Statehouse News - Week in Review 


Week in Review
Friday, May 5, 2017




Members of the Senate Finance Health and Human Services Subcommittee Thursday asked Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Ohio MHAS) Director Tracy Plouck what she felt would be the best priorities for the Senate to focus on when addressing the opioid and heroin crisis in the state, discussing everything from more treatment to the Medicaid expansion.




Two Ohio Republicans joined all Democrats in the Ohio U.S. House delegation in voting against the federal American Health Care Act (Trumpcare), a measure to repeal and overhaul parts of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that passed the House on a vote of 217-213 Thursday.




According to unofficial results, the three senior services levies on the May 2 ballot all passed with big margins.



Ohio Attorney General (AG) Mike DeWine Thursday rejected the petition for a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution which would change Ohio's congressional redistricting process, saying the petition summary omits important information.




On Monday, the House Finance Committee reported out the budget bill, HB49 (R. Smith), which is $976 million below Legislative Service Commission forecasts and $630 million below Office of Budget and Management forecasts. Changes include provisions that give lawmakers the authority to mete out Medicaid expansion funding in half-year increments and condition release of the money on seeking federal waivers and other policy changes; tweak the education funding plan again; revisit a sales tax dispute from the lame duck session between the General Assembly and the administration; and answer county officials' request for help paying for new voting machines by providing $1 million.


The FY18-19 state operating budget was approved by the House Tuesday, sending the bill officially to the Senate for consideration. HB49 (R. Smith) passed 58-37, with a few Democrats joining the GOP majority to vote in favor of the bill, while several Republicans joined other Democrats in opposition. House Finance Committee Chairman Ryan Smith (R-Gallipolis) said HB49 is a "responsible" budget in light of the projected revenue shortfall of $800 million.


Income tax revenues lagged expectations by more than $100 million in the key filing month of April, but that and other tax shortfalls are in line with the assumptions that drove the recent decision to cut revenue expectations for the upcoming biennium, Budget Director Tim Keen said Wednesday in testimony to the Senate Finance Committee. Keen also highlighted some of the administration's concerns with recent House changes to the proposed biennial budget, including new limits on Medicaid spending authority and changes to the administration's prison diversion ideas.


The budget bill passed by the House has prompted a mostly positive reaction from Gov. John Kasich's office, although the executive branch expressed concern over the changes made to Medicaid expansion. "Balancing our budget and restraining spending has been the most important factor in helping Ohio create 460,000 new private-sector jobs, and the House budget takes steps to preserve that conservative approach to budgeting," Kasich Press Secretary Emmalee Kalmbach said in response to HB49's (R. Smith) being sent to the Senate. "Ohioans have been able to get those jobs, in part, because they're getting healthy and staying healthy. Therefore, creating bureaucratic barriers to that health coverage for the 700,000 Ohioans who've gained it recently is troubling," Kalmbach said. "The governor is confident that, working together, we will find the right way forward, preserve our jobs-friendly climate and show the world that Ohio can manage its affairs well in the face of all kinds of challenges."


Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Chancellor John Carey returned to the Senate Tuesday to testify on his agency's budget, this time in front of the full Senate Finance Committee, as the House officially sent the bill to the upper chamber. Senators on the committee questioned him for nearly an hour on issues ranging from College Credit Plus to whether a building construction flurry on college campuses is contributing to higher costs for students.


Superintendent Paolo DeMaria raised concerns Wednesday with several elements of the House version of the FY18-19 biennial budget, HB49 (R. Smith). DeMaria listed numerous issues in testimony to the Senate Finance Committee, while qualifying his remarks to note he's not yet had a chance to discuss the extent of the changes with the State Board of Education.


The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) would have $42 million rather than the originally proposed $122 million to implement new initiatives helping individuals and Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs) under the House-passed budget, DODD Director John Martin said Thursday. Speaking to members of the Senate Finance Health and Medicaid Subcommittee on HB49 (R. Smith), Martin said the executive proposal had called for $122 million in additional dollars to be spent on these programs. He said base funding has not been cut as compared to last biennium.


Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Interim Director Lance Himes told lawmakers Thursday that the agency is planning to seek more federal dollars and implement efficiencies to help offset cuts made in the House version of the budget. The department is funded at about $614 million in FY18 and $615 million in FY19. The department was funded at $626 million in FY17.


Seeking to increase the amount of lottery revenues going toward education, House Republicans added video poker to Ohio's seven racinos and reduced the amount of video lottery terminal (VLT) revenue that the racetracks get to keep from 66.5 percent to 65.5 percent. The provisions were among a number of gaming provisions that were recommended by the Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education to HB49 (R. Smith), the biennial budget.


A casualty of the Kasich administration, the Ohio Consumers Counsel (OCC) call center has not operated since the budget cycle of 2011 and shows no signs of returning in 2017, although with new House budget language in HB49 (R. Smith), it will be able to take random complaints when Ohioans do call.




Family structure including regular bedtimes, mealtimes and limited screen time appear to be linked to better emotional health in preschoolers, and that might lower the chances of obesity later in life, a new study from Ohio State University suggests.


The Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) honored its top employees as part of National Correctional Officers and Employees Week, which is the first week of May. Lorie Lee, unit manager at the Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility (ChJCF) in Highland Hills, was named "Employee of the Year," while Starlet Arrington, youth specialist at the Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility (IRJCF) in Massillon, was named "Youth Specialist of the Year."



A bill sponsored by Sens. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) and co-sponsored by Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) would greatly expand a human trafficking victim's ability to erase felony convictions and charges -- a move opposed by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association (OPAA).


Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Director Gary Mohr borrowed from the title of his boss' new book on Wednesday evening, saying policymakers can go down one of "two paths" when deciding how to deal with low-level offenders in the justice system. "We continue to see drug possession being our number one reason for which Ohioans are sent to prison -- both men and women. ... I think there's a better way," said Mohr, who was joined at the Riffe Center's Davidson Theatre by U.S. Justice Action Network (USJAN) Executive Director Holly Harris, Buckeye Institute President Robert Alt and former Ohio State University running back Maurice Clarett for a "Smart Justice" panel event.




Gov. John Kasich announced the latest revision to Ohio's execution calendar Monday following the recent decision by the U.S. 6th Circuit to hold a full-court review of the state's lethal injection challenge. The new schedule delays by at least two and a half months the next death penalty date and pushes out to two and a half years the ninth scheduled execution on the revised calendar.




Problems in state law on background checks for educators are keeping a small group of those educators from being enrolled in the Rapback program, which notifies officials when someone licensed to work with students is convicted of a crime. Superintendent Paolo DeMaria wrote to State Board of Education members to notify them of the problem and the interim measures the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is taking to address it while awaiting legislative action. The vast majority of state licensees, 99 percent, are enrolled in Rapback, his email notes.


Elementary schools are now among those designated as STEM schools by the state, following passage late last year of a law extending the designation to lower grades. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) announced that the Ohio STEM Committee recently approved 12 new STEM schools for the upcoming academic year.


The National Park Service is seeking teachers to participate in this summer's "Teacher-Ranger-Teacher" (TRT) program at Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). The TRT program is a professional development opportunity for teachers who want to spend the summer working alongside park rangers and earn free graduate credit, according to CVNP.


Students, parents, teachers and others supporting education options filled the west steps and plaza of the Statehouse for a rally Tuesday to celebrate school choice. Rally organizers estimated attendance of more than 1,500.


A Kent State University (KSU) summer program that teaches foreign languages to high school students has received federal funding for the 10th year. Professors Brian Baer and Theresa Minick of KSU's Department of Modern and Classical Language Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences received two grants totaling $180,000 to host the 2017 Regents STARTALK Foreign Language Academy at the school.


Auditor of State Dave Yost recently visited the Perkins Local School District in Erie County to mark the progress district officials have made to head off projected operating deficits and to release a performance audit of the district that recommends $1.7 million in additional spending reductions to augment the district's own efforts.


About three quarters of school funding issues on the Tuesday ballot passed, according to the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA). In unofficial results, voters approved 71 of 97 issues, a 73 percent passage rate derived from near-universal approval of renewal levies mixed with success for just more than half of new funding issues. The passage rate is slightly higher than the 71 percent seen in the 2016 primary election.


The Broadcast Educational Media Commission (BEMC) heard a report Thursday on the use of its video conferencing services by Ohio schools for distance learning, and discussed ways to get more schools on board with the free service. Commissioners also discussed recent changes to the agency's proposed budget for FY18-19 and heard that the agency staff expects to complete transition of all public television stations to the new master control system by month's end.


Lakewood Catholic Academy was among schools recognized Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) as a Green Ribbon School. A total of 45 schools, nine districts and nine higher education institutions were recognized.




A consent decree between former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and groups representing homeless Ohioans has expired after U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley refused a motion from the plaintiffs to extend the document until 2025. The decree came in a case originally filed by homeless advocates in 2006 against former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, charging that county boards of elections were not uniformly counting provisional and absentee ballots cast by voters who only used the last four digits of a Social Security number as identification. In his decision, Marbley noted the landscape has changed since he last extended the decree.




Seven communities across the state held contested races for municipal court judgeships in primaries on Tuesday, May 2, the Ohio Supreme Court reported. Voters cast ballots in municipal court elections in Celina, Niles, Struthers, Upper Sandusky, Washington C.H., Willoughby, and Youngstown. Among these, only the races for Willoughby Municipal Court in Lake County featured multiple candidates on both the Democrat and Republican ballots.




U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci's (R-Wadsworth) gubernatorial campaign Monday announced its initial finance leaders, including Bob Althoff; Art Anton; Mike Baach; Russ Corwin; Bill Cosgrove; Don DeVille; Fred DiSanto; Scott Fitzpatrick; Michael Gabrail; Carl Grassi; Jack Holland; Doug Leohr; Steve Oddo; Rob Peitruska; Kim Reinhardt; Dennis Schwartz; Mark Shepard; Doug Sibila; Frank Sinito; Shawn Smith; Rick Sonkin; and Shelley Szarek-Skodny.




The Center for Biological Diversity, Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), Heartwood and Sierra Club Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over fracking plans in the Wayne National Forest, Ohio's only national forest. The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Columbus.




With congressional negotiators reaching a deal Sunday to keep the government funded through September, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) noted the package included federal resources for states hit hard by the opioid and heroin crisis and funding for health care for Ohio miners, both issues the two have been fighting for recently. Portman noted that the bipartisan agreement fully funds the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which he sponsored, and the CURES Act, and increases opioid funding.


Great Lakes programs avoided cuts in the federal government funding bill announced Monday. The compromise will fund the federal government through Saturday, Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, according to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-WI) office.


Speaking with reporters on a conference call Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) highlighted various budget provisions that are part of the federal government funding measure that was agreed to by Congress and the president this past weekend covering the remainder of the current federal fiscal year through September.


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) outlined his recommendations Wednesday for a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), saying above all else, workers must be at the negotiating table so that they don't get left behind.



Wednesday's Senate session included passage of SB32 (Eklund), which deals with timeliness of trials for felony offenses; and SB62 (Yuko), which designates June 8 as "Harrison Dillard Day."


Rep. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton) received a suspended sentence for a misdemeanor OVI charge Wednesday and was ordered to undergo alcohol treatment and forfeit his concealed handgun license and firearm, according to Hamilton's Journal-News. Retherford was arrested on March 12 after the Butler County Sheriff's Office (BCSO) said he was found passed out in a restaurant drive-thru. Retherford failed field-sobriety tests, according to the BCSO report, and had a loaded firearm in a holster under the center armrest of his vehicle.


In other legislative action, House Ways and Means Committee reported out HB124 (Brenner-Carfagna), regarding a career-technical education levy; House Health Committee reported out HB165 (Gonzales-Conditt), to designate May as "Congenital Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month"; and HB101 (Merrin), regarding epinephrine.




The governor signed HB9 (Koehler), which specifies that the alternative protocol for proceeding into an intersection with malfunctioning traffic lights due to a failure of a vehicle detector applies only to bicycles, on Sunday, April 30. As an emergency measure, it became effective immediately.


The governor made the following appointments during the week:


- Charles O. Moore of Genoa Township (Delaware County) to the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund for a term beginning April 28, 2017, and ending Sept. 27, 2020.




The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) offered new options for institutions of higher education to use to verify information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), in light of the recent suspension of the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) on the FAFSA website due to identity theft concerns. According to USDOE, the new options available to institutions are designed to support those applicants who may not have had all of their required tax-related documentation available and include a signed paper copy of the 2015 IRS tax return.


Thousands of Ohio residents are now eligible for federal student loan cancellation based on "widespread misrepresentations" by the defunct for-profit Corinthian Colleges, Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Tuesday. Corinthian Colleges once included Everest Institute, Everest College, Everest University, Heald College, and WyoTech, some of whose campuses were transferred to the nonprofit Zenith Education Group. After the for-profit ceased operations in 2015, the U.S. Department of Education found evidence of false advertising about students' post-graduation employment prospects between 2010 and 2014.


Former lieutenant governor, attorney general and interim dean Lee Fisher has been appointed dean of Cleveland State University's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Fisher has served as interim dean of the college since June 2016.


Noting that two bills heard for the first time by the House Higher Education and Workforce Committee Wednesday have related provisions in the just-passed House version of the proposed FY18-19 budget, HB49 (R. Smith), Committee Chair Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) assured members that both bills would be heard further. They are Rep. Ron Young's (R-Leroy Twp.) HB66, which deals with tenure at the state's universities and colleges, and Reps. Christina Hagan's (R-Alliance) and Bill Dean's (R-Xenia) HB110, which deals with college credit for apprenticeship programs.


Alan H. Barry and his wife, Karen A. Barry, have given their alma mater $1 million to establish an endowment that supports the Alan H. and Karen A. Barry Endowed Professorship in Accounting at the University of Toledo (UT).


Kent State University has received a $2.5 million gift for its Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Merchandising from the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation of Hudson. The gift will fund two initiatives: $1.5 million to endow a chair to support the fashion school's director and a matching grant of up to $1 million to support the study-away program benefiting fashion school students.




The University of Akron School of Law led the state in students having passed the February 2017 bar exam, according to numbers released Friday by the Ohio Supreme Court. A total of 436 applicants sat for the exam, with 224 receiving passing scores for a success rate of 51.4 percent. The percentage was higher for first-time test takers, 66 percent of whom passed the bar exam.


The Ohio Supreme Court quietly inserted live links into its daily announcements Monday, May 1 to allow users to click on a case heading and go directly to the docket page. The Court said the change is part of its larger effort to make online access to its services fully functional.



Three Ohio library systems won comfortable victories Tuesday for their funding issues on the May primary ballot, according to the Ohio Library Council.




The Ohio Controlling Board recently approved $300,000 in grants to three communities to clean up abandoned gas stations sites. The projects were evaluated based on the impact cleanup will have on the environment, the community and the local economy.




Legal marijuana stores are associated with higher levels of property crime in nearby areas, according to a nearly three-year study in Denver, CO. Researchers found that crime isn't higher in the area immediately surrounding marijuana outlets, but adjacent areas saw about 84 more property crimes per year than neighborhoods without a nearby pot shop, Ohio State University (OSU) said. In Denver, no significant increase in violent crime was seen as a result of marijuana sales.


Ohio and other states that have legalized medical marijuana will not have to worry about the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) meddling in their programs, at least until the end of the federal fiscal year, because of provisions in a federal spending bill to fund the government through Saturday, Sept. 30.




State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers retired Friday, May 5 after having served as Ohio's 37th fire marshal, having been appointed in April 2011. A former state representative, Flowers will be succeeded on an interim basis by Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Jeff Hussey.


The County Engineers Association of Ohio (CEAO) announced that Franklin County Engineer Dean C. Ringle will become the association's new executive director, effective July 1, 2017.




Law enforcement officers from across the state gathered with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and members of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission to honor 782 police officers who have died in the line of duty since 1823, including five fallen officers from 2016. "When a peace officer dies as a result of discharging his or her duties, we all feel the loss deeply," DeWine said during the annual Ohio Peace Officers' Memorial Ceremony. "And whether they were linked to our lives through family or friendship, their loss leaves a void that is difficult to navigate and impossible to measure."




Widespread tobacco use contributes to Ohio's poor overall health status, according to a report released by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO). HPIO said that Ohio ranks in the bottom half of all states in tobacco-related metrics, which correlates with its health outcomes. According to the most recent data, Ohio ranks 43rd out of 50 states in the percentage of smokers (21.6 percent of Ohioans), 49th in the percentage of children who live in homes and are exposed to second-hand smoke (10.3 percent) and 33rd in tobacco prevention spending.




The Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) is seeking to call attention to the importance of motorcycle safety during the month of May. Motorcycle Ohio, part of the ODPS Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS), will hold events with state leaders, traffic safety partners, law enforcement and motorcycle advocates during Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, according to ODPS.



A proposal to shore up Ohio's struggling nuclear generation plants with mandatory rate hikes met with more raised eyebrows Thursday in the Senate Public Utilities Committee, which heard "zero emissions" energy bill SB128 (Eklund-LaRose) after last week's sponsor and proponent testimony on companion legislation, HB178 (DeVitis). Whereas several lawmakers came to the aid of HB178 in an otherwise quizzical House Public Utilities Committee, Thursday's questioning appeared to take its cue from recent, doubtful comments by Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina), who predicted an "uphill climb" for SB128.




The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Board of Directors gave final approval Friday to another $1.1 billion rebate to public and private employers. Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and bureau Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison followed later in the day by announcing a $44 million investment in workplace safety, health and wellness as part of the latest "billion back." Of the $1.1 billion rebate, private employers are due $967 million and public employers $133 million, including $92 million to local governments and $41 million to school districts.


Twenty-six Ohio employers will share more than $474,000 in grants from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) to purchase equipment designed to substantially reduce or eliminate workplace injuries and illnesses, the bureau announced Tuesday.



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