Statehouse: Week in Review (3.24.17)

Exterior of the Ohio Statehouse on an overcast day in

Legislative Report Update  (Week of: 3.24.17)
Source: Neil Clark, Grant Street Consultants

In spite of adding 15,200 new jobs in February, the state’s unemployment rate continued to rise to 5.1%… steady growth from 4.9% in November and December and 5% in January.  The number of unemployed in the state grew from 287,000 to 294,000 between January and February. At this time last year the number of unemployed in the state was 285,000, a 9,000 person increase in the last 12 months. The national unemployment rate  has continued to drop, coming in at 4.7% last month. I want to reiterate a point I’ve made often over the years.  One in four Ohioans are now on Medicaid. Medicaid caseloads have increased during the period from 2011 as unemployment was going down. Typically, as unemployment goes up, so do caseloads.
Meanwhile, income tax revenue projections missed the mark by more than 27% last month.  While overall tax receipts are off by 3% from projections, Director Keen has said that he anticipates slow economic growth of about 2%.  The Director also mentioned that lower than anticipated spending in Medicaid caseloads has offset the discrepancies in revenue.

I’ve talked for a long time about the overestimation of Medicaid caseloads, so let me be very direct.  As it relates to the budget currently being deliberated in the General Assembly, overstating Medicaid caseloads and spending while at the same time under stating revenues isn’t “deliberate conservative estimating” it is intentional deception.

Week In Review

ABORTION

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Friday called on Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy to recuse herself from at least two upcoming abortion cases that are before the Court following her Friday morning appearance at a breakfast sponsored by Right to Life of Greater Toledo. In response, Kennedy issued a statement saying she routinely speaks to civic group about the republic’s founding, the Constitution and separation of powers and treated the request to speak for the Right to Life group as she would any other. Days later, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote an op-ed column in the Cincinnati Enquirer defending Kennedy’s actions and saying it’s important for judges to engage the public and civic groups on the role of the judiciary.

Two House members Wednesday introduced new legislation that would make any compensation for fetal tissues or organs illegal, a practice abortion rights backers say does not currently occur in Ohio. Reps. Margaret Conditt (R-Hamilton) and Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) introduced HB149 on Wednesday with 23 co-sponsors.

AGRICULTURE

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) is accepting nominations to honor Ohio farmers who are leaders in conservation, the department announced Monday. The Conservation Farm Family Award program has recognized Ohio farm families since 1984 for their efforts in managing natural and human resources while meeting both production and conservation goals, according to a news release from ODAg. Nomination forms can be obtained from local county soil and water conservation districts or by visiting ODAg’s website at www.agri.ohio.gov. The forms can be submitted by email to dswc@agri.ohio.gov or by mail to Conservation Farm Family Award, C/O Ohio Department of Agriculture, 8995 E. Main St., Reynoldsburg, OH 43608. The forms must be returned by Wednesday, May 17.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) celebrated National Agriculture Day on Tuesday by tweeting out a number of farming-related statistics. According to OFBF, agriculture generates 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and is the country’s top export. Two out of every three bushels of corn originate in the U.S., and agricultural land provides habitat for 75 percent of the nation’s wildlife, the organization added.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released the 2017 edition of “Ohio Sunshine Laws: An Open Government Resource Manual,” along with a complete update to the Online Sunshine Laws Training. The release of the manual, commonly referred to as the “Yellow Book,” and the updated training coincided with National Sunshine Week.

A new project in Southern Ohio aims to help counties deal with the spike in children’s services cases tied to parental addiction amid the opiate epidemic. Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Wednesday his office and Casey Family Programs will provide more than $3.5 million, mostly in crime victim funds, to launch Ohio START, which stands for “Sobriety, Treatment and Reducing Trauma.”

AUDITOR OF STATE

State auditors and investigators found employees at a Southern Ohio correctional facility forged receipts, stole property and illegally spent thousands of tax dollars across the country on liquor, hotels and a strip club, Auditor Dave Yost said Tuesday in a news release. A special audit of the STAR Community Justice Center in Scioto County determined 11 directors and employees benefited from $20,090 that was spent improperly, and findings for recovery were issued in that amount.

BUSINESS/CORPORATE

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday that it has launched a new research foundation to provide “trusted, non-partisan research and information.” Led by Executive Director Katie Koglman and board President Brian Hicks of Hicks Partners LLC, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation will release its initial report in April.

According to Site Selection magazine’s Governor’s Cup 2016 rankings, Ohio earned the No. 2 spot overall for total projects for the fourth consecutive year, as well as No. 3 in projects per capita.

DEATH PENALTY

Deep into the state’s four-year-long execution calendar are two dates scheduled for the lethal injection of Jeffrey A. Wogenstahl and Gregory Lott. The Ohio Supreme Court this week refused to grant them a new trial, though both men still have several years to pursue other appeals. Wogenstahl, convicted in 1993 for the abduction and murder of 10-year-old Amber Garrett, says new evidence shows the Federal Bureau of Investigation botched a hair sample test in his case and that the Harrison Police Department and Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office had withheld evidence from defense counsel. Lott, convicted in 1987 for the murder of 82-year-old John McGrath, whom he set on fire, says he should receive a new trial because he was counseled to waive his right to a jury trial during original proceedings.

EDUCATION

The application window is open this month for the third year of Community Connectors, the Kasich administration’s mentoring initiative designed to connect schools, businesses, faith groups and nonprofits to get students thinking about their futures. The state provides $3 for every $1 local projects spend, up to a maximum award of $100,000. More information about the program and how to apply is available at http://communityconnectors.ohio.gov/Home.

The Ohio School for the Deaf in Columbus last weekend hosted the Deaf Teen America Pageant, and Ohioans Adriana Berry of Oregon and Douglas McComb Barrett of Massillon contended with participants from other states for the titles of Miss and Mr. Deaf Teen.

The Delaware Joint Vocational School District filed a motion Monday in the Ohio Supreme Court asking justices to reconsider a ruling that upended a levy victory because the tax issue did not appear on the ballot in all the counties the district serves. Elections officials are joining the call for reconsideration as well.

Deputy Superintendent John Richard laid out an “aggressive” timeline Tuesday for a new workgroup to hone recommendations for reduced testing in Ohio, while forecasting additional discussions stretching into the fall on a broader redesign of how the state assesses student learning.

Nearly a week after testifying before the Senate Education Committee on testing, State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria also appeared before the House Education and Career Readiness Committee to assure legislators that the Oho Department of Education is listening to their concerns on testing.

Sen. Matt Huffman’s (R-Lima) proposal to establish a unified school voucher program and educational savings accounts (ESAs) creates a “state preference for private schools,” Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) said Wednesday.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) ranks Ohio in the middle of the pack in its latest ratings of states’ laws governing charter schools. The latest report, ranking Ohio 21 out of 44 states that have charter schools, is the first to assess state laws against the revised model law NAPCS adopted about six months ago.

Rep. Robert Cupp (R-Lima), who’s leading budget deliberations on K-12 education in the House, told committee witnesses Thursday that he and his colleagues are working to devise fixes for two issues emerging as themes in testimony on the school funding formula: transportation costs for sprawling, sparsely populated districts; and the effect of closings or substantial devaluations of power plants on property wealth.

ELECTIONS 2017

Secretary of State Jon Husted announced that voting for military and overseas voters began Saturday, March 18 for the upcoming primary and special election to be held on Tuesday, May 2.

ELECTIONS 2018

U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) ended speculation about his 2018 plans Monday, becoming the second Republican to officially enter the gubernatorial race, with at least two more expected to follow him. Renacci, a supporter of President Donald Trump, adapted Trump’s “America First” slogan with an “Ohio First” theme to his campaign. In his announcement, he said that career politicians in Washington and Columbus have been looking out for themselves for too long.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken released a statement Friday saying charges against Rep. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton) of drunken driving and weapons violations call into question his qualifications for office, and said if the allegations are true he should resign.

The Legislative Service Commission (LSC) Friday released a request for proposals (RFP) from nonprofit organizations to lead a stakeholder group to produce a report on social determinants of health for infants and women of child-bearing age. This study grew out of deliberations by the Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality. The study is required by Section 5 of 131-SB332 and has a budget of up to $500,000, although LSC notes, “As a steward of taxpayer dollars, LSC would prefer to spend less than this amount.”

Hannah News’ new legislator interview series featured Sen. Steve Wilson (R-Maineville), who got the call asking if he was interested in the appointment to fill a vacant seat while he was on a 300-plus mile walk across Ohio.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would create a dedicated funding source to support green infrastructure projects in Ohio.

The Senate unanimously passed the $7.8 billion transportation budget during a brief session on Wednesday. The upper chamber also passed SB6 (Hoagland), which codifies the Ohio Bridge Partnership Program, and SB37 (Hite), which requires the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission to develop and conduct a chief-of-police training course for newly-appointed police chiefs.

The Ohio House set up transportation budget HB26 (McColley) for conference committee Wednesday after denying concurrence on Senate changes. First, members passed deed solicitation regulations in HB52 (Rezabek), historic barn designation in HB12 (Gonzales), Omphalocele Awareness Day in SB23 (Terhar), and the Officer Bill Johnson Memorial Highway in HB100 (Lipps) with a series of unanimous votes.

The conference committee for HB26 (McColley) will hold its first meeting Monday at 3 p.m. in Room 313 of the Ohio Statehouse. Members will include Reps. Ryan Smith (R-Gallipolis), Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) and Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) and Sens. Frank LaRose (R-Copley), Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) and Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus).

In other legislative action, House Criminal Justice Committee reported out SB25 (Hottinger), creating the Perry County Municipal Court; House State and Local Government Committee reported out HB39 (Arndt-Gavarone), which allows some townships to require the removal of snow and ice from sidewalks, HB44 (Patmon), which designates May 24 as “First Responders Appreciation Day,” and HB84 (Arndt-Patton), which designates June as “Ohio Goes Boating Month;” Senate Judiciary Committee reported out SB1 (LaRose), which increases penalties for fentanyl, SB20 (Hackett), which increases prison terms for those causing permanent disabling harm, SB32 (Eklund), which modifies the criminal trial process, and SB33 (Eklund), which allows disclosure of information from the law enforcement automated data system (LEADS) to a defendant.

GOVERNOR

The governor made the following appointments during the week:

– James R. Smail of Wooster (Wayne County) reappointed to the Banking Commission for a term beginning March 17, 2017, and ending Jan. 31, 2020.
– Will Lucas of Toledo (Lucas County) reappointed to the Ohio Casino Control Commission for a term beginning March 17, 2017, and ending Feb. 21, 2021.
– Jason Clark of Miamisburg (Montgomery County) reappointed to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency for a term beginning March 17, 2017, and ending Jan. 31, 2023.
– Randall W. Leite, Ph.D. of Pickerington (Franklin County) reappointed to the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood for a term beginning March 17, 2017, and ending July 30, 2018.
– Mark Johnson of Chillicothe (Ross County) to the Ohio Rail Development Commission for a term beginning March 17, 2017, and ending Oct. 20, 2021.
– Dr. Kim G. Rothermel of Columbus (Franklin County) reappointed to the State Medical Board for a term beginning March 20, 2017 and March 18, 2022.
– Michael Miller of Powell (Delaware County) reappointed to the Ohio Public Works Commission for a term beginning March 20, 2017, and ending March 18, 2021.
– Dennis M. Bartels of Gahanna (Franklin County) reappointed to the State Board of Career Colleges and Schools for a term beginning March 20, 2017, and ending Nov. 20, 2021.
– James C. Oda of Piqua (Miami County) to the Edison State Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning March 23, 2017, and ending Jan. 17, 2023.
– David M. Reynolds of Solon (Cuyahoga County) to the Cleveland State University Board of Trustees for a term beginning March 23, 2017, and ending May 1, 2025.

HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES

The Center for Community Solutions (CCS) said this week that the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) put forth by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives could bring an all funds reduction in Ohio as a result of a Medicaid per capita cap that would be between $19 billion and $25.6 billion between FY19 and FY25.

The Baby Box Co., the company behind the global program Baby Box University, recently announced that Ohio is the second U.S. state to launch a universal program where all expecting and new parents can receive a free Baby Box by completing online parenting education. Baby Box University aims to improve family health care outcomes and reduce Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS).

AARP reacted Friday to the pending House vote on the American Health Care Reform Act, HR277. It said the bill would create an “age tax,” weaken Medicare’s solvency, put at risk seniors’ ability to live independently as they age and give “sweetheart” deals to big drug and insurance companies. In a letter sent to all 435 members of the House, AARP maintained its strong opposition to the bill and urged each representative to vote no on the proposed legislation.

Gov. John Kasich announced Monday that he is appointing Lance Himes to serve as acting director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Himes currently serves as the department’s chief legal counsel and served as acting director earlier in the administration. Himes replaces the department’s current director, Rick Hodges, effective Friday, March 31. Hodges announced that he is leaving to pursue new opportunities outside of the administration.

Upward of 50 witnesses appeared before the House Finance Health and Human Services Subcommittee Wednesday afternoon and evening, some supporting provisions included in the proposed budget while others sought funding for their agency or cause. Others sought changes.

With many Ohioans traveling for spring break, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) issued a reminder to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites for those traveling to areas with active Zika virus transmission. Zika has spread to about 62 countries and territories that include popular Spring Break destinations such as Mexico, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

The Kasich administration’s suggested changes to the Children with Medical Handicaps Program (BCMH) would likely hurt families dealing with serious health issues, parents and doctors told lawmakers Thursday. Those testifying on the HB49 (R. Smith) provision moving BCMH from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) were among more than 75 witnesses presenting testimony to the House Finance Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Wright State University President David Hopkins has decided to step down early, changing earlier plans to retire June 30, the university announced. Cheryl B. Schrader, chancellor of Missouri University of Science and Technology, was designated his permanent successor earlier this month. Curtis McCray, who has experience in leading presidential transitions and serving as a university president multiple times, has been appointed interim president. McCray had conducted an operational review as a consultant to the university during the presidential search.

The Ohio University Board of Trustees approved a master plan Friday for expanded development and growth at the university’s Dublin extension campus. The campus is home to a portion of the university’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, which opened in 2014. The Heritage College also has locations in Cleveland and Athens.

The Youngstown State University Board of Trustees approved two new degrees and five centers of excellence at Thursday’s meeting. The Centers of Excellence, to receive a combined $500,000 in university funding, will seek to provide “focus and distinction” through instruction and inquiry into specific academic areas.

The University of Cincinnati (UC) Monday announced the creation of a new model aimed at fostering new interdepartmental partnerships in order to improve support to all UC undergraduate students. UC said the Collaborative for Student Success will align various on-campus support centers under a single planning leadership team, to help students take advantage of academic and career planning, coursework, hands-on learning and numerous co-curricular experiences from their first day at UC onto career or graduate school selection.

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Monday announced it has established the nation’s first graduate program in military ethics. The Master of Arts (M.A.) in Military Ethics program formalizes a field of study that contends with questions of how advancing military technologies relate to the common humanity of both enemy and ally.

The University of Toledo (UT) has identified 11 low-enrollment programs for review and will consider improving or eliminating them or collaborating on them with nearby Bowling Green State University. The university said in a news release Tuesday that development of the list comes from numerous requests from state government for universities to find saving and efficiencies, including from lawmakers, the governor’s Task Force on Accountability and Efficiency, and a review of duplicative programs by the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

Cleveland State University (CSU) students now have the opportunity to complete their undergraduate and law degrees through an accelerated 3+3 program with the university’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

HOUSING

The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) is hosting the annual Housing Ohio conference in Columbus from April 10-12. Housing Ohio 2017 offers the choice of 30 workshops presented by practitioners and national experts said to have taken innovative approaches to a wide variety of homelessness and affordable housing issues.

JUDICIAL

Ohio attorneys registered for active, corporate, or emeritus pro bono status have until the end of the month to voluntarily report their 2016 pro bono activities. Attorneys received an email in January with a link to a website where pro bono information can be reported. The portal is open until Friday, March 31, and all information is collected anonymously.

Gov. John Kasich Friday announced the appointment of Jill Flagg Lanzinger to serve as a judge on the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, General Division. Lanzinger will assume office on Monday, April 3. She must run in November 2018 to retain the seat for the full term commencing May 17, 2019. Lanzinger is replacing Judge Thomas A. Teodosio, who has been elected to Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals.

A new exhibit in the Visitor Education Center of the Moyer Judicial Center, home to Ohio’s Supreme Court, centers on a case about the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) by law enforcement to track a vehicle involved in a drug deal. “Eye in the Sky” features a satellite hanging above visitors’ heads and a panel of information that explains decisions in the case by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Ohio Supreme Court and lower courts.

Two Portage County men wrongfully convicted in the death of Connie Nardi three decades ago will receive a total of $2.9 million in compensation, the Ohio Court of Claims announced Thursday.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The Central Ohio Mayors and Managers Association (COMMA) is joining several other municipal leadership groups in mounting a legal challenge to 131-SB331 (Peterson). The act covers a wide range of fields including placement of small cell wireless towers in public rights of way, the matter leading COMMA and others to oppose it. COMMA represents 17 cities in the Columbus area. “[SB331] was sort of a poster child for what happens in lame duck [session] with a Christmas tree sort of bill, and why maybe that shouldn’t happen,” said COMMA Chairman Ben Kessler. Kessler, the mayor of Bexley, led a Monday news conference announcing the suit, filed in Franklin County.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Twenty-three Ohio communities will receive approximately $568,000 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Parks and Watercraft to support local marine patrol units, the department announced Tuesday.

Outdoor enthusiasts can soon enjoy the spring weather at one of the state’s designated all-purpose vehicle (APV) areas, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

NONPROFITS

The United Way of Central Ohio announced Lisa Courtice as its new CEO Thursday. With a Ph.D. in psychology, Courtice brings 25 years of nonprofit executive experience to United Way, having previously served as the CEO or co-CEO of other nonprofit agencies serving Ohioans facing poverty, according to a press release.

PEOPLE

Two Ohioans stand out in the list of “World’s Greatest Leaders” released by Fortune Thursday, with both in the top 15 out of 50 total. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James ranked 11th, while Gov. John Kasich came in at 12th.

POLITICS

The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) said its 2017 Legacy Dinner will pay tribute to the late Sen. John Glenn, when it is held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will be the dinner’s featured speaker, and ODP said the event will be the first official event to feature the party’s announced candidates for governor — which currently include Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman), former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, and former state Rep. Connie Pillich.

POVERTY

The number of Ohioans who are unable to financially sustain themselves and their families is about double the poverty rate, according to a report released Thursday by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OACAA). The “State of Poverty in Ohio: A Portrait of Ohio Families” report outlines trends in poverty throughout the state, paying particular attention to certain vulnerable communities.

STATE GOVERNMENT

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently launched a searchable database, the result of activity across legislatures in all states following 2014 passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

TRANSPORTATION

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission (OTIC) on Monday authorized a project to repair, rehabilitate and widen bridges in Mahoning County. The $4.6 million project will address five bridges on the Ohio Turnpike.

Ohio Trucking Association President Tom Balzer joined several legislators and other industry representatives Wednesday in announcing upcoming steps to address a growing job shortage in the industry.

UTILITIES

“All the people for the mandates benefit from the mandates. All the people against the mandates pay for the mandates.” Such was House Public Utilities Committee Chairman Bill Seitz’s (R-Cincinnati) general assessment of submitted testimony from three dozen-plus witnesses for the energy mandate-busting HB114 (Blessing) Tuesday. Most did not show up to deliver remarks in person.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) on Wednesday adopted an agreement authorizing Aqua Ohio to increase its rates for water service, also accepting the results of Duke Energy Ohio’s wholesale auction.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) teamed up Thursday to promote “Fix a Leak Week,” March 20-26. The agencies note that household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water per year in the U.S. alone — equal to the annual household water use of more than 11 million homes.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said Wednesday that workers’ comp coverage for first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could proceed as an amendment to the agency’s budget or emerge in a standalone bill; on Thursday, Sens. Frank LaRose (R-Copley) and Edna Brown (D-Toledo) introduced legislation that would provide PTSD benefits to police and firefighters without the need for an accompanying physical injury.

WORKFORCE

The Legislative Service Commission (LSC) followed up its presentation a week ago on the higher education landscape to the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee with one on Wednesday on the state’s workforce development programs.