Week in Review > Week in Review 4-15-24

Posted by on April 14th, 2024

AUDITOR OF STATE

Auditor of State Keith Faber Friday placed the Mt. Healthy City School District in Hamilton County in a state of fiscal emergency as a result of a projected operating fund deficit of $10,758,000, representing 26 percent of the district’s general revenue funds for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2024. The district has not passed a levy to eliminate that deficit. Under state law, the Auditor of State’s Office declares a school district to be in fiscal emergency under the following conditions:

– An operating deficit has been certified for the current fiscal year by the auditor of state, and the certified operating deficit exceeds 15 percent of the district’s general fund revenue for the preceding fiscal year;

– A levy has not been passed by the voting electors that will raise enough additional revenue in the succeeding fiscal year so that the first condition will not apply to the district in the next succeeding year.

DISABILITIES

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) recently revamped its Deaf Services webpage for greater inclusivity and accessibility. The update includes a wide range of American Sign Language (ASL) videos. “At OOD, we understand the unique needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and this update is part of our ongoing commitment to enhance accessibility. Discover a wealth of ASL videos that explain the diverse range of services available to you,” the agency said. The updated website, which includes answers to common questions through ASL videos, can be found at https://tinyurl.com/ypbxw64b.

ECONOMY

The national unemployment rate trended down slightly in March to 3.8 percent from February’s 3.9 percent as total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 303,000 jobs in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). President Joe Biden, facing a tough re-election battle, touted the numbers in a statement, saying it passes a milestone of 15 million new jobs since he took office. He also called for corporations to pass “their record profits to consumers.” BLS said other numbers, including the number of unemployed people, at 6.4 million, and the number of long-term unemployed, at 1.2 million, were little changed in March. The federal unemployment rate has ranged from 3.7 percent to 3.9 percent since August 2023.

EDUCATION

Superintendent Paul Craft told the State Board of Education (SBOE) Tuesday he’s now optimistic lawmakers will come through with money to address a looming budget shortfall resulting from the new K-12 governance structure enacted in the biennial budget. Craft said he’d met recently with Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) to discuss the budget problem.

The SBOE discussed Tuesday the implications of budget bill law changes that flattened the grade band licensure structure for teachers to two bands from three. They also heard about an expected interruption in services for students in the state’s Autism and Jon Peterson scholarships because of expired authority to serve them remotely, as well as a plea for the board to take a tougher approach to teachers who break their contracts. Under HB33 (Edwards), the grade bands are changing from preK-5, 4-9 and 7-12, to preK-8 and 7-12. Witnesses who spoke during the board’s public participation session said this change diminishes the value of specialized training and knowledge teachers have to focus on middle-grades students and will disrupt the efforts of teacher training programs.

The SBOE officially moved to its new home in the William Green Building in downtown Columbus during the week of Monday, April 1, SBOE President Paul LaRue told Hannah News. It’s located at 30 W. Spring St., which is about four blocks north of the board’s current meeting place at the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) office, 25 S. Front St. The board’s April meeting was its last at the DEW office as it transitions to the new location.

Violence against teachers is likely to be higher in schools that focus on grades and test scores than in schools that emphasize student learning, a new study from researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) found. Researchers surveyed over 9,000 U.S. teachers shortly before and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic about their perception of the instructional emphasis in their schools. Participants also reported whether they had been subjected to physical, verbal or property violence — by students, parents, colleagues and/or administrators. Results showed that a school culture focused on performance was associated with higher levels of all types of teacher-directed violence before and during COVID-19, while school emphasis on mastery of material was related to lower levels of violence aimed at educators.

Gov. Mike DeWine and DEW Director Stephen Dackin Thursday announced that 171 Ohio schools are receiving the Purple Star designation as members of the Purple Star Class of 2024. The designation is given to schools that show a significant commitment to serving students and families connected to the armed forces. Ninety-seven new Ohio schools received the award for the first time, and 74 schools earned a renewal after three years as Purple Star schools. Ohio has 600 active Purple Star schools. To qualify, schools choose a school-based staff person to serve as a liaison between military families and the school. These liaisons complete professional development, identify military-connected students, and facilitate supports throughout the school community for identified students and families. Purple Star schools also participate in at least one supportive activity each year.

ETHICS

Nearly 70 percent of advisory requests to the Ohio Ethics Commission (OEC) on Ohio Ethics Law came from local governments in 2023, according to the OEC’s Annual Report. That number includes guidance requests coming from counties, cities, townships, villages and public schools located throughout Ohio. Susan Willeke, education and communications administrator at OEC, said she has expanded statewide ethics law training opportunities during her almost two decades at the commission with the growth of online learning vehicles. The 2023 annual report says that for the year, OEC reached approximately 55,000 public employees and officials throughout the state with its e-course offerings, in addition to over 160 in-person educational offerings throughout the year delivered to nearly 15,000 people across Ohio.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

In his response to the governor’s “State of the State” speech, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said his chamber and the governor share many of the same goals. Specifically, Stephens pointed to HB7 (White-Humphrey), the Strong Foundations Act, which addresses maternal and infant mortality. “HB7 … will work in concert with the governor’s goals to serve a strong foundation for babies and moms throughout the state by investing in their future,” he said. “Additionally, we can attract major economic drivers so that our families can prosper.” Asked about Delta-8 hemp, Stephens said there is agreement among lawmakers that it should be illegal for children to buy and use. He suggested language addressing that issue could be amended into HB258 (Carruthers), which increases fines for repeatedly selling tobacco products to minors. “Hopefully the Senate will use that bill as a vehicle for the Delta-8 provisions that the governor was talking about,” he said. “That’ll be something we can do rather quickly, I would think.”

After session, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) weighed in on Gov. Mike DeWine’s “State of the State” address delivered earlier in the day. He said DeWine was “spot on” on his comments about the science of reading. He said he was happy to hear DeWine talk about making sure institutions of higher education change the way teachers are taught about how to educate kids to read. On child care, Huffman said the part of the discussion that has been missing is capacity. “It’s one thing to say you’re eligible for funds and we’re going to pay more money. But if there’s no place to go, it doesn’t help the working parents. I think capacity has to be part of the discussion,” Huffman said. Huffman praised the governor’s comments on vision screening, noting Treasurer Robert Sprague had an initiative a couple of budget cycles ago that lawmakers funded regarding the use of vision vehicles that went around the state to do vision screenings on students. Huffman also addressed the potential conflict of the Democratic National Convention being held past Ohio’s deadline for submitting a presidential candidate name to the Ohio ballot. He praised Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s staff for identifying the issue. He said he’s not sure there needs to be a legislative change and that he is waiting to hear from Democrats if anything needs to be done.

After Gov. DeWine’s “State of the State,” House and Senate Democrats said they liked that DeWine centered his address on Ohio’s children and families, but also said they were disappointed that many of the topics that affect children and families weren’t discussed enough or at all. Democrats applauded Gov. DeWine’s message of increasing merit scholarships for high school and college students to further their education in Ohio’s higher education institutions. DeWine talked about affordable and available child care, which Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) called “awesome,” but she said they need to be able to raise the eligibility threshold so more people can access this service. Discussing public and private education in Ohio, Antonio said that Ohio’s investments in private schools have led to increasing disparity among institutions.

The Senate unanimously passed legislation that would grant an exemption for mothers who are breastfeeding from jury duty. HB34 (Klopfenstein-King) now heads to the governor for his signature after the Senate passed it 30-0 during its post “State of the State” Wednesday session. The Senate also unanimously passed all other bills on its agenda, including the following:

– HCR6 (King), urging Congress to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision, which senators said punished those who take on a public service job.

– SCR8 (Schaffer), urging the president, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Congress to take prompt action to reduce the processing time for veterans’ disability benefit claims.

– SCR9 (Schaffer), urging Congress to support the provision of prompt and comprehensive mental health treatment to military personnel and veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other service-related stress disorders.

– SB163 (Kunze), creating the Dublin City Schools licensed plate, which Kunze said would benefit the Dublin food bank and put more of a spotlight on suburban poverty.

Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati) stepped down as House minority whip Wednesday, though she has not yet been appointed as Hamilton County auditor. Rep. Dani Issacsohn (D-Cincinnati) is succeeding Miranda as minority whip. House Insurance Committee Chair Rep. Brian Lampton (R-Beavercreek) Wednesday had seemingly broken the news when he congratulated Miranda, the committee’s ranking member, on becoming the new Hamilton County auditor at Wednesday’s hearing. However, a House Democratic Caucus spokesman said the appointment has not yet occurred, though it could occur as soon as this weekend.

Discrimination is continuing to prevent many families from buying a house in their ideal community, Reps. Josh Williams (R-Oregon) and Dontavious Jarrells (D-Columbus) told the House Civil Justice Committee on Tuesday. “Current real estate procedure requires buyers to disclose their name and address to the seller when making a real estate transaction. Using this information, sellers can easily identify buyers online on social media — uncovering their race, religion or political beliefs,” Williams said during sponsor testimony on HB438. “As our country and our state grow increasingly polarized, we see sellers refuse to sell to buyers based on these criteria,” he continued. “While I had heard of this occurring anecdotally from my wife Neaira, who works in Toledo as a realtor, conversations with trade groups confirmed that such discrimination is a problem in the home buying process. The goal of this legislation is to prevent discrimination from occurring in the residential real estate market and the solution is simple — redact the names and address of the buyer until the property is under contract.” Under the process outlined in the bill, the seller will have to evaluate an offer solely on its financial merit, he said.

Republicans’ Senate energy priorities seemed at cross purposes Tuesday as members urged both compliance and pushback on Biden administration mandates for greenhouse gas (GHG) cuts in the Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Sens. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) and Al Landis (R-Dover) advocated new state regulation qualifying Ohio companies for carbon capture funding under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) rule, while Sens. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) and Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) pushed a resolution petitioning USEPA to withdraw the same rule.

In other legislative action, the House Aviation and Aerospace Committee reported out HB77 (Willis) which governs the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles; the House Civil Justice Committee reported out HB265 (Wiggam-Hall) which deals with public records exemptions; and HB338 (White-Sweeney) which addresses child support orders for disabled children; the House Government Oversight Committee reported out HB360 (Seitz-Brennan) which designates Aug. 24 as “Ukraine Independence Day”; and the House Transportation Committee reported out highway naming bills HB317 (Stoltzfus) and HB350 (Callender).

GOVERNOR

Approximately 8,000 children will receive financial support through the new “Child Care Choice Voucher Program” Gov. Mike DeWine announced during his “State of the State” address on Wednesday. The program will be available to Ohio families that earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $60,000 for a family of four, the governor said. “From April 29, 2024 through June 30, 2025 we anticipate serving 8,000 children totaling about a maximum of $140 million,” DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney told Hannah News. “The payments will range depending on the child’s age. The funding comes from the child care discretionary ARPA funds, and underspent in the publicly-funded child care space as a result of lower caseloads post-pandemic.” Additionally, the governor announced his administration will be re-allocating $85 million in federal funding to create new “Child Care Access Grants.” These grants will provide resources to improve and expand existing child care facilities, DeWine said. Those programs were two of many children’s initiatives announced or proposed by DeWine during his “State of the State” speech, which was heard by lawmakers, statewide elected officials and others during a joint legislative session held in the House Chamber.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Central Ohio warned consumers that scammers may be targeting parents seeking SAT and ACT test prep resources. “Con artists take advantage of easy access to kids’ names and school information to trick parents into paying for bogus SAT and ACT materials,” the group said. “A parent or guardian gets an unsolicited call from a person claiming to be from the College Board, the company responsible for the PSAT, SAT, and AP tests, or another educational organization. The caller claims to be confirming the home address, so they can send test prep materials, such as books, CDs, or videos, that their child requested at school,” BBB continued. Callers may ask parents to pay a deposit for materials, claiming it will be refunded. Several people have reported to the BBB Scam Tracker that callers had their child’s name, phone number, address, school information, and/or the date and location of their child’s scheduled test, the nonprofit said.

The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee Tuesday heard capital budget presentations from the leaders of three public universities: Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), the University of Akron (UA), and Wright State University (WSU). The committee meeting was the first of six hearings that will cover capital budget requests from all 14 of Ohio’s public universities, Chair Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said. In total, the 14 universities requested $300 million in capital funding through the Inter-University Council (IUC) of Ohio, he added. Cirino earlier this year sent a letter to university presidents instructing them to bring data and other information to back up their requests. He told universities to present information about the need for the proposed projects, any “cost avoidance data” and how the project will “impact the future delivery of instruction.” On Tuesday, the university presidents presented that information and more. Both UA President Gary Miller and Wright State President Susan Edwards told the committee they had taken pains to turn the financial outlooks of their universities around. At NEOMED, President John Langel said enrollment is on the rise. Nearly 6,000 students have graduated from the university since 1981. About 90 percent of pharmacists and 65 percent of physicians stay in the state. About one in 13 licensed physicians in Ohio are NEOMED graduates, he said. The number of NEOMED employees is down compared to FY17, he noted.

On Wednesday, the committee heard from Kent State President Todd Diacon and the University of Cincinnati (UC) President Neville Pinto. The two offered contrasting pictures, with Kent State facing steep budget cuts while UC’s enrollment continues to grow.

The House Higher Education Committee Wednesday reported out along party lines legislation to require single-sex restrooms and other facilities at primary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education. In addition, the committee heard sponsor testimony on a bill to prohibit colleges from “requiring individuals to commit to specific beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles.” Committee Chair Tom Young (R-Dayton) also made a statement about universities’ progress on implementing science of reading curriculum.

JUDICIAL

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) is asking Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jaiza Page to stay her ruling that permits plaintiffs in the EdChoice litigation to pose questions to him in writing, saying he will soon take his case to the Ohio Supreme Court after losing his first appeal. School districts suing over the constitutionality of EdChoice have sought to depose Huffman, a longtime supporter of vouchers, as part of their lawsuit. He asked Page to quash the subpoena, citing legislative privilege established in the Ohio Constitution. She responded by blocking the deposition but allowing plaintiffs to pose up to 20 questions to him in writing.

MARIJUANA/HEMP

Adults age 21 and older might be able to legally purchase marijuana in Ohio much earlier than September, according to Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord). Speaking with reporters at the Statehouse, Callender said adult use cannabis sales could begin in the middle of June. Callender said the Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) Division of Cannabis Control (DCC) has been working quickly, and that many adult use marijuana rules are already in the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), which he currently chairs.

There is no free ride when it comes to the opening of legalized marijuana markets, including Ohio’s market following the passage of Issue 2 by voters in 2023. That was the message from Dr. Lynn Silver of the group Getting It Right From The Start, which advocates for reducing harms, youth use and problem use while promoting social justice and equity as more states legalize marijuana and cannabis use. Thoughtful marijuana and tobacco regulation were major themes of a discussion of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio’s 2024 Health Value Dashboard, released this week, which lists tobacco and cannabis prevention among four main policy priorities to improve health value in Ohio. Other policy priorities included mental well-being, health care affordability and creating opportunities to thrive. Silver said that as Ohio crafts its legislation surrounding legalized marijuana, the General Assembly should take into consideration legalization’s public health impacts.

The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program has awarded dispensary certificates of operation to Parkland Ventures LLC, located at 2765 Gender Rd. in Columbus and to Ohio Holistic Health LLC, located at 215 W. 5th St. in Delphos, the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Cannabis Control announced this week. The state has now issued 122 medical marijuana dispensary certificates of operation.

PENSIONS

The State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) Board of Trustees will see a new representative of contributing members this fall, as the incumbent, board Chair Dale Price, declined to seek re-election. The two candidates vying to replace Price both have the backing of a major teachers’ group. The Ohio Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state, is endorsing Sandy Smith Fischer, a teacher in Streetsboro City Schools. The Ohio Federation of Teachers is endorsing Michelle Flanigan, a teacher at Brunswick City Schools. Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association (ORTA) also is endorsing Flanigan.

Trustee powers to modify retirement plan qualifications and benefits should be standardized across public employee pension funds, and the systems should be held to a more stringent standard for paying down unfunded liabilities, a staff report from the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) recommends. Council staff Thursday delivered on a request from council members to compile an overview of funding trends and past reforms as they consider requests from multiple systems for employers to contribute more funding. The report looks back to 1998, when lawmakers granted the pension funds broad authority to make investment decisions and set the 30-year standard for the funds to pay down their unfunded liabilities. At that time, all systems were well funded, with an asset-to-liability ratio of at least 90 percent for each of them. The report acknowledges some important history that precedes 1998, but said policies since had a “clearly dominant role” in determining their health today.

SOLAR ECLIPSE

Ohio parks in the path of totality during Monday’s eclipse reported filling up quickly as the state saw mostly clear skies. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who watched the eclipse from Wright Patterson Air Force Base, estimated a crowd at about 15,000 in a post on X/Twitter, adding that he met visitors from Alabama, Colorado, and Canada who came there for the experience. Gov. Mike DeWine watched the eclipse with members of his extended family at the Indian Lake home of First Lady Fran DeWine’s sister. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) reported parks at capacity throughout the afternoon leading up to the full eclipse, with Lake Loramie State Park, Lawrence Woods Nature Preserve, Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve, Mt. Gilead State Park, Van Buren State Park and Daughmer Prairie Savannah State Nature Preserve among the first parks to fill up. Others reporting at capacity included Mary Jane Thurston State Park, Magee Marsh, Indian Lake State Park, Maumee Bay State Park and Mosquito Lake State Park.

The Ohio Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated ahead of the solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday. Beginning on Sunday, April 7, staff members from a number of state agencies assembled at the EOC in Columbus to organize resources for local partners who request support, DeWine said during a press conference at the EOC. “There is certainly no better place to experience the eclipse than in the birthplace of aviation, home of Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. … We anticipate a large number of people are going to come to Ohio,” DeWine said. The state could see as many as 500,000 out-of-state visitors for the eclipse, Ohio Emergency Management Agency (Ohio EMA) Director Sima Merick said.

TAXATION

Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) Tuesday gave sponsor testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee on his legislation that he said would “once-and-for-all eliminate Ohio’s state income tax and Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) by 2030.” Mathews said HB386 (Mathews-Lampton) would establish a six-year gradual phase-down of the state income tax through the remainder of the decade. He said it would ensure that Ohio remains a destination for businesses to grow and attract people who want to work, raise a family and thrive. Repealing the CAT “demonstrates our commitment to the mission of ensuring that Ohio is the ideal place to start and run a business, to be a place where every entrepreneur’s dreams can be realized.”

Posted by on April 14th, 2024

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