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Week in Review: May 8, 2022

Written on May 6, 2022

MARIJUANA/HEMP

Supporters of an initiated statute to legalize the adult use of marijuana are asking a judge to clarify whether the issue can legally be placed on the ballot in November. Specifically, members of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol are asking Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye to issue a declaratory judgment confirming that the commencement of the four-month period for the General Assembly to consider the proposed law began on Jan. 28, 2022 and ends on May 28, 2022. The Ohio Constitution states that any proposed initiated statute may be submitted 10 days prior to the beginning of a General Assembly session. "The committee met this requirement by submitting the petition with 206,943 signatures on Dec. 20, 2021," CRMLA said.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Ohio has joined all other states in the nation and the District of Columbia in a $141 million settlement with TurboTax over paid "freemium" products deceptively marketed to low-income consumers eligible for federally funded free tax services. Parent company Intuit once offered two free versions of TurboTax. The Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) "Free File" program was a public-private partnership allowing military members and filers earning $34,000 or less -- a limit imposed by Intuit -- to file returns at no charge. The company also offered and continues to offer TurboTax "Free Edition" for filers with "simple" returns, as defined by Intuit.

FY22-23 BUDGET

Preliminary revenue data released Thursday by the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) for April show the state finished the month $1 billion or 45.6% over estimates, bringing in a total of $3.3 billion compared to estimated revenue of nearly $2.3 billion. This excess revenue was driven by personal income tax (PIT) receipts of nearly $894.7 million or 89.2% over estimates for April. OBM attributes the large variance to "stronger than anticipated payments from annual tax return filings." All other major sources of General Revenue Fund dollars were also over estimates. So far, through 10 months of FY22, the state has collected a total of nearly $22.9 billion or 12% over the estimated revenue of nearly $20.5 billion. Compared to this time in FY21, the state has collected nearly $2.1 billion more than was collected through April 2021.

CORONAVIRUS

Data released by the Ohio Department of Health Thursday shows the latest COVID-19 subvariant of Omicron is increasingly present, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found Omicron BA.2.12.1 to be around 25% more transmissible than the prior BA.2 subvariant. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on April 28 that those who are vaccinated and particularly those who received booster shots continue to have "strong protection" against severe disease including BA.2.12.1. Under the ODH latest data -- which covers the two weeks ending April 23 -- BA.2.12.1 represented 22.78 percent of total COVID-19 specimens collected. In the prior period, it made up 6.61 percent and this was its first appearance in the collection data. ODH case numbers rose for the fifth consecutive week, ending at 11,013 for the seven days ending May 5. Past increases include 3,828 on April 7; 4,808 on April 14; 6,890 on April 21; and 8,731 on April 28. Hospitalizations trended down, from 314 on April 28 to 296 Thursday, while ICU admissions ticked up by one from 26 to 27. The number of deaths fell slightly, from 68 to 65. Since the pandemic began, ODH has reported 2.71 million cases, 115,481 hospitalizations, 13,498 ICU admissions and 38,493 deaths.

ECONOMY

Secretary of State Frank LaRose recently announced 19,337 new business filings in March 2022, a 33.4% increase from the previous month.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Former Rep. Stephanie Howse says she is living her "dream" after being elected to the Cleveland City Council earlier this year. In a conversation with Hannah News, Howse reflected on her time in the General Assembly, saying she hopes to find more opportunities to enact change at the local level. "This is where I wanted to be. I feel like local government is where you can actually demonstrate government in action," she said. "I'm appreciative that I can even begin to engage in substantive legislative dialogue."

Jordan Plottner has returned to the House Democratic Caucus to become chief of staff under House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington). Plottner previously served as the communications director for the caucus for six years and deputy chief of staff before he left to work as a marketing and communications consultant. He also served as a legislative aide to former Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown). He has a degree from Kent State University.

REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT

The Ohio Redistricting Commission saw both legislative leaders replaced this week and, as a result, a new co-chair. Speaker of the House Bob Cupp (R-Lima) appointed Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester) in his stead, thus becoming a co-chair. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) appointed Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) to take his place earlier in the week.

The commission met twice this week on both Wednesday and Thursday. During its second meeting, it voted 4-3 to resubmit the third legislative maps that had previously been submitted on Feb. 24 to be used only in the 2022 elections. Auditor Keith Faber joined Co-Chair Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) and Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) in voting against it. Opponents, however, said the Ohio Constitution says the commission can make four or 10-year-maps and can't decide to adopt a two-year map.

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE

Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks Thursday announced the release of $51 million for 44 new safety improvement projects to specifically address an increase in pedestrian-involved traffic crashes and fatal roadway departures on state and local roads. The funds come as fatal crashes involving pedestrians and roadway departures both hit their highest levels in 2021, compared to the previous decade.

TREASURER OF STATE

Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague Monday announced the purchase of $22.5 million in five-year, fixed-rate Israel Bonds. "With competitive interest rates and reliable payments, Israel Bonds remain a valuable investment for Ohio's taxpayers," Sprague said in a prepared statement. "The Buckeye State is among the largest government holders of Israel Bonds in the country, and we're proud to continue the office's long-standing tradition."

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

The number of injured workers with an opioid prescription is down in 2021 compared to 2020, according to Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation Pharmacy Program Director Tracey Archibald. However, opioids remain the top medication used by injured workers under the program, Archibald's report says. The annual pharmacy program report was one of several items discussed during the BWC Board of Directors meeting on Friday, April 29 in downtown Columbus.

WORKFORCE

Education and business leaders discussed Wednesday how Ohio can prepare for the future workforce needs triggered by Intel's semiconductor production facilities in Central Ohio, as part of a wider forum on workforce and education hosted by Ohio Excels and the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation. The hour-long panel was moderated by JobsOhio Senior Managing Director Kristi Clouse and included John Berry, president of Central Ohio Technical College (COTC); John Trott, executive director of the Area 7 Workforce Investment Board; Jack Thomas, president of Central State University (CSU); Jeff Spain, director of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at Columbus State Community College (CSCC); Joyce Malainy, superintendent of the Career and Technology Education Centers of Licking County; and Steve Ringel, executive director of the Ohio State University (OSU) Institute for Materials Research.

Results for the March round of TechCred applications were announced Thursday, with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted saying 342 Ohio employers were approved for funding that will provide 4,121 tech-focused credentials. This is the second consecutive period with over 4,000 credentials. It is the 13th round and included 95 employers approved for the first time. In total, 1,822 employers have been approved for funding to support 40,824 credentials. The program is on track to exceed its 20,000 credential goal for the fiscal year. The 14th application round opened Monday, May 2 and will end at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31.

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