Legislative review and 2020 legislative and electoral preview


With the start of a new decade, our team wants to share an overview of the past year and a look ahead to the coming months. Please find below a review of relevant legislation that the General Assembly passed in 2019, a summary of predictions for 2020 legislative priorities and a political preview of the 2020 statewide election.

I.          2019 Legislative Review

H.B. 166 Operating Budget: The state’s general operating budget for the FY 2020-2021 biennium was completed on July 17, 2019, with a total of $69.79 billion in appropriations, with a focus on families, children and natural resources. Along with House Bill 62, the state’s transportation budget, the state’s operating budget consumed much of the legislature’s time during the first half of the year. These two budget bills brings a hike in Ohio’s gas tax to 38.5 cents per gallon and increases money allocated for the governor’s H2Ohio initiative, along with many other policy and appropriation items.

H.B. 2 Credential Programs: House Bill 2 creates a TechCred Program to reimburse employers and individuals for training to receive a micro-credential. Additionally, H.B. 2 creates Industry Sector Partnerships Programs and appropriates $2.5 million per year to support regional partnerships across the state. After passing the House, the Senate made several changes, which resulted in a conference committee. The House and Senate settled the differences between the two versions and adopted the conference committee report the week of December 9, 2019. H.B. 2 has been sent to the governor for signature. This bill provides additional state support for workforce development in trades and industries needing skilled workers.

H.B. 6 Clean Air Program: House Bill 6 serves to provide financial support to Ohio’s two nuclear power plants, while essentially eliminating the state’s renewable energy portfolio standards and energy efficiency standards. The legislation generated much controversy and was even subject to an attempt at a referendum to repeal the law. Litigation is still pending related to the referendum, however, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority have begun adopting administrative rules for implementing the law’s provisions. On December 24, 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to review questions of law that were previously certified to it by the federal district court related to the referendum petition. On January 21, 2020,  the petitioners took steps to formally end their federal litigation and announced that it would also withdraw the pending challenge in the Ohio Supreme Court, citing “no clear path to a successful petition drive.”

S.B. 52 Cybersecurity Forces: Senate Bill 52 creates a civilian cyber security research force to serve under the governor. The governor will have the ability to call members of the cyber security reserve force to active duty to protect state, county and local government entities and critical infrastructure, including election systems. Secretary of State Frank LaRose heavily supported this policy due to growing concerns of the security surrounding elections. Questions persist regarding how both employers and IT professionals prioritize responses to a public or private cyberattack when IT staff may be occupied by their reserve duties created by S.B. 52. The bill was signed into law on October 25, 2019.

II.        2020 Legislative Preview

The House and Senate return to the Statehouse at the end of January.

Capital Appropriations: The FY 2021-2022 capital budget will be the first priority for the General Assembly. Both chambers announced a January 10 deadline for submitting requests to legislator’s offices. The capital budget provides the funding for maintenance and improvements to Ohio’s physical buildings and property. Often, additional funding is available for community projects. Speaker Householder indicated he expects the capital budget to total $2.6 billion with approximately $150 million available for community projects. The legislature traditionally passes capital budgets prior to April 1, ensuring the bill is enacted before the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1. Therefore, both chambers will work quickly and purposefully towards that deadline, keeping in mind the break in the schedule for the primary election in March.

Sports Gambling: Following the national trend, lawmakers have explored permitting sports gambling in Ohio. Several bills have been introduced to legalize the activities statewide. House Bill 194 was introduced in the House and has received eight hearings thus far. H.B. 194 legalizes sports gaming and creates a Sports Gaming Advisory Board, which will regulate sports gaming in the state. The advisory board would fall under the purview of the Ohio Lottery Commission, whereas, Senate Bill 111 permits the Ohio Casino Control Commission to regulate sports wagering. Stakeholders from the collegiate level continue to request that college athletics in the state be excluded from both measures. However, no amendments have been accepted on either bill to remove college athletics. Sports gambling will continue to be discussed and debated in 2020. While there is considerable interest in moving forward on the issue, the chambers need to agree on the regulatory body best suited to oversee sports gambling in the state.

Gun Reform Legislation: Governor DeWine announced several legislative reforms to address gun violence and increase mental health access and treatment. Senate Bill 221 includes many of the announced reforms, including modifications to the “pink slip” law that allows individuals to be committed for mental health treatment. S.B. 221 allows probate courts to grant safety protection orders, which would deny an individual’s eligibility to have a firearm based upon evidence of that individual suffering from mental illness. However, Speaker Householder voiced opposition to Senate Bill 221, preferring to focus on the House’s own plan in House Bill 354, which requires information be reported into the background check system. With a group organizing for a possible ballot issue on universal background checks, we expect the conversation surrounding these policies to continue in 2020.

Contract Statute of Limitations: Senate Bill 251 shortens the statute of limitations for a contract in writing from eight to six years. The bill also shortens the period of limitations for oral contracts to four years. The bill passed in the House, and the Senate is expected to begin consideration of the bill working deliberately towards final passage. Senate President Obhof has previously sponsored legislation shortening the statute of limitations for contracts.

Ohio’s Energy Policies: There are several noteworthy energy policy items that the legislature may consider this year. House Bill 246 is a placeholder bill to reform and modernize the Consumers’ Counsel and the Public Utilities Commission. Although a draft of the bill is not yet available, Chairman Randazzo mentioned that he wants to address ratemaking and general revised code cleanup for the commission. Language is expected to be revealed during the first quarter of 2020. House Bill 247 proposes changes to competitive retail electric service in Ohio by allowing electric distribution utilities to offer customer-focused energy services or products and expanding the use of smart grid technology. After several hearings and interested party meetings, a revised version of H.B. 247 will be unveiled in early 2020, addressing concerns raised by opponents of the legislation. Speaker Householder, referring to H.B. 247, recently mentioned that grid modernization is “the next step in terms of electricity and utilities in the state of Ohio.”

The House may also continue hearings on House Bill 401, which creates a referendum on Ohio Power Siting Board Certificates issued for wind farms in townships.

Senate Energy and Public Utilities Chairman Steven Wilson aims to enact a comprehensive energy policy for the state. To do so, the committee is holding a series of informational hearings, beginning with a focus on reliability in late 2019. The hearings will continue in 2020, and topics likely include fuel diversity, grid modernization, and energy markets and pricing.

H2Ohio: In House Bill 166, H2Ohio was created as a water quality initiative to find long-term solutions to ensure clean and safe water in Lake Erie and throughout Ohio. This program has sparked several other pieces of legislation. H.B. 7 creates the H2Ohio Trust Fund and the H2Ohio Advisory Council to disburse dollars from the trust fund for water quality programs. H.B. 7 was introduced as a solution for long term funding of H2Ohio. However, the Senate has also introduced a bill, S.B. 2. This new bill creates a permanent program to protect Ohio’s watersheds under the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Although, H.B. 7 and S.B. 2 tackle different problems, both bills attempt to find a permanent solution for water quality controls in Ohio. However, there is debate among representatives and senators on the form the policy should take. Therefore, the legislature will have to come to an agreement in 2020 on what Ohio’s policy scheme should be to address water quality issue in the state.

III.       2020 Political Update

Ohio will hold its Primary Election on March 17, 2020, (this is early, because it is a presidential cycle) and the General Election on November 3, 2020. All 16 congressional seats, all of Ohio’s 99 Ohio House of Representatives seats and half of Ohio’s 33-member Senate are up for election in 2020.

U.S. Congress: All 16 Congressional seats are up for election in the coming year. Several seats will have contested races. The 2020 general election is the last before redistricting occurs due to the 2020 census. Ohio is anticipated to lose one or two congressional seats due to the census results.

Ohio Supreme Court: In 2020, Ohio Supreme Court Justices Judith French and Sharon L. Kennedy are up for reelection. The 2020 election results could provide an opportunity for a philosophical shift of the bench. In 2018, two Democrats were elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, Justice Melody Stewart and Justice Michael P. Donnelly. The 2018 election cycle changed the Supreme Court’s composition drastically. With another two seats up, the 2020 election cycle could flip the current Republican majority. Democrats named Judge Jennifer Brunner and Judge John O’Donnell to run for the two seats. The political balance of the court is in play if both Democratic candidates prevail, making many political observers believe these are the two races to watch in Ohio for 2020.

Ohio House: 14 members of the House are ineligible to seek re-election due to term limits. Ten of these seats are held by Republicans. Some of the term-limited House members have announced their campaign for the corresponding Senate seat. All 99 House seats are up for election due to two year terms in the Ohio House. Therefore, the 2020 general election could change the current make-up of the Ohio House, which is currently 61 Republicans and 38 Democrats. 

Ohio Senate: In the Senate, five members, all Republicans, are term-limited, including Senate President Larry Obhof. Fifteen seats are up for election in November 2020. The current composition of the Ohio Senate is 24 Republicans and 9 Democrats. 

IV.       2020 Statewide Ballot Issues

Currently, two active citizen-initiated campaigns have begun in Ohio. First, Ohioans for Gun Safety, propose a statute to require universal background checks on gun sales. This initiative received certification to collect signatures to be placed on the ballot in November 2020. Ohioans for Gun Safety announced in early December that the group plans for the issue to be placed on the 2021 ballot. 

The second potential ballot issue places a constitutional amendment called the Nursing Facility Patients’ Bill of Rights on the ballot. The amendment requires specific staff to patient ratios in nursing facilities and requires minimum daily amounts of direct care to nursing facility patients. In the application for certification to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the language is known as “Carolyn’s Law.” The proposed constitutional amendment summary submitted to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in November was not certified. Therefore, the summary of this proposal will have to be resubmitted for certification prior to the collection of signatures in order to be placed on Ohio’s 2020 ballot.

V.        Conclusion

With the capital budget and several remaining top priorities combined with a constrained timeline, due to the March Primary Election, we expect a quick start to 2020. With only a few short months before the summer break for campaigning, the first half of 2020 could reach a breakneck pace.

After the November general election, the legislature will likely have a heavy “lame duck” session, the period of time where legislators enact a large number of bills before the end of the two-year General Assembly. While there are no changes in statewide offices coming, this year’s lame duck session may still prove eventful with a number of high-profile retirements from the legislature due to term limits.

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