Tracked House Bills – December 2020

Dec 16, 2020 | Advocacy

Jeffry Harris
Bricker & Eckler LLP

 

 

News from the Statehouse:

Capital Bill in lame duck session: As the 133rd General Assembly winds down its affairs, on Tuesday, December 8, Ohio OBM Director Kimberly Murnieks described a $2.1B state capital budget.

Interestingly, SB 310, originally intended to carry federal COVID-19 allocations through the Ohio General Assembly, has been identified as the vehicle such a fast-tracked capital budget; the capital appropriations would be inserted into SB 310 as the bill sits in conference committee.

Hearings are scheduled for the week of December 14.  Be on the watch for amendments as the measure must be reconciled between the existing House and Senate versions to clear conference committee.

The proposed capital appropriations for inclusion in SB 310 include:

  • $452M for higher education projects;
  • $309.5M for K-12 buildings; and
  • $280M for the Public Works Commission to help finance local infrastructure projects; and,
  • $62.5M to the Clean Ohio Fund’s greenspace, recreation and agricultural provisions.

In January 2020, local subdivisions had submitted their requests for capital funding for community projects.

Virtual Public Meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic: The Ohio Senate amended HB 404, ostensibly a measure to authorize university and college trustees to participate in meetings through electronic means, to include broadly applied emergency provisions related to COVID-19, several of which were to expire. Most relevant to local economic development practitioners, the bill includes: (1) Open Meetings Act – extends until July 1, 2021 the temporary authorization for members of a public body to hold and attend meetings virtually (this authorization under HB 197 was to expire December 1); and (2) Coronavirus Relief Fund – requires any unspent payments that cannot be redistributed locally to be paid to the state treasury.

The House agreed to the amendments, sending the measure to Governor DeWine, who signed it into law on Monday, November 23; the measure had an emergency clause, meaning it became effective immediately upon his signature.

Ohio House leadership chosen: House Republicans on November 18 informally voted to retain Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima). The House majority caucus also approved Speaker Cupp’s leadership team including:

  • Rep. Tim Ginter (R-Salem) as Speaker Pro Tempore;
  • Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) retaining his post as Majority Floor Leader;
  • Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Twp.) as Assistant Majority Floor Leader;
  • Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport) as Majority Whip; and
  • Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) as Assistant Majority Whip.

A formal floor vote will occur on January 4, 2021, when the new General Assembly begins. Last week, Senate Republicans announced Senator Matt Huffman (R-Lima) will become Senate President in 2021.

House Bill 6 repeal: Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!  On Friday, November 20, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chair Sam Randazzo submitted his letter of resignation to Gov. DeWine.  The stated grounds for his resignation were (1) the FBI search of his home the previous Monday and (2) a filing from FirstEnergy disclosing to the SEC the existence of a $4.3 million payment to an Ohio regulator who fit Mr. Randazzo’s description.

Separately, parties named in a Franklin County civil suit by Attorney General Dave Yost are arguing the state has no standing in seeking to block House Bill 6 subsidies.  Energy Harbor and other defendants in recent filings has sought to dismiss the State’s case.  (Recall the Attorney General filed suit in September seeking to freeze the end consumer subsidies to Energy Harbor for its two nuclear plants.)  To this lawsuit, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association Energy Group, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and the Northwest Ohio Aggregation Coalition filed a joint friend of the court brief in support of the Attorney General’s request for a preliminary injunction.

This lawsuit is just one of three civil suits so far brought by government entities seeking to block HB6 subsidies set to kick in January 1, 2021.  The Attorney General in November filed a second suit seeking to halt the collections from hitting customer bills. And the cities of Cincinnati and Columbus have filed suit to block collection of HB6 subsidies.  Interestingly, as to the latter case, one of Mr. Randazzo’s last actions as Chair of the PUCO was to file a motion to dismiss that case.

In other judicial branch developments concerning HB 6, the Ohio Supreme Court found on December 1 that state regulators were mistaken to exclude certain revenue when calculating a FirstEnergy’s annual earnings.  Specifically, the Supreme Court found the PUCO should have included earnings from a contested distribution modernization rider when determining whether FirstEnergy had crossed the so-called significant excessive earnings test (or “SEET”) included in HB 6; the utility therefore owed consumers a refund.

As to related lame duck efforts, Rep. Hoops (R – Napolean) has introduced HB 798 to delay for one year the fees from end customers paid on electric utility bills (scheduled to commence January 1, 2021); the bill is described below.  This legislation also would seek to remove the formulation of the SEET included in HB 6 that only benefited FirstEnergy, as well as remove other provisions in Ohio law that were written to ensure electric utilities’ profitability.  Committee Chairman Hoops described his plan as a stopgap measure to give state policymakers more time to assess whether Energy Harbor needs the ratepayer-funded support.

Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) abatement changes proposed in Ohio House: Representatives Frazier and Cross’ proposed changes to Ohio’s Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) program under HB 704 is receiving attention in the Ohio House during this lame duck session.  At base, the legislative changes would render commercial / industrial projects in Ohio akin to “pre-1994” CRA treatment.  The key changes would be (1) removing the requirement for a property owner and the municipal corporation or county to enter into a CRA agreement to receive a real property tax abatement; and (2) amending the statutory threshold for school district approval for an abatement. Further discussion of this bill appears in the body of this update, below, as well as in a DevelopOhio blog post at this link: https://www.bricker.com/industries-practices/economic-development/insights-resources/publications/ohio-general-assembly-considering-significant-cra-law-change-during-lame-duck-session.

Enterprise Zone (EZ) program slightly modified for joint vocational school districts:  On November 21, SB 89 was sent to the Governor for signature, who then signed the measure into law.  This bill largely relates to career-tech education, but included a change in the State’s Enterprise Zone program as to compensation that must be paid to joint vocational school districts.  Under current practice, when a local community enters into a compensation agreement with the impacted city, local, or exempted village school district, the terms of that compensation agreement do not automatically apply to the related joint vocational school district.   With the new language in SB 89, if the local school district negotiates such a compensation agreement, then the joint vocational school district must receive that same level of compensation, according to the same terms as under the compensation agreement.  This change applies to EZs designated by MSA principal-cities as well as those designated by counties.

Federal COVID-19 Update:

COVID-19 Relief: On December 2, Democratic leadership in Congress publicly announced support for a bipartisan $908B COVID-stimulus compromise, offering a significant concession to revive stalled talks for additional relief before year-end 2020.

On December 14, the bipartisan group of centrist members of Congress pared back their compromise plan to omit the most contentious sticking points.  Now proposing a $748B package to fund an array of programs that have generated agreement in the stimulus talks, the bipartisan stimulus measure is led by Senator Joe Manchin III (D – West Virginia), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska), and Senator Susan Collins (R – Maine), and would (1) restore lapsed federal jobless benefits, providing $300/week for 18 weeks; (2) include $300B for small businesses, restaurants and live-performance venues; (3) $13B for emergency food assistance; (4) $82B for education; (5) $45B for airlines, airports, Amtrak and public transit; and (6) $16B for testing, tracing and vaccine development and distribution.

Note this latest version omits the initially proposed $160B for local governments’ revenue replacement and temporary liability shield for businesses operating amid the pandemic.

This smaller relief bill is an effort to generate a deal before the holidays that all sides could embrace after months of stalled negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – Kentucky) has repeatedly reiterated President Trump’s support would be needed for any coronavirus deal through the end of his term.  State and local aid has been a major sticking point in negotiations, with Mr. McConnell dismissing it as a “blue-state bailout.” But Republican-led states face some of the biggest revenue gaps.

A growing list of economists, business lobbyists and other advocacy groups are urging lawmakers to rally around this plan.  Although its breadth falls short of economists’ preferred Congressional action, supporters urge Congress should do it anyway as it is “within the range.”

If the plan was passed soon, it would send money out quickly. “You get most of the way there, you don’t turn around at the end,” said Gov. DeWine, one of several Republican governors who has called for more federal aid. He continued, “We can’t stop now, and I guess I would say that to my friends in Congress: We need your help one more time here. Help get us through what’s going to be a very tough winter.”

November employment growth slowed to 245,000, the weakest monthly gain of the recovery so far. The number of people trapped in long-term unemployment rose to nearly 4 million. The number of people who have lost their jobs permanently rose, the latest sign that the crisis will leave lasting economic scars.  Said one Harvard economist, “We’re really starting to see the cracks now.”

An estimated 10 million Americans could lose jobless benefits when two federal programs expire soon after Christmas.

Statehouse Bills (Changes from last month are noted in BOLD):

House Bills:

HB 6 ENERGY (Callender, J., Wilkin, S.) This new law took effect October 21, 2019 and supports FirstEnergy Solutions’ two Ohio nuclear plants by creating a surcharge beginning in 2021 to be paid by all Ohio electricity customers and overseen by the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (“OAQDA”). The legislation provides the plants up to $150 million a year and eligible solar projects $20 million. The program would sunset December 31, 2026 with monthly customers’ charges capped at 85 cents for residential and $2,400 for large users. The bill also lowers the state’s renewable energy standards to 8.5% by 2026, enables the PUCO to end energy efficiency standards if the 17.5% target has been reached, and enables extension of cost recovery for the Ohio Valley Electric Corp.’s gas-fired plants. With the arrest of House Speaker Larry Householder, bipartisan plans began to take shape almost immediately to repeal HB 6’s nuclear subsidy. A minority party plan to repeal HB 6 is underway with HB 738 sponsored by Rep. Michael O’Brien (D-Warren), who co-chaired the House Energy Generation Subcommittee, and Rep. Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood). Similarly, a majority-led HB 746 has been sponsored by Rep. Mark Romanchuk (R-Mansfield) and Rep. Laura Lanese (R-Grove City). House Bill 6 passed with such narrow margins that it might not take many defections to repeal the law (the bill passed the House initially by three votes and the Senate by two votes).  Groups interested in repeal include the Buckeye Institute, the Ohio Environmental Council and the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance. Governor DeWine has called for the bill’s repeal and replacement, stating that it is “tainted” and that the corrupted process that resulted in the bill’s passage has eroded public trust.

HB 7  WATER FUND  (Ghanbari, H., Patterson, J.)  This bill, introduced May 13, 2019 would create the H2Ohio Trust Fund for the protection and preservation of Ohio’s water quality, create the H2Ohio Advisory Council to disburse money from the Fund for water quality programs, and create the H2Ohio Endowment Board to make recommendations to the Treasurer of State regarding the issuance of securities to pay for costs related to the purposes of the Fund.  The bill was referred to the House Finance Committee where a substitute bill was approved on June 18. The revised bill passed in the House June 20 and would increase the cap on the annual disbursement of funds from $50 million to $100 million and eliminate the creation of the H2Ohio Advisory Council, instead vesting authority over the disbursements in the Ohio Water Development Authority.  It also included a provision allowing the Department of Natural Resources to establish a pilot program to study water withdrawals by using streamflow monitoring in Eastern Ohio and another provision which enables the Controlling Board to approve or deny an amount recommended by the director of the Office of Budget Management for year-end unspent balances. It was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which held its first hearing with sponsor testimony on October 22, 2019.  The measure passed the Senate on a unanimous vote on December 9; it now heads to conference committee.

HB 13 BROADBAND (Carfagna, R., O’Brian, M.) As introduced May 16, 2019, this bill was based on a proposal that passed the House last year (HB 281, 132nd GA) and would have required the Development Services Agency (DSA) to establish the Residential Broadband Expansion (RBE) Program to provide grants to municipal corporations and townships (project sponsors) to help fund projects that provide broadband to any residential area within their boundaries that is without broadband (eligible area).  It excludes as an eligible area under the RBE Program, any area that has received, or is designated to receive, any other state or federally funded grants that are designed to encourage broadband deployment. The program would allow the Director of DSA to accept applications from project sponsors each fiscal year, review each application within 60 days, and fund applications on a first-come, first-served basis until all program funds for the fiscal year are awarded. Program funds, up to $2 Million per biennium, would come from currently-budgeted DSA funds.  On May 19, 2020, a substitute bill was accepted by the House Finance Committee that made changes to this proposed broadband grant program.  Under the revised bill, local governments are no longer eligible to apply; instead, only video services providers, telecommunications/satellite broadcasters/wireless service providers may apply.  The program will now be run by the Department of Commerce instead of the Development Services Agency.  Grant award decisions will be made by a Broadband Expansion Program Authority comprised of the Director of the Department of Commerce, the JobsOhio President, one Governor appointee, one Senate appointee, and one House appointee. The program would be funded by the transfer of $20 million from the Facilities Establishment Fund to the Department of Commerce. The substitute bill allows a broadband provider to share an existing easement held by an electric cooperative and requires electric cooperatives to grant broadband providers nondiscriminatory access to the cooperatives’ electric poles. On June 2, after objections by the railroad industry, the Committee removed language that would have streamlined the process to gain approvals to traverse railroad crossings by setting standardized crossing fees and establishing a uniform crossing application process. HB 13 was also adjusted to place any dispute resolution among broadband service providers and rural electric co-ops in county courts of common pleas (rather than PUCO, as originally proposed).  The House Finance Committee’s 29-2 vote was delayed as an amendment was added to allow an electric distribution utility to build out middle mile infrastructure for broadband and receive recovery through their rate. Ultimately, a compromise three-year “pilot project” version of the amendment was added to HB 13 and the measure passed the House on June 11 with hundreds of millions of dollars in new capital appropriations for school construction.  The measure was first heard by the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee on July 21, with Rep. Carfagna providing sponsor testimony to the committee members.

On December 1, opponent testimony was offered by urban school district students residing in “broadband deserts” within their inner city neighborhoods, who stated the measure’s focus on rural broadband issues neglected to acknowledge the issue of affordability of access in low-income neighborhoods as to traditional telecom providers.  The first glimmers of opposition in the Ohio Senate began to appear concurrently, as some members informally expressed hesitancy to passing this bill given its close affiliation with former Speaker Householder. 

HB 34   MINIMUM WAGE  (Kelly, B.)  This bill would increase the state minimum wage and allow municipalities, townships and counties to establish higher minimum wage requirements.  The bill has been referred to the House Commerce & Labor Committee, where initial hearings occurred in January 2020.

HB 48  ROAD IMPROVEMENT FUND  (Greenspan, D.)  This measure would provide for a new Local Government Road Improvement Fund for local governments to fund road improvements.  It was referred to the Finance Committee in February 2019.

HB 93  PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION (Skindell, M., Upchurch, T.)  Introduced February 21, 2019, in addition to any appropriations made for the 2020-2021 biennium, this bill would make additional appropriations related to public transportation in the amount of $100 million for public transportation and $50 million for the highway operating fund in both 2020 and 2021.  The bill was referred to the House Finance Committee in March 2019.

HB 98  LOAN FUND  (Jones, D., Cera, J.)  Similar to HB 695 introduced in the last General Assembly, this bill would reinstate the rural industrial park loan program under Ohio Development Services Agency, as detailed in ORC 122.23-.25, with an appropriation of $25 million.  The program would assist eligible applicants in financing the development and improvement of industrial parks by providing financial assistance in the form of loans and loan guarantees for land acquisition; constructing, reconstructing, rehabilitating, remodeling, renovating, enlarging, or improving industrial park buildings; and infrastructure improvements.  The bill has been assigned to the House Economic & Workforce Development where it had its first hearing March 27, 2019. The provisions of this bill were included in the signed Budget Bill (HB 166).

HB 116  TRANSPORTATION PLANNING  (Brinkman, T.)  Introduced March 4, 2019, in addition to any appropriations made for the 2020-2021 biennium, this bill would make additional appropriations related to transportation planning and research in the amount of $4.5 million for FY 2020 which shall be used to (1) study the Cincinnati Eastern Bypass Project, (2) review work done previously by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet relative to the Brent Spence Bridge Project, and (3) make recommendations on moving forward with both projects cooperatively.  The bill was referred in March 2019 to the House Finance Committee, where it had its first hearing on December 1, 2020.

HB 149 TAX EXEMPTION (Merrin, D.)  Introduced March 19, 2019 and identical to HB 371 from the last General Assembly, this bill would amend ORC 5709.51 among other code sections and temporarily exempt from property tax the increased value of land subdivided for residential development until construction commences or the land is sold.  The bill would benchmark an “ascribed taxable value” of the newly subdivided parcel, and any increase in taxable value would be exempt from taxation until either (1) Construction of a residential building on that property commences, or (2) Title to the property is transferred for consideration by a qualifying owner to another person.  The construction of streets, sidewalks, curbs, or driveways or the installation of water, sewer, or other utility lines on a subdivided parcel would not cause construction of a residential building to commence for purposes of the bill, and the value of those improvements would thus automatically be exempted from taxation until construction of a residence begins or the property is sold.  The bill was referred to the House Economic and Workforce Development Committee, and its provisions were then included in the Conference Committee version of the state budget bill, HB 166.  However, after concerns were expressed by numerous local government groups including the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the Ohio Library Council, the Ohio Association of School Board Officials, the Ohio Township Association, the County Commissioners Association and the County Auditors Association, Governor DeWine line-item vetoed the provisions of the bill.

HB 162 TAX CREDIT (Patton, T.)  This bill would increase the overall cap on the motion picture tax credit from $40 million per fiscal year to $100 million per fiscal biennium.  The bill was referred to the Finance Committee in March 2019.

HB 163 WATER/SEWER SERVICE (Brinkman, T.) This bill, introduced March 25, 2019 would create a process for withholding local government funds and state water and sewer assistance from municipal corporations that engage in certain water and sewer practices (for example, charging higher rates for nonresident customers) with respect to extraterritorial service.  The bill was referred to the House Public Utilities Committee, where 5 hearings have occurred.  On September 26, the committee accepted three amendments.  The first would specify that the civil action referenced in the bill is a declaratory judgment action.  The second would create a safe harbor for municipalities charging no more than 25% above rates charged to residents.  The third would final ensure the bill has no effect on existing contracts.  The bill had its sixth hearing January 29, 2020 during which an amendment was accepted that clarifies that nonresident rates that are no higher than 125% of residential rates are deemed to be reasonable.  The bill was reported out of the committee May 13 and passed the House on a 56-38 vote held on June 10.  The measure was referred to the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee in late July 2020.

HB 168 BONA FIDE PURCHASER (Arndt, S.)  This bill should assist with brownfield development by incorporating into Ohio law the federal Bona Fide Purchaser Defense (BFPD) established under CERCLA, which provides prospective buyers of contaminated property with an option to establish a defense to environmental liability after completing the All Appropriate Inquires and proper due diligence.  The bill passed the House May 30 and had its third hearing November 13, where an amendment was approved that would provide the director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency the ability to issue an order voiding a covenant not to sue if a property subject to institutional controls or use limitations fails to comply with those requirements.  A fifth hearing occurred May 6, and after adopting an amendment that makes clear the bona fide prospective purchaser provision is retroactive to January 2002 following the lead of federal law, the bill was reported out of Committee and passed by the Senate May 6, 2020.  On May 13, the House concurred on the Senate amendments.  The bill was signed by the Governor June 16 and took effect mid-September.

HB 185 JOBSOHIO (Ingram, C.)  Introduced April 4, this bill would establish that records kept by JobsOhio are public records subject to inspection and copying under Ohio Public Records Law and to require all meetings of the JobsOhio Board of Directors to be open to the public, except when in an executive session.  It has been referred to the Economic and Workforce Development Committee where a first hearing occurred May 15, 2019.

HB 190 BROADBAND PROGRAM  (Smith, R.) This bill is identical to HB 378 which passed in the House during the 132nd GA, would create the Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program to provide funds to extend broadband service to unserved areas of the state.  The program would be administered by the Ohio Development Services Agency.  The following entities could apply for a grant: (1) private businesses, (2) political subdivisions, (3) nonprofit entities organized to provide telecommunications services, and (4) co-ops organized to provide phone and Internet services.  Grant amounts cannot exceed the lesser of: (1) 50% of the total project cost, or (2) $5 million. Recipients could use funds to construct broadband infrastructure to serve unserved areas, including installing middle-mile or last-mile infrastructure, grant-project planning, obtaining construction permits, constructing facilities, purchasing equipment, and installing and testing the service.  The bill would appropriate $50 million per year for FYs 2020 and 2021 from the Facilities Establishment Fund, to be used to award grants under the Program.  It was referred to the Finance Committee in April 2019, where it had its first hearing on December 1, 2020.

HB 218 PUBLIC-PRIVATE AGREEMENTS (Patton, T.) Introduced April 24, 2019, this bill would  authorize certain public bodies, including state agencies, state institutions of higher education, counties, townships, municipal corporations, school districts, community schools, STEM schools, college-preparatory boarding schools, library districts, and port authorities, to execute a public-private agreement (“PPA”) with a private party for the planning, acquisition, financing, development, design, construction, reconstruction, replacement, improvement, maintenance, management, repair, leasing, or operation of a “facility”.  “Facility” is defined to include a new or existing public building, public improvement, or public infrastructure used by a public body, by the public at large, in support of a public purpose, or for the delivery of services, and it must be owned by the public body or owned by the private party through a lease agreement under which the facility reverts to the public body upon expiration of the agreement.  A public body that has authority to issue bonds/obligations may issue them for the purpose of funding the development or financing of a facility under a PPA. A public body may accept a grant, loan, or other financial assistance from the United States or any of its agencies or may enter into agreements with the United States as necessary to fund the facility. A public body may also accept from any source any grant, donation, gift, or other form of conveyance of land, money, other real or personal property or other items of value, and the public body may use federal, state, local, and private funds to finance a facility. Finally, a facility may be financed in whole or in part by contribution of any funds or property made by any operator or an affected jurisdiction that is a party to a PPA.    In the State and Local Government Committee, HB 218 was changed with clarifying language to make public-private agreements align with laws governing public improvement projects.  The fourth committee hearing was held June 9, 2020.  This bill was heard for the fifth time and reported out by the committee on November 17.

HB 247 ELECTRIC SERVICE (Stein, D.) Introduced May 15, this bill would permit electric distribution utilities (EDUs) to offer customer-focused energy services or products, which may include energy efficiency, energy monitoring, electric vehicle charging stations, the installation and management of smart grid technology, and other items.  These products may be offered if either the PUCO has approved them under certain sections of the Ohio Revised Code or the products are optional, the EDU maintains separate accounting for the products, and the EDU does not include incremental costs directly related to the products in base distribution rates but instead recovers incremental costs through charges to customers who elect to subscribe to those services.  The bill would also allow an EDU’s electric security plan to include provisions for the EDU’s recovery of costs for the products and smart grid technology deployment, including lost revenue, shared savings, and avoided costs, and a just and reasonable rate of return on smart grid technology deployment.  Additionally, it would lift the corporate separation requirements that currently apply to the offering of a product or service other than retail electric service, effectively allowing an EDU to offer such a product or service directly, rather than through a fully separated affiliate.

Finally, it authorizes nonbypassable electric riders for: (1) infrastructure development costs for state and local economic development projects and (2) facilities of mercantile customers that are locating or expanding in Ohio.  The bill grants an EDU timely recovery of infrastructure development costs necessary to support or enable a state or local economic development project, including any project approved, certified, or funded by “the agency” (presumably the Development Services Agency). The bill defines “infrastructure development costs” as any cost of infrastructure development, including, if applicable, an allowance for funds used during construction. The bill defines “infrastructure development” as the planning, development, and construction of substation facilities and extensions of transmission or distribution facilities that an EDU owns and operates and the performance of load studies.  The bill requires the EDU, before beginning the infrastructure development, to file a notice with the PUCO that contains all of the following:

  • A description of the economic development project;
  • A summary of the infrastructure development costs;
  • A statement from the state or local entity involved that the infrastructure development is necessary to support or enable the economic development project.

The costs are to be recovered through a nonbypassable rider charged to all distribution customers regardless of whether the infrastructure development is used and useful at the time constructed.

The bill also expands the definition of “smart grid” to include capital investment in equipment deployed in conjunction with an EDU’s distribution infrastructure that facilitates intelligent city designs, such as traffic sensors, infrastructure monitoring equipment, data management systems, and similar technology as well as the deployment, adaptation, replacement, or subsequent reinforcement of any technology that facilitates the storage, control, or delivery of electric energy.

A third hearing on the bill occurred October 23, 2019 in the House Public Utilities Committee, where opponent testimony was heard from the OMA, IGS, Direct Energy, ChargePoint, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Consumers Council, the  Retail Energy Supply Association and others.

HB 255 TAX EXPENDITURES (Hoops, J.)  Introduced May 23, 2019, this bill would require the Tax Commissioner’s biennial tax expenditure report to include information on local property tax exemptions and to require the Tax Expenditure Review Committee to periodically review each such property tax exemption.  It has been referred to the Ways & Means Committee, which approved a substitute bill May 12 that made two changes.  The first removes the requirement to include tangible personal property tax exemptions in the tax commissioner’s biennial tax expenditure report.  The second change defines property tax exemption to mean a provision in Revised Code exempting all or a portion of real property value as reported on forms prescribed by the tax commissioner and categorized by the commissioner as a charitable and public worship, public and education, local economic development, or other exemptions.  The sixth committee hearing was held June 10.  The House passed this measure unanimously (84-0) on November 18, and the bill has been referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

HB 264 INFRASTRUCTURE LOANS (Wilkin, S., O’Brien, M.)  Introduced May 28, this bill would authorize the Ohio Water Development Authority (OWDA) to make loans and grants to persons and government agencies for the refinancing of certain public water and waste water infrastructure projects.  The bill also authorizes the OWDA to issue water development revenue bonds and notes for the purpose of paying any part of refinancing of these projects.  The bill was passed by the House December 12, 2019, and by the Senate June 30, 2020.  On November 19, the House voted unanimously to reject the Senate’s changes to the bill.  Conference committee members were named December 14 to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill.

HB 283  GRANT PROGRAM (Miller, A., Sweeney, B.) Introduced June 11, this bill would require JobsOhio to establish and administer the Competitive Global Air Service Development Grant Program. Under the program, JobsOhio would be required to:

  • Provide grants to air carriers to support the establishment of new direct international and domestic air service to and from Ohio airports;
  • Ensure that grants made under the program provide minimum revenue guarantees and marketing assistance to air carriers;
  • Give priority consideration to air carriers that propose to establish new direct air service between Ohio and destinations located in the European Union or Japan;
  • Establish eligibility requirements; and
  • Prepare, and submit to the General Assembly, a written report not later than the last business day of January of each year detailing all aspects of the program occurring during the immediately preceding year.

The bill has been assigned to the House Economic and Workforce Development Committee.  This bill had its first hearing, with sponsor testimony, on November 18.

HB 382 MUNICIPAL TAXES (Jordan, K.)  Introduced October 29, 2019, this bill would prohibit municipal corporations from levying an income tax on nonresidents’ compensation for personal services or on net profits from a sole proprietorship owned by a nonresident.

HB 386 TRUCK DRIVER STUDENTS (Hoops, J., Sobecki, L.) Introduced November 5, this bill would establish the Commercial Truck Driver Student Aid program and allocate funds for a grant and loan program to individuals seeking a Commercial Driver’s License.  If students meet the eligibility requirements, they can receive a grant equal to one-half of the remaining state cost of attendance after the student’s federal Pell grant and expected family contribution are applied to instructional and general charges for the student’s enrollment in a certified commercial driver’s license school. They can also receive a loan in an amount equal to the grant, repayable if they do not complete the program and stay in Ohio for at least a year after completion.  It was referred to the Economic & Workforce Development Committee where a second hearing occurred February 12, 2020.

HB 401 WIND REGULATIONS (Reineke, B.)  Introduced November 6, 2019, this bill would apply to “economically significant wind farms” and would require inclusion of certain safety specifications in wind farm certificate applications to the Ohio Power Siting Board, would modify their wind turbine setback requirements and would permit a township referendum vote on these wind farm certificates issued by the Siting Board. The bill defines that term as already defined in ORC 4906.13, which is as follows:  “economically significant wind farm” means wind turbines and associated facilities with a single interconnection to the electrical grid and designed for, or capable of, operation at an aggregate capacity of five or more megawatts but less than fifty megawatts.” The term excludes any such wind farm in operation on June 24, 2008. The term also excludes one or more wind turbines and associated facilities that are primarily dedicated to providing electricity to a single customer at a single location and that are designed for, or capable of, operation at an aggregate capacity of less than twenty megawatts, as measured at the customer’s point of interconnection to the electrical grid.  If passed, the legislation would enable township residents by referendum to overturn a wind project already approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board. Amendments to approval certificates from the Power Siting Board for existing turbine projects would also be subject to potential referendum if they add more turbines, increase the height of a turbine or the diameter of a turbine tower’s base, or relocate any turbine. The bill also revises wind turbine setbacks with the distance to be equivalent to the manufacturer’s safety recommendations rather than current law which provides the greater of either 1.1 times total turbine height or at least 1,125 feet from the tip of the nearest blade to the property line of the nearest adjacent property.  The bill has been assigned to the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee, where a first hearing occurred November 13 and a second one is scheduled for November 19.  Senator Rob McColley has introduced companion Senate Bill 234.  A third hearing occurred December 3, 2019 at which lawmakers discussed possibly revising the bill to move a proposed township referendum process to the Power Siting Board.

HB 404 REMOTE MEETINGS (Manchester, S., Sweeney, B.)  This bill seeks to allow the board of trustees of a state institution of higher education to adopt a policy allowing the trustees to attend a board meeting via means of electronic communication.  Introduced in November 2019, this bill passed the House by overwhelming vote.  The Senate Oversight & Reform Committee reported out the bill unanimously on November 18, 2020.   The bill picked up a number of last-minute amendments related to the COVID-19 pandemic to achieve the following ends, among others: (1) extend HB 197’s temporary authorization for members of a public body to hold and attend meetings virtually until July 1, 2021; and (2) require any unspent Coronavirus Relief Fund money that cannot be redistributed locally to be paid to the state treasury.   The amendment included an emergency clause.  On November 19, 2020, the Senate passed this measure, which was then concurred by an 84-4 vote by the House; the bill was sent to the Governor and was signed November 23 into law.

HB 440 TAX EXEMPTION (Miranda, J., Carruthers, S.) Introduced December 9, 2019, this bill would authorize sales tax exemptions for property and services used to clean or maintain manufacturing machinery and for employment services used to operate manufacturing machinery.  It has been referred to the Ways & Means Committee where an initial hearing occurred January 28, 2020.

HB 444 Township Laws (Baldridge, B., Abrams, C.) This bill seeks to make various changes to township law, including provisions related to energy-special improvement districts (ESID).  The House voted unanimously to pass the bill on November 19, sending it to the Senate for possible adoption during lame duck.  The Senate Local Government, Public Safety & Veterans Affairs Committee held its first hearing on the measure on December 8; the Senate reportedly views this measure as benign and therefore potentially likely for passage.

HB 481 LAND CONVEYANCE (Fraizer, M.) This bill was originally introduced to authorize the conveyance of state-owned real property and was passed by the House May 20.  On June 10, 2020 the bill was passed by the Senate after being amended to include the provisions of SB 310 (distributing $350 million in federal CARES Act – Coronavirus Relief Fund payments to local governments) and SB 316 (the Senate’s $1.28 billion capital re-appropriations bill).  On June 11, the House concurred in the Senate’s amendments, and the bill was signed by the Governor June 19.

HB 507 TAX LIENS (Manning, D.)   Introduced February 13, 2020, this bill would prohibit enforcement of delinquent property tax liens against owner-occupied homesteads and require that any delinquent tax be paid before the title to a homestead may be transferred.  The bill was referred to the House Ways & Means Committee.

HB 523 LOAN PROGRAM (Patterson, J., Carfagna, R.)  Introduced February 21, this bill would establish the STEM Degree Loan Repayment Program, providing a refundable tax credit for employers who make payments on student loans obtained by graduates to earn a STEM degree.  The bill was referred to the House Finance Committee March 10, 2020.

HB 531 JOBSOHIO (Rogers, J.) Introduced March 3, 2020, this bill would establish that JobsOhio must submit to audits by the Auditor of State, and that an audit of JobsOhio must include an audit of the revenues, receipts, and expenditures of JobsOhio associated with the enterprise acquisition project.  The bill received its first hearing before the House State & Local Government Committee on November 10.

HB 541 VALUATION ADJUSTMENTS (Perales, R.) This bill addresses valuation adjustments for destroyed or injured property.  For economic developers, this legislation affects the use of Form DTE-26 for demolished or destroyed buildings (vis-à-vis timing for tax exemption purposes).  Specifically, property “destroyed or injured” may be applied for value adjustment by (1) inspection by the county auditor, who may act unilateraly, or (2) notice provided by the property owner or two disinterested persons (i.e., Form DTE-26 applications).  The bill passed the House on November 18 on a unanimous (83-0) vote and will be reported to the Senate for possible further action during the lame duck session.

HB 614 UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION (Fraizer, M., Richardson, T.)  Passed with an emergency clause, this bill was first introduced to create the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council and revise the state’s unemployment claims process.  But the measure was amended and fast-tracked by the Ohio General Assembly to provide for the final distribution of $650MM in federal CARES Act – Coronavirus Relief Fund payments to units of local government.  This bill does not address federal Coronavirus Relief Fund payments received by the six (6) large population jurisdictions directly from the U.S. Treasury.  Governor DeWine signed this measure into law on October 1, 2020.

HB 631 ECONOMIC ALLIANCES (Rogers, J., Hambley, S.) Introduced May 13, this bill would authorize municipal corporations to establish regional economic development alliances for the sharing of services or resources among alliance members. 10 or more municipalities may form an alliance but only 1 alliance may be formed per “region”.  “Region” means the territory included within the boundaries of a central county and of each county that is adjacent to that central county. If two or more central counties are adjacent to each other, “region” means the entire territory included within the boundaries of those central counties and each county adjacent to either of those central counties. If two  or more central counties are each adjacent to a common county,  “region” may mean either of the following: The territory included within the boundaries of those central counties and each county that is adjacent to either of those central counties,  or The territory included within the boundaries of one of the central counties and of each county that is adjacent to that central county, provided that, if a county is adjacent to two or more central counties that are included in separate regions under this division, the municipal corporations in that county may choose to join an alliance in any one of those separate regions.  “Central county” means either Cuyahoga or Summit County (as stated in the bill, “a county that has adopted a charter under Sections 3 and 4 of Article X, Ohio Constitution and that has a population of at least four hundred thousand according to the most recent federal decennial census as of the date an agreement is entered into under this chapter”).  The bill provides that alliances will have the same powers as given to COGs (Councils of Governments) under ORC Chapter 167 and sets forth a complex funding system alliances must follow, with annual contributions made by and funds received by municipalities factoring in their income tax rates and their revenues received  from income taxes.  Additionally, alliances may pool resources to fund infrastructure and economic development. It was referred to the House Economic and Workforce Development Committee where sponsor testimony was introduced on June 11.  Representative Rogers (Mentor-on-the-Lake) and Hambley (Brunswick) presented on the bill, noting it would establish a pilot program among only large counties to increase regional cooperation in Ohio.

HB 663 PREVAILING WAGE (Hood, R., Dean, B.) Introduced May 19, this bill would repeal the Prevailing Wage Law.  The legislation was referred to the Commerce & Labor Committee.

HB 670 CAPITAL REAPPROPRIATIONS (Merrin, D.)  Introduced May 20, this bill proposed to make approximately $600 million in capital re-appropriations to continue funding to previously-funded projects, for the biennium ending June 30, 2022. As noted below, its provisions were folded into SB 4.

HB 675 CLEANOHIO (Hillyer, B., Swearingen, D.)  Introduced May 26, this bill would restore funding to the state’s CleanOhio Revitalization Fund (CORF) which operated through 2013 as a competitive grant program administered by the Development Services Agency. Grants for the cleanup of brownfields would be available for up to 75% of the cleanup cost to a max of $3 million.  The bill adds land banks (county land reutilization corporations) to the list of public entities and nonprofits eligible to apply.  The program would be funded by the excess liquor profits paid by JobsOhio to the State pursuant to agreements between the parties. It was referred to the State & Local Government Committee.

HB 704 REDEVELOPMENT AREAS (Cross, J., Fraizer, M.) Introduced by Rep. Frazier, a new member of the Ohio House who recently served on Newark City Council.  The bill’s key elements are summarized below:

  • Amend the community reinvestment area (CRA) tax abatement program as it relates to commercial and industrial properties.
  • The measure removes the requirement for a property owner and the municipal corporation or county to enter into an agreement setting forth job and investment commitments to receive the CRA abatement.
  • The bill also ends the requirement that municipal corporations or counties petition the Ohio Development Services Agency to certify the creation of new CRAs.
  • HB 704 alters the annual reporting requirements and removes the fee paid to ODSA for CRA agreements.
  • The measure amends the statutory threshold for school district approval from an abatement.  Under current law, school district approval is required if the schools would receive payments of less than 50% of the amount they would have received in taxes if there was no CRA abatement (see R.C. 3735.671(A)(2)).  Sub. HB 704 changes the threshold to require school district approval if the schools receive payments of less than 25% of the amount of taxes they would have received but for the CRA abatement.

The Ohio House gave attention on this bill at the start of the lame duck session, including holding sponsor testimony in committee and drafting a substitute bill.  During the measure’s first committee hearing, members posed questions as to impacts from the change to CRA law on school district funding.  Note the House Economic Development Committee’s second hearing was canceled.  If this measure does not pass during lame duck, it may be this change in CRA law appears during the next General Assembly as part of the biennial budget bill.

HB 725 MEDIA TAX CREDIT (SMITH, K.) Introduced July 13, this bill seeks to authorize a refundable income tax credit for investing in a sound recording production company.  The measure was referred to the House Ways & Means Committee on August 31, 2020.

HB 734 FORECLOSURES (ROGERS, J., HICKS-HUDSON, P.) Introduced late July, this bill would modify delinquent property tax foreclosure proceedings and prohibit tax-delinquent persons and their associates from purchasing tax-foreclosed property or delinquent tax certificates.  The bill received its first hearing before the House Ways & Means Committee on November 10.

HB 738 HB6 REPEAL (SKINDELL, M., O’BRIEN, M.) One of three HB 6-repeal measures (as of this writing), this bill would repeal the changes made by H.B. 6 to the laws governing electric service, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.  The measure was referred to the House Select Committee on Energy Policy & Oversight.  The Select Committee held four hearings on this measure during September, taking no further action.

HB 746 ENERGY REPEAL (LANESE, L., GREENSPAN, D.) One of three HB 6-repeal measures (as of this writing), this bill would repeal the changes made by H.B. 6 to the laws governing electric service, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.  The measure was referred to the House Select Committee on Energy Policy & Oversight.  The Select Committee held four hearings on this measure during September, taking no further action.

HB 751 PROPERTY TAX VALUATIONS (Hillyer, B.) This bill seeks to modify the law regarding property tax valuation complaints.  The bill received its second hearing before the House Ways & Means Committee on December 3.

HB 754 MUNICIPAL TAXES (Jordan, K.)  This measure was introduced on August 31 and seeks to modify municipal income tax employer withholding rules for COVID-19-related work-from-home employees.  This measure was referred on November 17 to the House Ways & Means Committee.

HB 755 TAX FORECLOSURES (PATTON, T.) This bill was introduced on August 31 and seeks to make large-scale changes to county land banking law (R.C. Chapter 5722) and the law relating to tax foreclosures (R.C. Chapter 323).  This measure was written in coordination with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank and other land bank leaders in Ohio.  The Senate corollary measure is SB 356.  This measure was referred on November 17 to the House Financial Institutions Committee.

HB 763 STATE OF EMERGENCY (Grendell, D., Stoltzfus, R.) This bill was introduced on September 23, 2020 and would terminate the declared COVID-19 state of emergency in Ohio.  This measure was referred on November 17 to the House State & Local Government Committee.

HB 772 ELECTRIC UTILITY SERVICE LAW/REPEAL PART OF HB 6 (Romanchuk M) This was introduced on September 30, 2020 as a repeal-H.B. 6 measure, and received its first hearing, with sponsor testimony, before the House Select Committee on Energy Policy & Oversight on November 19.  The bill was the subject of an informal hearing in the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee on December 9.

HB 774 EMINENT DOMAIN (Miller, A.)  This bill seeks to amend the law regarding eminent domain and was introduced on October 14.  This measure was referred on November 17 to the House Criminal Justice Committee.

HB 789 REMOTE MEETINGS (Miller, J.) This measure would extend the temporary authority for public bodies to meet via electronic technology and to declare an emergency.  This measure was referred on December 1 to the House State & Local Government Committee.

HB 791 PUBLIC MEETINGS (Cutrona, A., Ginter, T.) This bill seeks to extend the authorization for members of a public body to hold and attend meetings or hearings via electronic technology.

HB 798  NUCLEAR SUBSIDIES (Hoops, J.)  This bill seeks to delay for one year the $170M in nuclear and solar subsidies, and revise certain other laws, enacted by H.B. 6 of the 133rd General Assembly.  The bill also grants the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority, which implements the subsidies, the ability to limit subsidy payments to utility operators only “to the amount necessary to increase the net income or profit margin… from a negative amount to not more than zero for the annual audit period.” 

Written with an emergency clause, this measure mandates a “retrospective management and financial audit, including a financial need assessment” for Energy Harbor, owner of the two nuclear plants; compare to HB 6’s requirement for merely a “retrospective management and financial review.”  The repeal measure also requires the PUCO to use independent consultants and auditors who are knowledgeable and experienced; compare to HB 6’s granting the PUCO to retain consultants and advisers.

Finally, HB 798 eliminates language from HB 6 that the FirstEnergy group of companies be allowed to use their total earned return on common equity (across the related entities) to assess significantly excessive earnings under the so-called significant excessive earnings test (or “SEET”), by which the PUCO determines whether a utility collected enough revenue to warrant a refund to consumers.

This measure has momentum during the lame duck session, as the bill sponsor’s own House Select Committee on Energy Policy & Oversight has held hearings on the matter during December.  On December 8, the Committee adopted several amendments, on a party-line vote, as to the following:

  • Changes the audit process for utilities which receive subsidies, requiring that information must be certified as accurate by utilities’ CFOs and that failure to provide accurate information is grounds for the suspension of further subsidy payments.
  • Requires the OAQDA to cease or reduce credits if it finds a utility seeks to cease operations before May 1, 2028, or to adjust subsidy payments to maintain utility’s economic viability at the lowest cost to consumers.
  • Provides that financial and proprietary information, including trade secrets, are confidential and not a public record unless found otherwise by OAQDA.

This measure was the subject of an informal hearing in the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee on December 9.  The bill is scheduled for its fifth hearing in the House Select Committee on Wednesday, December 16.

HB 800 ENERGY PROJECTS (Wilkin, S., Upchurch, T.)  This bill seeks to modify the law governing the financing of local solar and geothermal projects and special improvement district projects.

 

COVID-19 House Bills:

HB 562 EVICTIONS (Leland, D., Crossman, J.)  This measure would prohibit foreclosure activity and the eviction of residential and commercial tenants during the state of emergency declared regarding COVID-19.  The bill received its first hearing in the House Civil Justice Committee on December 3.

HB 567 TAX CREDIT (Rogers, J., Crossman, J.)  To temporarily authorize a partially refundable earned income tax credit and to declare an emergency.  This bill had its first hearing, with sponsor testimony, on November 17.

HB 570 County Purchases (Boggs, K.)  To allow a county to purchase public health-related items and communication equipment without competitive bidding, solicit bids electronically, and open bids during a meeting held electronically.  This bill is scheduled for its first hearing on December 16 before the House State & Local Government Committee.

HB 572 Fee WAIVERS (Sobecki, L.)  To allow the Ohio Public Works Commission, the Ohio Water Development Authority, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, county auditors, and county recorders, during the state of emergency due to COVID-19, to waive certain penalties and late fees, suspend certain reporting requirements, and waive electronic recording fees.  This bill is scheduled for its first hearing on December 16 before the House State & Local Government Committee.

HB 575 COUNTY PAYMENTS (Miller, J.)  To permit counties to receive payments by a drop box instead of in-person for the duration of the Governor’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.  This bill is scheduled for its first hearing on December 16 before the House State & Local Government Committee.

HB 590 PRICE GOUGING (Crossman, J., Rogers, J.) To prohibit price gouging after a declaration of an emergency.  This bill was heard for the first time in the House Criminal Justice Committee on December 9.

HB 593 PAID LEAVE (Boyd, J., Boggs, K.)  This bill requires paid leave for an employee who is unable to work due to quarantine or mandatory isolation, and creates a grant program to compensate contract workers who cannot perform services during public health emergencies.  The measure had its first hearing before the House Commerce & Labor Committee on December 1.

HB 596 DEBT COLLECTION (West, T.)  This bill would halt the collection of debts.  The measure had its first hearing before the House Commerce & Labor Committee on December 3.

HB 597 DEBT COLLECTION (Ingram, C., Miranda, J.)  This bill would halt the collection of all debt owed to any state institution of higher education or hospital operated by a state institution of higher education.  The measure had its first hearing before the House Commerce & Labor Committee on December 3.

HB 606 CIVIL IMMUNITY (Grendell, D.)  This bill would grant civil immunity to a person (including businesses) providing essential services and operations from injury, death, or loss that was caused by the transmission of COVID-19 during the period of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D, issued on March 9, 2020. Immunity would not apply in cases in which by clear and convincing evidence an individual can prove the virus was transmitted due to reckless or intentional conduct or willful or wanton misconduct.  The bill had two hearings in May before the House Civil Justice Committee.  The House panel accepted a substitute version of the bill that contained two components: one for the health care industry and another for general immunity. Examples of entities covered by the bill include all Ohio businesses, hospitals, healthcare workers, volunteers, grocery stores, churches, delivery drivers, and business employees.  Senate Bill 308 is a companion bill.  The bill passed in the House May 28 and passed in the Senate June 30 after being amended earlier that day by the Judiciary Committee.  The bill was signed into law on September 14; it will take effect 90 days hence.

HB 609 TAX AMNESTY (West, T.)  This measure would require the Tax Commissioner to administer a temporary amnesty program from August 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020, with respect to delinquent state taxes and fees.  This measure passed the House by unanimous vote in May and was sent to the Senate.  The Senate Ways & Means Committee will hold its third hearing on Thursday, December 17.

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