Week in Review > Week In Review 5-30-2023Posted by Paul Imhoff on May 31st, 2023
AUDITOR OF STATE
More than 1,000 local schools and educational entities got a survey from Auditor Keith Faber recently on the use of funding in support of litigation challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s EdChoice scholarship program. Senate leadership had asked Faber’s office to conduct the survey. The Vouchers Hurt Ohio Coalition, which is leading the litigation, urged schools to ignore the request, saying it’s an attempt to interfere with the case. In a mid-May letter from Senate Chief Counsel Matthew Oyster, the Senate asked Faber’s office to compile a report on “Ohio school district and education service center funding or financial support of the litigation over the past two fiscal years.” According to Faber’s office, the survey went out Monday, May 22, with a request to respond by Friday, June 2. The office said a survey is the simplest way to get information, but added that it intends to file formal requests for information from schools that don’t reply.
Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters Wednesday he plans to vote yes on State Issue 1 in August, saying that arguments made by the business community show the concern that “outside forces” can spend a large sum of money to influence Ohio’s Constitution. “The better process is frankly through the legislative process,” he continued. “This just creates a higher burden in regard to changing the constitution. If you look at the burden that exists to change the U.S. Constitution, for example, you’ll find … it is a process that certainly calls for a few hoops to go through.” The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Ohio Restaurant Association, and Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association voiced their support for the measure earlier in May.
The executive committee of the Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) unanimously voted to endorse the “No in August” campaign to oppose Issue 1 — a constitutional amendment that would raise the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments — as well as detailed other plans for stopping the ballot initiative during an emergency meeting Thursday evening.
Protect Our Constitution Tuesday was announced as the coalition that will back Issue 1 on the Tuesday, Aug. 8 special election ballot. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and House Majority Whip Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) are the co-chairs. The group said it will have a presence in all 88 counties in the coming weeks and will be releasing endorsements, volunteer opportunities and other materials on its campaign website at www.voteyesohio.com and social media pages. It will spread the message that voting for the proposal, which would raise the threshold for passage of future constitutional amendments to 60 percent, will “make it harder for out-of-state special interests to buy their way into our state’s founding document.”
Issue 1 opposition group One Person One Vote filed a second lawsuit Tuesday over the proposed constitutional amendment, challenging the Ohio Ballot Board over ballot language approved last week. The group, along with Ohio voters Jeniece Brock, Brent Edwards and Christopher Tavenor, argue in the lawsuit that the ballot language and title adopted by the board violate legal standards established by the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Constitution as well as Ohio Supreme Court precedent. The lawsuit seeks an order that the Ballot Board reconvene and adopt language that properly describes the amendment, or in the alternative, adopt the full text of SJR2 (McColley-Gavarone) as the ballot language, and that Secretary of State Frank LaRose adopt a ballot title that properly and lawfully describes the amendment. The lawsuit argues that, “apparently not confident that the amendment’s submission at an illegal, low-turnout special election will be enough to get it over the line,” LaRose and the Ballot Board “adopted ballot language and a ballot title calculated to mislead voters about what the amendment does.”
Election statutes cannot override powers conferred to lawmakers in the Ohio Constitution, the attorney general’s office argued this week in defense of plans for an Aug. 8 special election on raising the threshold for future constitutional amendments to pass. After trying and failing to pass a bill authorizing a summer special election for voters to consider the new amendment process outlined in SJR2 (Gavarone-McColley), lawmakers decided that specifying the election date in SJR2 itself would suffice. The campaign group One Person One Vote, formed to oppose passage of the issue, quickly filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that recent changes to election law forbid special elections except to consider funding issues for local jurisdictions in fiscal distress. Lawmakers mostly did away with special elections in 134-HB458 (Hall), which also instituted a photo ID requirement among other election law changes.
Ohioans with vision and hearing difficulties, often testifying through interpreters, urged the Senate to boost the small funding pool for support services to help them navigate life and employment during a lengthy budget hearing on health- and Medicaid-related topics Thursday on HB33 (Edwards).
The DeWine administration announced Wednesday a new portal to streamline certification in the foster care and adoption process while maintaining thorough screening standards. It is the latest step in a series of changes to improve foster care, including two “bill of rights” documents for foster children and families as well as the creation of the Youth and Family Ombudsman Office. Gov. Mike DeWine noted these actions reflect the work of the Children’s Services Transformation Advisory Council, which released 37 recommendations in a 2020 report. DeWine said 22 of those have already been fully implemented and the rest are being worked on further. He also detailed past increases in public children’s services funding and said his FY24-25 budget proposal increased funding for children’s protective services by $60 million. There is also increased support for the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. DeWine further described the new adoption grant program, which ensures adopting parents do not have to wait for a tax credit.
The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) warned schools against potential scams involving school safety grants. The commission said it recently learned that one of the grantees was contacted by a potential scammer. That school received an email in which the sender identified themselves as an officer of school safety grants and that the school needed to send them its financial information in order to receive grant funds. That email did not originate from OFCC or the Ohio Office of Budget and Management (OBM).
House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) made a number of changes to committees, including giving assignments to newly seated Reps. Brian Lorenz (R-Powell) and Justin Pizzulli (R-Franklin Furnace) and changing up vice chairs. Among those changes was removing his rival for speaker, Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee), as vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which Merrin had chaired last General Assembly. Pizzulli was named vice chair on the House Financial Institutions Committee, replacing Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) in that slot. Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) was also replaced on the committee by Lorenz, while Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester) was named chair, succeeding Rep. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander) who died earlier this year. Merrin, on Twitter, reacted to the news by saying at least Stephens “did it while my mother is still in good health,” referencing his battle for the speakership with Stephens as Merrin’s father was ailing.
Justice-involved individuals who can show they have successfully re-entered society would have a better chance to find stable housing under legislation passed by the House on Wednesday. Under HB50 (Humphrey-Seitz), individuals who are subject to collateral sanctions for housing would be able to file a petition with a court to obtain a certificate of qualification for housing (CQH). If a landlord chooses to accept a CQH, they would receive liability protections for providing housing to the rehabilitated individual. The bill passed by a vote of 81-8, with Reps. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum), Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville), Beth Lear (R-Galena), Roy Klopfenstein (R-Haviland), Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester), Brian Lorenz (R-Powell), Riordan McClain (R-Nevada) and Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) voting against it.
In other floor action, the House voted 89-0 to pass HB57 (Hall-Demetriou), which indexes the homestead exemption amounts to inflation. The homestead exemption applies to homeowners who are elderly, disabled, a disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a public service officer killed in the line of duty. Rep. Dan Troy (D-Willowick) said while the bill is a step in the right direction and he supports it, it’s an “extremely small” improvement.
The House also passed the following bills:
– HB27 (Mathews-J. Thomas), which requires state institutions of higher education to provide financial cost and aid disclosure forms. The bill passed 87-1.
– HB105 (J. Thomas), which limits the penalty that may be imposed on a taxpayer for failing to file municipal income tax returns on time. The bill passed 87-0.
– HB61 (Troy-Callender), which designates Nov. 19 as “James A. Garfield Day.” The bill passed 88-0.
– HB66 (Hall-Stoltzfus), which allows a wholesaler to obtain a refund of excise taxes on cigarettes, other tobacco products and nicotine vapor products remitted on bad debts arising from the sale of those products. The bill passed 84-2.
– HCR5 (J. Miller-Holmes), which supports the work of the Ohio Commission for the United States Semiquincentennial. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 89-0.
– HB28 (Humphrey), which designates March as “Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” The bill passed 87-1.
Though the House Government Oversight Committee delayed action on a substitute version of HB51 (Loychik-Schmidt), the Second Amendment Preservation Act, the sponsor of the similar Missouri legislation now making its way through federal court told Ohio lawmakers Tuesday that it is imperative to act sooner than later, noting a new U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) rule that will go into effect in just over a week that will limit pistol braces. Jered Taylor, who recently termed out of the Missouri House of Representatives and sponsored that state’s version of the bill, returned to speak to the committee on behalf of Ohio Gun Owners after testifying on the bill in early March.
Legislation that proposes to make significant changes to the state’s eminent domain laws would prevent economic development and harm quality of life in Ohio, opponents of HB64 (Kick-Creech) told the House Civil Justice Committee on Tuesday. Alexandra Denney, vice president of government relations and communications for the Ohio Business Roundtable, said HB64 will “stifle” Ohio’s economic momentum and “deter future investment” in the state.
Members of the House Transportation Committee Tuesday unanimously approved legislation to name a portion of State Route 36 after the late Rep. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander), who died unexpectedly at the age of 46 early this year after a diabetic reaction at his home. In addition to lawmakers, Jordan’s former wife, Melissa, and their three children appeared in support of the bill, with the children telling the committee it would be an “honor” to have a site named after their father. HB165 (Lear-Ferguson) would name the portion of State Route 36 that runs in front of the Jordan homesite as the “Representative Kris Jordan Memorial Highway.”
A proposed budget amendment asks lawmakers to fund a pilot program that would allow those suffering from addiction to take methadone at home under review of a health provider. Michael Giles of Sonara Health gave a presentation Wednesday to the Senate Community Revitalization Committee on the proposal, which uses a web-based application created by the company for a medication-assisted treatment program using methadone, which he said can be an effective treatment for addiction, especially fentanyl. Giles said less than 10 percent of those suffering from opioid use disorder seek treatment with methadone, with access being a primary barrier. It is only available at federal-certified “opioid treatment programs” and onsite daily dosing is required for the first 90 days of treatment. Most urban patients live 20 minutes or further away from a clinic and 71 percent of rural counties don’t have a clinic that offers methadone.
Rep. Monica Blasdel (R-Columbiana), whose husband Chuck Blasdel had previously served as Speaker Pro Tem of the Ohio House, has spent much of her time since Feb. 3 responding to the train derailment in East Palestine, which is in her district. One of those steps was to introduce HR33 with Rep. Lauren McNally (D-Youngstown) which urges passage of federal legislation requiring rail lines to alert local and state government officials when hazardous materials are traveling through their jurisdictions.
In other action, the House Civil Justice Committee reported out SB21 (McColley-Reynolds) which would allow appeals of legislative action to be filed in counties other than Franklin; the House Commerce and Labor Committee reported out HB106 (Jarrells-Lipps), the “Pay Stub Protection Act” and HB86 (LaRe) which deals with liquor control laws; the House Government Oversight Committee reported out HB114 (Humphrey-Seitz) which allows using campaign funds for certain child care costs; the House Transportation Committee reported out highway naming bills HB131 (King), HB132 (King) and HB133 (King); and the House Ways and Means Committee reported out SB43 (Brenner) which addresses the homestead exemption.
The mayors of New Albany, Gahanna and Johnstown discussed what they are doing to prepare for Intel’s semiconductor production at a recent Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) forum, including how they expect to meet housing, infrastructure and education needs resulting from the influx of new residents. New Albany Mayor Sloan Spalding and Johnstown Mayor Donald Barnard both pointed out when their cities attained that status by reaching over 5,000 residents. Johnstown did so around 18 months ago, while New Albany did in 2010 and has almost tripled in residents since then. Gahanna Mayor Laurie Jadwin also said her city has seen “significant growth” in the past two years and that growth is not slowing down, in large part because of the development north of the city. Regarding how their constituents have responded to Intel, they each described a mix of excitement and concerns about the coming changes and how quickly they will occur. Spalding said it is important they be as transparent as possible, including updates on road work and the Intel site construction itself. Jadwin added that they are working to celebrate the past, honor the present and plan for the future in Gahanna.
Richard Lewis, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association for nearly two decades, announced his immediate retirement Monday, citing health reasons. Deputy Executive Director Kathy McFarland, who’s been in that position five years, succeeded him, effective Tuesday, May 23. Lewis had nearly four decades of experience at OSBA, starting as a labor relations specialist in 1984 and working his way up through numerous other positions before becoming deputy executive director in 2002 and executive director in 2006.
Facing predictions of average property value increases in excess of 30 or 40 percent in many counties, several Republican lawmakers outlined their plans Wednesday to give county auditors more say in the reappraisal process and to use multi-year averaging to smooth out big fluctuations, in hopes of blunting any property tax increases. The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) said it’s willing to consider their proposals but is obligated to ensure the valuation process meets certain standards. Reps. Thomas Hall (R-Middletown) and Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) introduced HB187 Wednesday, and Sen. George Lang (R-West Chester) said he’s submitting the same language as a budget amendment as the Senate deliberates on HB33 (Edwards). The bill would require using a three-year average for re-evaluating property values, and mandate that the ODT consult with county auditors on the reappraisal process. Sponsors said they want to put the change into effect for tax year 2023, and Rep. Bill Roemer (R-Richfield), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, promised hearings in the near future.
The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) announced Tuesday that Adam Schwiebert has joined the department as legislative director. Schwiebert will be responsible for legislative engagement with the Ohio General Assembly and external organizations on behalf of the department, ODT said. Schwiebert previously served as a legislative liaison to the agency during the Kasich administration. Schwiebert’s professional experiences also include service as government relations director for the Dayton Metro Library, external affairs manager for the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, and as a legislative aide in the Ohio House of Representatives.
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