Week in Review > Week In Review 2-5-24

Posted by on February 05th, 2024

BALLOT ISSUES

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would enshrine certain voting procedures in the Ohio Constitution as well as declare voting as a fundamental right said Thursday that they have filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court challenging Attorney General Dave Yost’s rejection of their petition on the basis of the proposed title of the amendment. Yost has rejected the proposed petition twice, taking issue both times with the title of the amendment given by the group, which was first submitted as “Secure and Fair Elections” and then as “Ohio Voters Bill of Rights” the second time. Yost said that latest title “does not fairly or accurately summarize or describe the actual content of the proposed amendment.” The supporters of the proposed amendment, which include the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, the Ohio Chapter of the NAACP, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Ohio Unity Coalition, said in their complaint that Yost has a clear lack of authority to opine on the proposed title, let alone reject it based on his “subjective distaste for it.”

Ballot initiatives underway reported fundraising totals this week. Citizens Not Politicians, which is seeking to put a redistricting reform constitutional amendment before voters, reported raising more than $3.1 million, spending $1.3 million, and has $1.8 million on hand. Much of that has come from $500,000 contributions from the American Federation of Teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Ohio Progressive Collaborative, the Ohio Education Association, and liberal PAC Sixteen. Article IV, a Virginia-based group, gave $550,000.

Raise the Wage Ohio, which is circulating a minimum wage increase petition, did not report any contributions and only had $84.50 on hand, but nearly $1.8 million in in-kind contributions from Massachusetts-based One Fair Wage and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Ohio State Joint Council.

FY24-25 BUDGET

Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday signed HB101 (Bird), legislation that was originally focused on reforming the village dissolution process but was amended to become a “Christmas tree” budget corrections bill. The Senate made a litany of changes to the bill in December 2023, and the House concurred with the amendments in early January. Because the bill included appropriations, DeWine could have used his line-item veto power to remove any provisions to which he objected. However, the bill was signed without any vetoes. The bill includes a number of changes to doula services in the state, including a provision in budget law HB33 (Edwards) that the governor had vetoed.

CHILDREN/FAMILIES

New research from the Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions (CCS) concludes that, during the five-year period between 2018 and 2022, 15.8 percent of births in Ohio were deemed to have inadequate prenatal care. The 15.8 percent figure is slightly higher than the national average of 14.5 percent of births deemed to have inadequate prenatal care. CCS used the Adequacy of Prenatal Care Utilization (APNCU) Index, or Kotelchuck Index, to measure a birthing person’s prenatal care. The APCNU Index accounts for when prenatal care was initiated and the ratio of prenatal visits attended over the number of prenatal visits recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. CCS notes that the APCNU Index is not a measure of the quality of the actual prenatal care received. According to CCS’ research, the percentage of White, non-Hispanic birthing people who received inadequate prenatal care (13 percent) was significantly lower than the percentage of American Indian (24 percent), Black/African American Non-Hispanic (23 percent) or Hispanic of Any Race (24 percent) birthing people. Asian/Pacific Islander Non-Hispanic birthing people received inadequate prenatal care in 15 percent of cases.

DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES

A total of $14.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money will be distributed across 67 counties in support of projects for Ohioans with developmental disabilities and their families, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) Director Kim Hauck announced recently. A full listing of awarded applications can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yc4xrtse. The governor’s office said $210 million in ARPA Home and Community Based Services money has already been distributed to providers, and that another $42 million in ARPA money will also be available to people with disabilities and their families, the developmental disability workforce, youth with complex needs, transformative technology, the waiver redesign initiative, and more.

EDUCATION

Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) founder William Lager is asking the judge presiding over the state’s attempt to claw back money from him to delete from the case record information about the recent, multi-million dollar transfer of his former residence, saying he had nothing to do with it. Attorneys for the state counter that the transfer adds more urgency to their request to freeze Lager’s assets.

The General Assembly should fund a grant program to help school districts purchase bus safety features, according to Gov. Mike DeWine’s Ohio School Bus Safety Working Group. That recommendation is one of 17 included in the group’s final report, which was released Wednesday during a press conference at the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s (ODPS) headquarters in Columbus. The safety features funded with the new grant program could include seatbelts, but the group is not recommending any kind of mandate on schools installing seatbelts in school buses. DeWine said the school bus safety grants could possibly be funded through the capital budget.

The judge presiding over litigation challenging Ohio’s new literacy instruction laws scheduled an April hearing on the Reading Recovery Council of North America’s request to enjoin the statutes included in the recent biennial budget. Judge Karen Phipps of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court assigned Magistrate Jennifer Hunt to the case and scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing from 9:30 a.m. on Monday, April 22. The Reading Recovery Council of North America sued in October over provisions of HB33 (Edwards) that bar “three-cueing” instructional methods and require use of materials aligned to what’s often called the “science of reading.”

Ohio opened applications Thursday for EdChoice scholarships in the 2024-2025 school year, creating potential for further program growth beyond the significant increased participation kicked off by the most recent biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards). All students are now eligible for EdChoice scholarships under HB33 (Edwards), although award amounts start to diminish once a family’s income exceeds 450 percent of the federal poverty limit. That income threshold is now slightly higher than it was last year following the January issuance of updated poverty guidelines by the federal government. For a family of four, 450 percent of the poverty guidelines equates to $140,400, up from $135,000 last year. Beyond that threshold, scholarship amounts gradually diminish as income rises, down to a minimum of 10 percent of the full award amount. Full scholarship amounts are $6,166 for K-8 students and $8,408 for high school for the upcoming academic year. A spreadsheet of estimated award amounts compiled by the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) shows minimum award amounts of $616.60 and $840.80 for those earning 783 percent of poverty or more.

GUNS

The White House and the U.S. Department of Education this week announced a new resource for schools to use to communicate to students and parents the importance of safe firearm storage in preventing gun violence. Director Stef Feldman of the newly established White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention told an audience of school principals gathered at the White House that a large majority of gun violence in the U.S. involves guns that are stored at the home. Additionally, nearly 20 percent of childhood deaths are caused by firearms. The resource, in the form of a letter school principals can share with students’ parents, explains secure firearms and ammunition storage as a way to prevent school shootings. It is available at http://tinyurl.com/mr2mpk59.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) has announced a loan repayment program for newly licensed attorneys working in underserved parts of the state. The Rural Practice Incentive Program will provide loan repayment on behalf of attorneys licensed for eight or fewer years who are employed by the state public defender; the prosecuting attorney of a county; a county public defender commission; or a joint county public defender commission to represent indigent persons in areas designated as underserved communities.

The Buckeye Institute Wednesday sponsored a luncheon discussion with Ohio Sen. Jerry C. Cirino (R-Kirtland), and Richard K. Vedder, economist, historian, author, and professor emeritus at Ohio University, moderated by Robert Alt, president and CEO of the institute. In this discussion, they talked about the changes they hope to see in higher education, with Cirino’s SB83’s potential passing. “Higher education in the United States is in great trouble,” said Vedder. He explained statistics that American college costs have risen above family incomes in the 40 years after 1980 and about 40 percent of college students attending four-year schools don’t graduate in six years. He also mentioned recent news of plagiarism at Harvard University, causing the former president of the university to step down, and errors and misstatements in research from Stanford University’s president, also causing him to step down. “For most of my academic career, that literally began in the 1950s at Northwestern University, I have strongly believed that colleges should be highly independent of outside sources,” said Vedder. “But reluctantly, I now conclude that universities need some adult supervision.”

With the General Assembly expected to begin deliberations on the capital budget this spring, State Sen. Jerry Cirino (R[1]Kirtland), chair of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, sent a letter to Ohio’s public university presidents telling them to bring data to back up their requests. “Beginning in April, the Senate will begin its review of the capital budget for the upcoming budget biennium (FY25 and FY26.) As part of that process, the … [c]ommittee will begin an in-depth review of proposed/requested capital appropriations by Ohio’s four-year and two-year institutions. He said this will “give the Senate much needed perspective when the Senate Finance Committee begins its work later this year in May/ June.” The letter states that each university president will be given one hour to present their capital budget request to the committee. The presentations are to include information about the need for the proposed projects, and any “cost avoidance data” and how the project will “impact the future delivery of instruction.”

JUDICIAL

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio will file a lawsuit challenging the provision of HB68 (Click) banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, the organization announced Monday. The General Assembly voted to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of the bill in January. The ACLU of Ohio said it will file its lawsuit to halt the law before it takes effect on Tuesday, April 23.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

The Juvenile Justice Working Group approved two interim proposals at its Tuesday meeting, the first of which said the Department of Youth Services (DYS) should replace its current large facilities with several smaller ones which Working Group Chair Tom Stickrath had discussed plus the second proposal for an outside consultant at an earlier meeting. He also noted Gov. Mike DeWine has voiced his support for both ideas. The first proposal called for DYS to engage in “system transformation” and work with “appropriate state agencies” to develop a master plan toward that effort. The plan would address factors including the size, number and design of facilities as well as siting, timelines and both capital and organizational costs. The second proposal said Stickrath will work with the directors of DYS, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS), Office of Budget and Management (OBM) and Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) to develop an RFP to hire one or more outside consultants to review operations at the three DYS facilities and a sampling of local juvenile detention centers.

MENTAL HEALTH

Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced the 2024-2026 Suicide Prevention Plan for Ohio. It lays out a three-year update to the plan that was first announced in 2019. DeWine has prioritized addressing the issue of suicide in Ohio through the RecoveryOhio Initiative and the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation (OSPF). The document incorporates input from more than 30 private and public organizations. The plan details strategic priorities like raising public awareness, enhancing access to timely data, expanding opportunities for health care access and providing support for families coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide. The document details the importance of collaborative efforts with behavioral health care providers, employers, health care systems, school and community organizations to stem the increasing rates of suicides in Ohio.

In the wake of the state’s release of an updated plan to reduce suicide, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday increasing awareness of the 9-8-8 crisis hotline is a major priority. DeWine visited the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and spoke to reporters after discussions with the staff there. In recent months he appointed longtime adviser LeeAnne Cornyn as director of the department, following the departure of Lori Criss for a position at Ohio State University.

POVERTY

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published its revised poverty guidelines for 2024 which were applicable beginning Thursday, Jan. 11. The guidelines — or various multiples of the guidelines such 150 percent, 175 percent or 200 percent — are used to the measure individuals’ eligibility for a variety of federal and state programs including Medicaid. The HHS secretary is required, under federal law, to update the guidelines “at least annually, adjusting them on the basis of the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).” The guidelines, for various size families are as follows: for a family of 1, $15,600; for a family of 2, $20,440; for a family of 3, $25,820; and for a family of 4, $31,200.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Board of Directors on Friday approved an 8.6 percent contribution rate reduction for state agencies. The reduction is expected to save agencies more than $4 million during the fiscal year, according to a summary provided by BWC. The BWC Board is also considering a private employer rate cut of 7 percent, which could save private employers nearly $67 million in premiums during the next fiscal year.

Posted by on February 05th, 2024

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