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Week in Review: June 5, 2022

Written on Jun 3, 2022

AGRICULTURE

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) on Friday, May 27 announced a new agreement with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) and Blanchard River Demonstration Farms to assess the agronomic and economic effects of H2Ohio best management practices (BMPs). BMPs, which are measures to reduce nutrient runoff into Ohio waterways, are the main focus of ODAg's portion of the H2Ohio program. They are being implemented on farmland across the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB). The goal of the new agreement is to evaluate the practices to allow for more informed farmer and policy-making decisions, ODAg said.

The capital area tops Ohio in the second round of meat processing grants announced Wednesday. Columbus/Franklin County is among 45 communities around the state receiving nearly $15 million to bolster local meat supply chains and reduce dependence on out-of-state processors. The 75 separate awards, led by nearly $1 million to four meat processors in Franklin County, follow roughly $10 million in grants last February. A total of 53 counties have received funding to date.

FY23-24 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS

Both chambers of the General Assembly voted to pass HB687 (Oelslager) on Wednesday, sending the capital budget to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. The House approved the legislation by a vote of 82-8, while the Senate passed it 32-0. On Tuesday, both House and Senate finance committees accepted identical sub bills to their respective capital appropriations bills, HB687 (Oelslager) and SB343 (Dolan). The bill itself, as explained by Senate Finance Chair Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) and House Finance Chair Rep. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton), now totals $3.514 billion -- up from the $3.3 billion total of the proposal outlined May 24 by Office of Budget and Management Director Kimberly Murnieks. The most unique aspect of this capital appropriations bill, according to Dolan, is that it uses $1.5 billion in General Revenue Fund (GRF) dollars -- cash, in other words -- to pay for the projects in the bill, and it authorizes additional use of GRF "if sufficient revenue exists." The bill also includes nearly $1.1 billion for Intel. Other appropriations are as follows:

- $703.4 million for K-12 schools, including $600 million for school facilities; $100 million ARPA funds for school safety grants; and $3.4 million for the schools for the blind and deaf.

- $400 million for higher education facilities.

- $557 million for the Public Works Commission.

- $403.8 million for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and $103.3 million for the Department of Youth Services.

- $50 million for local jail grants.

- $191 million in community projects. These are the projects that legislators propose for inclusion in the capital appropriations bill.

- $500 million for the Department of Natural Resources.

CORONAVIRUS

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reported 17,530 new COVID-19 cases in the seven days ending Thursday, compared to 19,546 the week before. This is the first time week-over-week numbers declined since the end of March, when they fell from 3,668 on March 24 to 3,103 on March 31. The number of new hospitalizations also dropped from 506 the week of May 26 to 482 Thursday, while ICU admissions ticked up from 30 to 34. Reported deaths dropped from 38 to 29. In total, ODH has reported 2.78 million cases, 117,295 hospitalizations, 13,630 ICU admissions and 38,657 deaths. According to the Ohio Hospital Association, there are currently 753 hospital patients and 89 ICU patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, compared to 685 and 79 on May 26.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Ohio Department of Development announced recently the state had entered a partnership with the government of Aragon, an autonomous community in Spain, to develop and strengthen economic, technological and commercial cooperation. The memorandum of understanding on economic cooperation was signed by DOD Director Lydia Mihalik and Marta Gaston Menal, minister of economy, planning and employment for the government of Aragon. The signing was conducted in a virtual ceremony, with the Aragon delegation attending in the city of Zaragoza and Ohio officials at a recently opened SAICA Group facility in Hamilton. DOD and JobsOhio worked with Aragon to develop the agreement.

ELECTIONS 2022

Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), in remarks supporting passage of HB377 (Hall-Swearingen), said the Tuesday, Aug. 2 primary is a "real problem" for every member with a primary opponent, noting the May 2022 primary turnout was low. Seitz said the Legislature "missed the boat" by not requiring the secretary of state to send absentee ballot request forms to all voters in the 2022 primary. "My friends, you are looking at a primary in which you will be lucky to get 2 to 5 percent of the voters coming out," Seitz said. "I think all of us would agree that a turnout of 2 to 5 percent is a tremendous roll of the dice, and a shoddy excuse for democracy. If we're in for $20 million for this primary, it wouldn't have been more than $1.5 million to do what we can to boost voter turnout in that primary. ... But our friends across the Atrium would not do it. ... I do not know what the answer is at this point. I rise again to be comradely with our friends over there, and say OK we'll concur with your amendments to our bill. But folks, we better wake up to the fact that we are tired of playing second fiddle to your old guitar."

A group of potential legislative candidates this week filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court asking it to order that their candidate filings be accepted by boards of elections. Specifically, the six plaintiffs are seeking an order for Secretary of State Frank LaRose and county boards of elections to accept any declarations of candidacy for the General Assembly and political party state central committees that were filed before 4 p.m. on May 4, 2022 and are otherwise valid, and accept any declarations of intent to be a write-in candidate that were filed before 4 p.m. on May 23, 2022 and are otherwise valid. Further, they are asking for their candidacies to be certified for the Tuesday, Aug. 2 primary election.

NATURAL RESOURCES

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Mineral Resources Management (DMRM) is offering up to $17 million in grants for projects that will eliminate hazards left behind by mining activity and/or improve areas with abandoned mine lands. Abandoned mine lands (AML) are sites that were mined for coal prior to 1977. Project sites eligible include unreclaimed, previously reclaimed, or lands adjacent to abandoned coal mine lands or polluted waters or communities affected by historic coal production. The new program will sub-grant Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) funds received from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). Projects must follow the guidelines set forth in OSMRE's AMLER Guidance Document, available at https://tinyurl.com/kzbzwn7z .

PENSIONS

Actuarial calculations used by the State Teachers Retirement System are "reasonable, consistent and accurate," according to an audit commissioned by the Ohio Retirement Study Council. State law calls for the council to contract for such an audit of each state retirement system at least every 10 years; STRS also recently underwent a fiduciary audit under a similar section of state law. The council hired PTA/KMS, an advisor team that previously helped lawmakers with the last round of major pension reforms in 2012. PTA/KMS said it reviewed and sought to duplicate actuarial work conducted by Cheiron, STRS' hired actuarial firm, and Segal, which conducted a five-year actuarial experience review in 2017.

REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT

The deadline set by the Ohio Supreme Court for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw a new General Assembly redistricting plan passed Friday morning, June 3 without the commission's meeting. The Court last week struck down a redistricting plan adopted by the commission, giving commissioners until 9 a.m. on Friday to come up with a new map. In the meantime, a federal court ordered elections officials to hold a Tuesday, Aug. 2 primary using the third map created by the commission that had been struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court. That map would be in effect for this election only.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

While the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) reported $975 million in net investment income losses during the fiscal year to date, the agency's financial position is strong, according to BWC leaders. During Friday's BWC Board of Directors meeting, Chair Chan Cochran said he's pleased that even with the negative returns, "assets remain at a healthy $8 billion." The BWC's all funds net position was $8.0 billion through April 30, 2022, down from $8.1 billion on April 30, 2021, according to documents provided by BWC spokesperson Kim Norris.

BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud announced that Friday's meeting was the last for Director Dewey Stokes, who is retiring. Before working at BWC, Stokes served as a Columbus police officer for 27 years, president of the national Fraternal Order of Police for eight years and as a Franklin County commissioner for 12 years, McCloud said. Stokes was appointed to the BWC Board of Directors in 2010 by former Gov. John Kasich. Stokes will be replaced by Terence Joyce, whose appointment was announced by Gov. Mike DeWine earlier in May.

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