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Week in Review: March 21, 2021

Written on Mar 19, 2021

Provided by Hannah News Service

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost released this year's edition of the state Sunshine Laws Manual Monday, kicking off Sunshine Week, a national initiative promoting government transparency and access to freedom of information resources. The manual, known as the "Yellow Book," provides information on the Ohio Public Records and Open Meetings acts and details law changes and legal decisions affecting the open government laws during the past year.

Attorney General Dave Yost Wednesday announced that he has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block a provision in the federal stimulus American Rescue Plan Act that prevents states and local governments from using funds in the bill to offset losses from tax cuts or credits. In announcing the lawsuit, Yost's office said the bill "threatens to withhold needed federal funds from Ohio in an effort to handcuff the state's authority to make changes to its tax structure and economic policy." Yost is asking the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio to bar the enforcement of the provision.

CORONAVIRUS

Vaccine eligibility expanded to those age 40 and up on Friday, March 19 and will open to all Ohioans over the age of 16 starting Monday, March 29, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during a press conference at Ohio’s first mass vaccination clinic in Cleveland. The announcement puts Ohio ahead of President Joe Biden’s target for states to open vaccination to all adults by May 1, something DeWine’s office said it was on pace to beat when Biden announced it last week.

Gov. Mike DeWine continued discussion on the forthcoming expansions in vaccine eligibility Thursday, saying the state is expected to receive around 500,000 doses in the week access opens to everyone age 16 and older on Monday, March 29. Around 2.4 million Ohioans have received at least a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, he added, and that is increasing by 40,000 to 60,000 people per day. The state is currently receiving around 400,000 doses per week, and DeWine again said they are in "a race" against new strains of the virus.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Ohio Third Frontier Commission recently approved $72.7 million in funding to provide capital for startup companies, advance medical technology and support of a new high school tech internship pilot program, according to a release from the Development Services Agency (DSA).

ELECTIONS 2021

Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday announced the selection of two previously set election days to hold the special election for the 11th Congressional District vacancy: Tuesday, Aug. 3 is the date for the primary election for the seat, while Tuesday, Nov. 2, the General Election day, will be the date for the election for the congressional seat vacancy. The seat opened up after former U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Warrensville Heights) was confirmed as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODFJS) announced more Ohioans will be eligible to collect Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and it is working to implement provisions of the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was signed March 11. ODJFS highlighted recently issued guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor expanding eligibility for PUA, which supports self-employed individuals, independent contractors and others who don't qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services released the delayed January unemployment numbers March 12, showing an unemployment rate of 5.3%, down from a revised 5.6% in December, as the state added 28,900 jobs. While monthly figures are normally released on the third Friday of every month, the February numbers are delayed every year as states and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conduct their annual benchmarking process to review and update previous data. ODJFS will release the February data on Friday, March 26.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Pandemic relief legislation, which passed the Senate Finance Committee and the full chamber this week, provides millions of dollars for a variety of businesses and helps with rent and utility bills. The chamber passed SB108 (S. Huffman-Romanchuk), offering funding to bars, restaurants and entertainment venues; SB109 (Manning-Rulli), offering funds to businesses, fairs, child care providers and veterans homes; and SB110 (O’Brien-Wilson), offering rent and utility assistance. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said a fourth bill, SB111 (Blessing-Brenner), providing funding to schools, should pass soon.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

It's unclear whether Ohio townships will directly receive funds from the American Rescue Plan (HR1319) because of changes made between the U.S. House and U.S. Senate versions of the legislation, according to the Ohio Township Association. The bill, which allocates $350 billion to states and local governments, was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden.

TAXATION

The House Ways and Means Committee amended tax conformity measures SB18 (Roegner-Schaffer) by incorporating HB124 (Roemer-B. Young), regarding pass-through entity withholding and business income taxes, and including the option for people to have state income taxes withheld from their unemployment benefits. The committee tabled several other amendments from Democrats, but Chairman Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) said more changes would be coming thanks to the new federal stimulus legislation.

The House Ways and Means Committee heard interested party testimony on HB157 (Jordan-Edwards), the bill to repeal municipal income tax withholding rules regarding the pandemic that were enacted in 133-HB197 (Powell-Merrin). Opponents also submitted written-only comments, raising similar concerns to those who spoke against the bill in the prior hearing.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

For the week ending March 13, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 115,174 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is lower than last week's, when the department reported 128,161. ODJFS said potentially fraudulent claims are likely inflating the totals from this week and recent weeks. "Of the 115,174 initial claims reported this week, nearly 20,000 have been flagged for potential fraud," ODJFS said, urging individuals who suspect their identity was stolen to report the issue to the department as soon as possible. The total number of initial jobless claims filed in Ohio over the last 52 weeks (3,028,950) is more than the combined total of those filed from 2014 through 2019, according to ODJFS.

WORKFORCE

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, in his role as director of the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation, announced the results of the January round of the TechCred program Tuesday and the forthcoming start of the April application window.

Ohio Development Services Agency Director Lydia Mihalik discussed the efforts of the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation during a House Economic and Workforce Development Committee meeting Wednesday, saying the state is leveraging its "strong business climate, low cost of living and access to a skilled workforce." OWT is connecting businesses with training and education institutions to fulfill the needs of job seekers and businesses, she continued, and also works with state agencies and local partners to build a skilled, productive workforce.