Statehouse: Week in Review (7.16.17)

Exterior of the Ohio Statehouse on an overcast day in

Legislative Report Update  (Week of: 7.16.17)
Source: Neil Clark, Grant Street Consultants

Congressional job approval has hovered fairly consistently between 10-20% since 2011. That’s not a great perception of job performance by anyone’s standards. Most would attribute this to divisive politics and the policy gridlock to which this division gives rise.

What should really alarm us is that a National Conference of State Legislatures study released this week revealed that state legislatures are even more polarized than Congress. NCSL based its findings on a combination of roll-call voting analysis and a national candidate survey called the National Political Awareness Test (NPAT). The report states, “In almost all of our 10 case study states, our interviewees told us that the parties in the legislature have become more distant from each other over time and that there is less diversity within each of the parties.”

NCSL suggests that fear of a primary defeat is what drives increasing polarization on the right, while “attrition” is driving increasing polarization on the left, noting the near absence of rural democratic legislators nationwide. The question we should be asking ourselves is whether the polarization of our political class is a reflection of public polarization.

If it is, how can our communities come together to find more compromise and shared middle ground? If it is not, it is incumbent upon the voters to respond accordingly at the ballot box.
Week In Review

ADDICTION/SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Attorney General Mike DeWine joined Sen. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) in Toledo Tuesday to announce details on $3 million in grants to help replicate or expand Drug Abuse Response Teams (DART) and Quick Response Teams (QRT) to address the opioid epidemic in Ohio. Grant funding will support efforts similar to QRTs in Colerain Township (Hamilton County) and Summit County, as well as the DART in Lucas County.

AGRICULTURE

The 164th Ohio State Fair opens Wednesday, July 26 and runs through Sunday, Aug. 6.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Ohio Attorney General (AG) Mike DeWine recently announced a lawsuit against a Canal Winchester man accused of using charitable funds for personal, non-charitable purposes. The lawsuit accuses Bobby J. Walker and his organization, Central Ohio Community Involvement Foundation, of violating Ohio’s Charitable Trust Act and Charitable Organizations Act.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is warning of a recent spike in IRS scams. His office received over 600 reports in June — more than any other month this year, including April. The scam generally begins with a call claiming the recipient is in trouble with the IRS and must dial a certain phone number to avoid arrest or legal action, the AG said. People who respond to the call are asked to pay immediately, generally by purchasing a gift card and reading the card numbers over the phone. Since Jan. 1, the attorney general has received more than 1,800 reports of similar scams. Most consumers haven’t forfeited money, though some report losses ranging from $100 to over $5,000.

FY16-17 BUDGET

Underspending across all categories of state government contributed significantly to the state’s ending FY17 with $170.9 million in unencumbered, unobligated funds, Office of Budget and Management (OBM) Director Tim Keen told Hannah News Friday. Also playing into the equation was the significant fund balance the state began the fiscal year with, Keen added. That totaled $565.5 million after $29.5 million was deposited into the Rainy Day Fund at the start of FY17. There will be no deposit into the Rainy Day Fund this year.

FY18-19 BUDGET

As is usually the case, the General Assembly used the new state budget to queue up reviews, reports and study groups on a variety of topics. Hannah News looks at 12 of those studies.

DEATH PENALTY

With two weeks to go until the state restarts the death penalty, Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) rallied at the Riffe Center Wednesday to halt the scheduled execution of convicted child rapist/murderer Ronald Phillips. Activists said the General Assembly had failed to address the final recommendations of the Ohio Supreme Court task force on capital punishment — now more than three years old — raising serious questions about the future of state-sponsored executions in Ohio.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Gov. John Kasich has touted improvements in Ohio’s business climate, pointing to rankings from Forbes and Chief Executive magazines, though a recent study by finance blog WalletHub offers a more measured view of the best states to start businesses, putting the Buckeye State at 29th based on 20 “key indicators of startup success.”

EDUCATION

The state foundation payment dates for FY18 are now posted and can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/ybkb2b9v .

Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) Monday sent a letter to Auditor of State Dave Yost, asking him to recuse himself from audits of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) and for a special independent auditor to be appointed to look into the charter school.

Ohio students performed better this spring on the vast majority of state tests in elementary and middle schools compared to last year’s results, while results on end-of-course exams taken at the high school level were mixed. Superintendent Paolo DeMaria briefed the State Board of Education on the preliminary data, which provides only a statewide overview at this point and is subject to change based on district-level verification of the testing data. He cautioned board members against extrapolating effects of the data on state report card grades or graduation rates and said more detailed analysis, including student subgroup performance, would be available in the coming months.

Freshman State Board of Education Member Nick Owens detailed his motivation for running for the state body, telling Hannah News it is rooted in his belief education “can be the great equalizer for people in society.”

Charlotte McGuire told Hannah News she has seen the effects of a quality education from many different angles in her winding and varied career. In her new role as the State Board of Education member representing the third district, she said she promises to promote the individual interests of each student and make “an investment in their intellectual, social and emotional lives.”

The Ohio State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an amended version of the state’s plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in addition to approving an English language arts cut score for the third grade reading guarantee and postponing a vote on recommending changes to end-of-course testing requirements to a future meeting. The vote to approve the ESSA plan was the culmination of many months of committee meetings to determine how the state should model its education policy before sending the plan to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) for review.

With new options for the class of 2018 to earn a diploma now on the books, the State Board of Education discussed plans for next steps Tuesday, including how to determine if the new options are working and what to do for the class of 2019.

The Ohio Supreme Court declined Wednesday to temporarily block state efforts to recover funding from Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), Ohio’s largest online charter school. Meanwhile, a county judge ruled for the state in an open meetings lawsuit ECOT filed recently against the State Board of Education.

Though its business of overseeing and helping to fund local building projects will continue, the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) will cease to exist as a separate agency this fall, 20 years after its creation under Gov. George Voinovich. Meanwhile, its successor agency will be able to offer a new project option to Ohio school districts under policies adopted in the budget. The OSFC had its last regular meeting Thursday before being fully subsumed into the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC), though a special meeting could be in the works for later in the summer. Gov. John Kasich proposed the transfer of duties in his executive budget, and lawmakers adopted it with one change — giving OFCC four non-voting legislative members to represent each caucus of the General Assembly, as was the case with OSFC.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) said this week it has added resources to the Learning Management System, its online professional development network, for coaches at public and private schools to comply with Lindsay’s Law, which is meant to prepare coaches to respond to sudden cardiac arrest in student athletes. ODE has added a 20-minute video and fact sheet on the topic to the Learning Management System, which coaches can access via their SAFE accounts. The resources also are available on the ODH website at http://www.odh.ohio.gov/landing/Lindsays-Law.aspx.

ELECTIONS

The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) said Tuesday that it has filed a public records request with Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office seeking any records or communications regarding the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the panel created by an executive order from President Donald Trump “in order to promote fair and honest federal elections.”

ELECTIONS 2018

Touting her experience as lieutenant governor Friday, Mary Taylor said there is “much more work” to be done, and that she’s the one to do it as the next governor. Taylor is part of a crowded field of candidates, with four each on the Republican and Democratic sides. She confirmed her run on Twitter in February, but her Friday address to the Cleveland City Club was described by the campaign as her “announcement as a candidate.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci’s (R-Wadsworth) gubernatorial campaign announced Opportunity Ohio President Matt Mayer has joined the campaign as a strategic advisor.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) re-election campaign says it will report $2.6 million in donations for the second quarter and has $6.7 million on hand, more than double what the campaign had at this point in the 2012 election.

Susan Manchester, a Waynesville woman who previously worked as an aide for U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana), announced this week that she will run for the 84th House District next year. The seat is currently held by Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina), who is running for state auditor in 2018.

The following endorsements were made over the week:

– Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson endorsed the Drug Price Relief Act.

EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT

The national unemployment rate rose to 4.4 percent in June, up from 4.3 percent in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Total non-farm payroll employment increased by 222,000 in June, with the country seeing increases in health care, social assistance, financial activities and mining,
the bureau said in a news release. Employment growth has averaged 180,000 per month thus far this year, slightly lower than the average monthly gain of 187,000 in 2016.

ENVIRONMENT

Gov. John Kasich on Friday signed SB2 (Hite), which includes a variety of reforms involving the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Lake Erie Commission. The bill is similar to last session’s water quality mid-biennium review (MBR) bill, 131-SB333 (Hite), which died during the lame duck session.

Ohio EPA is helping eligible homeowners in Crawford, Marion, Seneca and Wyandot counties repair or replace failing home sewage treatment systems (HSTS) with principal forgiveness loans to their county health departments. This state initiative, which is part of Ohio’s Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF), is meant to assist local residents by eliminating failing HSTS at an affordable cost.

A leading environmental group on Tuesday named the Buckeye State among the nation’s worst for smog and pollen pollution, which threatens more than two-thirds of Ohioans with unhealthy air, including over one million adults and children with asthma, the group said. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released an interactive U.S. map linking air quality to climate change, which it blamed for Ohio’s one degree increase in average temperatures over the last 100 years.

An initiative consisting of more than 30 science teams working on projects related to harmful algal blooms in the state released a research update Tuesday on Ohio’s progress. The Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) is funded with $4 million through the Ohio Department of High Education (ODHE) and is aimed at finding solutions for harmful algal blooms in Ohio. The initiative has gone through two rounds of research funding since 2015, with matching funds coming from participating universities.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) has asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to pursue civil penalties against Rover Pipeline LLC for violating a number of the state’s environmental laws. Ohio EPA spokesperson James Lee said the latest proposal from the agency was a $914,000 civil penalty, but noted the number of violations has increased since that time. He said it will be up to DeWine’s office to determine how much money to seek. Kate Hanson, public information officer for the AG’s office, said civil proceedings have not been initiated yet.

Scientists are predicting that the Western Basin of Lake Erie will experience a significant harmful algal bloom (HAB) this summer, potentially reaching levels last seen in 2013 and 2014.

GAMING

Ohio’s four casinos and seven racinos saw combined increased revenue in June compared to the same time last year but uniformly less than in May 2017. According to figures released this week by the Ohio Casino Control Commission, the four casinos earned $64 million in June, up from $62.7 million in June 2016 and down from $70.2 million in May.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

The prospect of Senate action to override budget vetoes moved further out into the future Monday with an announcement that the chamber cancelled the final if-needed sessions included on its long-term calendar for the first half of 2017. The Senate had already cancelled this week’s if-needed Wednesday session, and has now scrubbed those set for Tuesday, July 18 and Wednesday, July 19.

Rep. Jim Butler (R-Dayton) introduced legislation this week that he said would require the General Assembly to sign off on any court-sanctioned final settlement agreement, also known as a consent decree, that a state agency or public official enters into that would permanently alter or prohibit the enforcement of an Ohio law.

GOVERNOR

Gov. John Kasich appointed Daniel Brudzinski of Sandusky County to serve as a judge on the Fremont Municipal Court. Brudzinski will assume the bench on Monday, July 24. He must run in November 2017 to retain the seat for the full term commencing Nov. 1, 2018. Brudzinski is replacing Judge Robert Hart, who was appointed to the Sandusky County Court of Common Pleas, General and Domestic Relations Division.

Appointments made during the week include the following:

– Kyle Johnson of Bowling Green (Wood County) to serve as the student member on the Bowling Green State University Board of Trustees for a term beginning July 7, 2017, and ending May 17, 2019.
– Larry L. Long of Bexley (Franklin County) reappointed to the State Audit Committee for a term beginning July 10, 2017, and ending June 30, 2020.
– Patrick J. Kenney of Sylvania (Lucas County) to the University of Toledo Board of Trustees for a term beginning July 10, 2017, and ending July 1, 2026.
– F. Patrick D’Eramo of Holland (Lucas County) to the University of Toledo Board of Trustees for a term beginning July 10, 2017, and ending July 1, 2021.
– Hedyeh Elahinia of Sylvania (Lucas County) as a student member on the University of Toledo Board of Trustees for a term beginning July 10, 2017, and ending July 1, 2019.
– John H. Hull of Ottawa Hills (Lucas County) reappointed to the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Release Compensation Board for a term beginning July 11, 2017, and ending July 10, 2020.
– James F. Dicke II of New Bremen (Auglaize County), Robert J. Hankins of Canton (Stark County), and Jon D. Holt of Dayton (Montgomery County) reappointed to the Ohio Arts Council for terms beginning July 11, 2017, and ending July 1, 2022.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replacing it with the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) would be particularly harmful to residents in Ohio’s 50 rural counties, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said Wednesday.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), in his regular conference call with reporters, discussed sit-in protests by groups opposed to the U.S. Senate health care bill that were held at his district offices, including one in Columbus that resulted in 16 arrests. On the bill itself, he said, “We continue to discuss health care here in Congress … and my position remains the same as it was before the break. We haven’t seen the new language yet, we were told we might be able to see it in the next couple of days, and of course we don’t have a Congressional Budget Office report.” His concerns with the most recent version include effects on Medicaid funding for addiction treatment and recovery, but he said the Affordable Care Act “is not working for Ohio families and businesses.”

The Ohio State Set-Aside Committee for the national Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) met recently to review the guidelines for Phase 34 funding and to recommend the distribution of nearly $300,000. That recommendation has subsequently been approved by the national board. The State Set-Aside Committee received $293,459 to allocate to those Ohio counties that did not receive direct funding from the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unveiled the latest version of the bill Republicans hope will repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act Thursday, and while U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said he is still opposed, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a key vote on the measure, said he is looking it over. Portman said he is opposed to voting on the bill immediately.

The Ohio Hospital Association (OHA) earned national recognition for its collaborative efforts with 100 member hospitals to save lives and reduce health care costs by decreasing sepsis mortality and improving workplace safety. OHA was selected as honorable mention for the American Hospital Association’s 2017 Dick Davidson Quality Milestone Award for Allied Association Leadership.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) recently received a $100,000 challenge grant to support efforts to boost the proportion of Ohioans with some kind of post-secondary credential. The funding from the Lumina Foundation’s Attainment Challenge Grant program will go to bolster efforts to meet the goal of a 65 percent post-secondary attainment rate by 2025. The Board of Regents and the Governor’s Executive Workforce Board have endorsed the goal, and the State Board of Education has discussed it as well.

The Ohio State University (OSU) Board of Trustees has approved new tuition and fees for the 2017-18 academic year and enacted the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee. In-state tuition and mandatory fees will increase 5.5 percent for incoming freshmen on the Columbus campus and, under the guarantee, be frozen at that level for four years.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) recently awarded Marion Technical College (MTC) a $150,000 grant to develop new mathematics courses, incorporate new technology to promote active learning and improve student success. Math faculty will use research to develop math classes relevant to each degree, create supportive co-requisite classes for students who struggle with college math and expand math tutoring.

Kent State University (KSU) students will soon have a unique opportunity to gain professional money management experience. Starting in the fall, the Kent State University Foundation will effectively start “hiring” the students to manage current investable assets. The Student Managed Investment Fund will be the first of its kind at Kent State. The purpose is to give students real-world experience and advance career opportunities.

JUDICIAL

The Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Services announced that Ohio attorneys will receive registration packets this month to complete their 2017-2019 biennial registration. Lawyers on active or corporate status must register with attorney services and pay a $350 registration fee every odd-numbered year before Sept. 1. The registration packet contains instructions on how to register and a form to verify the accuracy of their contact information.

Nearly 1,000 aspiring attorneys have applied to take the July 2017 Ohio Bar Examination, the Ohio Supreme Court announced Monday. The second bar exam of the year will be administered Tuesday, July 25 through Thursday, July 27 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Of the two annual bar exams, more attorney hopefuls take the exam in July than in February.

The Supreme Court of Ohio has opened the application process for the Civil Justice Program Fund. The fund seeks to advance innovative programs or services designed to provide civil legal assistance or improve access to assistance. Applicants must be non-profit organizations or public entities whose purpose is to provide direct services or access to civil legal services.

JUVENILE JUSTICE

The realigned Ohio Supreme Court has reaffirmed the constitutionality of state laws requiring certain juveniles to be tried as adults. Notwithstanding the U.S. Supreme Court finding that minors should be treated differently than adult offenders, the same 5-2 majority that overturned the Ohio Supreme Court’s December ruling against mandatory bind-overs held once again that the practice does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment of violent juveniles.

Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi will be named president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) at its 80th annual conference. Capizzi, president of the Ohio Juvenile Court Judges Association, has been serving as NCJFCJ’s president-elect since last year.

MARIJUANA

A medical marijuana partnership including Ohio football luminaries plans to open four dispensaries in the Cleveland area, pot entrepreneur Jim Buchanan said Tuesday. Buchanan, joined by Cleveland Glenville High School football coach Ted Ginn Sr. and former Ohio State University quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, was one of only two individuals to testify during the Ohio Board of Pharmacy’s (OBP) medical marijuana rules hearing. Buchanan said the organization, Ohio Cannabis Solution, also includes former Cleveland Browns running back Eric Metcalf. Buchanan said they plan to open dispensaries in Cleveland, South Euclid, Warrensville Heights and Lakewood.

NATURAL RESOURCES

The state’s plan to compensate flooded landowners near Grand Lake St. Mary’s was approved by the Controlling Board Monday, although Reps. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) and Scott Ryan (R-Newark) and Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) objected. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) recently reached a settlement agreement with area residents suing the state over flooding caused by spillways installed in 1997. In order to fulfill the agreement, the department requested $17 million in increased appropriation authority.

The Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) quarantine zone in Clermont County has been expanded, the Kasich administration announced Monday. The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) issued a release saying 576 acres of the East Fork Wildlife Area has been added to the quarantine as a result of newly-discovered infested trees.

Mike Miller has been appointed chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife, the department has announced. Miller replaces Ray Petering, according to ODNR.

PEOPLE

Monday was the last day for Emmalee Kalmbach as the spokeswoman for Gov. John Kasich. She has served as the governor’s press secretary since June 2, 2016 and previously served as communications director for Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. Effective Monday, July 17, she becomes press secretary for Ohio’s Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. She will be based in Ohio.

Josh Brown has been hired to serve as legal counsel and director of public policy for Citizens for Community Values (CCV), the group said Monday. In his new role, Brown will lead the organization’s legislative efforts, which will include a focus “to protect life, build up families, promote parental rights and school choice, and protect religious freedom.”

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) Monday announced the selection of Terri Flora as its director of public and government affairs. Flora’s official starting date is Monday, July 31. She most recently served as communications director for AEP Ohio, where she was responsible for the development of strategic communication and customer outreach plans. She began with American Electric Power in 1991.

Buckeye Institute President and CEO Robert Alt is expected to return to Columbus Thursday evening after suffering a medical emergency while on a climbing trip, according to the think tank.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) announced David Wirt has been hired to serve as his district director. He will serve in the role out of Latta’s Bowling Green office but will also oversee operations in the Defiance and Findlay offices as well.

POLITICS

Vice President Mike Pence will keynote the Ohio GOP State Dinner set for Saturday, July 22 in the Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom of the Ohio Union on the campus of Ohio State University.

PUBLIC SAFETY

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio against Columbus police, saying officers used excessive force against demonstrators who were peacefully protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order barring entry from six majority Muslim countries, an order the ACLU calls a “Muslim ban.”

STATE GOVERNMENT

The Controlling Board deferred a more than $29 million request from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to pay for outside counsel for various state agencies. Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester) grilled John Danish of the AG’s Outside Counsel Section over a lack of information comparing law firms.

The Controlling Board also passed an Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) request to waive competitive selection in FY18 to contract with Advocate Solutions and TSG Partners on information technology. The request received objections from Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) and Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus), both of whom criticized the department’s handling of IT issues.

The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) announced a new grassroots civility initiative in Ohio and three other states to help train citizens to learn the skills to improve public and political discourse. The announcement came as NICD Executive Director Carolyn Lukensmeyer joined a panel on civility at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, along with former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ).

UTILITIES

The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) is renewing a dispute with the utility industry over whether power companies are required to meet a 3 percent cap on their renewable energy costs or, as an alternative, are not required to exceed the 3 percent cap on renewable sources under energy omnibus 127-SB221 (Schuler). As part of American Electric Power (AEP) of Ohio’s renewable energy rate case currently before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), the consumers’ counsel has asked AEP to provide calculations showing whether its billed charges for renewable energy constitute more than 3 percent of customers’ total electric costs.