Legislative Updates from the Governmental Affairs Project Team
Project Team members are tasked with looking at public and political issues at the local, state and national levels that may affect doing business in our area as outlined in the Public Policy Agenda. They will also be responsible for hosting the State of the City and State of the County Addresses and holds a forum for Legislative Updates.
The Project Team will not support or oppose any political party or candidate, only issues.
FEBRUARY 14 -- On Wednesday, the Ohio House moved Senate Bill 106 from their chamber following a unanimous vote in House Insurance Committee earlier that day.
- Included in Senate Bill 106 was an amendment the Ohio Chamber sought along with NFIB-Ohio that will make it easier for employers to access an employee’s medical records.
- Under current law, employees have an obligation to provide their employers with medical records related to their workers’ compensation claim.
- However, employers run into issues accessing those records because many providers do not accept the BWC’s form for the release of medical information.
- This is problematic because it prevents employers from accessing relevant medical information that can help determine the value of a workers’ compensation claim.
Following input from the Ohio Chamber’s workers’ compensation committee, the Ohio Chamber drafted an amendment to alleviate these access issues.
- Under our amendment, BWC may use the Ohio Department of Medicaid’s medical information release form in addition to their existing form.
- Allowing BWC to adopt the Dept. of Medicaid’s form helps employers access pertinent medical information because the Medicaid form is almost universally accepted by providers.
- As a result, the new law would improve the workers’ compensation system by eliminating administrative barriers that prevent employers – and claimant attorneys – from accessing medical records.
Senate Bill 106 will now go back to the Senate for a potential concurrence vote.
- You can read the Ohio Chamber and NFIB’s point testimony on Senate Bill 106 by clicking here.
You can also learn more about joining the Ohio Chamber’s Workers’ Compensation Committee by clicking here.
FEBRUARY 14 -- Last Wednesday, the Ohio House of Representatives introduced and passed a $2 billion spending package containing $350 million in community projects from the One-time Strategic Community Investment Fund, as well as funding for four state maintenance and construction programs, three of which have historically been included in the capital budget.
- The Higher Education Improvement fund, School Building Assistance Program and State Capital Improvements Fund have been included in the traditional capital bill in years past but were inserted in Sub. H.B. 2.
- Although funding for jails has been included in past capital budgets, the Local Jail Facility Fund is brand new and establishes a prescribed formula to determine when and which counties are eligible for funding.
The One-time Strategic Community Investment Fund contains $700 million total that was set aside during the operating budget and has already been transferred out of the General Revenue Fund (GRF).
- This spending is unprecedented and comes as a result of excess GRF revenue that was present at the end of the previous biennium.
- Unlike the capital budget, projects under this one-time fund do not have to be bondable or adhere to the same requirements for eligibility.
The Ohio Senate has stated their plans to act on both the capital budget and the One-Time Fund in April.
JANUARY 31 - Last week, members of the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate held a joint press conference to announce the introduction of legislation aimed at eliminating the state income tax and the Commercial Activities Tax (CAT) by 2030. Senators George Lang and Steve Huffman introduced Senate Bill 216. Representatives Adam Mathews and Brian Lampton introduced House Bill 386.
Both the House and Senate bills use a phased approach to eventually eliminate the state income tax.
- In the Senate’s proposal, the state income tax rate becomes flat for all incomes at 2.7% in 2026.
- Alternatively, in the House plan, the tax rate goes flat at 1.17% in 2028.
- Both proposals eliminate the CAT before January 1, 2030.
What's next: Senate Bill 216 and House Bill 386 await assignments to legislative committees for consideration.
JANUARY 31 - The 2024-2026 Suicide Prevention Plan for Ohio was released on January 25.
- The plan is designed to be used as a guide for implementing suicide prevention, treatment, and postvention services for all Ohioans.
- The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation contracted with the Health Policy Institute of Ohio to spearhead the development of this comprehensive document, incorporating input from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and more than 30 private and public organizations.
The plan looks at four strategic priorities:
- Community Systems – Build suicide prevention capacity and infrastructure within local and state organizations and communities.
- Prevention and Early Intervention – Support organizational capacity for preventing suicide and improving coordination of activities across multiple sectors and settings across the lifespan.
- Quality Treatment and Postvention – Disseminate strategies that improve high quality suicide care and support services in high impact systems by aligning with the Zero Suicide framework.
Data and Evaluation – Build data and evaluation capacity among public and private partners at the state and local levels.
Changes to the Smoking law, Revised Code 3794.01 and 3794.03, were enacted by the Ohio legislature on September 30th, 2021. The definition of smoking was updated to include electronic smoking devices (e-cigarettes) and vapor products. This means that individuals using e-cigarettes and vaping products can no longer use them inside. Restrictions on outside use are the same as other tobacco products, such as cigarettes.
Major points of the law include:
- No Smoking signs that include e-cigarettes/vaping products must be posted at all entrances/exits.
- No smoking inside, which means no e-cigarette, vape, cigarette, cigar, hookah, or other smoking allowed.
- Remove all ashtrays from no smoking areas.
- Like the exemption for a retail tobacco store, a new exemption for retail vapor stores may be requested. Additional information on eligibility and the process to apply for an exemption will be available on the Ohio Department of Health's website.
Signs for posting near entrances and exits can be downloaded or ordered from the Ohio Department of Health's website at: https://odh.ohio.gov/know-our-programs/smoke-free-workplace-program/resources/Smoke-Free-Worplace-Signs or can be customized to include a local health department or management phone number in addition to the toll-free hotline number.
Report smoking law violations using smartphone or tablet at http://smokecomplaint.ohio.gov, by email at email@example.com, or phone at 1(866) 559-OHIO (6446).
To read the text of the smoking law, visit: https://codes.ohio.gov/ohio-revised-code/chapter-3974.
JANUARY 11 - Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Lt. Governor Jon Husted, and Ohio Department of Development Director Lydia Mihalik today announced the launch of the new Welcome Home Ohio program, which invests $150 million to help improve access to housing across the state.
"Quality housing contributes significantly to quality of life and is the foundation of strong communities," said Governor DeWine. "As our state continues to thrive, we expect that more people will stay in Ohio and move to Ohio, and the Welcome Home Ohio program will allow us to work proactively to ensure that there is enough housing to sustain this growth.”
The program will provide $100 million in grants over the course of the biennium for landbanks to purchase, rehabilitate, or build qualifying residential properties for income-eligible Ohioans. Additionally, $50 million in nonrefundable tax credits will be made available to landbanks and eligible developers over the biennium for qualifying property rehabilitation and new construction once a property is sold.
“There is a strong link between housing availability, economic growth, and quality of life,” said Lt. Governor Husted. “The good news in Ohio is that we have a record number of jobs and our children and grandchildren don’t need to leave Ohio to find great opportunities. However, unless you want them to live at home for the rest of their lives, we’ve got to build them someplace to live.”
The Welcome Home Ohio program was created in partnership with the Ohio General Assembly in the biennium budget bill, House Bill 33. The Department of Development administers the program.
“This program is the product of collaboration and a shared passion for community development,” said Director Mihalik. “We’re looking forward to working with our local partners to increase Ohio’s housing stock, and we’re excited about the positive impact this will have on our economic landscape.”
The application period for the grants is open now through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 9, 2024, with rolling applications accepted from Feb. 12 to May 31, as funds are available. Tax credit applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until funds are expended.
DECEMBER 18 -- Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted, who serves as Director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, announced on Friday that $40 million was awarded to 81 higher education institutions across Ohio through Super RAPIDS grants. The program was included in the state operating budget to support collaborative projects among qualifying institutions to strengthen education and training opportunities that maximize workforce development efforts through a one-time funding boost to the traditional RAPIDS program.
Multiple schools across Northwest Ohio were grant recipients, including Bowling Green State University, Owens Community College, and the University of Toledo. High schools like Penta Career Center and Toledo Public Schools District also received funding from the grant.
“We have thousands of jobs coming to Ohio and it's vital that our workforce is prepared and ready to fill them,” said Governor DeWine. “This funding provides an opportunity for our students to learn the skills they will need in their future career on the equipment Ohio's businesses use."
“To continue Ohio’s economic momentum, our students must be trained and ready for jobs in technology, advanced manufacturing, and other high-skill industries,” said Lt. Governor Husted. “We championed Super RAPIDS in the state budget to ensure that training providers have the right kind of resources and equipment available to educate the next generation of Ohio's workforce.”
The entirety of the $40 million available through this application period will be awarded to help schools upgrade their lab and classroom space with new, modern equipment. As a comparison, through six rounds of the traditional RAPIDS program, a total of $47.3 million has been awarded.
"The RAPIDS program has been a win-win for Ohio's campuses and regional employers since its inception," said Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner. "This investment will continue that success by meeting the most urgent workforce needs, ensuring students are prepared for the future."
RAPIDS grants are used to purchase equipment for use in classrooms specific to regional workforce needs. These classrooms are often shared among colleges and universities, expanding the reach of the equipment and allowing more students to get an affordable, high-quality education. Examples of industries served through the program include Advanced Manufacturing, IT and Cybersecurity, Broadband/5G, Healthcare, and Robotics.
To learn more about the program, visit HigherEd.Ohio.gov/Super-RAPIDS.
The full list of grant recipients across Ohio can be found here.
DECEMBER 13 -- Ohio’s initiated statute to legalize recreational marijuana officially took effect at midnight, last Thursday, December 7.
- Although state rules to authorize the sale of marijuana at dispensaries are expected to take several months to rollout, the use and possession of recreational marijuana in Ohio is now legal.
- Ohioans 21 and older are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and 15 grams of extracts or edibles.
- Adults are also permitted to grow six plants individually, and no more than 12 can be grown in a household with multiple adults in a secure, enclosed space.
- Individual growers can gift up to six plants to another adult, if no money changes hands and the exchange isn't advertised.
- Landlords can prohibit tenants from growing marijuana, but only if the ban is outlined in a lease agreement.
While the assorted legislative fixes to Issue 2 remain varied and in flux, the OCC has also provided our own recommendations to legislators to improve the statute.
- In addition to submitting written remarks last week to the Senate General Government Committee, OCC SVP of Government Affairs Rick Carfagna also testified before the House Finance Committee.
In his testimony, Carfagna focused on three continued themes:
- Employer Workplace Protection
- Ensuring Private Property Rights
- Amending the Tax Distribution
The Ohio Chamber will continue its advocacy with both the DeWine Administration and the state legislature in the hopes of making Issue 2’s rollout safer and more socially responsible. We will continue to provide updates to our members as this process continues.
DECEMBER 13 -- Before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, the Ohio Chamber delivered proponent testimony in support of Senate Bill 19.
- In the Chamber’s testimony, we highlighted how a troublesome practice known as third party litigation financing (TPLF) harms Ohio’s business and legal climates and how SB 19 seeks to bring transparency to the practice.
- Third party litigation financing occurs when outside investment firms or companies specializing in the industry advance a litigant money before the resolution of a lawsuit.
- These financing agreement are not subject to interest rate caps and other consumer protections since re-payment of the advance is contingent upon a party receiving proceeds from a lawsuit.
The practice of third party litigation financing is troublesome because it prolongs litigation and results in more frivolous lawsuits.
- Likewise, parties do not have to disclose the presence of TPLF agreements to the opposing side or the court, which results in litigation based upon speculation of who has an interest in a lawsuit rather than actual knowledge.
- Third party litigation financing can extend litigation because a party who has taken an advance from a TPLF lender may reject reasonable settlement offers since the lender has the right to receive a portion of eventual monetary settlement.
- Similarly, more frivolous lawsuits may result from TPLF despite the non-recourse nature of the advances since the lender may be willing to invest a relatively small amount of money to fund speculative lawsuits if the potential proceeds are substantial.
Senate Bill 19 seeks to address these harms caused by third party litigation financing by putting in place certain consumer protections and requiring the disclosure of these agreements to the other side during litigation.
- Adding the disclosure requirement is a key reform since it will enable the opposing side to properly evaluate and develop a litigation strategy with knowledge that a third party litigation financing agreement exists.
- Also, disclosing TPLF agreements brings parity to the legal process since a defendant must disclose any relevant insurance agreements – which often dictate the value of a claim – during the discovery process.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, the committee members adopted a substitute bill for SB 19 that sought to address some of the issues raised by TPLF lenders during the early stages of the legislative process. With the adoption of the substitute bill, the Ohio Chamber looks forward to continuing our push for a committee vote on the legislation.
DECEMBER 13 -- The Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s Crime Task Force presented its findings and legislative recommendations in a press conference at the Chamber office last Friday.
After a report released by CBS News on the “Deadliest U.S. Cities,” which included five Ohio cities, the Ohio Chamber announced last September that it would conduct a survey of its membership and other Ohio business owners on the effect of public safety on their businesses. The survey revealed that 62% of the Ohio business community feels that rising crime has kept businesses from expanding.
“Public safety is a top priority for the Ohio Chamber,” said Ohio Chamber President & CEO Steve Stivers. “None of the other work we’re doing to strengthen our state’s economy matters if people are afraid to live, work and start businesses in Ohio communities.
In June of this year, the Ohio Chamber formally rolled out its Crime Task Force, aiming to address the issues and responses raised in the survey and discuss possible solutions to increase security and growth of Ohio businesses. Based on the survey’s findings, the Task Force focused first on the issue of retail theft.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that a total of 3.59% of all U.S. retail crime in 2021 took place in Ohio. According to the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, retail theft costs Ohio businesses roughly $2 billion to $3 billion each year.
The Task Force pulled together representatives of the retail community along with state and county law enforcement officials and was led by former U.S. Attorney David DeVillers of Barnes & Thornburg LLP and retired Judge Scott VanDerKarr. The group met periodically throughout the summer and early fall to discuss criminal justice reforms, prosecutorial authority, and new or enhanced penalties to produce recommendations for the Ohio General Assembly.
“Retail crime continues to be one of the top challenges facing our industry today,” said Bryan Lindsay, Major Crimes Investigations Manager at Walgreens. “We are focused on the safety of our patients, customers and team members, and have programs in place to reduce organized retail theft in our stores. We also continue to partner with others across the retail industry, as well as law enforcement, elected officials and community leaders to improve shrink trends.”
Joined by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, the Crime Task Force revealed its recommendations Friday.
To see the recommendations in full detail, please CLICK HERE.
DECEMBER 13 -- The Senate passed House Bill 187 to offer relief to some homeowners.
- Instead of a temporary readjustment of valuation, the Ohio Senate passed an expansion of homestead exemptions for 2023, 2024 and 2025.
- This expansion is limited in nature and will provide some relief to seniors and veterans.
- The Ohio Senate also added language to prevent school districts to challenge a property valuation if the original complaint was filed by a different political subdivision and prevents school districts from moving property valuation disputes to common pleas court.
- Finally, the bill would allow county auditors to set valuation for their county and require the Ohio Department of Tax to appeal any dispute on value to the Board of Tax Appeals.
This provision seems problematic given the uniformity requirements in Ohio law.
DECEMBER 11 - Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted, Director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, today announced that 26 workforce partnerships located throughout the state will receive $5 million in awards through the Industry Sector Partnership (ISP) Grant. The program supports collaborations that help bring Ohioans into the workforce pipeline while meeting the needs of job creators and the local economy.
The awarded partnerships will focus on building a workforce in multiple in-demand industry sectors, including manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare. “Today’s awards set a record for the most partnerships created or expanded through the grant in a single round, creating more opportunities for communities and industries to grow that workforce pipeline,” said Lt. Governor Husted. “It's important that we encourage collaboration throughout communities so we can train our students with the skills businesses in their regions need and expose them to opportunities available in their own back yards.”
Industry Sector Partnerships are designed to develop regional workforce strategies, with the goal of driving collaboration between local businesses, education and training providers, and community stakeholders. These grants will help support the operations of both new and existing Industry Sector Partnerships around Ohio.
“With these grants, we’re able to foster robust workforce pipelines that better meet the evolving demands of our industry partners,” said Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Department of Development. “Not only are we strengthening the bridge between education and employment, but we’re empowering communities to cultivate strategies that will ensure a skilled workforce for generations to come.”
Ohio has invested $12.5 million in Industry Sector Partnerships over the last four years. The first three rounds of the Industry Sector Partnership Grant program awarded 27 partnerships a total of $7.5 million. Today's awards double the amount of funding ever awarded in a single round.
Learn more about the Industry Sector Partnership Grant by visiting Workforce.Ohio.gov/ISP.
DECEMBER 6 -- In a letter to Governor DeWine and Ohio General Assembly leadership, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce (OCC) outlined a number of concerns and proposed reforms regarding recently passed Issue 2, which legalized recreational marijuana in Ohio. Issue 2, which passed by nearly 57% of the statewide vote in November, is slated to take effect December 7th.
Unlike a constitutional amendment, which would have made permanent this language and largely prevented any needed adjustments, Issue 2 was passed through an initiated statute that the Ohio General Assembly now has the discretion to alter. As Governor DeWine and the Ohio Legislature deliberate over potential improvements to Issue 2, the Ohio Chamber wants to ensure that any language revisions address vulnerabilities in workplace protections, prevent complications associated with filling current and future job openings, and generally prevent legalized recreational marijuana from exacerbating Ohio’s economic and societal challenges.
The OCC’s remarks come on the heels of an internal workgroup of member companies which reviewed the initiated statute, identified flaws, and discussed constructive guidance on next steps. The focus group made recommendations on three main areas of priority for the statewide business community: employer workplace protections, ensuring private property rights and amending the tax distribution.
The first area of recommendation by the workgroup regards employer workplace protections.
- The OCC appreciates the inclusion of most of the employer protections already delineated under the medical marijuana statute into the Issue 2 statute language.
- However, as the use of cannabis becomes even more prevalent, it is paramount for the Ohio General Assembly to protect Ohio’s system of at-will employment, which includes assuring that employers can prohibit their employees’ use of all forms of marijuana.
To protect the rights of employers, the OCC recommends strengthening Ohio’s employer protection laws to reinforce employers’ abilities to maintain drug-free workplaces, zero tolerance policies and the flexibility to conduct employee testing. It is important to clearly state that employers do not have to accommodate the use of any form of marijuana, and that employers can take appropriate action relative to a positive drug test for marijuana, even if it relates to an employee’s off-duty conduct.
Our workgroup also made recommendations around ensuring private property rights.
- The OCC believes the Issue 2 statute is ambiguous as to what extent private property owners will be able to prohibit people from using, possessing, displaying, or transferring marijuana on their properties, apart from existing bans on smoking.
- The OCC firmly believes that publicly accessible places such as shopping malls, restaurants and bars, amusement parks, and other large areas under private ownership should be able to limit cannabis use beyond the state’s existing smoking ban.
To address this ambiguity, we recommend going beyond merely applying the existing smoking ban to marijuana.
- Instead, private property owners should have complete discretion to ban individuals from vaping or otherwise consuming any non-combustible forms of cannabis such as edibles or beverages.
- The OCC believes that the best way to achieve this outcome is to adopt Colorado’s approach of making all public use illegal.
- Colorado was one of the very first states to legalize recreational marijuana, and marijuana use there in any form is prohibited in all public places, including outdoor and indoor areas.
Our third set of recommendations amends the distribution of new tax revenues from recreational marijuana. As it stands, the Issue 2 initiated statute establishes an adult use tax rate of 10% with annual tax revenues estimated (per a study by The Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center) to range from $276 million to $403 million in the fifth year of an operational cannabis market.
Ohio’s Issue 2 statute would disburse these new annual tax revenues among a cannabis social equity and jobs program (36%), a host fund benefitting only those municipal corporations or townships that have adult use dispensaries (36%), a fund to fight substance abuse (25%), and a fund for the Ohio Department of Commerce and the Ohio Department of Taxation to administer the new law (3%). Under this tax distribution, over one-third of these revenues will flow right back into the industry, with the remainder going to remediate issues resulting from legalization of recreational marijuana.
Even though proponents and opponents of Issue 2 support applying enforcement measures to combat marijuana-impaired driving, not a single dollar of new revenue is dedicated to law enforcement.
- There is no revenue for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, whose vigilance and uniform, statewide enforcement of traffic laws keep our roadways safe.
- Moreover, the “host community cannabis fund” excludes counties from receiving any funds, yet sheriff’s departments commonly provide protection and enforcement in many communities.
- In the interest of providing the broadest public benefit from this new income stream, we suggest amending the tax disbursement to dedicate funds for law enforcement and other first responders, bolster the Local Government Fund to assist all communities with navigating these new laws and their consequences, and set aside even more revenues for behavioral health services and substance abuse, recovery, and prevention efforts.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce understands this is new ground for everyone, with a statute that is complex and full of nuanced policy measures. It is equally important to both honor the vote of the people and administer this new program in the most socially responsible manner. We believe Ohio can do both and look forward to having these conversations. We will continue to keep our membership apprised of any changes or developments related to Issue 2’s implementation.
Ohio Chamber Top 10 Legislative Priorities
Kevin Shimp, Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s General Counsel and Director of Labor & Legal Affairs, gave a talk at the August Governmental Affairs Project Team Meeting