Budget Season Update
House Bill 33, the state operating budget, passed the Ohio House in late April. The $88 billion budget passed the House by a vote of 78 -19 with all Democrats voting yes except Rep. Elliott Forhan (D-South Euclid) and Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst). Highlights of the budget bill include:
- EdChoice Scholarship Program: Increases the eligibility for private school vouchers through the state’s EdChoice scholarship program for those 450% below the poverty level or $135,000 annually for a family of four.
- Higher Education: Removes Governor DeWine’s provision giving $5,000 per year scholarships to all Ohio high school students who graduate in the top 5% of their class if they attend an in-state school.
- Medicaid Increases: Increases the amount Ohio’s Medicaid program will pay dentists and in-home healthcare workers to $18 an hour from the proposed $16 an hour in Governor DeWine’s budget outline.
- School Funding: Adds another $1 billion-plus to the state’s public school education funding for the next two fiscal years.
- Taxes: Eliminates sales tax on baby products and gives parents a $2,500 per child deduction on their income taxes. Also includes $1 billion in income tax savings aimed at helping the middle class.
- Teachers’ Salaries: Raises the minimum base salary for teachers from $30,000 to $40,000.
HB 33 is currently pending in the Ohio Senate for their consideration. For the remainder of May, the Senate will continue to hear testimony and analyze the thousands of policy and funding items within the bill. The Senate will likely unveil their substitute bill on June 6th and expects to pass the bill by mid-June. The budget process will end with a conference committee to hash out the differences between the Executive, House, and Senate versions of the bill. Gov. DeWine will have the opportunity to line-item veto provisions and should sign the bill by June 30th to start the fiscal year on July 1st.
Senate Joint Resolution 2 - Require 60% Vote To Approve Any Constitutional Amendment
The Ohio Legislature adopted Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR2) last week. This resolution, sponsored by Senator Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Senator Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), proposes an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would require a 60% vote from the public to approve any constitutional amendment. Currently, Ohio law requires a simple majority of votes (51%) to amend the constitution. In the House, the resolution passed 62-37. The 37 no votes included all Democrats along with five Republicans: Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord); Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville); Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville); Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester); and Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville).
The House also voted on an amendment to add an August 8, 2023, election date, which passed 56-42. In the Senate, the resolution passed 26-7 on party lines. Proponents of this bill include the Buckeye Firearms Association, Ohio Right to Life, and the Center for Christian Virtue. Opponents of this bill include the ACLU of Ohio, the League of Women Voters, and the Ohio Education Association. Furthermore, four previous Ohio governors have also spoken out in opposition against SJR2. Former Governors John Kasich (R), Ted Strickland (D), Bob Taft (R), and Richard Celeste (D) have all raised concerns about the passage of SJR2. As it stands, Ohioans will vote in August to decide whether the Ohio Constitution should be more difficult to amend due to SJR2, though the resolution is likely to face several legal challenges along the way.
Senate Bill 83 – Enact Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act
Senate Bill 83, the Enact Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act, sponsored by Senator Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), includes multiple provisions of wide-ranging changes to Ohio universities. The bill would do the following:
- Prohibit “bias” within the classroom including no mandatory diversity training for anyone.
- Mandate that in order to obtain a bachelor’s or associate degree, students must take a course on the U.S. Constitution. Required reading would consist of the Declaration of Independence, essays from the Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham Jail.
- Ban Ohio universities from partnering or having programs with Chinese institutions. Cirino stated this portion of the bill is not aimed to disenfranchise Chinese students from attending American universities, but rather to stop any program or research exchanging between American and Chinese universities.
- Prevent labor strikes or boycotts among university faculty and include tenure evaluations based on whether educators showed bias or taught with bias, whereupon students will also evaluate.
Although the bill primarily impacts public universities within Ohio, it does have provisions that affect private institutions as well, such as requiring private schools seeking public funds to sign paperwork assuring they are following free speech guidelines. This bill had a total of four hearings in the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee before it was voted out. Proponents of the bill included The American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the National Association of Scholars. Opponents of the bill included the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, and hundreds of students attending Ohio universities from around the state.
The Senate voted out the bill with a vote of 21-10 during session. All Senate Democrats voted no and were joined by Sen. Lou Blessing (R-Colerain Twp.) and Sen. Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester). SB 83 now awaits a second hearing in the House Higher Education Committee after Sen. Cirin0 provided his testimony to the committee in late May.
House Bill 7 - Enact the Strong Foundations Act
House Bill 7, the Enact the Strong Foundations Act, expresses the General Assembly's intent to address maternal and infant mortality and improve health and developmental outcomes. This is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Andrea White (R-Kettering) and Rep. Latyna Humphrey (D-Columbus). Key provisions of the bill include:
- Initiatives addressing access to nutrition, housing, transportation, health care, and legal services which impact pregnant women, infants, and toddlers.
- Creation of a pathway to Medicaid funding of doula services, which are proven to reduce preterm births, cesarean births and increase healthy outcomes for both mother and child.
- Investment in technology to make it easier for mothers and children who qualify to apply for the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to apply for and access formula and food.
- Establishment of a grant program for locations around the state that are experiencing limited access to childcare to help provide infant and toddler wraparound and childcare services. These grants will be given to support new or enhanced Early Head Start childcare with an emphasis on providing family support and positive learning initiatives for young children.
This bill is currently awaiting a fourth hearing the House Families and Aging Committee after receiving two hearings consisting of proponent and interested party testimony.
OneOhio Recovery Foundation
OneOhio Recovery Foundation is the state’s plan to jointly approach settlement negotiations and litigation with the drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids, where local governments encompassing more than two-thirds of the state’s population have signed on. More specifically, OneOhio provides a distribution method for any opioid settlement funds and outlines how the funds may be used. When it comes to the distribution of funds, OneOhio states that:
- 30% of funding will go directly to community recovery via townships, villages, cities, and counties to address the immediate needs of residents.
- 55% of funding will be used to create a statewide foundation to oversee the planning that local communities need to address the opioid crisis.
- 15% of funding will go to the state of Ohio, which will be used to offer prevention and treatment support for Ohio residents.
Recently, an Ohio Supreme Court ruling detailed the OneOhio Recovery Foundation must provide public records about its meetings and actions as it was declared a “public office.” This comes after a nonprofit seeking to prevent overdose deaths, Harm Reduction Ohio, filed a public records request against OneOhio after the president of Harm Reduction Ohio received no response to his ask for OneOhio’s Board of Director’s meeting documents that took place in June of 2022. The Ohio Supreme Court stated since OneOhio only distributes settlement money and does not actually provide treatment or prevention services themselves and that the money being distributed is public money, it is therefore a public office and is subject to public records requests.