Week in Review > Week in Review 4-1-24

Posted by on April 01st, 2024

APPALACHIA

More than $64 million will be awarded to the Appalachian Children Coalition to fund dozens of projects that are expected to significantly improve health care access across the region, Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Friday. The funding — which was provided as part of the new Appalachian Children’s Health Initiative and which was approved Monday by the Controlling Board — will support the creation or expansion of community- and school-based health clinics and the launch of health care-focused workforce development programs, among other items, the governor’s office said. Funding for the Appalachian Children’s Health Initiative is being awarded through the larger Appalachian Community Grant Program, which is investing $500 million into Ohio’s 32-county Appalachian region.

BALLOT ISSUES

Having had their proposed summary language rejected by Attorney General Dave Yost eight times, backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would end qualified immunity for police officers and other government employees have gone to the Ohio Supreme Court, the second ballot group to take the attorney general to court over his rejections. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed this week include Cynthia Brown, Carlos Buford and Jenny Sue Rowe, who the lawsuit says are supporters of the proposed amendment who intend to vote and organize in its favor. Yost, in his official capacity, is the named defendant. Yost had rejected the proposal, which would repeal constitutional immunities and defenses in cases alleging a civil rights violation by government actors, for the eighth time earlier this month, saying that his office had “identified omissions and misstatements that would mislead a potential signer as to the actual scope and effect of the proposed amendment.” Yost also wrote that the petitioners had submitted a summary that had repeated the misstatements and/or omissions that he had identified in previous rejections. Then on Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court denied a motion by backers that would have expedited their lawsuit.

ECONOMY

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced Friday that Ohio’s unemployment rate was 3.7 percent for February, unchanged from January, as the state added 2,900 jobs. OJDFS said Ohio’s nonagricultural wage and salary employment went from a revised 5,629,800 in January to 5,632,700 in February. The number of workers unemployed in Ohio in February was 214,000, up from 212,000 in January. The number of unemployed has increased by 3,000 in the past 12 months from 211,000. The February unemployment rate for Ohio in both 2023 and 2024 was 3.7 percent. In February 2024, the labor force participation rate in Ohio was 61.8 percent, unchanged from 61.8 percent in January 2024 and up from 61.7 percent in February 2023. During the same period, the national labor force participation rate was 62.5 percent, unchanged from 62.5 percent in both January 2024 and February 2023. The U.S. unemployment rate for February 2024 was 3.9 percent, up from 3.7 percent in January 2024 and up from 3.6 percent in February 2023.

EDUCATION

State Board of Education (SBOE) elected member John Hagan was named chair of the new Dropout Prevention and Recovery Advisory Committee during the group’s inaugural meeting on Tuesday. Hagan, a former state lawmaker, previously led the State Board of Education’s workgroup on dropout prevention and recovery (DOPR) schools. The new committee was included in the biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards), which incorporated language from SB79 (Reynolds) that called for establishment of the panel. It is the latest in a series of advisory and study groups that have looked at ways to fund and measure the performance of DOPR schools. The SBOE and the General Assembly separately have established councils to study the area in recent years.

ENERGY/UTILITIES

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has handed commercial and industrial customers of American Electric Power (AEP) Ohio and FirstEnergy an apparent victory over 3.4 million residential consumers by shifting the cost of federal transmission charges to household ratepayers represented by the Office of Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), according to the regulatory watchdog. Commissioners recently ruled in two cases involving AEP and FirstEnergy’s customer billing for “non-market-based transmission costs” ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and assessed by the 13-state regional transmission organization (RTO) encompassing Ohio, PJM Interconnection, which include controversial “supplemental” transmission charges under review at the FERC and Ohio General Assembly. The transmission report commissioned by 134-HB128 (Hoops-Stein) states that, while initially deferring to FERC and PJM investigations, it is ultimately the Legislature’s job to determine state policy for all electric transmission charges.

FEDERAL

The federal government once again narrowly avoided a shutdown after Congress and President Joe Biden approved a continuing appropriations bill over the weekend. The bill passed 74-24 in the U.S. Senate and 286-134 in the U.S. House. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) voted in favor of the bill, while U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) voted against it. Most of Ohio’s congressional delegation supported the spending bill, with U.S. Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), Shontel Brown (D-Warrensville Heights), Mike Carey (R-Columbus), Dave Joyce (R-Novelty), Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo), Greg Landsman (D-Cincinnati), Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green), Max Miller (R-Rocky River), Emilia Sykes (D-Akron), Mike Turner (R-Centerville) and Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati) voting for it. U.S. Reps. Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville), Warren Davidson (RTroy) and Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) voted against it.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff told reporters Thursday that respiratory viruses are trending down, though flu activity remains at a high level after previously being classified as “very high” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He said this was in line with typical changes for spring, and that there have been dramatic decreases in COVID-19 and RSV cases in recent weeks. People with the flu should avoid being around others until 24 hours after they are fever free and see other symptoms improving.

Vanderhoff also discussed a new ODH dashboard which summarizes data on infectious diseases, saying it “greatly” increases information available to the public regarding over 100 diseases or illnesses such as measles, legionellosis and Lyme disease. The dashboard is interactive and can be filtered by county, time frame and demographics such as age or ethnicity. It extends back to 2001 and will be updated weekly. This replaces an annual report on diseases that had not been available until 18 months after the end of the year. COVID-19 and the flu are not included, as they have dedicated ODH dashboards. The dashboard is available at https://tinyurl.com/2cs6vf67. Click on the “Visualize” tab once on the page.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The presidents of the University of Findlay and Bluffton University announced that they have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) declaring their intention to pursue a merger of operations. Findlay and Bluffton would become one higher education community on two campuses. The decision was made by votes of each institution’s board of trustees. It was announced during a recent press conference on the University of Findlay’s campus. Pending all regulatory approvals, the merger is anticipated to be completed by Fall 2025.

Butler Tech and Miami University — in collaboration with the Butler County Board of Commissioners and the city of Hamilton — announced plans to establish a new advanced manufacturing hub in Butler County. Miami plans to acquire the Vora Technology Park to house the new hub. Butler Tech, which will sign a 40-year lease on the space, has secured $8 million in federal ARPA funds from the Butler County Board of Commissioners to establish the hub. Additionally, the city of Hamilton has contributed $2.5 million for this effort. Hub partners continue to seek additional federal, state, and corporate grants to finance this ongoing project.

The Biden administration announced the approval of $5.8 billion in additional student loan debt forgiveness for 77,700 borrowers after fixes made by the administration to Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). The debt relief includes borrowers who have benefitted from the limited PSLF waiver as well as regulatory changes. Total forgiveness through PSLF now stands at $62.5 billion for 871,000 borrowers since October 2021. Prior to the fixes to the PSLF program, only about 7,000 borrowers had ever received forgiveness, according to Biden administration. An additional nearly 380,000 borrowers who are within two years, or 24 qualifying payments, of receiving forgiveness under PSLF will also receive an email from President Joe Biden starting this week thanking them for their service and notifying them that if they continue in their public service work, they will be eligible for forgiveness within that time frame. In Ohio, 38,310 borrowers so far have received forgiveness under the PSLF.

JUDICIAL

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Ohio and the Goodwin law firm have filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas challenging HB68 (Click), which bans gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two families whose children are at risk of losing their health care, asks the court to strike down HB68 before its scheduled effective date on Wednesday, April 24. According to the lawsuit, HB68 violates four sections of the Ohio Constitution, including the single-subject rule, the health care provision, the equal protection clause, and the due course of law provision.

In a unanimous opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court set rules for when a public official can be sued for blocking people or deleting comments on social media. “A public official’s social media activity constitutes state action under Section 1983 only if the official (1) possessed actual authority to speak on the state’s behalf and (2) purported to exercise that authority when he spoke on social media,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the Court in Lindke v. Freed.

Attorneys for a Union County property owner and Marysville Schools debated statutory construction at length this week in arguments before Ohio Supreme Court justices about just when schools lost appeal rights in property valuation disputes. The Supreme Court’s Tuesday oral argument session included Marysville Exempted Village Schools Board of Education v. Union County Board of Revision et al, which addresses the timing of restrictions on local governments’ participation in property valuation disputes enacted in 134-HB126 (Merrin). Owners of The Residence at Cooks Pointe are challenging a Third District Court of Appeals ruling that a prohibition on appeals of board of revision decisions only applies to complaints filed after the law took effect in summer of 2022. Justices have accepted other cases on the same subject but held those matters for the outcome of Marysville. Steven Smiseck, the attorney for Cooks Pointe arguing before justices Tuesday, said 200-plus property owners are awaiting a resolution in the case.

A month after asking the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) and three nursing home trade groups to work out their differences in mediation, the Ohio Supreme Court recently decided to restore the rate dispute to its regular docket. LeadingAge Ohio, the Ohio Health Care Association and the Academy of Senior Health Services sued ODM in February, alleging it misconstrued budget bill language on quality incentive payments.

MARIJUANA/HEMP

If they aren’t doing so already, businesses should start treating medical cannabis patients like any other worker using prescription medications, attorney Adele Abrams told attendees of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) Ohio Safety Congress & Expo on Wednesday. “Make sure that you view your medical cannabis patients as employees with medical conditions, and not as drug abusers,” said Abrams, who is an associate safety professional (ASP), certified mine safety professional (CMSP) and president of a multi-state law office that represents employers in litigation involving the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

PENSIONS

Appellate judges quizzed special counsel for the state Tuesday on Gov. Mike DeWine’s power to remove a State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) trustee when the law specifies the term of office, while the attorney for the ousted trustee asserted DeWine ran afoul of due process protections involved in unseating public officials. Judges Kristin Boggs, Carly Edelstein and David Leland of the 10th District Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Wade Steen, who held an investment expert seat on the STRS board until DeWine removed him, citing his attendance record and perceived advocacy for specific investments. Magistrate Thomas Scholl III recently issued a report recommending Steen’s restoration, to which the state objected. DeWine initially replaced Steen with G. Brent Bishop, but Bishop later stepped down; DeWine then appointed Brian Perera, the former Ohio State University lobbyist and Ohio Senate budget director. At issue in the case is whether, as Steen suggests, he was appointed to a fixed term and cannot be removed at the governor’s pleasure.

SOLAR ECLIPSE

The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) sent a notice to schools this week responding to peculiar circumstances brought on by the Monday, April 8 solar eclipse. Many Ohio schools have decided to close their doors for eclipse day, given strong interest in viewing it and the likelihood of mass traffic disruptions as people travel to and from the path of totality. However, DEW notes, some charter and private schools are staying open that day, creating an issue for the local districts that are obligated to transport the other schools’ students under state law.

Ohioans planning to view the upcoming solar eclipse should do so using properly rated ISO 12312-2 glasses from reputable sources, Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff and Ohio State University (OSU) College of Optometry Acting Dean Dr. Jeffrey Walline said Thursday. They also advised against reusing glasses from the 2017 solar eclipse. The two held a virtual press conference with reporters, with Vanderhoff saying the solar eclipse poses a “monumental event” for the state. The path of totality covers all or part of 55 counties, he continued, and the other 33 will experience a partial eclipse. ODH’s main concern is eye safety.

Posted by on April 01st, 2024

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