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Week in Review: June 2, 2024

Written on May 31, 2024


A three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Wednesday that Attorney General Dave Yost must forward a proposed constitutional amendment on qualified immunity on to the next step in the ballot initiative process, but Yost's office said Thursday he will ask the full appellate court to review that ruling. Campaign organizers have filed several times to put the qualified immunity issue on the ballot but have been repeatedly blocked by Yost's determinations that their petition summary is not an accurate representation of what the amendment would do. The Ohio Supreme Court and a federal district judge denied their requests to overrule Yost. Yost's office is asking for en banc review by all judges of the Sixth Circuit, according to a statement from his communications director, Bethany McCorkle.


Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison Tuesday said in a statement that the party will hold a virtual roll call ahead of Ohio's deadline for major parties to submit the names of their presidential and vice-presidential nominees in order to resolve the conflict with this year's DNC convention. Harrison's statement came amid wrangling in both Ohio legislative chambers on the first day of a special session called by Gov. Mike DeWine for the purpose of granting an exception for President Joe Biden to appear on the November ballot, as well as addressing foreign money in ballot issue campaigns. The House Tuesday introduced two separate measures to address those issues, while the Senate amended a pending bill and passed it. The issue came as Ohio law requires major parties to submit the names of their nominees by 90 days before the General Election, which falls on Wednesday, Aug. 7, before the DNC convention in Chicago, which is set to begin Monday, Aug. 19. The General Assembly had previously granted exceptions to both parties in 2012 and 2020 when there were conflicts.

The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) Thursday announced the launch of "Organizing For Ohio" a coordinated campaign of "grassroots organizers and volunteers who will speak directly to voters across Ohio" in an effort to re-elect U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Democratic candidates in statewide to local races. "Fighting for the dignity of work means making sure hard work pays off for everyone," Brown said in a statement. "The Organizing For Ohio coordinated campaign will work to reach voters in all 88 counties and organize in communities across Ohio. With the grassroots support of Ohioans behind us, we'll continue our fight to stand up to special interests and level the playing field for Ohio workers."


Ohio Consumers' Counsel Maureen Willis joins a small but influential crowd of Statehouse denizens scratching their heads at the slow 135th General Assembly but says the final quarter of 2024 and the 136th General Assembly could bring wanted movement in the utilities and energy sector. Willis, who says she has been establishing new relationships since her elevation as Ohio's fifth consumers' counsel last July, enters the role after two straight decades and previous tours with the agency, during which she's quietly observed a range of legislators, executives and adjudicators from the three branches of government make their mark on Capitol Square. "Because I've been in this business quite a while, I think people know me and know what they are going to get," says Willis, who is known for her candor. "Perhaps I shouldn't be so blunt. I've certainly been in the trenches with the attorneys and done a lot of Supreme Court work."

New rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) that are intended to reduce pollution from fossil fuel plants would endanger Ohio's energy grid, Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said in a letter to USEPA Administrator Michael Regan. DeWine and Husted said PJM Interconnection, energy users and energy producers have raised concerns about the reliability of the grid during recent meetings.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) charged the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Wednesday with a "collateral attack" on controversial supplemental transmission charges folded into an American Electric Power (AEP) billing rider and expanded by commissioners in recent weeks. OCC says the basic transmission cost rider (BTCR) forces residential customers to subsidize industrial consumers' discounted service -- otherwise known as "reasonable rate arrangements" -- but PUCO argues that the pilot program is a "benefit to customers" and in the "public interest." "PRO-TEC has already made a $700 million capital investment in Ohio and has increased the number of full-time employees at the Leipsic, OH facility to 427 employees. The proposed extension of the reasonable arrangement will include an additional $6.5 million capital investment," commissioners say.


Judge Jaiza Page of Franklin County Common Pleas Court put on hold this month her order allowing voucher foes to question Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) about his role in the expansion of the EdChoice program, agreeing to Huffman's request for a stay pending his appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. A coalition of school districts and families have sued the state over the constitutionality of EdChoice, alleging it violates lawmakers' obligation to create a "common" school system and the constitutional prohibition on giving control of education funding to religious sects. Families whose children attend private schools on EdChoice scholarships have been granted status as intervening parties to defend the program alongside the state. As part of the litigation, the plaintiff districts sought to depose Huffman about his legislative work to expand EdChoice. Huffman asked Page to quash the subpoena, citing the legislative privilege established in the Ohio Constitution. Page blocked the deposition but allowed the plaintiffs to submit up to 20 written questions to Huffman about whom he communicated with on the FY22-23 biennial budget, 133-HB110 (Oelslager). Huffman appealed to the 10th District Court of Appeals, saying the written questions still violate legislative privilege. Judges there called his appeal premature, saying he could not claim violations of privilege before seeing the content of the questions or facing an order compelling him to respond. Huffman then turned to the Ohio Supreme Court, which is now considering whether to accept the case.


The House Thursday in split votes approved special session bills HB1 (Seitz), which bars foreign contributions to ballot issue campaigns, and HB2 (Dobos), which extends out the deadline for major parties to submit the names of their presidential and vice presidential candidates. Both bills now head to the Senate, which will meet in a special session at noon on Friday to take the bills up. Both bills cleared the House Government Oversight Committee earlier in the day, with HB1 sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) introducing a substitute bill that he said would address six points of difference with Senate versions, including HB271 (Mathews), which the Senate passed on Tuesday. Seitz said the changes to the bill put everything into a new Ohio Revised Code section and is only five pages long compared to a previous version that was 20 pages. HB1 passed 64 to 31 along party-lines.

Regarding HB2, sponsor Rep. Dave Dobos (R-Columbus) said on the House floor that it is simple and straight forward. Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) said passing the bill shows the Ohio General Assembly is a "fair and just body," while Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) said passing it is the right thing to do, while attacking Biden and others for what he said are efforts to keep former President Donald Trump off the ballot in other states. The bill passed 63 to 31, with all the "no" votes coming from Republicans.

The special session, called by Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday, May 23, began, like many events at the Statehouse, with House and Senate Republicans failing to agree with how they should proceed, with House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) taking different stances on whether this is a self-contained special session, where bill numbering starts over or whether it would be considered a special session day that is part of the ongoing General Assembly term, enabling consideration of pending bills. Stephens' spokesman Pat Melton said in a text message it would be considered a new session, and bill numbers would start over with HB1. But Huffman spokesman John Fortney said the governor's proclamation references existing bills and noted it's still the second year of the 135th General Assembly.

Late on Tuesday, Speaker Pro Tempore Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) and Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz (RCincinnati) issued the following statement regarding the special session: “As members who were present for the last special session, we cannot follow the logic being used by the Senate to conduct business during this special session. The Ohio Constitution clearly outlines the parameters for a special session, and prior precedent dictates the procedure. In consultation with the House clerk, we have reviewed all available journals from previous special sessions and have found no precedent for the actions of the Senate. While there is ample precedent for the principle that bills from the first year of a two-year General Assembly session carry over to the second year, those precedents are not applicable because a special session is not considered to be any part of the regular session.”

House Republicans introduced two new bills on the special session topics: HB1 (Seitz), an emergency measure to address foreign contributions; and HB2 (Dobos), addressing Biden's ballot access. But the Senate used pending legislation on the numbering of statewide ballot issues, HB271 (Mathews), as the vehicle for amendment language addressing both topics. The House Government Oversight Committee heard initial testimony on HB1 and HB2 Tuesday morning, while the Senate voted 21-8 to pass HB271 after amending it. Sen. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon), the Senate majority floor leader, moved the amendment to HB271, saying it would require Democrats to notify Ohio of their presidential nominee on the effective date of the legislation. He said the foreign contribution language in the amendment was narrowed from prior attempts to address objections, leaving enforcement for local ballot initiatives to county prosecutors and eliminating references to "any other funds" in the definition of contribution.

Meanwhile, the House Government Oversight Committee heard sponsor testimony on HB1 from Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who said that while he believes it is illegal for foreign individuals to donate to Ohio campaigns based on federal law and an Ohio Elections Commission opinion issued in 2021, he felt it was important to codify it into Ohio law. The bill also is confined to statewide ballot initiatives and referendums. In addition, Rep. Dave Dobos (R-Columbus) gave sponsor testimony on HB2, which he said is a "simple, straightforward bill that states that a major political party shall certify to the secretary of state in writing the names of its candidates for president and vice-president nominated at its national convention not later than the 65th day before the 2024 general election. Once the nomination is received, the secretary must certify the forms of the official ballots to be used at the 2024 general election no later than the 60th day before that election."

On Wednesday, opponents and interested parties testified before the House Government Oversight Committee over concerns that foreign money in campaign legislation HB1 (Seitz) would chill citizen participation and give the attorney general an outsized role in the process. Opponents of the bill who testified included Arthur Lavin of Doctors Organized for Health Care Solutions, Spenser E. Dirrig of the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, citizen Laura Irvin, and D.J. Byrnes, who is better known by his online persona "the Rooster," as well as interested party Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio. The committee also received written opposition testimony from eight people, and written interested party testimony from Jen Miller of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

The Democratic National Committee's (DNC) plan to virtually nominate President Joe Biden as the party's nominee before Ohio's deadline nullified the need for a special session, House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Columbus) said Wednesday. "The DNC's intent to hold a virtual vote to put Biden on the ballot eliminates the urgency and, I think, primary reason of the special session," Russo said before she and other Democrats on the House Rules and Reference Committee voted against the rules report setting Thursday's special session calendar. "What we have on the table right now is a temporary fix. The real issue here, is we need a permanent fix to this issue that impacts not just this year or President Biden," Russo told reporters after the meeting. "I think the sense of urgency of doing a temporary fix is lost at this point, and frankly I'm not even sure we can get it across the finish line this week in either case. I mean, we'll see. If we're doing a permanent fix, that's one thing. I certainly don't think there is a sense of urgency about the other things they're trying to do -- the poison pill language, etc."


The Biden administration has announced $7.7 billion in additional student loan debt forgiveness for 160,500 borrowers. The discharges are for three categories of borrowers: those receiving Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF); those who signed up for the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan and who are eligible for its shortened time-to-forgiveness benefit; and those receiving forgiveness on income-driven repayment (IDR) as a result of fixes made by the administration. The announcement brings the total loan forgiveness approved by the administration to $167 billion for 4.75 million borrowers. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, about 108,440 Ohioans have received some debt cancellation through the PSLF, the SAVE Plan or an IDR plan. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education also announced an update on the timing of the payment count adjustment. The administrative fix is meant to ensure borrowers get credit for progress borrowers made toward IDR forgiveness and PSLF. Borrowers who would benefit from consolidating now have until June 30, 2024 to apply to consolidate. Borrowers can find out more about the payment count adjustment at

The University of Toledo (UT) and ProMedica Health System recently signed a new Academic Affiliation Agreement that will last nearly a decade. The new agreement replaces the previous agreement that was first created in 2015 and continues the original intent of the partnership to attract and retain medical students, residents and fellows to Toledo and support access to high-quality health care in the community. The new agreement restructures the partnership through June 30, 2033. ProMedica will continue to provide financial support for the academic mission of the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences. And the new academic partnership specifies the number of UT residents and in which specialties they will train at ProMedica facilities.

The Inter-University Council (IUC) of Ohio, which represents the state's public universities, will host a first-of-its-kind symposium on artificial intelligence (AI) next month on Tuesday, June 11 in the Statehouse Atrium. The event will feature discussions with industry experts, university presidents and state leaders on the role of AI in disinformation, jobs, cybersecurity, higher education and more. "Increasingly policymakers from across the country are recognizing the role higher education plays as a strategic asset for economic competitiveness, national security, and workforce development. We want to showcase what's being done on our campuses by our faculty and researchers who are collaborating with industry partners and governmental agencies to propel Ohio forward in this rapidly evolving field," IUC President Laura Lanese said in a written statement to Hannah News.


Two branches of state government are taking up the issue of "unauthorized occupants" as an emerging problem facing residential property owners. The House and Senate have heard three bills in May to prevent and remove squatters. Meanwhile, the Ohio Attorney General's Office has commenced review of owners' rights to eject interlopers from homes and apartments.

The DeWine administration announced Wednesday awards totaling $29.48 million through the Welcome Home Ohio program to improve housing access, with the funds supporting projects in 17 counties that are expected to create 263 owner-occupied, single-family homes. The announcement represents the first round of program funding, out of a total of $100 million in grants. Welcome Home Ohio also offers $50 million in nonrefundable tax credits to landbanks and eligible developers for rehab and new construction projects. It was created in the biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards), and is administered by the Ohio Department of Development (DOD).


Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Director Annette Chambers-Smith announced on Tuesday that more than $73 million has been awarded for the construction of three new jails and the renovation of two other facilities in Ohio. Funding for the new jails is being awarded through the Ohio Jail Safety and Security Program, from language included in HB33 (Edwards). The program was launched by DeWine in 2021 to help local communities with functionally obsolete and structurally failing jails. New project funding includes the following:

- Adams County: $21,611,312

- Jackson County: $32,819,178

- Wyandot County: $19,475,000

- Meigs County: $144,886

- Morrow County: $4,318,182


Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) troopers appear to be following the state's new laws on marijuana paraphernalia, according to a report from the Ohio State University (OSU) Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC). The report, "An Examination of Marijuana Paraphernalia Incidents before and after Ohio's Vote to Legalize Recreational Marijuana," found that marijuana paraphernalia incidents dropped significantly following the implementation of Issue 2. Under the initiated statute, adults age 21 and older can legally possess marijuana paraphernalia. The report compared incident data from 29 days before passage of Issue 2, 29 days after passage but before implementation, and 29 days after implementation. The daily average number of incidents in the 29 days before passage was 4.66, while the daily average for the 29 days after passage but before implementation was 4.24. The daily average after implementation was 0.52.

Ohio Bound Inc. has been awarded a dispensary certificate of operation under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Cannabis Control announced Tuesday. The dispensary is located at 914 Cleveland Ave. in Columbus. The state of Ohio has now issued 124 medical marijuana dispensary certificates of operation.


State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) of Ohio Board members should have the same ability to obtain independent legal representation as the STRS executive director, board member Pat Davidson said during Thursday's STRS Governance Committee meeting. The proposal will be revised by committee members and in-house counsel and presented during the next STRS Governance Committee meeting, committee members decided in a 3-1 vote. During the committee's discussion on the item, STRS Board Chair Rudy Fichtenbaum said it is a "clear conflict of interest" to allow the Ohio Attorney General's Office to decide whether STRS can pay Fichtenbaum's legal fees when the AG is the person who brought the lawsuit against him.


Ohio employers can now take advantage of federal tax credits of up to $9,600 for hiring individuals from certain designated groups, including restored citizens, public assistance recipients, individuals with disabilities and others who may face barriers to employment, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Director Matt Damschroder. The federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) provides tax credits ranging from $1,200 to $9,600 for employers of new hires, depending on the designated group. According to the IRS, an employer may claim the WOTC for an individual who is certified as a member of any of the following targeted groups:

- The formerly incarcerated or those previously convicted of a felony.

- Recipients of state assistance under part A of Title IV of the Social Security Act (SSA).

- Veterans.

- Residents in areas designated as empowerment zones or rural renewal counties.

- Individuals referred to an employer following completion of a rehabilitation plan or program.

- Individuals whose families are recipients of supplemental nutrition assistance under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008.

- Recipients of Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the SSA.

- Individuals whose families are recipients of state assistance under part A of Title IV of the SSA.

- Individuals experiencing long-term unemployment.

More information about the WOTC from the IRS is available at

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