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Week in review, March 28, 2021

Written on Mar 26, 2021

Provided by Hannah News Service

AUDITOR OF STATE

The Auditor of State's Office released Thursday the results of the first year of its Star Rating System (StaRS) which grades public entities on their compliance with public records law. Launched in November 2019, StaRS found that of the 2,812 public entities audited, 41% were noncompliant with public records law. The release aligned with national Sunshine Week.

BUSINESS/CORPORATE

Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that paperwork for 16,025 new businesses had been filed with his office's Business Services Division in February. The filings mark a 41% increase from February 2020.

CENSUS

The state of Ohio is appealing a U.S. district court's decision dismissing Ohio's lawsuit to compel the Biden administration to complete the decennial census by the date originally set for March 31, 2021. Federal Judge Thomas Rose ruled doubly Wednesday that Attorney General Dave Yost lacked standing and the court lacked jurisdiction to take up the request.

CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Mike DeWine Monday announced some Ohio residents as young as age 16 may be able to receive vaccines in certain areas where providers still have appointments available, calling it an "exception" rather than a change in policy. All Ohio adults age 16 and older will be eligible to receive the vaccine starting Monday, March 29, but DeWine said speaking to health departments and vaccine providers, he was told some places in the state have more slots than demand. He said this week, his administration is telling providers that if they have slots available and they feel it is necessary to fill those slots, then those providers have permission to open up vaccinations to everyone.

Auditor of State Keith Faber Tuesday released a performance audit of the Ohio Department of Health's management of COVID-19 data, with the audit finding minimal errors and the information presented to Ohioans to be generally correct during the pandemic, but suggesting seven recommendations to improve data collection and reporting in the future. Faber's office said the audit was part of a multi-state effort to determine the quality of various approaches to COVID-19 data collection, reporting, and monitoring across the country.

Orders formalizing new long-term care facility visitation and COVID testing policies outlined Monday by Gov. Mike DeWine have been signed by Ohio Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud, the administration announced. DeWine announced the loosening of visitation restrictions at his Monday COVID briefing. The four orders signed by McCloud cover access to nursing homes, access to residential care facilities, and testing of staff and residents at such facilities.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday vetoed SB22 (McColley-Johnson), legislation that curtails emergency powers he’s used during the pandemic, but lawmakers successfully mustered the three-fifths majority vote needed in both chambers to override him Wednesday. DeWine had made one last attempt at convincing lawmakers to back down, sending them a five-page letter Monday that outlined his concerns the legislation would blunt the ability to handle future crises involving Ebola, food-borne illness and other threats. House Clerk Brad Young announced that the bill was officially filed with the Ohio Secretary of State's Office on Wednesday, meaning the bill becomes effective in 90 days. Asked whether the administration would take legal action to block SB22's implementation, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said, "Too early to tell if there will be legal action yet. The governor will review with legal counsel."

Gov. Mike DeWine shared more details Thursday about upcoming mass vaccination clinics in several Ohio cities and said once eligibility opens to everyone Monday, the state will become "more aggressive" in altering vaccine distribution based on local demand. The state will open vaccine eligibility to all Ohioans age 16 and up starting Monday, March 29, after months of gradually adding new age ranges, qualifying health conditions and occupational criteria for access.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Ohio Development Services Agency announced Friday that it will distribute grants totaling more than $5 million to support 11 projects under the Community Development Critical Infrastructure Program. Funding will go to improvements in flood and drainage, water and sewer facilities as well as a bridge replacement.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

For the week ending March 20, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 69,368 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is significantly lower than last week's, when the department reported 115,174 jobless claims. ODJFS said potentially fraudulent claims are likely inflating the totals from this week and recent weeks.

According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, if the January employment rebound after the initial COVID-19 disruptions continue throughout 2021 in a similar magnitude, total employment is predicted to increase at an annual rate of 0.23% for the next six months in Ohio.

ENERGY/UTILITIES

Gov. Mike DeWine appointed former Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French as a new member and chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Her term will run through April 10, 2024 if confirmed by the Senate.

TAXATION

The U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced that the federal income tax filing due date for individuals for the 2020 tax year will be extended from Thursday, April 15 to Monday, May 17. The Ohio Department of Taxation announced it would grant the same extension for the state’s income tax and school district income tax filing deadline.

The Ohio Department of Taxation Criminal Investigations Division is scheduled for an onsite assessment as part of a program to gain re-accreditation status by verifying it meets professional standards identified by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Board of Directors followed last month's 7.1% annual rate reduction across all private employers -- Gov. Mike DeWine's third straight, eclipsing every year of the previous administration -- in a vote Friday to allocate savings among 500-plus industries. Some will see individual premium hikes of 0.02 - 8.9% while many more will enjoy rate cuts as high as 0.07 to 41.1% beginning July 1. Actuarial Committee Chairman Terry Jacobs explained that last month's announcement reflects an actual decrease of 15% in the average private employer base rate, which is then adjusted with BWC's 60% hike in administrative charges to employers, yielding the net reduction of 7.1%.