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November 30, 2021

Ohio Legislative Update

Last Updated: November 30, 2021

Overview

The Ohio House and Senate are scheduled for a just a few more committee and session days before they wrap up for 2021. A bill on vaccine mandate exemptions has made its way through the House and is now being heard in Senate. Republicans and Democrats remain conflicted on the constitutionality of the redistricting maps as they head to the Supreme Court for their decision. Looking to 2022, the Capital Budget will be top of mind for many, but the legislature has shared they intend to push the timeline for the Capital Budget, looking at June or later for passage. Still, those interested in applying for Capital Budget funds should be working with their delegations now.

Bills of Interest

Health
The House recently passed two bills of interest in health and aging. House Bill 371, sponsored by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Rep. Sedrick Denson(D-Cincinnati), would revise laws governing coverage of screening mammography and patient notice of dense breast tissue. The bill passed the House unanimously and now heads to the Senate. Senate Bill 58 also known as “Esther’s Law” was sponsored by Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Sen. Andrew Brenner(R-Powell) and would permit a resident of a long-term care facility to conduct electronic monitoring of the resident's room. This bill also passed the House unanimously.

Financial Reporting
Representatives also discussed a concurrent resolution (HCR36) against a federal proposal requiring financial institutions to report most customer net account inflows and outflows, a provision removed from the federal Build Back Better Bill. The resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Young (R-North Canton) noted that while the provision had been removed from the U.S. House version of the budget reconciliation bill, it could be re-added later. He stated the proposal would pull millions of Americans into a “virtual dragnet” and that such a program would cost approximately $79 billion to implement, with additional costs to maintain it. Rep. Jeffrey Crossman (D-Parma) moved to refer the resolution back to the House Rules and Reference Committee, questioning whether such resolutions have any value and changes may make it more effective. Crossman noted that he had tried to work with the majority caucus on a version House Democrats could support, and the opposition of moderate Democrats at the national level would keep the provision in question from being enacted. His motion was tabled on a 54-26 vote. The House then adopted the resolution on a 54-27 vote.

Marijuana Legalization
Reps. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) recently introduced HB 498 to legalize marijuana for adults aged 21 and older. This would be the second bill of this nature in the 134th General Assembly, the other being HB 382 sponsored by Reps. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) and Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson).

Callendar and Ferguson’s bill, entitled the “Ohio Adult Use Act,” would expand Ohio’s current medical marijuana program to include non-medicinal adult use. All current Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP) license holders would immediately be eligible to participate in the program, which would be renamed the Division of Marijuana Control. The bill would allow for individuals to grow six plants at home, with only two blooming at the same time. It also includes language allowing past marijuana offenders to have their records expunged and language prohibiting discrimination against individuals engaged in legal, adult use of marijuana who are seeking licensure from the state without jeopardizing employer choice or worker safety. Many of the details, such as possession limits and THC limits, will be addressed as the bill moves through the committee process. A bill of this nature will need Democratic support to pass and compromise between the two bills will be key to passage.

An outside group, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, is also collecting signatures on an initiated statute, which could force the General Assembly to consider a proposal and put it before voters should lawmakers refuse to act. The language for the state issue was approved earlier this year by Attorney General Dave Yost and the Ohio Ballot Board. The group needs to collect at least 132,887 valid signatures to get the issue before the General Assembly.

Health

Vaccine Mandate Exemptions
The House approved a bill to create exemptions for mandates to be vaccinated against COVID-19, after previous failed attempts. The House Commerce and Labor Committee added HB218, sponsored by Rep. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield), to the agenda last minute. By stripping the original contents on extending the hours bars can serve alcohol and adding the vaccination provisions similar to those included in HB435 (Reps. Carfagna and Seitz), the House was able to pass the legislation by a vote of 58-32 that included two Republicans - Reps. Laura Lanese (R-Grove City) and Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) - voting present instead of for the legislation. The bill was already heard in the Senate and may pass before the end of the year.

Specifically, the bill prohibits mandating any vaccine lacking full FDA approval and requires schools and employers to honor exemptions for medical reasons, natural immunity, and reasons of personal conscience, including religious beliefs, through Sept. 30, 2025. They are not available to people working or training in a children’s hospital or hospital intensive or critical care unit, although employers are required to make a good faith effort to offer equitable employment to an employee refusing vaccination. It prohibits requiring a person to show proof of vaccination status to enter public or private buildings or receive services and bars K-12 schools from denying students the ability to participate in school activities based on vaccination status.

New Medical Director
Dr. John M. Weigand has been appointed as the medical director at the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and the Ohio Department of Aging (ODA). Weigand, a Central Ohio physician, previously served as the chief medical officer in ODA's Regional Rapid Response Assistance Program (R3AP) and as medical director of the Post-Acute Regional Rapid Testing (PARRT) partnership.

In the newly created role at ODA, Weigand will assist with the development and implementation of statewide, older adult public health policies and programs, with an emphasis on helping older adults remain active and independent in the community for as long as possible. During the next few months, he will continue to serve as chief medical officer of R3AP as the role is transitioned to another physician. Weigand will help guide the state’s pandemic response and support ODH programs in a post-pandemic Ohio to develop modern, innovative approaches to address all public health needs.

Business & Technology

Broadband
Ohio will accept Broadband and 5G Sector Partnership grant applications through Friday, December 17th, with the award announced in January. The grant is open to Ohio colleges and universities that identify a nonprofit telecommunications industry partner to lead the effort, according to a release from his office.

This effort supports Ohio’s new initiative “Strengthening Ohio’s Broadband & 5G Workforce.” The strategy underscores the significant public and private investments being made in broadband and 5G at the state and federal level, which in turn is expected to create tens of thousands of jobs in Ohio over the next decade. In an effort to ensure that Ohio has a skilled and prepared workforce to fill these kinds of jobs, the strategy outlines a plan for increasing broadband industry career awareness and creating more training and education programs in the state. This strategy addresses three key issues:

  • Increasing broadband industry career awareness by exposing middle school and high school students to the industry through curriculum and internships
  • Developing and supporting more education and training programs to educate and train Ohioans
  • Capitalizing on state and federal funding programs, like TechCred and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), to help finance the education and training that will bring to market the talent supply needed for the broadband and 5G industry in Ohio

Supporting this effort, Youngstown State University and Ashland University will launch 5G readiness programs in the spring of 2022, offering 80 hours of training on a variety of high-speed Internet topics. This will give students an understanding of core fundamentals and enable them to start industry careers at a higher and better-paying position.

Venture Funding
For the past couple decades, Ohio officials, founders and investment communities have pooled resources to cultivate local startup ecosystems, with a steady track record of incremental growth. In the past couple of years, however, things have really exploded. In 2021 alone, Ohio-based companies have raised over $2.2 billion in venture funding across all stages — more than double the sum raised in all of 2020 — the highest statewide funding total to date.

Most funded companies are located in or around Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Columbus has seen the highest gains thanks to Ohio State University, a local talent base in insurtech and fintech, two hot areas for startup investment. Cincinnati also has several fast-scaling startups. Indoor farming company, 80 Acres and the biotechs Cincor Pharma and Physna have collectively raised over $350 million this year. Cleveland is seeing less sizable growth but is home to Splash Financial, a student loan refinancing platform that raised a $44 million round in June, and SPR Therapeutics, a medical device startup focused on pain management that closed on $37 million in October.

Ohio’s startup scene is notable across all stages, with an enormous jump in early-stage funding as well as a few big-ticket public offerings and late-stage deals. On the early-stage side, Ohio was one of the top-performing states for investment gains, according to a Crunchbase analysis last month. Overall, Series A and B investment topped $850 million in the 12-month period surveyed, up 500 percent year over year.

Elections & Politics

Redistricting
State officials have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to throw out one of three lawsuits challenging the state’s new congressional map, arguing the group behind the suit failed to construct its legal case correctly. Attorney General Dave Yost stated the lawsuit sued the wrong state entity because the legislature, not the redistricting committee, passed the new congressional map. DeWine signed the bill approving the new congressional map on November 20th after it was pushed through the legislature earlier that week. Lawsuits against the maps argue that Ohio’s congressional map violates rules in Ohio’s Constitution that bar congressional maps passed without bipartisan support from “unduly” benefitting a political party or its incumbents. The map is expected to favor Republicans to win 12 of Ohio’s 15 seats, with one of the three Democratic seats a close toss-up. Ohio will lose one seat in Congress after the 2020 census. The two other cases are scheduled to be argued before the court on December 8th.

Northeast Ohio
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced he will not seek a third term in office. Budish, a Democrat and former speaker of the Ohio House, said he made the decision out of respect for the limits of public service, believing it’s the right time to step aside and pass the torch to new leadership with fresh ideas. Budish has served two terms, eight years total, as County Executive. Budish said he won’t simply be a “caretaker” during his last 14 months in office, promising to continue putting forward new programs and initiatives. He plans to meet with all candidates for the office, regardless of party affiliation, to help prepare the next Cuyahoga County executive.

On the city level, Mayor-Elect Justin M. Bibb has named more than 75 emerging and experienced leaders to serve on his transition team’s 10 sub-committees and two task forces. The sub-committees will provide a final report to inform the Mayor-elect’s priorities for the first 100 days of his administration. They will also help identify talent for consideration for roles within City Hall or to serve on boards and commissions. The transition team is supported by two dedicated task forces — an Operations Task Force and a Public Safety Task Force. Members of the task forces and subcommittees can be seen here.

Capital Budget & Earmarks

G2G led a webinar on November 22nd entitled Raise Your Voice in Ohio to offer insights on creating and managing a government affairs engagement plan and on how to pursue earmarks in the upcoming State Capital Budget. You can glean valuable tips from guest speaker Annalies Corbin, Founder of the PAST Foundation, as well as experience former staffers in the Statehouse, Becky Watts and Andrea Harless.

If you have a project that may qualify for the Capital Budget and have any questions, please let us know and stay tuned for our webinars on how to secure a state earmarks and lead effective advocacy campaigns in 2022.