reports to be delayed until Monday. But he said Ohio is still averaging 8,500 new cases in recent days.


The public rise in COVID-19 cases is driving a spike in long-term care (LTC) facilities nationally, according to a Monday release from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA-NCAL), and the latest Ohio Department of Health (ODH) weekly data show an increase of 908 new current cases among LTC facility residents and staff. The numbers released by ODH Wednesday, which cover Nov. 11 to Nov. 17, show 2,639 current resident cases and 2,359 staff cases for a total of 4,998. The previous week's data, covering Nov. 4 to Nov. 10, had 2,323 resident cases and 1,767 staff cases, totaling 4,090.


Lack of adherence to recommendations on Thanksgiving gatherings in the coming days could lead to a "real disaster" in terms of the level of COVID-19 spread in Ohio by mid-December, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday. This could, in turn, could affect holiday gatherings that month as well, he added. Hospitals are already "filling up," he continued, adding that the growth in the number of cases will lead to an economic slowdown as well. Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), said the current increase is due in part to gatherings around Halloween and that Thanksgiving gatherings pose an even greater threat which could leave hospitals "overwhelmed."


Gov. Mike DeWine's request for a full federal extension of the National Guard COVID-19 response has drawn support from the state's congressional delegation and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks (OAF), according to recent releases. Federal funding for the Ohio National Guard's pandemic response operations was previously extended at a 75 percent level in August, but that will expire at year's end without another extension.


EDUCATION


Education groups weighed in on the recent vote in the General Assembly to resolve an impasse over potential explosive growth in the list of schools where students are eligible for EdChoice vouchers. School Choice Ohio and the Fordham Institute praised the changes in SB89 (M. Huffman), while the Ohio School Boards Association, Ohio Association of School Business Officials and Buckeye Association of School Administrators expressed disappointments. The Ohio Federation of Teachers and Ohio Education Association urged Gov. Mike DeWine to veto the bill. Asked about the bill at his COVID briefing Tuesday, DeWine said only that he's reviewing the legislation.


During the pandemic, enrollment in high quality preschool programs in Cleveland tumbled to just half of where it had been several months earlier, early childhood education organization PRE4CLE notes in its annual report. The health and economic crisis has laid bare structural funding problems for early childhood education, and the sector will likely see mass closings without federal support in the near future, PRE4CLE Executive Director Katie Kelly told Hannah News.


The Ohio Department of Education announced recently the launch of the RemotEDx Exchange, which provides parents and educators of K-12 students access to supports, services and resources for remote education. The platform is part of the broader RemotEDX initiative, a $15 million effort using federal CARES Act funding to improve remote, hybrid and blended learning. The exchange is available at https://remotedx.infohio.org/.


ELECTIONS 2020


Shortly before the federal General Services Administration (GSA) began the presidential transition process, Ohio's U.S. Sen. Rob Portman had written in a newspaper editorial that the GSA should release funding and provide infrastructure for an official transition to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, saying "there is no evidence as of now of any widespread fraud or irregularities that would change the result in any state."


A new program between the secretary of state's office and the Ohio Supreme Court that offered Ohio attorneys continuing education credit for serving as poll workers was taken advantage of by 1,026 attorneys, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the Court said Tuesday.


EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said Friday that Ohio's unemployment rate for October dropped to 5.6 percent from a revised 8.3 percent in September as the state added 30,800 jobs over the month. ODJFS said the state's nonagricultural wage and salary employment went from a revised 5,191,500 in September to 5,222,300 in October 2020. The number of workers unemployed in Ohio in October was 324,000, down from 469,000 in September, ODJFS said. The number of unemployed has increased by 86,000 in the past 12 months from 238,000. The October unemployment rate for Ohio increased from 4.1 percent in October 2019.


Federal-State Extended Benefits (EB) will be discontinued on Saturday, Dec. 12 for individuals who were eligible to receive up to 20 weeks of the program, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced Tuesday. Additionally, individuals currently receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will not qualify for seven additional PUA weeks after Dec. 12, according to ODJFS. "Ohio's October unemployment rate dropped drastically, triggering federally mandated changes in both the EB program and PUA," the department said.


ENERGY/ UTILITIES


Sam Randazzo resigned Friday as chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), following events over the week that raised questions about his connections to FirstEnergy and by inference to the HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) nuclear bailout scandal. Randazzo left with parting thoughts about the direction of Ohio's energy policy, while his critics attacked his clean energy stances and said the resignation is further proof of the need to repeal HB6. Federal agents searched Randazzo's Columbus home Monday, Nov. 16. FirstEnergy said in a federal Securities and Exchange Commission filing Thursday that its recent firing of ex-CEO Chuck Jones and other executives was tied to a $4 million payment in 2019 to a company connected to an unnamed person “who subsequently was appointed to a full-time role as a government official directly involved in regulating the Ohio [FirstEnergy] companies, including with respect to distribution rates.” Randazzo said the events would raise suspicion about decisions he’d make as chair, and said he didn’t want to serve as a distraction to Gov. Mike DeWine during the challenges of the pandemic.


GAMING/GAMBLING


The Ohio Lottery is raking in revenue at record rates ahead of Thanksgiving and Christmas, Finance Director Greg Bowers told the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC) during its most recent meeting. "We surpassed the $1 billion sales mark for traditional sales on Oct. 1 of this year. That's the fastest of any point in our history. Typically, this happens toward the end of October, and last year we passed the $1 billion mark on the 25th," Bowers said. "For the first four months of the fiscal year, total profits generated for the education fund were $418.4 million, or $27.3 million higher than our budget and $23.7 million more than the first four months of the last fiscal year."


The state's four casinos and seven racinos will be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. over the next three weeks in accordance with the DeWine administration's COVID-19 curfew order, spokespeople for the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) and Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC) told Hannah News.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Rep. John Becker (R-Cincinnati) said he hasn't been on Capitol Square lately because he's at home sick with a number of symptoms consistent with COVID-19, though he did not mention the virus. "For those of you wondering or concerned, I've been sick for the past two weeks. It started with fatigue, sore throat, and mild congestion. At times, my throat felt like I had a razor blade caught in it. But it eventually passed. It was this past Saturday that I took a turn for the worst. With a fever of 102, I began sleeping about 22 hours a day. I've been immobile, incoherent, and unable to eat, read or write. My wife force-fed me dinner one night. My blood sugar level dropped and dehydration perpetuated the problem. My symptoms included chills, night sweats and cognitive impairment," Becker wrote on Facebook on Thursday, Nov. 19.


House Democrats announced Monday the re-election of Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) as minority leader for the 134th General Assembly. Also re-elected were Assistant Minority Leader Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus), Minority Whip Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) and Assistant Minority Whip Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester). Newly elected to the team as caucus chair is Rep. Phil Robinson (D-Solon).


Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) has been chosen by his colleagues to serve as president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) for the 134th General Assembly, succeeding Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland). West was chosen as president following an official vote by OLBC members in the Ohio House and Senate. Other members of the OLBC leadership team are the following: First Vice President Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland); Second Vice President Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati); Treasurer Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus); Sergeant-at-Arms Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus); Secretary Rep. Sedrick Denson (D-Cincinnati); and Parliamentarian Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron).


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine signed two bills related to COVID-19 Monday, one of which extends numerous temporary policies put in place because of disruptions from the pandemic. Originally written to allow university trustees to meet electronically, HB404 (Manchester-Sweeney) was amended in the Senate to extend through July 1, 2021 the ability for public bodies to meet and hold hearings remotely, as well as exemptions to school meal requirements and deadlines for renewing various state licenses, among other provisions. DeWine also signed HB151 (Carfagna), which temporarily grants qualified civil immunity to health care isolation centers to protect medical professionals from liability claims throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also expands the authority of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to provide medical services in hospitals, if needed.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


A study committee created to examine drug pricing voted Monday on recommendations to include in its initial report, urging consideration of pooled government purchasing and attention to equity concerns, among other topics. The Prescription Drug Transparency and Affordability Council took up a staff draft including seven recommendations and edited it down to six, after concern from business groups surfaced about a lack of detail on one element of the draft version.


JUDICIAL


Finding the state's application of former Senate President Keith Faber's public records overhaul to be less than "expeditious and economical" -- the stated goal of 131-SB321 -- the Ohio Supreme Court ordered Jefferson County officials to fulfill the Associated Press's three-year-old records request for security footage of Judge Joseph Bruzzese's deadly shootout with a father in the Steubenville rape case. The Court unanimously ruled that government surveillance video is not a protected "security record" without clear and convincing evidence the footage has a direct rather than indirect use in protecting a public office from attack, "regardless of whatever perceived limitations or vulnerabilities the [state] believes might be revealed by public viewing of the video."


LIQUOR/ALCOHOL


The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU) cited five liquor establishments for violating pandemic-related health orders in recent days, according to releases sent Friday and Sunday.


LOCAL GOVERNMENT


Attorney General Dave Yost said Monday that he has initiated proceedings in the Ohio Supreme Court to suspend Alexander "P.G." Sittenfeld from his position on Cincinnati City Council following federal indictments on public corruption charges. Sittenfeld, a one-time candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio who was seeking to run for Cincinnati mayor, was charged last week by federal authorities, who alleged that Sittenfeld took bribes in 2018 and 2019 and promised to "deliver the votes" on a development project before city council.


MILITARY AFFAIRS


Mansfield-Lahm Airport, current home of the Ohio Air National Guard (OANG) 179th Airlift Wing, is now one of two sites under consideration for the Air National Guard Information Warfare (Cyber) Wing (IWW), according to the Adjutant General's Department.


The Dayton Development Coalition and defense firm Infinity Labs announced that the company had secured three U.S. Air Force contracts in the Agility Prime program, which seeks to "accelerate the commercial market for advanced air mobility vehicles."


NATURAL RESOURCES


The Buckeye State's mineral resources produced more than $1.5 billion worth of geologic commodities in 2019, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The state's mineral resources were valued similarly in 2018.


PEOPLE


Former Rep. John Schlichter died Thursday, Nov. 19 from what media outlets reported as a possible heart attack. He was 62. He served the 85th District in the Ohio House from 2003 to 2009, and had previously been a Fayette County commissioner, and also worked as the deputy director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Most recently, he was serving at the executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP).


STATE GOVERNMENT


Following four late additions of state government spending requests to the Controlling Board agenda, the board approved all agenda items at Monday's meeting. Added items included a $38 million spending request from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency with funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance Program to assist nonprofit hospitals; a $1.2 million request from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) with funds from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund to support the Ohio Distance Learning Initiative; a $28 million request from the Office of Budget and Management to improve indoor air quality at nursing homes and adult day cares; and a $7 million transfer of funds from the Department of Administrative Services to the Adjutant General's office to support COVID-19 relief efforts.


TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE


According to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), the expiration date of Ohio driver's licenses, identification cards, and vehicle registrations has been extended until July 1, 2021 after Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB404 (Manchester-Sweeney) this week.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


The estimated net position of $5.9 billion that the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) will hold after sending out another $5 billion premium rebate is sufficient to maintain its mission, bureau leadership told the Board of Directors at Friday's meeting. Newly minted BWC Administrator John Logue also said the new retail compliance unit of BWC, created by Gov. Mike DeWine to monitor mask use in businesses, is seeing adherence to mask orders in most establishments.


[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.]

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