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    Ohio Governor and General Assembly updates

    The Bricker & Eckler government relations team has compiled a comprehensive review of Governor DeWine’s latest announcements, including the surprise resignation of Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, General Assembly actions, including a marathon floor session by the Ohio House, and a look ahead through the end of June 2020 and into the summer.

    Governor DeWine’s COVID-19 updates

    On June 11, 2020, Governor DeWine announced that Dr. Amy Acton is stepping down as director of the Ohio Department of Health. She will remain a part of the administration as chief health advisor to the governor. Lance Himes, who previously served as interim director of the department, steps in again as interim director. In her remarks, Dr. Acton said that she felt it was good timing given the state’s transition into a new phase of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. She also said that she had been considering stepping away for a while because performing what she viewed as three separate jobs – Director of ODH, heading the state’s pandemic response and acting as counselor to the governor – was unsustainable long-term.

    Governor DeWine also announced:

    • COVID-19 testing is now available for anyone who wants a test. Previously, testing was reserved for those exhibiting symptoms or frontline workers.
    • The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services received an $8.5 million Employment Recovery National Dislocated Worker Grant from the federal government to reemploy people who lost their jobs and assist employers in rebuilding their workforces.
    • Guidance on best practices for places of worship (which were never ordered to close, but many voluntarily did)
    • Further guidance on reopening county and independent fairs
    • Amended orders regarding reopening restaurants, bars, banquet and catering facilities for dine-in service

    Another lawsuit was filed against the administration. Two Ohio music festivals (Bellwether Music Festival in Warren County and Country Fest in Stark County) organizers sued Dr. Acton, contending the director is acting beyond her authority and depriving them of their First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs argued in their complaint that there is no difference between permitting the large crowds at the recent civil rights protests and demonstrations and a similar size crowd attending a music festival. 

    Legislative update

    The Ohio House recessed for the summer after its Thursday, June 11 session, using a marathon session stretching into early Friday morning to pass several pieces of legislation.

    Capital budget reappropriation/CARES Act funding

    Legislation providing for capital project reappropriations and appropriating federal CARES Act funding to local governments passed but not without some lengthy legislative procedural gymnastics.

    We previously reported that the House combined two Senate bills – the capital reappropriations legislation and the CARES Act appropriations – into one bill: S.B. 310. The House also added a few policy amendments related to prevailing wage and local government purchasing rules. On June 10, 2020, the Senate rejected the House amendments to S.B. 310. The Senate then amended a different bill, H.B. 481, so that it contained both the CARES Act funding formula and the $1.28 billion capital reappropriations – albeit without the House’s policy amendments. Finally, during the June 11 session, the House concurred with the Senate amendments on H.B. 481.  

    Despite all the legislative jockeying and maneuvering, the end result is that appropriations of federal funding for local governments from the CARES Act and the entire original list of capital budget projects that needed reappropriations passed both chambers and the combined legislation – H.B. 481 – is now pending Governor DeWine’s signature.

    Broadband

    House session and committees were delayed largely due to behind-the-scenes activity surrounding an amendment to H.B. 13 (legislation that aims to increase access to broadband in underserved areas of the state), which allowed an electric distribution utility to build out middle mile infrastructure for broadband and receive recovery through their rate. Ultimately, a compromise version of the amendment was added to H.B. 13 in the House Finance Committee, and the bill passed the House. The legislation now moves to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

    COVID-19-related tolling of Statute of Limitations

    On June 9, 2020, the Ohio House also passed and amended S.B. 10. The House adopted a floor amendment clarifying that the tolling language included in a COVID-19 omnibus measure (H.B. 197) requires that no time between March 9 and July 30 be counted toward statutes of limitations for a civil action, criminal offense or administrative action or proceeding. The bill still requires Senate concurrence to the House changes.

    County fairs

    The House also passed H.B. 665 which increases funding that a county or independent agricultural society receives for operational expenses and addresses needs for agricultural societies. The House removed an emergency clause from the bill, citing the governor’s announcement on county fairs earlier in the week as removing the need for the emergency clause.

    Looking ahead

    While the House has finished work for the time being, the Ohio Senate scheduled several “if-needed” sessions for the week of June 15, 2020. Senate committees are expected to meet to finish up their work on legislation.

    The Senate also announced its schedule for the second half of 2020. Normally, in an election year, both chambers would spend most of the summer campaigning. However, the Senate schedule includes session dates in each remaining month of the year. The House, which had previously released its schedule, has no session dates scheduled until September.

    With the recent Ohio Department of Budget and Management announcement of a $1.05 billion budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2020 and budget estimates for Fiscal Year 2021 down by $2.5 billion, additional legislative work may need to be completed to keep Ohio’s budget balanced.

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