Week in Review > Week in Review 3-4-24

Posted by on March 04th, 2024

FY25-26 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS

The Ohio Senate Wednesday amended a House bill addressing college costs to appropriate $1.4 billion toward school construction and public works as the chamber works through differences in a potential capital appropriations bill. The amendment to HB27 (Mathews-Thomas) appropriates $600 million for schools, $575 million for public works, $196 million for state fair improvements requested by Gov. Mike DeWine, and $38 million for the adoption grant program. Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) said the reason for the amendment is because the fiscal year starts on July 1, so the Legislature needs to pass a bill by the end of March in order to have appropriations they usually deal with in the capital bill take effect by July 1. He acknowledged the House’s passage of HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) and said some of the same appropriations in HB27 are also in HB2, but said the Senate has set a deadline of Monday, April 8 for capital project submissions, and there was not enough time to take up HB2 and have it done by the end of March. The bill passed 30-2. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) told reporters he doesn’t think it makes a difference which bill passes between HB27 and HB2, but said the issue is passing appropriations that both chambers have already agreed with, referring to the school and public works funds.

EDUCATION

Three times as many private schools are seeking a state charter this cycle compared to the prior year, according to the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW). Securing a state charter is required for private schools to enroll students participating in Ohio’s EdChoice scholarship program, for which lawmakers greatly expanded eligibility in the recent biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards). A senior DEW official told Hannah News it’s hard to tell precisely how much EdChoice expansion is driving the increased interest in state charters as compared to the general growth in families exploring school choice post-pandemic. The budget bill opened EdChoice to all students, although families earning in excess of 450 percent of the federal poverty level will get a reduced scholarship amount. With this year’s updated poverty figures, a family of four can earn up to $140,400 before award amounts start to diminish.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

A small electrical fire under the State Street sidewalk caused the Statehouse to be evacuated for about 30 minutes on Tuesday, Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) spokesperson Mike Rupert told Hannah News. The evacuation notice was sent to Statehouse employees a little after 8 a.m., Rupert said, noting the Columbus Division of Fire recommended the evacuation as a precautionary measure. Rupert said American Electric Power (AEP) workers quickly addressed the issue, and everything was back to normal later Tuesday morning.

The Senate Wednesday unanimously passed SR196 (Reineke), urging Congress to address various railway safety issues; HB269 (Holmes), designating the Sgt. Bradley J. Harper USMC Memorial Highway; SB45 (O’Brien), designating a bridge in Trumbull County as the Veterans Memorial Bridge; SB104 (Cirino-Brenner), regarding the College Credit Plus Program; and SB154 (Roegner), including Space Force in the definition of the armed forces, armed services and uniformed services of the United States. It also passed SB148 (Johnson), the Second Amendment Financial Privacy Act, on a 25-7 party line vote. This was in addition to party-line passage of SB215 (Gavarone-McColley) which bans foreign individuals from contributing to issue campaigns. (See separate entry.)

Asked about former Speaker Larry Householder’s appealing his conviction, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said what Householder did was not “politics as usual.” He described how he has worked to educate legislators on how officials get in trouble, saying, “the phrase quid pro quo … really needs to be the center of anybody’s analysis.” If there is a connection between action and campaign contributions, even an unintended one, “there’s trouble.” Regarding marijuana, he said the Senate’s passage of HB86 (LaRe) represents the “working plan” as far as he is concerned and that he was not sure what more his chamber or Gov. Mike DeWine could do on the issue. He added he is not okay with waiting for regulations and believes DeWine wanted legislation to resolve the issue.

The Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus Monday heard from school-based health care providers from around the state who described their roles in filling gaps and providing students and families with a range of services from routine check-ups to social services. The virtual meeting featured panelists Javar Jackson Sr., chief operating officer (COO) with Third Street Family Health Services in Mansfield; Nancy Peppler, the supervisor of community and school partnerships at Cleveland Heights-University Heights Schools; Dina Thurman, a nurse practitioner with Dayton Children’s Hospital; Sherry Shamblin, chief strategy officer of Hopewell Health Centers in Southeast Ohio; and Dr. Mona Mansour, professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine and associate director of population health at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Reem Aly, executive director of the Ohio School-Based Health Alliance, moderated the forum. The panelists all provide onsite services at schools, in addition, in some cases, to telehealth and mobile services.

The Senate Democratic Caucus Wednesday dedicated a portrait of former Senate Minority Leader and Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin, which will now hang in the Minority Conference Room in the Statehouse. The conference room also now features portraits of former Gov. Dick Celeste and Margaret Mahoney, the first Democratic woman elected to the Ohio Senate. Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), said they felt it was the perfect time to acknowledge some of the “trailblazing legislators who came before us” as they reflect on and celebrate the contributions of Black Ohioans during Black History Month and with the approach of Women’s History Month.

As Black History Month came to an end, Democrats Wednesday hosted a Black History Month event to highlight legislative priorities that support and “lift up the Black communities across Ohio.” Those in attendance included Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Rep. Terrence Upchurch, (D-Cleveland), House Assistant Minority Leader Dontavius L. Jarrells (D-Columbus), Senate Assistant Minority Leader Hearcel F. Craig (D-Columbus), Rep. Latyna M. Humphrey (D-Columbus), Rep. Ismail Mohamed (D-Columbus), and Sen. Catherine D. Ingram (D-Cincinnati).

In other legislative action, the Senate Transportation Committee reported out SB163 (Kunze) which creates the Dublin City Schools license plate.

GOVERNOR

Gov. Mike DeWine was asked whether he had contacted or been contacted by the U.S. Department of Justice since last week’s call by Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), House Minority Leader Alllison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and other prominent Democrats for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to add DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted to its bribery investigation into 133-HB6 (Callender-Wilkin). He said no.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Senate voted 25-7 along party lines Wednesday to approve academic council appointments to the Miami University Center for Civics, Culture, and Society — one of five new “intellectual diversity” centers established under the state budget, HB33 (Edwards). The appointments, which were made by the university’s board of trustees, were considered earlier Wednesday by the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, where they were also approved along party lines. The final version of the budget included provisions from SB117 (Cirino-McColley), establishing the five centers as “independent academic unit[s]” within each university. Senate Workforce and Higher Education Chair Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) has previously said the centers are needed “because ideology is replacing the lessons of history on campus. And the less students learn about and embrace America’s founding principles and ideals, the more free speech is disappearing from our citadels of higher education and, subsequently, our entire nation.”

The Senate also unanimously approved a number of governor’s appointments to various universities’ boards of trustees. They also received a unanimous vote in the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee. The governor’s appointees now respond to questionnaires as the Senate considers their appointments. The questionnaires ask about appointees’ stances on the First Amendment rights of faculty and staff, what they view as significant issues facing higher education, how they plan to reduce the cost of college, their thoughts on faculty tenure and post-tenure review, how they plan to address workforce needs and more. Cirino told Hannah News the questionnaires are part of a new review process that has been in place for the last several months. It is meant to give Senate members more information about the appointees. Cirino said members would previously only get a resume at most. The questionnaires can be found at the Ohio Senate site at http://tinyurl.com/38yhfdch.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Chancellor Mike Duffey spoke at this year’s annual Choose Ohio First Scholar Showcase, with Duffey noting the program’s 2007 creation makes it nearly as old as college freshmen today. Husted, who led creation of the scholarship program when he was speaker, said its evolution since then has been “very rewarding.” At that time, he continued, the U.S. was falling behind and had not made the investments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) that were needed. Real quality of life relies upon innovation and those investments, he continued. Husted also discussed the rationale behind the program, given how many students end up working within 50 miles of where they graduated from high school or college.

Ohio University (OU) announced it will pause awarding scholarships based on race after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last year admissions programs that relied in part on race at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina (UNC) on the grounds that they violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Shortly after, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost warned colleges and universities about the need to “comply strictly” with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, sending a letter to colleges and universities that “institutions of higher education and institutional employees must immediately cease considering race when making admissions decisions.”

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Local officials and law enforcement are urging their peers to lobby Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) to retain $250 million for new jail funding in capital budget HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch), which cleared the House in a single day with strong Democratic support and awaits hearings in the upper chamber. HB2 includes $150 million for the construction and renovation of smaller local jails and $100 million for larger jails, to be administered by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC). They are only part of a $2 billion infrastructure bill which Huffman called “irresponsible” without further debate and which Republicans who withheld support for the House speaker’s leadership bid have labeled a slush fund for his Democrat and GOP supporters. The County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO) and Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association (BSSA) released a new survey of counties in support of HB2 jail funding, which follows their 2019 survey.

PENSIONS

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) told reporters Wednesday the state’s retirement systems are “very good” but “not quite as healthy” as they could be, emphasizing how it is a complicated issue for legislators to address. The Senate’s most knowledgeable member on the topic is Sen. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton), who Huffman said has not been able to attend a lot of the meetings due to health reasons. Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario) has worked to fill that gap, he continued. “I’m going to give you a very general answer which is we want the pension systems to be healthy. We want people to be able to depend on the money. Not just people that are about to retire but the people who aren’t going to retire for 30 years.”

PEOPLE

John Kronour is the new Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) director of sport management, OHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute announced Thursday. Kronour has 39 years of experience as a teacher, administrator, basketball official and member of the OHSAA Southwest District Athletic Board, OHSAA said in a news release. Beau Rugg, who has served as both the OHSAA director of sport management and officiating since 2011, will now lead one department as director of officiating. Rugg will also continue as OHSAA’s football administrator.

POLITICS

A member of the Ohio Republican Party’s State Central Committee sent a letter to his colleagues Monday calling for the committee to hold a special meeting to discuss taking over the House Republican Caucus’ campaign fund over its running of negative ads in the upcoming Tuesday, March 19 primary. The Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA), the campaign arm of the caucus, began running ads in the past several weeks in support of a number of Republican incumbents and attacking the primary challengers to those incumbents. Many of the incumbents are among the House Republicans who joined Democrats to elect Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) over caucus choice Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee) at the beginning of the session. In the letter, attorney Josh Brown, a member of the Ohio Republican Party’s State Central Committee, complained about the negative ads against Republican candidates, “including some endorsed” by the committee.

SOLAR ECLIPSE

The University of Toledo’s (UT) Ritter Planetarium will host programs on the upcoming total solar eclipse on Fridays and Saturdays in March. “Totality” is all about eclipses, exploring the physics and astronomy behind both types. Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, casting a shadow on the Earth, while lunar eclipses are more common and occur when the same three bodies align so that the moon is in the shadow of the Earth. “Totality,” recommended for middle school students through adults, will screen at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays in March. “Lights Out! Eclipses – Whys, Wonders, Wows!” is a family-oriented program that introduces eclipses and explores some of the stories surrounding them. “Lights Out!” is recommended for elementary and middle school students and will screen at 1 p.m. on Saturdays in March.

TAXATION

A veteran of Ohio tax administration told the General Assembly’s property tax study panel Wednesday that the flagship policy for preventing spikes in tax bills no longer works well. The Joint Committee on Property Tax Review and Reform hearing included testimony provided by experts at Zaino Hall & Farin, including former Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) Commissioner Tom Zaino, former Senate majority budget director Brian Perera and tax attorney Stephen Hall, former ODT assistant counsel. Zaino said that HB920 of the 111th General Assembly, enacted in 1976 to prevent large run-ups in property values from driving proportionate property tax increases, isn’t achieving its intended purpose anymore because of school districts’ ability to seek voted millage not subject to HB920 limitations. “Based on research and available data, we believe school districts have done their own type of ‘tax planning’ by utilizing levies that have been enacted over the last 48 years but which are exempt from HB920. As a result, HB920 is broken. We will show why HB920 is broken and why it no longer works to protect Ohioans from inflationary increases in property taxes,” Zaino said.

Posted by on March 04th, 2024

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