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Week in Review: May 23, 2021

Written on May 21, 2021

CORONAVIRUS

The state's new Vax-a-Million program requires vaccinated individuals to sign up to participate, Ohio Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud and Ohio Lottery Executive Director Pat McDonald announced Monday. Permanent Ohio residents who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine can sign up by visiting www.ohiovaxamillion.com or by calling 1-833-427-5634. The first winner will be announced Wednesday, May 26.

Vaccinations for Ohioans age 16 and older increased by over 28 percent during the weekend following the "Vax-a-Million" announcement, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) announced Thursday, reversing a 25 percent decline the previous weekend. May 14-16 represented the highest number of vaccinations for a Friday, Saturday and Sunday in four weeks, ODH said. Numbers are increasing for all age groups except those 80 and above who already had an existing high rate of vaccination.

State health orders have been revised in light of new CDC guidance that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask in most settings, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday, though businesses will still have the right to require they be worn by customers and employees. The CDC guidance released Thursday listed a new range of indoor and outdoor activities that can be safely performed by those who are fully vaccinated, including indoor dining, worship services and high-intensity exercise. Full vaccination is achieved two weeks after either a Johnson & Johnson shot or a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The CDC also said in its latest update that those who are fully vaccinated do not need to be tested or self-quarantine before or after travel within the U.S. but should monitor local conditions before traveling outside the country. They do not need to isolate or be tested after proximity to someone with the virus either, unless they show symptoms or work in a detention facility or homeless shelter. The CDC further noted that resumption of unmasked activities can be done "except where required" by federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations, including business and workplace guidance.

The state plan to lift almost all health orders, including mask requirements for those who have not been vaccinated, remains in place for June 2, but DeWine said again that this gives time for people to receive the vaccine before then. He also noted that not all Ohioans are eligible yet, and said those who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear masks.

Individuals in K-12 school buildings and child care facilities will continue to be required to wear facial coverings regardless of vaccination status until all health orders are completely lifted on Wednesday, June 2, DeWine said during a coronavirus briefing on Monday.

The governor signed HB6 (Roemer) Friday, which expands COVID-19 vaccine administration authority for various providers and also contains updates to laws on other professions related to the pandemic. The legislation included an emergency clause and took effect immediately upon DeWine's signature.

Gov. DeWine also signed into law two bills Monday to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funding to the hospitality industry, child care providers and other businesses. He signed SB108 (S. Huffman-Romanchuk), the bar, restaurant and hotel measure, and SB109 (Manning-Rulli), which provides assistance to businesses, fairs, child care providers and veterans homes, in an afternoon virtual signing ceremony, with sponsors of the legislation in attendance along with the sponsors of House companion measures and industry representatives.

ECONOMY

For the week ending May 15, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported 17,472 initial unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is fewer than last week's, when the department reported 19,926 new jobless claims.

ELECTIONS

Voting rights groups Monday held a press call to say that while they like a number of provisions in proposed elections reform bill HB294 (Seitz-Ray), they believe it will ultimately make voting more complicated for voters, poll workers and elections officials. Kayla Griffin, the Ohio director for All Voting is Local, said Ohioans still faced long lines last year for early voting and on Election Day, even though the state had a good elections audit. She said having six million cast a vote in last year's presidential election was "historic." While they agree it was a fair election in the state, voting advocates said they want the whole picture to be painted when considering new voting legislation.

House Republicans are working on an amendment to HB294 (Seitz-Ray) that will ensure the total number of early in-person voting hours remains the same when the last Monday before Election Day is removed, according to House Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati). Those six hours of early voting will be reallocated to days of the week prior to the General Election, Seitz said in response to questions from Reps. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) and Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) during the House Government Oversight Committee's first hearing on the House GOP's comprehensive elections reform bill on Wednesday.

The Senate likely will not introduce its own comprehensive election law bill, but probably has additional topics to add to what's now included in a House measure, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said Wednesday. "There are definitely things that we want to add" to HB294 (Seitz-Ray), he said.

ELECTIONS 2022

Secretary of State Frank LaRose Monday confirmed he will be running for re-election in 2022.

TAXATION

Before reporting the bill, the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday accepted a substitute version of HB157 (Jordan-Edwards), legislation that would modify the municipal income withholding rules for COVID-19-related work-from-home employees, which committee chair Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) called a "reasonable and rational compromise" for a very "complex issue." He stressed repeatedly that one of the main provisions "resolves the uncertainty" over when the 133-HB197 (Powell-Merrin) provisions would end by extending them to the end of the current calendar year, Dec. 31, 2021. He also repeatedly noted that the sub bill contains "no retroactive language" -- it deals with the current tax year only.