Week in Review > Week in Review 4-8-24

Posted by on April 08th, 2024

BUSINESS/CORPORATE

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s nonprofit Research Foundation announced Tuesday it had raised funds for grants to Logan County small businesses affected by the tornadoes and severe weather on March 14. The funds were raised in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Logan County Chamber of Commerce, Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Bank, Grange Insurance, Westfield Insurance and Columbia Gas/NiSource Charitable Foundation. They will be distributed by the Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce in grant amounts up to $5,000 and can be used for out-of-pocket expenses needed to resume business operations. Logan County businesses can apply at https://tinyurl.com/3a3dbr4h . Those interested in donating to the grant effort can do so at the same link. For questions about the process, contact Fagan at 937-539-6348 or office@indianlakechamber.org , or Vollrath at 937-578-3563 or bvollrath@logancountyohio.com . Businesses can send applications to office@indianlakechamber.org with the subject line “Small Business Grant Application.”

DISASTERS

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday that he has initiated several federal and state disaster aid mechanisms that could bring financial relief to Ohioans affected by severe weather last month. The action comes after a damage assessment conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the 11-county area affected by tornadoes that occurred in March. According to the governor’s office, DeWine Friday directed his cabinet agencies to develop a plan for state-level financial relief programs for individuals and businesses that can be implemented jointly with the Ohio General Assembly to get affected Ohioans assistance while the requested federal programs are being evaluated by the Biden administration. DeWine has spoken with Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and will work with the General Assembly on pursuing the relief in the coming days, the governor’s office said.

However, while his administration sought a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster declaration, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday they have been told by FEMA that it is not expected to be issued, though that is “not definitive.” The final decision will be made by White House officials, and so his administration is still advocating for it.

EDUCATION

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) cannot claim violations of legislative privilege over written questions in voucher litigation before seeing the actual questions or facing an order compelling him to answer them, appellate judges ruled. In a Friday afternoon decision, the 10th District Court of Appeals dismissed Huffman’s appeal of Judge Jaiza Page’s decision on an attempt to depose Huffman by school districts challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program. The districts and some resident families sued in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, arguing vouchers violate both the constitutional mandate for a “common” school system and the prohibition on giving control of education funding to religious sects. The litigants sought to depose Huffman, a strong supporter of vouchers who’s helped bring about program expansions as Senate president. He asked Judge Jaiza Page to quash their subpoena, citing the legislative privilege established in Article II, Section 12 of the Ohio Constitution, which holds that lawmakers “shall not be questioned elsewhere” for legislative debate. Page responded partially granting Huffman’s request, saying the plaintiffs could submit up to 20 questions to him in writing. Huffman then turned to the 10th District, saying the written questions still threaten his constitutional legislative privilege.

Warren County Common Pleas Magistrate Markus Moll signed orders Tuesday to grant a preliminary injunction to the Warren County Educational Service Center (ESC) and deny the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce’s (DEW) motion to dismiss in a dispute over special education. DEW has 14 days to object to the magistrate’s decision. Warren County ESC sued DEW over corrective action plans it issued in response to an investigation stemming from a complaint filed by Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), a nonprofit designated by the state to advocate for people with disabilities. DRO has since filed to intervene as a party to the lawsuit as well. At the center of the dispute is the Wellness Center, a day-treatment program Warren County operates for students with intensive behavioral and mental health needs.

The trial court considering a challenge to Ohio’s new education hierarchy should not allow discovery to go forward until it decides whether to dismiss the case, an attorney for the state argued in a recent filing. Judge Karen Phipps and Magistrate Jennifer Hunt of Franklin County Common Pleas Court are presiding over a lawsuit challenging provisions of HB33 (Edwards) that transferred most authority of the State Board of Education and state superintendent to the new Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), whose leadership is appointed by the governor. State Board of Education members filed the lawsuit, saying it violates the 1953 constitutional amendment that created the board, as well as constitutional rules of legislative procedure. The plaintiffs initially won a temporary order blocking the new governance structure, but it was later dissolved, allowing the DEW transition to take effect.

GAMING/GAMBLING

Ohio’s gambling industry had a rough start to 2024, according to data provided by the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) and Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC). The state’s casinos, racinos and sports betting operators all reported January 2024 revenues that were lower than January 2023. Ohio Lottery traditional ticket sales were much lower in January 2024 than they were in January 2023. The lower year-over-year handle/revenue total for sports betting is not surprising because January 2023 was the first month of legal sports gambling in Ohio, and that month remains the record for handle ($1.1 billion) and taxable revenue ($210.5 million). Sports bettors placed $810.4 million in wagers in January 2024, and operators reported $113.2 million in taxable revenue. While January 2024’s handle is lower than December 2023’s ($829.9 million), the taxable revenue for January 2024 was much higher than December 2023’s taxable revenue ($87.3 million).

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) Tuesday told reporters the Ohio House won’t amend the adult-use recreational marijuana program before the June deadline for the state to release licensing applications. “Getting a consensus on what that action will be in the House is probably not going to happen,” he said. “I think there’s been a lot of discussion and talk, you know, within the House, within the Republican Caucus frankly, and getting those to where we have a consensus of saying ‘this is what needs to be different than what the people passed’ — there’s just not that consensus right now,” he said.

With Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) signaling his interest in running for House speaker in the 136th General Assembly, Stephens told reporters, “I think it is really interesting that we have … nine months almost left in this GA — the House has been working really hard. We have done a lot of really good things — and I think it would be, frankly … better if the Senate president would pay attention to running the Senate instead of trying to run the House.”

Former Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss, the second African American woman to ever serve in that role, died on Tuesday at the age of 82. Her passing was mourned by former colleagues, including current Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), who called her a “trailblazer and mentor to many,” noting that her volunteering with Prentiss’ campaign for state school board was her first foray into politics.

In other legislative action, the House Civil Justice Committee reported out HB322 (Seitz-Abrams) address child sexual abuse laws.

GOVERNOR

Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters Wednesday he sees “no appetite” for changing term limits among the public, a topic raised by Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) recently. Both legislative leaders said they thought changes should be considered. DeWine further said he would not be getting involved in the matter of who is House speaker for the 136th General Assembly but that he believed important legislation still needs to and can be passed. That includes the capital budget and items he will detail in a week’s time although he declined to offer a preview of his State of the State topics. DeWine reiterated his belief that the “most pressing” topic regarding marijuana is intoxicating hemp being available to minors when it is “dangerous to their health.” Changing a few sentences of Ohio law would solve the problem, DeWine continued, and he said it should be passed unanimously.

JUDICIAL

In a seminal case implicating Ohioans’ basic constitutional rights, the Supreme Court of Ohio is set to decide whether the right to counsel in the state’s founding document is superior to Sixth Amendment guarantees in the U.S. Constitution. It will be the first time the Court has addressed this specific argument for state sovereignty and follows the arrest and interrogation of a Hamilton County man questioned without the assistance of his attorney appointed immediately prior at arraignment. The high court accepted State v. Morris on March 5 over the objections of Democratic Justices Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart. Justice Patrick Fischer recused, while his Republican colleague, Justice Joe Deters, has declined to withdraw despite being Hamilton County prosecutor at the time of Isaiah Morris’ arrest in May 2022. The Court will decide whether the Ohio Constitution in fact provides greater attorney guarantees than the U.S. Constitution; whether the latter’s Sixth Amendment requires an actual indictment before triggering the right; and what it means to “clearly” and “unambiguously” invoke the right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment.

Republican Geauga County juvenile-probate Judge Tim Grendell, a former state legislator, resumes disciplinary hearings before the Board of Professional Conduct this month after the three-member panel hearing his case proceeded with the March 29 hearing despite the inavailability of certain witnesses on Good Friday. The panel, which includes attorney Peggy Schmitz of Critchfield, Critchfield & Johnston (chair), attorney Frank Woodside of Dinsmore & Shohl and Judge Rocky Coss of Highland County Common Pleas Court, dismissed one charge in February alleging that Grendell had accused a mother of using the COVID-19 “panic-ademic” to withhold her children from their father. His disciplinary case resumes Tuesday-Thursday, April 23-25.

LIBRARIES

Professionals from Ohio libraries offered pointers and lessons Tuesday on how libraries can support literacy instruction, as part the Public Library Association conference taking place in Columbus this week. Back-to-back panel discussions focused on the science of reading, a collection of instructional methods at the center of state literacy policy following passage of the biennial budget, HB33 (Edwards). Speakers on the first panel included Melissa Weber-Mayrer, literacy chief for the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW); Nancy Eames, youth services coordinator for Toledo Lucas County Public Library; and Amber Cristofaro, early literacy coordinator with Dayton Metro Library. Michelle Francis, executive director of the Ohio Library Council, introduced the panel.

Want to know what your state library has to offer? Just ask. “Nothing’s too silly. We get all kinds of questions all day long, and we love answering them,” said Tami Masenhimer, training coordinator and consultant for the Washington State Library. “Please just ask what we can help you with,” said Tiffany Hayes, education design and development manager for the South Carolina State Library. State Library of Ohio consultant Erin Kelsey joined her colleagues from South Carolina and Washington on a panel Wednesday at the Public Library Association conference, pitching the ways state libraries can be of assistance to local systems and their patrons. Those services can include grants, model policies, advice on interview questions or job descriptions for local library hiring, data comparisons, digital resources or even training of dungeon masters – the latter an offering of the Washington State Library, which is housed under Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast.

Librarians from across the U.S. also shared their approaches Thursday for responding to and blunting the effects of book bans and challenges, which they said are growing at an alarming rate. The “Unbannable: How Libraries Are Ensuring Access to Banned Books” panel at the Public Library Association conference featured Micah May, director of e-book services for Digital Public Library of America; Chris Brown, commissioner of Chicago Public Library; Nick Higgins, chief librarian for Brooklyn Public Library; and Kelvin Watson, executive director of Las Vegas-Clark County Library. Jill Bourne, city librarian in San Jose, CA, moderated the discussion. “Why are we here? We know, as a profession, we have seen and we continue to experience unprecedented, organized and intentional efforts to limit access to content, books and ideas,” said Bourne, citing American Library Association statistics showing a 65 percent bump in the number of targeted titles just from the final quarter of 2023 to the first quarter of 2024. May said his organization brainstormed ways to address this increase in challenges and ended up with the Banned Book Club, which offers challenged e-books and audiobooks via the Palace Project, a tool for libraries and patrons to access digital content.

MENTAL HEALTH

The Governor’s Work Group on Competency Restoration and Diversion held its first meeting Wednesday, with Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director LeeAnne Cornyn both saying they have an “aggressive timeline.” Cornyn chairs the work group. Members include representatives of the state’s criminal court and penal systems, DeWine’s office, OhioMHAS, the Ohio departments of rehabilitation and correction (DRC), Medicaid (ODM) and public safety (DPS), RecoveryOhio, behavioral health provider agencies, advocacy groups, local stakeholders and Ohioans with lived experience. DeWine said the six state-run regional psychiatric hospitals are currently at 97 percent capacity, with 93 percent of occupants there due to involvement in the criminal justice system. While some are there in connection to a “serious crime” and that can pose a challenge for hospitals, DeWine added not all of them are, and one person’s case involved allegedly stealing a piece of pizza. The capacity issues due to the criminal justice system reduce access and capacity for civil patients, he continued. His goal is for the work group to “reach a consensus around recommendations that alleviate the strain on our hospitals and ensure that Ohioans living with serious mental illness get access to the care they need to get well, be well, and stay well.”

PENSIONS

The State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) Board of Trustees voted recently to keep at 34 the required years of service for teachers to earn full benefits, reversing previously enacted plans that would have increased it to 35 years a few years from now. The board also slightly reduced the career length STRS beneficiaries must accrue for a reduced pension, allowing them to retire at any age with 29 years of service instead of 30 and earn a reduced benefit. Unchanged were existing requirements that allow someone to retire with a full pension at age 65 with at least five years of service, or with a reduced pension at age 60 with at least five years of service. The new changes take effect Saturday, June 1. The changes adopted at the March board meeting are part of the board’s “sustainable benefit enhancement plan,” a framework through which the board evaluates ways to improve benefits. Board members have been under increasing pressure to improve benefits after some unpopular cutbacks from 2012 legislative reforms.

SOLAR ECLIPSE

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) are partnering to use LightSound technology at Ohio state parks and wildlife areas to help Ohioans who are blind or have low vision experience the Monday, April 8 solar eclipse. “Ensuring accessibility for all Ohioans is a priority for our administration,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement. Developed in 2017, the LightSound device allows individuals who are blind or have low vision to experience a solar eclipse through sound. Using sonification, the device converts light intensity data into audible tones, allowing users to perceive changes as the moon eclipses the sun. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and other DeWine administration officials traveled to Alum Creek State Park on Thursday to witness a demonstration of the device.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Central Ohio offered several recommendations to Ohioans on travel and viewing safety for the solar eclipse. The BBB of Central Ohio noted eclipse glasses are necessary to view the eclipse, as lack of protection can result in permanent eye damage. It also said there have been instances of counterfeit glasses. Those who buy their eclipse glasses should look to businesses they trust, the BBB of Central Ohio continued. The Ohio Department of Health also recently held a press conference on the importance of only using properly rated ISO 12312-2 glasses from reputable sources.

Asked about preparation for the April 8 eclipse, Gov. Mike DeWine said state officials have worked to prepare for it but cannot control how many cars are on the road at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. afterward. They can only warn people that what has been previously seen in other states shows the “biggest challenge” will be on the highways. He said he hasn’t decided yet where he will watch the eclipse but may go to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, which will have activities during the day that his grandchildren can enjoy. DeWine also noted how NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta will be holding events about the eclipse.

Asked how many people she’s expecting to visit state parks for the eclipse, ODNR Director Mary Mertz said she didn’t have a specific estimate. “What I can tell you is that every lodge room is booked, every cabin is booked and nearly every campsite in the path of totality is booked. And we have heavy usage outside the path,” she said. “In addition to all of those people on the ground, we are anticipating lots will come in for the day for a party, for a program. … I don’t know that I can give you a hard number statewide, but we are ready. All of our officers are going to be on duty. They are going to be supplemented by some folks from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and they are ready to be there for 48 hours to cover whatever may come up.

Posted by on April 08th, 2024

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