Week in Review > Week In Review 12-18-23

Posted by on December 18th, 2023

FY24-25 BUDGET

As the 2023 legislative year winds down in a more subdued fashion than often occurs, HB101 (Bird-Schmidt) became a “Christmas tree” of sorts, albeit a four-foot version rather than the chock-full Christmas trees of years past. Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) explained that the substitute version of HB101 contains a number of corrections to the FY24-25 operating budget passed in HB33 (Edwards). The sub bill also, he explained, removes one provision from the original version of HB101 that would have permitted one county to use lodging tax revenues for a purpose other than hotels and tourism. The bill went on to clear the Senate unanimously but was not brought up in the House, with Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) saying they needed more time to study it and there was no hurry to get it done.

CHILDREN/FAMILIES

Legislation adding requirements around notification to parents of mental and physical health services their children are receiving as well as around “sexuality content” in schools drew a wave of opposition in Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee, with many witnesses warning that the legislation would increase safety risks for LGBTQ+ students. The second hearing on HB8 (Swearingen-Carruthers), dubbed the “parents’ bill of rights,” drew testimony, both written and in-person, from 63 individuals, with the vast majority opposing the bill.

EDUCATION

Buckeye Valley Local Schools Superintendent Paul Craft will become the next state superintendent effective Jan. 1, 2024 after a vote Tuesday by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Craft won overwhelming majority support from board members in a vote between him and fellow finalist Jeffrey Greenley, the superintendent of Belpre City Schools, and the resolution to formally hire Craft then passed unanimously. Greenley received two votes for his candidacy, from members Christina Collins and Michelle Newman, versus 15 for Craft. Julia Simmerer, a Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) official who had also been named a finalist along with Craft and Greenley, was interviewed Tuesday as well. Per the resolution adopted by the board, Craft will begin at a salary of $190,000.

SBOE member Christina Collins will resign her position at year’s end, she announced on social media Wednesday. Collins posted the resignation letter she sent to board President Paul LaRue and Vice President Martha Manchester, announcing her departure effective Sunday, Dec. 31. A Medina resident, she was elected in 2020 to represent District 7. Gov. Mike DeWine will fill the vacancy resulting from the resignation.

State Board of Education (SBOE) members said Monday they feel left out of the loop following the recent K-12 governance transition, though one member said he’d gotten personal assurance from incoming DEW Director Steve Dackin that he wants to maintain ties with the body. Members asked why they weren’t getting invitations to events in their districts as had previously been the case. Board member Brendan Shea said colleague Diana Fessler, who was not at the meeting, shared with him she’d not been asked to attend the recent Milken Educator Awards presentation recognizing Ohio Hi-Point Career Center’s Ryan Gilbert. Board President Paul LaRue said he’d likewise not been notified of that. “I read about it in Hannah News. I was not made aware of it,” he said.

The Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC) and numerous districts throughout Ohio were dealing with online threats over the weekend, with the state determining some were not credible but advising vigilance nonetheless. “The OSSC is actively working with the Statewide Terrorism Analysis and Crime Center and Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as schools and local law enforcement to support their efforts in investigation of these threats. While some of the threats have been determined to be false through law enforcement investigation, the OSSC takes all threats to schools seriously and recommends that schools and first responders do the same,” said a statement from OSSC, an arm of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS).

DEW is accepting applications from eligible vendors for high-quality core curriculum and instructional materials for English language arts, grade preK-5. Phase 1 applications were due Wednesday, Dec. 13. The department said it is conducting a phased review process for eligible vendors with materials that meet identified criteria and include instruction on foundational skills instruction in preK-5. Information is available on the department’s website, at https://tinyurl.com/bjt24zj2 , about the criteria and process for establishing a list of high-quality core curriculum and instructional materials, as well as information about applications.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) recently announced plans to distribute free COVID-19 tests to schools across the country. In a letter sent to local education agencies (LEAs), school districts were encouraged to order tests directly from the federal government to be made available to students, parents, staff and school communities. “The Biden-Harris administration remains a committed partner with schools in keeping our students and teachers safe and healthy,” said USDOE Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development Roberto Rodriguez. “These self tests are easy to use and can play an important role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. We encourage schools to make use of these free resources to safeguard students, parents and staff throughout the 2023-24 school year.” All school districts are now able to order tests directly from the federal government, the department said. Schools can learn more about the program at https://tinyurl.com/nh96beu7.

Teachers in a nationwide study recently told researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) what strategies they think would work best to deal with student violence against educators, rating suspending or expelling students as the least effective way of addressing violence, despite the popularity of “zero tolerance” policies in many school districts. Instead, teachers rated prevention policies, such as counseling for troubled students and improving school climate, as the best strategy for dealing with violence.

Fourteen rural Ohio school districts, and their corresponding counties and townships, will share more than $2.1 million from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry’s Trees to Textbooks program, which distributes revenue from the harvest of timber within Ohio’s state forests. The Division of Forestry visited the Northwest Local School District and the Vinton County Local School District recently to deliver checks to school administrators and talk with the students about the importance of trees and forest fire prevention.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) told reporters during a roundtable held Thursday in the Riffe Center that he thinks it is time to revisit term limits but said he does not know what that would look like. Stephens blamed some of the chaos and leadership fights in the Legislature in recent years on the high turnover due to term limits, noting that in most sessions around a quarter of the House members are new to the chamber. He also remarked how lawmakers like him can become speaker after only four years in the Legislature. He said that there’s “a lot of people thinking about a constitutional amendment, and I think it’s something that should be looked into.”

The House Wednesday voted 62-26 to pass HB93 (Johnson-McClain), which would make it more difficult for local governments to collect unpaid utility bills from landlords whose tenants were supposed to pay the bills.

The House also passed the following bills:

– SB91 (Schaffer), which requires state officials and employees of a state agency to report alleged fraud, theft in office or misuse of public money to the inspector general. The bill passed 90-0.

– HB56 (Plummer-White), which increases penalties for willfully fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle. The bill passed 83-6.

– HB111 (LaRe-K. Miller), which creates a presumption for a prison term for third-degree felony domestic violence. The bill passed 89-0.

– HB141 (LaRe-Robb Blasdel), which prohibits a health benefit plan from imposing cost sharing for occupational therapy, physical therapy or chiropractic services that is more than the cost sharing for an office visit to a primary care physician or osteopath physician. The bill passed 80-8.

– HB147 (Fowler-A. Miller), which deals with teacher licensure revocation and teacher hiring practices. The bill passed 84-4.

– HB241 (J. Miller-K. Miller), which deals with filling vacant police department positions. The bill passed 90-0.

– HB305 (Stewart-Brown), which deals with electronic court filings and fees. The bill passed 87-0.

The House also unanimously passed five highway naming bills.

Bills clearing the Senate Wednesday included the following:

– SB98 (Rulli), addressing fraudulent business filings, passing unanimously.

– SB162 (Brenner), regarding academic intervention services at public schools, passing unanimously.

– SB168 (Reynolds), an educational reform bill that passed along party lines, with Democrats raising concerns about certain teacher licensing provisions.

– SR240 (Johnson) condemning the Chinese Communist Party for its role in the global drug trade, passing by a vote of 31-1.

– SR257 (Antonio) honoring the Bulgarian-American heritage in the state, passing unanimously.

– The House amendments to SB91 (Schaffer), regarding fraud, waste and abuse of public funds.

In other legislative action, the House Criminal Justice reported out HB258 (Carruthers), which deals with tobacco sales to minors; the House Health Providers Services Committee reported out HB229 (Sweeney-Patton), which addresses Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy; the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB312 (White-Young), establishing Regional Partnerships Program; the House Rules and Reference Committee reported out naming bills HB128 (Cutrona) and HB251 (Pavliga); the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee reported out SB156 (Reineke-Hackett), which deals with river designations; and the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out HJR5 (Ferguson-Santucci), which proposes a constitutional amendment to establish the right to hunt and fish; and HB264 (Pizzulli-M. Johnson) dealing with waste energy recovery systems.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

The Senate mostly along party lines Wednesday approved legislation that would ban gender-reassignment surgeries and medications for transgender youth and transgender girls from playing girls’ sports. The House later approved the Senate amendments to HB68 (Click), sending the bill to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. The governor was noncommittal on what he would do with the bill, telling the Statehouse News Bureau, “I’m going to reserve that comment until I see the final bill.” The bill passed 24-8, with Sen. Nathan Manning joining all Senate Democrats in opposition to the bill. Later, the House voted 61-27 to concur with Senate amendments to HB68.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Kent State University Board of Trustees has approved the establishment of a new “cybercriminology” major, which will be offered fully online, in addition to a mostly online delivery at all Kent State campuses. “Cybercriminology is a new and growing field that has demand from business and government entities due to its combining of computer and criminal justice knowledge and skills. It is the practice of investigating and preventing attacks and threats that exploit human or security weakness in systems to steal data, money or passwords or to target individuals or a group of individuals.” The School of Multidisciplinary Social Sciences and Humanities within the College of Arts and Sciences will establish the new major, effective fall 2024, pending final approval by the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

The Senate voted 25-7 along party-lines Wednesday to approve appointments to the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the University of Toledo (UT) and the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture and Society at Ohio State University (OSU), following an earlier vote by the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee that was unanimous. Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), who co-sponsored SB117 along with Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) on that topic before it was included in the budget, praised the vote. Cirino also chairs the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee.

HUMAN SERVICES

Ohio Department of Children and Youth (DCY) Director Kara Wente Friday announced a new $15 million Infant and Toddler Infrastructure Grant Program to allow currently licensed centers to expand their programs. The grants are intended to offset the costs of lower staff-to-child ratios for infants and toddlers and the additional space, equipment and supplies needed to serve this age group as child care programs struggle with workforce issues, the department said. The grants may be used to provide workforce supports, reopen an infant/toddler classroom, convert a closed classroom to an infant/toddler classroom or expand programs for infant/toddler space, open new programs, technical assistance, facilities improvement, and classroom supplies. More information can be found at https://tinyurl.com/2jpu4b3w or https://tinyurl.com/5n825x6s.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Ohio’s weeklong white-tailed deer gun hunting season concluded earlier this month on Sunday, Dec. 3, with hunters taking 70,118 deer, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. Last year, hunters took 71,931 deer during the gun week. The three-year average for deer harvest during the seven-day gun season is 71,322. An additional weekend of deer gun hunting will happen on Dec. 16-17. During the deer gun week, hunters checked 25,044 antlered deer (36 percent of the harvest) and 45,074 antlerless deer (64 percent), a category which includes does and button bucks. The top 10 counties for deer taken during the week of gun season were: Coshocton (2,441), Tuscarawas (2,260), Ashtabula (2,189), Muskingum (2,076), Knox (1,880), Carroll (1,864), Guernsey (1,798), Washington (1,582), Licking (1,570), and Harrison (1,533). Coshocton County also led the state in 2022 with 2,457 deer checked.

PENSIONS

Ohio pension funds saw returns ranging from 5.1 percent to 8.3 percent in the first half of 2023, with more noticeable divergence among the funds’ performance and strategies than has been typical, an investment expert told the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) at Thursday’s meeting. The council also reviewed formal actuarial valuations for three systems Thursday: Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) and Highway Patrol Retirement System (HPRS). Those valuations can trigger a statutory requirement for long-term funding plans, but none of the three met those parameters. The law requires plans to submit a plan if the valuation shows it will take more than 30 years for them to pay down their unfunded liabilities. The amortization period for HPRS was reported at 21 years; for OPERS, at 16 years; and for OP&F, at 26.7 years. While all are below 30 years, system leaders reported challenges they face.

Posted by on December 18th, 2023

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