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Week in Review October 9, 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.

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 Ohio Attorney General's Office says the powerful synthetic opioid carfentanil has reemerged in a number of drug investigations and is warning law enforcement to be on the lookout. The drug is roughly 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. It often takes the form of a white, brown, tan or beige powdery substance. Before the recent uptick, BCII testing had confirmed only two cases of carfentanil this year and five cases in all of 2022.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


The Controlling Board Monday approved $1.6 million in additional funds for the attorney general's office and the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) to use for administering a police officer training program added to biennial budget HB33 (Edwards). Jay Easterling, chief financial officer for the attorney general, explained that the $40 million appropriated for a special police training fund in the budget only included $100,000 for administrative costs, which he said was low for what is needed. The request before the Controlling Board allows the attorney general's office and OPOTA to build staff for administrative and processing work, as well as to hire more trainers and expand into other forums such as virtual reality training, Easterling said. He said it will help keep the program fresh and current.


Attorney General Dave Yost's office is now taking applications through Thursday, Nov. 30 for grant funding for up to $30,000 to help schools respond quickly to threats for items such as silent panic alarms, gunshot-detection technology and more. Applications can be submitted online at https://grants.ohio.gov/fundingopportunities.aspx. The submission date will be a factor in evaluating applications, Yost's office said. Awards are expected to be announced in January and paid in early 2024. Those with questions about the program can contact OfficerSchoolSafetyGrants@ohioago.gov.


Yost praised the arrest of 149 "johns" and interventions in the lives of 104 human trafficking victims during a weeklong, statewide human trafficking sting. Led by the AG's Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC), "Operation Buyer's Remorse" focused on the demand side of sex trafficking through a collaboration of OOCIC's eight human trafficking and major crimes task forces encompassing nearly 100 law enforcement agencies between Sept. 25-30 in every corner of the state, including in and around Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown, Marietta and Portsmouth. Charged with engaging in prostitution, johns came from backgrounds including EMS, nurses, educators, former law enforcement officers, delivery drivers, self-employed persons, retirees and others. They ranged in ages from 17-84.


Yost announced a $49.5 million nationwide settlement Thursday with donor software company Blackbaud, Inc. over alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), state data protections and laws requiring prompt consumer notification before and after a May 2020 data breach affecting tens of thousands of businesses and millions of individuals. Yost and 49 other state attorneys general say the agreement stems from a ransomware attack allowing access to and "exfiltration" of the personal information of millions of individuals held by more than 13,000 Blackbaud clients, including charities, institutions of higher education, K-12 entities, health care interests, religious groups and cultural organizations. Exposed data encompasses demographic information, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, financial data, employment and wealth information, donor histories and protected health information, according to the attorney general.


BALLOT ISSUES


A proposed constitutional amendment that would replace the state's legislative and congressional redistricting process with a 15-member citizens' panel took a step forward Monday after Attorney General Dave Yost approved the petition summary on its third try. The "Amendment to Replace the Current Politician-Run Redistricting Process with a Citizen-Led Commission Required to Create Fair State Legislative Districts Through a More Open and Independent System" now heads to the Ohio Ballot Board, which will determine if the proposal contains one or more ballot issues. Yost had previously rejected two submissions from the group behind the amendment -- Citizens Not Politicians -- saying the summary language did not meet the requirement that the language be "fair and truthful."


The Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) released a statement on the two statewide ballot issues in November, taking no position on Issue 1, the reproductive and abortion rights amendment, and opposing Issue 2, the recreational marijuana initiated statute.

Attorney General Dave Yost's office Thursday released analyses conducted by his office on potential effects of passage for the two statewide ballot issues: Issue 1's proposed constitutional changes on reproductive and abortion rights; and Issue 2's proposed statutory changes allowing adult use of marijuana. In a statement accompanying the analyses, Yost says he is trying to address confusion he's encountered among voters and the likelihood of "inflamed and inaccurate" rhetoric from campaign groups on both sides of the issues. The analyses are posted to his office's website, but the documents do not bear Yost's name nor his office's insignia or letterhead. They are simply labeled "A legal analysis by the Ohio Attorney General."


With early in-person and absentee voting periods beginning Wednesday, Oct. 11, Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) Chair Elizabeth Walters and Rep. Dr. Anita Somani (D-Dublin) Thursday reiterated arguments for reproductive and abortion rights amendment -- State Issue 1 -- while criticizing opponents' claims. Walters said political leaders opposed to the amendment have "pulled out all the stops to prevent this vote from happening" and said that indicates they are "running scared because they know their extreme abortion ban is wildly unpopular." She noted past comments by Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost, as well as the anti-abortion positions of Republican U.S. Senate candidates Bernie Moreno, Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose.


The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CMRLA) has sent cease and desist letters to all Ohio and West Virginia TV stations that are running "ridiculous" anti-Issue 2 ads that are "purposely misleading and false," the Yes on 2 campaign announced Thursday. The organization responsible for the ads is a dark money group called "Weed Free Kids," according to CRMLA.


FY24-25 BUDGET


Better than expected collections in the non-auto sales tax offset small dips in other sources to yield tax collections slightly above expectations in September, according to preliminary data from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). Tax receipts were $5.2 million or 0.2 percent above expectations, reaching $2.3 billion for the month. Sales taxes were up overall by 2.1 percent or $22.3 million, with non-auto sales taxes up 3.8 percent or $43.2 million vs. forecasts but auto sales taxes down 7 percent or $11.8 million. Monthly sales tax collection reached $1.1 billion. The personal income tax missed expectations by 0.4 percent or $4.2 million, bringing in $1.07 billion. The Commercial Activity Tax yielded $21.1 million, $2.2 million or 9.5 percent below forecasts.


BUSINESS/CORPORATE


The Ohio Department of Development (DOD), Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted recognized Friday, Oct. 6 as "Manufacturing Day," as the first Friday in October is designated that by the Manufacturing Institute. DOD noted the manufacturing industry has been one of the "principal economic drivers" in Ohio since the late 1800s and the state is now ranked third nationally. More than $114 billion in manufactured goods are produced in Ohio each year. It also ranks first in American aircraft engine production and is a leader in the production of primary and fabricated metals, machinery, electronic products, transportation equipment, food and beverages, as well as rubber and plastics. The industry accounts for over 691,000 jobs in Ohio, nearly 14 percent of total state employment. It is a leading sector in rural communities, with over 20 percent of the local labor force there.


CIVIL RIGHTS


The Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission is seeking nominations for its annual awards honoring Ohio individuals and organizations carrying on the legacy of Dr. King. Nominations are accepted until Monday, Oct. 30 for the next awards ceremony in January 2024. The commission presents awards across five categories for Ohioans' efforts to advance King's philosophy of nonviolent social change and his commitment to seeking racial, social, and economic justice. DAS provides administrative support to the 12-member commission which was established in 1985. Submit nominations at www.DAS.Ohio.gov/MLK.


CORONAVIRUS


The Biden administration recently announced Americans can receive four free COVID-19 at-home tests per household, resuming a practice that had ended with the public health emergency's termination in May. The administration also is investing $600 million in 12 domestic test manufacturers, saying this improves preparedness for COVID-19 and other threats. The funding will secure approximately 200 million new over-the-counter tests for future governmental use, according to the Biden administration, and follows distribution of over 755 million free tests by the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The tests being sent out now are able to detect currently circulating COVID-19 variants, are intended for use through the end of 2023, and have clear instructions on verifying extended expiration dates. They are rapid antigen tests rather than PCR and give results within 30 minutes.


DEATH PENALTY


Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Adam Miller (D-Columbus) Wednesday again began their effort to abolish the death penalty in Ohio, with Miller calling it a failed policy and Schmidt saying that life in prison would be enough punishment for those convicted of serious murders. With an appropriation of $19 million attached to the latest version of the bill -- HB259 (Schmidt-A. Miller) -- to pay for victims of crime services, the bill was sent to the House Finance Committee this session, rather than the House Criminal Justice Committee that heard the previous version -- 134-HB183 (Schmidt-A. Miller). Schmidt argued that the death penalty does not deter crime as states that have the death penalty have the same percentage of violent crime as states that do not. She also said it is costly, with an average case costing $3 million.


DISABILITIES


Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) will host hiring events and provide information about available positions during National Disability Employment Awareness Month which is observed in October. The events are part of OOD's campaign to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and raise awareness about the employment of people with disabilities. The hiring events will provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to connect one-on-one with employers. OOD will also host a no-cost webinar for employers on invisible disabilities in the workplace, scheduled for Thursday, October 19 at 10 a.m. to coincide with Invisible Disabilities Week. The webinar will discuss the barriers and limitations employees with invisible disabilities may encounter at work and ways to remove these by providing reasonable accommodations and information about best practices.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) announced Tuesday it is seeking additional partners in the Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, and Toledo regions to serve as Tier 1 Minority Business Assistance Centers (MBACs), helping entrepreneurs and emerging business owners. This is in addition to the previous selection of 10 hosts for the MBAC Network Program for the July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2025 grant period. These MBACs support minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-friendly, and socially and economically disadvantaged businesses with no-cost counseling, state certification support, and trainings focused on creating jobs and increasing sales during ideation and start-up phases. Organizations interested in the MBAC request for proposals (RFP) -- including replying, reviewing the eligibility requirements and viewing the overall process -- can visit https://tinyurl.com/mr3mznhn. The RFP question and answer period opened Monday and runs through Thursday, Oct. 12. Questions can be sent to ohiombac@development.ohio.gov and responses will be posted on Tuesday, Oct. 17. The RFP deadline is Friday, Nov. 17.


ECONOMY


Ohio's minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $10.45 per hour for non-tipped employees and $5.25 per hour for tipped employees on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) announced. The minimum wage will apply to employees of businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $385,000 per year, according to DOC. The current 2023 minimum wage is $10.10 per hour for non-tipped employees and $5.05 per hour for tipped employees. The 2023 Ohio minimum wage applies to employees of businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $372,000.


EDUCATION


Late in the week, Judge Karen Phipps of Franklin County Common Pleas Court extended until Friday, Oct. 20 a temporary restraining order that blocks for now the transfer of K-12 governance powers from the State Board of Education and state superintendent to the governor's cabinet. The judge also asked parties to address whether the attorney general's office should be disqualified from representing anyone in the case. This followed a preliminary injunction hearing on Monday before Phipps’ Magistrate Jennifer Hunt in the suit challenging whether provisions of HB33 (Edwards) run afoul of the 1950s constitutional amendment creating the state board, as well as constitutional provisions on legislative procedure. Gov. Mike DeWine weighed in both Monday and Tuesday, maintaining that the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) would come into existence by simple operation of law Tuesday, Oct. 3 and he said it would be led for now by Interim Superintendent of Education Chris Woolard, notwithstanding the restraining order in litigation by State Board of Education members that restricts DeWine's implementation of the new agency. DeWine spoke at a press conference Monday less than an hour after the court hearing adjourned, saying he needed to provide clarity that basic functions of government would continue while the legal questions are ironed out. He argued again Tuesday morning in an address before the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) and remarks to reporters afterward that he's compelled to ensure continuity of operations at the new department even though a judge ordered him not to take action on implementing the new agency and K-12 governance structure. But SBOE members behind the lawsuit said in a new filing that DeWine's interpretation is "not a good-faith reading" of what the court decided.

The House Transportation Committee Tuesday heard two bills addressing school bus safety, albeit from two different approaches. Rep. Bernie Willis (R-Springfield) told the committee his HB279 responds to a recent incident in his district where a student was thrown from a school bus and killed. The bill would require seatbelts to be installed on school buses over a five-year time frame. He said while he considers this to be a "life safety issue for children" as opposed to a financial one, he estimated the cost would be 2.5 percent of a school district's transportation budget. He broke that down further by explaining that at an estimated cost of $16,800 per bus to retrofit it or add seatbelts and with about 23,000 school busses in Ohio of which 15 percent have "seatbelts of some kind," the "total bill could be close to $400 million." The second school bus safety bill was Rep. Richard Brown's (D-Canal Winchester) HB140 which has the four components addressing drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus including escalating penalties for repeat offenders. HB140 would also provide public education about school bus safety laws.


Lawmakers in the House Higher Education Committee Wednesday debated HB183 (Bird-Lear) which requires public and chartered nonpublic schools, educational service centers (ESCs), and institutions of higher education to "designate specified facilities for the exclusive use of students of either the male biological sex or the female biological sex." In addition, the bill prohibits public and chartered nonpublic schools and ESCs from "permitting members of the female biological sex to share overnight accommodations with members of the male biological sex." In sponsor testimony, the sponsors said the legislation is needed to protect young women and girls, saying that policies to allow transgender women to use women's public restrooms have caused harm and led to assaults. Rep. Adam Bird (R-Cincinnati) said superintendents and schools have personally asked him to introduce the legislation.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) recently awarded a grant that could be worth up to $1.9 million for a Cincinnati charter school, Cincinnati Classical Academy. The Charter Schools Program (CSP) Developer Grant is meant to support the opening of new or replication of existing high-quality charter schools. The first-year grant amount is about $445,000. According to its application, Cincinnati Classical Academy opened in the 2022-2023 academic year to serve K-6 students and intends to add one grade per year to eventually serve K-12 students. The application says it will replicate a classical education model proven by work in 23 other schools across 13 states.


ELECTIONS 2023


The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights announced the endorsement of the Ohio AFL-CIO of Issue 1, the reproductive and abortion rights amendment.

  • The Ohio Contractors Association announced its opposition to Issue 2, the recreational marijuana initiated statute.

  • Protect Women Ohio released an open letter signed by more than 100 Black faith and community leaders in opposition to Issue 1.

  • The Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (Ohio AAP) announced its opposition to recreational marijuana legalization Issue 2.

ELECTIONS 2024


Republican J.R. Majewski announced he will run for the 9th Congressional District in 2024 after earlier withdrawing from the race. Majewski, who lost to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) last year, told the Toledo Blade that he had dropped out of the race in May due to the health of his mother, who needed open heart surgery, but her recovery has gone well enough for him to return to the campaign trail.


Former state Sen. Kevin Coughlin is the latest Republican to enter the race for the 13th Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) in what is expected to be a competitive race in 2024. He would face Hudson City Councilman Chris Banweg and attorney Greg Wheeler in the Republican primary for the race.


Republican Bernie Moreno announced Tuesday that he has raised $4.1 million for his U.S. Senate campaign in the third quarter of this year, a total that includes a $3 million personal loan to the campaign. Moreno's campaign said that the fundraising totals bring his campaign's cash on hand to roughly $5 million.


Ashtabula County Auditor David Thomas announced that he will run for the 65th House District in 2024, a seat currently held by Rep. Mike Loychik (R-Cortland). Thomas has been the county auditor since 2018, when he unseated a 12-year incumbent at the age of 25.

Kellie Deeter announced Thursday that she is running for the 54th House District in 2024. The seat is currently held by Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk), who is term-limited. A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), nurse practitioner, and local small business owner, Deeter is running as a Republican in the race. She has lived in Huron County for more than 30 years and has been a CRNA for over 15 years, working in outpatient and in-patient settings at various hospitals throughout Northern Ohio during her career.

The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • The U.S. Senate campaign of Frank LaRose announced another round of endorsements that includes Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin).

  • The congressional campaign of Republican Craig Riedel announced the endorsement of Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon).

  • Ohio Value Voters endorsed Republican Bernie Moreno for U.S. Senate.

ENERGY/UTILITIES


Regulators in Columbus and Washington, D.C. are dodging responsibility for "supplemental" electric transmission projects costing Ohioans more than $6 billion over the previous six years with no review of their "need, prudence and cost effectiveness," the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) said in a new complaint against the state's four transmission utilities and the 13-state regional transmission organization (RTO) encompassing Ohio, PJM Interconnection. OCC filed a 53-page complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) against American Electric Power (AEP) Ohio Transmission Co., AES Ohio Co. (DP&L), Duke Energy Ohio LLC, and American Transmissions Systems, Inc. (ATSI), a subsidiary of FirstEnergy. "[N]o entity -- not the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), not the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), not PJM and not FERC -- oversees the planning process for most [supplemental] projects in Ohio or the need, prudence and cost effectiveness of those planned local transmission projects," the consumers' counsel states.

Ohio's first energy auction driving 2024-25 electric rates is forecasting utility costs lower than those paid by residents and businesses this summer but still nearly 80 percent higher than market prices preceding the COVID-19 downturn and subsequent inflation. The PUCO approved a Duke Energy Ohio auction price of $75.08 per megawatt hour (MWh) in September after accepting a $81.88 MWh result last July. They together constitute 65 percent of June 2024 - May 2025 electric costs for 840,000 Duke ratepayers, with one auction remaining for the utility's upcoming service period. That could yield a final price between $70-75 MWh beginning next summer compared to June 2023 - May 2024 electric rates at Ohio's four utilities ranging from $89.38 MWh for Duke and $95.93 MWh for AES Ohio (DP&L) to $101.08 MWh for FirstEnergy and $102.69 MWh for American Electric Power (AEP) Ohio.


The PUCO launched grant applications Wednesday for $14.2 million from the federal Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act (IIJA) supporting electric grid resilience and adopted 2023-2024's Special Reconnect Order for the winter heating season. Gov. Mike DeWine announced Ohio's IIJA award of $14.2 million from the Biden administration in July to prioritize renewable energy and modernize the electric grid in the Buckeye State to prevent brownouts and blackouts due to extreme weather, natural disasters and other events.

Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Governing Board Chairman Michael Watkins seconded fellow PUCO Nominating Council member Stuart Young's motion last year for greater transparency around commission candidates after Watkins had moved Young's name -- albeit unsuccessfully -- for council chair. Watkins now needs Young or another member to back his latest call for reform of the PUCO nominating process for a special public meeting of the council to go forward. OCC's board chairman has written his fourth letter in four years requesting an ad hoc meeting of the Nominating Council to consider reforming the interview process. The first two were denied by former council Chairman Mike Koren -- like former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo, a one-time FirstEnergy lobbyist. The third went to Koren's successor, former executive vice president to Nationwide Insurance and past Columbus mayor Greg Lashutka.


ENVIRONMENT


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) approved the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's (Ohio EPA) plan to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing from the Maumee River into Lake Erie's Western Basin. The plan establishes a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for phosphorus for the Maumee River Watershed, aiming to restore water quality and support important uses like drinking water and recreation, according to a news release from USEPA.


FEDERAL


Ohio's U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) is running to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. "We are at a critical crossroad in our nation's history. Now is the time for our Republican conference to come together to keep our promises to Americans," Jordan wrote in a letter to his colleagues on Wednesday. Jordan made the announcement one day after the chamber voted 216-210 to remove U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from the speaker's office. The motion passed with eight Republicans voting with the Democrats.

All of the Republicans in Ohio's delegation voted against removing McCarthy, including Jordan, while Democratic members of the delegation -- U.S. Reps. Greg Landsman (D-Cincinnati), Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) and Shontel Brown (D-Warrensville Heights) -- voted to remove McCarthy. U.S. Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) did not vote but issued a statement later saying she would have supported the measure.

Following the ouster of McCarthy Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told reporters in a Wednesday call that "infighting" that has been seen in the House was "just unacceptable." He urged the next speaker to act in a bipartisan manner, but said who that replacement should be is a matter for the House to sort out. "It's what people really hate about the federal government, this kind of fighting. ... Fortunately they did come together at the end of this weekend to keep the government from shutting down," Brown added. He noted the Senate had passed a bill to keep the government open with support from a majority of the Democrats and Republicans alike, saying similar bipartisanship is needed in the House as well. "I don't care who the speaker is, I just want that speaker to work bipartisanly with us in both houses," Brown added.


Brown was joined by local law enforcement leaders Wednesday in discussing nearly $23 million in federal funds he helped secure for Ohio agencies, including money for new radios, computers and field testing kits. They spoke to reporters as part of Brown's regular weekly call-ins. Brown said ensuring Ohio receives its share of funding and resources, including for law enforcement and other local agencies, is an important part of his work in Congress. The funds were awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs.

The federal government will remain fully operational for at least another month and a half. Hours before federal appropriations would have expired, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate passed a continuing resolution to fund the government through Friday, Nov. 17. President Joe Biden signed the legislation shortly thereafter on Saturday, Sept. 30. Federal Fiscal Year 2023 ended at midnight on Saturday, Sept. 30. "This bill ensures that active-duty troops will continue to get paid, travelers will be spared airport delays, millions of women and children will continue to have access to vital nutrition assistance, and so much more. This is good news for the American people," the president said. "But I want to be clear -- we should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis. For weeks, extreme House Republicans tried to walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed." In addition, Biden said he expects Congress will soon pass additional funding to support Ukraine.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Legislation allowing more than 1,900 Ohio child sexual abuse victims to collect 100 percent of the money they are owed from the Boy Scouts of America's $2.46 billion settlement will be sent to the governor's desk next week, Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) told Hannah News on Monday, Oct. 2. The House plans to concur with Senate amendments to HB35 (Seitz-Miranda) during the session scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 11, Seitz said. The Senate added an emergency clause to the bill and passed it unanimously.


Following the meeting of the House Rules and Reference Committee Tuesday, Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) weighed in on the legal fight over K-12 education governance between members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the governor's office. Asked about Wednesday's committee hearing on HB259 (Schmidt-Miller), which would abolish the death penalty in Ohio, Stephens said he is personally against abolishing the death penalty but would see how the committee process plays out. Regarding Ohioans' upcoming vote on Issue 2, which would legalize adult-use marijuana, Stephens was asked if he would amend or change the law if voters passed it. Stephens noted the initiative is a "piece of legislation," not "a constitutional amendment." He suggested lawmakers' position on amending the law may come down to how their districts vote on Issue 2.


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is on track to meet 134-SB9's (McColley-Roegner) 10 percent regulatory reduction requirement, ODNR spokesperson Andy Chow told Hannah News. Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) Chair Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and JCARR Vice Chair Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) recently announced that ODNR was one of four agencies that "have not reached the 10 percent reduction target, nor have they demonstrated a plan to achieve this requirement in a timely fashion." "Since the passage of SB9, ODNR has diligently worked to cut 796 regulatory restrictions from its rules. That's a 9.37 percent reduction, or 53 rules short of the goal. However, as reported in ODNR's Sept. 15, 2023 report to JCARR, an additional 400 reductions are in progress," Chow said.


In other legislative actions, the House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out HB195 (Demetriou-Brennan) which creates an adaptive mobility dealer license; the House Pensions Committee reported out HB78 (Seitz-J. Miller) regarding State Teachers Retirement System Board membership/elections; and the House Transportation Committee reported out HB201 (Hillyer-Demetriou) which prohibits the adoption of California emissions standards in the state.


GOVERNOR


Gov. Mike DeWine's office announced Friday the appointment of Jennifer Ciccone to Struthers Municipal Court to succeed Judge Dominic Leone, who resigned. Ciccone, of Poland, took office Friday, Oct. 6 and will need to run for election in November to retain the seat. She was already on the ballot as a candidate for the seat before DeWine's announcement. Ciccone is owner of the Ciccone Law Firm, and has prior experience as a civil commitment attorney for Trumbull County Probate Court, a prosecutor for the village of New Middletown and a public defender in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. Ciccone has a law degree from Ave Maria School of Law and dual bachelor's degrees from Mercyhurst University.


Gov. Mike DeWine Monday announced the appointment of Cynthia A. Welty to the Sandusky County Court District One, a seat she has filled since July as acting judge. Welty, of Clyde, will assume office on Monday, Oct. 16, taking the seat formerly held by Judge John Kolesar, who resigned in April to become solicitor for the city of Hudson in Northeast Ohio. Welty will serve the remainder of the unfinished term and needs to run for election in 2024 to retain the seat.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


The Cleveland Clinic recently announced plans for major construction of two new research buildings and opened the first phase of its expanded research facilities. Both initiatives are part of the Cleveland Innovation District announced in January 2021. The expanded research facility's first phase involves 45,000 square feet of "leading-edge laboratories" in a remodeled space, according to the clinic. Several of its fastest-growing research programs have already moved there, including efforts on computational life sciences, vaccine development and immunotherapy.


HIGHER EDUCATION


Emeritus Ohio State University (OSU) Professor Pierre Agostini is one of three individuals to be awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics for his study of electron dynamics in matter. Agostini shares the award with Ferenc Krausz from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Munich, Germany and Anne L'Huillier from Lund University in Sweden. "The three Nobel Laureates in Physics 2023 are being recognized for their experiments, which have given humanity new tools for exploring the world of electrons inside atoms and molecules … to create extremely short pulses of light that can be used to measure the rapid processes in which electrons move or change energy," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its announcement. The trio will split the cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor, roughly $1 million.


Ohio State University (OSU) Executive Vice President and Provost Melissa L. Gilliam has been named the next president of Boston University. She will continue to serve as Ohio State's chief academic officer through the end of the year and will join Boston University (BU) as president-elect on Jan. 1, 2024. The university said Gilliam led the launch of the Ohio State Academic Plan, which includes programs to support faculty and staff. She established the Provost's Early Career Scholars Program and the Scarlet and Gray Associate Professors Program. Gilliam created the Office of Faculty Affairs and the Office of Strategic Enrollment Management. The former focuses on faculty recruitment and recognition, while the latter integrates admissions, financial aid and additional functions to support enrollment and student success.


HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS


The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded nearly $5.2 million to Ohio for an initiative designed to address youth homelessness in rural parts of the state, the DeWine administration announced. The award comes from HUD's Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, which was created to support a range of programs including rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, transitional housing, host homes and more. The money will be administered through the Ohio Department of Development (DOD) in collaboration with the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) to establish a grant program for local communities to develop innovative solutions for providing safe and supportive housing. Selected communities will be required to establish Youth Action Boards, in which young people who have experienced housing instability actively lead local efforts to design, implement, and improve programs and policies to both prevent and eliminate this problem in their communities.


The practice of out-of-state investors buying up hundreds of houses and then renting them back to Ohioans at an inflated price is a "serious problem," Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said Wednesday. "Why do people do that? Well, some of you may remember the Hunt Brothers ... they tried to corner the silver market, and they did. What they were trying to do was buy up all the silver in the United States, or much of it, and the cost of silver went up an extraordinary amount. You can also watch the movie 'Trading Places,'" Huffman said during a panel discussion at the Ohio Community Development Corporation (Ohio CDC) conference on housing issues at the Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square.


INSURANCE


The Ohio Insurance Institute (OII) announced that Jody Foltyn recently joined the organization as vice president of education and workforce development. In that role, Foltyn oversees OII's Insuring Ohio Futures program and spearheads workforce development initiatives aimed at addressing the demand for talent within the industry. Prior to joining OII, Foltyn served as chief of staff to Ohio Treasurer of State Robert Sprague.


LABOR


The United Auto Workers (UAW) union did not add more Ohio facilities beyond the three already facing picket lines to its national strike, according to the latest weekly update from UAW President Shawn Fain. A Toledo Jeep plant was one of the first plants where UAW workers went on strike, and parts facilities for General Motors in West Chester and Stellantis in Streetsboro joined the strike a week later.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


The Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) will take public comments through Monday, Oct. 9 on six updates to administrative rules meant to implement the provider rate increases for home- and community-based services, home health and private duty nursing enacted in the budget bill, HB33 (Edwards). Implementation of the rate increases is targeted for Jan. 1, 2024. "We will begin work on other waiver changes or complex reimbursement related changes, where applicable, that require significant time, discussions, complexity or actuarial analysis early next year. This includes much of the waiver alignment and waiver reform work we included as part of the budget, as well as additional work regarding assisted living reimbursement," ODM said in announcing the rule postings.


PENSIONS


Lawmakers seeking to boost employer contribution rates in the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) scaled back their proposal in the latest version, asking to bring police rates in line with higher fire rates but not pursuing additional increases beyond the current fire rate of 24 percent as they had last session. Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) announced Thursday the reintroduction of OP&F funding legislation, this time joined by Rep. Thomas Hall (R-Middletown). The legislation, filed with the clerk's office but not yet formally introduced, would phase in over five years a 5.5 percent of pay increase for employers of police officers, bringing it from 19.5 percent to 24 percent. In contrast, the prior version would have increased both police and fire rates to 26.5 percent.


PEOPLE


Benjamin Flowers, the Ohio solicitor general within Attorney General Dave Yost's office, announced on social media Friday he is leaving the position. He wrote that next week he will become a partner at the firm of Ashbrook Byrne Kresge.


The Ohio Library Council (OLC) recently recognized BroadbandOhio Chief Peter Voderberg with its "Citizen of the Year" award, acknowledging "his dedication to bridging the digital divide and ensuring all Ohioans have high-speed Internet access." Voderberg and his team were honored at the OLC convention and expo on Sept. 27, as BroadbandOhio has worked with OLC on several events meant to help close the digital divide.


POVERTY


Approximately 986,000 families across the state would receive a refundable tax credit under legislation introduced by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D-Akron) and Lauren McNally (D-Youngstown). The legislation, HB290, would provide up to $1,000 per child age zero to five and up to $500 per child age six to 17, Weinstein said during a Statehouse press conference on Tuesday. "Families earning less than $65,000 annually would qualify for the full benefit amount, with benefits tapering off for families earning $65,000 to $85,000," Weinstein said. "Children in all 88 of Ohio's counties would benefit, and we've estimated 300,000 -- or more than 55 percent of families in Ohio's 32 Appalachian counties -- would be eligible for the credit." Weinstein said the bill aims to replicate the success of the pandemic-era federal child tax credit, which expired at the end of 2021.


PUBLIC SAFETY


The Ohio Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) has added Timberlake Police Department in Lake County to jurisdictions certified under minimum state law enforcement standards, bringing their number to 618. Those agencies employ 29,362 peace officers, or 87.5 percent of their ranks in Ohio, including most metropolitan areas.


Starting Thursday, motorists on Ohio roadways began receiving citations if they are seen by law enforcement using their electronic devices other than to make a phone call. While the law adopted as a part of 134-SB288 was signed in January, law enforcement had been giving warnings to those caught violating it. That grace period ended Thursday, with violations now being handed out instead. Gov. Mike DeWine held a press conference near Interstate 71 in Delaware County Thursday to tout the law, saying it is already showing it works. He cited Ohio State Highway Patrol statistics dating back to January 2018, and said distracted driving crashes hit a record low in September 2023.


REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT


The plaintiffs in all three lawsuits challenging Ohio General Assembly maps adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission officially filed objections with the Ohio Supreme Court Thursday, Oct. 5 challenging the latest commission plan adopted unanimously last week. "Petitioners have waited the better part of two years for relief, during which time an entire election cycle has passed. The plan now before the Court suggests that the commission assumes that this Court will neither enforce Article XI, Section 6(B) nor adhere to its prior decisions. Petitioners submit that this is the last chance to show that Ohioans were not sold a bill of goods in 2015 -- the last chance to show that the current redistricting process is not irredeemably broken," the plaintiffs in one of the cases, Bria Bennett v. Ohio Redistricting Commission, wrote in its objection filed Thursday afternoon. The filing argues that the proportionality of the latest plan "is on par with that of the very first plan that this Court invalidated and that of the twice-invalidated plan that was used in the 2022 elections." The filings also argue that the prior case precedent by the Court in these cases should continue to be followed with the latest maps.


The Ohio Redistricting Commission Friday, Sept. 29 adopted an updated House and Senate redistricting plan, making one small change in Franklin County that had been requested by Democrats on the panel. The change, which moves Ward 34, Precinct C in Franklin County, puts Rep. Latyna Humphrey (D-Columbus) back into the 2nd House District, which she currently represents, and the 15th Senate District after she had been drawn into the 6th House District and the 3rd Senate District. The commission also adopted a rule that allows commission members to attend meetings and vote remotely as long as a core of the commissioners are present in the location of the hearing. The rule accommodated Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), who attended remotely. House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) made the motion to move the boundaries. Co-chair Auditor Keith Faber said the change does nothing to the political indexes of the map. After the hearing, Faber told reporters he saw the change as a courtesy following along with the good-faith negotiations that the commission had that led to the unanimous adoption of the map on Tuesday, Sept. 26. "You should execute the agreement everybody thought we had," he said.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Thursday presented the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) with a leadership award at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Washington D.C. The award recognizes organizations for demonstrating outstanding vision, leadership, and commitment to significantly advance the green building industry. OFCC oversees agencies' capital projects, manages Ohio's K-12 school facility programs that support construction and renovation, and administers funding for community cultural and sports facilities projects.


The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) recently announced the restoration of a vintage binary clock at the Rhodes State Office Tower in downtown Columbus. Previously displayed outside the building, the clock was returned to the east-facing wall on the west side of the building. It was previously displayed on the west-facing wall along Broad Street but removed in 2013 for repairs; DAS said it could not repair the 1970s-era technology nor find companies specializing in repair of these clocks. The department thanked Gregg Chapman, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Ohio State University, for rebuilding and programming a new operating controller.


TAXATION


The sponsors of a bill that would give a property tax break to Ohio homeowners who are over the age of 70 and have an income of under $70,000 told the House Ways and Means Committee that they chose those numbers as a starting point and are not set on staying at that number for their "70/70" plan. Reps. Thomas Hall (R-Middletown) and Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati) said their HB263 (Hall-Isaacsohn), which would implement a property tax freeze for individuals, is an opportunity to continue supporting those most vulnerable to increasing property tax costs. It would also reimburse local governments and schools for revenue that is lost.


The General Assembly should "fix the tax problem of the equation rather than artificially changing the value side" in order to address rising property taxes across the state, Warren County Auditor Matt Nolan told the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. Nolan, who serves as co-chair of the County Auditors' Association of Ohio's (CAAO) Property Tax Committee, provided opponent testimony on SB153 (Lang-Johnson) during the meeting. He said SB153 and companion bill HB187 (Hall-Bird) would cause harmful unintended consequences. Nolan suggested the following three alternative solutions for the Legislature to consider:

  • Use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) or Rainy Day Fund dollars to grant a property tax credit to each property owner who sees an increase in taxes as a result of an increase in values.

  • Apply the difference in taxes as a refundable income tax credit.

  • Values would increase as already approved by the Ohio Department of Taxation, but instead of school rates hitting the 20-mill floor "hard," the floor would adjust down based on value increases and inflation, Nolan said. "If values increase by 30 percent and inflation is 5 percent at the time, schools at the floor would not get the 30 percent increase they would today, but would rather get 5 percent. This approach allows school districts and local governments to continue to see increases in revenue at a rate that was traditionally intended by the creation of the floor, but does not allow for excessive increases that the current market conditions have created."

TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


Four projects in Ohio state government were named finalists for the State IT Recognition Awards organized by the National Association of Chief Information Officers of the States (NASCIO). Winners will be announced at the NASCIO conference in October in Minneapolis. Ohio projects and the category in which they're competing include the following:

  • Streamlining Access to Child Care Benefits in Ohio (Digital Services: Government to Citizen category)

  • Paper Is Dead, Long Live Digital Transformation (Business Process Innovations category)

  • Ohio. Find IT Here: A Focus on Human-Centered Design (Cross-Boundary Collaboration & Partnerships category)

  • Keeping Ohioans Connected (Emerging & Innovative Technologies category)

TREASURER OF STATE


Starting in January 2024, Ohioans will be able to utilize a new state program to earn extra interest while saving to buy a house, Treasurer of State Robert Sprague said Thursday. "It's going to offer an above market interest rate to prospective home buyers who deposit money at these participating financial institutions," Sprague said during remarks at the Ohio Community Development Corporation (Ohio CDC) Association conference on housing issues. "Let's say you're able to save up $5,000 in this homeowners savings account. Normally you would get 4 percent or so, maybe 5 percent at your local lending institution right now, in terms of the CD rate," Sprague continued. "Well, the treasurer's office comes along and we're able to give you anywhere from 1 to 4 percent additional on top of that, and you're at 8 or 9 percent. That's a pretty good rate of return. And you get an income tax deduction from the state of Ohio too, so now you're over a 10 percent rate of return for your investment in this homeowners savings account. And it's FDIC insured. It's risk free. It's a risk-free investment. You get 10 percent on it. You all should sign up. This is fantastic!"


UKRAINE


U.S. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Dayton), head of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, joined other members of the delegation Thursday in supporting continued funding for Ukraine in its fight against Russia's invasion. A joint statement was issued by Turner and U.S. Reps. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Neal Dunn (R-FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Rich McCormick (R-GA). "Our bipartisan congressional delegation is in full support of additional U.S. assistance to Ukraine. Just last week more than 330 members of the House voted to provide additional aid to Ukraine. While the U.S. Congress continues to debate its own budget, we remain steadfast in our support of Ukraine. The United States has provided Ukraine with more than $43 billion in security assistance since February 2022. We will not abandon Ukraine in its fight for survival," they said.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


The state of Ohio is still lagging behind most states in two key jobless claims metrics, according to financial advisory website WalletHub. Ohio ranks 40 in unemployment claims per 100,000 people in the labor force, and 27 when measuring which states saw the largest decreases in weekly jobless claims. Among Ohio's neighbors, Kentucky had the fewest jobless claims per 100,000 people in the labor force, ranking 5. The Bluegrass State was followed by West Virginia (24), Indiana (28), Michigan (42) and Pennsylvania (46).


VETERANS


The Veterans Caucus heard updates from regional defense officials at its meeting Tuesday, along with discussion of relevant legislation and concerns raised by state veterans' organizations regarding suicide awareness. Several veterans' representatives also praised the 9-8-8 number for saving lives. Rep. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) said he had met with Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director Lori Criss and other DeWine administration officials Tuesday and was confident counseling and other supports will move forward quickly in a comprehensive way to support military members and their families. AMVETS Department of Ohio Executive Director Don McCauley discussed their own "One Is Too Many" program combatting veterans' suicide and a prevention call-in line staffed by trained volunteers. He added that Ohio has the largest AMVETS membership nationally with 29,000 members and 104 posts.


WORKERS’ COMPENSATION


The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) Board of Directors voted Friday to approve a 1 percent rate cut for about 38,000 public employers. The reduction in collectible premium represents an average cut across public employer taxing districts. During the board's review of finances, staff told directors the agency had $22.7 billion in assets versus $15.2 billion in liabilities as of August, meaning a $7.6 billion in net position, about even with the position seen a year earlier.






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


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