Week in Review > Week In Review 3-27-2023Posted by Paul Imhoff on March 27th, 2023
The DeWine administration announced Monday that four “transformational” projects will receive $50 million in the first round of the Appalachian Community Grant Program, which will provide a total of $500 million to support local initiatives revitalizing downtown districts, enhancing quality of life and rebuilding the economies in Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties. The first round projects include the following:
– Utica Shale Academy of Ohio will receive up to $2.35 million to create the Connecting Communities Through Workforce Training project, which will provide residents with a career pathway for in-demand jobs that allow them to earn a sustainable living wage. It will expand services at three training centers and benefit Columbiana, Carroll, Jefferson and Mahoning counties.
– The city of Athens will receive up to $17.7 million to revitalize 80,000 square feet of downtown space with rehabilitation of six historic buildings there and in Coshocton, Logan and Somerset. This is part of the “At Work in Appalachia” project, which will also provide collaborative regional programming through a series of public/private partnerships including creation and expansion of mental health services. It will benefit Coshocton, Hocking, Athens and Perry counties.
– The Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program will receive up to $25.8 million to address social determinants of health challenges in Athens, Glouster, Nelsonville, Gallipolis and Middleport by establishing a mental health drop-in center and advocacy trauma center and expanding four New Leaf Recovery Villages. The program also includes construction of 3D-printed affordable housing, renovation of downtown buildings and infrastructure to increase walkability and establishment of workforce development programs focused on transitional job programs. It will benefit Athens, Gallia and Meigs counties.
– The Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia will receive up to $4.18 million for tourism efforts related to nature, heritage and art. Those efforts will also include essential connectivity to workforce development and expanded health care access. The project will benefit Athens, Meigs and Jackson counties.
The House should reject legislation sponsored by Reps. Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria) and Marilyn John (R-Shelby) that would require courts to presume that a 50-50 parenting plan is in the best interest of the child, Ohio Judicial Conference (OJC) Executive Director and former Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer Tuesday told the House Families and Aging Committee. “It’s just a hot mess,” Pfeifer said during his testimony opposing HB14. “You can’t fix it, because it begins with the premise that everything has to be 50-50. That’s just unnatural,” he continued. “Just think of yourselves, and people you know — a 50-50 division of time, when you’re talking about different school districts, you’re talking about all the differences that go on. … [It’s] admirable, but almost impossible in most situations.” Pfeifer said HB14 is “all about the parents,” while the welfare of the children involved is secondary.
Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) Wednesday fielded questions for nearly an hour and a half from mostly Democrats on the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee on his HJR1, a proposal that would require constitutional amendments gain 60 percent of the vote in order to be adopted. Meanwhile, the Senate Wednesday introduced its own version of the measure — SJR2 (McColley-Gavarone), as well as SB92 (McColley-Gavarone) — which would clear the way for it to go on an August special election ballot even though the Legislature eliminated August special elections last year as a part of 134-HB458 (Hall).
During Wednesday’s House hearing, Stewart argued that the amendment is needed to protect Ohio’s Constitution from special interests, noting the inclusion of specific land parcels in the document for Ohio casinos, and attempts to alter it for recreational marijuana or to give former House Speaker Larry Householder a much longer term as speaker. He also said that it should be as hard to amend Ohio’s Constitution as it is to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Gov. Mike DeWine spoke in three cities Thursday to urge support for his budget proposals on literacy instruction and teacher training, along the way signing an executive order to promote awareness of the importance of reading across state government. He shared the stage at a morning event in Columbus with a former Mississippi education leader who put into practice many of the approaches DeWine’s promoting. Several elements of the FY24-25 executive budget proposal seek to spread instruction based on the “science of reading,” an approach focused on phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and writing. Those include state support to ensure teachers get training in these instructional methods and to provide districts with high-quality instructional materials aligned to the science of reading. Ohio Department of Education (ODE) Interim Superintendent Stephanie Siddens provided an overview of the proposals and other ODE literacy initiatives following DeWine’s morning speech at an event organized by Ohio Excels, a business coalition focused on education and workforce issues.
With three hearings down and another scheduled in the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee on a bill proposing major changes to K-12 governance in Ohio, leadership in the chamber decided to put the companion Senate measure in a different committee. The issue is salient to both committees, according to House leadership. The House Rules and Reference Committee voted to refer SB1 (Reineke) to the House Economic and Workforce Development Committee, which held sponsor testimony on it Tuesday, March 21. The House Primary and Secondary Education Committee, however, has been considering HB12 (Dobos-Jones), which was up for a fourth hearing, also on Tuesday. Both measures were identified as priorities in the respective chambers upon their introduction, and the House and Senate education chairs had kept them closely aligned via adoption of similar amendments over recent weeks of deliberations.
Ticking through financial records of payments to a Mercedes dealership and an antique boat shop, attorneys for the state argued Monday before Franklin County Common Pleas Magistrate Elizabeta Saken that Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) founder William Lager’s assets should be frozen while the case against him proceeds. Lager’s lawyers, however, said the state can’t show evidence linking his finances to fraudulent activity and argued that courts have rightly set a very high threshold for unleashing the “nuclear weapon” of litigation.
Ohio Friday became the latest state to exit a multi-state cooperative data effort, with Secretary of State Frank LaRose saying attempts to “save what could be an unparalleled election integrity service have fallen short.” LaRose announced Ohio’s resignation from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) in a letter to the group’s board, saying the resignation is effective 91 days from Friday, March 17. Ohio joins Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, Missouri and Florida in leaving the organization. He argued that the group “has chosen repeatedly to ignore demands to embrace reforms that would bolster confidence in its performance, encourage growth in its membership, and ensure not only its present stability but also its durability. Rather, you have chosen to double-down on poor strategic decisions, which have only resulted in the transformation of a previously bipartisan organization to one that appears to favor only the interests of one political party. I believe the current actions and inactions of ERIC will effectively set in motion its demise.”
Voting for military and overseas Ohioans has begun for the Tuesday, May 2 primary election, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said. On Friday, March 17, county boards of elections sent Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) ballots to servicemembers stationed abroad and to Ohioans working overseas. The deadline for Ohioans to register to vote is Monday, April 3, and early voting for all voters begins Tuesday, April 4.
The state should not hold a special election in August to vote on a measure making it more difficult to approve amendments to the Ohio Constitution, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said Thursday. “We just voted to not have those anymore,” Stephens told reporters after session, referring to 134-HB458 (Hall). “The county election officials I’ve talked to are not interested in having it,” Stephens continued. “I’m frankly not interested in having an election in August, because of the cost to the taxpayers.” Ohio Association of Election Officials Executive Director Aaron Ockerman told Hannah News that his organization hasn’t yet taken a formal position on SB92 (McColley-Gavarone), which would appropriate $20 million for an August special election in 2023. “We have long supported the elimination of August special elections for local political subdivisions, but honestly have never had a conversation about a bill like SB92,” Ockerman said.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
State government support could make pro football player Damar Hamlin’s recovery from on-field cardiac arrest in Cincinnati a more commonplace outcome rather than a miracle, a Cincinnati doctor told a House budget subcommittee Tuesday. Among numerous witnesses testifying to the House Finance Health and Human Services Subcommittee was Dr. Justin Benoit, a University of Cincinnati physician and chair of the Ohio Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival (CARES). Benoit explained Ohio CARES works to collect and analyze data to help to ensure strong links in what the American Heart Association calls the “chain of survival” than enables a person to recover — a bystander who recognizes the signs of cardiac arrest and starts CPR, another person who goes to find an AED, the first responders who arrive at the scene. Benoit said the organization covers about 46 percent of Ohioans now thanks to private donations and state support for data software, but is requesting help in the state budget to reach the entire population. A $300,000 annual budget would allow the hiring of part-time paramedic coordinators to enroll organizations, a full-time statistician and a full-time director, support software costs and help the organization teach “Resuscitation Academies.”
Much of the testimony Wednesday before the House Finance Health and Human Services Subcommittee on the proposed budget in HB33 (Edwards) addressed the difficulty of finding direct service providers (DSPs), starting with the day’s second witness, Justin Martin, and then his mother, Jackie Martin. With a mixture of passion and anger, Justin Martin described what it is like to be solely dependent on someone else, describing for the subcommittee a time when he had a “well-paid team of direct support professionals” so he “could get up and go to bed whenever I needed to. I could make plans with friends on the spur of the moment rather than four weeks in advance or never — I could go out to eat, go to the movie theater, attend meetings and classes and internships regardless of when or where they were. My world, which used to be colorless and narrow, was now impossibly wide and impossibly bright.”
Ohio University (OU) has named Lori Stewart Gonzalez, a native of the Appalachian region, as its 23rd president, effective July 1, 2023. Gonzalez will become the institution’s first female president. She succeeds President Hugh Sherman, who had agreed to serve a two-year term with plans to retire at the end of this academic year. The selection of Gonzalez comes after a national search that began in fall 2022. Gonzalez comes to Ohio University from the University of Louisville, where she currently serves as executive vice president and university provost; additionally, she served as interim president for more than a year during a presidential transition. Prior to her time in Louisville, Gonzalez was the vice chancellor of academic, faculty and student affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Her career also includes serving as the provost and executive vice chancellor at Appalachian State University and dean of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Kentucky.
Lourdes University, located in Sylvania, recently announced that William J. Bisset has been named its 12th president, effective July 1, 2023. Bisset is currently vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at Marymount University, where he has served since 2020. Following a national search, the Lourdes Board and the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania unanimously approved the appointment on March 9. Lourdes University is a Catholic and Franciscan institution established in 1958 by the Sisters of St. Francis.
Ohio’s public universities added $67.8 billion in income to the state’s economy in FY21-22, Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC) President and CEO Laura Lanese said Wednesday. That finding is one of several highlights former Rep. Lanese shared with the House Higher Education Committee ahead of IUC’s release of a new economic study conducted by Lightcast. The report will be released in April, she said.
“Expressed in terms of jobs, the universities’ impact supported 860,603 jobs. For perspective, the activities of the universities and their students support one out of every eight jobs in Ohio,” Lanese added.
Sens. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) and Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati), chair and ranking member, respectively on the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, Wednesday previewed the debate around legislation that would make significant changes to operations at Ohio’s public colleges and universities. In the first hearing on his SB83, Committee Chair Cirino said the legislation is “all about students” and is a “much needed course correction for our institutions of higher learning. … This course correction is needed now so that we do not end up with institutions that are more focused on social engineering rather than true intellectual diversity of thought and the teaching of useful analytical skills,” he said. The bill prohibits mandatory programs or training courses on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) topics at state institutions of higher education. Among other notable requirements in the bill are the following:
– Prohibits college faculty from striking in contract disputes.
– Requires that state colleges and universities “seek out intellectual diversity in invited speakers.”
– Requires state institutions to post a complete list of all speaker fees, honoraria, and other emoluments in excess of $500 prominently on their websites.
– Requires state colleges and universities to adopt a policy affirming they will not endorse, comment on, or take action as an institution on “current public policy controversies or controversial beliefs or policies.”
– Requires state colleges and universities to adopt a policy affirming they will not aid or abet activities such as boycotts, disinvestments, or sanctions.
St. Edward High School in Lakewood took first place at the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education’s (OCLRE) 40th annual Mock Trial State Competition. More than 200 high school students representing 21 schools argued a hypothetical court case before a panel of judges. St. Edward’s Gavin Addington also received the competition’s outstanding attorney award. Ohio Mock Trial is the largest non-athletic competition in the state, with around 3,000 students and more than 1,000 legal professionals volunteering as legal advisors, case committee members and judges, OCLRE said.
Ohio retirement systems are facing losses from their holdings in banks involved in a recent crisis that triggered federal intervention, although the effects are very small in proportion to the state pension assets. In a recent statement, State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) acknowledged holdings in Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), recently taken over by the federal government because of its imminent failure. As of Wednesday, March 8, STRS had 102,000 shares worth about $27 million. As a stock listed in the S&P 500 and Russell 3000 indices of major companies, SVB was held by many public pension funds, STRS said. STRS noted that this holding represents 0.03 percent of its total holdings. As of the end of FY22, STRS held nearly $89 billion in assets, making it the second largest Ohio retirement system.
Ohio’s five public employee pension funds appeared before the House Pensions Committee during its first hearing, giving lawmakers an overview of their functions and operations and taking questions. Committee Chair Bob Young (R-Green) said he wanted to give members a “high level” view of the funds.
The funeral for Paul Coleman, who served as the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Welfare and then director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery Services in the Celeste administration, was held Friday, March 24. Coleman, 79, died Saturday, March 11 of heart failure. Coleman also served as president and CEO of Maryhaven, a behavioral health services provider specializing in addiction recovery in Columbus, for 25 years before retiring in 2016.
Ohio higher education leaders discussed what they are doing to address the growing national demand for pilots with the House Aviation and Aerospace Committee Tuesday. The committee also heard from Ohio University (OU) and Baldwin Wallace University (BW) officials and Ohio State University (OSU) students. Bowling Green State University (BGSU) President Rodney Rogers discussed the history of the university’s aviation program, which began in 1978 and has experienced “tremendous growth” since then, particularly in recent years. It was ranked the fourth-best program in the country by Flying Magazine and conducted over 10,000 flights in 2022, with more than 11,000 expected this year.
The House Insurance Committee voted unanimously to report out the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) budget, HB31 (Edwards), Wednesday with an amendment that changes the name back to BWC instead of the Department of Workforce Insurance and Safety. BWC Administrator/CEO John Logue had previously testified in support of the change as better reflecting the agency’s work and aligned with other state departments. Ranking Member Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati) had questioned the practicality and cost, which Logue said would be around $1 million.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Monday that 345 employers were approved for funding in the January round of TechCred, which will enable Ohioans to earn 4,237 tech-focused credentials. It is the 18th round of the program and manufacturing was again at the top of industries which applied. Husted’s office also noted the 19th round is currently open and will close at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 31.
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