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Week in Review: Oct. 17, 2021

Written on Oct 15, 2021

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Ohio Department of Development announced the renewal of the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Ohio MEP), in which regional partners provide small- and medium-sized companies with products and services to increase productivity, growth and global competitiveness. The Ohio MEP will receive $5.9 million per year through 2026 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with state and local matching funds bringing that to a total of over $70 million.

BUSINESS/CORPORATE

Amazon will open a new fulfillment center in Canton in 2022 and employ 1,000 people there, according to the DeWine administration. The average starting wage will be $18 an hour and employees will receive "comprehensive health benefits, paid time off [and] up to 20 weeks fully paid parental leave." Canton was chosen for its talented workforce, welcoming community and highly developed customer service logistics, the DeWine administration said. The one-million-square-foot center will be located at 3550 Columbus Rd. NE.

CORONAVIRUS

Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) ordered House Health Committee Chairman Scott Lipps (R-Franklin) to reverse course Thursday on plans to bring stringent restrictions on vaccination mandates up for a committee vote next week. Cupp had tried to push vaccination mandate debates to the side Wednesday, saying lack of consensus on his leadership team's compromise measure, HB435 (Carfagna-Seitz), meant the House would be "moving on" to other topics. However, around mid-day Thursday, Lipps' office put out notice of a committee meeting Tuesday, Oct. 19, including plans for amendments and a vote on HB248, a measure from Rep. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester) that would institute broader restrictions on vaccination mandates, beyond just those for COVID-19. Several hours later, both Cupp and Lipps sent out a letter the speaker sent to the chairman. "You are hereby directed to immediately cancel the Health Committee currently scheduled for Oct. 19, 2021. Upon receipt of this letter, please notify the members of the committee of the cancellation," Cupp wrote. Lipps complied.

The Thursday activity following a false start Wednesday on moving a vaccination mandate exemption measure forward via action in the House Rules and Reference Committee, following stymied action in the House Health Committee two weeks ago on HB435 (Carfagna-Seitz), the House leadership bill. It then had informal hearings in the House Commerce and Labor Committee last week. However, House Rules and Reference Committee recessed Wednesday before taking any action pending further caucus deliberations. Shortly before Wednesday's House session was to start, Cupp released a statement saying there'd be no action and the House would be "moving on."

While the spread of COVID-19 is declining in Ohio and across the country, it is "far too early to claim victory" over the coronavirus, Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Thursday. "It appears the Delta surge has, in fact, plateaued. Nevertheless, we continue to see very high numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations," Vanderhoff said during a virtual press conference, noting Ohio is still reporting thousands more daily cases and hundreds more hospitalizations than mid-October 2020. According to the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA), one in seven of the state's hospitalized patients -- a total of 3,226 individuals -- are infected with COVID-19. One in four intensive care unit (ICU) patients -- a total of 910 individuals - are positive for COVID-19.

In response to an opinion request by the Ohio Supreme Court, Attorney General Dave Yost said Ohio Supreme Court justices can participate in a state employee COVID-19 vaccine incentive program that pays up to $1,000 depending on whether the agency the employee works for meets certain thresholds. Gov. Mike DeWine's administration announced last month that in addition to the $100 that state employees could receive for getting an initial vaccination shot, employees could get an additional $300 if 65 percent of the agency's workforce is vaccinated, and an additional $600 if that threshold reaches 85 percent. The threshold must be reached by Monday, Nov. 15.

ELECTIONS 2021

Secretary of State Frank LaRose Wednesday called on more Ohioans to serve as poll workers in the Nov. 2 General Election, noting that only four of the 88 counties have met their recruitment goals so far. The secretary of state's office said that with 20 days until the election, more than 27,000 Ohioans have signed up to serve as a poll worker. This includes 12,456 Democratic poll workers and 11,592 Republicans. A review of all county data shows Ohio remains 17,393 poll workers short of the goal of recruiting 42,204 poll workers. The greatest need is in the most populous counties, with Franklin, Cuyahoga, and Hamilton County still needing thousands of poll workers to meet their goal, while 30 other counties remain in need of hundreds. The goal for each county is 125% of the minimum number of trained workers required for each county as determined by their county board of elections.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

The national unemployment rate dropped 0.4 percentage points in September to 4.8% as nonfarm payroll employment rose by 194,000, lower than the monthly average of 561,000 this year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said the number of unemployed persons fell by 710,000 to 7.7 million. Both the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons are significantly down from the February through April 2020 recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but are higher than before the pandemic started when the unemployment rate was 3.5% and the number of unemployed persons was 5.7 million.

FEDERAL

The Social Security Administration announced Wednesday that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 5.9% in 2022. The 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2022. Increased payments to approximately 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on Dec. 30, 2021. Some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

MARIJUANA/HEMP

Reps. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) are embracing the challenge of persuading their fellow Republicans that marijuana should be legalized for adults aged 21 and older.

"This, to my knowledge, is the first majority party sponsored legislation for adult use. That does not mean leadership is on board. The leadership in both chambers has expressed their skepticism, we'll say, in a polite way. But they're giving us the chance to explain and advocate as to why this is the right policy, and why it's right to do it now," Callender said during a Statehouse press conference. Callender said many people are underestimating how many Republican lawmakers support marijuana legalization.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Hunters in Ohio will be limited to harvesting one bearded (male) wild turkey during the Spring 2022 season, according to ODNR. The Ohio Wildlife Council voted to limit the number to one bird during its meeting this week, ODNR said. In previous years, the season limit was two birds.

PENSIONS

An investment expert paid by the Ohio Retirement Study Council to evaluate performance by Ohio's public pension funds said the state retirement systems did a good job of capturing the higher earnings in today's market, but also remarked on the general downward trend among U.S. institutional investors in their long-term investment expectations. First-half returns for 2021 ranged from about 8.8% to about 11.5% for the Ohio plans, amid an economic expansion driven by economic stimulus, monetary policy and reopening of the economy after the COVID shutdowns, said Jim Voytko of RVK, the investment consultant.

REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, Friday rejected a call for the commission to start holding hearings around the state and instead asked the commission co-chairs to call a meeting so they can begin hammering out a 10-year congressional map. The task of trying to draw a bipartisan map has fallen to the commission after the General Assembly failed to meet a Sept. 30 deadline to pass its own congressional map. The commission has until Sunday, Oct. 31 to try to reach a deal on a 10-year map, otherwise the task returns to the General Assembly, which can adopt a four-year map with a simple majority.

TAXATION

Two lawmakers gave sponsor testimony Tuesday to the House Ways and Means Committee on a bill that would repeal the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT), saying the tax harms businesses. Reps. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester) and Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) -- the son of Ohio Tax Commissioner Jeff McClain -- spoke on their HB234, with Gross noting that Ohio is one of only nine states with a statewide gross receipts tax. She said the bill will reduce the CAT over a course of five years, with a 20 percent reduction each year until it is completely repealed. She called the CAT a "pyramiding tax" that raises the price of goods at every stage of their production, forcing Ohio consumers to pay artificially high prices at checkout.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

For the week ending Oct. 9, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 9,851 initial traditional unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is higher than the previous week's total of 9,222 claims, but below the eight-week average of 10,803 claims.

Ohioans filed 50,733 continued traditional unemployment claims from Oct. 3-9, up from 49,320 from Sept. 26-Oct. 2. The total number of claims filed from Oct. 3-9 was 60,584, up from a total of 58,542.

WORKFORCE

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Tuesday that the August round of the TechCred program -- the 10th since it was launched in 2019 -- had led to funding approval for 267 employers and 2,400 tech credentials. This included 109 employers that are participating in the reimbursement program for the first time. This brings program totals to 1,525 employers and 29,272 credentials. The 11th application round is already underway through Friday, Oct. 29.

This feature was provided by Hannah News Service and selected for you by OSCPA Government Relations staff.