State Operating Budget
The House version of the State Operating Budget (HB 33) passed in late April and received a great deal of praise from organizations. In fact, it passed the House floor 78-19 with only 2 Democrats voting “no.” Organizations were hopeful the Senate would continue on this path. However, the Senate version of the budget, introduced in early June, gutted many earmarks to organizations and received extreme criticism. It passed the Senate 24-7 with all Democrats voting “no.” The House did not concur on the budget — pushing it to a Conference Committee to decide the differences. Conference Committee met in the afternoon on June 30th, the last day of the fiscal year, to deliver the final budget. The House voted out the budget that afternoon with a vote of 67-30 and the Senate with a vote of 25-6. Governor DeWine signed HB33, vetoing a total of 44 items in the process. A number of the vetoed items addressed the state's Medicaid program. DeWine also vetoed provisions related to requiring the tax commissioner set income tax rates and brackets and that interest earned on the Rainy Day Fund go to the General Revenue Fund.
Some budget highlights include:
- Flattening of the state income tax into two brackets — 2.75% for Ohioans making between $26,000 and $100,000 and 3.5% for Ohioans making above $100,000
- One of the largest expansions of funding for private-school vouchers in Ohio's history. The changes to the state’s EdChoice Expansion voucher program mean that any family is now eligible for some form of financial aid to pay for the tuition of private schools, and families earning up to 450% of the poverty line will receive the full amount: $8,407 for students in high school and $6,165 for students in lower grades.
- Changing the Ohio Department of Education to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce. This will make the agency director a gubernatorial appointee, reduce the role of the state board of education, and increase the emphasis on workforce initiatives.
- Creation of the Department of Children and Youth
- $750 million investment over the biennium into the All Ohio Future Fund. This fund prepares locations throughout the state to be ready for large-scale development projects. These projects bring positive economic activity to our state by providing incentives to utility providers and creating jobs.
- $8 billion in FY24 and more than $8.2 billion in FY25 to fund the Fair School Funding Plan.
- $1 billion for the Connect4Ohio Fund to increase accessibility to economic centers for all Ohio workers.
- $50 million for broadband pole replacement to increase access to rural broadband.
- Medicaid-eligible children will now receive continuous Medicaid coverage from birth through age three (4 total years).
- Elimination of sales tax on most baby items after October 1st including: diapers, wipes, car seats, cribs and strollers.
- Modest increase in the income guidelines for subsidized childcare, raising the amount families can earn to 145% of the federal poverty level —about $35,000 annually for a family of three.
- Expanded eligibility for Ohio's Autism Scholarship Program, which covers a set amount of tuition to private schools for these children. The program will now accept children with an autism diagnosis, those identified by their school districts, and those with an IEP from a district.
- Increases a teacher’s base salary from $30,000 to $35,000 annually and allows for up to $7,500 if teachers commit to teaching for at least four years in a qualifying school needing staff.
- Establishes that Social Media Parental Notification Act which will require certain online companies to obtain verifiable parental consent to contractual terms of service before permitting kids under the age of 16 to use their platforms.
OTHER LEGISLATURE UPDATES
Former Speaker Sentenced
Former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) received the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison after he was convicted of federal racketeering charges earlier this year. Householder, along with former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, was found guilty by a jury for their role in a scheme surrounding nuclear bailout bill 133-HB6. Householder was accused of orchestrating the funneling of money from FirstEnergy through a dark money group in order to get the bill passed to help the utility. Borges was found guilty of bribing an operative working on the repeal campaign of the bill. Borges was sentenced to 5 years.
Ohio’s 9-8-8 Suicide Hotline
Ohio’s implementation of the 9-8-8 suicide hotline a year ago has saved lives, with around 12,000 monthly calls and texts going to the 19 call centers around the state. Full funding of the service was given in the budget in the amount of $46.5 million. The state will be launching a new public service campaign to bring awareness to the hotline that is expected to start by the end of the calendar year. They expect calls to the crisis line to increase to about 14,000 or more a month. The state did not launch the hotline with a major push by a statewide or national marketing campaign to ensure the system can handle high volume call rates, troubleshoot any issues, and begin measuring trends and evaluating the needs of the system before promoting it statewide. About 90% of the calls made in Ohio to 9-8-8 were answered by someone in the state, a 33% increase over the previous hotline. Calls were answered on average in 19 seconds, below the national answer rate average of 35 seconds. When a person calls, the person answering the call does an assessment of the individual to determine what the needs are. Someone will also follow up with the caller the next day and will help make connections and give referrals if needed. The 9-8-8 line is a 24-hour a day, seven-day a week resource.
The number of Ohioans enrolled in Medicaid dropped by about 39,000 from April to May as the end of pandemic-era coverage policies brought the return of regular eligibility redeterminations. Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) expects the figures in its May caseload report to increase, as some people who were removed might reapply and be reinstated without any coverage interruption. For now, the caseload report shows an April peak shy of 3.6 million, and a drop in May. Medicaid could not disenroll anyone from the program as a condition of taking enhanced federal matching funds meant to address effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of 2022, Congress passed legislation untying the existence of a declared health emergency for COVID to Medicaid eligibility, and a few months later the Biden administration said it would allow the emergency declaration to expire. ODM is projecting only about 220,000 of the 800,000 people added to the program over the pandemic years to be removed, given differences in the economy, commercial insurance affordability issues and a pullback in private coverage, particularly in Appalachia. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 1.3 million people nationwide had been disenrolled from Medicaid as a result of the end of pandemic coverage policies as of mid-June.
Department of Education and Workforce
Most of the powers of the State Board of Education (SBOE) will be transferred to the DeWine administration over the next six months as a result of budget. Most of the budget bill provisions are effective 91 days after the act is filed but for transitioning the Department of Education (ODE) to the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) there is also an additional 90 days after that to complete any actions necessary to implement the transfer of powers. ODE is working on an estimate of how many staffers will be moved from ODE to SBOE in order to carry out SBOE’s remaining responsibilities, which mainly include teacher licensing. They estimate it will be about 70 employees because it will encompass the Office of Educator Licensure and Office of Professional Conduct. It will also include board relations and some members doing work within the Office of Educator Effectiveness. SBOE is considering a transition plan for these changes.
For the upcoming school year, Ohio educators can access “Learning Blade,” an online STEM and computer science career platform, to inspire students to pursue high-demand careers. Free access to the platform is provided through the Ohio STEM Learning Network (OSLN). Battelle manages the Ohio STEM Learning Network as a public-private partnership with the state of Ohio as part of the company’s commitment to preparing the next generation of innovators. Learning Blade is accessible to all Ohio educators at no cost and will remain available throughout the 2023-2024 school year. The platform offers lessons and teacher guides aligned with Ohio's academic standards, designed for students in grades 5-9. Using real-life situations and missions, Learning Blade introduces students to a wide range of STEM and computer science careers. Ohio educators can access Learning Blade here.
Business and Technology
Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services (AWS) plans to invest an estimated $7.8 billion by the end of 2029 as part of expanded data center operations in Central Ohio, creating hundreds of new jobs. Final selections for the new data center campuses will be made at a later date, but “numerous” locations are under consideration. The project is the second-largest single private sector company investment in Ohio's history. The centers will have computer servers, data storage drives, networking equipment, and other forms of technology infrastructure used to power cloud computing. AWS currently has data center campuses in Franklin and Licking counties, and its investments and operations have generated over $2 billion in economic benefit so far. In 2022, the company directly employed nearly 1,000 Ohioans and it has supported more than 3,000 secondary jobs on an average annual basis as well.
Expanding High-Speed Internet to All
Ohio will receive $793.7 million in federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funds. President Joe Biden said he wants to connect “everyone in America” to high-speed, affordable Internet by 2030, saying 24 million people currently do not have access and millions more have limited or unreliable service. Ohio was ranked 25th in terms of most funds allocated, with 19 states receiving more than $1 billion. BEAD program funding totals $42.45 billion, and the money is meant “to deploy affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service to everyone in America” as part of President Joe Biden’s “Internet for All” initiative. It helps expand Internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs, helping “unserved” and “underserved” areas based on their Internet speed. Unserved areas have Internet speeds at or below 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload, and “underserved” areas are at or below 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload. States received formal notice of the allocation on June 30 and have 180 days after that to submit initial proposals on how they plan to run their grant programs. BroadbandOhio previously received $5 million through the BEAD program in 2022 to conduct stakeholder outreach as a first step towards receiving this funding. That input helped BroadbandOhio create a five-year action plan to serve as a guide for how the state plans to use the full allotment of funding.
Currently, a total of 124,046 valid signatures are necessary to put an initiative on the ballot. At least two high profile initiatives turned in signatures for the November ballot. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) submitted 222,198 signatures for review. The Protect Choice Ohio campaign turned in more than 700,000 signatures for review for the reproductive/abortion rights amendment.
On Aug. 8th, Ohio voters will have the opportunity to vote in a rare statewide summer election on Issue 1, a ballot initiative that, if passed, would make it harder for citizens to change the state constitution. Issue 1 would make three changes to the laws governing citizen-initiated constitutional amendments in Ohio:
- Require a 60% vote for voters to approve a constitutional amendment, whether citizen-initiated or from the General Assembly. Currently, a constitutional amendment requires a simple majority vote (50% plus one) to be approved in Ohio.
- Require campaigns for initiated constitutional amendments to collect signatures from each of the state's 88 counties, an increase from the current requirement of 50% of the state's 88 counties. Campaigns need to collect a number of signatures equal to 5% of the vote in the last governor's election in each of the counties. This is known as a signature distribution requirement.
- Eliminate the cure period of 10 days for campaigns to gather additional signatures for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments when the original submission did not have enough valid signatures.