Week in Review > Week In Review 4-24-2023Posted by Paul Imhoff on April 24th, 2023
The Ohio Ballot Board Monday unanimously adopted a proposed constitutional amendment to increase Ohio’s minimum wage as one issue, allowing backers to start collecting signatures on the proposal. Corey Columbo, an attorney representing the petitioners, told the Ballot Board that the issue is nearly the same as it had approved last year with changes to the effective dates and new proposed minimum wage rates. Backers will now need to collect 413,446 valid signatures in order to make the ballot, though it is unknown which ballot they will aim for. After the previous issue cleared the Ballot Board, an attorney for the measure said they were aiming for the 2024 General Election ballot. If the amendment were to appear on this year’s ballot, it would need to be submitted by Wednesday, July 5.
House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) told reporters after session Wednesday that the biennial budget is starred for a final House vote on Thursday, April 27, though he signaled potential changes in HB33’s (Edwards) final language.
The House unveiled hundreds of revisions to the executive budget proposal Tuesday morning in a substitute bill that uses new cost data for the school funding formula, collapses the bottom two brackets of the income tax and increases direct service provider pay from the executive proposed $16-per-hour to $18-per-hour by the end of the coming biennium. The House changes to HB33 (Edwards) increase General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriations by $484.3 million or 1.15 percent in FY24 and $809 million or 1.82 percent for FY25; All Funds total would rise by $2.1 billion or 2.23 percent and $1.4 billion or 1.53 percent, respectively.
The House Finance Committee convened Tuesday, adopted the substitute bill without discussion or objection and then adjourned in the space of a few minutes. Speaking with reporters after the vote, committee Chair Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said the House changes aim to benefit middle-income Ohioans. Hence, he said, the decision in tax reform to consolidate the lower rather than upper brackets of the income tax. “I think it’s a middle-income, middle-class tax cut that will be very beneficial for the people back home and across the state of Ohio,” Edwards said. Specifically, the substitute bill would consolidate the existing 2.765 percent bracket for incomes between $26,050 and $46,100 and the 3.226 percent bracket for incomes between $46,100 and $92,150, and set a new rate of 2.75 percent for the combined bracket.
In the runup to the House floor vote on its version of the proposed FY24-25 budget, HB33 (Edwards), on Thursday, April 27, the full House Finance Committee Wednesday heard four-and-a-half hours of testimony on its initial pass at a sub bill. While many of the witnesses were pleased with where their portion of the budget currently stands, a number of others were disappointed in what the House is proposing or are continuing to press for additional changes.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed $2,500 per child income tax deduction wouldn’t do much to help low-income families, Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati) told Ohio Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kimberly Murnieks on Tuesday. “I kind of feel like we would be much better served to look at the refundable earned income tax credit (EITC), given the cost of all of these things, and given what it would cost to do a 10 percent refundable EITC, it would be much more impactful than doing a $2,500 per child tax deduction,” Blessing said during the question-and-answer portion of Murnieks’ HB33 (Edwards) testimony before the Senate Finance Committee. “Now, if that would be a bridge too far — going to refundability — much hay has been made about the cliff effect and how some of that works with some of these low-income families with children,” he continued. “We do have a non-refundable EITC here in Ohio … maybe we should consider adding a five-year carryforward to that, such that it would work this way – if you’re making $35,000 a year and you have a family of four, each year that you make more money, you’re then more able to fully take advantage of that non-refundable EITC, such that it can help in breaking parts of that cliff effect. I think it would be great policy, and simpler than doing something like the $2,500 per child deduction.” Murnieks said the $2,500 per child income tax deduction represents “significant” tax relief, noting it will result in $130 million per year in savings for families. However, she said she would be happy to discuss other policies as the budget process moves forward.
Recently released estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau showed Ohio and a majority of its counties had a net loss in residents from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2022, with 68 counties showing declines and only nine having an increase of more than 1 percent. Ohio’s population estimate was 11.76 million as of July 2022. The state population dropped by 0.35 percent in that period, representing a net loss of 41,459 residents. By percentage, the five counties with the highest loss from 2020 to 2022 were Athens, 5.44; Lawrence, 2.55; Scioto, 2.23; Cuyahoga, 2.1; and Vinton, 1.87. Cuyahoga County had the highest number of total lost residents at 26,482, followed by Hamilton, 5,283; Lucas, 4,191; Summit, 3,910; and Athens, 3,392.
Union County saw the highest growth by percentage at 6.04, followed by Delaware, 5.19; Warren, 2.7; Pickaway, 2.35; and Fairfield, 2.17. The order of the top three changed in terms of new residents added, with Delaware County leading at 11,157, followed by Warren, 6,577; Union, 3,809; Fairfield, 3,455; and Lorain, 2773. Nine counties added over 1,000 residents during the 2020 to 2022 period.
Legislation banning gender-affirming health care for minors received its first hearing in the House Public Health Policy Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) said his HB68 is necessary to protect children from receiving surgeries and taking medications they may regret in the future, while Democrats on the committee — some of whom are medical doctors — argued the bill prohibits Ohioans from receiving legitimate medical treatments and blocks parental rights. Click said the Saving Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act would prohibit medical professionals from providing minors with puberty blockers, hormones or surgeries for the purpose of gender transitioning. It would also require mental health providers to screen for comorbidities before diagnosing children with gender dysphoria. “The SAFE Act is necessary legislation because medical institutions have found it difficult if not impossible to self-regulate in areas that are so blatantly driven by politics. Three factors stand in their way — ideology, financial interest and intimidation,” Click said.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Thursday reported the number of new COVID-19 cases in the last seven days fell from 5,165 to 3,372. This is the lowest weekly level since the seven days ending on March 31, 2022 when there were 3,103 new cases. The last period below 3,500 new cases before that was July 9-15, 2021, with 2,406 cases reported by ODH. Other weekly figures reported Thursday include 241 hospitalizations, down from 288; 19 ICU admissions, down from 27; and 53 deaths, up from 45. In total ODH has reported 3.45 million cases, 140,069 hospitalizations, 15,187 ICU admissions and 42,126 deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also simplified its vaccine recommendations Wednesday and announced older adults and those who are immunocompromised can receive a second dose of the bivalent vaccine.
Questions from senators hearing about the DeWine administration’s education budget proposals Wednesday highlighted what the state doesn’t yet know about the current state of literacy instruction. Ohio Department of Education Interim Superintendent Stephanie Siddens gave budget testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, generally covering the same territory she did in the House Finance Committee and House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee on HB33 (Edwards). Committee Chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) asked Siddens if the schools that are not using “science of reading” methods are those with the lowest performance. “The department currently does not have the landscape of what schools are utilizing. For curriculum, we do not collect any of that centrally. The budget provides for us to do that,” she said. Siddens said ODE’s “working assumption” is that lower performing districts might not be using instruction aligned to the science of reading, but “it is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation.”
Current and former transgender athletes, their family members, and other LGBTQ advocates appeared in the House Higher Education Committee Wednesday to oppose a bill that would require schools and colleges to designate separate, single-sex teams for competition sports. Over 100 individuals submitted testimony in opposition to HB6 (Powell), which would stop transgender women and girls from participating in women’s and girls’ sports. Most of those who appeared in person to provide testimony were current or former trans athletes themselves. They told members that sports teams and their teammates give them an irreplaceable community and “sense of belonging,” and said there hasn’t been an issue with policies put in place by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA).
Ohio Supreme Court justices referred to mediation a dispute on whether the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding is subject to public records laws since public school districts provide funding for its operations. Earlier this month, Brian Ames of the Northeast Ohio community of Mogadore, filed a complaint against the coalition, its Steering Committee and Cathy Johnson of Columbus, chair of that steering committee. With a membership and steering committee made up “almost entirely” of public school districts and their officials and a coalition-of-governments structure formed pursuant to state law, the coalition should be subject to public records law, Ames argues in his complaint.
The Senate Finance Committee heard from Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner Wednesday. He reiterated remarks he’d made in House budget testimony. Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Krtland), chairing the afternoon portion of the hearing, returned with Gardner to a line of questions he’d posed to Office of Budget and Management Director Kim Murnieks the day before, wondering if there shouldn’t be some strings attached to the new merit scholarship proposal to make certain recipients are staying in Ohio.
The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee heard over seven hours of testimony against higher education overhaul bill SB83 (Cirino) on Wednesday, with opponents saying the legislation threatens academic freedom and will harm the state’s education system. “SB83 is modeled after language developed by out-of-state interests that have a national political agenda that has nothing to do with enhancing Ohio higher education. These are not unique solutions to Ohio problems. In reality, the bill fails to address any of the actual problems that we face in Ohio higher education — underfunding and disinvestment, administrative bloat, misplaced spending priorities, and an overreliance on adjunct faculty, to name a few,” said University of Cincinnati political science professor Steve Mockabee, speaking on behalf of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
A “climate change” provision of higher education overhaul measure SB83 (Cirino) will likely be clarified in an amendment, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) told Hannah News on Monday. Currently, the bill defines “climate change” as a “controversial belief or policy” alongside issues like electoral politics, foreign policy, immigration, marriage, abortion and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. That definition was recently criticized by State Climatologist of Ohio Aaron Wilson during a Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) forum on climate change. Cirino said his intention was not to define the science of climate change as a “controversial belief,” but to characterize the debate over how policymakers should address climate change as a subject of controversy.
The State Teachers Retirement System Board of Trustees discussed Thursday a framework for deciding whether future benefit increases are “sustainable.” Representatives of Cheiron, the contracted outside actuary for STRS, presented a “sustainable benefit enhancement plan,” built on a three-part test about the sufficiency of current contributions and how quickly the system could bounce back from a major shock. Based on current conditions, that test does not provide a budget for granting benefit increases, said Cheiron’s Mike Noble. However, he said, state law specifies that the board can make benefit changes if, in the actuaries’ judgment, they do not materially impair the integrity of the fund. Noble said Cheiron would define a change that does not materially impair the fund as one having a cost of no more than 1 percent of current assets, which presently would be $830 million.
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