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Week in review: Jan. 10, 2021

Written on Jan 8, 2021

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Attorney General Dave Yost issued a warning recently on scams related to the COVID-19 vaccine, saying that consumers may see attempts to impersonate distributors, providers or local health department officials and claims that personal information such as a Social Security number is needed to get on a list to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Other scam attempts may involve claims that advanced payment is needed for a place near the front of vaccine lines, and could be made through email, phone call, postal mail, text message or social media accounts. Yost also said that while cards will be provided to consumers who have received a first dose of the vaccine, they do not provide a means to gain entry into bars, restaurants or other public areas, or to bypass public health orders. As such, any attempt to buy the cards is fruitless.

FY20-21 BUDGET

Sales tax collections beat estimates by nearly $50.0 million in December, while income taxes were about on target, the Office of Budget and Management reported in preliminary revenue figures Thursday. Total tax collections were up 3.3% or nearly $64.2 million in December and are ahead by 3.7% or $457.7 million halfway through this fiscal year, which began July 1.

CORONAVIRUS

Before the holidays, three more members of the Ohio House confirmed that they tested positive for COVID-19, while Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) said she has become the first of the Ohio General Assembly to receive the vaccine. Reps. Jon Cross (R-Kenton), Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson), and Michelle Lepore-Hagan all confirmed their diagnosis through social media or through a statement. They joined Reps. John Rogers and John Patterson who came down with it earlier in December.

Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine discussed the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, explaining that Ohio is currently in its 1A phase for distribution with the vaccine going to hospital frontline workers and nursing homes, and he said that will continue for most hospitals next week. DeWine said he hopes to begin the 1B vaccination phase starting on Monday, Jan. 18, when the vaccine will be made available to Ohioans age 80 and above. He said they believe there are about 420,000 to 450,000 Ohioans that are in that group.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced that the seventh application period for the TechCred program opened Monday, Jan. 4 and will close Friday, Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. The program "helps businesses upskill their current and incoming workforce with tech-focused credentials," providing $2,000 in reimbursement for each credential up to $30,000 per employer in each period.

ECONOMY

According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), if the November employment rebound after the initial COVID-19 disruptions continue throughout 2020 and into 2021 in a similar magnitude, total employment is predicted to increase at an annual rate of 1.16% for the next six months in Ohio.

ELECTIONS 2020

Secretary of State Frank LaRose Tuesday posted the results of county post-election audits for the first time, saying counties that utilized a percentage-based audit had a 99.98% accuracy rate in the presidential election.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

For the week ending Jan. 2, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 29,709 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is slightly higher than the number of claims reported during the week ending Dec. 26, which was 28,790. For the week ending Dec. 19, ODJFS reported 31,134 claims. All of those numbers are significantly lower than the number reported for the week ending Dec. 12, which was 38,327.

FEDERAL

Protests by supporters of President Donald Trump fought with counter protestors at the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday, though the incidents did not reach the level of violence that occurred in Washington, D.C. as a joint session of Congress met to certify the results of the Electoral College. Video of the Ohio Statehouse protests were posted by Ohio media outlets, showing members of far-right group Proud Boys scuffling with Black Lives Matter protestors on the west and north sides of the Statehouse, and Columbus police and Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers seeking to separate them. Lt. Craig Cvetan, a spokesman for the patrol, told Hannah News that there were no arrests from the protests in Columbus, which began around 11 a.m., but were mostly dispersed by early evening. State and federal officials condemned both rioters and the president for what some called an "insurrection" attempt.

Five Ohio members of Congress objected to the counting of the Electoral College results during a joint session of Congress Wednesday that had been interrupted by protestors breeching the Capitol building, with four of the five members objecting to the results from two states. U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana), Warren Davidson (R-Troy), Bob Gibbs (R-Lakeville), and Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) had said ahead of the votes that they would be objecting to the results from certain states and followed through on their objections. The lawmakers had argued that some states violated the U.S. Constitution and disregarded their own laws when counting ballots. Objections were ultimately made Wednesday -- and early Thursday morning -- to the counting from two states -- Arizona and Pennsylvania. According to reports, Jordan, Davidson, Gibbs and Johnson, objected to the Arizona results, and were joined by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati) in objecting to the Pennsylvania results.

The U.S. attorneys representing the Northern and Southern Districts of Ohio said they will prosecute any Ohioans who were involved in Wednesday's breach of the U.S. Capitol. Protestors backing President Donald Trump broke windows and pushed past barriers to enter into the building, where some tangled with Capitol police as both the U.S. House and Senate debated objections to the count of Electoral College votes from the presidential election. David DeVillers, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio who is leaving his position later this week, retweeted links to an FBI website seeking information on individuals "instigating violence in Washington D.C.," with the federal bureau saying it will accept tips and digital media "depicting rioting or violence in and around the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6."

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) gave details on policy priorities for Democrats as Democrats won both Georgia runoff races to take control of the U.S. Senate. Brown, who is the ranking member for the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said he will likely become chair of the committee effective Thursday, Jan. 21 with Democrats in the majority.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

The opening day of the session for the Senate in the 134th General Assembly was held with the usual first day swearing-in of members and the passing of resolutions setting staff pay and travel reimbursement but was missing its leader as newly-elected Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) was unable to attend after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 over the weekend. Huffman told reporters on a conference call after the session that he feels fine and the positive test was sparked after he and his wife did not feel well at the end of last week.

GOVERNOR

Gov. Mike DeWine opened his Thursday update on COVID-19 and vaccination efforts by decrying the violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as protestors supporting President Donald Trump breeched Capitol security while Congress was debating the results of the Electoral College. Calling it a "sad day in American history," DeWine criticized Trump, whom he supported and served as a co-chair of his reelection campaign, for the president's remarks to protestors before the incident, saying Trump had given an incendiary speech that "served only to fan the flames."

In an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, Gov. Mike DeWine said there should be a bipartisan commission studying election security from a "big picture" view beyond the scope of the 2020 presidential outcome. That has been recommended by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and DeWine called it a "good proposal."

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS

Financial advisory website WalletHub found Ohio to be the fifth most charitable state in the country. WalletHub ranked all 50 states across two dimensions, "Volunteering and Service" and "Charitable Giving," which were evaluated using 19 metrics ranging from the volunteer rate to the share of income donated.

STATE GOVERNMENT

The Controlling Board held two short emergency meetings this week, including one on Wednesday to extend the date for local subdivisions to expend coronavirus relief funds transferred to the subdivisions by the General Assembly and the date for local subdivisions to pay any unexpended balance to the state treasurer. According to the Office of Budget and Management, the most recent capital budget, SB310 (Dolan), allowed the Controlling Board to extend the dates at the request of the OBM director. The request approved without objection Wednesday extended the deadlines to Friday, Dec. 31, 2021.

Also on Wednesday, the Controlling Board approved a late add-on that allows the Ohio Department of Health to use $125 million in federal funds to support the state's COVID-19 vaccines distribution and testing efforts to respond to the pandemic.

TREASURER OF STATE

Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague recently announced that the Ohio Market Access Program (OMAP) has now "enhanced and lowered interest costs" for $1 billion in local government notes. OMAP is a credit enhancement program that leverages the state's excess liquidity and high short-term credit rating to help improve market access and lower borrowing rates for local governments. Since its 2014 launch, OMAP has supported more than 190 deals, ranging from $390,000 to over $100 million. There have been no defaults, and to date, OMAP has generated more than $3.8 million in estimated savings for local governments.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

Those who qualify for the additional $300 weekly benefit under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program will need to wait until at least the third week in January to receive their money, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The $300 benefit, approved as part of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and down from the $600 benefit provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, will be provided for up to 11 weeks for eligible claimants in multiple programs. It will be available for the weeks of unemployment between Dec. 27, 2020 and the week ending Saturday, March 13, 2021.

UTILITIES

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) announced it has initiated an audit of FirstEnergy's distribution modernization rider. The commission granted a Sept. 8, 2020 motion by the Ohio Consumers' Counsel and directed PUCO staff to issue a request for proposal seeking an independent third-party auditor to conduct a review of FirstEnergy's Ohio utilities' distribution modernization rider. The request for proposal will be issued in the near future.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

Public employers will pay nearly $15 million less in Bureau of Workers' Compensation premiums in 2021 following a rate reduction that took effect Jan. 1. On average, this lowers the rate by 10 percent for Ohio's approximately 3,700 counties, cities, public schools and other public taxing districts.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation announced recently that it was extending the deadline by three months for long-term care facilities to seek reimbursement for investments in indoor air quality regarding COVID-19. Facilities now have until Wednesday, March 31 to apply. The COVID-19 Indoor Air Quality Assistance Program includes $28 million in federal CARES Act funding and is administered by BWC. Recent federal legislation extended the usage of CARES Act funds beyond the original Dec. 30, 2020 deadline.