Week in Review > Week In Review 6-3-24

Posted by on June 06th, 2024

BALLOT ISSUES

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Wednesday that Attorney General Dave Yost must forward a proposed constitutional amendment on qualified immunity on to the next step in the ballot initiative process, but Yost’s office said Thursday he will ask the full appellate court to review that ruling. Campaign organizers have filed several times to put the qualified immunity issue on the ballot but have been repeatedly blocked by Yost’s determinations that their petition summary is not an accurate representation of what the amendment would do. The Ohio Supreme Court and a federal district judge denied their requests to overrule Yost. Yost’s office is asking for en banc review by all judges of the Sixth Circuit, according to a statement from his communications director, Bethany McCorkle.

DISABILITIES

The Ohio Developmental Disabilities (DD) Council will present a series of workshops around the state this summer to give individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) the opportunity to write and perform their own stories of self-advocacy and personal growth for a wide audience. The series entitled, “My Story, My Life: A Storytelling Workshop for People with Developmental Disabilities,” will be facilitated by Dr. Becca Monteleone, assistant professor of disability studies at the University of Toledo. Each of the free workshops will be limited to 12 participants and their supports, if needed. Workshops will be held in five locations around Ohio, including the following:

– Putnam County, Thursday, June 20: Leipsic Community Center, 120 E. Main St., Leipsic.

– Medina County, Thursday, July 11: Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities, 4691 Windfall Rd., Medina.

– Morgan County, Wednesday, July 24: Burr Oak Lodge & Conference Center, 10660 Burr Oak Lodge Rd., Glouster.

– Brown County, Wednesday, July 31: Union Township Public Library, 27 Main St., Ripley.

– Morrow County, Wednesday, August 21: The Village Gathering Place, 30 S. Main St., Mt. Gilead. (Performances will be held at the Morrow County Fair on Thursday, August 29 at 1 p.m.)

EDUCATION

The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) announced the first batch of reading intervention programs that schools will be able to use for literacy instruction under new science-of-reading standards adopted in the budget and set to take effect in the coming school year. Per HB33 (Edwards), schools are required to use curriculum, instructional materials and intervention programs aligned to the science of reading starting in the 2024-2025 academic year. DEW is charged under the budget language with developing approved lists of these programs and materials. DEW took applications through early March from those interested in having their intervention programs on the list. The lists of approved programs and materials, as well as a list of programs and materials still under review by DEW, is at https://tinyurl.com/mwk5ywf7.

The Department of Public Safety’s Ohio School Safety Center (OSSC) announced that registration is now open for the 2024 Ohio School Safety Summit. This year’s summit will take place on Wednesday, July 31 and Thursday, Aug. 1 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The School Safety Summit will host presentations and training opportunities intended to foster cross-discipline conversations regarding student safety and wellness. Specific sessions will address topics like recent online threat trends, keeping schools safe from bullying, crime prevention through environmental design and animal-assisted intervention. A full session lineup, as well as information about lodging during the summit and registering an exhibit, can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/bdbds464.

DEW wasted no time in devising and issuing a model policy on limiting cell phone use in schools, after lawmakers approved and Gov. Mike DeWine signed a new mandate for districts to adopt such policies. DEW and the DeWine administration announced the new policy Wednesday, two weeks after Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB250 (Miranda-Richardson), which requires schools to adopt a policy on limiting phone use during school hours by July 2025. DeWine had urged lawmakers to enact such a requirement in his “State of the State” address, citing phones’ effects on student mental health and academic performance. The General Assembly obliged, appending the proposal to a bill on graduation requirements and passing it within a month of the speech. The two-page model policy includes a blanket ban on phone use on school property during school hours, with exceptions for purposes spelled out in HB250, like monitoring a health condition or using devices in furtherance of an individualized education plan (IEP). Schools are not required to prohibit all phone use during school hours under HB250.

Lawmakers were within their rights to curtail powers of the State Board of Education, a Franklin County judge wrote in a decision granting state leaders’ request to dismiss litigation brought by board members. Judge Karen Phipps of Franklin County Common Pleas Court used the issue of standing to grant dismissal of the challenge to K-12 governance changes enacted in HB33 (Edwards) but she wrote that even if the board members could show standing, their arguments come down to a “public policy dispute.” Board members Christina Collins and Michelle Newman had argued the HB33 changes, which relegated the board largely to educator licensure and transferred most other powers to an appointed cabinet director, violated the decades’ old constitutional amendment creating the board. Phipps disagreed, noting that Article VI, Section 4 gives broad authority to lawmakers to establish the powers and structure of the board.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Judge Jaiza Page of Franklin County Common Pleas Court put on hold this month her order allowing voucher foes to question Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) about his role in the expansion of the EdChoice program, agreeing to Huffman’s request for a stay pending his appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. A coalition of school districts and families have sued the state over the constitutionality of EdChoice, alleging it violates lawmakers’ obligation to create a “common” school system and the constitutional prohibition on giving control of education funding to religious sects. Families whose children attend private schools on EdChoice scholarships have been granted status as intervening parties to defend the program alongside the state. As part of the litigation, the plaintiff districts sought to depose Huffman about his legislative work to expand EdChoice. Huffman asked Page to quash the subpoena, citing the legislative privilege established in the Ohio Constitution. Page blocked the deposition but allowed the plaintiffs to submit up to 20 written questions to Huffman about whom he communicated with on the FY22-23 biennial budget, 133-HB110 (Oelslager). Huffman appealed to the 10th District Court of Appeals, saying the written questions still violate legislative privilege. Judges there called his appeal premature, saying he could not claim violations of privilege before seeing the content of the questions or facing an order compelling him to respond. Huffman then turned to the Ohio Supreme Court, which is now considering whether to accept the case.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/SPECIAL SESSION

The House Thursday in split votes approved special session bills HB1 (Seitz), which bars foreign contributions to ballot issue campaigns, and HB2 (Dobos), which extends out the deadline for major parties to submit the names of their presidential and vice presidential candidates. Both bills now head to the Senate, which will meet in a special session at noon on Friday to take the bills up. Both bills cleared the House Government Oversight Committee earlier in the day, with HB1 sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) introducing a substitute bill that he said would address six points of difference with Senate versions, including HB271 (Mathews), which the Senate passed on Tuesday. Seitz said the changes to the bill put everything into a new Ohio Revised Code section and is only five pages long compared to a previous version that was 20 pages. HB1 passed 64 to 31 along party-lines.

Regarding HB2, sponsor Rep. Dave Dobos (R-Columbus) said on the House floor that it is simple and straight forward. Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) said passing the bill shows the Ohio General Assembly is a “fair and just body,” while Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) said passing it is the right thing to do, while attacking Biden and others for what he said are efforts to keep former President Donald Trump off the ballot in other states. The bill passed 63 to 31, with all the “no” votes coming from Republicans.

The special session, called by Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday, May 23, began, like many events at the Statehouse, with House and Senate Republicans failing to agree with how they should proceed, with House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) taking different stances on whether this is a self-contained special session, where bill numbering starts over or whether it would be considered a special session day that is part of the ongoing General Assembly term, enabling consideration of pending bills. Stephens’ spokesman Pat Melton said in a text message it would be considered a new session, and bill numbers would start over with HB1. But Huffman spokesman John Fortney said the governor’s proclamation references existing bills and noted it’s still the second year of the 135th General Assembly.

Late on Tuesday, Speaker Pro Tempore Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) and Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz (RCincinnati) issued the following statement regarding the special session: “As members who were present for the last special session, we cannot follow the logic being used by the Senate to conduct business during this special session. The Ohio Constitution clearly outlines the parameters for a special session, and prior precedent dictates the procedure. In consultation with the House clerk, we have reviewed all available journals from previous special sessions and have found no precedent for the actions of the Senate. While there is ample precedent for the principle that bills from the first year of a two-year General Assembly session carry over to the second year, those precedents are not applicable because a special session is not considered to be any part of the regular session.”

House Republicans introduced two new bills on the special session topics: HB1 (Seitz), an emergency measure to address foreign contributions; and HB2 (Dobos), addressing Biden’s ballot access. But the Senate used pending legislation on the numbering of statewide ballot issues, HB271 (Mathews), as the vehicle for amendment language addressing both topics. The House Government Oversight Committee heard initial testimony on HB1 and HB2 Tuesday morning, while the Senate voted 21-8 to pass HB271 after amending it. Sen. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon), the Senate majority floor leader, moved the amendment to HB271, saying it would require Democrats to notify Ohio of their presidential nominee on the effective date of the legislation. He said the foreign contribution language in the amendment was narrowed from prior attempts to address objections, leaving enforcement for local ballot initiatives to county prosecutors and eliminating references to “any other funds” in the definition of contribution.

Meanwhile, the House Government Oversight Committee heard sponsor testimony on HB1 from Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who said that while he believes it is illegal for foreign individuals to donate to Ohio campaigns based on federal law and an Ohio Elections Commission opinion issued in 2021, he felt it was important to codify it into Ohio law. The bill also is confined to statewide ballot initiatives and referendums. In addition, Rep. Dave Dobos (R-Columbus) gave sponsor testimony on HB2, which he said is a “simple, straightforward bill that states that a major political party shall certify to the secretary of state in writing the names of its candidates for president and vice-president nominated at its national convention not later than the 65th day before the 2024 general election. Once the nomination is received, the secretary must certify the forms of the official ballots to be used at the 2024 general election no later than the 60th day before that election.”

On Wednesday, opponents and interested parties testified before the House Government Oversight Committee over concerns that foreign money in campaign legislation HB1 (Seitz) would chill citizen participation and give the attorney general an outsized role in the process. Opponents of the bill who testified included Arthur Lavin of Doctors Organized for Health Care Solutions, Spenser E. Dirrig of the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, citizen Laura Irvin, and D.J. Byrnes, who is better known by his online persona “the Rooster,” as well as interested party Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio. The committee also received written opposition testimony from eight people, and written interested party testimony from Jen Miller of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) plan to virtually nominate President Joe Biden as the party’s nominee before Ohio’s deadline nullified the need for a special session, House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Columbus) said Wednesday. “The DNC’s intent to hold a virtual vote to put Biden on the ballot eliminates the urgency and, I think, primary reason of the special session,” Russo said before she and other Democrats on the House Rules and Reference Committee voted against the rules report setting Thursday’s special session calendar. “What we have on the table right now is a temporary fix. The real issue here, is we need a permanent fix to this issue that impacts not just this year or President Biden,” Russo told reporters after the meeting. “I think the sense of urgency of doing a temporary fix is lost at this point, and frankly I’m not even sure we can get it across the finish line this week in either case. I mean, we’ll see. If we’re doing a permanent fix, that’s one thing. I certainly don’t think there is a sense of urgency about the other things they’re trying to do — the poison pill language, etc.”

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Biden administration has announced $7.7 billion in additional student loan debt forgiveness for 160,500 borrowers. The discharges are for three categories of borrowers: those receiving Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF); those who signed up for the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan and who are eligible for its shortened time-to-forgiveness benefit; and those receiving forgiveness on income-driven repayment (IDR) as a result of fixes made by the administration. The announcement brings the total loan forgiveness approved by the administration to $167 billion for 4.75 million borrowers. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, about 108,440 Ohioans have received some debt cancellation through the PSLF, the SAVE Plan or an IDR plan. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education also announced an update on the timing of the payment count adjustment. The administrative fix is meant to ensure borrowers get credit for progress borrowers made toward IDR forgiveness and PSLF. Borrowers who would benefit from consolidating now have until June 30, 2024 to apply to consolidate. Borrowers can find out more about the payment count adjustment at https://tinyurl.com/me6xxx57.

The University of Toledo (UT) and ProMedica Health System recently signed a new Academic Affiliation Agreement that will last nearly a decade. The new agreement replaces the previous agreement that was first created in 2015 and continues the original intent of the partnership to attract and retain medical students, residents and fellows to Toledo and support access to high-quality health care in the community. The new agreement restructures the partnership through June 30, 2033. ProMedica will continue to provide financial support for the academic mission of the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences. And the new academic partnership specifies the number of UT residents and in which specialties they will train at ProMedica facilities.

The Inter-University Council (IUC) of Ohio, which represents the state’s public universities, will host a first-of-its-kind symposium on artificial intelligence (AI) next month on Tuesday, June 11 in the Statehouse Atrium. The event will feature discussions with industry experts, university presidents and state leaders on the role of AI in disinformation, jobs, cybersecurity, higher education and more. “Increasingly policymakers from across the country are recognizing the role higher education plays as a strategic asset for economic competitiveness, national security, and workforce development. We want to showcase what’s being done on our campuses by our faculty and researchers who are collaborating with industry partners and governmental agencies to propel Ohio forward in this rapidly evolving field,” IUC President Laura Lanese said in a written statement to Hannah News.

MENTAL HEALTH

As the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) continues to provide outreach and programs for people struggling with their mental health, the department recently gained new leadership. Last December, Gov. Mike DeWine nominated LeeAnne Cornyn as director of OhioMHAS. Her past positions like director of children’s initiatives and deputy chief of staff have given her more than 20 years of experience in Ohio’s state government. She is a graduate of Miami University and holds a law degree from Ohio State University. Cornyn took the position of former Director of OhioMHAS Lori Criss, who is now working at the Ohio State University Wexner Center. Before her work in Ohio’s state government, Cornyn was an eighth grade science teacher in California. She said this allowed her to see the struggles that mental health issues and addiction disorders have on families.

Citing a growing number of claims submitted by providers to private insurance as well as a statewide perinatal mental health taskforce, the national Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health graded Ohio a C- for maternal mental health (MMH) for 2024, representing a slight improvement from the state’s D+ rating in 2023. The center’s scale shows that the number of such insurance claims submitted in Ohio was at least 10 percent each for prenatal and postpartum patients. Their report also credits the introduction of HCR16 by Reps. Anita Somani (D-Dublin) and Sharon Ray (R-Wadsworth), urging the state to support a coordinated approach to address the challenges surrounding maternal mental health. The resolution is one of several efforts happening statewide to address maternal and perinatal mental health issues.

Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director LeeAnne Cornyn and RecoveryOhio Director Aimee Shadwick noted May’s status as “Mental Health Awareness Month” as the month closes, discussing the importance of addressing mental health and substance use with reporters in a virtual press conference. Vanderhoff opened by referencing the awareness month designation and discussed actions the DeWine administration has taken to improve access to mental health treatment. “Mental health is health,” he said, and it needs to be part of holistic approaches to health. He further shared statistics on behavioral health in Ohio and nationally, saying rates of depression for both youth and adults have increased in recent years. The most recent CDC statistics from 2020 showed 22 percent of Ohioans age 18 or older said they had been diagnosed with depression in their lifetime. Additional results from Ohio youth surveys in 2021 found more than 42 percent of high schoolers had felt “sad or hopeless nearly every day for at least two weeks in the prior year.” The rate for middle schoolers was around 37 percent as well.

PENSIONS

State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) of Ohio Board members should have the same ability to obtain independent legal representation as the STRS executive director, board member Pat Davidson said during Thursday’s STRS Governance Committee meeting. The proposal will be revised by committee members and in-house counsel and presented during the next STRS Governance Committee meeting, committee members decided in a 3-1 vote. During the committee’s discussion on the item, STRS Board Chair Rudy Fichtenbaum said it is a “clear conflict of interest” to allow the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to decide whether STRS can pay Fichtenbaum’s legal fees when the AG is the person who brought the lawsuit against him.

Posted by on June 06th, 2024

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