Week in Review > Week In Review 2-12-24

Posted by on February 12th, 2024

APPALACHIA

Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) released official program guidelines for the $85 million Appalachian Community Innovation Centers program earlier this week. K-12 school districts, joint vocational school districts, regional councils of government, or other political subdivisions located in the 32 Ohio Appalachian counties may apply for funding. The application period began Monday, Feb. 5 and ends Thursday, March 21. The program is administered by the OFCC. Eligible projects include new construction, renovation, or expansion of existing facilities that support public education; deliver physical or behavioral health care services onsite to students and the public; and provide community access to job-related programming. To qualify, projects must demonstrate a significant impact in all three areas, according to the governor’s office.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

In a filing with the Ohio Supreme Court Monday, Attorney General Dave Yost argued a lawsuit challenging his rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment petition based solely on the petition’s title should not be accelerated because the plaintiffs have not shown the likelihood that they will qualify for the 2024 ballot. Groups behind a constitutional amendment that would enshrine certain voting procedures in Ohio’s Constitution took Yost to the Ohio Supreme Court after he rejected their proposed summary for the second time when he took issue with the title of proposal, which on the second submission is the “Voters Bill of Rights.” Yost argued that the title “does not fairly or accurately summarize or describe the actual content of the proposed amendment.”

FY24-25 BUDGET

Tax revenues are down about half a percent for the fiscal year so far after another underperformance in January, but the overall revenue picture and sizable underspending leave Ohio’s budget on solid footing, Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kim Murnieks told Hannah News Wednesday. Outsize refunds linked to a 2022 tax law change are the main driver of under-estimate income tax collections, she said. According to preliminary revenue figures from OBM, the income tax missed estimates by 5.1 percent or $57.6 million. Sales taxes were under estimates by about $18.5 million, with a 2.2 percent or $24 million underperformance in the non-auto sales tax, which was partially offset by a 4 percent or $5.8 million overperformance in the auto sales tax. Total January tax revenues of $2.58 billion were $70.4 million or 2.7 percent below estimates.

 

EDUCATION

The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) released the initial list of curriculum and instructional materials aligned to new state mandates for schools to adopt literacy teaching methods that follow the “science of reading.” The biennial budget bill, HB33 (Edwards), provided tens of millions of dollars for schools to buy curricular and instructional materials approved by DEW, and generally requires schools to use approved materials by the coming school year. The bill specifically bars use of “three-cueing” instructional approaches, absent a waiver from the department.

Eight Ohio institutions of higher education will offer Ohio Teacher Bootcamp programs for up to 655 K-12 educators. The program connects them to local businesses to learn more about in-demand workforce skills so they can help students with career readiness. Approved institutions include Ashland University, Lake Erie College, Malone University, Miami University, Sinclair Community College, University of Cincinnati, University of Findlay and Youngstown State University.

ELECTIONS 2024

Challenges from the right for Republicans who voted with Democrats to install House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) are among the most eyed races for the Tuesday, March 19 primary. Other big races see multiple candidates facing off in a seat that is open due to term limits. Whether the incumbents can hold off their primary opponents and go on to win in the General Election in what are considered mostly safe Republican seats may play into Stephens’ future in the next General Assembly, with Capitol Square political observers expecting a potential speaker challenge from now Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who is term-limited and running unopposed for the House. Of the 22 Republicans who chose Stephens over caucus pick Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee) — often referred to as the “Blue 22” — five have either resigned, are term-limited, or are running for the Ohio Senate while 12 have a primary opponent in March.

ENVIRONMENT

The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) has closed on nearly $116,000 in bond financing to support an air quality project for an auto repair shop in Marion. Buckeye Collision Service Inc. will also receive a grant of up to $20,000, OAQDA announced.

 

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

The House Wednesday passed a $2 billion infrastructure bill that appropriates $350 million of the $700 million in One Time Strategic Community Investments funding a day after it was announced, though the debate in the chamber had not ended before Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) made it clear that he was not on board. House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) had announced the plan Tuesday to amend the funds into HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) and pass it, while planning to address capital appropriations at a later date. The bill cleared the House Finance Committee Wednesday morning with nary a witness save the two co-sponsors — Reps. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) — and with only one question from committee member Rep. Dan Troy (D-Willowick). The committee was told the bill includes $600 million for school buildings; $400 million for the Public Works Commission infrastructure program; nearly $400 million for numerous higher education projects; and $250 million for local jail construction across Ohio. In addition, it appropriates $350 million — the House share of the $700 million One Time Strategic Community Investments Fund that was created in the FY24-25 budget bill, HB33 (Edwards) — for 318 projects across the state.

Huffman, however, said in a memo that there is no agreement between the House and Senate on HB2, and there were not any negotiations with the Senate or with himself. “Approving a large spending bill without additional debate would be irresponsible and an abdication of the duties of the Senate. Normally, both chambers work together to create an agreed upon bill. For unknown reasons, the House chose to break from that process,” Huffman wrote Wednesday. “The Senate will continue to follow its timeline announced in December for this year’s capital budget process which includes the additional $700 million for the One Time Strategic Community Investment Fund, with the goal of both chambers passing a single agreed upon bill later in May or early June.”

In a busy Wednesday session, the House also paid its respects to former Senate President Stan Aronoff, seated new member Rep. Veronica Sims (D-Akron), elected Rep. Michele Grim (D-Toledo) as assistant minority whip, set a date for the “State of the State” address, and passed six bills. However, the session was not without fireworks, as a number of Republicans continued their feud with Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), who refused to recognize them to make motions throughout the session. Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee), who has battled with Stephens since losing the speaker’s race after Stephens and his supporters joined with Democrats to elect Stephens speaker over caucus pick Merrin, had previewed before the session that they would be bringing up higher education overhaul SB83 (Cirino) on the floor. Other representatives also told media members after session that they had planned to bring up Second Amendment Preservation Act HB51 (Loychik-Schmidt). However, despite their calls for his attention, he did not recognize them.

Among legislation the House did pass was HCR13 (Stephens-Russo), which authorizes a joint convention of the House and Senate for the “State of the State,” setting the date for Wednesday, April 10.

The House also passed SB17 (Wilson), which Rep. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) said would add free market capitalism into materials for the required high school financial literacy class. As he spoke, Rep. Beth Lear (R-Galena) held up a sign saying “Capitalism Trumps Socialism.” The bill passed 64-26, with most Democrats voting against it.

The House also passed HB238 (Fowler- Klopfenstein), which makes changes to the state’s occupational regulations. Rep. Roy Klopfenstein (R- Haviland) said the bill reduces burdensome regulation and eliminates fees where appropriate. He said through the process, the State and Local Government Committee reviewed 244 licenses, identifying 25 licenses that need to be eliminated and 14 licenses that benefit from having a fee reduction. The bill passed 61-30, with Democrats voting against it.

Other bills that cleared the House included HB226 (Robb Blasdel- Jarrells), which permits water utilities to recover costs for replacing certain customer-owned water service lines; HB324 (McClain-Klopfenstein), which authorizes a temporary nonrefundable tax credit for the retail sale of high-ethanol blend motor fuel; and SB106 (Schaffer), which addresses workers’ compensation coverage for testing for medical professionals who are exposed to chemical substances or bodily fluids.

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) will host weekly programs during February in the Statehouse Atrium each Tuesday starting at 12 p.m. to celebrate Black History Month. Remaining scheduled programs include the following:

– Feb 13. – Librarians from the Columbus Metropolitan Library will discuss Ohioans’ role in the Underground Railroad. Presenters will also talk about how to find homes along the Underground Railroad route.

– Feb. 20 – Opera Columbus Executive Director Suzan Bradford will speak about the history of the Lincoln Theater in Columbus and the efforts to restore it. Bradford will also be joined by a singer for a short performance.

– Feb. 27 – Comedy and magic performer Rory Rennick will present “The Henry Box Brown Show.” Henry Box Brown was an escaped slave, magician and abolitionist. Rennick’s performance will also feature a question-and-answer segment.

House Speaker Stephens and his allies should be enjoined from making expenditures related to the Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA) Legislative Campaign Fund (LCF) while litigation over who controls the campaign fund proceeds, according to a court filing from Rep. Merrin and his allies. The motion for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and expedited discovery also asks Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott to enjoin Stephens and his allies from operating the OHRA LCF in any manner, including issuing statements attributed to the OHRA LCF.

In other legislative action, the House Civil Justice Committee reported out HB301 (Swearingen) which addresses laws governing nonprofits; the House Government Oversight Committee reported out HB313 (Calender-Mathews) which addresses training for fire investigators; and the House Ways and Means Committee reported out HB324 (McClain-Klopfenstein), which provides a tax credit for high-ethanol blend motor fuel.

HIGHER EDUCATION

A report released recently by personal finance site WalletHub found Ohio has the 18th-highest amount of median student loan payments, at $192 per month. The report referenced new rules from the Biden administration, but also said around 43.8 million Americans owe a combined $1.64 trillion in loans. This averages out to over $37,000 in debt for each borrower as the payment moratorium has come to an end. Ohio was also second-highest among neighboring states. Their rankings include the following:

– Pennsylvania, 13th-highest nationally at $205.

– Michigan, 32nd-highest nationally and tied with Idaho at $177.

– Indiana, 34th-highest nationally at $176.

– Kentucky, 47th-highest nationally at $159. This equated to fourth-lowest nationally.

– West Virginia, lowest nationally at $139.

The full report is available at https://tinyurl.com/5fzn3yra.

JUDICIAL

A trial court’s conversion of an oral deposition for Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) to written questioning in the EdChoice litigation blunts Huffman’s attempt to appeal and avoid questioning on the basis of legislative privilege, school districts argued in a new filing. A coalition of districts and resident families are suing the state in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to challenge the constitutionality of the EdChoice scholarship program. That lawsuit sparked a separate legal battle in the 10th District Court of Appeals over Judge Jaiza Page’s decision on the schools’ attempt to subpoena Huffman for a deposition.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

Department of Youth Services (DYS) officials and others Thursday briefed members of the Ohio Juvenile Justice Working Group on gang activity in the state’s youth facilities. The virtual meeting was the group’s eighth, chair Tom Stickrath said, since it was formed in November 2023 following the publication of an investigation of Ohio’s youth prisons by newspapers with the USA TODAY Ohio Bureau. The committee heard from Jack Vicencio and Ryan Smith with DYS; Adam Watkins, a professor at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) who studies gang activity among minors; Laron and Angela Douglas, founders of reNOUNce deNOUNce – Gang Intervention Program; and Mike Crispen, chief of police for the city of Whitehall.

PENSIONS

An appellate magistrate recommended Tuesday that ousted State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) board member Wade Steen be reinstated as a trustee. The decision must be adopted by judges of the 10th District Court of Appeals in order to take effect, and STRS will have an opportunity to file objections to the recommendation. Gov. Mike DeWine removed Steen as a trustee in May of 2023, after he declined to resign, in part citing Steen’s attendance record at board meetings and concerns he appeared to be advocating for a specific investment firm. Steen sued in June, arguing he was appointed to serve a specific term and does not serve at the pleasure of the governor. DeWine appointed investor G. Brent Bishop in Steen’s place.

The House Pensions Committee got an overview of trends in public pension finance and economic outlook trends nationwide Tuesday, while also hearing continued debate on the proposal to raise employer contribution rates for police officers in the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund. The committee called a fifth hearing on HB296 (Abrams-Hall), which would gradually increase the current employer contribution rate of 19.5 percent for police officers until it matches the 24 percent rate for firefighters. The committee also adopted an amendment that specifies the four-year phase-in of such increases would be dated from the effective date of the bill, rather than the calendar years proposed in the original bill.

The General Assembly should not pass HB261 (Patton-Sweeney), according to the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC). Members of ORSC voted 7-1 to approve the recommendation of ORSC staff to oppose HB261, with gubernatorial appointee Ed Montgomery being the lone “no” vote. The legislation, which has received three hearings in the House Pensions Committee, would allow emergency medical services (EMS) workers to participate in the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) public safety division rather than the regular OPERS program. ORSC Deputy Legal Counsel Alex Strickmaker said council staff recommended opposition to the bill because EMS workers do not receive certification from the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA).

TAXATION

Business organizations told lawmakers studying property taxes Wednesday that the issue is a top concern for companies and urged a holistic look at how many taxing entities Ohio has. The Ohio Farm Bureau, meanwhile, expressed interest in finding a way to control volatility and to have the retrospective calculations in the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) somehow take into account current-day dynamics. The Joint Committee on Property Tax Review and Reform called its third hearing Wednesday, with testimony from Chris Ferruso on behalf of National Federation of Independent Business-Ohio (NFIB), Tony Long on behalf of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and Nikki Cooper of the Ohio Business Roundtable, as well as Leah Curtis of the Ohio Farm Bureau.

Posted by on February 12th, 2024

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