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Week in review: March 7, 2021

Written on Mar 5, 2021

Provided by Hannah News Service

FY22-23 Budget

Gov. Mike DeWine called a news conference Friday to highlight the various provisions in his proposed FY22-23 budget dealing with Ohio's foster care system, noting that Ohio's system "is too often focused on the adults rather than the children, and this simply must change." DeWine was often critical of how the system has failed children over the years and he expressed "outrage" over some of the stories his Children Services Transformation Advisory Council heard in hearings around the state. He noted that children services employees work hard but it is important to eliminate the "outliers" who are not doing a good job.

Funding for the Ohio Department of Agriculture's (ODAg) Hemp Program line item should be reduced by 42% from FY21 to FY22, according to the agency's Redbook. While the Ohio Office of Budget and Management estimates that $1.7 million will be spent on the recently-created program in FY21, the executive budget proposal calls for just a little over $1 million in each FY22 and FY23.

The Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA) is proposing to create three new programs to help businesses "bridge the gap" and assist in their growth, DSA Director Lydia Mihalik told the House Finance Subcommittee on Agriculture, Development and Natural Resources on Wednesday. She is also seeking a return to the "Department of Development" name for her agency.

Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Stephanie McCloud outlined the agency's budget priorities to the House Finance Health and Human Services Subcommittee Wednesday, with department initiatives geared toward improving maternal and infant health outcomes and strengthening the state's lead mitigation programs.

CENSUS

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced he has filed a federal lawsuit to compel the U.S. Census Bureau to release population data relevant to the upcoming redistricting process. The lawsuit comes after the Census Bureau announced that the data would not be sent to the states until Sept. 30, citing delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bureau had originally planned to deliver the data to the states by March 31.

CIVIL RIGHTS

Sen. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) was joined by Sen. Mike Rulli (R-Salem) and Reps. Mike Skindell (R-Lakewood) and Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville) Thursday in a Zoom news conference to announce the bipartisan and bicameral reintroduction of the Ohio Fairness Act, legislation to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ Ohioans.

CORONAVIRUS

All of the Ohio Department of Health's coronavirus-related public health orders will be removed when the state begins to see 50 cases per 100,000 population for two weeks, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during a statewide address Thursday evening. "I am often asked, 'Mike, when is this going to end? When can we lift the health orders?' I've consulted Dr. Vanderhoff, our department of health's medical director, and a number of epidemiologists as well as other health experts, and they tell me that now, with the vaccine, we can set realistic goals," DeWine said, indicating the goal of 50 cases per 100,000 population is reasonable.

Vaccination eligibility expanded to two new sets of groups effective Thursday, March 4, according to an announcement from Gov. Mike DeWine earlier in the week. Phase 1C includes those with certain medical conditions or in several professions, while Phase 2 includes all those ages 60 to 64. In total, he said there are around 246,000 eligible Ohioans in Phase 1C and 695,000 in Phase 2.

Three weeks after Ohio Department of Health officials realized they failed to report more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths from late 2020, ODH Director Stephanie McCloud said the agency will no longer sacrifice accuracy for speed when releasing mortality data. ODH had been reporting Ohio Disease Reporting System mortality data daily, reconciling that information with verified death certificate data from the Electronic Death Registration System, she said. Going forward, ODH will use death certificate data from EDRS as the sole source of information for deaths reported on the state's COVID-19 dashboards.

Senate Republicans announced four bills Tuesday that would appropriate more than $1.9 billion in federal funding to provide additional COVID-19 relief, building on the previous approval of more than $2.5 billion in funding to Ohio communities and schools as a result of the pandemic. Testimony on these bills is slated to begin March 9, according to the sponsors. Companion bills were introduced in the House Tuesday as well.

House and Senate Republicans mounted another run at Gov. Mike DeWine's year-old emergency health order Wednesday when executive override SB22 (Johnson-McColley) hit the lower chamber and COVID-19 amnesty bill HB127 (Merrin) saw its first hearing in the House State and Local Government Committee. Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) and Sens. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) and Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) presented committee members with sponsor testimony on their respective bills, which target the governor's COVID-19 orders in very different ways but pose a similar rebuke of DeWine's exercise of power.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Ohio placed first for bringing in new corporate facility projects per capita, according to the "Governor's Cup 2020" economic development rankings released by Site Selection magazine Monday. The Buckeye State was also second nationally for total projects overall, Gov. Mike DeWine's office said. It was ranked first for new projects in 2019 as well.

ELECTIONS

Secretary of State Frank LaRose this week urged the rejection of a federal bill that he said would effectively take over how states conduct elections. The bill -- HR1, also known as the "For the People Act" -- was first introduced by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) in 2019 and reintroduced in January. Among its provisions, HR1 would require states to create automatic voter registration systems, expand early voting, and prohibit voter roll purges among other voting changes. It also includes a number of ethics and lobbying reforms, and would grant statehood to the District of Columbia.

The annual "Clearie" awards, hosted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, recognized Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose for voter outreach and poll worker recruitment programs, his office said Thursday. "Ohio wouldn't have had our most successful election ever without the 56,000 patriotic Ohioans who stepped up when our state needed them," said LaRose in a statement. "This award belongs to each one of them."

ENERGY AND UTILITIES

The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to repeal the nuclear generation subsidies of 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), continuing the chamber's strategy of unraveling the controversial energy law piece by piece. Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem), speaking about his SB44 (Rulli-Cirino), said Energy Harbor, operator of Ohio's two nuclear power stations, is likely in a better financial position after exiting bankruptcy, and energy policies "brewing" in Washington, D.C. appear to be more favorable to nuclear plants.

FEDERAL

With a provision in a federal stimulus bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour facing uncertainty in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said Monday that the Democratic-controlled chamber will find a way to increase wages even if the provision is taken out of the bill. President Joe Biden proposed the increase in the stimulus bill, and the U.S. House kept it as a part of the package that cleared the chamber, but the non-partisan Senate parliamentarian ruled that it cannot be passed through budget reconciliation.

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE

Auditor of State Keith Faber Friday released the second phase of a performance audit of the Ohio Department of Transportation, saying his office found millions in potential savings. The audit, the fifth performance audit of ODOT since 2011, reviewed pavement, bridges, maintenance, fleet, overhead and strategic information. The areas have an annual cost of $1.4 billion, Faber's office said, adding that even small improvements in efficiency could have a large impact on ODOT's finances and operations. The auditor's office said that each 1% improvement across all the areas could result in a $13 million financial impact.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Board of Directors on Friday approved a 7.1% premium rate reduction for private employers. "This will save private employers approximately $72 million," BWC Interim Administrator/CEO John Logue said during the board's meeting.