Week in Review > Week In Review 5-27-24

Posted by on May 24th, 2024

CHILDREN/FAMILIES

The perinatal period — from conception to about one year after a child’s birth — is a time when between 70 and 80 percent of birthing parents, both women and men, can experience mental health problems like anxiety and mood disorders. To better explain what actions the state of Ohio might take to address such perinatal mental health issues, experts joined the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus on Monday to discuss their efforts currently underway. Tonya Fulwider, executive director of Mental Health America of Ohio (MHAOhio), told the caucus during a Zoom meeting that the organization is focused on helping moms and birthing parents get quality care and peer support through its Perinatal Outreach & Encouragement for Moms (POEM) program. Fulwider said POEM is the only program of its kind in the country and has won awards for its efforts in helping moms through mental health issues during the perinatal period.

House lawmakers advocated Tuesday for a collection of tax, regulatory and other policies to address the costs and availability of child care and problems with placements for children in state custody. Rep. Andrea White (R-Kettering) led a press conference on several recently introduced bills, joined by a few colleagues who are sponsoring them. She noted many ideas stemmed from the recent work of a study committee on publicly funded child care and the Step Up to Quality (SUTQ) rating system. “We are determined we are not going to let a study committee go to waste,” she said. “Everywhere you go, we have a workforce crisis, we have a child care crisis, and we have an early learning crisis, when you have 65 percent of your kids or so, depending on the year, showing up not ready for kindergarten. And those who are investing in preschool are finding that it pays great dividends in saving money on remediation,” White said.

Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment and Reducing Trauma) announced this week the expansion of its evidence-based intervention program for child welfare sobriety and resiliency to Adams, Madison, Montgomery and Pike counties. This addition brings the total number of counties participating in Ohio START to 56. The START program is designed to safely keep children with their families so that they don’t have to enter foster care.

EDUCATION

The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) is recognizing coaches across the state for their sportsmanship, ethics and integrity. Throughout the 2023-24 school year, the coaches’ associations of the sports sanctioned by OHSAA select one of their own for an OHSAA Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Legislation seeking to address Ohio’s infant and maternal mortality rates was reported out of the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. Every member present except Reps. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) and D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) voted to approve HB7 (White-Humphrey) after the committee added three amendments to the bill. The amendments reduce funding attached to the bill; incorporate the language of HB512 (Weinstein-B. Young), regarding hearing aid coverage for children and youth; and remove language on doulas that was already dealt with in separate legislation.

The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee Tuesday heard the latest testimony for and against SB60 (Gavarone), which would create licensed certified mental health assistants (CMHAs), but didn’t hold a vote that was scheduled as possible. Chair Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said there is a “mental health tsunami” in Ohio and the bill is “the only concrete legislation” that has been offered to address it. He also said legislators’ job is to solve problems, not create them, and he wanted to be sure this is done correctly. At the end of the hearing, Cirino requested that opponents send him a list of their top 10 items in the current bill they want changed or eliminated. He asked for that by the end of the current week or the next, as the committee will meet again in three weeks.

The House Commerce and Labor Committee accepted and reported out Tuesday a substitute version of HB327 (Wiggam-Swearingen), which requires the usage of E-Verify by government contractors, private nonresidential contractors and certain employers. It was numbered as the -6 version and received opposition from Chris Runyan of the Ohio Contractors Association and Andrea Ashley of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Ohio. Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) read a long list of the changes, which included the areas of covered public contracts; removing provisions on remedies, liabilities and penalties for breach of public improvement contracts; how the attorney general’s office would enforce the bill; exceptions to use of E-Verify during rehiring; the creation of an E-Verify Enforcement Fund; and how “nonresidential contractor” is defined.

Legislation originally focused on modernizing and streamlining judicial processes throughout the state became a catch-all bill on Wednesday, with senators adding various cleanup provisions as well as controversial language on final appealable orders and foreign donations. The Senate Judiciary Committee accepted an omnibus amendment into HB305 (Stewart-Brown) early on Wednesday, and the full Senate voted 24-7 along party lines to pass the bill in the afternoon. Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) said the language creating new requirements for ballot issue campaigns and explicitly banning contributions from foreign nationals is similar to language the Senate added to campaign child care bill HB114 (Humphrey-Seitz) earlier in May. The House adjourned Wednesday without taking up the amendments to HB305. Asked about the legislation after session, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hills) expressed some puzzlement about the Senate action and noted his chamber had introduced a standalone bill on the foreign contributions, HB609. “We’ve been having very good discussions this week. It kind of surprised me that they would again put the same language — I guess, I don’t know, 206 pages, who knows if it’s exactly the same — back in an otherwise pretty good clerk of courts bill,” Stephens said.

In other action at the Wednesday Senate session, the chamber passed SB37 (Blessing-Ingram), regarding driver’s license suspensions; SB63 (Lang), regarding asbestos litigation; HB158 (Roegner-M. Miller), regarding barber and cosmetology regulation; SB95 (Reynolds), regarding remote dispensing at pharmacies; highway naming bills SB114 (Schaffer), SB141 (Sykes) and SB183 (Antonio); SB208, regarding open enrollment for military children; and SB225 (Roegner), designating Sept. 22 as “Veterans Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day.”

The House unanimously passed legislation Wednesday to boost penalties for repeat drunken drivers who cause deadly wrecks and to expand the use of ignition interlock devices, inspired by the parents of a crash victim who called out the relative laxness of state laws on habitual offenders. Lawmakers speaking in favor of HB37 (Johnson-K. Miller) recognized the advocacy of Bryan and Teresa Wright, whose daughter, Olivia, was killed by a drunken driver with a prior offense who’d crashed into a tree and a parked car shortly before hitting her. They watched the day’s vote from the gallery and received a standing ovation from House members after passage of the bill by a vote of 92-0.

In other action at the Wednesday House session, the chamber passed HB352 (Baker-Carruthers), to establish a study commission on adverse childhood experiences (ACES); HB30 (Humphrey), regarding access to feminine hygiene products for incarcerated women; SB360 (Seitz-Brennan), to designate Aug. 24 as “Ukraine Independence Day”; HB372 (Grim-Hoops), regarding on-track railroad equipment; HR374 (Demetriou-Patton), which marks the 100th anniversary of U.S.-Ireland relations; and SB56 (Roegner), to have Ohio join the Interstate Massage Compact; and concurred with Senate amendments to HB50 (Humphrey), regarding housing for returning prisoners.

The Senate Government Oversight Committee continued its hearings on occupational licensure review Wednesday, hearing from the Ohio Department of Commerce, Ohio Casino Control Commission, the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors and the Common Sense Initiative.

In other legislative action, House Behavioral Health Committee reported out HCR16 (Somani-Ray), regarding perinatal mental health; House Criminal Justice Committee reported out HB385 (Richardson-Williams), regarding criminal records of human trafficking victims; House Finance Committee reported out HB164 (Jarrells-Seitz), to create the Foster-to-College Scholarship Program; House Primary and Secondary Education Committee reported out HB432 (Jones), regarding career-technical education; House State and Local Government Committee reported out HB315 (Hall-Seitz), regarding township law; House Transportation Committee reported out road naming bills HB453 (Jones) and HB456 (McNally); Senate Education Committee reported out SB112 (Rulli), regarding school building safety standards; House Homeland Security Committee reported out HB303 (Hall-Santucci), regarding EMS training; Senate Judiciary Committee reported out SB237 (Gavarone-Manning), regarding legal actions and protected speech); Senate Transportation Committee reported out SB233 (DeMora-Kunze), regarding on-track railroad equipment; and Senate Ways and Means Committee reported out SB186 (Blessing-Ingram), regarding property taxes.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Matt Damschroder, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), reported back to legislators Tuesday on the progress that his department has made in the redesign of Ohio’s employment and training (E&T) program for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — approximately six weeks ahead of the July 1 deadline legislators had written into the budget bill, HB33 (Edwards). He noted that that budget provision required ODJFS to redesign the SNAP E&T “to meet the needs of employers,” adding that this came as the department received a notice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that Ohio’s E&T plan must change because of poor results.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Ohio State University (OSU) Board of Trustees has approved an increase to the university’s tuition and fees for the 2024-25 academic year. Tuition and fees for incoming freshmen will increase by $385 starting in Autumn 2024, or 3 percent more than last year’s rate. Trustees also approved the continuation of the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee, which locks in tuition, housing and dining costs for undergraduate students. Paired with the tuition guarantee, the effective annual tuition increase is 0.75 percent, according to the university. In Columbus, in-state tuition and fees will total $13,244 per year for incoming first-year students. The most common housing and dining plans will total $14,810, an increase of about $428 year-over-year. General graduate tuition and fees would increase by 3 percent for Ohio residents — a change of about $404 for students on the Columbus campus. In-state tuition and fees for incoming students would be $9,488 for the Lima, Mansfield, Marion and Newark campuses and $9,441 at the Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, a 3 percent increase.

The University of Akron (UA) Board of Trustees announced recently that President Gary L. Miller has stepped down from the role of president in anticipation of his retirement on Oct. 4, 2024, after five years in leadership. Robert J. (R.J.) Nemer, dean of UA College of Business, has been appointed as the next president with the “full endorsement” of UA’s shared governance and key internal constituency groups. Nemer will step into the president’s role effective immediately. Miller will remain as a special consultant to the president to provide transition support through his official retirement. A search will be conducted for the new dean of the College of Business.

Leaders of teacher preparation programs at several private colleges and universities told lawmakers Tuesday they’re confident they’ll be aligned to new state literacy policy ahead of a January 2025 deadline, while sharing their concerns about faculty recruitment and other issues. The House Higher Education Committee continued its hearings on institutions’ implementation of new science of reading standards established in the budget, HB33 (Edwards). Witnesses included Lisa Vernon Dotson, education dean for Ashland University; Mary-Kate Sableski, reading program coordinator for the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Dayton; Carla Higgins, director of education and associate professor at Defiance College; Mary Heather Munger, a faculty member at the University of Findlay; and Laura Saylor, education dean for Mt. St. Joseph University. On Wednesday, the committee continued the hearing series with testimony from the leaders of teacher preparation programs at the University of Akron (UA) and Ohio University (OU). Administrators from both schools said they will be in compliance with the new standards well before the January 2025 deadline and are largely already in alignment.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Wednesday announced that two new universities have been designated as Collegiate Purple Star campuses for their efforts to support students with military backgrounds. John Carroll University and Ohio Northern University earned the latest Collegiate Purple Star Award, bringing the total number of schools that have earned the designation to 53. “Congratulations to these universities on becoming the latest to earn the Collegiate Purple Star,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement. “By providing essential resources to ensure military-connected students can pursue their educational goals with confidence, these institutions exemplify Ohio’s unwavering commitment to supporting our service members.”

JUDICIAL

The law restricting gender transition services for minors and banning transgender women and girls from playing women’s and girls’ school sports will remain blocked until at least Monday, July 15. In a continuance order, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook wrote that the temporary restraining order (TRO) against HB68 (Click) will remain in effect until the conclusion of the hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction and trial on the merits. That combined hearing is now scheduled to begin on Monday, July 15 at 9 a.m. and “will continue day-to-day until completed,” Holbrook wrote. Holbrook originally issued a TRO against the law in mid-April, and then extended the TRO until Monday, May 20.

Attorney General Dave Yost’s emergency motion to narrow the application of a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking enforcement of HB68 (Click) was denied by the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday. Yost had asked the Court to rule that Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook’s TRO only applies to the plaintiffs, and not the entire state. The law, which restricts gender transition services for minors and bans transgender women and girls from participating in women’s and girls’ school sports, remains completely blocked at least through mid-July.

MENTAL HEALTH

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) is rebranding the six, state-run regional behavioral health care hospitals. The rebranding will promote a “cohesive look and feel with unified hospital names and logos,” and it is intended to increase public understanding of the services provided at the facilities and to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness, the agency said. OhioMHAS currently operates six regional psychiatric hospitals, with locations in Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus, Massillon, Northfield and Toledo. As part of the rebranding, all six will receive updated logos. In addition to each hospital’s name, the new logos will also identify the facilities as part of OhioMHAS, and the hospitals will receive the “Heart of Hope” tagline.

Gov. Mike DeWine and other state officials participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Central Ohio Behavioral Healthcare (COBH) hospital in Columbus Wednesday. The facility replaces the nearby Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare (TVBH) Kosar Building as the state’s regional psychiatric hospital serving central Ohio. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) recently announced it was rebranding Twin Valley, which opened in 1977, as Central Ohio Behavioral Healthcare.

PENSIONS

The end of the Thursday, May 16 State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) Board meeting had members wondering who’ll represent and foot the bill for two trustees whom Attorney General Dave Yost seeks to oust, and whether they can investigate the source of anonymous allegations that helped drive Yost’s lawsuit. Representatives of the attorney general’s office warned they should hear from an employment lawyer and emphasized the “ethical walls” in place to prevent conflicts of interest when the office has multiple clients at odds with one another. “This is a difficult board to staff right now,” Bridget Coontz, chief counsel and ethics officer for Yost, said at one point in the discussion. Hours before the start of this month’s STRS board meeting, Yost filed suit against board members Wade Steen and Rudy Fichtenbaum, alleging breaches of fiduciary duty related to their interactions with QED, an investment management firm tied to a former state treasury official that pitched STRS on making large investments. Both men strongly denied the allegations, and the contingent of board members dissatisfied with the recent direction of the system succeeded the same day in removing board Chair Dale Price and elevating Fichtenbaum to replace him.

Two unions representing beneficiaries of the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) of Ohio voiced their support Monday for Rudy Fichtenbaum, who was both elected chair of the STRS board and hit with a lawsuit seeking his ouster as a trustee within the span of hours last week. A majority of STRS trustees succeeded at last week’s board meeting in ousting Dale Price as chair and installing Fichtenbaum in his place. Monday, the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and Ohio Federation of Teachers released a statement from their respective leaders, Executive Director Sara Kilpatrick and President Melissa Cropper, supporting Fichtenbaum and calling the lawsuit “frivolous” and the anonymous claims about him “spurious.”

PEOPLE

Ohio Women’s Alliance (OWA) Executive Director Rhiannon Carnes has been recognized with a “Women of Vision Award” from the Ms. Foundation, OWA announced Wednesday. Carnes said, “As a Black mother and grandmother with a nearly 30-year reproductive life cycle — including adoption, miscarriage, abortion and giving birth — reproductive freedom was critical in every chapter of my life, allowing me to access life-saving care and become a better parent to my children. The fight for reproductive justice is not binary. It’s not simply a choice between terminating pregnancy and giving birth. Reproductive justice means complete autonomy and self-determination when making decisions about our physical and mental health, without the threats of state violence, systemic oppression, and societal misogynoir that have a daily, lasting impact on people of color around the world.”

The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association (OMA) announced this week that former state Rep. Jay Goyal, president of Goyal Industries, has joined OMA’s Board of Directors. “Jay’s unique background as both a manufacturer and former state rep is a strong addition to OMA’s board,” OMA’s President Ryan Augsburger said. “We are thrilled to have his expertise and guidance in pursuing Ohio’s manufacturing competitiveness.” Goyal served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 2007 to 2013, representing Ohio’s 73rd District.

STATE GOVERNMENT

Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) Executive Director Joy Bledsoe Thursday reported over $2.6 billion in project activity across 307 projects in either construction or design as of March 24. In March alone, the agency approved 44 contracts worth over $180 million. Bledsoe said OFCC expects to soon award another $85 million for Appalachian Community Innovation Centers to support K12 school districts, joint vocational school districts, regional councils of government, or other political subdivisions located in Ohio’s Appalachian counties. An initial round of funding was announced in February.

TAXATION

The County Auditors Association of Ohio (CAAO) suggested a handful of changes to Ohio’s property taxation system Wednesday to the legislative study panel assessing that system and potential solutions to the major tax increases seen as a result of recent valuation cycles. In testimony presented by Ashtabula County Auditor David Thomas; Greene County Auditor David Graham; and former state representative and Franklin County Auditor Michael Stinziano, the association said it focused on policies that could provide direct relief to people who own and occupy homes as a primary residence. Thomas is set to join the General Assembly in the new year; he is unopposed in the 65th House District race.

Posted by on May 24th, 2024

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