Week in Review > Week in Review 1-15-24

Posted by on January 15th, 2024

AUDITOR OF STATE

Auditor Keith Faber’s office recently released the final report from its Special Investigations Unit on improper spending by Bellbrook-Sugar Creek Local Schools in support of a levy campaign, a case that prompted criminal convictions and recovery findings of more than $8,000. The investigation began in 2019, prompted by district resident complaints and a referral from the attorney general. It found use of the school district newsletter and spending on postcards that promoted passage of a levy, as well as spending on consulting contracts.

FY24-25 BUDGET

Ohio’s December General Revenue Fund tax receipts came in 11.5 percent or $263.7 million under estimates for the month, according to preliminary figures released Friday by the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). However, OBM went on to note, “Through the first six months of the fiscal year, tax receipts are essentially at estimate, just $18.9 million or -0.1 percent under forecast.” The Personal Income Tax (PIT) accounted for the shortfall, coming in $266.8 million or 28.4 percent below the estimate for the month. OBM attributed the shortfall to “significant taxable year 2022 refunds. Excluding refunds, income tax receipts were $35.1 million (3.5 percent) above estimate.” The auto sales tax collections were also below the December estimates by $3.5 million or 2.4 percent. This underperformance was partially offset by the non-auto sales tax collections that were $12.2 million or 1.1 percent over estimates and the Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) that was also over estimates by $2.2 million or 11.1 percent.

CHILDREN/FAMILIES

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Friday announced that the Public Health Fund of Ohio (PHFO) has awarded $350,000 to seven suicide prevention coalitions across Ohio. The coalitions in Cuyahoga, Darke, Hamilton, Highland/Pike, Licking, Logan, and Lucas counties each received $50,000 to be used for suicide prevention strategies and approaches aimed at helping youth and young adults ages 10 to 24. More information about PHFO can be found at http://tinyurl.com/5y7mkjzk.

Members of the House Minority Caucus unveiled legislation Tuesday requiring the state to regulate the commercialization of “kidfluencers,” or children with a profitable social media presence. Democrats said not all parents have their kids’ best interests at heart and suggested some homeschoolers are “monetizing” their children to support themselves. Reps. Michele Grim (D-Toledo) and Lauren McNally (D-Youngstown) gathered with former child actress and current performer Alyson Stoner at the Statehouse to introduce the “Kidfluencer Protection Act.” “Without state laws to say otherwise, social media platforms are the new path for turning unregulated child labor into profit,” she said, noting the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 had established long ago that kids are not an “extra paycheck” or an extra set of hands.

EDUCATION

State Board of Education (SBOE) members unanimously oppose a proposed move from downtown Columbus to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) campus in Reynoldsburg, about 14 miles to the east. Such a move could actually run afoul of state law establishing board headquarters in “the seat of state government,” according to a resolution board members passed to express their formal opposition. A spokesperson for the Department of Administrative Services, which handles real estate for state agencies, said a decision on the move is not yet final and that DAS was not aware of board opposition before Monday. Paul Craft, on the job about a week as the new state superintendent, told board members he’d learned of the plan directly from DAS Director Kathleen Madden. He said the cost of using the ODAg space would be comparable to the roughly $287,000 annual cost of the current space at the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) and would come with the benefit of ample parking. However, he expressed concern at losing the “synergy” of sharing space with DEW and the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) at 25 S. Front St. in Columbus.

Later in the week, Gov. Mike DeWine was asked for his thoughts on the proposed move from downtown Columbus, he said he hasn’t thought much about it. “I don’t really have any thoughts about it. You know, we have a department in the state, they manage where people’s offices are. It’s not something I micromanage. It’s not something I get involved in, quite candidly. This is what they’re talking about doing. We’ll kind of see where that discussion goes,” DeWine said.

Also on Monday, Craft discussed with the board his goals and a potential process for his annual evaluation. Among those goals are tackling the board’s $2 million funding shortfall in FY25 as well as ensuring key board responsibilities are performed in a timely and professional manner and in a way that builds trust and support for the board and building or rebuilding relationships with other stakeholders in the educational infrastructure, including the governor’s office, General Assembly, DEW, ODHE and various professional associations.

State law on administrative procedure and professional discipline cases generally does not allow SBOE to reconsider past actions that permanently barred people from education professions, a top teacher conduct official told the board. Spurred by a proposal from board member John Hagan, the board has been exploring a “second-chance initiative” to revisit the permanent denial or revocation of licenses for people whose conduct did not trigger a mandatory permanent sanction. Hagan has cited workforce shortages and the general principle of providing second chances in a “civilized society” as reasons to pursue the change. Kelly Edwards, director of the board’s Office of Professional Conduct, gave an overview of the board adjudicatory process for disciplinary cases involving education licensees.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

On a straight party-line vote, the House Wednesday voted 65 to 28 to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of transgender issues bill HB68 (Click). The bill bans transgender girls from participating in girls’ and women’s sports and gender affirming treatments for minors, including surgery and hormone therapies. During Wednesday’s debate, Republicans argued that it protects parental rights and children and that children need to grow up before making life-changing medical decisions, while Democrats said it would take away parental rights and health care decisions of Ohioans.

In other action, the House unanimously passed HB229 (Sweeney-Patton), which would require health care practitioners to provide information on Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy to at risk-patients, and HB179 (Mathews-Stewart), addressing vicarious liability in tort actions. The lower chamber also passed HB184 (Bird-Brennan) regarding charitable solicitations 79-3 and HB258 (Carruthers), which increases fines for repeatedly selling tobacco products to minors.

The chamber also agreed to Senate amendments to budget corrections bill HB101 (Bird), said goodbye to Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), and seated her replacement, Beryl Brown Piccolantonio.

House Democrats chose a new member of their caucus from a political family, but will have to make another replacement soon after Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) resigned late Wednesday to become Summit County Clerk of Courts. Piccolantonio, the president of the Gahanna Jefferson Board of Education, replaces Lightbody. She had been the lone candidate to file to run for the 4th House District in December after Lightbody announced she would not seek re-election. Lighbtbody later announced she would resign her seat early, and that she intended to move out of state to spend more time with her family. Piccolantonio is the daughter of former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Brown, who swore her in, and former Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown.

Galonski, who had filed to run for Summit County Clerk of Courts in December, was appointed to the role by the Summit Couty Democratic Party. She announced her resignation from the House and appointment on social media Wednesday. She replaces Sandara Kurt, who had left the job early to become Akron Municipal Court Clerk.

Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) withdrew her name from the ballot and will not run for re-election this year, the Miami County Board of Elections confirmed Tuesday. Powell had filed by December’s deadline to run for re-election to the 80th District, which would be her third term. However, she withdrew her candidacy on Monday, according to the board. As the deadline has passed to file paperwork to run and the board has certified the candidates, she would be unable to refile if she chose to.

Members of the Ohio House Higher Education Committee Wednesday accepted a sub bill with minor changes for legislation requiring single-sex bathrooms at K-12 schools and colleges and universities across the state. The sub bill maintains the major provisions of HB183 (Bird-Lear), mandating schools and colleges to designate single-sex restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms, and prohibiting those institutions from allowing transgender students to use facilities aligned with their gender identity. The bill sponsors, Reps. Beth Lear (R-Galena) and Adam Bird (R-Cincinnati), appeared in committee to explain the “simple” changes in the sub bill, which committee members accepted without objection. Among the sub bill changes is one that aligns the definition of “biological sex” with the definition used in HB68 (Click), which is the “indication of male and female, including sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, gonads, and nonambiguous internal and external genitalia present at birth, without regard to an individual’s psychological, chosen, or subjective experience of gender.”

The newly-formed Joint Committee on Property Tax Review and Reform met for the first time Wednesday to learn more about the current state of property taxation in Ohio. The committee was created as a part of HB33 (Edwards) with the purpose of making recommendations on pending legislation related to property taxation. The committee is co-chaired by Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati) and Rep. Bill Roemer (R-Richfield), and Rep. Dan Troy (D-Willowick) is ranking member. Additional committee members include Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus), Sen. Sandra O’Brien (R-Rome), Sen. George Lang (R-West Chester), Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus), Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland), Rep. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) and Rep. Tom Young (R-Dayton). Roemer said the committee reflects the importance of property tax to everyone who lives in Ohio but conceded “there’s probably only two people in the state of Ohio who understand property taxes, and they disagree.”

The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) cleared all of the rules on its agenda Monday without any objections from the panel, though one legislator demanded more action from the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to address its recent issues in its rules. Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) singled out DYS after the reading of the agenda, saying while he did not have any specific questions with the agency’s rule package addressing local detention centers that was before lawmakers, he has concerns that rule changes have not addressed any problems within the system identified in a recent investigation by USA TODAY Ohio Bureau.

The Senate Select Committee on Housing received testimony from over 80 witnesses at its hearing in Cleveland Thursday. This is the latest in regional hearings held by this select committee.

Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) has been selected as the 2024 interim Ohio state lead for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL), replacing Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), who resigned from the Legislature. Smith previously served in the role in both 2018 and 2020.

The Capitol Cafe in the Ohio Statehouse has a new operator: Feed Your Soul Catering under the direction of Chef Frankie Bernert will now be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The restaurant, on the ground floor of the Capitol building in downtown Columbus, offers a breakfast and lunch menu that includes omelets, crepes, sandwiches, soups, salads, sweets and much more, including fresh coffee.

In other legislative action, the House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out both SB56 (Roegner), which would enter Ohio into the Interstate Massage Compact, and SB90 (Roegner), which would enter Ohio into the Social Work Licensure Compact.

GOVERNOR

As the state continues to implement budget policies that will change reading instruction across the state, Gov. Mike DeWine toured the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) Thursday, dropping in on a workshop to prepare state level trainers who will teach science of reading instruction to Ohio teachers. About a third of Ohio students do not read at grade level, DeWine said.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order (EO) Friday to immediately ban gender transition surgeries for minors in the state, while also updating reporters on the planned administrative rules first announced after he vetoed HB68 (Click). Regarding the executive order, DeWine said there is “very little” evidence those procedures have been performed on minors in Ohio, but this will take that issue off the table. In response to a press question, he added there is “no intention” the rule would prohibit surgery for a minor who does not have gender dysphoria and instead needs it for a condition such as cancer. He followed this EO up with a second one on Thursday that prohibits gender transition surgeries for minors from being performed in doctor’s offices — in addition to hospitals and ambulatory surgical facilities — following the State Medical Board of Ohio’s approval Wednesday of an emergency amendment to Ohio Administrative Code 4731-25-02 to that effect. DeWine’s order allows the rule amendment to take effect immediately.

Following Friday’s announcement, bill sponsor Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) issued a statement that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the ban as it takes effect immediately rather than in 90 days. However, he disputed DeWine’s statement about whether the surgeries are performed now, saying they happen “on a regular basis.” DeWine further said Friday morning that the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) would be filing rules for public comment and that they will be discussed “at length” with legislators and interested parties. The rules are meant to protect “children and adults” by ensuring “quality and consistency of care,” DeWine continued. Comments on the OhioMHAS rules are due by Friday, Jan. 19, while comments on the ODH rules are due by Monday, Feb. 5. The proposed OhioMHAS rules govern procedures for gender transition care in private psychiatric hospitals and community behavioral health settings, while the ODH rules impose reporting requirements and create quality standards for hospitals and ambulatory surgical facilities.

Planned Parenthood expressed alarm by the transgender health rules proposed by ODH and OhioMHAS. “This is the latest attempt by our lawmakers to undermine Ohioans’ right to bodily autonomy. These proposed rules are not based in science, and they go against recommendations from expert medical providers. Gender-affirming care is lifesaving care, full stop,” Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio President and CEO Erica Wilson-Domer said. “It is vital that those seeking care understand that these proposed rules have not taken effect and there is no change in the way our patients receive gender-affirming care at this time,” Wilson-Domer continued.

The HB68 (Click) veto override vote shows the House is more interested in winning elections than protecting the lives of children, LGBTQ+ leaders from across the state said Thursday. “They are willing to kill children in order to win their primary elections. They have no interest whatsoever in protecting or helping. Our children are a sacrifice to them. And it’s a sacrifice that they think is perfectly worth having,” said Minna Zelch, who serves on the leadership team of Trans Allies of Ohio.

Asked Thursday whether he would consider rolling back or tweaking administrative rules he announced following his veto of HB68 if the Senate also overrides his veto, DeWine responded the rules provide an “opportunity” to “hear what people have to say.” He continued that people on “both sides of the issue” agree on the importance of “quality” and “comprehensive” mental health care for individuals dealing with gender dysphoria. He said that after speaking with some state legislators over the weekend, he believes “a lot of their vote” had to do with the sports provisions in HB68, which ban transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s sports and require single-sex sports teams at schools and colleges and universities. He said the rules for athletes are not the reason he vetoed the bill and represent a “different issue” than the questions around health care services.

A woman who spontaneously miscarried a non-viable fetus into a toilet at her home will not be charged with felony abuse of a corpse after a grand jury in Trumbull County declined to return an indictment against Brittany Watts. Reproductive rights organizations from across the state applauded the grand jury’s decision on Thursday but said Watts never should have been forced to face the possibility of criminal charges in the first place.

The Ohio Board of Nursing (OBN) and the Department of Medicaid (ODM) Monday began the public input process for establishing standards for doula care in the state at a virtual stakeholders’ meeting. HB33 (Edwards) established a 13-member doula advisory board to establish rules for doula services and insurance reimbursement to help improve the health outcomes of mothers and children in Ohio. OBN is charged with developing and processing applications for doula certification and selecting and supporting a Certification Advisory Board. For billing and reimbursement purposes, ODM will require that doulas be OBN certified.

HIGHER EDUCATION

John Carroll University (JCU) recently announced the creation of a new College of Health. Former University Hospitals executive and JCU Director of Nursing and Strategic Healthcare Initiatives Dr. Melissa Cole has been named interim dean. JCU President Alan R. Miciak said the new college builds on an “existing interdisciplinary Jesuit curriculum. … Our College of Health will blend the social context and global health perspective of a Jesuit, liberal arts education with the strategic approach of a business education in the Boler College of Business to train the health care leaders of the future. We will train mission-driven clinicians, executives, and leaders in the health care industry to work in team settings and embrace the growing disparities in public health,” Miciak added.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran and several others joined the Ohio Juvenile Justice Working Group Tuesday, discussing behavioral health programs and health care coverage issues. Gov. Mike DeWine created the working group late last year to review safety, staffing, and other challenges in the juvenile justice system after affiliates of the USA TODAY Ohio Bureau published an investigation into the state’s youth prison system, finding youth deaths and injuries, high rates of recidivism, and significant understaffing. Corcoran discussed the overlap between youths involved in the juvenile justice and public assistance systems. Both groups have high rates of behavioral health issues such as conduct disorders, substance use disorders and ADHD, among others, she said. She noted a substantial increase from 2016 to 2019 in foster care-connected youth using emergency rooms for behavioral health services.

PENSIONS

The Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) did not object Thursday to a proposed amendment to an omnibus education bill that would lower notice requirements on certain employees who retire and are immediately rehired, though it followed a staff recommendation that the amendment apply to all five pensions, not just the ones that deal with school employees and teachers. The proposed amendment to SB168 (Reynolds), which has passed out of the Senate, would change the public notice requirements of a board or commission that employs a member of the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) or the School Employees Retirement System (SERS) who has retired and then is rehired to 30 days in the case of an urgent hiring need, rather than the current 60-day notice requirement.

Posted by on January 15th, 2024

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