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Latest Government News From Ohio

Week in Review

Friday, November 9, 2018

AGING
Ohio Department of Aging (ODA) Director Beverley Laubert appointed Erin Pettegrew as the state long-term care ombudsman, succeeding Laubert. Pettegrew has served as acting state ombudsman since December 2017 when Laubert became department director.
BALLOT ISSUES
While proponents and opponents both touted the hard work of their campaigns and said work would go on, state Issue 1 failed early Tuesday night by a wide margin. The constitutional amendment sought to reform low-level drug sentencing, expand earned inmate credits and overhaul probation orders. Proponents and opponents had offered differing views of what the constitutional amendment would lead to if passed.
FY18-19 BUDGET
State revenues are about $100 million ahead of estimates for the fiscal year so far, with October bringing a modest overperformance for income taxes and a tiny uptick in sales taxes compared to forecasts, according to preliminary data from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM.) Tax collections reached $1.93 million in October versus expectations of $1.86 million, 3.7 percent or $68.7 million over estimates. This performance comes even after OBM and the Ohio Department of Taxation decided to increase their revenue forecast for FY19 by more than half a billion dollars.
FY20-21 BUDGET
Key legislators at the forward-looking budget panel for Thursday’s Impact Ohio conference said they foresee greater partnerships with local governments in the near future, but House Finance Chairman Rep. Scott Ryan (R-Newark) said, for him, that does not mean restoration of the Local Government Fund (LGF). “I do not support any more money going to the Local Government Fund, period,” he said. “And that’s because of the distribution model.”
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
The final scheduled meeting of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission’s Justice Reinvestment (JR) 2.0 ad hoc committee took on greater relevance if not greater urgency Thursday following voter rejection of Issue 1′s drug penalty and prison release overhaul. With $1 million in private money spent on the Council of State Governments (CSG) JR initiative, members vetted final legislative proposals that include adoption of treatment-oriented drug sentencing recommendations of the Criminal Justice Recodification Committee. Justice Reinvestment 2.0 is Ohio’s second bite at the CSG apple after a 1.0 report in 2010 led with the call for sentencing reform for low-level drug and property crime offenders who cycle through the state prison system.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
In an approaching world of autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and other technology, it will be vital to ensure the future economy does not leave people out, panelists on the subject said at Thursday’s Impact Ohio conference. Discussing the “Economy of Tomorrow” were Columbus City Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown, Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission Executive Director Randy Cole, Blockchain Cleveland movement founder Bernie Moreno and Bird Rides Director of Government Relations Sam Reed, with Success Group President Dan McCarthy moderating.
EDUCATION
Rep. Robert Cupp (R-Lima) and Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) will co-chair a new study committee to develop funding recommendations for online charter schools. House and Senate leadership offices confirmed Monday the appointments of Cupp and Lehner alongside Reps. Steve Hambley (R-Brunswick) and Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati) and Sens. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) and Vernon Sykes (D-Akron). Cupp also chairs the House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, and Lehner chairs the Senate Education Committee. Despite the fact the committee is getting a late start and won’t meet its statutory deadline, there is no date for a first meeting.
With approximately $2.8 Million in School Safety Training Grant Funding unclaimed, Ohio Attorney General (AG) Mike DeWine announced he is extending the deadline for eligible Ohio schools to claim their share of millions of dollars in school safety training grants. Only 63 percent of eligible schools had claimed their funds. A list of eligible schools that did not submit applications by the Nov. 1 initial deadline can be found online at https://tinyurl.com/ycxx5lsp .The largest grant amounts which school districts have not applied for include Cincinnati City ($196,784), Lakota Local ($84,575), Westerville City ($83,569), Dayton City ($75,083), Northwest Local ($46,257), Mentor Exempted Village ($43,449) and Kettering City Schools ($42,686).
Starting this week and running through year’s end, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) will take applications from education, industry and other community representatives looking to add to the list of professional work credentials that can help qualify a study for high school graduation. Earning a credential or series of credentials, along with a qualifying score on the WorkKeys job skills assessment, is one way students can earn a diploma.
Ohio voters approved 121 of 175 school tax issues on the Tuesday ballot, a 69 percent passage rate based on unofficial returns, according to the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA). The total numbers of issues up for consideration dipped by one compared to totals announced ahead of Tuesday, after River Valley Local Schools in Marion County pulled its levy request.
A settlement agreement reached in the longstanding Doe v. State of Ohio class action lawsuit will require efforts by the state to improve special education test scores and rates of inclusion in 11 school districts that currently have very poor academic outcomes for students with disabilities and high levels of segregation. According to a release from Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), the state will work with DRO to create a plan that will reverse those deficits in the following districts: Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lima, East Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown and Zanesville.
The Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) Capital Conference and Trade Show will come to the Greater Columbus Convention Center next week from Sunday-Tuesday, Nov. 11 through 13, and is expected to draw upwards of 9,000 school board members, educators, superintendents and other school administrators.
ELECTIONS 2018
The people of Ohio need to work together to address the state’s issues regardless of party affiliation, Gov.-elect Mike DeWine said following his victory over Democrat Richard Cordray Tuesday night. “As we begin this journey tonight, we must work not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Ohioans,” DeWine told supporters at the Ohio Republican Party’s election night party in Columbus. “Ohioans should unite around a shared mission to ensure that every single person in this state – every child, no matter where they’re born, no matter who their parents are, no matter what their circumstances — has the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential. …”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown won a third term to the U.S. Senate by nearly 6 percentage points over U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, a closer margin than many polls had predicted but a large enough victory to be one of the early winners of the night. Brown took the stage at the Ohio Democratic Party celebration in Columbus, telling the crowd that showing the dignity of work like his race did is the model for how Democrats win in the Midwest and in 2020.
In addition to winning the governor’s mansion, Republicans retained control of all other statewide executive offices on Tuesday night. Auditor Dave Yost won the attorney general race 52.42 percent to 47.58 percent over Democrat Steve Dettelbach; Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina) won with auditor race with 49.93 percent of the vote, beating Democrat Zack Space’s 46.05 percent and Libertarian Robert Coogan’s 4.02 percent; Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Copley) won the secretary of state race with 50.92 percent, beating Rep. Kathleen Clyde’s (D-Kent) 46.73 percent and Libertarian Dustin Nanna’s 2.35 percent; and Rep. Robert Sprague (R-Findlay) beat Democrat Rob Richardson 53.53 percent to 46.47 percent.
The two Democratic candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court — Judge Michael Donnelly of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and Judge Melody Stewart of the Eight District Court of Appeals in Cleveland — pulled off the upset of the evening by both securing seats on the high court. Donnelly fills the seat being vacated by Justice Terrence O’Donnell who, because of age, was ineligible to run again while Stewart unseated Justice Mary DeGenaro who had been appointed to the Court by Gov. John Kasich at the beginning of 2018, replacing Justice William O’Neill. Donnelly won with 60 percent of the vote over Judge Craig Baldwin while Stewart received 52.5 percent of the vote in her contest with DeGenaro.
House Democrats picked up five seats on Tuesday evening and lost one, cutting the record 66-member Republican majority in the Ohio House down to 62 seats. All incumbents in the House won re-election. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans picked up one seat in the upper chamber, but whether they add to their majority will come down to provisional and absentee ballots in a Franklin County district where Rep. Anne Gonzales leads by just 329 votes. As expected, the Democratic gains came in the suburbs of major counties where Hillary Clinton outperformed President Donald Trump in 2016, including three in Franklin County. Mary Lightbody won the 19th District seat held currently by Gonzales; Beth Liston won the 21st District held by Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington); and Allison Russo won the 24th House District held by Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus). The two other pickups came in the 6th District in Cuyahoga County where Phil Robinson won the seat held currently by Rep. Marlene Anielski (R-Walton Hills) and the 37th House District, where Casey Weinstein won the seat currently held by Rep. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) who had defeated him just two years ago.
State Board of Education (SBOE) member Pat Bruns lost her reelection bid on Tuesday night, falling to challenger Jenny Kilgore in a close race. Kilgore ended up with 50.57 percent of the vote, beating Bruns’ 49.43 percent to take the school board’s 4th District seat. In the too-close-to-call seven-way race for the 2nd District, Kirstin Hill leads with 17.77 percent of the vote, with Jeanine Donaldson close behind with 17.36 percent. Sue Larimer has 16.14 percent, Annette Dudek Shine has 13.37 percent, Vicki Donovan Lyle has 13.08 percent, Charles Forehlich has 11.62 percent and W. Roger Knight has 10.66 percent.
The polls were open Tuesday for Ohio voters to choose new statewide officer holders, a U.S. senator, the 133rd General Assembly, and congressional representatives, with few reported problems around the state. Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office said there were no problems that appeared that were out of the ordinary from any other election year. Among those reported were power outages at a few polling locations that were able to use generators, and longer lines during the heavier traffic times of the day.
Many more Ohioans avoided the lines by voting early. Husted’s office announced that at the close of in-person absentee voting, an estimated 1,491,762 absentee ballots had been requested, and 1,313,944 had been cast statewide, including 9,700 ballot requests from military and overseas voters, of which more than 5,300 were cast.
Among the takeaways from the 2018 General Election are the following: the signature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot increases after this year’s turnout to at least 431,000 signatures, up from the previously required 305,591 valid signatures; both minor parties on the ballot failed to secure enough votes to continue to be recognized; and the number of women in the General Assembly increased.
In addition to the election of Judges Melody Stewart and Michael Donnelly to the Ohio Supreme Court, the Court reports that 14 incumbents were defeated in Tuesday’s election and 49 attorneys won their first judicial seats.
Three term-limited Republican lawmakers will have a job next year after winning local county commissioner contests, while Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) and former Rep. Jeff Rezabek (R-Dayton) lost their races for county judgeships. According to unofficial results, Rep. Ron Young (R-Leroy Township) knocked off former state Rep. Dan Troy for Lake County commissioner, getting 53 percent of the vote to Troy’s 47 percent. Rep. Al Landis (R-Dover) also won his race for Tuscarawas County commissioner, beating Democrat Buckley Mirhaidari 63 percent to 29 percent. In Miami County, Sen. Bill Beagle (R-Tipp City) easily won his race for Miami County commissioner. He was unopposed.
“I wasn’t surprised by the outcome Tuesday,” former state legislator and GOP Party Chair Kevin DeWine told the audience at the 2018 Impact Ohio Post Election Conference on Thursday, explaining that since 1994 there have been 35 statewide races in the state and Republicans have won 31 of them. Tuesday’s Republican sweep of the statewide offices starting with governor was “a return to the norm,” DeWine said. “Ohio is now in the habit of electing of Republicans on the statewide stage.”
U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville) and Democratic challenger Danny O’Connor met for their first and only debate of the General Election campaign Thursday night in the studios of WHIZ-TV in Zanesville, a so-called forum that occasionally deteriorated into random squabbling between the two after pointed attacks by O’Connor.
Democratic state auditor nominee Zack Space announced over the weekend that he was stepping off the campaign trail to attend to his ailing mother, Sandra Space. Space released a statement Saturday saying his mother had been transferred to hospice care in Dover “following an extended period of assisted living care. Our family has gathered to comfort her at this difficult time.”
The following endorsements were made over the week:
- The Toledo Blade endorsed Rep. Robert Sprague (R-Findlay) for state treasurer; Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina) for state auditor; and Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) for secretary of state.
- The Columbus Dispatch endorsed incumbent Reps. Adam Miller (D-Columbus), Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus), Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester), David Leland (D-Columbus), Laura Lanese (R-Grove City) and Bernadine Kennedy Kent (D-Columbus) for the Ohio House.
- The Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed Rep. Sarah LaTourette (R-Chesterland).
- The Ohio Restaurant Association urges a no vote on Issue 1.
- According to the Vote Yes on 1 campaign, the Ohio Conference NAACP supports passage of the constitutional amendment.
EMPLOYMENT/UNEMPLOYMENT
The U.S. unemployment rate stayed steady at 3.9 percent in October, despite the addition of 250,000 jobs, according to figures released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The number of unemployed people remained relatively unchanged at 6.1 million. Notable in October’s report is a reference to Hurricane Michael saying it “had no discernible effect on the national employment and unemployment estimates for October,” adding that response rates for BLS employment surveys remained consistent.
ENVIRONMENT
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) Director Craig Butler has given out five Encouraging Environmental Excellence (E3) “Platinum” level awards, the agency announced. They went to American Municipal Power Inc. (Columbus); General Motors Toledo; Ohio University (Athens); Washing Systems (Loveland); and YSI Inc. (Yellow Springs).
FEDERAL
Three members of the Ohio delegation to Congress further clarified their plans for leadership positions in the next session after Democrats won control on Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) said he will definitely seek the role of House Minority Leader in the wake of the loss, and will likely face off against current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for the position. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) told the Plain Dealer that he has “no intention” of running for House speaker in the next session, despite having challenged U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for minority leader at the start of the current session, a challenge that was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) announced he is not going to seek another term as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the campaign arm of the U.S. House Republican Caucus
GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE
As legislators contemplate what will be on their agenda when the General Assembly returns after the November election, a coalition of nearly 500 state and local nonprofit organizations — Advocates for Ohio’s Future — is urging action to update and recession-proof the state’s unemployment compensation system.
The four legislative leaders each took a turn Thursday addressing the issues they see coming in the lame duck session in the next few weeks and those they see being tackled in the 133rd General Assembly, which convenes in January, as they spoke at the Impact Ohio Post Election Conference.
GOVERNOR
Appointments made during the week include the following:
- Charles W. Dixon of Granville (Licking County) and John W. Finley of McConnelsville (Morgan County) reappointed to the State Fire Council for terms beginning Nov. 2, 2018 and ending Nov. 1, 2023.
- Christine L. Hughes of Dublin (Franklin County) to the State Board of Psychology for a term beginning Nov. 1, 2018 and ending Oct. 4, 2023.
- Mary F. Jeter of Athens (Athens County) to the Ohio Commission on Service and Volunteerism for a term beginning Nov. 1, 2018 and ending April 21, 2020.
- Hannah Sublett of Cincinnati (Hamilton County) to the Ohio Commission on Service and Volunteerism for a term beginning Nov. 1, 2018 and ending April 21, 2021.
- Lewis “Lou” Von Thaer of Bexley (Franklin County) to the Ohio State University Board of Trustees for a term beginning Nov. 2, 2018 and ending May 13, 2019.
- Daniel J. Guttman of Columbus (Franklin County) to the University of Toledo Board of Trustees for a term beginning Nov. 2, 2018 and ending July 1, 2021.
- Karen McIntyre of Avon (Lorain County) and Anthony Ganim of Hilliard (Franklin County) to the Ohio Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Athletic Trainers Board for terms beginning Nov. 2, 2018, and ending Aug. 27, 2021.
- Rebecca J. Ault of Hudson (Summit County) to the State Chiropractic Board for a term beginning Nov. 5, 2018 and ending Nov. 1, 2022.
- Chelsy Taylor of Columbus (Franklin County) to the Governor’s Council on Juvenile Justice for a term beginning Nov. 5, 2018 and ending Oct. 31, 2021.
- John T. Landess of Springfield (Clark County) to the Regional Economic Development Alliance Study Committee for a term beginning Nov. 6, 2018 and ending Aug. 1, 2019.
- David S. DeVore of Springfield (Clark County) to the State Board of Emergency Medical, Fire and Transportation Services for a term beginning Nov. 6, 2018 and ending Nov. 12, 2019.
- Phoebe Lee of Shaker Heights (Cuyahoga County) to the Cuyahoga Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Nov. 7, 2018 and ending Oct. 12, 2023.
- Alvin D. Compaan of Holland (Lucas County) to the Radiation Advisory Council for a term beginning Nov. 7, 2018 and ending Sept. 6, 2023.
- William Fall of Perrysburg (Wood County) to the Real Estate Appraiser Board for a term beginning Nov. 7, 2018 and ending June 30, 2021.
- Samuel H. Porter of Columbus (Franklin County) to the Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board for a term beginning Nov. 7, 2018 and ending Jan. 14, 2021.
- Pamela Jensen of Oak Harbor (Ottawa County) to the Terra State Community College Board of Trustees for a term beginning Nov. 8, 2018 and ending Dec. 30, 2022.
- Jody L. Beall of Blacklick (Franklin County) and Jennifer L. Remeis of Bexley (Franklin County) to the Early Intervention Services Advisory Council for terms beginning Nov. 8, 2018 and ending June 30, 2019.
- Kevin Wendt of Dublin (Franklin County) to the State Auctioneers Commission for a term beginning Nov. 8, 2018 and ending Oct. 9, 2021.
GOVERNOR-ELECT
Gov.-elect Mike DeWine announced the first members of his administration’s staff on Wednesday, saying Laurel Dawson will serve as chief of the transition committee. During a Statehouse press conference, DeWine also said Lisa Peterson will be communications director and LeeAnne Cornyn will direct children’s initiatives across state agencies.
Gov.-elect Mike DeWine Thursday said that he would oversee an “open” administration and promised that he was a good listener, though “don’t mistake that for a lack of vision.” DeWine addressed the crowd at the Impact Ohio Post-Election Conference luncheon Thursday, reflecting briefly on the campaign and providing a picture of his administration’s priorities coming out of the gate.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Regardless of who was elected governor, there were going to be lingering challenges related to Medicaid and health care to consider in the remainder of the 132nd General Assembly and into the next. How the next administration approaches those issues is up for debate. At the Impact Ohio Post-Election Conference Thursday, the “Medicaid and Health in a Leadership Transition” breakout session focused on some of those lingering questions.
HIGHER EDUCATION
Ohio University’s (OU) Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs has been awarded $300,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office to continue work on the PORTSfuture program for the 2019 fiscal year. Since 2010, the Voinovich School has received a total of $4.2 million to administer the PORTSfuture program, which informs DOE decision-making relating to clean-up and repurposing of public assets at the former uranium enrichment facility near Piketon, OH.
Blake Stringer, a Kent State University (KSU) professor in its College of Aeronautics and Engineering, has received a grant from the Army Research Laboratory for more than $130,000 to study propulsion systems for a new generation of intermediate-sized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones.
After over a year of contract negotiations, the faculty union at Wright State University (WSU) remains confident that its members will vote to reject the report of a fact-finder released last week, leading to a possible strike if no other agreement can be met. The fact-finding report comes alongside reports that the WSU Faculty Senate, a separate organization from the AAUP, may hold a no-confidence vote against President Cheryl Schrader.
Recognizing the institution’s achievement in advanced manufacturing research and workforce training, Youngstown State University (YSU) announced Friday that it has been designated an alliance partner of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM).
Almost 16 percent of college students say they misuse prescription stimulants, often in the quest for better grades, a recent survey of U.S. undergraduate, graduate and professional students has found. And more than 9 percent of students said they had misused pain medications – roughly the same percentage of students who reported non-medical use of sedatives, according to the 2018 College Prescription Drug Study, led by researchers at Ohio State University (OSU).
A collection of both public and private Ohio institutions of higher education recently appeared on the Princeton Review’s annual review of environmentally-conscious colleges and universities. The educational services company recognized 16 Ohio schools in October as having made “the most exceptional commitments to sustainability out of several hundred institutions the Princeton Review annually surveys,” out of 399 in total.
The Scarlet Laser Facility at Ohio State University (OSU) will receive a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to join a new research network aimed at exploring the practical uses of high-intensity lasers, the university announced.
JUDICIAL
Positioned on a busy corner in downtown Columbus stands a mural dedicated to historic Ohio leaders who dedicated their lives to advancing social change. One of those was Florence Allen, the first woman elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, in 1922. The mural, at the corner of East Broad Street and Cleveland Avenue, is part of the Washington Gladden Social Justice Park, named after Rev. Gladden, a civil rights activist and former pastor at the First Congregational Church. The park opened recently.
Gov. John Kasich on Thursday announced the appointment of Michael Barr of Racine (Meigs County) to serve as a judge on the Meigs County Court. Barr will assume office on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018 to complete the remainder of the unexpired term ending Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.Barr was elected in the November 2018 election for fudge of the Meigs County Court for the full term commencing Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Barr is replacing Judge Steven Story, who passed away.
LIBRARIES
Voters in Ohio library districts across the state passed 24 of 25 local funding issues on their ballots, the Ohio Library Council reports, in keeping with the high rate of success for library levies over the past several years. Stark County Public Library was the odd one out, losing 52-48 on its request for a new eight year, $2.2 million levy. The loss ends a perfect record of passage for library issues that started in the 2016 general election and had carried through this spring’s primary.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Voters approved hundreds of township levy requests Tuesday, according to the Ohio Township Association (OTA). On election day several types of levies were voted on, including additional, renewal and replacement. Renewal levies, which simply reinstate all or part of an existing levy, totaled 345, with 99.7 percent passing and only one failing.
The bulk of local human service levies were approved on Tuesday, with seven behavioral health levies passing and one still too close to call; 15 of 17 children services levies passed; 14 of 16 developmental disabilities levies passed; and all 15 senior services levies passed.
MARIJUANA
The city of Dayton was among five municipalities that voted to decriminalize misdemeanor marijuana offenses during Tuesday night’s election. Voters approved the ordinance amendment to “decriminalize specific misdemeanor marijuana and hashish offense” by a vote of 73.47 percent to 26.53 percent, according to the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Other communities included Fremont, Norwood, Oregon, Windham Village and Garrettsville Village.
Even if cultivators harvest medical marijuana this month, it won’t be available to patients until at least the middle of December, Ohio Department of Commerce (DOC) senior policy adviser Mark Hamlin said Thursday. That’s partially because two of the five provisionally licensed testing laboratories aren’t scheduled to be considered for their certificates of operation until that time, Hamlin said. Additionally, Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP) legal counsel Erin Reed said the board is mostly working on scheduling dispensary pre-inspections at this point, which would take place before the final inspections occur and certificates of operation are granted.
NATURAL RESOURCES
Catchable rainbow and yearling brown trout will be released again this year before Veterans Day weekend in the Malabar Farm region as part of a pilot project to evaluate the suitability of both species for future stockings in the area, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The Inn Pond across from the Malabar Farm Restaurant will receive rainbow trout, and Switzer Creek on Malabar Farm State Park property will receive brown trout.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has approved nearly $7 million in Clean Ohio Trails Fund grants to improve outdoor recreational opportunities for Ohioans. These funds will be used in 14 counties to develop miles of new trails, trail extensions, land acquisition and bridges. Grant recipients provide a 25 percent match for their projects. ODNR conditionally awarded 19 Clean Ohio Trails Fund grants for community projects to acquire land for new trails to build and improve trail infrastructure, including regional trail systems and bridges, links to statewide trails and connections from urban areas to recreational areas.
Construction work has concluded on the new 4.1-mile dam at Buckeye Lake State Park, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced Thursday. The $107 million project was completed nearly two years earlier than initially expected and more than $40 million under the projected cost, ODNR said in a news release.
PENSIONS
The federal Internal Revenue Service recently announced increases in the limits on certain retirement benefits and accounts, some of which are rising for the first time in several years. Members of Ohio’s public pension funds will see a small uptick in the maximum annual benefit, although the effect on state retirement systems will be limited. Starting in 2019 the maximum benefit will increase from $220,000 to $225,000.
PEOPLE
Hannah News’ “Faces on Capitol Square” profiled former state legislator and now the state director of AARP Ohio Barbara Sykes. She explained that, with her upbringing serving as an inspiration, Barbara Sykes knew from the start of her career that she wanted to help the neediest Ohioans. After growing up in an area of Arkansas she described as “extremely poor,” Sykes received a degree in social work from the University of Akron and became the first African American woman elected to serve on Akron City Council, where she said she approached issues from a different angle than other council members.
POLITICS
A Wednesday teleconference was hosted by State Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who reflected on Tuesday’s election that saw the party lose all of the statewide executive office races for the third cycle in a row. Pepper said he was proud of the race ran by Democratic nominee Richard Cordray, noting they earned more votes than Kasich did in his victories. He said the numbers reflected strong turnout among Democrats around the state and inspired them to show up in the mid-terms. But he said the party fell short because of efforts by President Donald Trump to rally the Republican base.
After a highly contentious midterm election that saw record turn-out, pundits and political analysts are asking difficult questions about the future of Ohio’s political landscape, including whether or not Ohio remains a bellwether state. At a Columbus Metropolitan Club forum Wednesday, Mark Weaver, Republican pundit and founder of Communications Counsel Inc.; Sandy Theis, Democratic pundit and president of Theis Research & Consulting; Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press Statehouse correspondent; and Scott Light, WBNS 10TV anchor, discussed both the local and national results from Tuesday’s election.
POVERTY
A recent report from the Center for Community Solutions (CCS) analyzing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) data across racial lines concluded that participation rates in the program are closely related to racial disparities in poverty. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey showed that between 2012 and 2016, white Ohioans comprised a majority of SNAP participants, while black and Hispanic or Latino Ohioans had higher per capita participation rates. Asian Ohioans had lower per capita participation rates than whites.
PUBLIC SAFETY
During the next month, the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) is conducting an online survey to identify traffic safety concerns and obtain feedback about interactions with the agency. The 2018 public survey is anonymous and takes approximately five minutes to complete. The survey is designed to be used as a platform for organizational learning, asking specific questions related to traffic safety issues and previous interactions with OSHP employees. The survey is created in accordance with standards of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
UTILITIES
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) accepted Wednesday the results of AEP Ohio’s wholesale auction that will determine its standard service offer through May 2020. The auction, held Monday, secured a one-year product to supply electricity to AEP Ohio’s utility customers, resulting in four winning bidders and an average clearing price of $46.16 per megawatt hour (MWh) for the delivery period of June 2019 through May 2020.
VETERANS
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced recently that veteran homelessness in Ohio has decreased by 13.1 percent – more than twice the national average decrease of 5.4 percent. Lucas County experienced the largest percentage decrease in veteran homelessness, with the Toledo/Lucas County Continuum of Care (CoC) reporting 27 individuals removed from homelessness, or a 52.9 percent decrease in homeless veteran population.
WORKFORCE
Ohio will invest $8 million over the next two years to help employers and unemployed workers in 16 counties overcome issues related to the opioid epidemic and to help build the workforce to address the crisis, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced recently. The agency will use a Trade and Economic Transition National Dislocated Worker Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to support employers who hire individuals in recovery, to create an addiction services apprenticeship at community colleges, and to provide job training and other services to help unemployed workers overcome their addictions and find jobs.

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