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Week in Review October 30, 2023

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.

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ABORTION There were 3,325 fewer abortions in 2022 than in 2021, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). A total of 21,813 pregnancy terminations occurred in Ohio in 2021, compared to 18,488 in 2022. That is a 15 percent decrease, ODH said in its annual abortion report. It was more difficult to obtain an abortion in Ohio from June 24, 2022, through Sept. 14, 2022, because "heartbeat" abortion ban 133-SB23 (Roegner) was in effect during that time period. That law is currently blocked by the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, with the judge saying it is likely unconstitutional. APPALACHIA Eleven Ohio projects will receive nearly $12 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), which is providing close to $54 million in total funding to 64 projects across the region through the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative. Seven of the Ohio projects provide over $1 million to each grantee organization. The POWER Initiative directs federal resources to economic diversification projects, helping Appalachian communities that saw job losses in a range of coal-related industries. The awards package is the largest one POWER has provided since it launched in 2015. It is expected to create an estimated 13,700 new jobs and to provide training for over 4,600 people for new opportunities. Funding will support workforce development, agriculture and food economies, tourism, entrepreneurship and other efforts to create jobs, expand skills training and attract over $247 million in private investment. ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT Sarah Sisser is the new executive director and CEO of CreativeOhio (CO), the organization announced. "Sisser brings 10-plus years of experience as a nonprofit administrator, community planner and advocate for funding of public humanities and cultural institutions at the local, state and federal levels. The CO Board vote to hire Sisser was unanimous," CO said. Sisser joins CreativeOhio from the Hancock Historical Museum, a nonprofit history museum serving Findlay and Hancock County, where she has served as executive director since 2013. ATTORNEY GENERAL Ohio joined 32 other states Tuesday in suing CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Meta and divisions including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp over claims it knowingly addicts young people to its social media products to sell advertising and increase profits. The federal lawsuit says Meta, Facebook and Instagram have "profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans" -- through anxiety, depression, insomnia, and disruption of academic and social life -- a situation the U.S. surgeon general has labeled a "youth mental health crisis." A common feature of Meta's social media prompts is the "fear of missing out" (FOMO), says Attorney General Dave Yost and others, accusing the company of structuring ephemeral content to induce youth-FOMO. BALLOT ISSUES Attorney General Dave Yost's legal analysis of Issue 1 is "biased, misleading and legally flawed," according to former Attorney General Marc Dann and former Rep. Jeff Crossman (D-Parma). "Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost recently issued what he claims is a legal analysis of the possible impact of Issue 1, the citizen-initiated reproductive freedom amendment. While AG Yost boldly stated that his assessment ' not an exercise in advocacy,' his memo detailing the horrible consequences he believes would follow the passage of Issue 1 is nothing more or less than a biased political hit piece that is intended to confuse the voters and weaken support for the amendment," Dann and Crossman said. The Citizens Not Politicians coalition working to end gerrymandering in Ohio sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Dave Yost indicating that it found a typographical error in the attorney general approved summary language for its amendment. The full text of the amendment sets the date for a citizens redistricting commission to adopt new legislative maps by Sept. 19, 2025. However, approved summary language inadvertently stated the deadline would be Sept. 15. The coalition notified the attorney general of the oversight and advised him they will start over, collecting signatures to resubmit the proposal. The campaigns urging Ohioans to vote "yes" on Issue 1 and Issue 2 have both raised and spent more money than those seeking a "no" vote on the ballot measures this fall, according to pre-General Election campaign finance reports filed on Thursday. Thursday was the deadline for campaigns to report their activity through Oct. 18. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights (OURR), the group supporting reproductive and abortion rights constitutional amendment Issue 1, reported $28.7 million in contributions and $26.2 million in expenditures. The campaign has $2.7 million in cash on hand. Protect Women Ohio (PWO), the anti-abortion group opposing Issue 1, reported $9.9 million in contributions and $9.1 million in expenditures. The campaign has $2.3 million in cash on hand. Catholics for Choice on Thursday announced the launch of a billboard advertising campaign urging Catholics to approve Issue 1. "Polls consistently show that a clear majority of Catholics believes access to abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and that Roe v. Wade should not have been overturned," Catholics for Choice said. The organization is putting up more than 30 billboards across Ohio, including in the state's seven largest metropolitan areas -- Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Akron, Toledo and Youngstown. Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost will rally with student canvassers working to defeat the reproductive and abortion rights constitutional amendment on Monday, Oct. 30. IT’S IN THE FY24-25 BUDGET The Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) recently set out expectations for processing complaints related to schools' compliance with their transportation obligations to private and charter school students. The budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), took a new approach to establishing penalties for non-compliance, after a similar mechanism in the prior budget bill, 134-HB110 (Oelslager), was enjoined in court. Under HB33, schools can be found out of compliance if they can't meet transportation obligations for five or more consecutive days, or more than 10 total days during an academic year. Noncompliant conduct can include dropping off students more than 30 minutes early, picking them up more than 30 minutes late or failing to transport students entirely, among other requirements of law. Beginning with complaints made after Friday, Dec. 1, DEW will make a determination within 30 or 45 days of receiving a complaint. Information on how to file complaints and the process for handling them is at FY25-26 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS The Finance Committee of the Broadcast Educational Media Commission (BEMC) Thursday approved its request for the FY25-26 capital budget ahead of the Office of Budget and Management (OBM)'s Friday, Nov. 3 deadline. The overall request comes to about $3.4 million, including about $1.13 million for BEMC; $88,500 for Radio Reading Services (RRS); $170,000 for Ohio Government Telecommunications (OGT), otherwise known as the Ohio Channel; and roughly $2 million for public television and radio stations throughout Ohio. CHILDREN/FAMILIES Members of the Commission on Infant Mortality met Wednesday to discuss the social drivers leading to Ohio's high infant mortality rate, which remains higher than most other states. Significant racial disparities in outcomes also persist. The commission moved to virtual meetings during the pandemic, but Wednesday's hearing was held in person. Staff from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO) presented information from their report, "Social Drivers of Infant Mortality," which provides updated data and analyzes the implementation of recommendations from a separate 2017 report from HPIO titled, "A New Approach to Reduce Infant Mortality and Achieve Equity." EDUCATION Gov. Mike DeWine Friday named Jessica Voltolini interim director of the renamed Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) effective Monday, Oct. 23 after a visiting Franklin County judge denied a preliminary injunction to further block the transfer of control over K-12 education governance from the State Board of Education (SBOE) to the governor's office. Richard Frye, a retired Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge, ruled Friday that the state can proceed with the education overhaul laid out in the latest state budget, HB33 (Edwards). Gov. Mike DeWine says his Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC) and Ohio Traffic Safety Office (OTSO) are partnering in 2023-2024 to raise student awareness about safety measures at school and on the road. As divisions of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS), OSSC and OTSO are sponsoring the informational campaign "Safe Streets Safe Schools" during the academic year "to help students stay safe before, during and after school, whether in the halls, classrooms or their cars," the administration says. The State Board of Education (SBOE) won't meet Monday, Oct. 30 for candidate interviews as previously planned, but President Paul LaRue said he believes the board can fill the long-vacant superintendent position by year's end. "The search firm put a pause on the search, so what we're going to do is do the next steps at the regularly scheduled November meeting," LaRue told Hannah News in a phone interview. "Our hope is that by December, by the end of the year, we're able to have the superintendent of [public] instruction in place," he said. What exactly the board will do in November is still to be determined. The board next meets Tuesday, Nov. 14 and Wednesday, Nov. 15. ELECTIONS Sens. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) and Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) have introduced legislation that would prevent the residential and family information of elections officials from being included in public records. SB173 (Gavarone-DeMora) would include elections officials on the list of public service workers, which the sponsors said would ensure information on their residences and families are redacted from public records before their release. The Ohio Elections Commission held another hearing regarding a complaint against Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) on Thursday, but a final decision on the matter will not be made until Thursday, Dec. 14 at the earliest. The commission spent more than four hours considering testimony on the matter, which was brought by Southwest Ohio conservative Chris Hicks. The complaint alleges that Schmidt did not properly report assistance her campaign received from the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) and allies of former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford). Multiple witnesses were questioned by Hicks and former Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, who is Schmidt's attorney. ELECTIONS 2024 The following endorsement was made over the week: The U.S. Senate campaign of Bernie Moreno announced the endorsement of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT Ohio's unemployment rate remained at 3.4 percent in September, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), showing no change from August. However, the state's nonagricultural wage and salary employment increased 8,400 over the month. ODFJS said the state's employment, which went from a revised 5,639,700 in August to 5,648,100 in September, marks the highest payroll employment reported since the series started in 1990. The number of workers unemployed in Ohio in September was 199,000, up from 196,000 in August. The number of unemployed has decreased by 37,000 in the past 12 months from 236,000. The September unemployment rate for Ohio decreased 0.7 percent from 4.1 percent in September 2022. ENERGY/UTILITIES The recent Ohio Chamber of Commerce 2023 Energy Summit underscored former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Asim Haque's repeated warnings that the 13-state electric grid faces a megawatt shortage by 2030. Brownouts and possible blackouts loom, he signaled, without fossil-fuel-generated baseload plants to keep the grid running 24/7. Addressing the Capitol Square gathering, Haque, now senior vice president of state and member services for PJM Interconnection, put a finer point on his remarks to both chambers from earlier this year. "We are worried about a supply problem -- having enough watts -- by the end of the decade," he said of the PJM region, which is responsible for monitoring wholesale markets for day-to-day electricity and periods of peak demand and for dispatching megawatts real-time in varying conditions. A competitive energy marketer charged with 150 separate violations of Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) rules will forfeit $1 million to make consumers whole, restore customers' standard local utility rate, and surrender its competitive retail electric service (CRES) and competitive retail natural gas service (CRNGS) license to operate in the state. PUCO says RPA Energy Inc. d/b/a Green Choice Energy violated 23 sections of the Ohio Administrative Code governing CRES and CRNGS providers as far back as February 2021. "RPA engaged in significant misconduct by spoofing telephone numbers in outbound telemarketing, modifying recordings of sales calls, falsifying third-party verification (TPV) ... failing to maintain records required by staff to complete its investigation, and failing to comply with a commission health and safety order during the recent pandemic, among other violations" including forged customer signatures and nondisclosure of monthly fees, commissioners stated Wednesday in a 45-page order. Centrus Energy announced recently that it has begun enrichment operations at its High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) facility in Piketon, and expects to begin withdrawing HALEU product later in October. It is the only Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)-licensed HALEU facility in the United States and the first new U.S.-owned, U.S.-technology uranium enrichment plant to begin production since 1954. ENVIRONMENT Approximately $2.7 million in grant money is available to local governments, park districts, soil and water conservation districts and other public organizations for projects that improve and protect water quality in the state, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) announced Wednesday. The agency is accepting applications for water quality project grants through Thursday, Nov. 9. Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel said, "Restoring and preserving our beautiful rivers supports economic development and is part of what makes Ohio the best place to live, work and play." Funding for the grants is made available through Section 319 of the federal Clean Water Act. The application and request for proposals are available at Ohio EPA is soliciting input from stakeholders on whether to recategorize the Big and Little Darby Creeks as "Outstanding National Resources Waters" (ONRW), according to a document from the Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water. The ONRW classification is the strongest level of protection available under the Clean Water Act, the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) said. Public comments may be submitted to until 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16. Forty-eight businesses and organizations are receiving Encouraging Environmental Excellence (E3) awards in 2023, Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel announced recently. Ohio EPA's E3 program recognizes businesses and organizations through four levels of recognition: "Achievement," "Silver," "Gold," and "Platinum." The Encouraging Environmental Excellence in Communities (E3C) program recognizes local governments and communities, which can work toward three levels of recognition: "Achievement," "Silver" and "Gold." The Encouraging Environmental Excellence in Education (E4) program recognizes K-12 public and private schools, which also work through three levels of recognition: "Root," "Branch," and "Leaf." This year's statewide E3 award winner is the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) (E3 Platinum), which operates its own composting facility and has composted 34.9 tons of food waste. Ohio EPA and the Ohio Attorney General's (AG) Office have teamed up to secure a $16 million clean-up of lead contamination at an abandoned glass recycling site that sits within 2,500 feet of a Columbus grade school, Watkins Elementary School. Ohio EPA asked the attorney general to sue Closed Loop Glass Solutions, Closed Loop Refining and Recovery, Garrison Southfield Park LLC and Olymbec USA LLC, the latter two which own two industrial properties in south Columbus where Closed Loop collected lead-containing cathode ray tubes (CRT) from TVs and computer monitors for recycling. Before ceasing operations there in mid-2016, Closed Loop had accumulated over 78,000 tons of contaminated glass that remain seven years later. FEDERAL While U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) could not gain the support necessary to become speaker of the U.S. House, he congratulated his "good friend" U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) on his election to the position. "He's done a great job on the judiciary committee -- always prepared, always ready to take on the swamp," Jordan wrote on social media. "The House needs a speaker. And it needs to be him." Jordan was one of 220 Republicans who voted for Johnson on Wednesday. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) commented during his Wednesday noon call-in with media that he doesn't know why members of the U.S. House are being paid "when they are acting this way," referencing the members' inability to elect a speaker, although that was done later Wednesday afternoon, after Brown's news conference was completed. Brown listed a number of issues Congress must address, including his and Sen. J.D. Vance's (R-OH) rail bill, for which they need nine or 10 Republican supporters, aid for Israel and Ukraine, and the farm bill, among others. Asked if he would support Vance's anti-masking amendment, Brown commented that there are "no mask mandates" at this time so would support Vance's amendment. GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) addressed a number of issues following Monday's House Rules and Reference Committee, including filling the vacancy left by former Rep. Bob Young (R-North Canton), ticket prices for high school football games, the upcoming capital budget, and several bills. Former Rep. Bob Young (R-North Canton) was found guilty of misdemeanor domestic violence for harming his wife but acquitted on a charge of assaulting his brother, according to multiple media reports. A retired visiting judge, Edward O'Farrell of Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court, delivered the verdict Thursday at a hearing in Barberton Municipal Court. Young separately faces charges of violating a protection order and menacing by stalking. Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), chair of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, Monday hosted what is believed to be Ohio's first symposium for trustees of the state's 14 public universities, telling them they have an important role to play in finding solutions to the raft of pressing issues facing institutions of higher education. Cirino recounted those challenges including declining enrollment, changing workforce needs and student debt as well as growing cultural and political divides. "We have gender issues on campus that you all are having to deal with," Cirino told the trustees, "and inclusive in that is intersectionality. Now everybody's got something to complain about, and it's pretty tough for all of you to deal with trying to anticipate what those are and dealing with all of the victims that now live on campus." Cirino and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who also spoke at the event, encouraged trustees to take on a more influential role in governing their institutions and signaled a desire for more partnerships between trustees and state lawmakers. “We didn't give as much money to higher education, at least to the four-year institutions ... because we're not sure about the financial future and the ability of these universities to self-govern," Huffman said. "It's not up to the employees to make good financial decisions. It's up to the president and his administration, and ultimately, it's for the board of trustees to make the president make those good decisions or hire people who will make good decisions. So, [it's a] very important job. They have the authority. We hope that they'll exercise their authority and begin solving some of the issues in higher ed." Senate Republicans confirmed Monday that Sen. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) is in the hospital for undisclosed health reasons. The Columbus Dispatch reported over the weekend on a statement from Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) acknowledging Schuring was in the hospital because of "complications from a recent setback in his health." Schuring, this term serving as Senate president pro tempore, has served in the General Assembly since 1993, swapping seats with House Speaker Pro Tempore Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton), a fellow Stark County politician, multiple times. A second member of the Ohio Legislature is also in the hospital: Rep. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) reported on his Facebook page Wednesday that he had open heart surgery on Friday, Oct. 20. This followed his acting on symptoms that developed while he was cycling in late summer which led to a heart catheterization that revealed a "major issue." He says he was discharged from intensive care Tuesday, Oct. 24 but remains in the hospital. Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Rep. Lauren McNally (D-Youngstown) introduced HB290 to create a child tax credit for middle- and low-income families in Ohio. The bill creates an annual, refundable tax credit for middle- and low-income Ohio families with children under the age of 18. Families would receive a tax credit of up to $1,000 per child aged 5 and younger and up to $500 per child aged 6-17. In other action, the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB147 (Fowler-Arthur-A. Miller), regarding the revocation of teacher licenses; the House Transportation Committee reported out road naming bills HB269 (Holmes) and HB252 (John); and the House Homeland Security Committee reported out HB241 (J. Miller-K. Miller), which addresses filling vacant police positions. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES After lawmakers included Medicaid coverage for doula services in the latest state budget, HB33 (Edwards), the Ohio Board of Nursing has opened applications to serve on the Doula Advisory Board. Applications are due no later than Monday, Nov. 6. HB33 requires the Ohio Board of Nursing to establish a doula certification process as well as a Doula Advisory Board with at least 13 members. Applications are available at Ohio is considering whether to develop a simplified process for kinship caregivers to be certified, separate from the typical foster family certification, following issuance of federal rules by the Biden administration. The rules also require paying certified kinship caregivers the same as non-kin foster parents, but Ohio already does that, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). In September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families issued a final regulation allowing states to simplify the certification process for kinship caregivers and mandating equal financial support. According to Bill Teets, spokesperson for ODJFS, Ohio has provided equal financial support for kinship families who are certified as foster caregivers since enactment of 133-SB310 in late 2020. That legislation also set a daily support payment rate for non-certified families of $10.20 per child, to be increased annually for inflation. Ohioans age 15-64 are dying at a faster rate when compared to 15 years ago, even after death rates slowed in 2022 following the COVID pandemic. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO) found that deaths for working-age Ohioans went from 25,885 in 2007 to 34,146 in 2022. Unintentional injuries remained the leading cause of death for working-age adults in Ohio. That number includes motor vehicle deaths and unintentional drug overdoses. "Unintentional drug overdose deaths continue to play a major role in Ohio's increased death rate, accounting for 14 percent of all deaths among Ohioans ages 15-64 in 2022," stated the HPIO analysis. More than $7.22 million worth of medical debt is being abolished for 4,917 Toledo-area patients by the nonprofit group RIP Medical Debt. Rep. Michele Grim (D-Toledo) had previously served on the Toledo City Council, where she led efforts to establish a medical debt relief initiative in Toledo and Lucas County. That program inspired other community-scale debt relief programs and was highlighted by the White House for Toledo's use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. HPIO hosted a panel on Thursday discussing economic and health disparities among different racial and ethnic groups in the state of Ohio, how those disparities started and how different organizations throughout the state are addressing them today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual income for an adult in Ohio is over $35,000 for a White person, compared to $21,000 for a Black, non-Hispanic adult and slightly over $20,000 for a Hispanic/Latino adult. Those income figures translate to the percentage of people in Ohio spending over 50 percent of their income on housing to be 2.2 times higher for Black people than White people, according to HPIO's Carrie Almasi. HIGHER EDUCATION The state is expanding a program to provide emergency naloxone access cabinets and fentanyl testing strips to private colleges and universities, Gov. Mike DeWine announced. Previously, only public institutions were eligible for the program. In 2020, the Legislature passed 133-HB341 (Ginter), which expanded access to naloxone through different means of distribution, including the emergency access cabinets. Earlier this year, up to five emergency access cabinets were offered at no cost to each of Ohio's public colleges and universities. That offer has been expanded to include independent colleges and universities. The program is administered through a partnership between RecoveryOhio and the Ohio departments of higher education, mental health and addiction services, and health. The Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC), which represents the state's 14 public universities, will host its first symposium for military-connected students on Thursday, Nov. 9 ahead of Veterans Day. The event, which will be held in the Statehouse Atrium from 10 a.m. to noon, will include discussions about how public universities can better serve military-connected students. HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS The Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) took comments Wednesday on a draft plan for administration of the new single family tax credit, one of the housing development policies included in the biennial budget. Advocates urged the agency to revise the plan to reflect realities in Ohio cities that have experienced disinvestment and population loss. OHFA held a virtual public hearing on its draft Single Family Tax Credit Allocation Plan for 2024, and plans a further virtual hearing on draft rules for the program at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2. The budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), included Gov. Mike DeWine's proposal for a nonrefundable tax credit against insurance premium, financial institution or income taxes for investment in development and construction of affordable single family housing. The budget allows up to $50 million in credits to be reserved in a fiscal year through FY27. The estimated revenue loss, according to the Legislative Service Commission, is $5 million in FY24 and $10 million in FY25. JUDICIAL The Supreme Court of Ohio Wednesday held oral arguments in three cases in Eastern Ohio at Buckeye Local High School in Rayland in Jefferson County as part of a traveling civic education program for students. The school, which sits less than three miles from the West Virginia border, hosted approximately 425 high school and homeschooled students from Jefferson and Harrison counties. Teachers and students prepared ahead of time for the visit and studied the facts and arguments in the case they heard. Local attorneys also assisted, working with educators at each school before the event to explain Ohio's judicial system and discuss the materials. The Ohio Supreme Court cleared its docket of 167 criminal cases Thursday following July's decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Reagan Tokes Law, which empowers the executive branch to set prison terms for violent felons based on their conduct behind bars. LOCAL GOVERNMENT The Columbus Metropolitan Club Wednesday held a forum on efforts to address gun violence and the issue of home rule authority in the state, with Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and Buckeye Institute Director of Litigation David Tryon presenting contrasting views on those topics. Also on the panel were Thell Robinson, founder and CEO of the organization Halt Violence, and Amelia Robinson, opinion and community engagement editor at the Columbus Dispatch. Clare Roth, managing editor of statewide news collaborative Ohio Newsroom, hosted the discussion. NATURAL RESOURCES The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Mineral Resources Management (MRM) was recently honored by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) for its work on the Friendship Park Highwall Reclamation Project. The National Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Award recognizes the highest-rated reclamation project. "We are proud of the accomplishments of our [Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization] AMLER program and excited to be recognized at the national level," ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. The Friendship Park Highwall Reclamation Project remediated more than 9,000 linear feet of highwalls and associated water-filled pit impoundments. Highwalls are steep, exposed cliffs left behind after coal mining. The unstable ground can pose many dangers, including falling rock. A photograph of a pair of cedar waxwing songbirds will be featured on the 2024 Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp, according to the ODNR Division of Wildlife. The winning photo was taken by Roni Leatherman, of Rittman in Wayne County. Leatherman's cedar waxwing photo was chosen as the winner of the 15th annual legacy stamp photo contest based on originality, composition, technical excellence and overall beauty. Brenda Traffis, of Lake County, earned second place, and Eric Tilson, of Wadsworth, came in third. The competition garnered 31 entries. All entries were required to be pictures of cedar waxwings. OHIO HISTORY The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) and the Capitol Square Foundation (CSF) are now accepting nominations for the 2024 "Great Ohioans Award." The award celebrates Ohioans who have played a significant role in an event or series of events of lasting significance in either world, American or Ohio history. To qualify for the Great Ohioan Award, the nominee must have lived in Ohio for a minimum of five years, and at least 25 years must have passed since the event for which the nominee is being recognized. The nomination deadline is Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. More information on the Great Ohioan Award and how to nominate an individual can be found online at and PEOPLE Battelle for Kids, a national, not-for-profit organization with the mission of focusing on deeper learning for every student, appointed Michael Duncan as its new president and CEO. He succeeds Karen Garza, who announced her retirement after a 38-year career in education including the past seven years at the helm of Battelle for Kids. Duncan actually joined the organization in August 2023, working alongside Garza over a two-month leadership transition period. Public affairs firm CivicPoint, a subsidiary of Frost Brown Todd, announced the addition of Katie Eagan as a principal working in its Cincinnati office. The firm said she brings "extensive experience and leadership in the field of government affairs" that will further its mission, in collaboration with current state government relations staff led by Deb Hackathorn and Joe Ewig. Eagan most recently worked as vice president of government affairs at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. She has also served as executive director of the Ohio Republican Party and Ohio state director at the Americans For Prosperity Foundation. POLLS/STUDIES Following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in Israel, American voters are largely concerned that the war could escalate into a wider war in the Middle East, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. The poll shows 85 percent of American voters are either very concerned (49 percent) or somewhat concerned (36 percent) that the conflict could escalate. In total, 76 percent of respondents think it is in the national interest of the United States to support Israel. And voters approve of the United States sending weapons and military equipment to Israel in response to the attack 64 percent to 28 percent. When the poll asked which side of the conflict respondents felt more sympathetic toward, 61 percent said their sympathies lie more with the Israelis, while 13 percent said their sympathies lie more with Palestinians. Quinnipiac notes that the percentage of respondents who sympathize more with Israel is the highest it has been since the question was first asked in 2001. PUBLIC SAFETY The Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) has awarded federal emergency shelter and supportive services grants for victims of domestic violence and their dependents. The grants total over $4 million the agency said Monday. The funds will help 67 projects in 46 counties that are community-based, nonprofit organizations with efforts to provide emergency shelter and/or supportive services for victims of family violence, domestic violence and dating violence and victims' dependents. SECRETARY OF STATE Ohioans filed paperwork for 13,579 new businesses in September, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose's office. So far this year, 142,426 new businesses have been created, and the state is about 36,000 filings away from setting another record. TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE The Biden administration Monday announced Akron was among 31 regions nationally to be named as "tech hubs" by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA). It is part of the first phase of the Tech Hubs program authorized through the CHIPS and Science Act, and each location is eligible for between $40 million and $70 million in implementation funding. The administration said the program seeks to "drive regional innovation and job creation by strengthening a region's capacity to manufacture, commercialize and deploy technology that will advance American competitiveness." It involves investing in "burgeoning, high-potential U.S. regions" to make them more globally competitive. The locations focus on industries including autonomous systems, quantum computing, biotechnology, precision medicine, clean energy advancement and semiconductor manufacturing. TOBACCO/SMOKING/VAPING Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff warned Ohioans about rising injuries among children caused by e-cigarette devices, or vapes. He also said to expect an uptick in cases of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the coming weeks. Vanderhoff said the state is seeing an increase in injuries caused by exposure to e-cigarette and vaping devises, particularly among children ages five and younger. "I want to raise the alarm that the liquids in e-cigarettes or vaping devices are proving to be an increasing risk to our young children," Vanderhoff said during a virtual press conference. "This liquid can contain nicotine, THC, CBD, flavors, or some combination of those. Young children can be poisoned by swallowing the liquid, taking a puff if they have seen someone else use it, or even from absorbing it through their skin or eyes."

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

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