Week in Review > Week In Review 6-24-24

Posted by on June 24th, 2024

AMERICA 250-OHIO

Ohio’s instrumental role in the history of aerospace developments in America is getting its own spotlight as part of the multi-pronged celebration of the country’s semiquincentennial taking place statewide and nationwide until 2026. The America 250-Ohio Commission announced recently the launch of the Ohio Air & Space Trail. The trail is the first of six thematic experiential trails plotted throughout Ohio to celebrate the country’s 250th anniversary in the next two years. Additional information about the Air & Space Trail, including a contact form for suggesting additional stops along the trail, can be found at https://tinyurl.com/4jt5jy99.

The America 250-Ohio Commission has awarded $600,000 in grants for 61 community-based projects as part of the lead up to Ohio’s recognition of the U.S. semiquincentennial on July 4, 2026. More than 170 organizations submitted applications for the second round of the grants program, which is managed in partnership with Ohio Humanities. Projects funded in this round must be completed between June 15, 2024 through May 31, 2025.

BALLOT ISSUES

Citizens Not Politicians, the group behind a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a 15-member citizens board to oversee legislative and congressional redistricting in the state, announced Thursday that it has received the backing of Ohio Health Advocates for Democracy, a nonpartisan group of over 100 health care providers, including physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals from across Ohio. The group published an open letter at https://tinyurl.com/4bbvt8tn, arguing that more representative government, enabled by ending gerrymandering, will lead to better public policies that support the overall health of Ohioans.

FY25-26 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS

Both chambers Monday introduced capital budget legislation — SB292 (Dolan) and HB629 (Edwards). The legislation incorporates projects from the $700-plus million One-Time Strategic Community Investment Fund (OTSCIF), which debuted last week as SB280 (Dolan), as well as the typical capital budget funding for state parks, universities, other agencies and another, smaller list of community projects worth about $150 million. According to Senate Republicans, the total price tag is $4.2 billion. Both bills include an emergency clause, which would allow the legislation to go into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature but requires a two-thirds majority to approve in both chambers. Both Senate Finance Chair Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) and Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) had indicated that lawmakers will eventually use HB2 (Cutrona-Upchurch) as the vehicle to pass both the traditional capital budget and the OTSCIF projects.

Capital spending plans for FY25-26 are “manageable and sustainable” and would keep Ohio well below the 5 percent debt service cap, Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Kim Murnieks told lawmakers Tuesday. Murnieks testified on capital budget bills HB629 (Edwards) and SB292 (Dolan) before finance committees of the House and Senate. Though FY24 state tax collections through May lagged projections by more than $400 million, Murnieks said the state can support the billions in capital budget spending because of good economic and other budget trends. While FY24 tax revenues are 1.7 percent below expectations, spending is 4.2 percent below estimates. Meanwhile, state treasury investment earnings are higher than expected, the unemployment rate remains low at 4 percent, and credit agency ratings for Ohio are “stronger than any point in history,” she said. Murnieks told the House Finance Committee OBM projects the state would spend 2.65 percent of GRF revenues on debt service should the capital budget pass, well below the 5 percent cap. She told the Senate Finance Committee debt service levels are at one of the lowest levels in state history, in part because the state was able to use cash in the previous capital budget, blunting the effects of higher interest rates.

CHILDREN/FAMILIES

Ohio has over four million workers whose jobs won’t allow them to take extended paid leave from work upon the birth or adoption of a child. To Dawn Huckelbridge, a federal policy granting that time off to workers “seems quite common sense.” Huckelbridge is the founding director of advocacy group Paid Leave For All. She spoke about paid parental leave to the City Club of Cleveland on Friday. She says there is a lot of confusion in Congress about paid parental leave and its proximity to benefits like paid sick days, paid time off or paid vacation. But she said the issue came to the fore in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Huckelbridge said when COVID hit and employers and employees were “scrambling,” some in Congress realized what it meant to have a pandemic hit when safety nets like paid leave don’t exist for many people. She said at the time, Congress was faced with passing two large-scale relief packages, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, the latter of which would have provided Americans with guaranteed paid leave and relief for child care expenses, among other things. But the jobs plan took priority, and the issue of paid leave didn’t become law.

In the first of its monthly meetings on Monday, June 3, the newly created Children’s Vision Strike Force focused on the issues facing the current state of getting appropriate eye care for Ohio’s children and several groups’ efforts to address those issues. The strike force heard a presentation from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) on the pros and cons of different methods of delivering vision screenings to Ohio’s youth, from school-based health centers to doctor visits to schools to mobile “vision vans” that could travel between events during summers where several children are at once, like summer camps or other community festivals. Another presentation outlined the equipment, personnel and costs of such mobile examination models. The next meeting of the Children’s Vision Strike Force will be on Friday, July 26 from 9 a.m. to noon at the ODH offices at 246 N. High St.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts) on Monday temporarily appointed Speaker Pro Tem Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) chair of the House Health Provider Services Committee to replace Rep. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield), who will soon join the Senate. Meanwhile, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) appointed Sen. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) as chair of the Senate General Government Committee, previously held by U.S. Rep.-elect Michael Rulli (R-Salem). Monday’s House journal also indicated Cutrona was appointed chair of the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee, which had lacked a chair since Stephens removed Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) from the post in May, part of a wave of chair changes sparked by internal caucus conflicts over the primary election. Senate Republicans plan to seat Cutrona as Rulli’s replacement at the Wednesday, June 26 session.

With Rep. Cutrona’s pending shift to the Senate next week, five Republicans have expressed interest in taking his spot on the ballot for the 59th Ohio House District, according to the Youngstown Vindicator. The Mahoning County Republican Party, which along with the Columbiana County Republican Party, will choose the ballot replacement for Cutrona, and has set a deadline of Thursday, June 27, for those wanting both the nomination and to likely fill Cutrona’s unexpired term in the Ohio House for the remainder of 2024 to submit letters of interest, the newspaper said. Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Tom McCabe told the newspaper that the five who have expressed interest so far are Jim Murphy, a precinct committee member; Meghan Hanni, daughter of Court of Appeals Judge Mark Hanni and Aim Leasing Co.’s supervisor of licensing and permits; Canfield City Council President Christine Oliver; Joey Cilone, co-owner and president of Inspira Health Group; and Tex Fischer, co-founder and partner of H&F Strategies LLC, a political consulting firm.

In other action, the House Health Provider Services Committee reported out SB144 (Romanchuk) which addresses health care changes including immunizations administered by pharmacists; the House Insurance Committee reported out SB175 (Lang) which deals with insurance regulations and taxes; and the House Public Health Policy Committee reported out Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness bill HB397 (Hoops-Baker).

HIGHER EDUCATION

While House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has previously suggested higher education reform bill SB83 (Cirino) doesn’t have the votes to pass the House floor, Majority Floor Leader Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and House Higher Education Chair Rep. Tom Young (R-Centerville) are circulating a letter to gauge support for passing the bill before the General Assembly breaks for the summer. The bill passed the Ohio Senate 21-10 in May of last year and passed out of the House Higher Education Committee 8-6 in December. SB83, dubbed the “Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act,” would prohibit, in most cases, mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training at colleges and universities. It requires universities to make commitments to “intellectual diversity,” and prohibits them, in most cases, from endorsing or opposing “any controversial beliefs or policies” that includes such issues as climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion.

The House Higher Education Committee Tuesday continued its review of the progress of universities’ implementation of new science of reading literacy education standards, hearing from Miami University and the University of Toledo.

The Campus Accountability and Modernization to Protect University Students (CAMPUS) Act – HB606 (Pizzulli-Jarrells) — is necessary to prevent racial, religious and ethnic harassment and intimidation on college campuses, representatives of the Inter-University Council (IUC) and several Jewish organizations told the House Finance Committee on Thursday.

JUDICIAL

The full U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will review a lawsuit over Attorney General Dave Yost’s handling of a proposed constitutional amendment on qualified immunity after the court granted Yost’s application for an en banc review of a three-judge panel’s ruling in the case. The panel ruled 2-1 last month saying that Yost must forward the proposed constitutional amendment, which would repeal constitutional immunities and defenses in cases alleging a civil rights violation by government actors, on to the next step in the ballot initiative process, saying Ohio law that gives Yost power to review and potentially reject petition summaries violates First Amendment free speech protections. Yost has rejected the petitions of the committee behind the amendment eight times, arguing that it was not a fair and truthful summary of the proposed amendment. A district court had rejected a motion for preliminary injunctive relief by the plaintiffs, but the appeals court reversed it. In asking for the full review by the appeals court, Yost’s office argued the state has a compelling interest in a “fair and truthful process.”

“I think Pfeifer had some way of messing with that marble.” That and other revelations about the state’s highest court, its years under the late Chief Justice Tom Moyer, and fellow members including former justice and current Ohio Judicial Conference (OJC) Director Paul Pfeifer emerged during Thursday’s forum, “In Session: Behind the Curtains of Ohio’s Supreme Court.” The City Club of Cleveland talk featured Justice Patrick Fischer as moderator and former Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Yvette McGee Brown as panelists, the latter issuing the good-natured indictment of Pfeifer’s alleged influence on which justice’s marble fell from the sacred leather flask that identifies the majority opinion writer for the Court. “There’s an air of secrecy about what goes on,” added O’Donnell, who called the august room’s proceedings strictly confidential.

PENSIONS

The State Teachers Retirement System Board of Trustees (STRS) changed how its leaders are chosen Thursday, calling for outright election of a chair and vice chair each August rather than election of a chair in June who would move up to the chair’s position in September of the following year. Trustees recently ousted Dale Price as chair and Carol Correthers as vice chair and installed Rudy Fichtenbaum and Elizabeth Jones, respectively, shortly after Wade Steen was restored as a trustee by appellate judges who found Gov. Mike DeWine removed him illegally.

STUDIES/POLLS

Ohio was recently ranked the 17th “most stressed” state in the country, according to a recent report by personal finance site WalletHub. That put it third-highest among neighboring states, behind West Virginia at sixth nationally and Kentucky at eighth. Indiana was ranked 22nd, followed by Michigan at 27th and Pennsylvania at 33rd. The top five states were Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and Arkansas, with first indicating the most stressed. WalletHub also measured states by four sub-rankings. Ohio was 16th and first among neighboring states for family-related stress; 18th and third among neighbors in health and safety-related stress; 24th and fourth among neighbors in money-related stress; and 28th and fifth among neighbors in work-related stress. “There are plenty of small ways for people to manage stress, from staying active and participating in hobbies to taking vacations from work and getting help from a mental health professional. What many people don’t realize, though, is that changing location can also be a big stress reducer. For example, states that have lower crime rates, better health care and better economies tend to have much less stressed residents,” said WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe.

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE

Significant changes are needed on U.S. Route 23 from Worthington to Waldo, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials said Monday. DeWine, ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks, and ODOT District 6 Deputy Director Toni Turowski announced the safety recommendations during a press conference at the Columbus State Community College Delaware campus, which is located right off U.S. Route 23. The administration’s U.S. 23 Connect recommendations include plans to add traditional freeway interchanges, connector road interchanges, overpasses/underpasses and restricted crossing U-turns. The plan also calls for road widening and the removal of 32 of the 39 traffic lights on the stretch of road. The plan — which is split into seven segments — would cost approximately $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion, Marchbanks told reporters.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission Monday adopted five professional engineering service contracts while discussing the difficulty it has in finding bidders for certain projects. During discussions of the contracts, commission member Guy Coviello asked Chief Engineer/Deputy Executive Director Chris Matta about getting single or no bidders for a number of contracts. Matta explained that he believes that a number of contractors have been “tapped out” between commission contracts and those put out to bid by the Ohio Department of Transportation, municipalities, and counties. He said that it is the goal of turnpike staff to put many of the 2025 projects out for bid in the fall in order to get them locked up for next year.

ODOT and Gov. Mike DeWine’s office recently announced that nearly $5 million will be invested in 14 projects through ODOT’s Transportation Improvement District Program. The projects receiving funding include the construction of roundabouts and turn lanes as well as improvements to pavement, intersections, and drainage. The projects will support 22,735 jobs and over $3 billion in private sector capital investments, the administration said.

 

Posted by on June 24th, 2024

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