Week in Review > Week In Review 10-16-23

Posted by on October 16th, 2023


Attorney General (AG) Dave Yost says his primary duty is not to government agencies or officers but to Ohioans as his “true client.” Yost argues that he is entitled to decide the state’s legal position in the State Board of Education dispute with “one voice,” even if it means dismissing board members opposing Gov. Mike DeWine’s new Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) as purported plaintiffs. In a brief filed late Thursday in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, Yost says attorneys general are in a unique position to represent opposing government parties in the same dispute — including the Ohio governor and state board members — without violating an attorney’s legal and ethical duties. He was responding to the formal question framed by Judge Karen Phipps Wednesday, namely whether the Ohio Attorney General’s Office should be disqualified from representing either party in board members’ complaint against the governor. “Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution and to eliminate distraction, the attorney general has appointed outside special counsel to represent defendants in this matter going forward,” he says, referring DeWine’s legal position in the DEW/State Board dispute to private attorneys.

In addition, the chief counsel and ethics officer for the AG’s office, Bridget Coontz, is no longer allowed to represent anyone in litigation over changes to the powers and duties of the State Board of Education (SBOE), Phipps ruled. As Phipps’ order notes, Coontz had described to the court how Yost’s office addresses conflicts of interest when representing state clients who are at odds, noting the process of setting up an “ethics screen” between lawyers to restrict communications and maintain digital security of files. In a brief on the attorney general’s bid to substitute as counsel for board members, Coontz told the court she had already set up such an ethics screen. However, a few days later, Phipps’ staff attorney was inadvertently copied on an email Coontz sent to Julie Pfeiffer, an attorney in Yost’s office representing the state. “Coontz asserted that implementing the screen she described in the reply she filed on Sept. 29, 2023 did not become necessary because she determined that a conflict of interest did not exist. The court strongly disagrees,” Phipps wrote.


Rep. Steve Demetriou (R-Chagrin Falls) unveiled his HB295, dubbed the “Innocence Act,” at a Wednesday news conference at the Statehouse. He said HB295 is modeled after bills in Louisiana, Utah and other states that aim to protect children from pornographic content online. The bill would specifically force pornographic websites to verify a user’s age as at least 18 years old through “the use of a commercial age verification system … or public or private transactional data.” HB295 also targets producers of pornographic deepfake videos that superimpose a person’s image over a pornographic scene. The bill makes hosting such videos online a felony, and it also allows for the person whose image was used in the deepfake images to bring a lawsuit against the host website.

There were 112 domestic violence fatalities in the year ending June 30, 2023, including 22 youths, according to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network’s (ODVN’s) latest count. The number of deaths of adults and young people is unchanged from last year’s report. The 2023 count also tied 2022 for the highest number of youth fatalities since the group began counting fatalities from domestic violence. The 2023 report counts domestic violence related deaths from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023. The latest report, which is the group’s eighth, found 112 fatalities across 82 cases. This included 78 deceased victims and 34 deceased perpetrators. Fifty-two of the fatalities were female and 60 were male, marking the first time since ODVN began counting that male deaths have exceeded female deaths. The report “shows a pattern of continuous, unceasing violence — with guns the weapon of choice in most cases,” ODVN said. The number of family annihilation cases doubled over 2021. There were 13 murder suicides, six multiple murder suicides and at least three attempted murder suicides.


The nation added 336,000 non-agricultural jobs in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the national unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.8 percent. Among major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.8 percent), adult women (3.1 percent), teenagers (11.6 percent), Whites (3.4 percent), Blacks (5.7 percent), Asians (2.8 percent) and Hispanics (4.6 percent) showed little or no change in September. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 1.2 million in September. The long-term unemployed accounted for 19.1 percent of all unemployed persons. Both the labor force participation rate of 62.8 percent and the employment-population ratio of 60.4 percent were unchanged for the month.


Dozens of people urged Wednesday that the House Higher Education Committee reject restrictions on trans people’s restroom use, many of them arguing it is discriminatory, exploits fears and overlooks greater threats to safety. The committee heard opponent testimony through the morning on HB183 (Bird-Lear), which requires schools and institutions of higher education to designate specific bathroom and locker room facilities for the exclusive use of either biological males or females.

A majority of members of the State Board of Education met Tuesday morning. Whether they had a meeting, however, is a matter of interpretation. They called the roll, said the Pledge of Allegiance, elected District 5 member Brendan Shea as temporary chair and even voted to enter executive session to discuss personnel and legal matters. But board President Paul LaRue had postponed the meeting last week. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) chief of staff, Jessica Voltolini, told Shea beforehand that on the advice of attorneys she’d directed agency staff not to help facilitate the meeting. The Ohio Channel feed that usually livestreams board meetings was offline. The small audience of onlookers consisted mostly of journalists. LaRue had announced postponement of the October board meeting Friday, citing the litigation over the board’s role in K-12 governance. But 11 board members wrote a letter over the weekend objecting to his decision, saying it failed to follow board procedures and indicating they intended to meet as scheduled Tuesday morning. Joining Shea Tuesday in the usual ODE conference room in the ODE building were members Christina Collins, Walt Davis, Teresa Fedor, Diana Fessler, John Hagan, Katie Hofmann, Tom Jackson, Meryl Johnson, Antoinette Miranda and Michelle Newman. All but Davis are elected members.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Thursday the opening of an application period for organizations interested in serving as intermediaries in the High School Tech Internship program. He previously announced up to 535 students will participate in the program. The program aims to develop Ohio’s workforce by putting students into internships in tech-related roles. Businesses can be reimbursed up to $5,000 per student they employ through the program. Organizations selected as intermediaries will serve as a point of contact between the businesses and education entities during the internship process. They will include economic development organizations, workforce and education partnerships, and other community-based groups. Interested organizations can apply through Friday, Nov. 3 at 5 p.m.


With football season returning, Ohio’s sports gambling numbers are increasing. Sports betting total gross receipts (handle) was $378.8 million in August, up from $331.1 million in July, according to the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC). While the handle is up month-over-month, it’s still down significantly from earlier in the year, when sports bettors placed $1.1 billion in wagers in January, $639.1 million in February, $737.2 million in March, $520.6 million in April and $446.2 million in May. Taxable revenue from sports betting was $40.8 million in August, up from $37.1 million in July. Operating transfers to the Lottery Profits Education Fund totaled $126.2 million in August 2023, up from $110.2 million in August 2022.


House leadership has not yet begun the process of filling the vacancy created when former Rep. Bob Young (R-North Canton) officially resigned his Ohio House seat earlier this week on Monday, Oct. 2 as he faces domestic violence charges. House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) cited changes the district underwent during the recent redistricting process. Young represented Ohio House District 32 in Northeast Ohio. However, the Summit County Republican Party has taken applications for their recommendation on Young’s replacement, which will be sent to Stephens, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

Stephens addressed several bills following Tuesday’s House Rules and Reference Committee, calling the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” HB51 (Loychik-Schmidt), “very important.” “The purpose of that bill is to make sure that Ohioans are under Ohio’s gun laws, and so that if there is federal gun laws that change that the federal government will be the one who’s required to enforce those … [for] local agencies, so I think it’s really important,” he said.

Asked about HB120 (Weinstein-Brennan), legislation to repeal subsidies established in 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), including to the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC), Stephens said the bill is still in the Rules and Reference Committee and “might be there for a while.”

Calling it a “conundrum” for the panel, Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) Chair Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) announced that three rule packages submitted by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) will be put on hold due to uncertainty with the agency. Biennial budget bill HB33 (Edwards) replaced ODE with a new Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) that will be led by a gubernatorial appointee. However, members of the State Board of Education have filed a lawsuit against the law, arguing that it violates legislative procedure and the 1953 constitutional amendment creating the board. A Franklin County judge has now delayed the implementation of the budget provisions until at least Friday, Oct. 20. Callender said the rules were initiated when ODE still had the authority to create them. He also noted that with the court order, it is unclear what authority ODE has to issue the rules and for JCARR to review them. He said he is asking the Legislative Service Commission to review the issue and report back to the committee, and they will also seek clarity from the court.

Legislation that would prohibit participatory budgeting in cities will not pass before Cleveland residents vote on a “People’s Budget” charter amendment this November, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said Tuesday. Speaking with reporters following the House Rules and Reference Committee, Stephens said SB158 (Cirino) has “constitutional issues with home rule.” “However, I will say this — as a former county auditor, I think it’s very important that taxpayers’ money is very transparent, and that there are purchasing controls that elected officials have … they are the ones who have to face the voters,” he said. The House Government Oversight Committee heard testimony opposing SB158 on Tuesday, with witnesses asking lawmakers to allow Clevelanders to make their own decision about the policy.

Both the House and the Senate this week passed resolutions stating their support of Israel in the wake of surprise attacks by Hamas. Lawmakers spoke out during the session about the reported atrocities committed by the terrorist group and discussed the importance of supporting Israel as an ally. A number of lawmakers also noted trips they took to the country as part of a bipartisan group of state officials and legislators. The Senate unanimously passed SR214 (Roegner-Brenner) while the House approved HR292 (Pizzulli-Isaacsohn) 86-1.

The Senate also passed the following three bills:

– SB75 (Blessing), which allows two or more municipalities to create a joint economic development district without involving a township, passed 28-1.

– SB96 (Lang-Wilson), which allows employers to post certain labor law notices on the Internet, passed unanimously.

– SB113 (Hoagland), which prohibits a person who fails to comply with the Military Selective Service System from holding a public office or employment with the state, passed 25-4.

Asked about Reynolds’ SB147, which until earlier this week had included provisions to close primaries to those who did not register with a political party before the election, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he has not read her bill but indicated he did not see the need to close primaries in the state at the moment. “I don’t think passing legislation that would keep people from voting because they didn’t declare by the appropriate time is necessarily the way to go,” he said. “I do think it would help if we had some sort of registration system” for political affiliation.

The House voted 58-26 to approve property valuation changes in HB187 (Bird-Hall), an attempt to moderate property tax increases resulting from a substantial runup in home values hitting many counties. “Inflationary pressures have affected the real estate market … it’s gone crazy. In my home county of Clermont, they have increased 43 percent in one year,” said Rep. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond), one of the joint sponsors of the bill.

Also passing the House unanimously Wednesday were the following:

– HB74 (Hall-Lightbody), meant to give lawmakers more information about the condition of state technology systems and opportunities for upgrades and efficiencies.

– HB188 (Brewer-Baker), to designate the week beginning of Thursday of the second full week of June as “Ohio Nursing Assistants Week.”

– HB162 (Klopfenstein-Kick), which designates March 21 as “Agriculture Day,” the week beginning the Saturday before the last Saturday of February as “FFA Week,” Oct. 12 as “Farmer’s Day,” and the second Saturday of March as “4-H Week.”

Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee) along with Reps. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) and Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) filed a lawsuit in Franklin County against House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) over control of the House Republican caucus’s campaign fund, the Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA). The lawsuit, which also names OHRA Co-Chair Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester) and J. Matthew Yuskewich, who serves as the OHRA treasurer, argues that Stephens is falsely claiming to be in control of the account “solely on being elected speaker.” It is the latest chapter in the ongoing feud between Merrin and Stephens after Stephens put together a coalition of Republicans and the House Democratic Caucus to be elected speaker over Merrin despite Merrin having won the internal caucus vote.

In other action, the House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out HB203 (Roemer-Sweeney) which deals timely payment of contractors; the House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB111 (LaRe-K. Miller) which addresses penalties for domestic violence offenses; the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB250 (Miranda-Richardson) which revises the Military Enlistment diploma seal; and the House Public Health Policy Committee reported out SB34 (Schaffer), month designations.



Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor (ODHE) Randy Gardner, who has spent nearly four decades in state government, informed Gov. Mike DeWine that he intends to retire at the end of the year on Sunday, Dec. 31. Gardner was among DeWine’s early cabinet appointments. Before he was tapped to lead ODHE, he had served in the Ohio House or Ohio Senate since 1985 and was the Senate majority floor leader at the time of his appointment. Before he was elected to the General Assembly, he taught high school history and government.

The Biden-Harris administration announced Wednesday that an additional 125,000 Americans have been approved for $9 billion in student debt relief as borrowers resume repayments this month on their debt after a three-year pause because of the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education said the additional forgiveness comes from fixes the agency made to the income-driven repayment (IDR) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) as well as granting automatic relief for borrowers with total and permanent disabilities. The announcement includes 31,290 Ohioans with nearly $2.15 billion in student loan debt, according to the department.

Posted by on October 16th, 2023

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