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Week in Review: Sept. 5, 2021

Written on Sep 3, 2021

Provided by Hannah News Service

ELECTIONS

Secretary of State Frank LaRose traveled to the Franklin County Board of Elections Wednesday to promote an audit of the special congressional election that took place Tuesday, Aug. 3, for the 15th Congressional District, saying it will help to prove that elections in Ohio are secure and accurate. LaRose said he viewed the audit as an opportunity to do some civics education and highlight the audits that are required after elections to show that the ballots were counted accurately.

Meanwhile, LaRose's office announced Wednesday that it has begun the supplemental process of removing recently inactive voter registrations from the system, citing the need to keep elections secure as well as following the requirements under current law. LaRose directed the 88 county boards of elections to begin a four-year process to identify registrations that have been inactive for at least two years, as well as registrations that appear in the National Change of Address database. Each of the identified registrations must be sent a confirmation notice informing the voter that activity must take place at some point over the next four years to remain active.

ELECTIONS 2022

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine Tuesday announced he would run for re-election to his current seat on the Court rather than seeking the position of chief justice, a campaign he had been exploring over the past year. His decision leaves Justice Sharon Kennedy as the top Republican candidate to succeed Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, who cannot run for re-election due to age limits. Justice Jennifer Brunner announced earlier this year that she would run for the Democratic nomination for the seat.

MARIJUANA/HEMP

In a short meeting Monday, the Ohio Ballot Board unanimously approved with no discussion a proposed initiated statute that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Attorney Don McTigue was the lone witness to appear before the panel, saying the proposed law fits the case law for issues to be certified as a singular measure because all of the provisions in the proposal relate in one way or another to the authorization, regulation, and control of adult use of cannabis.

REDISTRICTING/REAPPORTIONMENT

The Ohio Redistricting Commission hosted its final two public hearings of the week of Aug. 23 on Friday at the University of Akron and the Ohio State University (OSU) Mansfield campus. As in previous hearings, the vast majority of witnesses expressed their frustration with current district lines that split up counties and communities. Saying the state can do better, numerous witnesses asked the commission members to put partisanship aside and pursue a redistricting process that is fair and transparent, though some also cast doubt that Republican leadership would follow through on bipartisan district maps.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission Tuesday, Aug. 31 adopted rules that contain procedures for anyone to submit a redistricting plan for new General Assembly districts to the commission and heard one proposal from the Senate Democratic Caucus.

As expected, the first deadline in the Ohio Constitution of Sept. 1 for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to adopt new district maps for the Ohio House and Senate passed with no agreement, giving the panel a final deadline in two weeks to come up with new maps. However, since the commission did not adopt a bipartisan map by Wednesday's deadline, majority Republicans now have the option of adopting a four-year map by Wednesday, Sept. 15, if they cannot get the support of the two Democrats on the panel.

A group connected to former Republican legislators and policy staffers announced this week that it is launching a public effort "to review, examine, and score the constitutionality of proposed legislative and congressional maps proposed as part of the state's redistricting process." Renew Ohio, formed in 2013, said it has launched www.OhioMaps.org, where Ohioans will have the ability to review maps proposed to and by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. The group's board includes former Sen. Jeff Jacobson; Mike Dittoe, a former Ohio House chief of staff under Speaker Cliff Rosenberger; and Mike McGuire, a former Republican policy advisor for the Ohio House.

The Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission (OCRC) -- not related to the official commission -- said it has submitted its official findings to the state body in charge of redistricting for the Ohio General Assembly. The group, made up of academics, political party officials, and community officials has been holding public meetings around the state, in which it said it was gathering input from Ohio citizens on what they want to see in new legislative districts. They announced their proposed "unity maps" last month.

STATE GOVERNMENT

The Controlling Board Monday approved two items from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to extend contracts with firms that are helping the agency address unemployment compensation claims. The panel also approved new state labor agreements with two bargaining entities. The first is with about 4,000 employees represented by the Service Employees International Union District 1199, including nurses, social workers, physicians, and parole officers. The second is with the Unit 2 Association, representing 530 employees including natural resources and wildlife officers, gaming enforcement agents, tax enforcement agents, and other law enforcement officers employed by the state.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

The state of Ohio completed the process of paying off the nearly $1.5 billion it borrowed from the federal government to cover unemployment compensation costs during the pandemic over the week, following an announcement from Gov. Mike DeWine Wednesday that the process had started. The state used a large chunk of its portion of American Rescue Plan Act dollars to fully pay off the loan, as provided in HB168 (Fraizer). Repayment of the loan began on Monday and required several cooperative steps between the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Office of Budget and Management. These included certifying the debt by OBM and transferring the funds by OBM to the Ohio Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The final transfer from the state of Ohio to the U.S. Department of the Treasury was expected to be completed by Thursday, Sept. 2.

The Ohio Supreme Court decided late Tuesday not to allow lower court proceedings to continue while justices consider a case on Gov. Mike DeWine's decision to terminate supplemental unemployment payments months ahead of when they were due to expire. In the meantime, Justice Pat DeWine, son of the governor, bowed out the case earlier this week, citing a need "to avoid any appearance of impropriety that might result from my father's public involvement in this matter." And former Attorney General Marc Dann, who initially filed the case, brought two more cases this week on this topic and is contemplating a third. Dann filed the first case in July, saying state law compels the administration to seek out all advantages available for Ohioans under the unemployment compensation system, making illegal Gov. DeWine's decision to terminate the extra $300 in payments under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program offered during the pandemic. The governor halted the payments in June, ahead of their official expiration Sept. 6.

For the week ending Aug. 28, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 13,740 initial traditional unemployment claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is higher than last week, when the department reported 8,182 traditional jobless claims. Ohioans filed 134,160 continued traditional unemployment claims last week, which was 2,003 fewer than the previous week.

UTILITIES

The Office of Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) Governing Board will not get the ad hoc meeting of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Nominating Council it is proposing if the council chairman has his way. Michael Koren, appointed by former Gov. John Kasich and head of the Nominating Council since 2013, has rebutted OCC Board Chairman Michael Watkin's request in a letter released Wednesday. Watkins had followed last November's unsuccessful request for a special meeting after former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo's resignation with a second letter in August. The Governing Board chair has questioned "whether or not the Nominating Council should continue to be led by the representative of the utilities" when proposing candidates to the governor: OCC has generally called for PUCO appointments to have experience in consumers affairs rather than energy and utilities.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

The BWC also issued a press release on Friday announcing that Gov. Mike DeWine has requested that the BWC Board of Directors expand the agency's December 2020 $5 billion dividend to approximately 3,000 employers who did not originally meet eligibility requirements. The requested expansion would allow for approximately $30 million to go to the previously ineligible employers who, through no fault of their own, could not perform their 2019 "true-up" in the timeframe for the dividend return, according to BWC.

WORKFORCE

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the second round of grants for the Industry Sector Partnership Thursday during an event at the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, a regional partner in Cleveland. The first awards were announced in January. The program helps bring Ohioans into the workforce pipeline, according to Husted's office, while also meeting the needs of local businesses. The new application period, which ends on Thursday, Sept. 30 at 3 p.m., will provide slightly more than $2.45 million for new and existing ISPs as a result of funding in the budget.