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Ohio legislative update

8/19/2020
Overview

The legislature remains in recess for the foreseeable future while state legislators focus on their campaigns, though campaign season looks a little different this year. Following the arrest and indictment of former Speaker Larry Householder, the Ohio House of Representatives voted unanimously to remove him, then elected Representative Bob Cupp (R-Lima) as the new Speaker. While Speaker Cupp has made some leadership changes, he has indicated he does not plan to immediately bring the House back for any voting. In the DeWine administration, former Ohio Department of Health Director, Dr. Amy Acton, has decided to leave state government completely after stepping down as Director earlier this summer. Dr. Acton was hailed as a national example of leadership during the crisis and is largely responsible for slowing down the spread of the virus in March through May. G2G continues to monitor all state and federal activity, legislation and funding related to COVID-19. We are in close contact with Governor DeWine’s senior team in Cleveland and Columbus to advocate for health innovation issues as well as the Ohio Congressional delegation. More updates are below.

EVENTS
Roundtable Discussion with Former Senior White House Staffer, Don Graves

G2G organized a BioOhio Friday Forum virtual discussion between the state’s leading bioscience, pharmaceutical, medical device and clinical research and development companies and former Healthcare Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, Don Graves. Post- White House, Graves led Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative after his personal experience with cancer in 2016. He said it was his way of making a powerful point to the task force: that his own fight with cancer is a reminder that this affects everybody. The discussion highlighted the need for continued investment and partnership between public policy leaders and members of the bioscience community during and after COVID-19. He also spoke of healthcare and health research changes that could happen should the administration change in 2021. Graves, a native Clevelander, returned to Ohio in 2017 after working for both President Obama and Vice President Biden and now serves as Head of Corporate Responsibility and Community Relations at Key Bank.

LATEST COVID-19 INFORMATION
Current Data

As of Wednesday, August 19, 2020, there are 110,881 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Ohio and 3,907 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. A total of 12,529 people have been hospitalized, including 2.827 admissions to intensive care units. In-depth data can be accessed by visiting www.coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Trends for Large Counties

The “red alert” declared in July may have been just what was needed to catch the attention of Ohioans in the largest counties, as the spike in cases fell by the end of the month. Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties were all running well above the statewide rates for newly reported cases on July 2nd when DeWine included them among the first to be placed under red alert. On July 7th, DeWine issued mandatory mask requirements in “red” counties, before his July 23rd statewide order. Cases did continue to rise for a while but then began to decline even as smaller counties began to rise. Here are the numbers, based on the average number of new cases reported over the previous week for each date:

  • Cuyahoga County: 13 new cases a day per 100,000 residents on July 2, peaking at 17.4 on July 15, and dropping to 9 for the last seven days through Monday.
  • Hamilton County: 19.2 on July2, peaking at 20.1 on July 7, and dropping to 8.7 on Monday.
  • Franklin County: 14.3 on July 2, peaking at 22.3 on July 18, and dropping to 13 on Monday.
  • Other 85 counties combined: 5.1 on July 2, peaking at 10.7 later than the big three counties on July 31, and dropping to 8.3 on Monday.

Because of their size, Cuyahoga, Hamilton and Franklin counties are large drivers of statewide trends. Combined, they account for 29% of the Ohio’s population and 41% of the cases to date.

Governor DeWine Covid-19 Scare Highlights Testing Gaps

Governor DeWine’s false positive test for COVID-19 just before he was supposed to meet with President Trump two weeks ago highlights the challenges of testing. The test which delivers fast results by testing for the presence of antigens in the body is often inaccurate whereas the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that DeWine took back in Columbus is a more sensitive test that detects genetic material from the coronavirus. The problem with PCR tests is that they are taking 3-5 days to get results, which makes contact tracing next to impossible to use as a tool to stop the spread of the virus. The administration’s response to this false positive was that antigen testing is a technology that can reduce cost and deliver results quickly but is still new. The DeWine administration will be working with testing manufacturers to gain a better understanding of how the discrepancy between these two tests can be prevented and the best practices for the state, which mimics federal level efforts to bring the best testing to market and increase accessibility of this testing.

Multi-State Covid-19 Testing Compact

Recently, seven governors, including DeWine, formed a first-of-its-kind purchasing compact they hope will pressure companies that make rapid-detection tests to quickly ramp up production. The governors, three Republicans and four Democrats, say that other states and cities may join them and that talks have already begun with one of the two companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration to sell point-of-care antigen tests that can detect the virus in less than 30 minutes. Each state — Virginia, Maryland, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio— would request 500,000 rapid tests, for a total of 3.5 million that could be deployed to address outbreaks. G2G works with many states in this testing compact and is monitoring its performance closely. This effort sent ripples through Washington, DC as the White House Task Force is still trying to navigate the best way to administer testing.

Dr. Amy Acton’s Departure

Dr. Amy Acton has decided to leave state government to return to the Columbus Foundation, where she worked before being appointed as Director of the Ohio Department of Health. Acton was the face of Ohio’s COVID-19 response for months, at times appearing alongside the governor daily to explain the latest developments in the pandemic and the reasoning behind the state’s responses. While she received national recognition for her ability to communicate very effectively on a complex, scary public health crisis that moved people to stay at home during the critical months of March and April, she also faced substantial criticism and harassment, including protests outside her home, as the health orders she signed closed businesses and institutions, leaving many people out of work.  She resigned as health director in June but stayed on as chief health adviser to DeWine until her decision to leave in August. She was replaced by Lance Himes, who has been asked to step up as Acting Director twice before over the past six years. He was the department’s legal counsel for the past 15 years and has background in environmental health but is clearly not serving the central role that Acton did in the coronavirus response efforts.

STATEHOUSE UPDATES
House Update

In a series of fast moving events in late July and early August, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) was charged and formally indicted for leading a racketeering conspiracy case in which he and four other defendants allegedly received $60M to pass and maintain nuclear bailout legislation HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), a controversial subsidy of FirstEnergy Solutions that passed and was signed into law by Governor DeWine in 2019. Since this came to light, many legislators on both sides of the aisle and DeWine have called for the repeal of the bill as it was passed under unethical circumstances.

Following the indictments, the Ohio House moved swiftly to remove and replace Householder as Speaker in a unanimous floor vote. In a later sufficient but less-than-unanimous vote, Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) was elected as the chamber’s new leader. Cupp grew up working on his family’s farm in Allen County. He is well-liked and respected by his colleagues and others around Capitol Square and is known for sharing his wife’s delicious baked goods. He stated that he never intended to seek a leadership position when he returned to the Legislature, and instead wanted to focus on public policy like school finance reform.  He has served as an elected official in all three branches of government and at both the local and state levels: as an Allen County commissioner, a four-term state senator, a court-of-appeals judge, and a justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. He also served as a city prosecutor and as Chief Legal Counsel to former Ohio Auditor of State, Dave Yost. His years of experience and institutional knowledge will serve the House well during this time.

Speaker Cupp has quickly made changes to House leadership, including:

Removed from the House Rules and Reference Committee:

  • Rep. Larry Householder (R-Glenford)
  • Rep. Jim Butler (R-Dayton)
  • Rep. Anthony DeVitis (R-Uniontown)
  • Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati)
  • Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville)

Newly appointed to the House Rules and Reference Committee:

  • Speaker Cupp as Chair
  • Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) as Vice Chair
  • Rep. Gary Scherer (R-Circleville)
  • Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton)
  • Rep. Tim Ginter (R-Salem)
education
K-12 Mask Order

Most K-12 students will be required to wear a mask if and when they return to school buildings for the start of the academic year. Mask use for children is now recommended by the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The order includes exemptions for children with certain behavioral, psychological or developmental conditions, or with facial deformities that cause airway obstruction, as well as those who cannot remove a mask without assistance. Guidelines developed by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio Department of Education (ODE) already included a requirement that most school employees wear masks. There has been no information on additional funding to make schools safe for students and Congress has yet to finalize a funding package to send funds to the states for this purpose.

According to Ohio Education Association, a mid-July poll of teachers union members found that 69% do not believe that schools and campuses will be able to reopen safely in the fall. The union urged schools in Level 3 or Level 4 of the state COVID-19 alert system to begin the school year fully online and called for Level 1 and 2 counties to only be allowed to open for in-person instruction if all CDC requirements can be fully met.

Face Masks Distribution

The Ohio Emergency Management Agency (EMA), in cooperation with ODE, announced recently that the state has received two million face masks for Ohio school children, teachers and administrators. The masks were made available to the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and will be available to Ohio school districts through regional educational service centers (ESCs). School districts should contact their regional ESC on how to take obtain masks.

health
Telehealth – Mental Health/Addiction Treatment Systems

The Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers recently conducted a membership survey to gain insight into the effect that COVID-19 is having on Ohio’s mental health and addiction treatment providers and system. An analysis of that survey looks at a range of topics including service access and capacity, workforce, and business operations. The survey found that 69 percent of behavioral health organizations report that most of their services continue to be provided via telehealth. Nearly 60 percent of organizations report they plan to continue providing as many services through telehealth as possible.

Cleveland Passes Healthy Kids’ Default Drink Legislation

Cleveland City Council recently approved an ordinance to make healthy drinks the default option offered with restaurant kids’ meals, thanks in part to the G2G team. The Cleveland Healthy Kids’ Meals Coalition, which is made up of 40 organizations including the American Heart Association and Voices for Healthy Kids, has been working to raise awareness about negative health consequences of sugary drinks on kids. The ordinance calls for restaurants to provide water or sparkling water, nonfat or 1% milk in servings with no more than 150 calories or up to 8 ounces of 100% fruit juice with no added sweeteners as the default drink on their menus for children’s meals. G2G is proud to have aided in this initiative as a continuation of our successful work promoting healthy food access policies in the Statehouse.

Push for Telehealth

At a recent Ohio hospital roundtable event, hospital clinicians and executives encouraged the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma to continue and expand telehealth initiatives that were kick-started by the COVID-19 pandemic, a sentiment also supported by Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) Director Maureen Corcoran. Medicaid has been very vocal in their support of expanded telehealth services now being reimbursed as a result of flexibility granted during the pandemic. ODM is interested in seeing as much alignment as possible among different payers in the use of telehealth services going forward. Corcoran shared that ODM, providers and other advocates are united in advocating for additional federal telehealth financial support in the next round of pandemic legislation to pass Congress.

business
Covid-19 Loan Fund

The Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA) has created a $10M revolving loan fund to help women- and minority-owned businesses recover from the coronavirus fallout, administered statewide by microlender Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI). The Columbus nonprofit aims to increase the fund by many multiples, kicking off a fundraising campaign to match the state dollars from the banks and local governments it works with. The Ohio Controlling Board approved releasing the money, nearly half of this fiscal year's $25M budgeted for economic and community development programs. The allocation is a zero-interest, 27-year loan to ECDI, which in turn can lend up to $350,000 a piece to businesses at 2% interest.

Limited Liability Protections

Lt. Governor Husted announced DeWine has signed onto a letter to Congressional leadership with 20 other fellow Governors from across the nation, calling for reasonable limited liability protections for businesses, schools, healthcare workers, and governments as they are reopened during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The letter calls for predictable, timely, targeted liability protections to shield employers from legal risks associated with the spread of coronavirus, so long as they are following the appropriate standards of care to protect their employees, customers, and students. The letter specifically requests that the protections be drawn in a narrow fashion as to not give license for gross negligence, misconduct, or recklessness. Similar calls for liability protection have been made by Ohio’s leading business organizations. This is a priority for Senate Majority Leader McConnell who plans to introduce a slimmed down coronavirus funding package soon and will include liability protections.

ODJFS Apprenticeship Program

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) was awarded a three-year, $9.4M federal grant to improve the Registered Apprenticeship system and expand the number of opportunities available. ODJFS oversees ApprenticeOhio, which registers programs that meet national quality and safety criteria. Each program is run by a sponsor, typically an employer, a group of employers or a labor/management committee. The Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, Ohio Workforce Association, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities and the departments of education and higher education will work with ODJFS in administering the grant. It is the second major federal grant awarded to ODJFS to help spur the state’s economic recovery, following an $8.5M National Dislocated Worker Grant in June to help unemployed workers and employers affected by COVID-19.

Top Jobs List

DeWine and Husted announced the creation of a state “Top Jobs List”, combining the previous In-Demand Jobs list and the “Critical Jobs” list created due to the pandemic. The new list of prioritized job sectors aims to prioritize current economic needs with the health and well-being of Ohioans by using occupations from both past lists, according to a release. It includes the following eight career clusters:

  • Children and community health
  • Early childhood education
  • First responders
  • Lead abatement
  • Mental and behavioral health
  • Nursing
  • Physicians
  • Wellness research and technology

The new list can be found at www.TopJobs.ohio.gov where job postings are also available.

Elections
Voter Purge

Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a new directive to county boards of elections to begin the process of removing inactive voters from Ohio's voter registration lists under the supplemental process, but his office said no voters will be removed until after the November election. LaRose plans to go through a similar process this year as he did last year, when he released a list of inactive voters to the public and asked for help in notifying those voters of the possibility their voter registration will be cancelled. Ohio's process allows voters to be removed from the rolls if they are not active in at least two consecutive federal elections.

Voters who are at risk of being removed this year were notified of their inactivity after the 2016 presidential election. The directive requires local boards of elections to contact identified registrants and then remove those registrations who do not do at least one of the following:

  • Respond to the 2016 confirmation notices from the county board of elections
  • Vote in the Nov. 3, 2020 election
  • Request an absentee ballot application
  • Update or confirm their address
  • Update their registration
  • Respond to the forthcoming mailing advising them of their pending cancellation
2020 Election

In a recent press conference, LaRose assured Ohio voters that the November 3rd General Election will take place as scheduled and that in-person voting will happen despite concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. LaRose specifically stated that the election will go on even if the coronavirus situation worsens between now and November. To help address challenges of an election during a global pandemic, LaRose also shared his office’s 45-point safety plan that he is sending to county boards of elections that was created using recommendations by the CDC as well as discussions with boards of election. It includes requirements to routinely clean voting machines and e-pollbooks; masks and regular hand washing for all poll workers; social distancing recommendations; and making curbside voting available. LaRose will also ask the Ohio Controlling Board for permission to use up to $3M from a fund within his office to pay for the postage on mailed ballots the general election, thanks to some urging from key state legislators, such as Cleveland Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney.

More updates