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May 22, 2020

OML UPDATE AT-A-GLANCE
 
Here are the top three things you need to know from this past week:
 
  • Gov. DeWine has replaced Ohio's "Safe at Home" order with an "Urgent Health Advisory: Ohioans Protecting Ohioans." While the previous mandates in the "Safe at Home" order are no longer mandatory, the ban on mass-gatherings and rules for restaurants and bars will remain in place. You can read the new advisory HERE.
  • The Ohio Expositions Commission has announced that the 2020 Ohio State Fair has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • During a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban affairs, Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) quoted a U.S. Bureau of Labors Statistics report that state and local governments across the nation had to lay off nearly 1 million workers in the month of April. He also cited the credit ratings Agency Moody's projections that Ohio will face a fiscal shortfall of 20% of its total state budget. Sen. Menendez has co-sponsored a bill allocating $500 billion in direct aid to state and local governments, which you can read more about in the article below.
 
 
LEGISLATURE EXTENDS IMMUNITY TO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND SUNSETS BAG TAX PREEMPTION AMONG OTHER ACTIONS TAKEN THIS WEEK
 
Several bills that the League has been closely tracking received hearings in committees this week. The first of these was SB 310, which is sponsored by Sen. Dolan (R - Chagrin Falls) and would use a modified version of the Local Government Fund (LGF) formula to distribute $350 million federal aid from the CARES Act to Ohio's municipalities, townships and counties. The remaining money, which could amount up to $850 million, would be held in reserve for a second disbursement once more guidance is provided by the U.S. Treasury as to how the funds can be used. (Link: https://bit.ly/36lPN93)
 
During its second hearing before the House Finance Committee, the League, the Ohio Mayors Alliance, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, the Ohio Township Association, the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association and the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association submitted joint proponent testimony.
 
"To sustain Ohio's locally implemented frontline response, there must be a fast, fair and effective distribution of CARES Act funds to Ohio's local governments," the testimony states. "SB 310 will help ensure municipalities, counties and townships get the immediate relief they desperately need." You can read the testimony in full HERE. The Greater Ohio Policy Center and a member of the North Royalton City Council also testified in support of this bill.
 
Our members are encouraged to contact the Ohio House of Representatives and urge them to quickly pass SB 310 so critical federal aid can be distributed to Ohio cities and villages.
 
These federal dollars can only be accessed by local governments until October of this year, making it urgent that the Ohio General Assembly pass this legislation quickly.
 
A substantial preemption bill the League has closely tracked was voted out of committee this week. HB 242, sponsored by Rep. Lang (R - West Chester Twp.) and Rep. Jones (R - Freeport), preempts a municipality from passing a plastic and paper bag tax, but also any tax on straws, plastic utensils, aluminum cans, glass bottles, Styrofoam cups and carry-out food containers. Additionally, the bill prohibits municipalities from discontinuing the use of plastic products, such as banning the use of plastic bags. (Link: https://bit.ly/2zXpf1E)
 
During its second hearing before the Senate Local Government, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee, the bill was amended to sunset the bill language in a year. Over 20 witnesses submitted testimony on the bill, both proponent and opponent. Opponents to the bill included the League, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler, the Ohio Township Association, the Ohio Mayors Alliance and the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. You can read the League's testimony HERE.
 
A second hearing was held on HB 308, sponsored by Rep. Patton (R - Strongsville), which would grant workers' compensation benefits to first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) without the current requirement for an accompanying physical injury. (Link: https://bit.ly/3e5yIm8) During the hearing before the Senate General Government and Agency Review Committee, representatives from the Safety Forces Support Center and the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio testified in support of the bill. The League is opposed to this legislation due to the removal of a one-year cap on coverage.
 
Finally, a third hearing was held for HB 606, sponsored by Rep. Grendell (R - Chesterland), which would grant civil immunity to a person who provides services for essential businesses and operations for injury, death, or loss that was caused by the transmission of COVID-19 during the period of the Governor's declaration of emergency. (Link: https://bit.ly/2AKG2Ft)
 
During the hearing before the House Civil Justice Committee, a substitute bill was adopted that included lawsuit protections for state and local governments. The substitute bill also eliminated the "clear and convincing evidence" required for lawsuits, clarified that the immunity granted by the bill does not cover certain professional disciplinary actions and ends the date of the immunity language on Dec. 31, 2020. You can read a comparison document for the substitute bill HERE. The League is still looking into this legislation.
 
HB 163, the municipal water preemption legislation, currently remains in the Ohio House. (Link: https://bit.ly/2WU9lOz) The House Public Utilities Committee passed the bill out of committee last week, but the full House has not yet voted to send it to the Senate.
 
We will continue to keep our members apprised on the status of these bills as they continue to move through the legislative process.
  
 
NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES CONTINUES "CITIES ARE ESSENTIAL" CAMPAIGN

The National League of Cities (NLC) is continuing the "Cities Are Essential" campaign, a grassroots advocate campaign to ensure cities, towns, and villages are included in the next relief package.
 
The campaign enables community leaders to be bold and direct about the urgent need for direct federal support and the consequences the American economy will suffer without it. The ask is for $500 billion in federal aid over the next two years to help municipalities and counties, regardless of size, respond to and recover from COVID-19.

As part of this campaign, the NLC is encouraging local leaders to submit a letter to Congress to ask for direct relief for local governments in the next federal aid package. You can access a letter template HERE. Local leaders are also asked to submit a letter to the editor sharing how COVID-19 and the ensuring economic fallout has specifically affected your community. You can find a template for a letter to the editor HERE. Members can post on social media using the hashtag #CitiesAreEssential.

The NLC has also released several helpful documents that effectively and succinctly outline the needs local governments are facing and why direct federal relief is necessary to ensure municipalities can continue to deliver critical services to their residents. The materials include a one-pager, an infographictalking points and a "myths v. facts" handout.
 
We appreciate all the work our members have already done to contact their members of Congress and advocate on behalf of Ohio's cities and villages. We must continue to urge Congress to pass a fourth federal relief package to rebuild local economies and ensure economic recovery for both Ohio and the nation.
 
 
 
FEDERAL BILLS ALLOCATING AID TO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS INTRODUCED IN CONGRESS
 
Several bills have recently been introduced at the federal level that would allocate federal aid directly to local governments.
 
This week, U.S. Sens. Cassidy (R-LA) and Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the bipartisan State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act, which would provide $500 billion in flexible funding to allow state and local governments to cover costs incurred by COVID-19 and replace revenues lost due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.
 
The legislation reserves $20 billion for tribal governments and allocates the remaining funding to the states via three equal tranches: one-third for states based on population size, one-third to be allocated based on infection rates, and the final third to be allocated based on revenue losses. No state will receive less than $2 billion.
 
Another recently-introduced bill is the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility for State and Local Government Act, which would retroactively allow CARES Act funding to be used for operating expenses unrelated to COVID-19. It would also allow the funds to continue to be used until they are expended, instead of the current mandate that remaining funds be returned to the U.S. Treasury.
 
The Direct Support for Communities Act was also introduced, which reserves 70% of the funds it allocates to local governments for Community Development Block Grants and the remaining 30% for local governments that did not receive a direct allocation from the CARES Act based on population.
 
Finally, the Coronavirus State and Local Financial Assistance Act would create a $500 billion grant program designed to help state and local governments with revenue loss, and the FLEX Act would allow CARES Act funds to be used to cover lost revenue.
 
The League appreciates the efforts of these all legislators to ensure local governments receive the federal aid they need to ensure residents continue to receive the quality local services they deserve. We encourage our members to keep pressing their Congressional delegation the need for direct local funding, and we will continue to keep our members approved of any movement on these bills.
 
 
FEDERAL FUNDING PACKAGE PASSES U.S. HOUSE, PENDING IN SENATE
 
HR 6800, a federal funding package that includes federal aid for local governments, passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 203-199 and is now pending in the U.S. Senate. HR 6800, also known as the HEROS Act, was introduced by House Democratic leadership and expands the funding that the federal government provided in the CARES Act as well as through the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act. Over $3 trillion in federal aid is allocated to state and local governments, frontline workers and taxpayers. The bill also implements new programs designed to combat COVID-19.
 
The bill would allocate roughly $1 trillion for state, local and tribal government. The breakdown includes $375 billion for local governments and $300 billion for states. Other provisions include the creation of a $200 billion "Heroes Fund" for hazard pay for essential workers. Additionally, a second round of $1,200 in direct payments to taxpayers would be authorized under the legislation.
 
The bill will most likely not be heard in the Senate, as Senate Republican leadership have publicly stated that they will not consider the legislation. Both they and the White House have also stated they will not start negotiating future federal relief to give time to evaluate the effect of the funding allocated in previous federal aid packages.
 
We encourage our members to continue to call their Congressional delegation and impress upon them the need for federal relief. Congress must be reminded that there will not be an economic recovery without first rebuilding strong local economies.
 
 
HOUSE INTRODUCES CAPITAL REAPPROPRIATIONS BILL
 
A capital reappropriations bill was introduced this week by Rep. Merrin (R - Monclova). The bill, HB 670, would allow funding for previously-approved construction projects to continue into the new fiscal year if they are focused on health, safety and jobs. (Link: https://bit.ly/2LQKUeD)
 
The Senate is also planning on introducing a reappropriations bill, which Finance Chair Sen. Dolan (R - Chagrin Falls) says will total over $1 billion in bonded funding, not General Revenue Funds. The bill will include $325 million for projects involving higher education, $475 million for the Public Works Commission, $185 million for the Facilities Construction Commission and $66 million for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources along with some smaller community and park projects that have already begun. We will keep our members apprised as these measures progress through the legislative process.
 
 
UPDATE ON OHIO COVID-19 RESPONSE
 
  • As of Friday afternoon, Ohio is reporting 30,794 cases of coronavirus, 1,872 deaths, 5,379 hospitalizations and 1,416 ICU admissions.
 
Reopening Updates:
 
  • Governor DeWine released details of the new "Urgent Health Advisory: Ohioans Protecting Ohioans." which replaces the "Stay at Home" order that was issued by the Ohio Department of Health on April 30, 2020.  The health order replaces language requiring Ohioans to stay at home with limited exceptions with language that strongly recommends that citizens, especially those who are high-risk, stay at home as much as possible. The order does not change the mass gathering restrictions, which remain at a 10-person limit. The new health advisory also lifts overall travel restrictions and the requirement to quarantine if someone travels to or returns to Ohio. Unnecessary travel within or outside of Ohio is not encouraged.
  • The following re-openings have also been announced:
  • Beginning Tuesday, May 26, miniature golf, batting cages, and bowling alleys may resume operations if they can meet required safety protocols.
     
  • Beginning Tuesday, May 26, skills training for all sports, including contact sports, may resume if required safety protocols can be met. Tournaments, games, and competitions for contact sports are still prohibited.
     
  • Beginning Monday, June 1, catering and banquet centers may reopen if they can meet required safety protocols. Protocols include six feet between tables, no congregating, and a crowd size of no more than 300 people.
  • You can find the Responsible RestartOhio guidelines on day camps, pools and aquatic centers, golf courses, gyms, dance studios and fitness centers, baseball and softball leagues, and tennis courts at coronavirus.oh.gov.
  • Gov. DeWine is assembling an enforcement team to ensure that bars and restaurants are operating safely under the Responsible RestartOhio plan. The enforcement team will operate as part of the Ohio Department of Safety's Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU) and will conduct safety compliance checks in crowded bars and restaurants. Businesses found violating the Stay Safe Ohio order or the Dine Safe Ohio order will receive administrative citations that could result in the revocation of liquor licenses. The OIU team will also work with municipal prosecutors to take potential criminal actions against business owners who do not follow the order, which includes the requirement that patrons remain seated while eating/drinking and that parties stay six feet apart.
  • Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have not recovered, those who are presumptively diagnosed with COVID-19, and those who are exhibiting the symptoms identified in the screening guidance available from the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health, remain prohibited from entering the state of Ohio unless they are doing so under medical orders for purposes of medical care, are being transported by emergency medical services EMS, are driving or being driven directly to a medical provider for the purposes of initial care, or are a permanent resident of Ohio.
 
Healthcare Updates:
 
  • To expand access to testing, Ohio has partnered with the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers which represents Ohio's Federally Qualified Health Centers, including 55 Community Health Centers at 378 locations. It has multiple mobile units in 68 of Ohio's 88 counties. For testing, individuals should contact their Federally Qualified Health Center or community health center for information and direction about how to be tested.
  • Ohio is partnering with the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers and the Nationwide Foundation to distribute thousands of Community Wellness Kits that contain COVID-19 protection-related items, such as face coverings, hand sanitizer, and soap.
  • Three patients at Twin Valley Behavioral Health Hospital in Columbus have tested positive for COVID-19. In response, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is working with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to test all patients in the 25-person unit. Updates on the status of COVID-19 at the state's behavioral health hospitals are available at coronavirus.ohio.gov.
  • Mass testing will take place at Ohio's two state nursing home facilities for veterans. The Ohio Department of Veterans Services (OVS) operates nursing homes in Sandusky and Georgetown. Last week, several residents at the Sandusky facility were confirmed positive for COVID-19 which led to the facility-wide testing. As of today, 24 nursing home residents and three staff members in the Sandusky home have tested positive. An additional staff member tested positive in mid-April. The Georgetown location has had zero positive test results. A total of 508 staff and residents have tested negative and the remaining test results are pending. Data on the status of COVID-19 in the OVS nursing homes is updated at approximately 4:00 p.m. each day at coronavirus.ohio.gov.
 
Employment Updates:
 
  • The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) will begin distributing at least 2 million non-medical-grade face coverings to Ohio employers who are covered by BWC. Public and private employers that participate in the State Insurance Fund will receive a package from BWC containing at least 50 face coverings. These packages will be shipped in batches beginning tomorrow. The masks are funded through BWC's existing budget and will not impact any premiums.
 
  • For the week ending May 16, 2020, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) reported 46,062 initial jobless claims to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. The number of initial jobless claims filed in Ohio over the last nine weeks (1,215,756) is more than the combined total of those filed during the last three years. Over the last nine weeks, ODJFS has distributed more than $2.8 billion in unemployment compensation payments to more than 619,000 claimants. Of the more than 1 million applications the agency has received, more than 92% have been processed, with less than 8% pending.
 
 
Minority Health Strike Force Update:
 
  • The Minority Health Strike Force has released their preliminary report, which is available at coronavirus.ohio.gov. The team was formed in April in response to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African Americans who make up 14 percent of Ohio's population, but represent 26 percent of positive COVID-19 cases, 31 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and 17 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Ohio. Final recommendations will be issued on June 11. 
     
  • Examples of these recommendations include: establishing culturally appropriate and accessible COVID-19 exposure notification services for communities of color; expanding testing capacity and access for minorities and high-risk populations; using data to prioritize resources in the communities that have the highest need; developing and launching a statewide, culturally-sensitive outreach campaign that educates African Americans and communities of color on COVID-19, health disparities, and social determinants of health.
 
  • A new position will be created within the Ohio Department of Health dedicated to social determinants of health and opportunity. This person's work will build on several existing efforts to respond to health inequity by working directly with local communities on their specific long-term health needs and Ohio's response to COVID-19.
 
  • To support both the state and local health departments in efforts to fight COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact on people of color, Ohio will significantly increase the number of public health workers who can help notify Ohioans of possible exposure to the virus. The hiring of these public health workers is in progress at both the state and local levels with the goal of hiring individuals who represent and reflect the make-up of their own communities.
 
  • The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services will award $1 million in grants to provide mental health and addiction services for hard-to-reach individuals. The grants will allow faith-based and local community-based organizations to develop culturally-appropriate messages that target those who may not be as easily reached by mass-media messaging efforts, such as racial and ethnic minorities, Appalachian and rural communities, older adults, and others. 
 
 
 
NEW BILLS OF MUNICIPAL INTEREST
 
Here were the bills introduced this week that would impact Ohio municipalities:
 
  • HB 644 - LOVING STATE INDEX. Sponsored by Rep. Howse (D - Cleveland), would create the Loving State Index and the Loving State Index Commission to evaluate and rank municipal corporations in Oho regarding critical supports that are vital to student academic success in order to identify gaps in opportunity for low-income individuals and minority individuals.
 
 
  
COMMITTEE RECAP: BILLS OF MUNICIPAL INTEREST
 
Here are the bills impacting municipalities that received committee hearings this week:
 
  • HB 13 - BROADBAND EXPANSION. Sponsored by Rep. Carfagna (R - Genoa Twp.) and Rep. O'Brien (D - Warren), would establish the residential broadband expansion program and make an appropriation. During its fourth hearing before the House Finance Committee, a substitute bill was accepted that, among other changes, no longer requires that local governments act as middlemen in broadband expansion projects while also eliminating a local funding match requirement. The League is supportive of this legislation.(Link: https://bit.ly/2ZpAElD)
 
  • HB 571 - OCCUPATIONAL DISEASES. Sponsored by Rep. Boggs (D - Columbus), would make COVID-19 contracted by a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical worker an occupational disease under the Workers' Compensation Law under certain circumstances and declare an emergency. During its first hearing before the House Insurance Committee, the bill's sponsor explained that the legislation's intent to protect first responders. The League is still looking into this legislation. (Link: https://bit.ly/2LT9NGG)
 
  • SB 10 - THEFT IN OFFICE. Sponsored by Sen. Wilson (R - Maineville), would expand the penalties for theft in office based on the amount stolen and to include as restitution audit costs of the entity that suffered the loss. During its fourth hearing before the House Criminal Justice Committee, the bill was unanimously reported out of committee. The League is supportive of this legislation.
            (Link: https://bit.ly/2Xj9L04)
 
  • SB 95 - BUSINESS INVESTMENTS. Sponsored by Sen. Peterson (R - Sabina) and Sen. Kunze (R - Hillard), enhance state and local tax inducements for businesses making substantial fixed asset and employment investments and their suppliers. During its third hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, a representative from Policy Matters testified in opposition to the bill. The League is neutral on this legislation. (Link: https://bit.ly/2zW5BDb)
 
  • SB 212 - PROPERTY TAXATION. Sponsored by Sen. Schuring (R - Canton), would authorize townships and municipal corporations to designate areas within which new homes and improvements to existing homes are wholly or partially exempted from property taxation. During its first hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill's sponsor explained that the legislation would allow municipalities and townships to create a Neighborhood Development Area (NDA) to encourage the development of affordable housing. The League is supportive of this legislation. (Link: https://bit.ly/2Xp1wj1)
 
  • SB 31 - PUBLIC RECORDS. Sponsored by Sen. Roegner (R - Hudson), would include emergency service telecommunicators as individuals whose residential and familial information is exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Law. During its fourth hearing before the Hour Civil Justice Committee, the Ohio Association of Broadcasters and the Ohio New Media Association testified in support of two proposed amendments regarding source protection and BWC transparency. The League is neutral on this legislation.(Link: https://bit.ly/3cQFIDn)
 
  • SB 308 - CIVIL IMMUNITY. Sponsored by Sen. Huffman (R - Lima), would revise the law governing immunity from civil liability and professional discipline for health care providers during disasters or emergencies, provide qualified civil immunity to service providers providing services during and after a government-declared disaster, and declare an emergency. During its third hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a substitute bill was adopted that removes the standard for clear and convincing evidence for lawsuits against healthcare providers and businesses, among other changes. The League is still looking into this legislation. (Link: https://bit.ly/2TxRlrj)
 
  • SB 293 - OPEN MEETINGS. Sponsored by Sen. Manning (R - N. Ridgeville), and Sen. Blessing (R - Cincinnati), would create a procedure within the Court of Claims to hear complaints alleging a violation of the Open Meetings Law. During its second hearing before Senate General Government and Agency Review Committee, State Auditor Keith Faber said the bill is intended to protect taxpayer's ability to know how their tax dollars are spent. The League is still looking into this legislation. (Link: https://bit.ly/2ZrWx3z)
 
  • HB 218 - PUBLIC-PRIVATE AGREEMENTS. Sponsored by Rep. Patton (R - Strongville), would authorize certain public entities to enter into public-private initiatives with a private party through a public-private agreement regarding public facilities. During its third hearing before the House State and Local Government Committee, a substitute bill was adopted that, among other changes, clarifies the requirements for public-private partnerships. The League is supportive of this legislation. (Link: https://bit.ly/2Zv055c)
 
  • HB 450 - FISCAL OFFICERS. Sponsored by Rep. Stephens (R - Kitts Hill), would require fiscal officers of certain political subdivisions to provide certificates of transition to their successors when leaving office and to modify language regarding the duty of a treasurer of a board of education to deliver to the treasurer's successor all papers related to the affairs of the district. During its second hearing before the House State and Local Government Committee, State Auditor Keith Faber testified in support of the bill, saying it will help ensure a smooth transition between ongoing and incoming officials. The League is neutral on this legislation. (Link: https://bit.ly/3bQdjff)