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Week in Review September 5, 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


Ohio's third annual Overdose Awareness Day, established in law by 134-SB30 (Dolan), took place Thursday, Aug. 31 with state and local agencies marking the occasion with events highlighting recovery stories, treatment resources and more. The observance is followed by the start of September as National Recovery Month on Friday.


The Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) offered no-cost fentanyl test strips to all Ohio terminal distributors of dangerous drugs on for Overdose Awareness Day. OBP partnered with Gov. Mike DeWine's office, RecoveryOhio, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and Ohio Department of Health (ODH) in the effort.


AGRICULTURE


The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) recently announced that G. Kelvin and W. June Putnam's farm in Ross County had been added to its Farmland Preservation program. The 86-acre farm is the 14th to join the program this year, with five announced in June. Ross Soil and Water Conservation District served as a local sponsor, playing a "significant role" in securing the agreement, according to ODAg. Agricultural easements in the program are a voluntary agreement between the landowner and ODAg where the landowner agrees to perpetually maintain the land predominately in agricultural use and is either compensated or may be entitled to a tax deduction.


ATTORNEY GENERAL


The Ohio Attorney General's Office announced Monday that it is extending the TALEN Pilot Program through FY24. Technology Anonymized Law Enforcement Notification (TALEN) helps law enforcement track and solve crimes in real time with live-video feeds. Launched in August of 2022, the program now has five partner law enforcement agencies in the Miami Valley: the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and Dayton, Miamisburg, Trotwood and West Carrollton police.


AUDITOR OF STATE


A finding for recovery of $543,478 was issued recently against the former superintendent of a Cincinnati charter school, who was convicted earlier this year after a janitorial business he controlled was improperly contracted to provide services to the school, Auditor of State Keith Faber announced. Roger T. Conners pleaded guilty in March 2023 to a felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract and was sentenced in April 2023 to five years of community control, fined $1,000, and barred from holding any fiduciary position or having a government contract for five years.


BALLOT ISSUES


The group behind the reproductive and abortion rights amendment that is Issue 1 on November's ballot Monday filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Ballot Board challenging the language that the board adopted along party lines last week and asking the Ohio Supreme Court to order the adoption of the full amendment text as the ballot language. Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights argued that the language adopted by the board flouts the Ohio Constitution's requirements that the ballot language "properly identifies the substance of the proposal to be voted upon" and does not "mislead, deceive, or defraud voters."


IT’S IN THE FY24-25 BUDGET


The first meeting of a new Senate panel focused on housing issues, following passage of a state budget, HB33 (Edwards), that included new housing development incentives, was held this week. The Senate Select Committee on Housing Thursday heard invited testimony focused on the housing deficit, affordability challenges and the role of housing stock in attracting businesses to Ohio. Addressing "NIMBY" views and the amount of homes owned by large corporations were also topics. In opening the hearing, Chair Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) said Ohio, like many other states, is facing "several challenges to ensure that we have housing options for our growing workforce. The goal of this committee is to learn about what barriers currently exist and identify potential solutions. It is essential that we prepare and learn how to foster smart residential development so that more people can participate in the American dream of home ownership," she continued. Reynolds also said she plans to have additional hearings in September and that the committee will meet around the state in the coming months as well.


Ohio schools have until Friday, Sept. 15 to submit funding requests for a share of state budget funding meant for installing dispensers of free menstrual products for students. The budget bill included a requirement that schools provide free menstrual products for female students in grades 6-12, with discretion for providing them to younger children as well. The new requirement to provide free products takes effect Tuesday, Oct. 3. Lawmakers included $5 million in HB33 (Edwards) to support schools' ability to provide free products -- $2 million for dispensers and $3 million for the products themselves. Reimbursement requests for the products will be accepted in the spring, according to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). ODE is taking funding requests for dispensers at https://tinyurl.com/54kjdtrz, where the agency has also posted a spreadsheet of estimated amounts schools will receive, based on a per-dispenser cost of $300. Estimates are based on the number of female students grades 6-12 and the number of buildings. According to ODE, Ohio schools had more than 476,000 female students in grades 6-12 in the prior school year.


The newly enacted Ohio Nuclear Development Authority (ONDA) could face a slow start after Gov. Mike DeWine rejected key portions of HB33 (Edwards) to block the authority's direct communication with Washington, D.C. and remove Ohio State University as the vetoed nominating council's majority voice.


The surviving budget provisions retain ONDA in the Ohio Department of Development (DOD) but grant the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) sole power to confer with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). A brainchild of the House, the nuclear development authority first appeared in two standalone bills sponsored by now-Chairman Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) of the House Public Utilities Committee in the early days of 2019 and the 133rd General Assembly before its insertion in HB33. The House amendment granted ONDA the same authority as ODH to operate as a state "radiation control agency" under the state's agreement with NRC but did not override the health department as "state liaison officer" to federal officials. The HB33 omnibus amendment, however, did bar ODH from "conflicting with or superseding" ONDA.


The state of Ohio is taking a major step toward comprehensive peace officer training standards in FY24-FY25 and preparing to hear legislation this fall on a cabinet-level Joint Law Enforcement Training Center (JLETC) after a related study commission was purged at the last minute by the conference committee on HB33 (Edwards).


The final version of the FY24-25 budget contained several proposals from Gov. Mike DeWine regarding the Ohio Adjutant General's Department, particularly concerning administration of the Ohio Cyber Reserve (OhCR). The OhCR is a group of civilian cybersecurity professionals created under 133-SB52 (Gavarone) to help respond to cyber incidents and provide educational support. It currently has 122 members and is led by Program Manager Craig Baker, a retired Ohio Army National Guard colonel. The proposals included clarification of the department's authority "to provide training to current and potential members of the Ohio Cyber Reserve, set rates of pay, and pay the reserve's expenses," according to the Legislative Service Commission (LSC) comparison document.


The Marsy's Law push for victims' right is building more strength in FY24-25 with new mandates on sexual assault kit (SAK) reporting. The final version of HB33 (Edwards) encompasses a raft of other provisions supporting victims, including funding for the Rapid DNA Pilot and rape crisis centers and a ban on law enforcement fees for parties wishing to retrieve property from crime investigations. The House inserted language in the bill requiring state and local law enforcement authorities with custody of criminal evidence to accommodate victim requests for SAK test updates on DNA matches and related sexual assault investigations. Part of April's House omnibus amendment to HB33, the provision also allows victims to submit written requests for notification at least 60 days prior the agency's planned destruction or disposal of a rape kit. Evidence custodians must then retain SAKs "for up to 30 years" and inform victims of their right to reparations. Those mandates follow legislation in 134-HB390 (Lanese-John) requiring custodial agencies to secure, preserve and catalogue SAK evidence from human trafficking investigations, which was amended into criminal justice omnibus 134-SB288 (Manning) in the previous General Assembly. Rape kit testing also was one of Gov. Mike DeWine's top priorities as former attorney general.


CHILDREN/FAMILIES


The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reminded Ohio parents about resources to find child care options as the school year starts, while also noting financial assistance is provided to help eligible families with child care costs. The tool, available at http://childcaresearch.ohio.gov/, allows searching of available programs by provider type such as home-based, a center or school-based; location; hours of operation; quality rating; accreditations and services provided. Map-based searching is also available. In addition to this tool, child care resource and referral agencies can assist parents and https://occrra.org/ provides locations for those agencies. Parents can apply at https://jfs.ohio.gov/child-care. County job and family services agencies can assist with applying for PFCC, with locations listed at https://jfs.ohio.gov/about/local-agencies-directory.


CORONAVIRUS/MONKEYPOX


The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) announced Thursday one case of new COVID-19 variant BA.2.86 had been detected in Lorain County, but ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said there is "no evidence that this variant is causing any more severe illness, hospitalizations or deaths." ODH added that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers BA.2.86 to be "notable" as it has a number of mutations that make it distinct from other currently circulating lineages. So far two other human cases caused by BA.2.86 have been identified in the U.S., with one each in Michigan and Virginia. There have been 23 total, including 10 in Denmark, four in Sweden, two each in South Africa and Portugal, and one each in Canada, the U.K. and Israel. The ODH statement added that staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccination remains the best way to prevent serious illness and Ohioans should stay home if they are sick.


The regular weekly update showed another increase to 7,821 new cases, up from 5,361. It is the first time cases exceeded 7,500 since the seven days ending March 16. ODH also reported 171 hospitalizations, up from 111; five ICU admissions, up from two; and 15 deaths, down from 16. Since the pandemic began, ODH has reported 3.49 million cases, 142,041 hospitalizations, 15,333 ICU admissions and 42,490 deaths.


CORRECTIONS


The Ohio Central School System (OCSS) will continue classes this fall for incarcerated Ohioans across the state. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) provider offers male and female inmates high school equivalency certification (GED), college degree and apprenticeship programs, career-technical education, and more. "Education is necessary for the growth and rehabilitation of the people in our care," DRC Director Annette Chambers-Smith said in a statement. "We have retooled everything we are doing in education, and our education staff are committed to providing classes and programs that will help people succeed after incarceration." In FY23, 3,247 incarcerated students earned college certifications or degrees; 1,484 secured career-technical certifications; 959 completed their GEDs; and 683 earned apprenticeship certifications, says Chambers-Smith. Career-tech credits surpassed FY22 by more than 300, and college degrees and GEDs also increased over the previous year.


A significant number of those who cycle through jails are individuals with serious mental illness, according to a new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The report is part of "The Legislative Primer Series for Front-End Justice," which explores policies that look at who is entering the "front door" of the criminal justice system. It examines statutory frameworks affecting deflection and diversion programs, designed to redirect individuals with mental health or substance-related needs away from the criminal justice system, while prioritizing public safety, accountability and greater access to mental health services and addiction treatment.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


A two-day "violence reduction initiative" in the third and fifth districts of Cleveland on Aug. 24-25 led to 42 felony arrests, seizure of 28 illegally possessed firearms and recovery of 10 stolen vehicles, according to a joint announcement by participating state and local law enforcement. The initiative involved a partnership of the Cleveland Division of Police, Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP), Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center, Ohio Investigative Unit, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Ohio Department of Youth Services and other local and federal authorities. Officers also seized a variety of illegal narcotics and illegally possessed prescription pills as part of the effort. Many of the same state agencies also partnered with the Springfield Police Division, Clark County Sheriff's Office and Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Office for similar operations there on Aug. 24-25 as well.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


Gov. Mike DeWine's administration announced Monday the approval of assistance for four projects expected to create 943 new jobs and retain 160 jobs statewide. During its monthly meeting, the Ohio Tax Credit Authority (TCA) reviewed economic development proposals brought by JobsOhio and its regional partners. The projects are expected to collectively result in more than $58 million in new payroll and spur more than $175 million in investments across Ohio. Projects approved by the TCA include Haydon Corporation in Stow; Employers Health Purchasing Corporation in Canton; Sheetz Distribution Services, LLC in Findlay; and Element Materials Technology Group in Blue Ash and Fairfield.


ECONOMY


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported July data on job openings and labor turnover Tuesday, with the number of hires and total separations showing little change at 5.8 million and 5.5 million, respectively. The number of people who quit their jobs over the month decreased by 253,000 to 3.5 million, while there was little change in layoffs and discharges at 1.6 million. BLS said July ended with 8.8 million job openings, a decrease of 338,000, and the rate was little changed at 5.3 percent. Specific decreases included professional and business services (-198,000); health care and social assistance (-130,000); state and local government, excluding education (-67,000); state and local government education (-62,000); and federal government (-27,000). There were also increased openings in information (+101,000) and in transportation, warehousing, and utilities (+75,000).


EDUCATION


The Ohio State Employment Relations Board (SERB) voted unanimously Friday to reject the Youngstown City School District's claim that the district's teacher strike is unauthorized. The Youngstown Board of Education filed a request for an emergency meeting Wednesday, Aug. 23 to determine whether the strike by the Youngstown Education Association (YEA), the district's teacher union, was unauthorized. SERB heard the case Friday morning and made its ruling later in the afternoon.


Gov. Mike DeWine announced Wednesday a working group of experts to broadly examine how to make school buses safer for children, touched off by the recent death of a student when a minivan collided with a Northwestern Local Schools bus in Clark County. All topics, including the perennial issue of seat belts on buses, are on the table, the governor said. DeWine said he will ask the new working group to convene at least five hearings and report back to him and lawmakers by year's end. He encouraged the public to follow the hearings and participate.


Spring testing showed "significant recovery" in student achievement overall, but with mixed results by school, sub-population and subject area, according to a new study from Ohio State University (OSU).


The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) worked with OSU Glenn School researcher Vladimir Kogan on a preliminary summary for spring test performance. From the pandemic-era low point recorded in the spring of 2021 (tests were waived in spring of 2020), average English language arts (ELA) achievement rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, or nearly did so, for most grades. But in math, while student scores are recovering, overall achievement is significantly behind pre-pandemic levels in most grades, the study found.


ELECTIONS 2023


The Ohio Business Roundtable has announced its opposition to November's Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana use in Ohio.


The Ohio Manufacturers' Association (OMA) is also officially opposing Issue 2. The group cited studies from states that legalized recreational marijuana that show a 55 percent increase in workplace accidents and an 85 percent higher injury rate for workers who tested positive for marijuana. OMA also cited a report by Quest Diagnostics that showed marijuana-positive drug tests performed after workplace accidents increased by 204 percent between 2012 and 2022.


ELECTIONS 2024


Zerqa Abid, a small business owner, nonprofit leader and women's rights advocate, is launching a campaign for the 15th Congressional District in 2024, seeking to take on U.S. Rep. Mike Carey (R-Columbus). Abid founded and is executive director for MY Project USA, a Muslim social services organization in Ohio. She has also served as a commissioner on the Greater Hilltop Area Commission.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE


Following a second recent arrest and calls for his ouster by colleagues, Rep. Bob Young (R-North Canton) lost his position Thursday as chair of the House Pensions Committee. According to Thursday's House Journal, Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) removed Young both as chair and member of the committee. He added Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) to the committee and designated him chair. Young was arrested and released under GPS monitoring earlier this week under charges he violated a protection order stemming from a July incident for which he was charged with domestic violence. He has pleaded not guilty both to the original charges and in the protection order case. Stephens asked Young to resign in July after he was first charged with domestic violence.


GUNS


Firearms remained the leading cause of death for children in 2021, with a 9 percent increase from the year prior, according to new research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Victims were overwhelmingly teen males, disproportionately Black, and most died by homicide. Suicide was by far the leading cause of death for White children, according to the study, titled "Trends and Disparities in Firearm Deaths among Children." Researchers used a public Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) database in their analysis. The 2021 increase follows a 28.8 percent jump in firearm death rates among children in 2020 that made guns the leading cause of death for the first time, overtaking car crashes. From 2018 to 2021, the firearm death rate in children increased 41.6 percent.


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES


After the Biden administration Tuesday announced the first 10 drugs selected for price negotiation under a new program that allows the federal government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies, Ohio's U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) touted the effort to lower drug costs during a visit to a Columbus pharmacy. Under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law by President Joe Biden in August 2022, the agency that oversees Medicare will be able to, for the first time, negotiate prices directly with drug companies. The 10 drugs announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tuesday are all covered under Medicare Part D. The negotiations will occur in 2023 and 2024, and any negotiated prices will become effective beginning in 2026. Medicare enrollees taking the selected 10 drugs paid a total of $3.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs in 2022, according to HHS. More than half of the drugs selected are medications to treat diabetes, blood clots, and heart failure, and were prescribed to millions of Medicare Part D enrollees. Other selected drugs treat blood cancers, arthritis, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.


HIGHER EDUCATION


University of Toledo researchers recently found that people with pre-existing conditions can have higher susceptibility to toxins such as pharmaceuticals, plastics and forever chemicals found in the soil, water and air. The study was funded by the Ohio Sea Grant. University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences associate professors David Kennedy and Steven Haller performed the study by using liver and kidney cells from biopsy samples donated by patients with and without diabetes to explore the issue. They are now working to find prevention, diagnosis and treatment options for exposure to the toxins, known as "emergent chemicals."


Updates to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ahead of the 2024-2025 academic year will mean the form will not be available until an unspecified December date, rather than the typical Oct. 1 opening, the Ohio Department of Education advised schools. FSA plans to go back to an Oct. 1 start date in 2024 for the 2025-2026 academic year. The implementation timeline for the overhaul of the FAFSA is at https://tinyurl.com/2t76jr99 .


In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling finding the use of race in making determinations for colleges admissions was unconstitutional, a Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) panel said Wednesday that they expect colleges and businesses to continue to try to find ways to make their populations more diverse, but will have to do it in a different way than before. The panel included Cynthia Turner, assistant dean and chief diversity officer at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business; Margaret Finley, director of diversity, equity and inclusion and head of corporate affairs at Advanced Drainage system; and attorney Erin Butcher of the firm Bricker Graydon. Turner argued that affirmative action policies did their part, with minority populations increasing on college campuses since 1965. She also noted that nine states passed legislation restricting the use of affirmative action, and those states have seen a regression in those populations. Butcher said how effective affirmative action was in achieving its intended goals depends on who is asked. She said a number of universities argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that it had been effective in increasing the populations of Black and Hispanic students at their schools, but the Court had a different view, with the majority finding the practice was not legal.


Ohio Dominican University (ODU) received a $3 million challenge gift from an anonymous donor to support scholarships for students, marking the largest gift made to the university in its 112-year history.


During the 2022-23 academic year, 100 percent of ODU's full-time undergraduate students received some form of financial aid. Each year, the university provides approximately $14 million in aid to students.


JUDICIAL


A Northeast Ohio fire chief who retired to begin collecting pension benefits should not have been immediately re-hired because civil service laws require a competitive process for filling such a position, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday. Wickliffe Fire Chief James Powers retired in January 2020 in order to qualify for his pension benefits, then was re-hired into the chief position by Mayor John Barbish. About a month later, the firefighters' union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1536, told the city's Civil Service Commission it believed the retirement triggered a vacancy, but the panel replied that it believed because there was no break in service or payroll administration, there was no vacancy. Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Melody Stewart noted Wickliffe's interpretation of the charter, which does not require civil service exams for appointment of department heads, ignores that the city safety director, not the chief, holds that departmental position. "By the express terms of the city's charter, the director of public safety is the head of the city's Division of Fire," Stewart wrote. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Eleventh District.


The test of qualified immunity for Ohio's public employees came in for further review Wednesday -- this time in a case before the Ohio Supreme Court. In a police dog-bite case, Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy said juries and not judges normally decide whether a government employee's actions forfeit immunity by exceeding the "interests of state," contrary to the decision of the 7th District Court of Appeals.


LOBBYISTS


A celebration of life for Rick Yocum has been set for Saturday, Sept. 9. Yocum, who worked in and around Capitol Square for nearly 50 years, died Thursday, Aug. 24 at the age of 77. Over that time, he spent more than 30 years with the United Telephone Company of Ohio, retiring in 2005 as the general manager of government relations. He went on to establish his own lobbying business for the telecommunications industry. Yocum also represented the Lake Erie shoreline landowners in a dispute with the state over property boundaries. He finished his working career as president of the Ohio Public Expenditures Council. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Paula, three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandson. The celebration of life will run from 4 to 6 p.m. on Sept. 9 at The Wishmaker House, 116 Main St., Bellville, OH.


MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM


Ohio is confident in its compliance with Medicaid eligibility renewal regulations after the federal government expressed concerns to all states this week, though it will be going back to re-enroll a small number of people improperly removed, Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran told Hannah News Thursday. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had already warned states about its concerns with administration of the pandemic "unwinding" process, wherein states are resuming the routine eligibility determination process after a three-year freeze on program removals related to the pandemic. On Wednesday, CMS sent a letter to Corcoran and her counterparts in other states to flag an issue related to "ex parte" renewals, sometimes known as passive renewals, in which states can use existing data to more quickly determine a person's eligibility. Some states have been doing ex parte renewals at the household level, CMS said, which creates problems because of sometimes differing eligibility standards for individuals within a household. For example, income thresholds are different for a child's eligibility for Medicaid than for an adult, and there are different criteria for people with disabilities.


MENTAL HEALTH


Gov. Mike DeWine Monday announced the award of $90 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that will go to 37 regional projects aimed at strengthening mental health and addiction crisis services around the state. The grants will support adding more than 225 new residential beds for Ohioans in crisis; five behavioral health urgent care clinics; two new crisis intervention and observation units; six new mobile crisis service teams; four technology upgrade projects; and two crisis consultancy projects.


NATURAL RESOURCES


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service recently proposed renaming Wayne National Forest to Buckeye National Forest in response to requests from American Indian Tribes and the local community. The national forest is named after Gen. Anthony Wayne, whose "complicated legacy includes leading a violent campaign against the Indigenous peoples of Ohio that resulted in their removal from their homelands," the agency said. "The current forest name is offensive because of this history of violence." Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) both released statements opposing the name change. A 15-day public engagement period began Monday, Aug. 21. Comments may be submitted to r9_wayne_website@usda.gov . The Forest Service will review public input and make a recommendation to the secretary of agriculture, who has the authority to change the name.


PEOPLE


The Fordham Institute announced Thursday the hiring of Stephane Lavertu, an Ohio State University professor, as senior research fellow. Meanwhile, Chad Aldis is back at Fordham as vice president for Ohio policy. He was appointed to lead the Iowa Department of Education by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this year but returned to Ohio for family reasons after a few months.


PUBLIC SAFETY


While three Ohio Task Force 1 (OH-TF1) canine handlers and their dogs just returned from conducting search efforts following the devastating wildfires in Maui, HI another 47 members and two canines have already left the state to respond to Hurricane Idalia in Florida and Georgia.


REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT


Two days after Attorney General Dave Yost informed statewide officials on the Ohio Redistricting Commission and legislative leaders that the commission must be reconstituted and convened by Gov. Mike DeWine, the governor announced that the commission will be meeting on the previously announced day and time, but in a new location. Co-chairs Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester) and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Cleveland) had previously announced the commission would be meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13 in House Hearing Room 313 to begin work on new Ohio House and Senate legislative maps after the Ohio Supreme Court had struck down plans previously adopted by the commission. On Monday, Yost sent a letter saying the Constitution requires the commission to be reconstituted each time a plan is rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court. As a result, DeWine's office announced Wednesday afternoon that the commission will be meeting on the same day and time but instead in the Lobby Hearing Room of the Rhodes State Office Tower.


Saying time is not their ally, Secretary of State Frank LaRose this week sent a letter to fellow members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission warning that the timeline for adopting new Ohio House and Senate plans may be even more truncated than previously considered. LaRose told other members of the commission that the redistricting process could potentially conflict with the statutory requirements of election administration if new maps are not approved by Friday, Sept. 22.


STATE GOVERNMENT


The Ohio Controlling Board approved all items on its Monday agenda except for deferring a handful of items. Lawmakers also held several requests for questions before ultimately approving them. Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London) noted there were over 40 requests to waive competitive selection. "Remember, we're supposed to have competitive bidding, and I realize at times why it's waived is because they couldn't get any other bids, etc. But you know, that's still a heck of a lot ...," Hackett said.


The Ohio History Connection (OHC) announced recently it had been the victim of a ransomware attack on its internal data servers, "effectively encrypting and holding our data hostage." According to OHC, the cybercriminals demanded a ransom of several million dollars to avoid release of the data and rejected a counteroffer from OHC on Aug. 7. Personal information of "certain stakeholders" may now be accessible, OHC said. That could include the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of current and former OHC employees from 2009 to 2023; W-9 reports and other records revealing the names and personal Social Security numbers of vendors who contracted to provide services to OHC; and images of checks provided to OHC by some members and donors starting in 2020. No credit card information was accessed or stolen as part of the breach. Up to 7,600 individuals may have had their information exposed, and OHC mailed notification letters to all those who were impacted on Wednesday. OHC also said affected individuals were not told more quickly because "it takes time to gather the relevant information as to the extent of the breach, identify the affected individuals [and] hold the necessary internal discussions."


STUDIES/POLLS


A recent report from personal finance site WalletHub, released ahead of Women's Equality Day Saturday, Aug. 26, found Ohio was 33rd nationally in a listing of "best states for women's rights" and fourth among neighboring states behind Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia. The report also measured states on three subrankings, with Ohio sixth in "Education and Health," 34th in "Workplace Environment" and 46th in "Political Empowerment." Among neighboring states, it was first for "Education and Health," second in "Workplace Environment" and last for "Political Empowerment."


WalletHub also recently looked at teen drivers, ranking Ohio 41st, or the 10th worst state, putting it behind all neighboring states. WalletHub listed three subrankings, with Ohio 12th in Safety and 16th in Economic Environment but 48th in Driving Laws. That put it second among neighbors for Safety, third for Economic Environment and last for Driving Laws. In the report introduction, Wallethub noted that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among those age 16 to 19, which is also the age group with the highest risk of crashes. Motor vehicle crashes involving 13- to 19-year-olds result in around $40.7 billion in costs from medical expenses and work loss, and that does not take into account costs of auto maintenance, insurance premiums, possible traffic citations and other vehicular incidents. The report used 23 "key metrics" for its rankings.


TECHNOLOGY/AEROSPACE


Google officials and state leaders Monday announced the company will invest an additional $1.7 billion in three Central Ohio data centers, adding to the previous total of $2 billion discussed at an announcement in May. That event saw Google unveil plans for its data centers in Columbus and Lancaster with the news conference held at the New Albany data center campus. Mark Isakowitz, Google vice president of public affairs and public policy and an Ohio native, said these announcements are a "testament" to Ohio's leadership and a "real accomplishment" for the state. The data centers will support Google's digital services used by the public every day and artificial intelligence (AI) efforts, as he said Google has been an "AI-first" company for seven years. That AI includes "smart reply" features in email, improved maps for driving and translation services, he explained. The data centers provide computing power to a wide range of industries, including health care, the public sector, manufacturing and financial services.


The DeWine administration Tuesday announced it is launching two venture capital programs, the Ohio Early Stage Focus Fund and Ohio Venture Fund, that will provide approximately $111 million to support tech-based companies in the state. The new programs are part of the State Small Business Credit Initiative's (SSBCI) Venture Capital Program; the Ohio Department of Development (DOD) began accepting proposals for funds last week. They will "help increase the amount of early-stage capital invested in Ohio technology-based companies, accelerate the growth of high-potential companies, and create a climate that supports the development, retention, and attraction of technology companies in Ohio," according to the administration. The Ohio Venture Fund will have $75 million, and organizations and private investment firms can apply for $5 million to $10 million. It supports tech companies with early-stage capital through Series A. The Early Stage Focus Fund will have over $36 million, with applicants eligible for between $1 million and $5 million. The money will support early-stage tech companies that are woman- or minority-owned or based in an area that has been underserved by venture capital.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS/BROADBAND


The DeWine administration announced Friday that seven teams will be participating in the second cohort of the BroadbandOhio Community Accelerator program, which helps communities develop localized broadband expansion plans by identifying goals, gathering data, understanding available funding options, targeting capital dollars to support implementation and expanding workforce development. Participating teams for this round of the accelerator program include teams from Ashtabula County, Henry County, Lucas County, Monroe County, Paulding County, Union County, and a combined team representing Hocking, Athens and Perry counties. The first round had four teams.


UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION


Two Columbus women, including a former Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODFJS) employee, were indicted by a Franklin County Grand Jury in what Inspector General Randall Meyer said was a scheme to defraud the state's unemployment system by $6 million. According to Meyer's office, ODJFS referred Alana Hamilton, who was serving as an intermittent customer service representative, to a working group investigating fraud within the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program made up of the inspector general, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the U.S. Department of Labor's inspector general, and ODJFS. In her position, Hamilton was responsible for reviewing PUA claims and assuring that claimants had submitted the required and proper identity verification and employment verification claims. Meyer's office said investigators found that Hamilton had accessed unassigned claims with no legitimate work-related purpose and redetermined the identity/employment verification and program eligibility holds without the required documentation, releasing fraudulent PUA funds on the claims. Hamilton and her accomplice, Lasheta McClellan, have been indicted on 19 counts, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft, tampering with records, money laundering, and filing incomplete, false or fraudulent tax returns.


VETERANS


The bonus program for Ohio veterans who served in Afghanistan will be sunsetting in a year, the Ohio Department of Veterans Services (ODVS) said Wednesday. The U.S. officially ended its military involvement in Afghanistan on Aug. 30, 2021. Biennial budget bill HB33 (Edwards) included $9.5 million for ODVS to sustain the Afghan veterans bonus until it sunsets, and the agency said it is making a final push to pay every eligible veteran, "including those who may have been denied payment because of correctable technicalities or other impediments." The Ohio Veterans Bonus program offers a bonus for those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces after Oct. 7, 2001. Once a veteran has received $500 for service anywhere in the world or $1,000 for service in a designated country, or the maximum $1,500 bonus, the veteran is not eligible for additional funds, even if they served in multiple conflicts.


WORKERS' COMPENSATION


The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation's (BWC) Board of Directors approved a 1 percent reduction in next year's public employer base rates Friday for government jurisdictions' smallest cost savings from the state insurance fund in seven years, save for a net change of zero in the current policy year. Final premiums for 2023 have resulted in a 0.6 percent hike when BWC administrative costs are added in. However, instead of an increase in 2024, the good news is that reduced agency overhead will bump the 1 percent base-rate cut to an overall reduction of 3.9 percent for government employers. Translated, that means 3,800 public entities will pay the state $7.75 million less in premiums starting Jan. 1.

Leadership for BWC and Ohio Industrial Commission (OIC) Thursday remembered those who died at the agency's Fallen Workers Memorial. The 13th annual ceremony honored 137 Ohio workers who died in 2022-2023 from injuries or illness attributable to the workplace. The memorial was held at BWC headquarters in Columbus and featured a recorded message from Gov. DeWine and speeches from bureau Administrator/CEO John Logue, BWC Board Chairman Chan Cochran, OIC Chairman Jim Hughes, President Tim Burga of Ohio AFL/CIO, and Executive Vice President Adam Sharp of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF). BWC noted that this year's ceremony honors workers whose death claims were approved since last year's memorial, including 71 with dates of death within the last fiscal/policy year and 66 with dates of death within the past several policy years whose names were not include in previous memorials. All fallen workers for 2022 can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yc352fad.





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


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