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Week in Review: March 13, 2022

Written on Mar 11, 2022

STATE GOVERNMENT

The Controlling Board approved several million dollars for contracts to address the strained unemployment compensation system Monday, after the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services answered lawmakers' questions about the state of the program. Board members asked for a general update on the system, which was overwhelmed by high demand at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and has also suffered from substantial levels of fraud. The state signed various contracts to help meet call-center demand, adjudicate claims and screen for signs of fraud.

FY22-23 BUDGET

Lower than expected income tax refunds drove tax collections a quarter billion dollars over estimates in February, according to preliminary figures from the Office of Budget and Management. Income tax collections of $301.9 million were more than 150% above estimates because of the fluctuation in refunds. For the fiscal year so far, income tax collections are 11.7% or $669.1 million above estimates, reaching more than $6.3 billion total. Sales taxes also beat estimates, bringing in $20.2 million or 2.5% more, with roughly equal contributions from the non-auto sales tax ($11.1 million or 1.6% above estimates) and auto sales tax (up $9.1 million or 7.9%). Sales taxes so far this fiscal year are ahead of estimates 3.8% or almost $308 million.

ELECTIONS 2022

The maneuvering to alter military and overseas voting processes amid the primary election time crunch resulting from redistricting chaos concluded Thursday as the Senate approved legislation to fund expedited ballot shipping and allow more time for those ballots to be returned, sending it to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. The chamber had voted Tuesday on the plan via an amendment to HB188 (Lampton-Cross), but the emergency clause that would have put it into immediate effect couldn't garner the 66-vote supermajority needed for House approval on Wednesday, as Democrats withheld support. That prompted the House later Wednesday to add the military voting plan as an amendment to SB11 (Brenner), along with an appropriation for $200,000 to enable the expedited ballot shipping. Appropriations for current expenses can take effect immediately without an emergency clause. However, that necessitated the Senate's calling a Thursday voting session to concur with the House changes to SB11 which they did by a vote of 26-2. In addition to the $200,000 appropriation, according to a Legislative Service Commission (LSC) analysis of the amendment, it applies only to the May 3, 2022 primary election and it will do the following:

- Uniformed services and overseas absent voters' ballots must be ready for use not later than 29 days before the election, instead of 46 days before the election.

- Voted uniformed services and overseas absent voters' ballots must arrive at the board of elections by the 20th day after the election, instead of the 10th day, but still must be voted by the close of the polls.

- The secretary of state must take steps to expedite the delivery and return of uniformed services and overseas absent voters' ballots.

- The secretary of state may adjust the deadlines for the boards of elections to conduct the canvass of the election returns, in order to accommodate the delayed ballot return deadline.

With the constitutionality of the latest congressional map before the Ohio Supreme Court, candidates filed for the new congressional districts, including most of the current incumbents. Friday was the filing deadline for those seeking one of the 15 seats in Ohio's delegation, having been delayed previously by SB258 (McColley). The only incumbent not to file for re-election was U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles), who has already filed to run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday, March 4 that total non-farm payroll employment rose by 678,000 in February, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.8 percent, with job gains coming in the leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, health care, and construction sectors. The number of unemployed persons fell to 6.3 million, BLS said. In February 2020, prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the unemployment rate was 3.5%, and the number of unemployed persons was 5.7 million. Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.5%) and Hispanics (4.4%) declined in February. The jobless rates for adult women (3.6 percent), teenagers (10.3%), Whites (3.3%), Blacks (6.6%), and Asians (3.1%) showed little or no change over the month.

IMMIGRATION

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services will host a summit in Northeast Ohio on Thursday, March 17, targeted to ensuring service organizations are prepared to assist in potential relocation of Ukrainian refugees due to the Russian invasion. The event will bring together resettlement agencies, faith-based organizations, charities and other groups to help them understand their possible roles in refugee resettlement. ODJFS' Refugee Services Program works to provide the federal government with information on capacity and oversees programs to help refugees achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment.

REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT

The Ohio Supreme Court should strike down the latest congressional plan adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, according to a new filing from plaintiffs in congressional redistricting lawsuit Regina C. Adams et al. v. Gov. Mike DeWine et al. "In decision after decision, this Court has given the Ohio Redistricting Commission clear directions for how to draw districting plans that comply with the Ohio Constitution. But the commission refuses to follow those directions," attorneys for Adams and other voters wrote in a motion to enforce the Court's order on Friday, March 4.

Because the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the Ohio Redistricting Commission from a lawsuit challenging a new congressional districting plan enacted as a part of SB258 (McColley), the Court now does not have jurisdiction to a challenge to the latest congressional map drawn by the commission, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) argued in Court filings on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in a separate case against the congressional maps filed their own motion for the Court to enforce its previous order to draw a constitutional congressional map while suggesting changes mainly to districts in Franklin and Hamilton counties. Responding to a challenge filed by the plaintiffs in Adams v. DeWine against the new congressional map passed by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, Cupp and Huffman argued that in order to have their claims against the new maps adjudicated, they must file a new case.

Responding to a filing by plaintiffs in one congressional redistricting case challenging the latest map drawn by the Ohio Redistricting Commission, attorneys for House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said redistricting is not an "endless beauty contest." The response by the legislative leaders came after the League of Women Voters, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, and other plaintiffs asked the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this week to order the General Assembly and/or the Ohio Redistricting Commission to fix what they said were constitutional issues in the latest map involving Franklin and Hamilton counties. Their approach differed from the plaintiffs in the separate Adams v. DeWine case, who have asked the Court to reject the new map entirely, with a suggestion that the Court could order a different map that has already been submitted be considered instead.

UKRAINE

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) continued to advocate for Ukraine amid its invasion by Russia, with Portman speaking at a rally outside the White House Sunday and calling on the Biden administration to provide further military aid including anti-tank and anti-air weaponry. Portman also urged the Biden administration to help European countries provide Ukraine with old fighter aircraft in exchange for receiving American fighters, stop buying Russian oil and remove all Russian banks' access to the international banking system. Portman also took part in a bipartisan videoconference call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Saturday regarding needed U.S. support.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

Except for a one-week spike to more than 15,000 in mid-February, Ohio's initial unemployment claims stayed between 9,000 and 13,000 over the last five weeks, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. For the most recent week ending March 5, ODJFS reported 11,919 jobless claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That compares to 10,799 the week ending Feb. 26, 12,896 the week ending Feb. 19, 15,109 the week ending Feb. 12 and 9,719 the week ending Feb. 5. The eight-week average of initial jobless claims is 12,664, according to ODJFS. Ohioans filed 56,833 continued traditional unemployment claims last week, which was 2,718 fewer than the previous week. The eight-week average for continued traditional unemployment claims is 59,171.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

The Bureau of Workers' Compensation announced Wednesday that it will provide $30 million in grants for research and development of personal protective equipment (PPE) innovations enhancing workplace safety, to be administered through the new Workforce Safety Innovation Center (WSIC). Data collected from BWC claims will be used to identify "priority areas of focus" to reduce the frequency and severity of on-the-job injuries. Applicants must be Ohio nonprofit higher education institutions or research organizations. The WSIC will be led by Sandi Golden-Vest, who joined BWC in November 2021 and previously served as federal grants administrator at the Ohio Department of Health.

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