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Week in review: Feb. 28, 2021

Written on Feb 26, 2021

ATTORNEY GENERAL

The House Finance Higher Education Subcommittee received budget testimony from the Ohio Attorney General's Office Wednesday, with Director of Policy and Legislation Mike Rodgers requesting additional changes in state law be enacted through HB110 (Oelslager) as well. The office's current request is for $383 million in FY22 and $386 million in FY23, Rodgers said. They currently have around 1,490 full-time staff and 28 part-time employees.

FY22-23 BUDGET

The House Finance Committee wasted little time after reconvening Thursday afternoon in accepting a substitute version of transportation budget bill, HB74 (Oelslager). This sets the stage for the bill's final trajectory for action in the House with Speaker of the House Bob Cupp (R-Lima) telling reporters a vote is expected in committee on Wednesday, March 3 with the bill on the House floor on Thursday, March 4.

A casualty of the sub bill is the governor's touted distracted driver provisions. Other major changes in the include the removal of all fee increases targeted for funding for the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Instead, the proposal provides an additional $35 million per year in General Revenue Funds (GRF) "solely for highway patrol operating costs." In addition, sub HB74 doubles the proposed funding for public transportation, House Finance Committee Chair Scott Oelslager (D-North Canton) said, "taking it to $193.7 million over the next two years, specifically $46.3 million GRF, $66 million flex funds and $81.4 million in FTA funding over the biennium."

The House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee's continuing review of the school financing bill, HB1 (Callender-Sweeney), focused on transportation issues and overall funding Thursday after discussion on categorical aid and charter schools Wednesday. Specifically, the subcommittee heard presentations Wednesday on funding proposals for categorical aid, charter schools and other costs beyond the base expenses in the formula. Several members of the working group of local education officials who helped write the plan provided testimony covering several topics including economically disadvantaged assistance, special education, gifted education, English learners, career-technical education, educational service centers, open enrollment, charter schools and vouchers, among others.

BUSINESS/CORPORATE

Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced recently that 16,018 new business filings were filed with the Ohio Secretary of State Business Services Division, a 33% increase from January 2020.

CORONAVIRUS
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) released more details Friday about a series of virtual townhall meetings Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced to provide information about the COVID-19 vaccine. Each of the four town halls is designed for a specific population, but all four are open to anyone. They will feature panelists including medical experts, faith leaders, public health professionals and community leaders from those specific populations. The events and their target audiences are as follows: Monday, Feb. 22, 6:30 p.m., African-American Ohioans; Tuesday, Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m., Hispanic/Latino Ohioans; Monday, March 1, 6:30 p.m., Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Ohioans; Tuesday, March 2, 6:30 p.m., Rural Ohioans. Links for watching the events are available at www.coronavirus.ohio.gov/townhall .

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Gov. Mike DeWine's administration announced Monday the approval of assistance for five projects expected to create 1,382 new jobs and retain 978 jobs statewide. During its monthly meeting, the Ohio Tax Credit Authority reviewed economic development proposals brought by JobsOhio and its regional partners. The projects are expected to collectively result in more than $80 million in new payroll and spur more than $51 million in investments across Ohio.

EDUCATION

The federal government will not accept states' requests to waive academic testing requirements for the spring as it did last year, but will offer flexibility in testing administration. In a letter to state education leaders, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education, Ian Rosenblum, wrote that testing data is important for families, educators and the public in understanding the effects of the pandemic on children, identifying inequities and directing resources.

ELECTIONS

Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Tuesday that campaign contribution limits will be increased over the next two years after a rise in the Consumer Price Index. There are various categories for contributions, including contributing to a political party, campaign committee, party candidate fund, and political action committee. For example, the new contribution limit from an individual to any one candidate committee is now $13,704.41, up from the limit of $13,292.35 for the past two years.

GAMING/GAMBLING

All casinos have resumed 24-hour operations since Gov. Mike DeWine lifted the administration's coronavirus curfew, Ohio Casino Control Commission Executive Director Matt Schuler said during a recent commission meeting.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Leading off the first meeting of the House Technology and Innovation Committee, Chair Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) said advances in technology have created difficulties in keeping up with what is required, and that the committee can "make progress in streamlining, simplifying and reducing the cost of ownership and encouraging our state to adopt current technology and best practices." While the committee did not hear testimony on bills Wednesday, it did hear presentations from Department of Administrative Services Director Matt Damschroder and Ervan Rodgers, who serves as state chief information officer and assistant director of DAS.

The new House Behavioral Health and Recovery Supports Committee held its first meeting Thursday. Members heard presentations from mental health advocates and industry experts about the mental health and addition recovery landscape. Chair Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton) said she knows the committee "will do some wonderful things for Ohio," and the enthusiasm for the newly introduced committee was echoed by other committee members as well as the presenters.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

For the week ending Saturday, Feb. 20, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 101,825 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That is lower than the 140,000-plus jobless claims reported in each of the last two weeks, but still much higher than the 47,786 reported three weeks ago. ODJFS has flagged tens of thousands of claims for potential fraud.

The Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council received another update from Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Henderson Thursday, along with presentations by Gregory Gantt, chairman of the Unemployment Compensation Review Council, and Zach Schiller, research director of Policy Matters Ohio. Henderson discussed progress on system updates, saying there were 900,000 monetary updates that needed to be made, and that the auditor of state's office has received information for their review. She recommended the council co-chairs, Rep. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) and Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London), set additional clarity for the scope of the audit and that ODJFS will pay the cost of the audit.

UTILITIES

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is ordering Columbia Gas of Ohio to pay a $250,000 forfeiture after enforcement officials blamed a pattern of maintenance failures for the utility's high-pressure alarms in Lawrence County and Zanesville and the deadly explosion of a Columbia Gas of Massachusetts gas line that killed one person, injured 22 others, destroyed five homes and damaged more than 130 structures in 2018.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Board of Directors held two meetings in executive session this week to interview potential investment consultants.

Interim Administrator of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation John Logue Wednesday unpacked the proposed budget for his agency, HB75 (Oelslager), for the House Insurance Committee, presaging the purpose for the special meeting Friday, Feb. 26 of the BWC Board of Directors: he told Rep. Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) that the board will be acting on the most recent rate recommendation, which will reduce the premium for private employers by 7.1%.