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Week In Review - September 13, 2021

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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AGRICULTURE Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) Director Dorothy Pelanda joined six other state ag leaders in a video urging Midwestern consumers to buy from local farmers. The video can be viewed at Others appearing in the video include the following: Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello; Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Bruce Kettler; Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles; Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen; Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development Director Gary McDowell; and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski. A population of the invasive Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) has been found on the east side of Cleveland, according to ODAg, which had been notified of the initial discovery by a tree care professional on Aug. 26. ODAg plant pest inspectors confirmed living, adult SLF are in the area. An inspector with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) also confirmed a population of the SLF has been found at a secondary location, near the initial report. A railroad line connects both locations. ARTS, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT Cardale Jones, a former Ohio State University (OSU) quarterback who led the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014, has started a new agency to assist student-athletes seeking to earn compensation from their name, image and likeness (NIL). Ten Talents NIL will offer management, legal counsel, marketing and crisis communications expertise to student-athletes, according to the agency. Others involved in the new organization are former U.S. Attorney David DeVillers, now a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP; attorney and former Republican Ohio House candidate Mehek Cooke, a senior marketing and media strategist at the Strategy Group Company; and Jordan Ohler, a strategic communications consultant at Swing State Strategies. ATTORNEY GENERAL Ohio's plan to distribute the more than $800 million it's expected to receive through a national settlement agreement with three opioid distributors is superior to the distribution process employed by the state following the Tobacco Master Settlement in 1998, according to policy experts from the Center for Community Solutions (CCS). However, both CCS' Loren Anthes and Kent State University College of Public Health instructor Ken Slenkovich said the OneOhio plan has room for improvement. Slenkovich, who was the founding program director for the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation, joined Anthes for a Zoom press conference with reporters on Thursday. FY22-23 BUDGET Tax revenues beat estimates by more than $15 million in August, with sales tax figures diminished by payments to counties but more than offset by stronger than expected income tax collections, according to preliminary figures from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). Two months into FY22, the state is $40 million or about 1 percent ahead of projections with roughly $4.3 billion collected. Sales taxes yielded $1.05 billion versus $1.07 billion projected, lagging by $18.9 million or 1.8 percent. Within that category, non-auto sales tax was off by $19.6 million or 2.2 percent, while auto sales tax was up by 0.4 percent or $672,000. CIVIL RIGHTS The City Club of Cleveland's Friday forum featured Jamal Greene, the Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, and author of the book How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights is Tearing America Apart. Greene made the case that one contributing factoring to the increasing political polarization seen in the U.S. is American society's relationship to rights and how judges think about the claims of people who want their rights to be recognized. He said the American public, as well as courts, seem to believe that rights are identified and protected by judges as opposed to other government institutions. He said this makes for lopsided arguments and debates on the subject of rights because some rights, for example those to do with public health, are protected by passing laws instead of going to court. CORONAVIRUS The week saw a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations -- and the resulting strain on health care workers -- that were a focus of Thursday's Ohio Department of Health (ODH) briefing, a day after the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA) reported 40 percent of hospitals were under strain. ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff and OhioHealth Medical Director of Infectious Diseases Dr. Joseph Gastaldo said an average of one in seven hospital patients and one in four intensive care unit (ICU) patients have COVID-19, and that rises to one in three hospital patients and one in two ICU patients for rural areas. Vanderhoff said that the current "dangerous strain" on health care infrastructure has led some hospitals to divert elective procedures, send patients to other facilities and limit visitation access. The level of new cases is also continuing to escalate, Vanderhoff told reporters, though it has not yet reached the height of the November 2020-January 2021 winter surge. ODH reported 7,897 new COVID cases Thursday -- the highest number since Jan. 12 -- and 255 hospitalizations and 24 ICU admissions. The 21-day averages are now 5,009 cases, 180 hospitalizations and 18 ICU admissions. Ohioans should do more to address the rising number of COVID-19-infected children being admitted to hospitals across the state, according to leaders from six Ohio children's hospitals and the Ohio Children's Hospital Association (OCHA). "The Delta variant is very contagious, and we're seeing kids impacted in a way that they had not been at the start of the pandemic," Akron Children's Hospital President and CEO Grace Wakulchik said during a virtual press conference on Tuesday. "Our demand from Ohioans for testing symptomatic cases is skyrocketing, and we are seeing more positives among the outcomes. There is basically a 2 percent asymptomatic positivity rate, and a 9.1 percent symptomatic positivity rate in the Akron region. We have tools to prevent this from happening and to keep kids in their normal routines as much as possible. They are wearing masks, social distancing and washing your hands. We're asking parents, schools and communities all to work together to minimize the spread." A Butler County judge, Judge Michael Oster Jr., has denied a woman's request that the hospital treating her husband for COVID-19 be ordered to administer ivermectin, reversing a decision made days earlier by a fellow judge, Judge Gregory Howard. After hearings Thursday and Friday, Oster decided to deny a request for an injunction ordering administration of the drug that was sought by Julie Smith on behalf of her husband, Jeffrey Smith. In his ruling, Oster noted that, in the time between the two decisions, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), American Medical Association, American Pharmacists Association and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists all publicly advised against using ivermectin to treat COVID-19. Ohioans who are concerned about possibly contracting COVID-19 after a recent exposure can obtain free, rapid COVID-19 tests at many local libraries and other non-hospital facilities across the state, according to ODH. "Given how busy our hospitals are, if your symptoms of COVID-19 are of a mild or moderate nature and you're simply looking to confirm your diagnosis, testing is available statewide outside our hospitals. You can pick up a free rapid BinaxNow test at one of many libraries or local health departments across the state, and the test can be proctored remotely from the comfort of your home," ODH spokesperson Alicia Shoults told Hannah News. ECONOMY Financial advisory website WalletHub ranked Ohio 23rd on a scale of "States Recovering the Quickest from COVID-19" that was released Wednesday. This includes subrankings of 19th in "COVID Health," 26th in "Leisure and Travel" and 44th in "Economy and Labor Market." The study used 17 metrics, including rate of full vaccination and real GDP compared to pre-COVID data. WalletHub said the progress toward economic recovery "has been largely possible because of its public health improvements due to the distribution of the vaccine." The national rate of full vaccination is 53 percent as of Tuesday, while Ohio's rate is 48.5 percent. For the week ending Sept. 4, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 13,509 initial traditional unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That number is slightly lower than last week, when the department reported 13,740 traditional jobless claims. The week before that, ODJFS reported 8,182 traditional jobless claims. Ohioans filed 130,618 continued traditional unemployment claims last week, which was 3,542 fewer than the previous week. EDUCATION When leaving the office of Gov. Bob Taft, Paolo DeMaria felt he could have chosen among a variety of policy realms as the focus for his career. But the former chief advisor to Taft felt a particular passion about education. "There are so many optimistic and energized people working in it, and it's about such a positive thing. It's a creative endeavor around our future," he told Hannah News in an interview as he approaches the end of his five-plus years as state superintendent of public instruction. DeMaria announced his retirement in July. He said his announcement came at a logical transition point -- the end of a budget cycle and another school year, and the completion of major education policy work in the enactment of a new school funding formula and a reformed state report card system. But DeMaria's career is not finished. "I'm 59 years old. I've still got a lot of work ahead of me ...," he said. Charter school officials found liable for misuse of public money are raising "irrelevant" and "obscure" issues that don't warrant involvement of the state's highest court, the attorney general's office wrote recently in asking the Ohio Supreme Court to reject an appeal from the school officials. In Sun Building Limited Partnership et al v. Value Learning & Teaching Academy et al, the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court found family members who ran and worked for a Cincinnati charter school must forfeit their wages because of improper interests in school operations -- a ruling partly upheld by First District Court of Appeals, which found the family members liable but which determined their actions did not constitute a pattern of activity and thus did not trigger a liability for triple damages. However, the trial court ruling has been used as justification for the state's attempt to recover money from William Lager, founder of the defunct Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which the state determined had been overpaid by tens of millions of dollars. The Broadcast Educational Media Commission (BEMC) Thursday approved some tweaks to the formulas by which public radio and television stations and radio reading services for people with impaired vision share in the operating subsidies the commission distributes -- formulas that hadn't been revisited for more than a decade. Generally, the recommended updates shifted the formula amounts only slightly, by fractions of a percent. The commission also reviewed draft guiding principles for how to consider project requests in the upcoming capital budget cycle. BEMC Executive Director Geoffrey Phillips said he expects the Office of Budget and Management to formally kick off the capital budget process in late September, and Robert Smith, chairman of BEMC, said he aims for the commission to vote on the principles at the upcoming Friday, Nov. 12 meeting, after gathering additional feedback Kurt Russell, a social studies teacher at Oberlin High School, has been named the 2022 Ohio Teacher of the Year. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria made the surprise public announcement during a school assembly held Thursday at the high school. ELECTIONS Domestic violence survivors should sign up for the state's "Safe at Home" address confidentiality program as part of their comprehensive safety plan, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Wednesday. LaRose promoted the program during a visit to the Lutheran Social Services (LSS) CHOICES shelter in Franklin County. The "Safe at Home" program -- which allows victims of domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking, rape or sexual battery to register to vote without making their address public -- was created in 2016 with the enactment of 131-HB359 (Duffey-Gonzales). ELECTIONS 2021 It will be up to Secretary of State Frank LaRose to decide whether Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Cincinnati) can appear on the ballot for Cincinnati City Council after the Hamilton County Board of Elections tied on his candidacy. Brinkman, who is term-limited from the House next year, had filed a petition to run for the seat, but the petition had a missing date, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The board of elections split on how serious of an omission the date was, the newspaper said. Republicans on the board of elections voted to allow his candidacy, while the Democrats voted against it. ELECTIONS 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley said Tuesday that her administration will place Ohio workers first, announcing a "workers' bill of rights" that she said will help govern her decisions. The Dayton mayor announced the platform at an event in Columbus, noting that many of the policies are already part of her previously announced jobs and government ethics plans, and that the workers' bill of rights will be more of a mindset when it comes to running the state. "I think governing is about values," she said. "Putting out a workers' bill of rights is a way that we can say 'these are our values.' We are worker-centered." Whaley said workers' rights are personal to her, having parents and grandparents who were union members. Gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci announced that Bradley Parscale, who formerly worked for President Donald Trump as his digital and media director in 2016 and campaign manager in 2020, has joined his campaign team. Renacci also said he has a field operation of over 120 county captains and 132 volunteers. The following endorsements were made over the week:

  • NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio endorsed Nan Whaley for governor.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT The nation saw an increase of 235,000 jobs in August and a 0.2 percent drop in the unemployment rate to 5.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said Friday. Monthly job growth throughout the year has averaged 586,000. Notable gains for August were in professional and business services; transportation and warehousing; private education; manufacturing; and other services. The number of unemployed persons fell to 8.4 million, BLS said, following a "large decrease" in July. Unemployment rates declined for adult men (5.1 percent) in August, while the rate for teenagers (11.2 percent) increased. There was little change in rates among adult women (4.8 percent), Blacks (8.8 percent), Asians (4.6 percent) and Hispanics (6.4 percent). ENERGY Columbia Gas of Ohio calls its current rates "unjust" and wants to hike distribution charges to residential customers by as much as 30 percent. Smaller homes and schools would see the largest overall increase. The proposed rate plan would raise monthly delivery costs at schools consuming up to 4 Mcf (40,000 cubic ft.) of natural gas by 15-30 percent, more than doubling Columbia Gas profits as early as 2021 or 2022. The gas company filed notice of its new rate plan at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) in May and has since provided a summary of proposed increases, expert testimony from commission hearings, and complex technical and fiscal documents numbering into the thousands of pages. FEDERAL President Joe Biden announced Thursday a six-pronged national strategy to address the pandemic in the coming months, particularly in regard to keeping schools open and protecting the economic recovery. Among steps to promote vaccination, the Biden administration plans to use regulatory authority through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require that all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or have unvaccinated workers produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis. OSHA will also require these businesses to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and recover from any subsequent side effects. GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE The Ohio House Democratic Caucus can now begin the process of selecting a candidate to fill the 26th Ohio House district seat vacated by former Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus) earlier this summer. Crawley left to take on a new role as Franklin County commissioner. Eleven individuals applied to fill the seat by the Friday, Sept. 3 deadline. The next steps in the process will be to name a screening committee and to schedule interviews, which the House Democratic Caucus hopes to complete in the next two weeks. House District 26 applicants include the following: Danny Kilgore, Pastor Frederick LaMarr, Marc Gofstein, Glen Tuomaala, Kimberly Mason, Kelley Freeman, Gregory Lee, Alexis Pannell, Latyna Humphrey, Michael Cole and Ellen Hana Abdur-Rahim. House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) Tuesday named Jordan Hawkins the new executive director of the Ohio House Democrats' campaign arm. He succeeds Aryeh Alex, who has accepted a civil service position with the city of Columbus. The caucus said Hawkins is the first Black man to lead the caucus' campaign operation. GOVERNOR Appointments made during the week include the following:

  • Lori Marie Gillett of Westerville (Delaware County) to the JobsOhio Board of Directors for a term beginning Sept. 8, 2021 and ending July 5, 2025.

GUNS Members of the General Assembly joined the NAACP and Ohio Organizing Collaborative Thursday in suing the state of Ohio over the 12th-hour, lame-duck insertion of stand-your-ground legislation into the ultimately successful 133-SB175 (Schaffer) -- providing nonprofit civil immunity for death or injury from concealed handguns -- in alleged violation of the single-subject rule. The legislation picked up HB796 (Koehler) in a late-night session in December. It went on to Senate passage the next day and the governor's signature on Jan. 4, 2021, taking effect on April 6 and prompting Democrat repeal efforts. Howse and Thomas have joined the NAACP and Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC) as named plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Ohio Attorney General (AG) Dave Yost and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron are teaming up with the Cincinnati Reds to raise awareness of human trafficking in both states through the release of a public service announcement (PSA) alerting baseball fans to the signs of sex and labor trafficking and how to report it. The PSA, recorded by Reds players, is being played in the pre-game rotation at the Great American Ball Park for Reds home games. Human trafficking can occur at any time and in any location, the PSA tells baseball fans, and a person may be a victim if they:

  • Are unable to come and go as they please.

  • Show signs of physical, mental or emotional abuse.

  • Appear submissive, fearful or nervous.

Registration is now open for the 18th Annual International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference scheduled for Wednesday-Friday, Sept. 22-24. The remote conference is being hosted by the University of Toledo (UT) and features over 125 breakout sessions on every dimension of sex and labor trafficking in Ohio, the U.S. and globally. The conference program, schedule and registration portal can be found at Registration will close on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 11:59 p.m. INSURANCE Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio announced Wednesday that Greg LaManna has been named president of its Medicaid health plan. According to the company, LaManna has more than 13 years of health care and leadership experience working with payers and providers across Medicaid and Medicare product lines. Most recently, he led Anthem's efforts in Ohio working with more than 200 community-based organizations, providers, caregivers, members and other stakeholders to address the social drivers of health by expanding access to emergency housing and workforce development programs that help individuals transition out of homelessness, as well as addressing food insecurity, transportation assistance, employment support, education enhancement and health care access with a focus on maternal child health. LOBBYISTS The Ohio Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (OPMCA) and Ohio Association of Convenience Stores (OACS) announced plans Thursday to merge into a new association, the Ohio Energy and Convenience Association (OECA), in January 2022. This will open a "powerful new chapter to shape the future of transportation fuels and the convenience retail environment," the associations said. The new group "will continue to deliver superior value to both organizations' members and will build an agile, best-in-class trade association focused on tomorrow's transportation fuels challenges." LOCAL GOVERNMENT Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has agreed to his personal request for a top-down review of the Columbus Division of Police. The decision comes four months after Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein reached out to DOJ in the days following the fatal police shooting of Ma'khia Bryant. The mayor says DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office will assess the capital's public safety forces for the first time in its history. MARIJUANA/HEMP The Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) has awarded a medical marijuana dispensary operating license to Harvest of Athens, located at 711 W. Union St. in Athens. The board has now issued 56 dispensary certificates of operation under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP). OBP also recently released its patient and caregiver numbers for July 2021, saying there are now 202,666 patients registered in the MMCP. A total of 125,298 patients hold both an active registration and an active recommendation. MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM When the federal government decides to declare an official end of the public health emergency (PHE) -- something the Delta variant might delay -- that will trigger an end to the freeze on removing people from Medicaid based on eligibility reviews, which has substantially expanded the number of Ohioans enrolled in the health care program. Medicaid cannot remove anyone from the program while the emergency is ongoing unless they ask for removal, die or move out of state. The redetermination freeze is a condition of receiving enhanced federal matching funds for Medicaid. At the end of 2019, about 2,781,000 Ohioans were on Medicaid. As of July, that figure stood near 3,240,000. "It's a huge challenge," said Patrick Beatty, policy chief for the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM), in an interview with Hannah News alongside Maureen Corcoran, director of ODM. Corcoran said several thousand people are leaving the Medicaid rolls monthly for the few permissible removal reasons, but the state gets tens of thousands of applications in the meantime. Lawmakers used the biennial budget, HB110 (Oelslager), to set some parameters for how ODM should approach the much larger number of redeterminations. Attorney General Dave Yost filed a notice of appeal with the federal government over revocation of Ohio's permission to institute Medicaid work and community engagement requirements, following a request from Gov. Mike DeWine. Lawmakers enacted a requirement for Ohio to pursue Medicaid work rules in 2017, and the Trump administration granted a waiver request to institute them at the outset of DeWine's term. But after the 2020 presidential election, the Biden administration started revoking states' work requirement waiver approvals, eventually doing so for Ohio's last month. "Removing a provision that says a healthy, able-bodied individual should be working, looking for work, participating in job training, or participating in a recovery program in order to receive free taxpayer-funded health care is contrary to Ohioans' values," said DeWine in a statement. "Eliminating reasonable requirements discourages people from becoming self-sufficient and only reinforces government dependency. Ohio's program would offer assistance when Ohioans need it, while providing opportunities for future success." MILITARY AFFAIRS The Adjutant General's Department announced Thursday that only 170 Ohio National Guard personnel will be deployed to Louisiana to assist in the Hurricane Ida response, following an updated request. Members of the 1485th Transportation Company, based in Coshocton, will no longer have to deploy. The soldiers who will deploy are in the 112th Transportation Battalion, based in North Canton, and the 1486th Transportation Company, based in Mansfield. NATURAL RESOURCES Ohio Sea Grant Extension educator Nicole Wright has received one of 10 mini-grants from the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support programming that teaches Ohioans about aquaculture opportunities. Wright will lead the creation of "The Story of Yellow Perch: Understanding Ohio's Wild and Farmed Fisheries," according to Ohio Sea Grant. Wright's partners on the project include the Ohio Aquaculture Association, Aquatic Visitors Center at Ohio State University's Stone Lab, Lake Erie Nature and Science Center and Sea Grant's Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced Wednesday that firefighting crews from its Division of Forestry are providing aid in Minnesota and California. The division noted that the Minnesota situation was "historic," as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness had been closed to recreation uses for the first time since 1976. Ohio firefighters have also battled fires in Montana and California recently. The Division of Forestry provided fire engines and firefighters to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana and California during the spring and summer. Other ODNR wildland firefighters also worked as support staff in various states through dispatch units, advanced fire leadership and logistics roles. OHIO HISTORY The Columbus Metropolitan Club's (CMC) Wednesday forum hosted panelists who had been at pivotal locations during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The forum's moderator, Jerry Revish, the retired co-anchor of WBNS 10TV, had traveled to New York City where he reported on the attack in the days immediately following Sept. 11. Panelists Scott Light, a journalist and owner of Scott Light Consulting, reported on the attack on the Pentagon from D.C. while fellow panelist Shirley Brooks-Jones was a passenger of Delta Flight 15 going from Frankfurt, Germany to Atlanta, GA on Sept. 11 when the flight had to be rerouted to Gander, Newfoundland, a Canadian province. Brooks-Jones was one of an estimated 8,000 air passengers who were essentially stranded in Gander, a town of 10,000, for the next three days because of the attacks. PEOPLE Cincinnati Right to Life announced Wednesday that Laura Bride Strietmann will become the agency's new executive director effective Tuesday, Sept. 28. She succeeds Meg DeBlase. Former Chairman Sam Randazzo of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has accused the attorney general's office of more constitutional violations in seeking to freeze not only the onetime FirstEnergy lobbyist's personal property and financial assets but also his deposits in Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA) held by defense counsel to litigate his case. Randazzo moved last Friday to appeal the Franklin County Common Plea Court's judgment against his property and accounts, to stay their attachment and garnishment during litigation, and to oppose their placement in receivership -- requested by the state only the day before. The funeral for former Rep. Doug Green has been set for Saturday, Sept. 11 at 4 p.m. at the Bible Baptist Church in Mt. Orab. Visitation will be held beginning at 1 p.m. that day. Contributions in his memory can be made to Doug Green Ministries, P.O. Box 376, Mt. Orab 45154 or to an agency of the donor's choice. PUBLIC SAFETY Linndale has a storied past for the number of traffic citations it once issued relative to its population, at least until the Legislature eliminated the Cuyahoga County mayor's court in 2013. Eight years later, the village has achieved state certification under law enforcement standards established by the Ohio Community-Police Collaborative Advisory Board. The Ohio Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) says 539 law enforcement agencies have now adopted state standards and 11 are in the certification process. Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday announced that $5 million in grant funding is now available to help local law enforcement agencies invest in body camera equipment and pay for associated expenses. DeWine had prioritized the creation of the new Ohio Body-Worn Camera Grant Program in the state's FY22-23 operating budget that was passed by the Ohio General Assembly in June. The program will assist local law enforcement agencies with costs related to camera equipment, video storage, public record management personnel, and more. The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) released data Tuesday on traffic activity over the Labor Day weekend, with 12 traffic fatalities reported. That was slightly lower than 2020's 15 and equal to 2019 and 2018 totals. There were 12 fatal crashes in total. Further data showed that safety belts were used in three, not used in three and one remained unknown. Regarding motorcycles, helmets were worn in two of the crashes while three were classified as "not used/unknown." The Franklin County Sheriff's Office and Columbus State Community College (CCCC) Police Department called on the state Wednesday to make diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) a cornerstone of Ohio law enforcement. The Ohio Community-Police Collaborative Advisory Board heard from Franklin County DEI Director Napoleon Bell and Columbus State Police DEI Senior Advisor Dr. Renee Hill, who said the state already has three out of only a dozen DEI officers in the U.S. and has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in shaping the 21st century workplace. REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT The Republican majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission accepted new House and Senate maps drawn by the legislative Republican Caucus as their working documents on Thursday along a party-line vote, though members of the commission still held out hope for a bipartisan deal before next week's deadline that would implement a 10-year map rather than a four-year map that would come should neither Democratic member sign on. Two members -- Auditor Keith Faber and Secretary of State Frank LaRose -- said that they had concerns over the maps but voted to move the process along, with Faber committing himself and his staff to working with the legislative leaders on the panel to try to come up with a deal this weekend. Questions also lingered over what might happen if the commission misses its constitutional deadline on Wednesday, Sept. 15, and whether a deal could come late as long as all parties were in agreement. House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) sees this as the beginning of the process, noting the action taken was needed to commence the next steps including public hearings statewide to solicit community input. The schedule for those hearings includes an evening hearing in Dayton on Sunday; an evening hearing in Cleveland on Monday; a morning hearing on Tuesday in Columbus with remote testimony from Marietta in Washington County; and a full commission meeting Wednesday in Columbus. The House cleared room for the commission by cancelling its Wednesday session. The League of Women Voters and Common Cause Ohio joined Democrats Friday, Sept. 3 to voice concern over the Ohio Redistricting Commission's busting its first deadline on new district maps. As members of Fair Districts Ohio, they said a general lack of planning by the commission could imperil future delivery dates and called on commission members to make "representational fairness" the clarion call of new Statehouse districts. Executive Director Jen Miller of the League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWVO) and Executive Director Catherine Turcer of Common Cause gathered for a virtual press conference with Prof. Emeritus Brian Glassman of the Cleveland-Marshall School of Law and Prof. Emeritus Chris Cusack of Keene State College, NH to address commission work going forward and to evaluate newly released Senate Democratic Caucus maps for district completeness, contiguity, equal population, and lack of "holes" or districts inserted in another. Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) said Tuesday that despite a tight deadline for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to finish new maps for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate, he is hopeful there will be a bipartisan deal. Speaking with reporters, Yuko said lawmakers have been able to reach bipartisan deals in short timeframes before. Secretary of State Frank LaRose told Hannah News Wednesday that he believes the Ohio Redistricting Commission has authority under the Ohio Constitution to approve a 10-year map after the Wednesday, Sept. 15 deadline. "I'm aware that there's a deadline. But I'm also aware that the Census Bureau was six months late in getting us the data we needed to start that process. I believe that Ohioans want us to work together -- Republicans and Democrats -- to create a consensus map that can last for 10 years," LaRose said. TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE The Ohio state government is a finalist for two national awards on information technology (IT) innovation and excellence, according to a Friday announcement by Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) sponsors the annual state recognition awards for efforts regarding business problems or processes and the citizen experience. The effort to advance data transparency and access through the DataOhio Portal was a finalist in the Digital Services: Government to Citizen category. The "OH|ID Next Brings Power to the People" effort was a finalist for cybersecurity, recognizing improved tools on authentication. TELECOMMUNICATIONS/BROADBAND Applications for the Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program are now being accepted. A total of $250 million in grants is being offered to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for construction of broadband projects improving access in unserved and underserved areas. The period runs through Monday, Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. Applications will be reviewed by the Ohio Department of Development and BroadbandOhio, then sent to the Broadband Expansion Program Authority for approval and funding. The Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation (OWT) and BroadbandOhio launched efforts to build the workforce needed for expansion of broadband and 5G access Wednesday, with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted speaking at the Tri-County Career Center in Nelsonville regarding its new Fiber Optic Technician program. "In Ohio and across the nation there is a sense of urgency to expand high-speed Internet, but you can't expand the infrastructure without a workforce to build it," said Husted, who leads the OWT. He added that the new program can provide the necessary skills and certificates in as little as six and a half weeks. It is one of four Fiber Optic Association (FOA) approved programs in Ohio, with the state government providing a $30,000 grant for equipment and tool purchases in addition to help finding an instructor. Up to $10,000 of the grant can be used for tuition assistance as well. The overall "Strengthening Ohio's Broadband and 5G Workforce" strategy includes three elements: increasing broadband industry career awareness at middle and high school levels; developing more education and training programs similar to the newly announced one; and capitalizing on state and federal funding programs such as TechCred and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION Two House Democrats announced plans for legislation Wednesday to address the theft of unemployment funds from eligible Ohioans, saying the persistence of the issue raises cybersecurity concerns. Gov. Mike DeWine's office said the administration is working on system improvements but that the legislators' portrayal of the problem as "hacking" misrepresents the situation in a potentially dangerous way. Reps. Jeffrey Crossman (D-Parma) and Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) said they've heard from numerous constituents who lost benefits when someone changed bank routing information in the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) unemployment system to direct their money elsewhere. But they said the administration tried to obfuscate the issue or "gaslight" the victims when confronted with evidence of such hacking. Crossman said the administration's use of the term "account takeovers" is just "dystopian government speak." UTILITIES The Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel's (OCC) eight-year legal battle at the Ohio Supreme Court and Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will end with customers paying zero for $85.2 million in clean-up costs at Duke Energy Ohio's rusting manufactured gas plants (MGP) and with households due a $107 average bill credit from the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA), if approved by PUCO. Still looming is possible remediation of the Ohio River, costs for which OCC also retains the right to contest. The consumers' counsel signed the 26-page agreement with PUCO staff, Duke and Ohio Energy Group (OEG). Columbia Gas of Ohio has agreed to an internal investigation and a $250,000 civil forfeiture after its third safety failure in 18 months. The PUCO accepted a staff proposal Wednesday that requires a top-to-bottom review of the utility's operator training program and ongoing vigilance in Columbia's gas pipeline safety (GPS) program. The November 2020 explosion in South Point destroyed a home and three vehicles for estimated losses of $800,000 after a similar failure in nearby Kitts Hill and a high-pressure incident in Muskingum County. Previously, a deadly 2018 Columbia Gas of Massachusetts explosion killed one person, injured 22 others, destroyed five homes and damaged more than 130 structures. Columbia must report back to PUCO after an internal investigation of Pipeline Safety Regulations enforcement and review its operator qualifications program to correct "employees' belief that they were qualified to do the work they were not qualified to do." In separate business Wednesday, the PUCO issued its annual Winter Reconnect Order covering Oct. 18, 2021-April 15, 2022. Residential customers of PUCO-regulated electric or natural gas companies may invoke reconnect safeguards once per heating season, with 181,200 Ohioans taking advantage of the order last winter. Participants pay the utility no more than $175 plus any reconnection charge not exceeding $36 to restore heat. Reconnection charges over $36 may be moved to later billing periods. WORKFORCE Saying the pandemic has created a "watershed moment for working people," Policy Matters Ohio (PMO) Researcher Michael Shields reported on the "State of Working Ohio 2021" with recommendations for officeholders, including passage of the federal Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) legislation. Other recommendations included the following:

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and include tipped workers by 2026, which Shields said would provide more pay to over 1.56 million Ohioans and add $6 billion in the state's economy.

  • Use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to provide essential workers with hazard pay, enforce wage and hour laws and ensure entire communities benefit from public projects rather than corporations.

  • Continue and make permanent federal stimulus programs that offer greater financial stability, such as the expanded Child Tax Credit and pandemic unemployment assistance.

[Story originally published in The Hannah Report. Copyright 2021 Hannah News Service, Inc.]

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