OML UPDATE AT-A-GLANCE
 
Here are the top four things you need to know from this past week:
 
·        This week, the League published a press release announcing our legislative priorities for the 134th Genral Assembly. The public policy agenda continues the League’s advocacy for state policies that ensure municipalities can continue to provide essential local services to their residents and businesses. Additionally, for the first time since 2016, the League’s public policy agenda has been updated to include a commitment to advancing racial equity in Ohio’s local communities. Read a copy of the press release below.
 
·        Budget Watch: The House Finance Committee adopted a substitute bill for the transportation bill, HB 74, that makes several substantial changes from the DeWine Administration’s initial proposed legislation. One of the most significant departures from the original bill is the removal of language making distracted driving a primary offense. The bill also doubles the original funding allocated for mass transit. You can read more in the article below.
 
·        Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has announced that he has filed a federal lawsuit to compel the U.S. Census Bureau to release population data that is needed for Ohio’s upcoming redistricting process. The lawsuit was filed after the Census Bureau announced that the data would not be released to the states until September of this year.
 
·        We want to make our members aware of legislation that would permanently extend the current allowance for government bodies to hold virtual public meetings beyond the current expiration of the authority on July 1. HB 43, sponsored by Rep. Sobecki (D – Toledo) and Rep. Hoops (R – Napoleon), would authorize public bodies to meet via teleconference and video conference. The bill has had one hearing so far before the House Government Oversight Committee.
 
 
HOUSE FINANCE COMMITTEE AMENDS TRANSPORTATION BUDGET
 
This week, the House Finance Committee adopted a substitute bill for HB 74, the transportation budget for FY22-FY23. The substitute bill makes several major changes to the original version introduced by Governor DeWine. You can find the changes made in the substitute bill HERE.
 
The substitute bill removes the DeWine Administration’s original language making distracted driving a primary defense. House Finance Chairman Rep. Oelslager (R – N. Canton) has stated that this was so the General Assembly does not deal with criminal law in the state’s operating budget. The committee also removed a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees that would help fund the State Highway Patrol.
 
The League applauds another change made in the substitute bill. The new language doubles funding for local public transit programs to a total of $193.7 million over the biennium. Safe and reliable public transit helps make Ohio’s municipalities more business friendly, drawing businesses and the workforce to Ohio’s cities and villages. It is important to note that the need for public transportation is not limited to Ohio’s urban areas, but there is a critical need for public transportation in the rural parts of the state as well.
 
The House Finance Committee must still vote on Sub. HB 74 before sending it to the full House for a vote. The Senate Transportation Committee has already begun holding hearings on the DeWine Administration’s version of the bill earlier this week. We will continue to keep our members updated as the transportation budget moves through the legislative process.
 
 

LEGISLATION REPEALING STATE-IMPOSED MUNICIPAL INCOME TAX PANDEMIC WITHHOLDING POLICY REINTRODUCED

Two bills that would repeal the state’s municipal income tax withholding policy during the COVID-19 pandemic have been re-introduced from the previous General Assembly.

SB 97, which is sponsored by Sen. Roegner (R – Hudson), and its companion bill HB 157, sponsored by Rep. Jordan (R – Ostrander) and Rep. Edward (R – Nelsonville), would repeal Section 29 of HB 197, which instructs municipalities to continue withholding income tax at a taxpayer’s place of work, even if that taxpayer is currently working from home in another local jurisdiction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This provision extends until the end of the Governor’s declaration of emergency.

If this bill were to become law, both municipalities and business would immediately experience substantial impacts. Because of Ohio’s municipalities’ heavy reliance on municipal income tax as their primary source of revenue, this legislation would create substantial revenue cuts and destabilize the budgets of Ohio’s largest economic centers, impacting the funding of essential services such as public health and safety, police and fire services, utilities, and critical infrastructure.

Additionally, businesses would suffer the added administrative burden of tracking, reporting and remitting municipal income tax based on employee’s work-from-home locations. There would also be an unavoidable increased cost of doing business in Ohio municipalities, such as increased rates for liability insurance.

Both municipalities and business need time to prepare for these substantial impacts. Additionally, much more data is needed to fully understand the future impact of work-from-home employer polices on municipalities and the state’s economy. For this reason. the League is urging that the Ohio General Assembly and the DeWine Administration establish a taskforce to study the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the future of the municipal income tax in Ohio.
Additionally, the League asks that as Ohio’s employers and employees adjust to changes in workplace environments, that businesses and municipalities alike are ensured enough time prepare for the changes and impacts of permanent work-from-home policies.

The League continues to talk with the legislature and other interested parties in ongoing discussions about the future of the municipal income tax to ensure open and clear communication between all impacted entities going forward. We have also launched a data-gathering initiative to better understand the revenue impacts of permanent work-from-home policies on municipalities both large and small across the state. We will continue to keep our members apprised on this issue.
 
 
 
LEAGUE REQUESTS DEDICATED FUNDING SOURCE FOR CRITICAL LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINING
 
The Law Enforcement Assistance Fund provides funding for police training. It also enables the Ohio Attorney General to mandate training for all law enforcement offices across the state. The Law Enforcement Assistance Fund relies on General Revenue Funds (GRF) funding allocated in the biennial budget.
 
The fund has lacked adequate funding over the last biennium. This has impacted the Attorney General’s ability to maintain consistent minimum law enforcement training each year. To address this, the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) have suggested that a dedicated source of funding for the Law Enforcement Assistance Fund be established, so that is no longer reliable on GRF funds.
 
The OACP has also requested specific training that would equip Ohio’s law enforcement to respond to on emerging issues that impact law enforcement and improve the police-community relationship in cities and villages across the state. This training would include critical areas such as de-escalation, implicit bias awareness, mental health and addiction, and human trafficking.
 
The League is urging the General Assembly to create a dedicated funding source in the biennial budget to adequately fund the Law Enforcement Assistance Fund and ensure local law enforcement across the state get the critical and timely training they need. These trainings should be mandatory and offered consistently from year to year. Local law enforcement must be properly equipped in order to safely and effectively serve and protect Ohioans across the state.
 
 
 
BILLS FUNDING BROWNFIELD REVITALIZATION INTRODUCED IN BOTH HOUSE AND SENATE
 
This week, legislation was introduced in both the Ohio House and the Senate to provide dedicated funding to revitalizing blighted properties, or brownfields.
 
HB 143 sponsored by Hillyer (R – Uhrichsville) would provide a dedicated funding source for the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF). SB 84, which is a similar bill, was introduced by Sen. Williams (D – Cleveland) and Sen. Rulli (R – Salem).
 
The Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund provides grant assistance to local communities for the redevelopment of brownfield sites. Funding for brownfield redevelopment is a critical part of economic development for cities and villages. Local communities cannot revitalize or expand with the persistent presence of blighted properties within their jurisdiction, and many communities, particularly smaller or more rural ones, lack the adequate funding to demolish blighted property.
 
The League is supportive of this legislation and we will keep our members apprised as the bills receive committee hearings.
 
 
 
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROPOSALS EXPECTED TO CREATE NEW JOBS, EMPHASIZING NEED FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING
 
This week, the DeWine Administration announced the approvall of state assistance for five projects in northeast and southwest Ohio. These projects, which have been approved by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority (TCA), are expected to create 1,382 new jobs and retain 978 jobs statewide, and collectively bring in over $80 million in new payroll and create more than $51 million in investments across Ohio.
 
The projects in northeast Ohio are Quicken Loans in the City of Cleveland and Macy’s Corporate Services in Jackson Township. The projects in southwest Ohio are ATW Ohio in Batavia Township, Clinical Trial Services in the City of Cincinnati, and Interlink Cloud Advisors in Deerfield Township.
 
As new and expanding businesses create more jobs and attract a greater workforce, the League encourages the DeWine Administration and the General Assembly to support future policies that facilitate local development of affordable housing. Urban commuities as well as rural cities and villages are experiencing challenges as employers in their jurisdictions must transport their employees in from neighboring political subdivisions since that city or village is unable to incentivize developers to build affordable housing within that municipality.
 
Creating new jobs cannot play much of a part in a region’s economic health if potential employees are unable to live near those new jobs. We urge the legisalture to support new policies that enable municipalities to incentivize housing developers to build afforable housing and ensure Ohioans can both live and work near these newly-created jobs.
 
 
 
OHIO MUNICIPAL LEAGUE ANNOUNCES 134TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
 
The Ohio Municipal League has released its legislative priorities for the 134th Genral Assembly. The League continues to advocate for state policies that ensure municipalities can continue to provide essential local services like clean water, safe roads and first responders to their residents and businesses. For the first time since 2016, the League’s public policy agenda has been updated to include a commitment to advancing racial equity in Ohio’s local communities. The League advocates for the following:
 
Creating Jobs: State policy should support and facilitate local job creation and economic development efforts. The Legislature must prioritize policies that help municipalities develop the safe, affordable and fair housing that Ohio’s workforce needs. Municipalities must maintain local control of land use planning and management and retain the right to annex property for economic development purposes.
 
Protecting Our Citizens: Municipalities need greater state and local cooperation as well as public-private partnerships in the battle against Ohio’s ongoing opioid epidemic. Greater support is needed for first responders as municipalities struggle with pandemic budget impacts. The Legislature should support intergovernmental cooperation with municipal health and safety departments as well as homeland security and emergency management efforts. State policy should also consider local input regarding liquor permit regulations.
 
Investing in Public Infrastructure and Clean Water: Municipalities must have safe transportation infrastructure and effecive public transit through state support, adequate local funding and public-private partnerships. State policy should invest in local underground infrastructure to ensure clean drinking water and effective wastewater systems, allow local options for prevailing wage projects, and support broadband expansion efforts across the state with respect to local authority.
 
Advancing Good Government and Fiscal Responsibility: State policy should support constitutional Home Rule authority for municipalities, including the right of municipalities to impose and collect income tax revenues to fund essential local services. The Legislature should support coordination with other local governments for cost-efficient service delivery and avoid any unfunded mandates. State policy should also facilitate ethical municipal management and training for local elected officials.
 
Advancing Racial Equity: The League is committed to advancing racial equity in our local communities. We will continue to partner with other government associations and community leaders to identify current and historical racial disparities and help educate local leaders on ways to ensure inclusiveness and equity in local communities.  
 
“These priorities demonstrate how an investment in Ohio’s municipalities and a respect for Home Rule authority ensures quality local services for the Ohioans and businesses that have chosen to live in a city or village,” said League Executive Director Kent Scarrett. “As Ohio continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of our municipalities will play a critical role in our state’s economic recovery.”
 
 
 
OHIO CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE UPDATE
 
     As of Thursday afternoon, Ohio is reporting 962,404 cases of coronavirus, 17,125 deaths, 49,951 hospitalizations and 7,104 ICU admissions.
 
Spring Events:
·        Governor DeWine today announced a loosening of restrictions for sporting and entertainment venues when safety protocols are followed.
 
·        Sporting and entertainment events will be able to reopen with 25 percent maximum indoor capacity and 30 percent maximum outdoor capacity provided they follow established precautions such as mandatory mask wearing for employees and customers, spectator pathways that allow for social distancing, and seating in groups in six-foot intervals of no more than six people from the same household.
 
·        General admission (lawns, standing room, infields) will be permitted if masks are worn and if six-foot distancing can be marked and maintained.
 
·        Revised orders and guidelines are not yet finalized but will take effect March 1st
 
·        New guidance for proms, banquets, wedding receptions, fairs, festivals, and parades is forthcoming.
 
Weather Delay Update:
  • Due to last week's winter weather, the delivery of some Pfizer vaccines and all Moderna vaccines were delayed.
  • Some providers used second doses that they had already received to avoid clinic cancelations.
  • Those second doses will be backfilled with the shipments they receive this week.
 
  • Additional delayed shipments of Pfizer and Moderna will arrived between Monday and Wednesday of this week.
 
  • For providers who canceled appointments last week, Governor DeWine is urging them to expand their appointment schedules to include evening and weekend hours to catch up.
 
Provider Expansion:
·        Next week, Ohio will receive 310,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
o   With this increase in doses, Ohio will add additional new vaccine provider sites including some Meijer and Walmart locations and more independent pharmacies.
 
·        Providers that are currently receiving vaccines - including RiteAid, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, local health departments, and hospitals - can anticipate larger shipments.
 
·        Based on information provided by the federal government, once the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available, Ohio will receive an additional 91,000 doses during the first week.
 
Progression of Vaccine Eligibility:
  • Governor DeWine provided information on the progression of vaccine eligibility in Ohio.
  • Because those ages 65 and older make up approximately 87 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Ohio, no additional age groups are eligible for the vaccine at this time.
  • Once the demand for the vaccine has been met for those 65 and older, those ages 60 and older will become eligible.
  • After a period of vaccination for this age group, those ages 55 and older will become eligible, followed by those ages 50 and up.
 
  • Individuals in specific small groups that could have an increased risk of exposure to the virus may also potentially be included in the 60 and older vaccination phase.
 
Phase 1B Medical Conditions:
  • Last week, vaccine eligibility opened up to those Ohioans born with or who have early childhood conditions that are carried into adulthood, which put them at higher risk for adverse outcomes due to COVID-19. 
 
  • Governor DeWine asked Ohio hospitals and doctors with access to the vaccine to begin to proactively reach out to these patients with the specific medical conditions outlined in Phase 1B to schedule vaccination.
 
Other Priority Populations:
  • In Ohio’s eight state-operated developmental centers, more than 91 percent of residents have accepted their first vaccine.
 
  • More than 14,000 Ohioans living with developmental and intellectual disabilities who also have a certain health condition they were born with or developed in childhood and carried into adulthood have also received their first dose of vaccine.
 
  • Ohio is working to complete the vaccination of residents and staff in congregate settings for residential treatment facilities, mental health residential care facilities, and recovery housing.
 
School Update:
 As of this week, all doses requested by schools through the state’s vaccination program have been allocated to local providers.
o   Some school staff already received their second dose, and other second dose clinics are underway.
 
·        Ohio began making vaccines available to K-12 teachers this month with the goal of having all of Ohio’s K-12 students back to full or partial in-person learning by March 1.
o   Right now, most students in Ohio districts have access to at least some in-person instruction.
 
·        Governor DeWine expressed gratitude to school leaders who have prioritized a return to in-person instruction.
o   Ohio will continue to work with the handful of schools across the state that are struggling to meet the March 1 goal.
 
Nursing Home Cases/Hospitalizations:
     Ohio continues to see downward COVID-19 hospitalization trends, particularly in the 80+ age group which was among the first groups to become eligible for the vaccine. In December, those 80+ made up more than 25 percent of Ohio's COVID hospitalizations.
o   This month, that number has dropped to about 18 percent.
 
·        Ohio is also seeing a decline in COVID cases among nursing home residents. In the past week, Ohio had 369 new nursing home cases, compared to 2,832 new cases in one week in December.
 
·        As part of the new COVID-19 Vaccine Maintenance Program, Ohio will continue vaccinating new nursing home residents, new staff hires, and those who have recently decided to take the vaccine.
 
·        Due to the decrease in cases reported in long-term care facilities, Ohio's Veterans Homes in Sandusky and Georgetown have resumed accepting new residents, and certain restrictions on visitors at state behavioral health hospitals will be lifted beginning on March 1.
 
Nursing Home Visitation:
  • As the number of nursing-home cases continues to drop due to vaccinations in long-term facilities, Governor DeWine reminded nursing home staff and families of nursing home residents about the status of visitation in Ohio's nursing homes.
 
o       Visitation is permitted at nursing homes in Ohio if the facilities meet the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) criteria to allow visits:
§ No new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days;
§ The facility is not currently conducting outbreak testing; and
§ CMS reports the COVID-19 county positivity rate at less than 10 percent.
 
  • Compassionate care visits, which are special visits in which a family member or other visitor provides comfort, support, and assistance to a resident whose well-being is suffering or at risk, are always permitted regardless of the criteria above.
 
  • Governor DeWine sent a letter to all nursing homes in Ohio reminding them to check their county positivity rate every week to determine their visitation status and to remind them to allow for compassionate care visits.
 
  • Ohio’s nursing home facilities are required to report their visitation status to Ohio's Long-Term Care Visitation Dashboard.
 
  • If you have a loved one in need of a compassionate care visit but are having trouble scheduling a visit, contact Ohio's Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman at OhioOmbudsman@age.ohio.gov or 1-800-282-1206.
 
Health Equity Website:
·        Governor DeWine announced the launch of a new health equity website on coronavirus.ohio.gov that highlights Ohio's efforts to achieve equity in its pandemic response and provides resources to help communities, agencies, and organizations across the state join in those efforts.
 
·        The new Communications Resources Hub will offer various print, digital, audio, and video resources to help Ohioans provide education about the vaccine to any number of communities.
o   In addition to general resources, the website offers materials created for specific groups, including minorities and Ohioans who speak English as a second language.
 
Ohio Public Health Advisory System:
·        For the first time in several weeks, Ohio's Public Health Advisory System has shown change in the amount of spread in some Ohio counties. Holmes, Mercer, Shelby, and Williams counties decreased to a Level 2 (Orange) Public Health Emergency.
 
TechCred:
·        Lt. Governor Jon Husted reminded Ohioans about the benefits of TechCred, which helps Ohioans learn new in-demand skills while also helping employers build a stronger workforce with the skills needed in a technology-infused economy.
 
·        There are more than 1,000 pre-approved credentials offered through the program.
o   These technology-focused credentials take only a year or less to complete and prepare current and future employees for the technology jobs Ohio employers need.
 
·        Businesses can be reimbursed up to $2,000 for each credential earned by an employee and up to $30,000 total each application period.
 
·        To learn more, visit: TechCred.Ohio.Gov.
 
 
 
NEW BILLS OF MUNICIPAL INTEREST
 
     SB 95 – Utility Refunds. Sponsored by Sen. Maharath (D – Columbus), would require refunds to utility customers who have been improperly charged and regulate certain resellers of utility service.
 
     SB 96 – Utility Disruptions. Sponsored by Sen. Williams (D – Cleveland), would prevent the disruption of utility service during the state of emergency declared regarding COVID-19 and declare an emergency.
 
     SB 76 – Local Firearms Control. Sponsored by Sen. Thomas (D – Cincinnati) and Sen. Craig (D – Columbus), would restore local authority to generally regulate firearms-related conduct.
 
     SB 83 – Brownfield Sites. Sponsored by Sen. Williams (D – Cleveland) and Sen. Rulli (R – Salem), would require the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a study to determine where brownfield sites are located in this state and make an appropriation.
 
     HB 141 – Public Transportation. Sponsored by Rep. Skindell (D – Lakewood) and Rep. Upchurch (D – Cleveland), would make appropriations related to public transportation.
 
     HB 146 – Prevailing Wage. Sponsored by Rep. Riedel (R – Defiance) and Rep. Manchester (R – Waynesfield), would allow political subdivisions, special districts, and state institutions of higher education to elect to apply the Prevailing Wage Law to public improvement projects.
 
 
COMMITTEE RECAP: BILLS OF MUNICIPAL INTEREST
 
     SB 15 – Fiscal Officers. Sen. Wilson (R - Maineville), would change the circumstances in which certain fiscal officers may be held liable for a loss of public funds. During its second hearing before the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, proponents including the League testified in support of the bill. You can read the testimony in full HERE.
 
     SB 45 – Tax Inducements (Peterson (R – Sabina) and Sen. Kunze (R – Hilliard), would state and local tax inducements for businesses making substantial fixed asset and employment investments and their suppliers. During its third hearing before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, American Electric Power testified in support of the bill. The League is neutral on this legislation.
 
     HB 123 – Community Reinvestment Areas. Sponsored by Rep. Fraizer (R – Newark) and Rep. Cross (R – Kenton), would modify the law governing community reinvestment areas and the terms under which property may be exempted in such areas. During its first hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill’s sponsor explained that the bill updates the community Reinvestment Area law originally enacted in 1994 to relive what Rep. Fraizer called “unnecessary impacts and limitations to economic and workforce development.” The League is still looking into this legislation.
 
     HB 126 – Property Values. Sponsored by Rep. Merrin (R – Monclova Twp.), would require local governments that contest property values to formally pass an authorizing resolution for each contest and to notify property owners. During its first hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill’s sponsor explained that the legislation would ensure elected officials authorize Board of Revision complaints regarding property value contests. The League is neutral on this legislation.
 
     SB 16 – Civil Actions. Sponsored by Rep. Schaffer (R – Lancaster), is regarding a civil action for an emergency service responder based on a civil rights abridgement or false complaint, and certain crimes regarding conduct directed at an actual or perceived emergency service responder, public servant, family member, co-worker, or BCII investigator or at a public emergency. During its second hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, proponents including the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Fraternal Order of Police testified in support of the bill. The League is neutral on this legislation.
 
     SB 55 – Massage Therapy. Sponsored by Sen. Brenner (R – Powell), would make changes to the laws governing massage establishments and massage therapy. During its first hearing before the Senate Health Committee, the bill’s sponsor explained the bill’s intended changes, which includes granting regulatory authority for massage establishment regulations to townships as municipalities have done under Home Rule authority. The bill was also amended to eliminate the State Medical Board's regulation of oriental medicine practitioners as a limited brand of medicine. The League is neutral on this legislation.
 
     HB 75 – BWC Budget. Sponsored by Rep. Oelslager (R – Canton), would make appropriations for the Bureau of Workers' Compensation for the biennium beginning July 1, 2021, and ending June 30, 2023, and provide authorization and conditions for the operation of the Bureau's programs. During its first hearing before the House Insurance Committee, Interim BWC Administrator/CEO John Logue outlined the budget’s allocation of $353.2 million in FY22 and $361.9 million in FY23 from revenues that are entirely premiums and assessment and transfers from the State Insurance Fund, not from the state’s General Revenue Fund (GRF). The League is neutral on this legislation.