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Ohio legislative update

5/4/2020
Overview

G2G has organized several virtual roundtables with Members of Congress and participated in additional online discussions with state legislators and agencies and are hearing about the challenges they are facing and how they are eager to hear the impact COVID-19 is having on Ohioans. The Ohio legislature, already on a shortened timeline due to the November election, will meet in May and practice social distancing. House staff will be working in their offices on a staggered basis while Senate staff will continue working from home. Unfortunately, the legislature and Governor DeWine have some difficult decisions to make. During the current fiscal year, which began July 1, 2019, the state was generating a large surplus, but it was decimated by the pandemic. Because the Ohio Constitution requires a balanced budget at the end of each fiscal year, the state must implement severe budget cuts. In a recent discussion with Senate Finance Chairman Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), he shared they hope to close FY20 on June 30th without dipping into the $3 billion rainy day fund but will use it for the FY21 budget. The following update focuses heavily on Ohio’s reopening and other coronavirus issues.

Latest Numbers

Ohio’s total newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ICU stays, and deaths have continued to rise, although confirmed cases are significantly lower than expected thanks to quick action by Governor DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton and aggressive social distancing. Here are the latest numbers as of Monday, May 4, 2020:

Total Number of Confirmed Cases: 20,474
Total Number of Deaths: 1,056

EVENTS
Roundtable with Lt. Governor Husted

G2G participated in a roundtable discussion with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted prior to the release of the DeWine Administration’s reopening plan. Husted emphasized to the business community that the reopening of the state’s economy will be gradual and in phases to ensure the state does not experience a resurgence of cases. Husted also highlighted the importance for employees as they return to work to consider wearing masks or face coverings to limit the spread of the virus in the workplace. He is overseeing the repurposing project through the Ohio Manufacturing Alliance and continues to lead on the administration’s interfacing with the business community during this crisis.

Bioscience Townhalls with Federal Lawmakers

G2G has organized virtual roundtable discussions between the state’s leading bioscience, pharmaceutical, medical device and clinical research and development companies and federal lawmakers, who serve in leading roles on coronavirus legislation. In all off these sessions, the Members of Congress shared a rundown on the legislation enacted to help businesses and nonprofits stay afloat and individuals keep their jobs, as well as challenges they are facing now that they want to address in subsequent legislation. They valued connecting with the industry and hearing the questions ranging from accessing the Paycheck Protection Program to regulations impacting businesses to bioscience manufacturing efforts to address COVID-19. These discussions have featured:

  • U.S. Senator Rob Portman
  • Congressman Brad Wenstrup (OH-02)
  • Congressman Steve Stivers (OH-15)
  • Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14)
  • Congressman Anthony Gonzales (OH-16)
  • Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13), Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11) and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown are being planned next.
Ohio House Small & Micro Businesses Roundtable

G2G participated in a roundtable discussion led by the Ohio House Democratic Caucus focusing on the unique issues facing Ohio’s micro and small businesses, with a particular focus on women and minority-owned businesses that may be uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. As the economy is reopened, legislators made clear their intent to thoroughly understand the issues specific to these businesses as well as what needs to be improved. The biggest challenges for smaller businesses shared during this roundtable include limited cashflow, uncertainty when the economy will reopen and if customers will return in sufficient numbers to stay in business. In addition, several concerns about accessing the Paycheck Protection Program were shared.

Reopening Ohio
Responsible RestartOhio Plan

Governor DeWine has announced the "Stay Safe Ohio Order." The new order, which incorporates the openings of businesses and services announced as part of the ‘Responsible RestartOhio’ plan, will replace the previous Stay at Home order, which expired Friday, May 1. The new order can be found here.

In sum, it includes an initial rollback of business restrictions beginning Friday, May 1 through Tuesday, May 12, but with social distancing, hygiene and mask requirements for all that resume operations. Some health care services, manufacturing, distribution, construction, general office work, consumer, retail and service business are among those included in the initial reopen plan. Restaurants and bars, barbershops and salons, gyms and day cares are not set to reopen, and the governor has not stated how soon such businesses would be allowed to open, as they need to wait to monitor the effects of initial openings before taking additional steps. The plan includes the following schedule to re-open:

  • Friday, May 1: Resumption of elective surgeries that do not require an overnight hospital stay.
  • Monday, May 4: Opening of manufacturing, distribution, construction and general office businesses.
  • Tuesday, May 12: Opening of consumer, retail and services businesses.
  • Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14)
  • Congressman Anthony Gonzales (OH-16)
  • Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13), Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11) and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown are being planned next.
Face Masks

Governor DeWine announced that the state will not mandate masks be worn by customers as part of resumed business operations, but many businesses have already required such measures. Husted noted that federal regulations don’t allow certain food processing industry workers to wear cloth masks and that people working in an office alone wouldn’t need them.

FDA Reagent Approval

A new COVID-19 testing reagent is key to Ohio’s reopening strategy. The reagent is a compound used to determine if the virus is present in a sample and has been approved by the FDA. Because reagents were extremely limited, Ohio and other states had limited testing capacity. DeWine spoke with officials at the FDA and asked them to approve new types of reagents to allow Ohio to expand testing. The FDA approved a new version of the reagent for Thermo Fisher's testing machines, which are used by most major labs in Ohio. This will enable a much faster and more effective reopen plan for the state.

Battelle Mask Decontamination

Battelle will be decontaminating N95 respirator masks at no cost to health care providers after receiving a federal contract for up to $400 million to assist in this work. Battelle’s first two weeks of operating Critical Care Decontamination System (CCDS) machines in the state were funded by a $250,000 contribution from JobsOhio. The new federal contract covers the cost of staffing and training system operators who will be deployed at 60 sites across the country with the machines. Battelle announced it is donating $1 million to three central Ohio organizations providing essential, high-demand services: $500,000 to the YMCA of Central Ohio, $250,000 to the Community Shelter Board and $250,000 to the LifeCare Alliance, a Meals on Wheels provider.

Local Law Enforcement Grants

Governor DeWine announced nearly $16 million in grant funding is now available for local law enforcement agencies, probation officers, parole offices, local courts, victim service providers and adult, juvenile, and community corrections agencies. Applications will be accepted on a continual basis while funding is available with no cap. More information is available here.

This funding was awarded as part of the CARES Act and will support agencies in doing the following:

  • Taking measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as purchasing cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.
  • Implementing measures to prepare for COVID-19, such as supporting proper planning, staffing and communications to ensure effective operations and maintain the safety of criminal justice employees, citizens and correctional populations.
  • Taking measures to respond to the spread of COVID-19, such as medical visits, hospitalizations, purchasing medical supplies and securing alternative housing.
Unemployment

For the week ending April 25, ODJFS reported 92,920 initial unemployment claims, taking the state's coronavirus-related six-week total to 1,057,486. As of last week, more than $1.45 billion in unemployment compensation payments were distributed to more than 481,000 claimants over the last six weeks. For perspective, the total for the last six weeks of claims is 341,974 more than the combined total of 715,512 for the last two years.

Business relief
Paycheck Protection Program

By mid-April, nearly 60,000 Ohio businesses secured $14 billion through the Paycheck Protection Program loans, according to the latest Small Business Administration numbers. This fund was replenished with subsequent congressional legislation enacted April 24 and reopened on April 27. A total of $175.7 billion of the $310 billion total allocated for PPP were used to back 2.2 million loans from banks and other private lenders between April 27 and May 1. More applications are pending. PPP is so popular because lenders will forgive these loans if the recipient spends 100% of the funds on payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities in the eight weeks after receiving the loan with the requirement that at least 75% is specifically spent on payroll.

BWC Dividend Checks

The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) recently began sending $1.6 billion in dividend checks to Ohio employers. More than 170,000 checks were sent out with around $1.4 billion to private businesses and nearly $200 million to public employers. The amount is approximately equal to the premiums paid during the 2018 policy year. BWC has also allowed employers to defer monthly premium installment payments for March, April and May until June 1 and waived or postponed some requirements and deadlines for several programs that reduce employer premiums, applying discounts automatically.

JobsOhio

JobsOhio announced that it has committed up to $50 million to assist Peoples Bank and recently merged First Federal/Home Savings Bank with providing loans to small businesses. Eligible businesses can use the loans for payroll, rent, mortgages, other fixed debts, utilities and other bills. The partnership will provide additional financing on favorable terms to local businesses in good standing that could not otherwise be accessed. JobsOhio’s support will enable banks to increase lending by up to $200,000 per business, with funds available for immediate use. For information on how to apply for this lending support, businesses should go to www.peoplesbancorp.com/coronavirus, www.First-fedbanking.com/COVID-19 or www.Homesavings.com/COVID-19.

Summit County Small Businesses

Summit County and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce announced 311 small businesses in the county will receive $1.546 million in funding from the COVID-19 Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Program. Initial funding for the program was provided by Summit County, the city of Akron, JumpStart and Key Bank. The grant program provides grants of up to $5,000 to small for-profit businesses affected by COVID-19. Businesses in operation for at least a year prior to March 15, 2020, with three to 25 employees and more than 50% of their employees residing in Summit County were eligible.

Advisory Groups

DeWine announced he will form two separate advisory groups to develop best practices for reopening dine-in restaurants, barbershops and salons. The goal of the groups is to develop recommendations for these businesses that balance the need to protect the health of employees and customers as they reopen to the public. A list of individuals serving on the restaurant advisory group can be found here. A list of individuals serving on the personal services advisory group can be found here.

OHIO 2020 Task Force

The Ohio House Economic Recovery Task Force (OHIO 2020) has convened multiple times since its recent creation. Task Force’s Chair Rep. Paul Zeltwanger (R-Mason) asked members to compile a 1-2-page list of recommendations and potential solutions which they believe are key to restarting the state’s economy. Zeltwanger said the panel has received more than 450 requests from business owners seeking to testify. In subsequent meetings, the task force has continued to hear testimonies from a number of business owners in varying industries urging state leaders to consider certain reopening strategies. Some testimony included:

  • Ohio AFL-CIO said reopening the state will not lead to an economic recovery if workers and consumers do not feel safe, and asked committee members to consider implementing policies that would support workers, including increasing the minimum wage, mandating Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace safety standards and mandating paid sick leave for workers.
  • COSI asked for the state’s support for Ohio's 1,300 museums, who were cited to contribute 25,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in economic impact to the state's economy.
  • The owner of a logistics company said despite having truck drivers who work on the front lines, none of his employees contracted coronavirus due to precautions taken by the company.
  • A professor of early childhood education from the University of Cincinnati said childcare should receive more attention as Ohio looks at reopening businesses, including providing a timeline for better preparation to reopen centers.
  • Multiple restaurant and bar owners stressed the need for a clear timeline and guidance for reopening.
  • The owner of an Ohio renewable energy company encouraged the Task Force to consider utility-scale renewable energy projects, especially in rural areas, to jump start the economy during and after the state’s reopening.
Former Governors Lead Testing ‘Strike Team’

Governor DeWine announced the formation a new strike team led by two former Ohio governors, Democrat Richard Celeste and Republican Bob Taft, that will work to find more reliable sources of reagent and testing supplies for COVID-19 testing in Ohio. Emphasizing the critical role testing will play in determining how and when the state can begin reopening parts of its economy, the strike team will work with Ohio leaders from business, higher education and public health to be part of the effort to help the state source critical testing items.

Elections

Ohio’s extended 2020 Primary Election officially ended on Tuesday, April 27, 2020. Overall, incumbents faired very well in this primary. Notable results from of the extended election, which largely took place through mail-in absentee voting, are highlighted below:

Central Ohio
  • Voters in Franklin County approved Issue 21, Columbus State Community College’s inaugural bond issue to be used for the campus’ planned capital improvements.
  • State Rep. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) won the Republican nomination for the state’s contested 26th Senate district.
Northeast
  • Former Republican state lawmaker Christina Hagan won the nomination to face Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Niles) in the 2020 November election.
Southwest
  • Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) won the three-way Republican primary for the 6th Senate District seat held by Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering), who is term limited, defeating Rachel Selby, whom Lehner had endorsed, and Greg Robinson. On the Democratic side, Mark Fogel defeated Albert Griggs Jr. and will face Antani in November.
  • Rep. George Lang (R-Chester) won the republican nomination for Ohio’s 4th Senate district over Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown).

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