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Week in review: March 14, 2021

Written on Mar 12, 2021

FY20-21 BUDGET

The state's revenues continue to exceed estimates with February's coming in $182.9 million or 10.6 percent over estimates, the Office of Budget of Management announced Friday in releasing the preliminary February figures. OBM Director Kimberly Murnieks commented that, "As our February revenues illustrate, Ohio's solid start to our year of recovery continues. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining while vaccine roll-out ramps up. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to control the pandemic because, as the past year has clearly demonstrated, our economic growth is directly tied to beating COVID."

CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday that the state is working with the federal government to establish a mass vaccination clinic at Cleveland State University beginning March 17. State and local officials will additionally set up 11 "permanent" regional locations and four mobile clinics in the "latter part of March," DeWine said, as well as two short-term "pop-up" locations in Columbus and Cincinnati.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced vaccine eligibility would expand to those age 50 and up, as well as people with Type 2 diabetes and end-stage renal disease, starting Thursday, March 11. The governor also announced that the state's new centralized vaccine scheduling system website is now live at gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov. The website will serve as a single location for Ohioans to confirm that they are eligible to be vaccinated, identify nearby providers (within 20 miles) and schedule their vaccine appointments.

Gov. Mike DeWine declared Tuesday, March 9 a “day of remembrance” to honor the more than 17,500 people who’ve died of COVID on the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed case in Ohio.

The recently introduced coronavirus relief bills are necessary to revitalize Ohio's economy and rural communities, representatives of major business and agricultural organizations told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. "Nearly one year removed from the shuttering of dining rooms and patios, Ohio restaurants are just now beginning the path to recovery. While there is more hope amongst Ohio's hospitality community than at any time since the pandemic began, the path back is long and there is no certainty that all of Ohio's hospitality businesses will survive," Ohio Restaurant Association External Affairs and Government Relations Managing Director Tod Bowen said during proponent testimony on SB108 (S. Huffman-Romanchuk), one of the four pandemic relief bills heard by the committee during the meeting, which also included SB109 (Manning-Rulli), SB110 (O'Brien-Wilson) and SB111 (Blessing-Brenner).

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday the loosening of various COVID protocols and looked forward to a summer of "full ballparks," but declined to predict when Ohio will hit his threshold for lifting all health orders and said an all-comers vaccination policy is not imminent. With the expansion Thursday of vaccine eligibility to those age 50 and up, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted got his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine while speaking via video from a public health clinic in his hometown of Montpelier. "The needle in the arm is a lot more pleasant than the swab in the nose," Husted said. County fairs can plan for relatively normal operations, long-term care facilities can offer freer visitation with residents, students have more freedom and can participate in spring sports, and new guidelines are on the way for festivals, parades, graduation ceremonies and proms, DeWine said.

ELECTIONS 2022

Television personality Geraldo Rivera, 77, Wednesday floated the possibility he would run for the U.S. Senate in 2022, seeking the Republican nomination for the open seat from Ohio currently held by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). Thursday, however, he changed his mind, saying he reached the decision after talking with his wife, Erica.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

The U.S. unemployment rate was "little changed" at 6.2 percent in February, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Non-farm payroll employment increased by 379,000, BLS said in a news release, and the labor market continued to reflect effects of the pandemic.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and InnovateOhio, in partnership with the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Monday unveiled what they called a "fully redesigned, more accessible OhioMeansJobs.com website for Ohio jobseekers and employers."

For the week ending Feb. 27, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 120,446 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. ODJFS experienced technical difficulties last week and could not release the numbers on Thursday, March 4 as originally scheduled, ODJFS spokesperson Tom Betti told Hannah News. The total number of claims reported during that weekly time period is higher than the previous week's total, which was 101,825. ODJFS said potentially fraudulent claims are likely inflating the numbers from the most recent week and previous weeks.

For the week ending March 6, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 128,161 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is higher than last week's, when ODJFS reported 120,446. ODJFS said potentially fraudulent claims are likely inflating the totals from this week and recent weeks.

GAMING/GAMBLING

Professional sports teams should be allowed to financially benefit directly from a legalized sports betting system in Ohio, representatives from the Cincinnati Reds and FC Cincinnati told the Senate Select Committee on Gaming on Wednesday.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Universities across Ohio have begun announcing plans for returns to in-person class this fall as well as plans for in-person spring commencements amid the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A new study by Ohio State University researchers found that strict environmental regulations push multinational corporations to move polluting facilities to other countries with lax regulations rather than reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Itzhak Ben-David, co-author of the study and professor of finance at Ohio State's Fisher College of Business, said the strict environmental policies lead to "carbon leakage to other nations."

HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Warrensville Heights) was confirmed as the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Wednesday in a bipartisan 66-34 vote, making her only the third woman to lead the agency and first Black woman to lead the agency since 1979. She has represented the 11th House District in Congress in 2008 after the sudden death of Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

INSURANCE

The Senate Insurance Committee voted unanimously to approve the nomination of Judith French as director of the Ohio Department of Insurance Wednesday, following brief comments by her and questions from Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati). Chair Bob Hackett (R-London) said that he was "extremely pleased" by the nomination and called her well-qualified ahead of the vote as well.

As part of National Consumer Protection Week, the Ohio Department of Insurance highlighted the savings it has helped Ohio insurance consumers receive or recover in 2020. ODI Director Judith French said consumers saved $37 million last year as department staff resolved insurance coverage and claim disputes, outlined suitable insurance options and identified financial assistance programs.

PEOPLE

Former Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) is joining the law firm of Shumaker as a partner in the firm's litigation practice.

TAXATION

The House Ways and Means Committee heard opponent and interested party testimony Wednesday on HB157 (Jordan-Edwards), legislation that would modify the municipal income withholding rules for COVID-19-related work-from-home employees. The two sponsors had previously testified before the committee Tuesday. Ohio Municipal League Executive Director Kent Scarrett spoke against the bill, saying it would cause a "sudden repeal" of Section 29 in 133-HB197 (Powell-Merrin), which instructed municipalities to continue withholding income tax at the place of work during the pandemic state of emergency and for 30 days after its conclusion despite the work from home shift.

The Buckeye Institute announced Thursday that it has filed a new lawsuit challenging municipal tax collection for Ohioans who are working remotely. The new lawsuit challenges the tax policy for Oregon and Toledo and was filed on behalf of Joel and Summer Curcio of Springfield Township, and Chris Ackerman of Walbridge. It is the fourth case the group has filed, previously challenging the tax collection by other municipalities, including in Columbus and Cincinnati.