The Ohio Legislature is back in action after summer recess and started hearings and session after Labor Day. At the forefront of the General Assembly agenda is redistricting. Already, a lawsuit has been filed arguing the maps violate provisions in the Ohio Constitution against being drawn to favor or disfavor a political party. Provisions in the budget are now underway and the legislature will work to pass more bills before the end of the year. Looking forward we will start to plan for the 2022 mid-biennium budget review and Capital Budget, which funds bricks and mortar projects in the state. If you have a project that may qualify for the Capital Budget, please let G2G know so we can review.
The House Health Committee quickly passed House Bill 435, sponsored by Reps. Rick Carfagna (R- Genoa Twp.) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), just one day after its introduction. While it was scheduled to be on the House floor the same day, the House opted to re-refer the bill to Rules and Reference Committee to renegotiate the bills’ contents before it heads to the House floor. The legislation would establish exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The bill generally applies to public and private employers, including schools, colleges, and universities, barring any mandate for a vaccine that does not have a biologics license from the FDA. If an employer, school, or institution wants to institute a vaccine requirement for existing employees, they must honor exemptions for medical contraindications; natural immunity as demonstrated by the presence of antibodies in an amount at least equal to that conferred by vaccination; and reasons of conscience including religious convictions. All the exemptions require documentation, although the documentation for the conscience objection must simply state in writing the intent to claim it, with employers barred from requiring any further evidence. The bill will likely move through the Senate quickly, as well.
The Broadband Expansion Program Authority’s members opened applications for companies seeking part of the $250 million in broadband grants funded through the recent state budget bill. The deadline to apply for the program is November 8th. Eligible projects would provide areas that lack service with up to 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed. The authority was created under HB2, which was rolled into the state operating budget, and will distribute $250 million to close the funding gap between a project’s actual cost and what it needs to turn a profit, assisting with infrastructure expenses. The funding is meant to make it economically possible for nonprofits, local governments, and private businesses to provide Internet service in unserved and underserved areas.
Politics & Elections
On a straight party line vote, the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved new House and Senate maps. Because no Democrats voted in favor of the maps, they will only last four years. As expected, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and other groups immediately filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court challenging the new General Assembly maps, arguing the maps violate provisions in the Ohio Constitution against maps being drawn to favor or disfavor a political party as well as requiring seats be drawn to correspond with the statewide preferences of voters over the previous decade. The new changes would reduce the number of Republican-leaning seats collectively in both chambers by six from the working plans, with Republicans having 62 of the 99 House seats and 23 of the 33 seats in the Senate. The vote does not end the work of the commission, which will return in October to attempt to draw new congressional district lines. The commission has until September 30th to come up with a bipartisan congressional map, a deadline they will miss. Since they will miss this deadline, the Ohio Redistricting Commission will have until Sunday, October 31 to adopt a congressional map. If the commission also misses that deadline, the General Assembly will have until Tuesday, November 30 to adopt a map by a simple majority that would last four years.