Legislative Updates: News from the State House – September 2019

Legislative Updates: News from the State House – September 2019
Wayne Lawrence

Wayne Lawrence, Weiss Movers

Dublin, Ireland-based pharmaceutical company Endo announced that it has tentatively agreed to a settlement in the consolidated opioid lawsuit being litigated in federal court in Cleveland with both Cuyahoga and Summit counties. Another Ireland-based company, Allergan, also reportedly offered a settlement to Cuyahoga County.

Citing the tobacco settlement as a cautionary tale, former Gov. John Kasich and West Virginia University President Gordon Gee announced Thursday an effort to steer any settlement proceeds for litigation against opioid companies toward hospitals and other “frontline” providers bearing the costs of the U.S. addiction crisis. In response, Attorney General Dave Yost said any settlement terms are likely to require use of the money for purposes related to the crisis, and he said Kasich and Gee picked the wrong way to advocate for such ends. “Starting a pressure campaign and funding it with dark money strikes me as injecting politics into our justice system, and I’m not fan,” Yost said, referencing donor disclosure standards for the type of nonprofit the two men founded.

“You are going to be sued,” political law attorney Cleta Mitchell told state lawmakers from across the country attending a workshop entitled “How to Survive Redistricting” at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Austin TX, so “you need to prepare for that from this day forward. “Your notes from this conference, this workshop, will probably be part of the discovery demand, so my advice to you is, if you don’t want it turned over in discovery, you probably ought to get rid of it before you go home,” she said.

The Electoral College was established as the system to select the president to “create a basic requirement for geographic diversity,” Save Our States project director Trent England told state lawmakers at ALEC. Without it, states would become irrelevant, he said. England was part of a panel discussion along with former California lawmaker Ray Haynes, as they discussed the pros and cons of instead electing the president by popular vote. Their session was entitled “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact — An Act of Federalism or the End of States as We Know Them.”

President Donald Trump and his rhetoric are not to blame for the recent mass shootings in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH – that blame belongs to those who pulled the trigger – said Shelby Emmett, First Amendment attorney for ALEC. And Democratic candidates who are trying to pin responsibility on him need to be “very careful,” she said during an interview at ALEC’s annual conference in Austin, TX.

Legislative and administrative leaders praised budget provisions in HB166 (Oelslager) that would put $250 million towards increasing wages for the state’s direct support professionals (DSP) who care for individuals with disabilities. The increase amounts to more than a 16 percent raise for DSPs from the previous average of $11.12 per hour to the new $13.23 per hour by Jan. 1, 2021. Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) Director Jeff Davis called the raise a celebration of the hard work of DSPs, who he said last received a raise 15 years ago in 2004. He noted that the turnover rate of DSPs can be as high as 60 percent due to low wages and the stressful nature of the work, and the state’s “historic investment” in DSP wages can help to address turnover concerns for providers and families.

A $10 million initiative to prevent lead poisoning in children won federal approval, Gov. Mike DeWine’s office announced Tuesday, allowing Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding to be used in more ways to abate lead hazards. DeWine proposed numerous lead mitigation policies in the budget, HB166 (Oelslager), including a tax credit for abatement in homes and more expansive lead-exposure screenings for children, as well as this abatement effort led by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) for houses where Medicaid-eligible children and pregnant women live. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved Ohio’s plan to use $5 million per fiscal year in CHIP funding for lead hazard control in more flexible and expansive ways.

Attorney General Dave Yost’s office Tuesday sent out grant funding notifications totaling $4.16 million to 32 rape crisis centers and agencies statewide. According to the AG’s office, “The $4.16 million nearly triples the $1.43 million awarded in each of the past three years.” Ohio’s Rape Crisis Program Trust Fund is administered by the AG’s office. The increase is a result of the recently enacted state budget, HB166 (Oelslager). Funding for the rape crisis centers had been about $1 million in FY14 and FY15 and $1.43 million in FY16, FY17 and FY18.

Ohio’s unemployment rate remained 4.0 percent in July, unchanged from June, according to data released Friday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). The state added 4,500 jobs, from a revised 5,588,500 in June to 5,593,000 in July. The number of unemployed workers rose, from June’s 233,000 to 235,000 in July. The number of unemployed workers has decreased by 28,000 in the past 12 months, and the July 2018 unemployment rate was 4.6 percent.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) on Wednesday voted to approve the final version of its rules regulating fee-based fantasy sports contests in the state. The rules will officially go into effect on Tuesday, Sept. 3, giving fantasy sports companies currently operating in the state under 132-HB132 (Dever-McColley) until Thursday, Oct. 3 to submit their license applications to the OCCC to continue operating uninterrupted.

July home sales increased 2.8 percent from a year earlier and year-to-date sales are nearly on pace with figures for the same period of 2018, according to Ohio Realtors. July sales of 15,439 compare to 15,025 sales in July 2018.

Ohio communities facing significant poverty rates, unemployment or population decline can now apply for assistance through the newly formed Ohio State Resource Network (OSRN), the Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) recently announced. GOPC partnered with the National Resource Network, Arnold Ventures and the Just Transition Fund to form the OSRN, which will work with local governments to create a multi-year fiscal sustainability plan aimed at improving quality of life and local economic conditions.

A decade on from the recession, Ohio’s inflation-adjusted revenues remain below the peak set before the 2008-2009 financial collapse, according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s “Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis” report. Pew notes economics are not the only force at play in that trend, however, acknowledging the role of changes to state tax laws. Ohio has consistently reduced income taxes over numerous budget cycles in that timeframe. The “Fiscal 50” report reviews trends in measures of state fiscal health that include revenues and revenue volatility, overall spending and Medicaid spending, employment rates, population and income growth, debt and retirement costs and rainy day reserves, among others.

The Ohio Supreme Court this week denied a motion from FirstEnergy and its affiliates seeking to have the Court reconsider its decision finding that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) improperly authorized a rider on customers’ bills and ordered the charges to be removed.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Thursday ordered One Source Energy to cease operations by Friday, Sept. 6. “The commission remains concerned about One Source’s non-compliance with statutes, the state of its finances, and its managerial capability,” stated PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo. “A sale and transfer of One Source’s system and customers to a gas utility in good standing could be beneficial to the customers that are currently relying on One Source.”

About Wayne Lawrence

Wayne Lawrence is Vice-President of Weiss Movers and Storage. Wayne is WHACC's Board Chair and on the Advocacy committee. *This content is curated by Wayne Lawrence, President of Weiss Movers & Storage, with permission by the Ohio Trucking Association.