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Ohio legislative update

7/2/2020
Overview

The legislature now stands in recess, likely until after the November election. Following the extended spring recess caused by COVID-19, the House and Senate began meeting in mid-May for committee and session - following social distancing guidelines - to pass a wide range of bills before the summer break. After a tense few months amid the crisis, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton resigned from her position and will now serve as chief adviser on health in the governor's office. Lance Himes takes over as interim director. Following protests around Ohio and at the Statehouse in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Governor DeWine has convened the Ohio Collaborative Community Police Advisory Board to study how to better handle protests in the state, and Republican and Democrat lawmakers are pushing for different police reforms. Additionally, both the House and Senate, as well as cities around the state, are pushing to deem racism a public health crisis. More updates below.

EVENTS
Life Sciences Roundtable Discussion with Husted

G2G and the Health Tech Corridor hosted a roundtable discussion with Lt. Gov. Husted. Husted stated that he believes Ohio is the best positioned state for innovation in the future and spoke of the initiatives he is working on to support innovation, including Innovate Ohio and the Common Sense Initiative. When looking at establishing innovation districts, such as the one launched in Cincinnati, Husted shared that the state can bring resources to the table when a community makes a commitment around a common vision that will lead to economic growth. The state is eager to see innovation districts pop up around Ohio as innovation districts drive the economic futures of our state, cities and regions but in order to do so they need to collaborate talent, research, and economic and community development to be successful. JobsOhio has an aggressive agenda around these innovation districts. Innovate Ohio is currently focused on key projects, though they were diverted because of COVID-19, including Third Frontier and what the program will look like going forward.

Roundtable Discussion with Behavioral Health Experts

G2G participated in a roundtable discussion with leading policy experts in the fields of behavioral health, developmental disabilities and multi-system youth regarding the unique issues faced by these populations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The roundtable featured experts from the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers, the Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC), and Disability Rights Ohio. The discussion highlighted the increased demand for behavioral health services as a result of the crisis. While the rapid expansion of telehealth services has been found to meet some of the increased demand, more support services may be needed in order to fully address the increase need for services throughout the state.

LATEST COVID-19 INFORMATION
The Numbers

Ohio’s total newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ICU stays, and deaths do continue to rise as we reopen the state. DeWine explained that the increase in positive COVID-19 cases is not fully due to Ohio's increase in testing. Ohio's positivity rate has increased slightly as our testing totals have increased. If the spread of this virus remained at a low level, more testing should show a lower positivity. The increase of our positivity rate, even as we are doing more testing, means that we are likely picking up signs of broader community spread. Although COVID-19 utilization in hospitals is increasing, there is still adequate overall capacity available across the state as of today. No region has reached the concern threshold of 80 percent overall utilization for ICU beds, however lessons of recent history in NYC, Houston, and Arizona indicate that this can quickly change. Here are the latest numbers as of Wednesday, July 1, 2020:

  • Total Number of Cases: 52,865
  • Total Number of Deaths: 2,876
Testing

Ohio has expanded the criteria on who can get a COVID-19 test to include individuals in the community who are showing symptoms. ODH will be adding a map to its coronavirus website that will show COVID-19 test centers, including the many pop-up sites that have been added around the state. DeWine is also working with Ohio Board of Pharmacy to incorporate updated guidance that will allow pharmacists to administer COVID-19 tests and is working with the Ohio Pharmacists Association to make sure that tests are available. Discussions are also underway with the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) to make sure that tests given at pharmacies are covered under Medicaid.

Racial Disparities

Disproportionate effects of the virus have been confirmed by the Minority Health Strike Force. The Strike Force found that while African Americans make up 14% of Ohio's population, they represent 26% of positive COVID-19 cases, 31% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 17% of COVID-19 deaths in Ohio. The Strike Force offered specific recommendations to address these disparities including: establishing culturally appropriate and accessible COVID-19 exposure notification services and culturally-sensitive outreach campaigns for communities of color, expanding testing capacity and access for minorities and high-risk populations, and using data to prioritize resources in the communities that have the highest need for support services.

STATEHOUSE UPDATES
Budget Updates

Governor DeWine announced $775M in reductions to Ohio's General Revenue Fund as a result of COVID-19 for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020 which ended on June 30, 2020. Ohio is mandated to balance its budget each year. K12 Foundation Payment will see a $300M reduction and Medicaid will have to cut their budget by $210M. All other agencies will have to cut their budgets by at least $100M, except for Department of Corrections which will see no budget cuts.

State tax collections are expected to fall $2.292B, or 9.4%, amid the fiscal fallout from the crisis.  Sales-tax revenue is forecast to drop 13%, accompanied by a 7.2% decrease in income-tax take and a 9.9% reduction in the commercial activity taxes (CAT) paid by businesses in the budget year beginning July 1.  After accounting for losses in investment earnings and other funds, the state projects there will be a $2.43B hole in what’s needed to fully fund the $35B general revenue fund.

DeWine hasn’t yet ordered cuts to GRF budgets for FY21 but wants agencies to keep a share of their budgeted spending in reserve in anticipation of further revenue shortfalls. Agencies have been instructed to identify money that can go into a holding account for 20% of projected GRF spending on purchased personal services, supplies and maintenance, equipment and subsidies. For non-GRF line items, agencies will get their full FY21 appropriations, unless a given line’s funding source is projected to fall short. G2G is monitoring the state budget for both FY20 and FY21 very closely as we know that budget cuts will have an impact on the FY 22-23 budget.

Capital Reappropriations Bill

Legislation reappropriating $1.28B in capital funds and distributing $350M in federal coronavirus aid was signed by the Governor after the House approved HB481 as an emergency measure. The bill was amended on the Senate floor to include some of the language the House had attached to SB310. Earlier this year, Congress passed the CARES Act to provide funding to states and local governments to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Ohio received an estimated $4.5B. A portion of that amount was allocated to the six political subdivisions with populations larger than 500,000, and the remainder was allocated to the state of Ohio. An estimated $1.2B is available to be distributed to local governments with fewer than 500,000 people, and HB481 allocates $350M of that for local governments as a first phase allocation.

Bills Passed Before Recess

The House and Senate passed a variety of bills before the summer recess.

Senate passed:

HB165 – Originally written to address student religious expression and then expanded in the Senate Education Committee, the legislation addresses 18 topics, from telehealth services, to assignment of teachers outside their scope of licensure, to freezing the third grade reading cut score, to addressing funding challenges of districts where power plants closed. It now goes to the Governor.

HB11 – Aims to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health by expanding tobacco cessation programs, increasing lead education and supporting prenatal health care programs. The Senate amended the bill to accommodate the greater share of Medicaid funding being provided due to the pandemic. It now goes to the Governor.

SJR4– Would authorize issuance of bonds as an alternative to borrowing from the federal government when the state's unemployment compensation fund is exhausted, as happened in the prior recession and is likely to happen in the current pandemic-induced economic contraction. The bonds would not be backed by taxpayers, but by fees levied on employers. It now goes to the House.

House passed:

HB669– Would permanently allow Ohio establishments to sell alcoholic beverages for carryout or delivery, or to drink in adjacent parking lots. The argument given in favor of the measure was that it would help dining establishments that have been financially crippled by the coronavirus crisis. It now goes the Senate.

HB673– Would allow Ohio pharmacists to administer coronavirus and antibody tests, as well as any future COVID-19 vaccine. It would also suspend continuing education requirements for any occupation until Dec. 1. It now goes to the Senate.

HB674– Would allow Ohio bars and restaurants to stay open until 4 a.m. on weekends, sell liquor on Sundays without a special permit, make it easier to establish or expand outdoor drinking areas, permit voters to allow 24-hour liquor sales, and ban authorities from revoking the liquor license of a bar or restaurant that violated Ohio’s coronavirus orders before June 1. It now goes to the Senate.

Police Reform

While both chambers and both parties have announced their intentions to introduce bills around police reform, Governor DeWine and Attorney General Yost announced a package of policing reforms they’re sending to the General Assembly which, in short, would treat law enforcement officers like other professionals who are licensed by the state and subject to discipline and revocation of their ability to work in the field.

Licensure was one of several legislative proposals. State licensure, via a proposed Law Enforcement Oversight and Accountability Board, would help to prevent officers fired by one jurisdiction for profiling, unprofessional conduct or other misdeeds from being hired elsewhere. Licensure would also create a mechanism to address the conduct of officers who witness but do not report misconduct by their peers.

Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy is working to investigate the underlying assumptions in its courses and simulations and the concepts and practices they reinforce. Yost and DeWine believe the number of training hours involved in basic peace officer training should be increased.

Additionally, as part of the push for independent investigations, the attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) will now call in the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OHSP) to investigate when BCI agents are involved in shootings, and vice versa.

Other proposals include:

  • Bar on using chokeholds in most situations. chokeholds would only have an exception for situations in which deadly force is necessary to prevent death or serious harm to the officer or another person.
  • Permanent funding source to finance advanced training in de-escalation
  • Independent investigation and prosecution of shootings by officers and in-custody deaths
  • Required psychological evaluation to determine fitness for service; and consistent, public data collection on incidents.
Business
Unemployment

DeWine announced the state asked the U.S. Department of Labor for a loan totaling more than $3 billion to help pay unemployment claims in the state. This is for a fix to the unemployment system, needed to help with insolvency problems. For the week ending June 20th, a total of 1,395,184 unemployment claims have been filed in the last 15 weeks. $4.4 billion in payments have been distributed to claimants. Of the more than one million applications the agency has received, nearly 94% have been processed. The department also had 332,000 successful Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) applications, issuing more than $1.1 billion in PUA payments to more than 166,000 claimants.

ODJFS Director Kim Hall testified before the House Ways and Means Committee that the agency is gaining ground on resolving claims and improving the system. She said the goal has been to process all claims ODJFS receives within 21 days as required by the U.S. Department of Labor, however, the large volume of claims has kept some claims from getting resolved in that timeframe. Approximately 17 percent of Ohio's civilian labor force has applied for unemployment benefits over the last two months.

COVID-19 Business Grant Programs

Husted announced the creation of three programs to help small and medium-sized businesses in Ohio during the COVID-19 pandemic. These programs will be administered by the Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA). Businesses can learn more about these and other resources available through the Office of Small Business Relief and Development. Should you apply to any of these programs, please let G2G know.

Ohio PPE Retooling and Reshoring Grant Program

  • Will provide awards of up to $500,000 to small and medium-sized manufacturers so they can repurpose existing facilities to make PPE or reshore PPE production to Ohio. These grants will allow small manufacturers and other entities an opportunity to create new business while contributing to the fight against COVID-19. The grant program will be funded with $20M and up to 20% of available funding may be reserved for manufacturers with fewer than 25 employees and registered nonprofits.
  • Grant funds can be used to offset costs incurred to acquire equipment necessary to manufacture PPE, retool, or construct facilities in Ohio to manufacture PPE (including, but not limited to, building costs, design/engineering costs, facility expansion, complying with FDA requirements) and technological upgrades. Only costs incurred after March 21, 2020, will be eligible for reimbursement.

Ohio Minority Micro-Enterprise Grant Program

  • Will provide grants to help businesses owned and operated by minorities and women in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible businesses can apply for grants of $10,000 per business on first-come, first-served basis. This will provide access to much needed capital for up to 500 minority- and women-owned businesses to continue operating now and to prepare for the future. The program is funded with $5M.
  • State-certified Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and/or women-owned businesses with state certification in the Encouraging Diversity Growth and Equity (EDGE) Program with up to $500,000 in annual revenue and 10 or fewer employees are eligible. Businesses that have received federal assistance through the federal CARES Act are not be eligible.

Appalachian Region Loan Program

  • Will benefit small businesses in the 32-county Appalachian region of Ohio that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The maximum loan amount will be $500,000, and businesses will have the ability to defer payment for up to six months. Businesses can apply at here. Development will administer the loan to Appalachian Growth Capital.
Employment Recovery National Dislocated Worker Grant

Ohio will receive an $8.5M federal Employment Recovery National Dislocated Worker Grant to help reemploy individuals who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and to help employers rebuild their workforces. ODJFS will work collaboratively with the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation to assist Ohioans whose jobs have been impacted by COVID-19 as they prepare for the next step in their careers.

The agency will distribute the funding to Ohio’s local workforce areas and work in partnership with them to provide outreach to employers and services to individuals who were laid off, either permanently or temporarily, as a result of the pandemic. Allowable services will include paid work experience, on-the-job training, customized training, skills upgrading and supportive services, in addition to personal protective equipment and other supplies needed to ensure the health and safety of participants. ODJFS works in partnership with local workforce development boards and local staff to provide employment and training services at 22 comprehensive and 66 affiliate OhioMeansJobs centers throughout the state.

Individuals can visit OhioMeansJobs.com or their local OhioMeansJobs center to find and apply for job openings, take skill and career interest assessments, create or improve their resumes, and practice interviewing. Employers can call or visit their nearest OhioMeansJobs center to get help finding skilled candidates for jobs, screening resumes, learning about federally funded tax credits or training programs, and more.

Cleveland Business Loans

Applications for three loans offered by the city of Cleveland's economic department are currently being accepted from businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, applications for up to $25,000 from the city, in partnership with Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland Foundation and Gund Foundation, will be available to help small businesses repair property damage, acquire equipment and restore inventory from damages incurred by recent protests.

Emergency Working Capital Loan

  • Offers small businesses loans of up to $10,000 to help offset expenses including rent, utilities and other working capital needs. Repayments of $150 a month are not due until January 2021.

Specially Impacted Business Fund

  • Offers restaurant, retail and personal care industries an additional $20,000 to help fund working capital deficits. Repayments of $150 a month are not due until January 2021, and 50% of the loan is forgivable if used to purchase personal protective gear or any equipment needed to ensure the safety of employees and customers.

Restoration Working Capital Loan

  • Offers businesses with low interest loans up to $100,000 for costs incurred when restarting or modifying normal operations. No payments are due until January and payments are interest-only until 2022.
TechCred

The Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation has implemented a series of updates to support changing business needs as Ohio’s economy reopens. Employers are no longer required to identify employees when applying but can instead provide the number of current or prospective employees who will be upskilled. Employers in all three rounds can now substitute employees listed in their original applications to accommodate staffing changes, and employers from the October 2019 and January 2020 rounds whose programs were interrupted by the pandemic can seek an extension to their 18-month award eligibility timeline. Employees can also now earn multiple credentials during each application period.

health
SNAP Access

Ohio’s electronic benefit transfer (EBT) plan has been approved by the USDA. The plan will allow ODJFS to distribute Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits directly to 850,000 Ohio students who rely on free and reduced lunches at school. Benefits will be mailed directly, and families do not need to apply to be eligible. The program will give families $300 to purchase healthy foods, and DeWine has stated that it will result in $250M more going to grocery stores and other retailers.

ODJFS also announced that SNAP recipients can now use Ohio Direction cards to purchase food online from Walmart and Amazon. ODJFS had previously enabled SNAP recipients to order groceries online from Giant Eagle, Walmart and some Kroger stores, but they have to pay inside the stores or at curbside. Individuals may choose to have groceries delivered, but federal rules still prohibit using SNAP benefits to pay for any delivery charges. Benefits can be used to buy most food products, with the exception of alcoholic beverages, vitamins and/or medicines and hot food made to be eaten immediately, including prepared food from grocery stores and restaurants. Additional ODJFS support previously waived administrative verifications normally required at foodbanks and extended SNAP recertification periods for March, April, May and June by six months.

Kids Behavioral Health Network

The DeWine administration convened a new workgroup to devise recommendations on behavioral health care for children, per legislation creating the panel that was signed into law in December. The Children’s Behavioral Health Prevention Network Stakeholder Group brings together state officials and representatives of health and education organizations to plan for a comprehensive learning network to support young children and their families in facilitating social, emotional and behavioral development and to seek to reduce behavioral health disparities among young children. LeeAnne Cornyn, director of the Office of Children’s Initiatives, leads the group, which has 18 months from the first meeting to develop a report for the governor and General Assembly. If you would like to bring anything forth to this group, please let G2G know.

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:

Ballot Issues

U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus ordered Ohio to accept signatures for ballot issues that were collected electronically and delayed the filing deadline for statewide issues from Wednesday July 1 to Friday, July 31. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit joined by Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE), which is circulating a proposed constitutional amendment that would make changes to Ohio election laws, and Ohioans for Raising the Wage, which is circulating an amendment that would raise Ohio's minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2025. In issuing his ruling, Sargus pointed to recent U.S. district court and U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions that found Michigan's stay at home orders unconstitutionally prevented candidates from collecting the required signatures to appear on the ballot. The appeals court upheld the district court decision that found the combination of the state's strict enforcement of ballot access provisions and the stay-at-home orders imposed a severe burden on the plaintiff's ballot access. Secretary of State LaRose appealed this ruling and the court declined to reconsider their decision.

More updates