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WEEK IN REVIEW: June 23, 2024

Written on Jun 21, 2024


Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, JobsOhio President and CEO J.P. Nauseef and leaders of Tipp City-based nonprofit Aileron announced Monday a new program to help support Ohio small businesses as they grow. It will offer a 12-month program that blends in-person and virtual events as facilitated by Aileron, which guides business owners in building an organization-wide system that creates sustainable change and drives lasting results. The first year will involve a cohort of 25 businesses that previously received JobsOhio incentives, who can apply if interested. Small business owners will be notified of their selection for the program in August. The program is scheduled to begin in September.


Both chambers Monday introduced capital budget legislation -- SB292 (Dolan) and HB629 (Edwards). The legislation incorporates projects from the $700-plus million One-Time Strategic Community Investment Fund (OTSCIF), which debuted last week as SB280 (Dolan), as well as the typical capital budget funding for state parks, universities, other agencies and another, smaller list of community projects worth about $150 million. According to Senate Republicans, the total price tag is $4.2 billion. Both bills include an emergency clause, which would allow the legislation to go into effect immediately upon the governor's signature but requires a two-thirds majority to approve in both chambers. Both Senate Finance Chair Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) and Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) had indicated that lawmakers will eventually use HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) as the vehicle to pass both the traditional capital budget and the OTSCIF projects.

Capital spending plans for FY25-26 are "manageable and sustainable" and would keep Ohio well below the 5% debt service cap, Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kim Murnieks told lawmakers Tuesday. Murnieks testified on capital budget bills HB629 (Edwards) and SB292 (Dolan) before finance committees of the House and Senate. Though FY24 state tax collections through May lagged projections by more than $400 million, Murnieks said the state can support the billions in capital budget spending because of good economic and other budget trends. While FY24 tax revenues are 1.7% below expectations, spending is 4.2% below estimates. Meanwhile, state treasury investment earnings are higher than expected, the unemployment rate remains low at 4%, and credit agency ratings for Ohio are "stronger than any point in history," she said. Murnieks told the House Finance Committee OBM projects the state would spend 2.65% of GRF revenues on debt service should the capital budget pass, well below the 5% cap. She told the Senate Finance Committee debt service levels are at one of the lowest levels in state history, in part because the state was able to use cash in the previous capital budget, blunting the effects of higher interest rates.


Ohio has over four million workers whose jobs won't allow them to take extended paid leave from work upon the birth or adoption of a child. To Dawn Huckelbridge, a federal policy granting that time off to workers "seems quite common sense." Huckelbridge is the founding director of advocacy group Paid Leave For All. She spoke about paid parental leave to the City Club of Cleveland on Friday. She says there is a lot of confusion in Congress about paid parental leave and its proximity to benefits like paid sick days, paid time off or paid vacation. But she said the issue came to the fore in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Huckelbridge said when COVID hit and employers and employees were "scrambling," some in Congress realized what it meant to have a pandemic hit when safety nets like paid leave don't exist for many people. She said at the time, Congress was faced with passing two large-scale relief packages, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, the latter of which would have provided Americans with guaranteed paid leave and relief for childcare expenses, among other things. But the jobs plan took priority, and the issue of paid leave didn't become law.

In the first of its monthly meetings on Monday, June 3, the newly created Children's Vision Strike Force focused on the issues facing the current state of getting appropriate eye care for Ohio's children and several groups' efforts to address those issues. The strike force heard a presentation from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) on the pros and cons of different methods of delivering vision screenings to Ohio's youth, from school-based health centers to doctor visits to schools to mobile "vision vans" that could travel between events during summers where several children are at once, like summer camps or other community festivals. Another presentation outlined the equipment, personnel and costs of such mobile examination models. The next meeting of the Children's Vision Strike Force will be on Friday, July 26 from 9 a.m. to noon at the ODH offices at 246 N. High St.


Google officials, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and members of Ohio's congressional delegation took part Tuesday in the company’s announcement that it will invest $2.3 billion in Ohio for its three sites in Columbus, Lancaster and New Albany. This follows past investments that total over $4.4 billion since the New Albany data center had its groundbreaking in 2019. These data centers are essential to Google's services and "engines behind the growing digital economy" according to the company. They also support its artificial intelligence (AI) innovations and customer base.


Recent reports by personal finance site WalletHub ranked Ohio the seventh-lowest state in terms of racial equality in their economies and 11th-lowest in education systems. The report on equality in economies had metrics including the difference between White and Black Americans in areas such as annual income, unemployment rate and homeownership rate, while the education report measured areas such as high school and college degrees, test scores and graduation rates. WalletHub said that nationally, a recent study found that only 7% of managerial positions and 4 to 5% of senior managerial positions are held by Black Americans, even though they represent 14% of U.S. employees.


The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week filed a statement of interest in an Ohio lawsuit challenging state law on what assistance can be given to voters with disabilities in casting an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters of Ohio and ACLU of Ohio filed the lawsuit in December over 134-HB458 (Hall), alleging harm to voters with disabilities from provisions restricting who can help such voters in dropping off or mailing their ballot. Many voters with disabilities cannot personally travel to deliver or mail their absentee ballots and do not have one of the relatives legally allowed to do it for them, the plaintiffs allege. The relatives listed in law as able to assist with ballots include spouses, parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. The federal agency's statement of interest says Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act permits voters with disabilities in need of assistance to get it from anyone they choose, except an agent of their employer or union. That assistance includes all action necessary to make their vote effective, DOJ says. It also says Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public entities to provide equal opportunities to vote absentee and allows voters with disabilities to have someone of their choice help them.


The Ohio Republican Party (Ohio GOP) said Monday that it is formally deploying its "Buckeye Battalion," an all-encompassing, coordinated field effort by the Ohio GOP, local Republican organizations and candidates across Ohio to support Donald Trump, Bernie Moreno, and Republicans up and down the ballot in November. The Ohio GOP said that it will be doubling its efforts to grow its ranks ahead of the November election in order to defeat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was joined Tuesday in an online press conference by Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga and Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Mike Knisley to preview a statewide press tour to highlight what they said was Brown's record of fighting and delivering for Ohio workers. Brown said the tour, known as "Workers for Sherrod," will highlight the wins the state has had in creating good paying jobs for Ohio workers and his work in the U.S. Senate. "Workers for Sherrod" is co-chaired by Burga and Knisely.

The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) announced that its Organizing For Ohio coordinated campaign has launched its voter access volunteer team to "protect Ohioans' right to vote" ahead of November's election. The volunteer coalition will oversee a number of efforts ranging from a voter protection hotline that Ohioans can call with questions, to poll observing on Election Day to protect Ohioans' voting rights, ODP said.

The ODP continued its attacks on Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bernie Moreno Thursday over his opposition to abortion issues. Holding a virtual press call ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Lauren Beene, who served as an executive committee member of last November's successful Issue 1 campaign on abortion and reproductive rights, retired pediatrician Arthur Levin, and Catherine Romanos, an abortion provider, all criticized Moreno for what they said is his support of a federal abortion ban.


The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has increased the budget, if not the scope, of the independent audit of FirstEnergy's political and charitable spending and potential links to the 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) bribery scandal behind eight criminal indictments, four convictions, and two suicides to date. Commissioners expanded accounting firm Marcum LLP's budget by more than 25% to $689,000 to cover inflationary costs since granting the Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel's request for the FirstEnergy audit during the previous federal administration. It is one of two ongoing FirstEnergy audits related to HB6, along with two that have been concluded. After launching its political spending probe of the company in September 2020, PUCO opened three more investigations into its delivery capital recovery (DCR) rider, distribution modernization rider (DMR), and corporate separation of the distribution utility from its generation and marketing affiliates. All include outside auditors of their own -- the DCR by Blue Ridge Consulting Service and the DMR and corporation separation by Daymark Energy Advisors.


Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts) on Monday temporarily appointed Speaker Pro Tem Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) chair of the House Health Provider Services Committee to replace Rep. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield), who will soon join the Senate. Meanwhile, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) appointed Sen. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) as chair of the Senate General Government Committee, previously held by U.S. Rep.-elect Michael Rulli (R-Salem). Monday's House journal also indicated Cutrona was appointed chair of the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee, which had lacked a chair since Stephens removed Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) from the post in May, part of a wave of chair changes sparked by internal caucus conflicts over the primary election. Senate Republicans plan to seat Cutrona as Rulli's replacement at the Wednesday, June 26 session.

With Rep. Cutrona’s pending shift to the Senate next week, five Republicans have expressed interest in taking his spot on the ballot for the 59th Ohio House District, according to the Youngstown Vindicator. The Mahoning County Republican Party, which along with the Columbiana County Republican Party, will choose the ballot replacement for Cutrona, and has set a deadline of Thursday, June 27, for those wanting both the nomination and to likely fill Cutrona's unexpired term in the Ohio House for the remainder of 2024 to submit letters of interest, the newspaper said. Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Tom McCabe told the newspaper that the five who have expressed interest so far are Jim Murphy, a precinct committee member; Meghan Hanni, daughter of Court of Appeals Judge Mark Hanni and Aim Leasing Co.'s supervisor of licensing and permits; Canfield City Council President Christine Oliver; Joey Cilone, co-owner and president of Inspira Health Group; and Tex Fischer, co-founder and partner of H&F Strategies LLC, a political consulting firm.

In other action, the House Health Provider Services Committee reported out SB144 (Romanchuk) which addresses health care changes including immunizations administered by pharmacists; the House Insurance Committee reported out SB175 (Lang) which deals with insurance regulations and taxes; and the House Public Health Policy Committee reported out Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness bill HB397 (Hoops-Baker).


While House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has previously suggested higher education reform bill SB83 (Cirino) doesn't have the votes to pass the House floor, Majority Floor Leader Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and House Higher Education Chair Rep. Tom Young (R-Centerville) are circulating a letter to gauge support for passing the bill before the General Assembly breaks for the summer. The bill passed the Ohio Senate 21-10 in May of last year and passed out of the House Higher Education Committee 8-6 in December. SB83, dubbed the "Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act," would prohibit, in most cases, mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training at colleges and universities. It requires universities to make commitments to "intellectual diversity," and prohibits them, in most cases, from endorsing or opposing "any controversial beliefs or policies" that includes such issues as climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion.

The House Higher Education Committee Tuesday continued its review of the progress of universities' implementation of new science of reading literacy education standards, hearing from Miami University and the University of Toledo.

The Campus Accountability and Modernization to Protect University Students (CAMPUS) Act – HB606 (Pizzulli-Jarrells) -- is necessary to prevent racial, religious and ethnic harassment and intimidation on college campuses, representatives of the Inter-University Council (IUC) and several Jewish organizations told the House Finance Committee on Thursday.


The Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Cannabis Control (DCC) has issued eight dual-use provisional licenses to cultivators, processors and testing laboratories, DCC spokesperson Jamie Crawford told Hannah News on Friday. "To help ensure an efficient supply chain leading up to non-medical sales, these initial dual-use provisional licenses have been issued to testing labs, cultivators and processors who have met dual-use qualifications requirements. No dispensaries have been issued a dual-use provisional license to date," Crawford said in an email. It's unclear exactly how many dual-use provisional licenses were awarded to each of the three license types, but eight total were awarded to cultivators, processors and testing labs. As of Friday at noon, DCC had received 219 applications to convert active Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP) licenses to dual-use licenses, Crawford said. The division has also received 134 10(B) dispensary applications. These are additional dispensary licenses authorized to be issued by the initiated statute.

The DOC Division of Cannabis Control's rule eliminating registration fees for medical marijuana patients and caregivers officially took effect over the weekend. The division's proposal to eliminate the $50 fee for patients and $25 fee for caregivers went into effect on Sunday, June 16. DCC temporarily reduced the fees to $0.01 in March while the rule rescission process played out. Additionally, the Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) has proposed a number of rules on the adult use cannabis tax.


Ohio was recently ranked the 17th "most stressed" state in the country, according to a recent report by personal finance site WalletHub. That put it third-highest among neighboring states, behind West Virginia at sixth nationally and Kentucky at eighth. Indiana was ranked 22nd, followed by Michigan at 27th and Pennsylvania at 33rd. The top five states were Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and Arkansas, with first indicating the most stressed. WalletHub also measured states by four sub-rankings. Ohio was 16th and first among neighboring states for family-related stress; 18th and third among neighbors in health and safety-related stress; 24th and fourth among neighbors in money-related stress; and 28th and fifth among neighbors in work-related stress. "There are plenty of small ways for people to manage stress, from staying active and participating in hobbies to taking vacations from work and getting help from a mental health professional. What many people don't realize, though, is that changing location can also be a big stress reducer. For example, states that have lower crime rates, better health care and better economies tend to have much less stressed residents," said WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe.


The Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Ohio Emergency Management Agency (Ohio EMA) will be offering free training to a range of groups on drones at three events in July through a partnership with New Mexico Tech and the State University Law Enforcement Association (SULEA). DPS said the training is for a "diverse audience" including law enforcement and other first responders, emergency management officials, military personnel, staff at state and federal agencies, higher education leaders and private sector partners. The curriculum will cover Drone Assessment and Response Tactics (DART), Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Development (UASPD), and Unmanned Systems and Terrorism Case Studies. Attendees must be registered through Public Safety Training Campus (PSTC) in order to attend the listed courses.


Significant changes are needed on U.S. Route 23 from Worthington to Waldo, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials said Monday. DeWine, ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks, and ODOT District 6 Deputy Director Toni Turowski announced the safety recommendations during a press conference at the Columbus State Community College Delaware campus, which is located right off U.S. Route 23. The administration's U.S. 23 Connect recommendations include plans to add traditional freeway interchanges, connector road interchanges, overpasses/underpasses and restricted crossing U-turns. The plan also calls for road widening and the removal of 32 of the 39 traffic lights on the stretch of road. The plan -- which is split into seven segments -- would cost approximately $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion, Marchbanks told reporters.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission Monday adopted five professional engineering service contracts while discussing the difficulty it has in finding bidders for certain projects. During discussions of the contracts, commission member Guy Coviello asked Chief Engineer/Deputy Executive Director Chris Matta about getting single or no bidders for a number of contracts. Matta explained that he believes that a number of contractors have been "tapped out" between commission contracts and those put out to bid by the Ohio Department of Transportation, municipalities, and counties. He said that it is the goal of turnpike staff to put many of the 2025 projects out for bid in the fall in order to get them locked up for next year.

ODOT and Gov. Mike DeWine's office recently announced that nearly $5 million will be invested in 14 projects through ODOT's Transportation Improvement District Program. The projects receiving funding include the construction of roundabouts and turn lanes as well as improvements to pavement, intersections, and drainage. The projects will support 22,735 jobs and over $3 billion in private sector capital investments, the administration said.

This feature was provided by Hannah New Service and selected for you by OSCPA Government Relations Staff.

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