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Week in Review: Feb. 21, 2021

Written on Feb 19, 2021
Provided by Hannah News Service

FY22-23 BUDGET

The operating budget for FY22-23 was formally introduced as HB110 (Oelslager), following introduction of the transportation budget as HB74 (Oelslager), workers’ compensation budget as HB75 (Oelslager) and Industrial Commission budget as HB76 (Oelslager).

Transit agencies told lawmakers that they may have to cut routes and stop investing in new and innovative services for Ohioans if the executive budget recommendation for transit remains the same. They are a part of HB74 (Oelslager). Transit saw a spike in funding in the last biennium as lawmakers dedicated about $70 million in each fiscal year under 133-HB62 (Oelslager), although the pandemic reduced the amount that went to the local agencies. Transit agencies also saw help from the federal government in federal stimulus bills last year, but they told members of the House Finance Committee Wednesday that those funds are not enough to plan around over the next two years.

CENSUS

The U.S. Census Bureau Friday announced that it will not be releasing redistricting data, which is used to draw new congressional lines, until Sept. 30, citing delays due to COVID-19. The bureau had originally planned to deliver the data to states by March 31. The bureau said that it will also release the data for all states all at once, a procedure different from previous years when the data was released on a flow basis. The change was made "because of COVID-19 related shifts in data collection and in the data processing schedule … enables the Census Bureau to deliver complete and accurate redistricting data in a more timely fashion overall for the states."

CORONAVIRUS

Ohio's centralized scheduling system for COVID-19 vaccination appointments is "functional and ready from a technical standpoint" but needs a "critical mass" of providers to sign up before the state will launch it for public use, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday.

The General Assembly would be granted the power to use concurrent resolutions to terminate states of emergency declared by the executive branch, rescind orders of the governor or Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and invalidate emergency administrative rules under SB22 (McColley-Roegner) which passed the Senate by a vote of 25-8 on Wednesday. Republicans argued that the legislation simply provides a check on executive power, while Democrats said the bill is unconstitutional, undermines the work of the DeWine administration and would hamper the state's ability to react effectively to an emergency in the future.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Ohio's third planned "innovation district" was announced by Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Central Ohio leaders Wednesday, following similar announcements for Cleveland in January and Cincinnati in March 2020. It is expected to create 20,000 jobs and $3 billion in economic impact in the next decade. JobsOhio, Ohio State University (OSU) and Nationwide Children's Hospital are working together on the project, with the university investing $650 million alongside $350 million from the hospital and $100 million from the private economic development organization. The $1.1 billion in initial investment is expected to generate another $2 billion in private development, including housing for the new workers.

ELECTIONS 2021

Secure absentee ballot receptacles will continue to be limited to locations outside county boards of elections, according to a new directive issued Friday by Secretary of State Frank LaRose. "Ohio law is generous when it comes to absentee voting and offers voters at least four different ways to cast a ballot. Even though Ohio law does not explicitly provide for the use of secure receptacles, commonly known as 'drop boxes,' for an absentee voter to return their ballot ..., this directive, once again, provides for the continued use of secure receptacles outside of the boards of elections," LaRose wrote.

ENERGY AND UTILITIES

Legislation introduced Tuesday would repeal the nuclear and solar energy subsidies created by scandal-tainted 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), Reps. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) and Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) said. The House Public Utilities Committee, which Hoops chairs, informally heard sponsor testimony on HB128 (Hoops-Stein) Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The General Assembly is a step closer to repealing at least a portion of scandal-tainted energy subsidy law 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) following Senate passage of SB10 (Romanchuk) on Wednesday. The upper chamber voted 33-0 to pass the bill, which eliminates the "decoupling" mechanism created in HB6.

ENVIRONMENT

The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority has approved more than $1.1 million in bond financing and grants for two Central Ohio projects. OAQDA approved up to $915,000 in bond financing to assist Stoneridge Investment LLC, which is part of Alterra Real Estate Advisors, with its air quality facility project.

MEDICAID/MEDICAID REFORM

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Friday afternoon it is moving to revoke Ohio's approval to institute work requirements for enrollees in the Medicaid expansion population. Ohio Department of Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran lamented Tuesday the "politicized" deliberations over Medicaid work requirements and expressed interest in asking the Biden administration to reconsider plans to cancel approvals for Ohio's requirement. "I think it's very unfortunate that it has become so politicized. I mean, these are broad authorities, they're demonstration waivers to demonstrate things, to try things. And certainly, once the Supreme Court rules, depending on which way it goes, like it or not, that'll be the final word. But in the meantime, this is a demonstration, to demonstrate something," she told Hannah News.

TAXATION

The IRS and Ohio Department of Taxation opened the income tax filing season for the 2020 tax year Friday, Feb. 12. In the days beforehand, the IRS issued a statement urging filers to submit returns electronically, something the agency encourages every year but says is especially useful this year because of pandemic-related issues.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

For the second week in a row, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) has reported more than 140,000 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. "Of the 147,002 initial claims reported this week, at least 33,000 have been flagged for potential fraud," ODJFS said. Last week, ODJFS reported 140,444 new jobless claims, with at least 44,000 being flagged for suspicious activity. The week before that, the department reported 47,786 new jobless claims to the DOL.