Posted: July 28, 2023 3:16 PM
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Posted: July 28, 2023 3:09 PM
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Posted: July 20, 2023 6:42 PM
Gongwer News Service is pleased to announce its affiliation with State Affairs, a growing news company dedicated to expanding coverage of state capitols across the country.
The alignment matches Gongwer's expertise in covering state government and delivering best-in-class legislative information tools with a leading and talented group that understands the importance of issues decided at the state level.
Under the alignment, Gongwer-style news and information services will be available in more states, helping government leaders, policy professionals, advocates and the public be more informed about the essential operations of state governments.
State Affairs will also bring additional staff and support to bolster Gongwer operations.
There are no changes to Gongwer leadership, management or staff, or any services Gongwer provides to subscribers.
Gongwer and State Affairs look forward to rolling out several new products and enhancements to existing services, including the release this week of enhanced Ohio Report and Ohio Media Clips emails.
Gongwer News Service was founded in 1906 by Charles S. Gongwer. State Affairs was founded in 2021 with a mission to invest in and expand non-partisan news and information services across the country.
Posted: May 8, 2023 10:19 AM
Funding for job training programs hosted by community colleges is the No. 1 budget request of the statewide organization representing those schools.
Jack Hershey, president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, told the Senate Workforce & Higher Education Committee on Thursday that current such short-term programs receive no operating budget (HB 33) support from the state.
"And yet you will find these programs being operated at every community college in the state, as we strive to find ways to meet the workforce needs of local employers, even if that means scraping together funds from a variety of different sources just to be able to offer limited programs," he said.
Mr. Hershey called the existing situation "not a sustainable strategy that appropriately recognizes the workforce needs of Ohio."
Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) asked what community colleges are doing to evaluate whether existing programs are producing workers needed to fill in-demand jobs.
Mr. Hershey said community colleges by their nature and the way they are funded by the state have to be flexible.
"If we have a program that doesn't have either the student demand or the workforce demand we really can't offer it," he said.
Mr. Hershey said one exception is certification programs that are needed to help fill in-demand jobs at an area employer – the kind the group is proposing to receive state funding.
Sen. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) said in the past there has been a "contentious atmosphere" among community colleges and other higher education institutions. He asked if that situation has improved.
"I think it's gotten better because it has to," Mr. Hershey said, adding that all sectors of higher education are needed to meet the state's workforce needs.
OACC also called on the Senate to support the House-approved Ohio Work Ready Grant program.
Mr. Hershey said under that proposal scholarships of up to $3,000 would be available to full-time students at community colleges, regional campuses and Ohio Technical Centers.
He said the awards would only be available to students pursuing credentials in fields on the state's in-demand jobs list or critical jobs lists.
"It is a much more strategic and targeted approach to financial aid in that it will incentivize students to pursue pathways that we know have job openings ready for them upon graduation," he said.
Mr. Hershey also asked committee members to reverse House reductions to state share of instruction funding levels proposed by Gov. Mike DeWine, support wraparound services for at-risk students and restore funding for the proposed WorkFORCE Ohio program.
That last initiative would provide competitive grants to public and private institutions of higher education to increase capacity for high demand training programs.
Posted: May 1, 2023 8:41 AM
Ahead of a final report from the governor's task force, the House decided to invest $504.6 million more state dollars into nursing homes over the next two years compared to the executive version, budget documents show.
That change was the most expensive Medicaid-related amendment included in the House-approved Fiscal Year 2024-2025 spending plan (HB 33). The latest version also expanded several of Gov. Mike DeWine's initiatives, increasing the state share by about $617 million. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 26, 2023)
The Medicaid portion of the executive budget, discussed this week by a Senate panel, included $11.2 billion in state general revenue funds over the biennium, as well as $29.4 billion in federal dollars.
Adding in the House changes, the program is now at $11.8 billion in state share and $30.4 billion federal.
The size of the nursing home price tag compared to other changes is due in large part to the fact that they received no funding boost in the governor's plan, whereas most other changes build upon already proposed increases.
Gov. DeWine instead convened the Nursing Home Task Quality and Accountability Task Force. It is set to issue a report at the end of May to be considered by the Senate in its own budget deliberations.
The House's version incorporates all recommendations agreed upon by the state's three nursing home associations, including increasing funding for facilities using 2022 costs, implementing a private room add-on, using fair rental value methodology for capital costs and distributing funding with 40% going toward base payments and 60% to quality-related measures. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, March 27, 2023)
The most heavily discussed amendment was increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rate for direct support professionals from the governor's $16 an hour.
The House's plan calls for $17 in FY24 and $18 in FY25. Community behavioral health would also benefit from those rate increases, for a total cost of $104.1 million to the state. The federal share would increase $185 million.
Senate Medicaid Committee Chair Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario), has said rates could increase with financial assistance from county boards of developmental disabilities. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 27, 2023)
The House also increased state funding for:
On the other side of the ledger, the House set a 2% spending reduction, cutting $224.5 million over the biennium.
Some of those cuts included decreases in Gov. DeWine's mental health investments; but funding remains above current levels. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 24, 2023)
The House-approved plan further provides on-going coverage for Medicaid-eligible babies from birth to 3 years old, adds coverage for doula services and obesity care, and adds lodging as an administrative service for families and children with special health care needs.
As requested by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, it also requires Medicaid to explore expanding the Medicaid Buy-In for workers with disabilities up to age 65. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 21, 2023)
Separately, the lower chamber eliminated a $1 billion deposit in the Health and Human Services reserve fund that was intended to provide a cushion in case the state is off in its projections of how the Medicaid rolls will decrease through the redetermination process. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, March 16, 2023)
Sen. Romanchuk said in an interview it is too soon to say whether that was a good or bad idea.
"We have to work through all the changes in the House and the potential changes in the Senate and decide if that's going to be needed or not," he said. "It's too early to say with any certainty."
Sen. Romanchuk also said he will soon begin the process of "looking at every single thing that they've changed and go from there."
Posted: April 24, 2023 8:03 AM
An expansive measure focused on higher education issues likely will see an amendment containing several revisions in the coming weeks, according to its sponsor.
Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said in an interview Friday a forthcoming omnibus amendment to his legislation (SB 83) will feature items ranging from technical "cleanups" and clarifications to "structural changes" but declined to comment on the details.
"We're still in discussions and having legal reviews of things and so on, so I don't want to be specific," he said.
Sen. Cirino, chair of the Senate Workforce & Higher Education Committee, said the amendment's language will be based on ongoing conversations with interested parties, not testimony from more than a hundred opponents who went before the panel in a marathon hearing Wednesday evening. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 19, 2023)
The lawmaker said he found comments from the majority of the speakers at that hearing, who argued against the legislation's ban on faculty strikes and mandated diversity training, among other provisions, "not terribly constructive."
"In some cases, some of the clowns that testified were rude and disrespectful to the committee, as opposed to asking for meetings or suggesting rewritten lines, that sort of thing," he said. "That's how I would have tried to persuade someone."
Sen. Cirino said he has not yet committed to a timeline for advancing the bill, which has been identified as a "big priority" by Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), out of committee.
Sen. Huffman told reporters he expects the full chamber to take action on the proposal "in the next several weeks," adding that aspects of it could end up in the state operating budget (HB 33).
"Whether provisions of that end up as part of the budget? The answer is probably not if the House passes the bills, if it's substantially the same, if it's resolved that way," he said. "But if for whatever reason the House doesn't, then you know, certainly we would try to get some provisions of that in the budget."
Sen. Cirino noted multiple provisions in a prior wide-ranging higher education bill (SB135, 134th General Assembly) he led were included in the current operating budget (HB110, 134th General Assembly Assembly) ahead of the former also being signed into law.
The lawmaker said while he has not been polling House members on the proposal, he is confident it and a companion measure (HB 151) will be well received in the lower chamber.
"I sense that there's a lot of support in the House, but we'll see," he said.
Sen. Cirino's proposal drew fire from a fellow Lake County Republican on Friday.
County Commissioner John Plecnik wrote in a Columbus Dispatch guest column that SB83 is "a dumpster fire that threatens to incinerate free speech in higher education."
Mr. Plecnik, who is also an associate professor of law at Cleveland State University, reserved special criticism for a provision requiring state institutions of higher education to adopt post-tenure review policies.
"First, the institution of tenure and fair evaluations protect minority viewpoints, and we all know conservatives are in the tiny minority on campus," he wrote. "Senate Bill 83 would allow a liberal dean or administrator to use two years of below average reviews in any category as a pretext to discipline or fire a conservative professor. This will immediately silence our few remaining conservative faculty."
Sen. Cirino said Mr. Plecnik did not mention the piece at Thursday night's Lake County Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner attended by both officials.
The lawmaker said he believed Mr. Plecnik's criticisms were more related to his position as faculty member than a Republican or elected official.
"I would lump him in with all of the folks who testified Wednesday night," Sen. Cirino said. "These are people that think that we're going after tenure. We're not. I am not."
Posted: April 17, 2023 8:52 AM
House Republicans are looking to make up for lost time heading into multiple hearings next week on a controversial plan to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution.
But whether newly installed committee chair Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) will bring the House proposal (HJR 1) up for a vote any time soon or strategically hold off as the chamber awaits a fast-tracked companion Senate plan (SJR 2) remains to be seen.
It is just one of a host of policy topics lawmakers are poised to dive back into following a two-week spring hiatus, the most pressing of which may be the pending operating budget. (See separate story)
As the legislature enters its two-month sprint toward summer recess, the constitutional provision remains top of mind for voting rights groups that continue mobilizing supporters to turn out in force in opposition.
The plan from Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) and its Senate companion, if approved by voters, would raise from a simple majority to 60% the required voter approval threshold for future amendments.
The House plan is marked for a possible vote Wednesday, along with opponent testimony, at the second of two hearings planned for the week by the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee.
A day earlier, the plan will receive proponent and interested party testimony and possibly pick up an amendment. Rep. Stewart said that update is likely to change the resolution's reference to the May primary since lawmakers missed the cutoff for that election and are now seeking to bring the question to voters in August.
The back-to-back hearings come after nearly a month of inaction by the committee, which held its first and only hearing so far on March 22. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, March 22, 2023)
Former chair Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) had attributed his reluctance to schedule hearings to his desire to maintain the option of using a discharge petition to force a vote in the event Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) refused to bring the measure to the floor. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 3, 2023)
Speaker Stephens instead ejected Mr. Wiggam from the chairmanship, labeling the plan a "priority for our caucus," and installed Rep. Plummer in his place. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, March 30, 2023)
Rep. Plummer has yet to comment on his thinking and Rep. Stewart in an interview said he remains uncertain of the best approach given the procedural landscape at play.
"I'm not 100% decided on that right now," Rep. Stewart said. "Obviously, it's the chairman that calls the vote and, ultimately, the speaker who, absent a discharge petition, decides when something comes to the floor."
But he said he believes Rep. Wiggam's concerns were "valid" and that committee passage should be accompanied by a commitment from the speaker to bring the item to the floor.
"I think that any speaker is going to be hard pressed not to allow a vote on a measure with this broad of support, not only within the caucus but amongst the Ohio Republican Party as a whole," he said.
Opponents are focusing their efforts on the House in an effort to thwart the plan, with groups urging supporters to phone key lawmakers in a bid to halt the proposal's advance.
Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, told supporters of the Fair Districts Ohio coalition earlier this week, "We shouldn't give up hope."
"There is still an opportunity to stop this in the Ohio House," Ms. Turcer said. "The Senate seems a bit more poised to move. But the thing to remember is a supermajority of both chambers have to pass the same proposal and the House has had some challenges…. So, the House seems to be the place to focus our energy."
Rep. Stewart, though, expressed confidence the votes are there, saying: "I think if this measure's put on the floor it will have 60 votes."
Rep. Plummer has already signaled a different approach as chair than his predecessor by relaxing some committee rules Rep. Wiggam had established pertaining to testimony.
Although speakers will still be limited to five minutes each, directives from Rep. Plummer's office suggest he is ditching Rep. Wiggam's previous requirement that only invited testimony will be accepted. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, March 20, 2023)
Not on the House panel's agenda is a proposal (HB 144) to establish an August special election for voters to weigh in on HJR1 – a measure that has yet to be formally assigned to the committee after it was introduced days before the legislative break.
Posted: April 10, 2023 8:35 AM
Stephanie Siddens, the interim state superintendent of public instruction, is set to exit the Department of Education as lawmakers contemplate an overhaul of the agency.
The Upper Arlington City School District's Board of Education plans to vote to appoint Ms. Siddens as deputy superintendent at its Tuesday meeting, according to an agenda posted on the district's website.
Ms. Siddens confirmed that she intends to take the position with the suburban Columbus school system in a Twitter post, writing that she tentatively would start her new job July 1.
"It is an honor to serve the students and schools of Ohio as interim superintendent and I stand ready to work on a successful transition," she wrote.
ODE spokesman Chad Eberly said in an email that Ms. Siddens, a longtime department official who previously served as senior executive director of the agency's Center for Student Supports, has committed to working through June in her current role.
Two Republican senators who have key roles regarding a proposal (SB 1) that would restructure the Department of Education and its leadership said they respect Ms. Siddens' work and her service to Ohio.
"It is clear however that the governing structure at the Ohio Department of Education does not work," Sen. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) said. "The State Board of Education has had two years to hire a full-time leader and has failed. We are at a critical crossroads with far too many students falling through the cracks. I urge the General Assembly to move Senate Bill 1 for our children and our constituents. If we work together, we can move Ohio forward."
Added Sen. Andy Brenner (R-Powell), the chair of the Senate Education Committee: "Dr. Siddens did a good job and we wish her well. This provides an opportunity for a new process and accountability that will be established under Senate Bill 1, which we need to pass immediately."
State Board of Education President Paul LaRue said in an interview Friday that Ms. Siddens has done a "fabulous job" filling the interim superintendent role on two separate occasions following the departures of Paolo DeMaria and Steve Dackin.
"She's done a fantastic job," he said. "She's been with the department for a number of years and stepped in, and she has been all about education."
Mr. LaRue gave specific praise to Ms. Siddens for her efforts to help lead a statewide early literacy push alongside Gov. Mike DeWine.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said in an email that the governor had spoken with Ms. Siddens and thanked her for "the good work she has done at the Ohio Department of Education on behalf of Ohio's school children."
Board Vice President Martha Manchester said Ms. Siddens will be missed at ODE.
"I am sorry to see her leave us because she has been a great superintendent, a great leader," she said.
Board member Charlotte McGuire, who previously served as the panel's president, called Ms. Siddens' departure "a loss to Ohio."
"Stephanie was very student centered and always concerned about our student outcomes," she said.
Ms. Siddens was seen as a potential permanent leader for ODE before lawmakers began considering companion plans (SB 1 & HB 12) to strip most responsibilities from the state board and the superintendent position. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, September 21, 2022)
Mr. LaRue, who said he was not sure if Ms. Siddens' decision to leave the agency is linked to that development, said he expects the board will discuss the department's succession plan at its coming April meeting.
The panel voted 13-4 at its March meeting to postpone a decision the resolution for the second time in four months. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, March 20, 2023)
John Hagan, who introduced the search firm resolution last year, has led efforts to pause a vote on it in recent months due to uncertainty over the agency's future related to SB1 and HB12.
The companion measures, which have been identified as priority measures by Republican leaders in each chamber, would rename ODE as the Department of Education and Workforce and place a gubernatorial appointee atop the agency.
The board-hired superintendent, currently the leader of the agency, would cede much of his or her authority to the new department's director and agency staff.
While Mr. Hagan has argued the lack of clarity over the position's future would scare off most qualified candidates from applying if the board begins a search, a handful of left-leaning members have pushed for the panel to move forward to prevent lawmakers from citing its inaction as further evidence of the need for SB1 and HB12.
Sen. Brenner previously advised the board not to vote on hiring a search firm until its May meeting, arguing that the panel should have a clearer sense of the legislation's future as budget deadlines draw closer.
The board is scheduled to receive a presentation from Ms. Siddens on graduation requirements and supports to open its two-day meeting Monday morning. Her report is set to be followed by four committee meetings. (Time Schedule)
Posted: April 2, 2023 9:34 PM
House lawmakers have been asked to provide tuition waivers and pay other fees associated with higher education for Ohioans who have been in foster care.
A coalition led by the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio has suggested amending the state operating budget (HB 33) to achieve that goal.
"Imagine how much Ohio could benefit from helping more students in our state access opportunities to obtain the skills necessary for the 21st century workforce given the growth and partnership with new businesses that have come to Ohio over the past several years," CDF-Ohio interim Director Kim Eckhart said.
Ms. Eckhart said about 25,000 children are in the foster care system at some point annually, with about 15,000 in the system at any given time.
She said while about 1,000 emancipate based on their age per year, she estimates the total number of students who could benefit from the scholarship proposal would be closer to 2,500 annually. CDF-Ohio estimates the cost of such an initiative at about $7.5 million per year.
The amendment is being pursued by Rep. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus), the ranking minority member of the House Finance Subcommittee on Higher Education, who is also crafting standalone legislation to the same effect.
Rep. Jarrells said policymakers should be "thinking holistically about what we can do beyond just this General Assembly to ensure that we are supporting…Ohioans leaving the foster care system."
Among the witnesses who testified in favor of the budget amendment before the subcommittee was Kurt Holden, director of public safety and police chief at Wright State University.
Mr. Holden, who was in foster care for nearly his entire childhood, said he initially flunked out of college because he was working multiple jobs to afford tuition and fees. He said he later returned to school and "with some luck and by the grace of God" joined the 2-3% of former foster youths who have a degree.
"With your help we can make college more obtainable, accessible – and success more realistic – by removing the luck and making it a more realistic option, and more achievable than 2-3%," he said.
Ms. Eckhart said Ohio would be far from the first state to cover scholarships and fees for those previously in foster care, noting the state of Connecticut paid for her mother's higher education via a similar program decades ago.
She said Texas has had a similar tuition waiver program in place since 2015. An analysis of that initiative showed students who took part were 3.5-times more likely to graduate with a postsecondary degree than their peers.
Subcommittee Chair Rep. Gayle Manning (R-N. Ridgeville) called the testimony of witnesses who participated in the foster care system in various ways "a great way to sell that this amendment is really important."
Posted: March 27, 2023 9:14 AM
Senators are now wading into the fray with a resolution of their own making it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution and a companion bill authorizing an August election to vote on that measure.
The resolution (SJR 2) from Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) and Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) mirrors its House counterpart (HJR 1) by raising the voter approval threshold for constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60% among other changes.
The pair also introduced a companion bill (SB 92) authorizing an Aug. 8 election for the question to head to voters even as the Statehouse's top two Republicans remain at loggerheads over the prospect of a special election held solely to vote on the constitutional plan.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) reiterated his desire for an August election, downplaying the expected $20 million price tag given the looming ballot issue abortion rights groups are eyeing for the November election. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, March 13, 2023)
"If we save 30,000 lives as a result of spending $20 million, I think that's a great thing," Sen. Huffman said.
He said anticipates passage of the Senate proposals by mid- to late-April, giving the House time to consider them before the May 10 deadline to make an Aug. 8 election.
"We just voted not to have those anymore just a few months ago and the county election officials I've talked to are not interest in having it," the speaker said after session, referencing a law enacted in January (HB458, 134th General Assembly) nixing most August elections.
"I'm frankly not interested in having an election in August," the speaker continued. "It's a cost to the taxpayers."
Asked if he would block any bill to establish such an election, the speaker replied: "Well, I certainly wouldn't be for it."
Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said in an interview the Senate proposal "doesn't feel like it's playing by the rules."
"I find it ironic that this is a caucus that said special elections are expensive and unnecessary and they should only be done in the most dire of circumstances," Sen. Antonio said. "I don't think suppressing the people's vote is a dire circumstance to call for a special election."
Although critics have argued the move would be precedent setting, Sen. Huffman disagreed, arguing: "We have throughout the history of the state of Ohio created a lot of special dates for elections."
To reach the ballot, SJR2 or HJR1 must advance from both chambers by a 60% margin at least 90 days before the election.
But an Aug. 8 election requires separate legislative action given provisions of HB458, which eliminated special August elections for all but those pertaining to political subdivisions or school districts in a state of fiscal emergency.
Supporters, including Secretary of State Frank LaRose, at the time argued August elections were too costly and posed administrative headaches for elections officials who must train more poll workers, boost staffing and engage in equipment testing.
Mr. LaRose, who worked with House sponsor Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) to urge passage of the constitutional change, at the time said off-cycle August elections "aren't good for taxpayers, election officials or the civic health of our state."
Asked Thursday for the secretary's stance on an August election in this case, LaRose spokesman Rob Nichols demurred, saying: "The General Assembly sets the time, place and manner for Ohio elections, and right now the issue is in their hands."
SB92, which does not contain an emergency clause, would authorize elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of August for a statewide ballot issue to consider legislatively-initiated constitutional amendments.
Such elections would also be permitted for political subdivisions or taxing authorities under fiscal emergency and to fill congressional seats such as in the circumstances of a death or disqualification.
Sen. Gavarone argued an August election is appropriate for such an important issue.
"It's an important issue and it's certainly one to fight for," she said in an interview. "It'll go through the committee process and have hearings and there will certainly be an opportunity for public input."
But the prospect of that maneuver has only further fueled critics who have rallied against the plan and who are now accusing supporters of hypocrisy.
"They said school districts, they said local levies couldn't go to special elections because they didn't want a small minority of voters making decisions," House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said of HB458. "And yet they're very willing to do this when it's in their interest and they want to silence voters."
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou weighed in later Thursday with a social media post backing the higher threshold.
"The U.S. Constitution is a sacred document that has not been amended in 30 years. In Ohio, special interests have free reign to use the Ohio Constitution to bypass Ohio's elected lawmakers on a whim," he wrote. "Increasing the threshold to 60 percent for ballot initiatives makes sense and upholds the principles our country is founded on."
Posted: March 20, 2023 9:19 AM
New state support for families that educate children at home could become a sticking point in discussions between the chambers on the state's two-year spending outline.
While Gov. Mike DeWine has proposed extending eligibility for income-based EdChoice Scholarships for certain private school students to up to 400% of federal poverty levels, both the House and Senate are reviewing more expansive voucher plans that could end up in the state operating budget (HB 33).
Under SB 11, all K-8 students would be eligible for an award of up to $5,500 per year to put toward tuition at a chartered private school, while all high school students would be eligible for an award of up to $7,500. Home schoolers would not be in line for vouchers under the proposal, but such families would qualify for an expanded tax credit of up to $2,000 annually for educational expenses.
Under HB 11, the award amounts would be the same ($5,500 for K-8, $7,500 for 9-12), but they would be deposited into educational savings accounts that could be used to fund home schooling or tuition at chartered and nonchartered private schools.
Although Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has identified HB11 as a priority bill, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) appears skeptical of funding private school voucher recipients and home schoolers at the same level.
Sen. Huffman said the costs associated with home education are difficult to compare with other forms of instruction.
"The big cost, of course, is the building and the staff, which you don't have for home schoolers," he said.
Sen. Huffman, who noted the state provided a $250 tax credit for home-schooling families in the prior budget, said he would need to see cost-related evidence to justify adding them to the state's school choice voucher programs.
The possibility of broadening the governor's voucher expansion proposal has been a major topic of conversation in the House Finance Subcommittee on Primary & Secondary Education.
Chair Rep. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) has said there is "an interest" in home school students being included in EdChoice and previously sought information from the Department of Education on the potential cost.
Aaron Rausch, budget chief for the agency, said while more than 47,000 children in the state were home-schooled during the previous academic year, uptake of vouchers likely would hinge on parameters put in place by the General Assembly.
"The cost of allowing a home-educated student access to a scholarship or funding would in part depend on what the specific requirements are," he said.
The cost to the state would be about $290 million if home-school enrollment stayed steady and all 14,613 high school students and all 32,878 K-8 students applied for vouchers.
The Legislative Service Commission has projected the full cost of implementing HB11 at upwards of $1.1 billion per year if all eligible students in private and home-school settings apply, but both LSC, the measure's sponsors and proponents have pointed to full adoption as an unlikely scenario.
LSC has projected that the less-expansive SB11 could increase state voucher spending by up to $528 million annually.
Troy McIntosh, executive director of the Ohio Christian Education Network and a proponent of HB11, said he believes many home-schooling families and nonchartered private schools would turn down voucher funding.
"Some of them will just never take the scholarship because they don't want state money," he said. "They view anything that might look like the state has authority to govern what they do – they don't want any part of it."
That attitude was apparent after the state enacted the home-schooling tax credit.
Ohio Homeschooling Parents, a nonprofit that offers resources for home educators in the state, advised against taking the credit in a 2022 blog post, arguing it could lead to enhanced scrutiny from tax officials and pushback from public school backers.
"Until the elderly and the childless ALSO get a tax credit for schools they aren't using, it puts a target on the back of homeschoolers. It makes us the political scapegoat for their funding ills," the post states.
OHP also raised concerns about a prior version of HB11 (HB290, 134th General Assembly), arguing that as the number of home-schooling households that took state funding grew, it would become easier for a future state government to impose standardized requirements on the educational sector.
Democrats on the House Finance Committee and its K-12 subcommittee have argued more state oversight is necessary if the state expands voucher programs to include nonchartered schools and home education, especially in the wake of national reports that an Upper Sandusky couple are leading a neo-Nazi home-schooling network. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 30, 2023)
Rep. Marilyn John (R-Shelby), who is sponsoring HB11 with Rep. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky), said while the views of the "Dissident Homeschool" group are abhorrent, they are far from representative of the state's home-school community.
"I also don't think that we should be making public policy based on one incident," she said.
Rep. McClain also has said it is not his intent to add new regulations to the home-schooling and nonchartered private school sectors in exchange for voucher funding, with the exception of some testing requirements for the latter group.
"In terms of broad, additional regulation, I don't think that we're looking for that," he said. "People choose those environments for those reasons in many cases."
Rep. Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati), the ranking member of the House K-12 budget subcommittee, questioned whether those arguing in favor of voucher expansion are more focused on an ideological project than academic outcomes.
"My concern is that the advocacy here is more about educational freedom and less about helping kids read the words educational freedom," Rep. Isaacsohn said.
Posted: March 13, 2023 8:28 AM
Senate President Matt Huffman said moving ahead with oil and gas activity on state lands is all the more important as new revenues are needed to balance out anticipated income tax cuts.
For years, the state's leasing program under the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission has languished amid showdowns with former Gov. John Kasich and a drawn-out rulemaking process that appears to now be reaching its climax.
Sen. Huffman's desire to see action was one of several policy aims he shared Thursday with attendees at the Ohio Oil and Gas Association's annual conference, where he fielded questions on everything from regulatory reductions to the pending operating budget.
"I think the state has to get somewhat businesslike in how they're doing this," the Lima Republican said of the state land issue. "This can't be, 'Gee, we feel bad because people are yelling at us, sort of do it because we have to, but not do very much because maybe they won't be as mad.'"
Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) also took part in the panel, with the pair reiterating their desire to overhaul the Department of Education and bolster orphan well plugging among other issues.
When it comes to leasing state-owned property, the idea has drawn sharp pushback from environmental activists and Democrats since it was authorized in 2011. But the fact no leases have been issued more than a decade after that activity was legalized has long been a sore spot for legislative Republicans.
That culminated in lame duck action (HB507, 134th General Assembly) aimed at nudging the commission's rulemaking process along – a process officials hope to wrap up by April. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, February 1, 2023)
Sen. Huffman argued the prospect is a "great revenue generator" and said any new revenue streams are welcome as Republicans in both chambers game out ways to reduce and potentially eliminate income taxes.
"We're talking about a flat tax right now, perhaps eliminating it," Sen. Huffman said. "Well, where's that revenue going to come from?"
"If the state can responsibly add to the revenue of the state and we can lower the tax burden, that makes Ohio a much more competitive state," he continued. "And so we should do this in earnest. We should do it responsibly. Kick it into a gear where it actually makes sense and, you know, it can be a great benefit to us."
Among other issues, the senators also opined on an operating budget (HB 33) provision that would transfer dollars from the Oil and Gas Well Fund into Gov. Mike DeWine's proposed $2.5 billion All Ohio Future Fund.
The governor proposed that new fund to prepare sites for major development projects, building on sizable economic development wins over recent years such as Intel. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 31, 2023)
But the prospect of utilizing the well fund, which is intended to fund the plugging of abandoned wells, has sparked industry concern of a potential hike in severance taxes which support that fund.
Sen. McColley, saying he would reserve judgment until the House finalizes its version of the spending plan, expressed frustration at how administration budget proposals through the year have viewed the well fund as a "favorite piggy bank."
"Administration after administration, seemingly regardless of party affiliation or who it may be, look at this as almost, well, you know, break the piggy bank in case of emergency and use this on our pet projects, which has been frustrating," he said.
Among other topics, Sen. Huffman espoused a pending bill (SB 6) from Sen. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) that would prohibit public retirement system boards from adopting investment strategies aimed at influencing social or environmental policy. The measure instead requires those funds to utilize strategy based around maximizing investment returns.
"The notion that some folks are going to take our pensioners' money and try to do things that they think are right socially is wrong," Sen. Huffman opined. "If someone said, 'Well, we're only going to invest in conservative causes'…that's not their job. Okay? It's the job of the legislature, but probably more the job of society, to determine those issues."
The bill received a second hearing earlier this week before the Senate Finance Committee, where executive directors of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund testified as interested parties.
Democrats on that panel have already raised concerns about whether the measure might pose a "chilling effect" and questioned the need given the existing requirement investments be made in the best interest of contributors.
Posted: March 6, 2023 10:46 AM
Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday he is fine with state lawmakers trying to improve rail safety but he believes that Congress ultimately needs to act.
The House's version of the transportation budget (HB 23) contains several provisions inserted in the wake of the train derailment in East Palestine, including requiring that those carrying freight have two-man crews and that rail companies notify operators of defects picked up by wayside detectors. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, February 28, 2023)
The rail industry has pushed back against those changes, arguing they are unconstitutional and preempted by federal law. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, February 22, 2023)
Lawmakers and members of the unions representing rail workers have argues those are areas in which the state can regulate the industry. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, February 21, 2023)
After speaking at a Statehood Day event, Gov. DeWine acknowledged that the federal government "almost always" preempts states when it comes to railroad issues.
"This is something that really needs to be addressed nationally," he said. "It needs to be addressed by the United States Congress. I'm fine with the state legislature looking at this and introducing bills, but ultimately, if you really want to have an impact, it's got to come from the Congress."
Among its provisions, the plan would bolster notification requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials – closing a loophole Gov. DeWine has repeatedly labeled "absurd." (See Gongwer Ohio Report, February 14, 2023)
Other components would mandate two-person train crews, increase the frequency of rail car inspections and boost fines for misconduct.
"Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again," Sen. Vance said in a statement.
Added Sen. Brown: "These commonsense bipartisan safety measures will finally hold big railroad companies accountable."
Gov. DeWine, who is in a walking boot after sustaining an injury during a visit to East Palestine, said he is not familiar with all the details of the measure "but it looks like a good bill."
In the other chamber of Congress, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) and fellow Ohio delegates debuted the East Palestine Tax Relief Act, which would ensure any relief payments or compensation tied to the derailment are exempt from taxes.
"The East Palestine Tax Relief Act will ensure those thrust into this unfortunate situation will not have to pay taxes on any relief payments they rightfully received," Rep. Johnson said. "I urge my colleagues to support the village of East Palestine by taking this legislation up for a vote in the coming weeks."
The governor was in East Palestine again on Wednesday to observe the removal of toxic substances from the site of the derailment, which he described as "a massive operation."
Jonathon Long, chair of the American Rail System Federation and a Norfolk Southern employee of 28 years, issued a letter to Gov. DeWine and others claiming workers have taken ill after working at the crash site.
The letter, also sent to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, urges officials to "use your influence and power to stop NS's reckless business practices that endanger the public and their workers."
The letter comes amid a dispute between the company and union related to sick leave.
The company last week called employees "the heart of our operation and we will continue to collaborate with union leaders to discuss and implement new enhancements for these critical members of our team who keep our company and our country moving."
Posted: February 26, 2023 7:58 AM
Ohio's private employers will pay a projected $90 million less overall in workers' compensation premiums next fiscal year after action Friday by the Bureau of Workers Compensation.
BWC's Board of Directors approved an average 8% rate reduction at its February meeting, bringing the average rates for both private and public employers to the lowest levels in more than 60 years.
The rates had been considered on first reading at the board's January meeting and will take effect July 1. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 27, 2023)
This marks the sixth straight year BWC has lowered its rates, which have been largely on the decline since 2011.
Last year, BWC reduced the private employer rate by 10% – a cut that followed a 7.1% reduction the year prior.
"Our rate reductions continue to advance Ohio's strong economic position," BWC Administrator/CEO John Logue said in a statement. "We continue to improve the way we do business with our customers and make it easier for them to succeed."
BWC noted that a recent study found it had the fifth lowest workers' compensation premium rates among all states and Washington D.C. through Jan. 1, marking a stark improvement since 2008 when Ohio had the third highest rate in the country.
The rate reduction represents the average statewide change. Actual premiums depend on several factors, like the industry, recent claims history and participation in BWC programs.
Gov. Mike DeWine applauded Ohio employers for their efforts in keeping their workplaces safe.
"Businesses adopting a safety-focused culture is what allows us to reduce the rates to the lowest they have been in 60 years," he said.
Steve Stivers, president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
"Lower workers' compensation premiums are no accident," he said. "Ohio employers are prioritizing safety by making investments in new technologies and safety equipment at their workplace."
"Thanks to those investments, Ohio workers are safer, and employers are set to save more than $90 million in workers' compensation costs next year," he said. "The Ohio Chamber also commends BWC for their continued investment into safety grant programs that help small employers purchase equipment to make their workers safer."
Chris Ferruso, National Federation of Independent Business interim state director, said any reduction is appreciated given small businesses' concerns around inflation, quality of labor and the pandemic.
"The bureau's decision to cut rates by 8% is going to help relieve the financial pressure on Main Street businesses and go a long way toward getting them back to where they need to be," he said.
Posted: February 13, 2023 10:12 AM
The clocking is ticking for the General Assembly to act on a proposal to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
If lawmakers fail to act by May 3, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol intends to collect a second round of signatures to place the initiated statute before voters in November.
"Right now, we are in this interim period where the legislature has four months to pass our proposal and if they don't, we'll collect additional signatures to get it on the ballot," spokesman Tom Haren said in an interview.
Asked if he expects lawmakers to act, Mr. Haren answered: "We'll see."
Nonetheless, that is the preference of the group.
"We've said all along we'd like to work with them," Mr. Haren said. "We intend to do what we can to work with them in good faith to legalize marijuana for adults. We think it's something that's popular with Ohioans. We think it represents the will of Ohio voters. If they continue to ignore the will of Ohioans, we'll take it to Ohio voters directly."
In its recently filed annual campaign finance report, the group had just over $14,000 on hand with nearly $42,000 in outstanding debt. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 31, 2023)
Money, however, will not be an issue, according to Mr. Haren.
"I have no concerns about our ability to fundraise," he said. "We've collected this amount of signatures before. We're confident we'll be able to do it again."
The group in late 2021 submitted its first round of nearly 133,000 valid signatures to place the measure before the General Assembly.
However, a local board of election review threw out some of those signatures, forcing the group to collect more during an extension period. The next round of signatures pushed the total past the required amount, but was not submitted until Jan. 13, several days after the start of the 2022 session.
That threw into question whether the legal deadline was met to submit an initiated statute to the General Assembly, leading the coalition to file a lawsuit that eventually led to a settlement. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, May 13, 2022)
The settlement allowed the group to keep its initial batch of signatures and required Secretary of State Frank LaRose to resubmit the proposal to the General Assembly on Jan. 3.
The proposal would legalize the use of marijuana for those age 21 and older.
Individuals would be permitted to grow up to six plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, although landlords would be able to prohibit growing activities.
It would establish a 10% adult use tax, on top of existing sales taxes.
Thirty-six percent of the revenue from the adult use tax would go to local governments with operating dispensaries. They would also be able to prohibit or limit the number of dispensaries within their jurisdictions.
Another 36% would go to a social equity and cannabis jobs fund, which, according to the coalition, could generate as much as $150 million annually for social equity and jobs programs.
Twenty-five percent would be set aside for substance abuse programming and another 3% for a newly created Division of Cannabis Control located inside the Department of Commerce.
Posted: February 6, 2023 8:21 AM
The House Republican Caucus' retreat this week yielded no fireworks nor any kumbaya moments, according to members.
The majority party left Mohican State Park still divided after a minority faction broke off from the rest to join the chamber's Democrats to elect Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) despite Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Twp.) receiving the caucus' stamp of approval during an informal vote in November.
But attendees said the gathering that brought the factions together could be the first step in tamping down the bitter divide, according to interviews with half a dozen.
"I think the divide in the caucus is kind of like a wound," said Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania Twp.). "It takes a little bit of time but it's in the healing process."
A supporter of Rep. Merrin, Rep. Williams attempted to alter the majority leadership slate and the chamber's rules in the House's last session but wasn't recognized by Speaker Stephens. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 24, 2023)
He said the retreat offered members from both camps an opportunity to discuss policy, and there were private discussions about the incident on the floor.
"Regardless of the healing process in our caucus, members from each side were there and meaningfully participated," Rep. Williams said.
Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton) said despite ongoing divisions in the caucus, the event was heavy on productive discussions and euchre games and light on drama.
The Stephens backer said she believes the policy discussions at the retreat were eye-opening for many in the Merrin camp.
"I think so many were amazed at how it's going to be more conservative than they thought because they've been sold that Jason is not a conservative," she said.
The lawmaker said she believes "troublemakers" outside of the legislature are trying to prevent a full reconciliation between House Republicans for their own political benefit.
"We've got a lot of outside influence that's causing a stir, and they don't know anything about what really goes on," she said. "I wish they would calm down and let us do our jobs."
Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery), one of the most outspoken supporters of Rep. Merrin, said members talked business during the retreat but largely avoided discussions about the elephant in the room.
"It's about getting down to business and doing what's right for the state of Ohio," he said. "You can't change what's wrong into what's right but it's time to focus on Ohio."
Nonetheless, he said there is still a trust barrier that will have to be overcome after 22 Republicans joined with all 32 Democrats to hand Speaker Stephens the gavel.
"There's not a spirit of vengeance," Rep. Click said. "There's not hate. But there's disappointment that will continue to linger."
In one sign of potential progress, Rep. Click said he has taken to referring to Mr. Stephens by his title after previously refusing to do so.
"Rep. Merrin calls him speaker, so I guess if he can do it, I should be able to do it," he said, adding "petty stuff is not going to help us move forward."
Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord), who originally backed Rep. Merrin, described the retreat as a "really good bread breaking exercise."
"People who support each of the candidates for speaker were there, they intermixed, they sat next to each other and talked, and I think most people realize we have more in common," he said.
"There's still going to be tensions, and it's going to take time to figure out where we're going with the two groups and how that'll work, but there is good conversation occurring between the two groups," he added.
Among those tensions is the ongoing dispute over who controls the campaign finances, a topic that was not ironed out at the retreat, Rep. Callender said.
"I think overall the retreat put us in a position to have discussions and move forward," he added.
Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk), another backer of Rep. Merrin, called the retreat "a little strained just because of the dynamics of the situation."
Although not all caucus members attended, Rep. Stein said the event had "good participation."
But the caucus did not emerge from the meeting with as firm a grasp on its policy agenda as it had during prior retreats, he said.
"I don't believe we've really nailed down our priorities as much as I would have liked to," he said. "We really didn't get into that depth this time but all and all people were cordial. I don't know if we're healed yet, but we hopefully are headed in that direction."
Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), a backer of Speaker Stephens and his pick to lead the powerful House Finance Committee, said the retreat allowed Republicans to refocus on policy and set priorities.
"Politics are over at this point," he said. "Some may still want to play politics but the majority of us want to get to work."
Republican priorities remain similar as in years passed.
They include wanting to cut taxes, supporting public schools while offering school choice and lowering the cost of health care, he said.
Featured speakers for the retreat were former Ohio State football coach and Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel, who attended the event virtually, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, political consultant Mark Weaver and former lawmaker Jim Buchy.
Posted: January 31, 2023 3:03 PM
(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Governor Mike DeWine today delivered the 2023 State of the State address today in the House Chamber of the Ohio Statehouse. The remarks, as prepared, are as follows:
Speaker Stephens, President Huffman, Leader Antonio and Leader Russo, Members of the General Assembly, Chief Justice Kennedy and Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court, Elected State Officials, Lieutenant Governor Husted, My Fellow Citizens of Ohio….
We meet at a time of great opportunity for Ohio and its citizens.
Yet, it is also a time of great challenges.
Our future is bright -- but that future will be defined by how well we educate all our children and how we tear down the barriers to their success. We are challenged as never before, because at no time in our history has the full education of all our children been more important.
The budget that I will present to you later today reflects the moral imperative we have to see that ALL Ohioans are fully educated, and therefore, have the tools to live up to their full God-given potential.
Our budget is fiscally sound -- spending one-time money on one-time expenditures, averting a fiscal cliff in future years when this one-time money is gone.
It is a budget that focuses on our people, on our families, and on our children, for they are Ohio's greatest asset.
It reflects our obligation to make sure every Ohioan has the tools to succeed, to get a good job, to live their dreams, whatever they may be.
So, let us start with our children.
We know that reading unlocks the door for all future learning and provides a lifetime of opportunities. It opens the door to good jobs -- but really, it opens the door to life.
Reading can take what seems like a dark world and make it bright!
It can fire a child's imagination -- and turn what looks like a black and white world into vivid and bright colors!
But tragically, today 40 percent of all Ohio 3rd Grade students are not proficient in reading -- 40 percent!
So today, I am calling for a renewed focus on literacy -- and on the way we teach reading in the State of Ohio.
The jury has returned. The evidence is clear. The verdict is in.
There a is great deal of research about how we learn to read. And today, we understand the great value and importance of phonics. Not all literacy curriculums are created equal, and sadly, many Ohio students do not have access to the most effective reading curriculum.
In our budget, we are making sure that all Ohio children have access to curriculum that is aligned with the evidence-based approaches of the Science of Reading.
Our budget directs the Ohio Department of Education to lay out a plan -- informed by research and evidence -- to ensure that all Ohio students have the best opportunity to master the skill of reading.
Further, it directs them to help students in our public, STEM, and charter schools by providing funding to each school to pay for curriculum based on the Science of Reading and for professional development for those teachers needing it in that curriculum.
We know that the earlier a child is reading on grade level, the better that child will do in later grades -- and in life. We also know that what happens to a child before they start school determines their chances of success.
With your help in the past in efforts to reduce infant mortality and to improve maternal health, we have doubled the number of new and expectant moms participating in evidence-based home visiting, where trained professionals offer valuable help to moms. In our proposed budget, we will grow this program to serve nearly 10,000 additional families.
To further reduce infant mortality and help more mothers, our budget will also expand access to safe, stable housing for pregnant and new mothers.
Now, we know that a child's brain is 80 percent developed by the time they turn three, so these first years of growth are so very, very important. That is why introducing children to books as soon as they are born is vital to their development.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the General Assembly -- thank you. Thank you for your continued support for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and at this time, I would like to introduce Fran -- my best friend and bride of over 55 years.
Fran told me just this morning that 51 percent of Ohio children from birth to age five are now enrolled in the in the Imagination Library, and that 366,401 Ohio kids are receiving a free book in the mail every single month. Not only that, since Fran became First Lady, more than 10 million books have been mailed to Ohio's children.
This General Assembly has helped by providing funding for the books and by connecting us with organizations and supporters in your districts who work with and serve children and families. I thank those local organizations, as well -- the United Way, public libraries, community foundations, hospitals, Head Start programs, pre-schools, and so many, many others -- who have also provided funding and helped with enrollment.
The Imagination Library is about helping families. We know that sometimes it's difficult to be a parent. What happens at home and how a child grows up impacts them more than really anything else. For Ohio to be the best state in the Nation to raise a family, we must do everything we can to better support families, and so our budget will do the following:
To ease the financial burden on new parents, our budget asks you to repeal the State's sales tax on critical infant supplies, things such as diapers, wipes, cribs, car seats, strollers, and safety equipment.
Further, I am also asking you to enact a $2,500 per child state tax deduction!
Our budget will make available childcare for more working families.
Many Ohio parents must choose between taking on full-time, full-year work or staying unemployed or underemployed, because they cannot afford the high cost of childcare. Through our budget, 15,000 more Ohio children in working families will have access to high-quality childcare -- childcare that will help them start Kindergarten with the skills needed to succeed.
Next, we are going to make it easier for families to adopt children into safe, loving, permanent homes. Currently, children adopted through the public children services system have access to Medicaid coverage, but children adopted through private agencies do not -- EVEN if these children have complex medical needs. We know there are many families who would love to open their homes to a child, including children with serious health needs, but cannot afford to do it.
In our budget, we will extend that same opportunity for health care coverage to ALL children who are adopted in the State of Ohio.
With your help, we have been transforming foster care. We created a Foster Youth Bill of Rights, and we established a statewide advocate for youth and families who independently investigates reports of abuse and misconduct within Ohio's foster care system.
I am also proud of our work to create the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council. Members of this Council traveled across the State to hear directly from those impacted by foster care, and they developed 37 separate recommendations to improve the system. I am very pleased to report that every single one of those recommendations has either been fully implemented or is in the process of being implemented.
We also must do more to help the families involved in the child welfare system.
Historically, the State has woefully underfunded our county children's services agencies. Working together in our last two budgets, we have more than doubled state funding for them. However, Ohio still remains near the bottom nationally for funding, and many of our children's services agencies continue to struggle.
To better support children, families, and the caseworkers who serve them, we will once again increase their funding in our new proposed budget.
There are other families in Ohio with vulnerable children who have unique needs, who -- up until now -- have had no place to go to seek help. They face challenges that many of us cannot even comprehend. We will help them, as well.
In our last budget, we created OhioRise -- a specialized program to help children with mental health challenges -- challenges that are so complex and so severe that these children are at risk of being unable to even stay in their homes with their parents. Families in this program are assigned a hands-on case manager -- someone with a small caseload -- who can provide individualized attention and help that family get the best possible care for their child.
OhioRise is now getting immediate care to over 16,000 Ohio children by helping communities develop new and intensive behavioral health services that are tailored to the specific needs of these children. Our budget will allow us to connect many more families to these desperately needed services.
OhioRise is also giving hope back to families.
In the words of one mother, "OhioRise has saved my son's life. He is smiling again. There is laughter in our home. And, my son is healing."
One of my first acts as Governor was to create the Governor's Children's Initiative. We made great progress by working collaboratively across agencies and breaking down silos to help children. But, we also quickly learned that the supports we provide Ohio children are strewn across departments, agencies, and offices, sometimes causing duplication and inefficiencies.
The issues impacting the lives of our children are simply too important to leave scattered throughout multiple agencies, without a member of the Governor's Cabinet driving them each and every day.
And so, in our budget, I am proposing the creation of a new Cabinet-level agency, called the "Department of Children and Youth."
This statewide agency will allow us to have a sharp focus on children's issues. Our proposed Department of Children and Youth Services will consolidate programs from six different state agencies and focus specifically on the following:
1. The physical health of mothers, infants, and children;
2. Children's behavioral health and the early identification of and intervention in mental health needs;
3. Kids in foster care; and
4. Early childhood education.
We are very excited about the prospect of this new Department and what it will mean for Ohio children and their families.
One of the things families never used to worry about was the safety of their children at school. Today, sadly, they do.
When I took office, our local schools were receiving very little help from the State for school safety. So, I created the Ohio School Safety Center, which is dedicated to helping schools, public and private, to address security needs -- from the physical security of their buildings, to training our school officials in threat assessment, to improving our schools' emergency response plans.
Each day, our experts at the School Safety Center are scanning social media for threats to our students. They are responding to calls to the anonymous tip line. And, they are working with our local officials on each district's unique safety needs.
Our proposed budget will allow us to continue and expand this vital work.
Further, some school officials have told me that they would like to place a School Resource Officer in their school, but simply cannot afford to do so. In this budget, we offer all schools -- again public and private -- who want a School Resource Officer, with additional state funding to help them do so.
We also want to do this because, oftentimes, there is a trust that gets built between students and the officer that would not otherwise occur -- but for that officer being in the school each day.
When kids feel safe at school, they are better able to learn. We want all students to attend schools where they're safe and have the resources they need to succeed, which is why our budget continues the implementation of the Cupp-Patterson school funding formula.
Now, children have unique needs, so we want families to have the opportunity to send their children to a school that best meets those needs. That is why our budget proposal includes an historic investment in the EdChoice scholarship program by expanding eligibility to families at or below 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. This investment will allow more families than ever to take advantage of this scholarship and find the best school for their children.
For some families, choice means a charter school, and we are continuing to expand choice for those families by increasing funding for high-quality charter schools. For students attending high-quality charter schools, our budget provides an additional $3,000 for each economically disadvantaged student. It also increases the per-pupil facilities funding for all charter schools --from $500 to $1000 per student.
Parents want their children to be healthy and happy and to find a passion -- something that they love to do -- something that allows them to live out their dreams -- whatever those dreams may be. Many Ohio families are seeing their children find that passion in their county career centers.
Lieutenant Governor Husted, Fran, and I have spent a lot of time recently visiting career tech centers across the State.
At the Medina County Career Center, I met students learning HVAC and construction trades, as well as those studying sports medicine and cybersecurity.
At the Fairfield County Workforce Center, I visited students and the manufacturers who are providing them jobs.
And, at the Tri Rivers Career Center in Marion, I talked with teachers who are teaching adults welding, industrial maintenance, and robotics.
When Fran and I and the Lieutenant Governor were visiting these career centers, we would talk to the teachers and the superintendents about the different programs they offer. We would ask about the number of students enrolled, and so often, the teachers would tell us that more kids want to take the courses, but there are waitlists because there simply aren't enough open spots.
In other cases, they told us they don't have the most modern, up-to-date equipment needed to teach certain courses.
We are going to change this!
To reach more students and to provide better training for 21st Century jobs, our budget will invest $300 million of one-time funding for capital improvements and equipment for career tech education.
If a child's passion instead takes them to college, many families worry if they can afford it. And so, for the first time ever -- we will provide need-based financial aid to students choosing to enroll in community colleges or university regional campuses.
Our budget will also expand the State's need-based scholarship, known as Ohio College Opportunity Grants, in two very important ways.
First, we will significantly expand eligibility to include many more working Ohio families.
And second, we will increase the scholarship amount to $6,000 per student, renewable for each of four years.
Further, to reward academic excellence, if you are in the top five percent of your high school graduating class -- wherever you go to high school in Ohio -- we plan to reward you with a $5,000 a year scholarship, also renewable for each of four years, if you choose to attend a college or university here in Ohio.
We want our children to grow, learn, and ultimately live and work right here in Ohio! And we believe the changes we have announced today will help them do that. Keeping our young people in Ohio has never been more important, as we create jobs faster than we can fill them.
Now, I want to take a moment to recognize my friend and partner in moving Ohio forward -- Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted.
Jon has focused relentlessly on growing our workforce and on economic development. Since the Intel announcement just a year ago, we've celebrated groundbreakings, expansions, and investments all over the State:
Smucker's announced plans for a new research and development facility in Orville!
Abbott chose Bowling Green for the site of its new powder formula facility!
And Medpace is expanding its healthcare research work in Cincinnati!
Ohio, which has a rich history in automotives, has also become an emerging force in electric vehicle and EV parts manufacturing.
Ford chose Avon Lake for the assembly of its all-new commercial electric vehicle.
General Motors selected Toledo for its first electric vehicle propulsion plant in the United States.
And Honda -- with whom Ohio's partnership stretches back 40 years -- chose Fayette County for its brand-new EV battery plant!
There is no question -- Ohio is on the move!
In the last four years, 48 companies left the East and West Coasts for Ohio, creating more than 14,000 new jobs, $1.1 billion in new Ohio payroll, and $24.9 billion in new capital investment.
While we have had so many successes and everyone is excited about Intel, I have heard from a lot of people outside of Central Ohio who ask, "What about us?"
One of the reasons Intel is locating in Licking County is because the site was one of few in the State that could handle an economic development project of that magnitude. We simply don't have enough shovel-ready, development-ready sites for the kind of calls we are getting from companies all over the world.
If a manufacturer calls and says, "We need 400 acres with roads, water, gas, and electricity," we need to have sites immediately available to show them NOW.
We want ALL regions of the State to participate in Ohio's economic revival -- and for all Ohioans to prosper from it. Every region of the State has good sites, however, many of them are not yet ready for development.
When a business is looking for a site, they want to move quickly, and so we must get these sites ready so that we can capture these jobs in every part of the State.
As President Ronald Reagan once said, "America is too great for small dreams." Well, my friends, so is Ohio!
And that is why our budget creates the "All Ohio Future Fund" -- a one-time investment that will provide a lifetime of returns! We will make an unprecedented $2.5 billion investment to prepare the infrastructure of large economic development sites located in every single part of Ohio. With the development of these sites, every single Ohio citizen will be within commuting distance of at least one of these sites.
Innovation is in our blood! And with your help, we now have thriving Innovation Districts in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. They partner businesses with our colleges and universities to develop new STEM education talent, create tens of thousands of jobs, and bring about new research, extraordinary technology, and life-saving medical advancements.
In our budget, we will invest an additional $150 million to create new Innovation Hubs in regions throughout the State. These hubs will bring together each community's strengths to encourage more economic development and attract the very best talent.
For the past year, I have talked a lot about mental health, but there was a time when no one wanted to talk about it -- a time when it was easier to simply look the other way.
My Fellow Ohioans -- That time is over!
Each of us knows someone who is struggling. Maybe you have a friend who is depressed or anxious about the future.
Maybe your brother or sister has schizophrenia, but you've never told your friends because you're too embarrassed.
Maybe your mom or dad has an addiction to alcohol or opioids and can no longer hold a job.
Maybe your child has bi-polar disorder and has contemplated suicide.
Or, maybe you, yourself, have.
Thankfully, more people today are starting to talk more openly about these issues, just as Bengals tight end, Hayden Hurst, is doing by sharing publicly his own mental health struggles -- and also through education campaigns, like our public-private partnership, to create the "Beat the Stigma" commercials, which have now been seen by nearly 90 percent of Ohioans.
As author and civil rights activist James Baldwin once said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced." And so, we must face the fact that no Ohioan will ever fully live up to their potential or be able to lead purposeful and meaningful lives if their mental illness remains in the shadows and untreated.
Despite the good intentions of the past, our country has never fully built a community mental health system. Sixty years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 -- releasing thousands of women and men with mental illness from psychiatric hospitals. The promise then was that a system of care would be built so that these men and women, and others with untreated mental illness, would live with dignity and receive treatment in their own communities.
That promise was never fully kept -- not nationally, nor in Ohio -- and the community system of care was never fully built. But, with your help we have started to make progress.
Since the time I took office -- beginning with the Student Wellness and Success dollars for schools right up to the additional resources you provided in the recent lame duck session -- we are tackling things head on!
Yet, there remains so much more to do.
The budget I am releasing later today is centered on:
1. Building a community care system that increases prevention efforts;
2. Offering better crisis response services and treatment options;
3. Growing our behavioral health workforce; and
4. Focusing on much-needed research and innovation.
In this budget, you will see growing investments to expand what's working -- to all 88 counties, including:
Treatment and counseling services delivered either in person or through telehealth visits to people directly in their homes and workplaces.
Suicide prevention to end the needless loss of our brothers and sisters.
Support for our youngest Ohioans, so they can have a great start to life and get help at the earliest sign of a behavioral health need.
Expansion of the crisis care system and the new 9-8-8 hotline so fewer Ohioans land in the emergency room.
And, increased access to state hospitals and private psychiatric hospitals to ease stress on families, emergency departments, courts, and jails.
Further, we are proposing a one-time investment to expand the capacity of our pediatric behavioral health care system to address the shortage of behavioral health professionals serving children -- and to expand critical facilities.
Now, while many families are getting good results from what's currently available, others languish. And so, we must do more.
We must not accept that mental illness and addiction are inevitable.
Or that some of these illnesses can't be prevented.
Or that we have advanced treatment as far as it will go.
Or that recovery is only for the few and the lucky.
None of these things are true.
What instead is true is that Ohioans know how to impact change. Ohioans don't wait for others to solve our problems. That's not who we are. It's not in our DNA.
What IS in our DNA is a great passion for and history of research and innovation! From the Wright Brothers taking the lead on flight research to Albert Sabin developing the life-saving oral Polio vaccine -- when we have a problem, we figure out solutions -- and then the rest of the world FOLLOWS Ohio!
As we look toward how we continue to address the mental health and addiction challenges of our citizens and families, I am reminded of something Desmond Tutu once said. He said that "there comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in."
To make meaningful change, we must figure out why so many of our fellow Ohioans keep falling into that proverbial river and finally get to the root causes of mental illness and addiction.
We must engage the best and brightest minds in Ohio to focus on what's really holding Ohio families and communities back. In doing so, our budget will approach mental health care more holistically. For the truth is -- from research to treatment to understanding the biological, cultural, and situational aspects of mental illness -- we have not, to this point, brought things together in a cohesive way.
This work will involve a coordinated, comprehensive investment in new innovations to achieve better outcomes and will recognize that what works for one person in one community may not work for everyone, everywhere in Ohio.
And so, Members of the General Assembly, I ask you to join me in creating the "State of Ohio Action for Resiliency Network" or the SOAR Network.
This effort will harness the talent of our citizens to deploy a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive, multi-year research study that includes Ohioans from ALL regions of our state. This, and other research opportunities, will help us launch new discoveries about the brain and about resilience.
It will help us understand the unique nature of mental health issues across Ohio's urban, suburban, rural, and Appalachian communities to better determine which interventions work best in our many diverse communities.
It will look at individuals, but it will also take a multi-generational view of how those individuals fit into a family and into a community.
It will include an interdisciplinary research team of counselors, social workers, sociologists, nurses, psychologists, and medical doctors from across our State. They will work collectively to determine which counseling or other support programs in the community can best improve resiliency, so Ohioans can remain effectively engaged in school, in the workplace, in their community and -- most importantly -- in their own home, with their own family.
It will help us support our most vulnerable citizens, by figuring out how to most effectively reduce the risk of suicide, addiction, and overdose and by investing in additional evidence-based initiatives that we know work.
And finally, as these great minds develop new ways of preventing and treating mental health conditions, we will train Ohio's behavioral health workforce in cutting edge therapies, and we will put this research into practice -- in real time -- in all corners of the State of Ohio.
We will do these things, because they keep Ohioans working and our state thriving. But we will also do them, because it is simply the right thing to do.
Too many Ohio families lack adequate and affordable housing.
In recent years, we have experienced lower rates of housing construction and low vacancy rates in rental properties. This has put a strain on our housing market, especially affecting Ohioans with low and moderate incomes.
We started a housing conversation last year in the waning days of the legislative session. And at that time, I pledged to the people of Ohio that we would address the issue of housing holistically.
To encourage the development of housing for lower-income families, help more Ohioans achieve the dream of homeownership, and continue the revitalization of our downtowns and historic communities, I am proposing in my budget a series of tax changes and programs.
For the first time ever, we will create both state "Low Income Housing Tax Credits" and "Single Family Housing Tax Credits" to stimulate the construction of more housing for families.
And, we will create an "Ohio Home Ownership Savings Account" program with Treasurer of State Sprague to allow Ohioans to save for down payments and other qualified housing expenses with reduced state tax consequences.
Virtually every Ohio family has a family member or knows someone living in a nursing home.
Today, Ohio has over 960 nursing homes. Most of them are very good, with many wonderful and compassionate workers caring for the residents -- and we are grateful for their work.
But tragically, nursing home horror stories happen in every part of our State. I have received gut-wrenching letters from families begging for help.
Oftentimes, these are preventable tragedies caused by systemic problems in the nursing home, including poor infection prevention and control, medication errors, failure to provide care, and sometimes elder abuse.
Sadly, Ohio ranks 39th as a state in the most recent CMS overall Quality Star Ratings.
And, disturbingly, when we look at the record, too many of the facilities in Ohio have very inconsistent compliance with standards of care -- going up and then going down, repeating and correcting the same deficiencies over and over and over again.
We know that the General Assembly will be looking at the rebasing system this year, and we look forward to working with all of you and with our nursing homes to make sure that nursing homes are adequately funded.
But, any discussion about rebasing will also include a serious discussion about quality in our nursing homes.
So, in the coming days, I will be appointing a task force to study the issues surrounding quality of life and quality of care in our nursing homes. This matter is urgent, and I will give this group a short timeline to report back to the people of Ohio.
They will travel across the state and will hear directly from residents and families about their lived experiences. We will give them a voice, and we will empower them to help drive solutions.
The most important function of government is to keep families safe. And, I am grateful to the General Assembly for your continued support for law enforcement.
You have helped hundreds of agencies purchase body cameras. Recent events have once again shown us how important body camera footage can be, as well as the critical need for on-going training for our law enforcement officers.
In addition to more resources for body cameras, my budget will include $40 million per year for continuous training for Ohio law enforcement officers on topics ranging from de-escalation to use-of-force to crisis intervention for someone with a mental illness. This is consistent with one of the recommendations of the Legislature's "Law Enforcement Training Funding Study Commission."
Training matters, and it makes a difference.
Through your support of our Violent Crime Reduction Grant Program, we are helping communities better fight and prevent crime. For example, in Westlake, the Police Department came to us because of a significant spike in domestic violence, aggravated assault, and gun crimes. With our grant funding, they purchased technology that helps predict where crime will occur. As a result, Westlake has reduced their gun-related crimes by 77 percent!
We have also created the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center or O-NIC, whose focus all day, every day is helping local authorities with drug trafficking investigations. Many law enforcement agencies don't have the capacity to process large amounts of data from computers and cell phones. O-NIC can help. So far, they have assisted in nearly 3,200 criminal investigations and analyzed more than 7,500 digital devices.
Now, I would like to talk about the "Next Generation 9-1-1 System." You might be surprised to learn that under most current 9-1-1 systems, when you call on your cell phone, it doesn't necessarily go directly to your local dispatch center. However, the Next Generation 9-1-1 System routes calls directly to local dispatchers and uses your cell phone's GPS to more quickly get first responders to your exact location.
Our budget will fully fund this system in every Ohio community.
We will also help more agencies utilize the "Multi-Agency Radio Communication System" -- known as MARCS. More than 3,000 first responder agencies in Ohio currently use MARCS to communicate with each other across jurisdictional lines. However, many others use different radio systems, often making communication difficult with officers from other jurisdictions.
To improve the way our first responders communicate, our budget will fully pay the monthly fees for any agency that uses MARCS radios.
H2OHIO RIVERS INITIATIVE
In Ohio, water is one of our greatest assets! It is tied directly to our health, our quality of life, and our ability to create jobs.
Members of the General Assembly -- thank you! Thank you for protecting Ohio's water and for twice investing in our H2Ohio program, which has been focused on the algae bloom problem in Lake Erie. I'm happy to report that this program is going according to plan and is on track!
So far, we have enrolled 1.5 million acres of farmland in Northwest Ohio to reduce runoff. We created or are actively creating or restoring more than 265 wetlands to filter these same nutrients out of over 110,000 acres of watershed. As part of this process, H2Ohio has also planted 80,000 trees and protected 90 threatened or endangered species.
Further, H2Ohio has put a focus on removing lead pipes -- and a major accomplishment came last year when the program helped remove and replace every single lead service line leading into childcare facilities in Cleveland!
We have exciting plans to expand H2Ohio to cover the entire State. Over the next biennium, we will begin work to improve the quality and the health of our rivers, which are critical for wildlife habitat, infrastructure, drinking water, economic development, and recreation. With your support, we will create the H2Ohio "Rivers Initiative."
From the Little Muskingum to the Little Miami to the Cuyahoga, Kokosing, and Conneaut Creek -- we will work to preserve and protect the health of Ohio's rivers and the land and wildlife habitats alongside them by cleaning up polluted waterways, strategically removing dams, and restoring rivers across the State to their former glory.
The Bible warns us of the dangers of unclear and uncertain leadership -- as an "uncertain trumpet."
"For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?"
And so, I have tried today to be crystal clear about where I believe we must go as a State and what we must do. However, I also recognize the great role -- the Constitutional role -- that this General Assembly plays in our system of government.
But, all of us must remember -- and take comfort in -- the fact our greatness as a state lies, not so much in our leaders, but rather in the wisdom, and the common sense, and the goodness of our people.
May God Bless Ohio -- and may God Bless its people.
Posted: January 27, 2023 5:46 PM
A controversial proposal to ask voters to make it more difficult to amend the Ohio Constitution remains a live topic of discussion in the House, Speaker Jason Stephens said Friday.
The Kitts Hills Republican, however, told reporters he does not favor putting the issue on the May ballot – something that would require action by both chambers by Wednesday.
"I don't think it's dead by any means," Rep. Stephens said of the proposal (HJR 6, 134th General Assembly) that was considered last session. "I think the idea of protecting our Constitution is extremely important regardless of which side of the aisle we're on."
A revised version of the resolution was filed earlier this month by supporters of Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Twp.), who lost a bitter fight for the speaker's gavel with Rep. Stephens to open the month. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 11, 2023)
Under the amendment proposal, the threshold for passage of future constitutional amendments – whether via citizen-led or legislative-led effort – would be increased to 60% from the current simple majority.
Rep. Stephens said that successor proposal and any similar plans likely will be discussed in the new House Constitutional Resolutions Committee, which will be led Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster), a Merrin supporter.
The speaker said only parts of the state are set to vote in primary elections this May, making the inclusion of a statewide ballot issue problematic.
"If you're going to amend the Constitution, I think you need to broaden who is voting on it," he said.
Rep. Stephens said while he would not be opposed to the issue being considered on the November ballot, many counties have not budgeted for or hired staff for May elections.
The speaker said he is open to considering a compromise proposal that would set stricter requirements to amend the Ohio Constitution while also making it more difficult for the legislature to repeal citizen-initiated statutes.
Posted: January 23, 2023 9:14 AM
Jurors in a high-profile corruption trial got their first look Friday at the case that awaits them while facing probing questions on their backgrounds and political views.
The daylong jury selection playing out in a Cincinnati courtroom Friday provided plenty of foreshadowing for the trial of former speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges, which officially kicks off Monday with opening arguments.
But more surprises remain in store for the upcoming six-week trial, including the full list of witnesses expected to testify – featuring several current and former public officials – that has yet to be publicly unveiled.
Heading into the courthouse, Mr. Householder expressed continued confidence in the face of the racketeering charge that could accompany up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 along with potential restitution.
"I've been waiting two-and-a-half years for this," he said. "You bet I'm ready."
Federal prosecutors have accused both men of the same charge, claiming they participated in a $60 million bribery scheme to fuel Mr. Householder's political ambitions and pass a 2019 energy law. Both have pleaded not guilty.
For jurors, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black's remarks were the first indication they had been picked to participate in the largest bribery trial in state history.
"This case is not about political parties or whether you agree or disagree with anyone's political affiliations," the judge cautioned. "This is a trial, not an election."
The court entered Friday having winnowed a pool of 350 citizens down to 53 prospective jurors. By day's end, after hours of interrogatories and challenges, the court impaneled 12 jurors and four alternates who have been directed to refrain from consuming news coverage of or discussing the case in the weeks ahead.
The proceeding turned up some new details, including the extent to which Messrs. Householder and Borges bargained with the government to avoid trial. Federal prosecutors said no offers are currently on the table.
Mr. Householder received no formal plea offers since his 2020 arrest, declining to move forward with such talks. Mr. Borges, on the other hand, received an offer of no more than six months in prison if he pleaded to a single count of the indictment and provided substantial assistance to the government.
The biggest outstanding question, though, remains the witness list, which has yet to be made public. Names already confirmed as expected witnesses include FBI Agent Blaine Wetzel, Attorney General Dave Yost and former representatives Kyle Koehler and Dave Greenspan.
The court shared the full list of witnesses privately with the jury pool, prompting several jurors to indicate they were familiar with some names on the list. Attorneys and the judge then questioned those jurors privately in sidebar conversations. According to the judge, each name prompting a potential conflict was that of a "public official."
In vetting jurors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter's questioned whether individuals had experience working within the Ohio legislature or executive branch agencies. Attorneys for the defense focused their questions on gauging jurors' opinion on the role of "big money donations in American politics" and the role of lobbyists in the political process.
Throughout the day, numerous individuals were turned away for conflicts, medical conditions or personal situations that might have impaired their service. At one point, an individual recounted concerns about needing frequent trips to the lavatory, prompting Judge Black to quip: "I support the right to urinate."
During questioning, 15 prospective jurors indicated they were familiar with the case or either of the defendants, but none said that would conflict with their ability to serve. Four signaled they knew their current legislative district and seven could identify their state representative.
Other questions sought to ferret out any strong feelings about energy policies. That prompted one potential juror to rail on the Biden Administration for shutting down the Keystone Pipeline and another to voice support for solar projects, revealing he is a party to a challenge pending before the Ohio Supreme Court.
The judge took the final business day before the trial to dispense with a handful of lingering matters, including denying defendants' motion to block references from guilty pleas and immunity agreements. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 17, 2023)
Judge Black ruled such information is necessary for jurors to fully vet the credibility of those witnesses and that its absence may misrepresent the defendants as the only ones prosecuted.
"Leaving such open questions in jurors' mind serves no one's best interest," the judge concluded.
The judge separately sided with Mr. Borges' attorneys in deciphering several disputed words in a transcript of his recorded remarks. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 19, 2023)
Posted: January 9, 2023 8:23 AM
Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio sees her caucus playing a role in passing meaningful legislation in the coming session despite its limited size.
The Lakewood Democrat is one of seven minority party senators after Republicans grew their majority to 26, just shy of 80% of the chamber's seats.
Sen. Antonio said in an interview Thursday that although the gap in numbers between the caucuses is wide, their similar goals on issues ranging from tax policies for working families to workforce development should open pathways to bipartisan solutions.
One measure (SB 119) the minority leader is looking to revive in the coming session would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. While the legislation has failed to gain traction for years and received only one committee hearing last session, it did pick up a primary Republican cosponsor in Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem).
Sen. Antonio said she sees "a way forward" in the 135th General Assembly for the proposal, which she views as necessary for the state to attract and retain young workers.
"We certainly have support from the business community, large and small," she said.
Intel and other large employers who have moved into or expanded in the state already have similar anti-discrimination policies in place, the minority leader said.
"Their workers, who are either coming in new or existing workers, expect that not only will those policies be in place to welcome them at the worksite, but that they're also going to be in place in their communities where they're going to be raising their families," she said.
Sen. Antonio said bipartisan discussions about ending the death penalty in Ohio also will continue after legislation (SB 103 & HB 183) stalled in both chambers last session.
"We had a very amazing, bipartisan group of legislators in both the House and Senate that were on companion legislation last GA," she said. "And I think but for some of the redistricting and some of the other stuff that took our attention away, we would have gotten it done. I think we will get it done this General Assembly."
Sen. Antonio said her caucus also will be focused on continuing the implementation of the Cupp-Patterson school funding plan and pushing for accountability and transparency for the state's public and private schools.
The lawmaker succeeds former Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, who left the chamber due to term limits at the end of the previous session.
Sen. Antonio said she is similar to her predecessor because both prioritize bipartisan solutions. One difference is the further reduction of the Democratic caucus will lead her to take a more active role in legislative initiatives and committee work.
"I'm asking a lot of my members and, so, I'm going to step up," she said.
The minority leader characterized her relationship with Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) as "very respectful."
"We obviously disagree on some issues, but we are able to have very civil discussions and sometimes just have to agree to disagree," she said. "But there is also a lot that we've been able to work together on."
One area the pair has already had to strike a compromise on involves logistical challenges. Some Senate committees this session will feature four Republicans and a lone Democrat in recognition of the size disparity between the caucuses. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 3, 2023)
Sen. Antonio said she blames the need to adjust the chamber's committee structure on gerrymandering giving the majority caucus an advantage that goes beyond the partisan preferences of the state's voters.
"This is the hand we've been dealt at this point in time, so we had to be pragmatic," she said.
"There were some compromises, but what I appreciated was that President Huffman was open to having a dialogue about it, and we arrived at a conclusion," she added.
Sen. Huffman likes to reference a karaoke singalong the pair shared at one point in their legislative careers, according to Sen. Antonio. A repeat performance is possible depending on whether the upcoming budget process leaves them in a celebratory mood, she said.