Judge deals another blow to HB6 referendum: Capitol Letter

Rotunda Rumblings

Out of time: A federal judge late Wednesday denied a last-ditch request by opponents of the new nuclear bailout law for more time to collect signatures for a referendum overturning it. Cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer reports that U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus asked the Ohio Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, saying the issues involved the state constitution, not federal law.

Another issue with HB6: Besides the nuclear bailout, the bill was also intended to set up statewide ratepayer-funded subsidies for two Ohio Valley Electric Corporation coal plants in Ohio and Indiana. But as Pelzer writes, environmental groups claim the language of the bill actually makes OVEC ineligible for the subsidies.

Talking it out: Gov. Mike DeWine said he was feeling optimistic on Wednesday after convening large-scale talks at the Governor’s Mansion among lawyers and other representatives of state and local governments pursuing opioid lawsuits. As cleveland.com’s Andrew Tobias and Eric Heisig report, the talks revolved around figuring out how any settlement money will be spent. They also seemed to ease tensions that had been mounting between state lawyers and lawyers representing local governments. DeWine said he believes a more unified front will give Ohio a stronger negotiating position. More than 100 people participated.

Stealth legislative move: School officials are angry about a little-noticed new law that will make it easier for many communities to switch their school-district affiliation, Tobias reports. Residents of Hills and Dales, a wealthy Stark County village that backed the law change, filed Wednesday to put on the ballot a switch to another district. That seems likely to prompt Plain Local School District, the district the village is trying to leave, to re-file its lawsuit challenging the law change. House leaders who backed the amendment were tight-lipped when asked to explain their reasons.

Suboxone settlement: The state of Ohio will get $39.4 million out of a $700 million settlement the federal government and states reached with the Reckitt Benckiser Group over its marketing of the opioid addiction treatment drug Suboxone, according to cleveland.com’s Eric Heisig. An investigation found that the company made false claims about Suboxone, illegally moved to delay the introduction of generic forms of the drug, and promoted the drug to doctors whom the company knew were prescribing it for unsafe, ineffective and medically unnecessary purposes.

Daycare disclosure: The Ohio House sent to the Senate a bill requiring child care centers to notify parents of Ohio Department of Job and Family Services investigations that find “serious risks” to health and safety. Parents must generally be notified within 15 days of the conclusion of the investigation under House Bill 65. Sponsor Rep. Rick Carfagna said parents can search childcaresearch.ohio.gov for violations, but many only check before signing up with a daycare.

Riding the scooter trend: The House also sent to the Senate the bipartisan-sponsored House Bill 295, which states that low-speed electric scooters aren’t vehicles and don’t need a state title, registration, insurance and other requirements. It also allows the scooters on public streets, highways, sidewalks, shared-use paths, bicycle areas but authorizes local governments to regulate and prohibit them as they see fit.

Tougher penalties: The Ohio House passed a bill that increases felony penalties for people who have repeatedly been found guilty of promoting prostitution. The bill comes on the urging of the Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, a group that coordinates arrests and prosecution of people for human trafficking and prostitution, and has support of prosecutors and victims’ advocacy groups, Rep. George Lang said. Senate Bill 5 returns to the Senate for concurrence on House amendments to waive some court fees for indigent defendants.

That didn’t last long: The Ohio Senate voted 30-1 on Wednesday to concur with the House’s version of Senate Bill 26, which eliminates sales taxes on tampons and other feminine hygiene products, creates a state income-tax deduction worth up to $250 for teachers buying classroom supplies and delays the repeal of tax credits for state campaign contributions until after 2020. It also eliminates a short-lived business tax hike on lawyers and lobbyists that had been negotiated in July as part of the state budget bill. State Sen. Cecil Thomas of Cincinnati was the lone no vote. He cited his opposition to the larger exemption for the first $250,000 of business income. The bill now heads to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature.

Safer ride: Also headed to DeWine’s desk is House Bill 189, also known as “Tyler’s Law,” after the Senate unanimously passed it Wednesday. The bill toughens inspection requirements for state amusement rides, and is named for 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell, who died at the Ohio State Fair in 2017 after a ride malfunctioned.

Potential matchup: Republican state Rep. Don Manning of New Middletown plans to run for re-election, and he could face a well-known Democrat, according to David Skolnick of the Vindicator. John Boccieri, a former state lawmaker and congressman, told Skolnick he’s being urged to enter the race. Manning narrowly won his last race, and was beaten by Boccieri in 2016.

Speaking of rematches: Kevin Kussmaul, state Rep. Jeff Crossman’s Republican opponent in 2018, tweeted that he intends to run again for the Parma Democrat’s House District 15 seat next year. Kussmaul got 44 percent of the vote last year in the district, which covers Parma, Brooklyn Heights, Cuyahoga Heights, and part of Cleveland.

Pre-existing conditions: Crossman and state Rep. Randi Clites of Ravenna announced a bill Wednesday that would protect patients with pre-existing conditions if a federal appeals court strikes down the Affordable Care Act. The bill at this point lacks Republican sponsors, which likely means it faces an uphill battle since the GOP has a supermajority in the General Assembly. Takeover tussle: The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in a case challenging the state’s school takeover law, the Associated Press reports. The Youngstown school board and school employees’ unions say the law illegally strips school boards of their authority.

Don’t blame the robots: Some Democratic presidential candidates have railed against increased automation in the U.S., saying it’s led to massive job losses. But that’s not true, write Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker of the Washington Post. “What really happened in those years was that policymakers sat by while millions of U.S. factory workers and their communities were exposed to global competition with no plan for transition or adjustment to the shock,” they write.

Anti-union group targets Ohio: The Freedom Foundation is setting up shop in Ohio, with a focus on stopping mandatory union dues. As Karen Kasler of the Ohio Public Media’s Statehouse News Bureau reports, Ohio is the fourth state the group is operating in. Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga responded by calling the Freedom Foundation an “out-of-state, extreme group.”

Solar flare-up: Environmental and renewable-energy groups are alarmed about the future of solar power in Ohio after the Ohio Power Siting Board last week pulled final approval of a solar farm in Southwest Ohio, reports Mark Williams of the Columbus Dispatch. Normally, the board signs off on projects that are this far along, but Sam Randazzo, the board’s new chair, said he was going to “deviate from the normal process.” The move has sparked worries that the board under Randazzo will be hostile to new renewable-energy projects in the state.

She’s running: Alaina Shearer, a first-time candidate who owns a Delaware County marketing firm, has announced she’ll seek the Democratic nomination for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, according to the Dispatch’s Marty Schladen.

Another shot: A new “stand your ground” bill, House Bill 381, was introduced in the Ohio House on Wednesday by Republican state Reps. Candice Keller and Ron Hood. The Ohio House passed a “stand your ground” bill (which shifts the burden of proof in self-defense cases) late last year, but the Senate removed most of the language.

Full Disclosure

Five things we learned from the Aug. 15 ethics disclosure of D.J. Swearingen, a Huron Republican recently appointed to the Ohio House:

1. In 2018, he made $50,000 to $99,999 as a lawyer for Wickens Herzer Panza. He also made $1,000 to $9,999 as a board member of the Erie County Board of Elections.

2. Swearingen is active in his community: besides serving on the elections board, he is a board member of Firelands Habitat for Humanity; Goodwill Industries of Erie, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Huron Counties; the Firelands Association of Realtors Charitable Foundation; North Coast Young Professionals; the Erie County Bar Association Grievance Committee; and the St. Mary’s Finance Council. He also listed himself as chair, vice chair and treasurer of the Erie County Republican Party.

3. He has invested in 13 mutual funds and has a retirement fund with the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.

4. At some point in 2018, he owed at least $1,000 to Ford Credit, Volkswagen Credit, Honda Credit, Roger Wasserman and American Education Services.

5. Last year, he was reimbursed $352 by the Erie County Board of Elections for travel expenses.

On The Move

Jonathan Fausey, state Rep. Niraj Antani’s legislative aide, is now the senior legislative aide for House Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz, according to Kaitlyn Fillhart, Antani’s new legislative aide.

Straight From The Source

“You want to name names, yet you do not have a lot of definitive answers. I think that is a joke, and it is appalling and disgusting that so many Americans’ lives have been ruined as a result of your discriminatory online advertising practices.”

– U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, a Columbus Democrat, criticizing Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a congressional hearing Wednesday.

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