Week in Review > Week In Review 2-26-24

Posted by on February 27th, 2024

EDUCATION

Judge Timothy Tepe of Warren County Common Pleas Court issued a temporary restraining order Thursday to block the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) from enforcing corrective action plans the agency issued after an investigation of alleged special education violations at the Warren County Educational Service Center (ESC). DEW also faces an administrative complaint on the matter from Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), which alleges the department scaled back the corrective actions under pressure from Warren County officials. The Warren County ESC, however, argued in the lawsuit filed earlier this week that DEW had no authority to accept the systemic complaint from DRO, and that the alleged special education violations resulted from parents’ choices to place their students in an ESC program that focused mostly on mental health services, designed for those with the most serious needs, including students who’d attempted to hurt themselves or others.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) says he won’t be able to regain his constitutional legislative privilege once compelled to answer written questions in voucher litigation, arguing in an appellate filing that the trial court that permitted the questioning left too much ambiguity in its order. School districts who’ve sued Ohio over the constitutionality of the EdChoice program sought to depose Huffman, a voucher supporter who shepherded through program expansions. Huffman asked Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jaiza Page to quash the subpoena seeking his deposition. Page granted him a partial victory, agreeing he was protected from deposition by the legislative privilege established in the Ohio Constitution, but saying litigants could pose written questions to him about “off the record” communications about the passage of 134-HB110 (Oelslager), the FY22-23 biennial budget bill. Huffman appealed Page’s decision to the 10th District Court of Appeals, but the school districts quickly followed up with a motion to dismiss his appeal, arguing Page’s order is not appealable and that Huffman can’t claim violations of privilege before he’s even seen the written questions.

Democratic leaders from both the Ohio House and Senate sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Kenneth Parker urging an investigation into the involvement of Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and others implicated in the HB6 scandal. Citing the continued costs for Ohio’s utility consumers since the enactment of 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), the letter to Parker from Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and House Minority Leader Alllison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said Attorney General Dave Yost’s office cannot detach itself enough from the political realities of Ohio’s control of state government by those who would be investigated, including DeWine and Husted.

HANNAH NEWS RACES TO WATCH

Two Republican candidates are challenging for the nomination for the 10th Senate District seat being vacated by term-limited Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London). Former state Rep. Kyle Koehler is seeking a return to the Statehouse against Sugarcreek Twp. Trustee Carolyn Destefani. Koehler served as a state representative from the 79th House District from 2014-2022, during which time he chaired the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. During his four terms in the Ohio House, Koehler sponsored bills that were enacted that reformed both payday lending and Ohio’s gun law concerning an individual’s “duty to retreat,” among others. While Destefani doesn’t bring a background in state elected office, she has served as a township trustee since 2016 and is currently director of federal programs for defense industry and state-level IT consulting firm Flairsoft Federal.

Now that state Rep. Dave Dobos (R-Columbus) has bowed out of his re-election bid, two Democrats and two Republicans will face off in the March primary for one of the most competitive seats in the Ohio House. Located in Central Ohio, House District 10 includes Grove City, German Village, west Columbus, and Urbancrest. Politically, the district is a toss-up. It has a Democratic index of 50.58 percent and a Republican Index of 49.42 percent, according to data from the Ohio Redistricting Commission. Remaining in the race are Republicans Brian Garvine and Shafi Shafat and Democrats Sarah Pomeroy and Mark Sigrist.

In the 32nd Senate District, incumbent Sen. Sandra O’Brien (R-Rome) is facing Rep. Mike Loychik (R-Cortland) in the Republican primary for the right to face Democrat Michael Shrodek in the general election. He is running unopposed in his party’s primary. Loychik is one of 22 Republicans who voted with Democrats at the beginning of 2023 to install Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) as speaker of the House over Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee).

New Franklin Councilman John K. “Jack” Daniels would appear to have an advantage over GOP primary challenger Mary Stormer for the House District 32 seat vacated by former Rep. Bob Young (R-North Canton), who resigned effective Oct. 2, 2023, amid domestic violence charges. Daniels at the time was recommended as Young’s replacement by the Summit County Republican Party. Daniels and Stormer, an Akron Municipal Court accounts supervisor and former Akron School Board member, had both applied along with a third candidate for the endorsement. However, the seat remains vacant as House Speaker Stephens, who said at the time he thought “a lot of” the county endorsement, opted instead to leave it open, pending the outcome of the March primary.

A three-term incumbent is facing a challenge from a business owner who is no stranger to the Statehouse in the Republican primary race in the 86th House District. Rep. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) is seeking her fourth term against small business owner Wezlynn Davis, who has provided testimony to House and Senate committees multiple times. Richardson is one of the “Blue 22” Republican members of the House who joined with House Democrats to elect Rep. Stephens speaker over Rep. Merrin. Following that vote, Richardson and the other 21 Republicans were censured by the Ohio Republican Party, and the party chose not to endorse Richardson in March’s primary race, though Richardson does count endorsements in the race from U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, Ohio Right to Life PAC and Ohio Chamber of Commerce PAC. Davis has attacked Richardson on social media for voting for Stephens. She has also said that Richardson was the “hand-picked” candidate for her seat originally by currently imprisoned former Speaker Larry Householder, and that Householder is responsible for “bankrolling” Richardson’s campaign.

Two veterans are vying for the Republican nomination for the House seat in Ohio’s 12th District, a largely rural district directly southwest of greater Columbus, as incumbent Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) is facing a challenge from Patricia (Patty) Hamilton. Stewart was originally elected as representative in 2020 from what was then the 78th House District, after earning a law degree from Ohio State University following a tour of duty in Iraq. In 2023, he was named a “Defender of Limited Government” by the Institute of Legislative Analysis, a nationwide limited government think tank that ranks lawmakers at the state level. Stewart’s current House committee assignments include behavioral health, civil justice, constitutional resolutions and public health policy, on which he serves as vice chair. Hamilton describes herself as “currently a landlord of 10 high quality rental homes” with her husband. She previously had 30 years of service in the Army Reserve, with combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Hamilton is also treasurer and corresponding secretary of the Soldier’s Monumental Association, as well as a member of the Pickaway County Agricultural Society, National Rifle Association, Ohio Farm Bureau, and America First Now group.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff gave reporters a wide-ranging update on health concerns Thursday, including that COVID-19 and RSV cases have declined but flu levels are “very high” in the state. He also discussed the importance of other vaccines, a rise in syphilis cases and how e -cigarettes and vaping can still affect the lungs. Vanderhoff also told reporters lung health cannot be taken for granted. He referred the public to a range of resources on these topics, including the following:

– Finding COVID vaccine providers: https://www.vaccines.gov/.

– ODH’s page on measles: http://tinyurl.com/mrh5rsax as well as https://www.cdc.gov/measles/.

– General ODH immunization information: http://tinyurl.com/yc7z2a3t.

– ODH’s page on syphilis and other STIs/STDs: http://tinyurl.com/6h96sret.

– The Ohio Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-662-4357. The “My Life, My Quit” program on smoking and vaping is available at https://oh.mylifemyquit.org/ or by texting “Start my quit” to 36074.

The Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center received a $50 million commitment from the Robert F. Wolfe and Edgar T. Wolfe Foundation to support the center’s new inpatient tower, set to open in 2026. Gov. Mike DeWine joined Ohio State President Walter “Ted” Carter Jr. and other senior officials Monday to announce the donation, which is among the largest gifts ever made to the medical center. In recognition of the award, the inpatient tower will have two named spaces: the John F. Wolfe Lobby and the Wolfe Foundation Crossroads, pending approval by the university’s board of trustees.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) Board of Trustees Wednesday approved resolutions to pause registration and enrollment for terms beyond the spring 2024 semester and to cut about 40 staff positions amid ongoing financial difficulties. Board of Trustees Chair James Gasior asked the board to approve the resolution to pause registration and enrollment “in light of our financial condition” and amid concerns the school may be unable to continue with students’ education. The pause will give the college a chance to “evaluate options,” the resolution states. The reduction in staff was also approved as part of the school’s “recovery plan.” The reduction was estimated to save EGCC up to $2 million annually.

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it will automatically discharge $1.2 billion in loans for nearly 153,000 borrowers under the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, “Under President Biden’s leadership, our administration has now approved loan forgiveness for nearly 3.9 million borrowers, and our historic fight to cancel student debt isn’t over yet.” For a borrower to be eligible for this forgiveness they must be enrolled in the SAVE Plan, have been making at least 10 years of payments, and have originally taken out $12,000 or less for college. For every $1,000 borrowed above $12,000, a borrower can receive forgiveness after an additional year of payments. All borrowers on SAVE receive forgiveness after 20 or 25 years, depending on whether they have loans for graduate school. The benefit is based upon the original principal balance of all federal loans borrowed to attend school, not what a borrower currently owes or the amount of an individual loan.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

A veteran administrator of juvenile community corrections facilities (CCF) seconded the Ohio Department of Youth Services’ (DYS) testimony that sufficient, properly trained staff is the top need in youth rehabilitation. Executive Director Travis Stillion of the North Central Ohio Rehabilitation Center (NCORC) in Marion addressed Tuesday’s meeting of Gov. Mike DeWine’s Juvenile Justice Working Group at the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility, which is a DYS program rather than a CCF. He covered the geographic breakdown of Ohio’s 11 juvenile CCFs, which provide 329 beds to 62 counties that formally participate in the program. Five facilities offer sex offender programs, and three serve both males and females. Stillion, head of NCORC since 2008, said CCFs are funded by DYS and governed by O.A.C. 5139.36 and accept the same first- to fifth-degree “felony delinquents” as the department’s youth detention centers.

PENSIONS

Outside attorneys hired to investigate anonymous allegations against State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) Executive Director William Neville found them to be “largely without merit” and possibly based on hearsay, according to a summary of the probe presented to the STRS board. The summary letter does remark on Neville’s temper and habit of recounting college romances, but states investigators could not corroborate accusations that he threw furniture, sexually harassed employees or disfavored women in decision-making. Neville has been on administrative leave for months following the allegations of misconduct. The STRS board decided to extend Neville’s leave through mid-May and assign him “professional development.”

PUBLIC SAFETY

The 2024 Inaugural Ohio Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for Children Conference will be held Friday, March 1 at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Conference Center in Columbus, OH. The keynote speaker, Dr. Joseph Wright, chief health equity officer for the American Academy of Pediatrics, will discuss how health equity and disparities affect pediatric emergency care. Other subject matter experts will explore how best to provide high-quality emergency care for children. More information about the event and registration is available at http://tinyurl.com/mvaskhdm .

STATE GOVERNMENT

Members of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) Thursday named Joy DeMarco as the next executive director, effective Friday, March 1. DeMarco currently serves as assistant executive director for the agency, which oversees capital projects for state agencies, higher education institutions and public school buildings across Ohio. Thursday’s meeting was the last for current Executive Director Cheryl Lyman, who will retire effective Thursday, Feb. 29. Lyman has nearly 35 years of experience in public service.

 

Posted by on February 27th, 2024

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