Week in Review > Week In Review 4-3-2023Posted by Paul Imhoff on April 04th, 2023
The Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday granted a motion to expedite a lawsuit challenging the Ohio Ballot Board’s decision to certify a proposed reproductive and abortion rights amendment, setting a briefing schedule that concludes by Friday, April 7. Members of Cincinnati Right to Life filed the lawsuit, arguing that the Ohio Ballot Board had improperly certified the proposed constitutional amendment as one issue during a recent meeting. The lawsuit argues that the board held no discussion “or debate whatsoever” on whether to certify the proposal as one issue, as well as that abortion is an “inherently different” and “unique act” compared to other reproductive rights that the amendment addresses such as contraception, fertility treatment and miscarriage care.
House Republicans in support of raising the threshold for amending the Ohio Constitution filed a discharge petition Wednesday in hopes of forcing a vote on the issue. Meanwhile, a former leader of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission urged senators to consider the combined approach that body took on reforming both the constitutional and statutory initiative processes in tandem. Testimony in the Senate highlighted the interplay between the idea and a potential statewide vote on abortion rights. Numerous House Republicans Wednesday signed the discharge petition on HJR1 (Stewart), the House version of the proposed constitutional amendment to raise the threshold, which would send it straight to the floor. House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hills) softened his stance somewhat on the issue, calling an August special election for an amendment “a possibility,” after earlier saying he was “frankly not interested” in one and was not for changing the rules “willy nilly.”
The Ohio Supreme Court should dismiss a lawsuit brought by members of Cincinnati Right to Life claiming the Ohio Ballot Board improperly certified the “Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety” constitutional amendment as one issue, Attorney General Dave Yost wrote in a court filing. Yost, representing the Ohio Ballot Board and its members, denied the anti-abortion activists’ allegations that the board abused its discretion or acted “in clear disregard of applicable legal provisions” when it determined the abortion/reproductive rights amendment is a single issue to be considered by voters.
The House Finance Committee heard a wide range of testimony Wednesday over a nine-hour period — with time out for lunch and the House floor session — as it moves on to finishing with public testimony before moving on next week to considering amendments to the governor’s proposed version of the FY24-25 budget in HB33 (Edwards). Wednesday’s hearing saw many folks returning to offer up the same or similar testimony to that which was given before the subcommittees.
The Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus Monday heard an update on the Healthy Beginnings at Home (HBAH) program for expectant mothers facing housing insecurity. The program is slated to receive a major boost through the FY24-25 state budget. Healthy Beginnings at Home, which was launched in 2018 as a pilot program, provides rental subsidies and housing stabilization services to Medicaid-eligible pregnant women who are experiencing homelessness or are housing insecure and at a greater risk of infant mortality. Gov. Mike DeWine’s budget proposal contains a significant expansion of the program with recommended funding of $16 million in FY24 and $1 million in FY25 through the new Department of Children and Youth. The money would build off the $2.5 million allocated to the program in 134-HB110 (Oelslager).
A recent report by the medical journal The Lancet found Ohio was tied for seventh lowest in COVID-19 deaths at 293 per 100,000 residents. The leading states were Hawaii, 147; New Hampshire, 215; Maine, 218; Vermont, 249; Maryland, 285; and Washington, 286. Connecticut also had 293, while Pennsylvania had 297 and Nebraska had 298. The data cover the period from Jan. 1, 2020 to July 31, 2022, during which the national rate was 372 deaths per 100,000.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said Friday that the state unemployment rate decreased to 3.9 percent in February, down from 4 percent in January. The state added 900 jobs over the month. ODJFS said the number of workers unemployed in Ohio in February was 224,000, down from 229,000 in January. The number of unemployed has decreased by 6,000 in the past 12 months from 230,000. The February unemployment rate for Ohio decreased 0.1 percent from 4.0 percent in February 2022. The U.S. unemployment rate for February 2023 was 3.6 percent, up from 3.4 percent in January 2023, and down from 3.8 percent in February 2022.
The state should give schools greater flexibility in using money now proposed for hiring school resource officers, and should do more to ensure proper training and accountability for those officers, a coalition of groups focused on children’s wellbeing and juvenile justice said Monday. ACLU of Ohio, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio, Juvenile Justice Coalition. Policy Matters Ohio and Ohio Poverty Law Center participated in a videoconference to raise questions and concerns about Gov. Mike DeWine’s executive budget proposal to provide $338 million to put a school resource officer in every building that wants one.
The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) should not rescind a religious student organization rule implemented during the Trump administration, Attorney General Dave Yost wrote in a letter to the department. USDOE is seeking to rescind regulations that “prescribe a novel role for the department in enforcing grant conditions related to student organizations” at institutions of higher education (IHEs), according to USDOE’s proposal in the Federal Register. Yost said the current rule “provides an additional check on wayward administrators who, all too frequently, trample students’ right to freely exercise their religion.”
Prohibiting transgender women and girls from playing women’s and girls’ sports is necessary to protect the integrity of those athletic events, supporters of HB6 (Powell) said Wednesday. “Biological sex is indisputably the single biggest driver of athletic advantage. Males have a 10 to 50 percent performance advantage — depending on the sport — over females. Having separate teams for men and women is the time-tested way to ensure that women have the opportunity to showcase their talents and become champions,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Matt Sharp told the House Higher Education Committee. Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst), however, raised concerns about “sore loser” parents bringing frivolous lawsuits over athletes’ gender.
The Ohio Department of Development (DOD) announced Thursday that the third round of its High School Tech Internship pilot program was currently open for applications, encouraging businesses and employers to participate. The program provides reimbursement for establishing a recruitment pipeline through hosting high school interns in tech-related roles. The students receive “valuable work experience at an early age.” Educational entities should email High_School_Tech_Internship@Development.Ohio.gov to start their applications, and businesses looking to host interns should notify their local educational entity such as a school district, educational service center or business advisory council. Businesses cannot participate without partnering with an educational entity. For more information, visit the program website at https://tinyurl.com/4hzf24vn.
The deadline to register to vote in the Tuesday, May 2 primary will be Monday, April 3, and early voting will begin on Tuesday, April 4. Voting for military and overseas Ohio voters began last month. Meanwhile, provisions of a new state law that requires Ohioans to present a state-issued photo identification to vote go into effect next week. Beginning on Friday, April 7, the provisions of 134-HB458 (Hall) take effect.
Voting rights groups gathered Wednesday to decry confusion relating to Ohio’s soon-to-take-effect voter ID law but vowed to help any Ohioan facing barriers to casting a ballot because of the new law.
The Ohio Ethics Commission issued a new advisory opinion covering donations from private entities to government agencies. “Public agencies may accept gifts or payments from vendors provided that no agency officials or employees receive any personal benefit from the donation,” Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul M. Nick said in a statement. The statutory guidance, adopted as a formal advisory opinion at the commission’s March 9 meeting, requires that a donation made as a gift must be given without the expectation of something in return. A donation made as a payment is part of a contractual exchange with a public agency. Such payments provide something beneficial to the community, such as a park, in return for the agency awarding the contract.
Teachers who retire but then rejoin the ranks cannot run for seats on the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) Board of Trustees, but two House members are proposing to change that. Under HB78, sponsored by Reps. Joe Miller (D-Amherst) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), such rehired retirants could run for either one of the five board positions elected by active teachers or the two board positions elected by retirees. They testified on the bill Tuesday in the House Pensions Committee. Seitz called it a “modest step” in addressing thorny questions of representation on the board of STRS, which has faced significant member discontent over a five-year freeze on cost-of-living adjustments.
Meanwhile, another contentious race is looming for a seat on the STRS board, following the election of new members last year who are critical of current management. The board recently split 50-50 on a vote of confidence in STRS Executive Director William Neville. Berea City Schools teacher Pat Davidson is challenging incumbent board member Arthur Lard, a teacher in Portsmouth City Schools. Lard was among those voting to express confidence in Neville at the board’s February meeting.
Ohio is on track to quadruple Internet speeds statewide within five to six years if the Legislature authorizes Gov. Mike DeWine’s current budget proposal and BroadbandOhio receives another $500 million to $1 billion in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), state broadband chief Peter Voderberg told the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee Tuesday. Voderberg brought senators up to date on the build-out of high-speed Internet since the signing of broadband omnibus 134-HB2 (Carfagna-Stewart) nearly two years ago. He said BroadbandOhio, launched by DeWine in 2020, has awarded $232 million in 31 counties and brought affordable high-speed Internet to 43,000 households through the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant (ORBEG), a provision of HB2.
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