Tracked Senate Bills – July 2020

Jul 24, 2020 | Advocacy

Chris Schmenk
Bricker & Eckler LLP

 

 

News from the Statehouse:
House Speaker Arrested, Charged with Federal Bribery and Related Offenses

On July 21, the FBI raided the home of Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder. Later during the day, law enforcement arrested Speaker Householder and four other individuals in connection with a $60 million bribery case related to H.B. 6, legislation that subsidized Ohio’s two nuclear power plants.  Speaker Householder had returned to the House in 2016 following a stint in the early 2000s when he also served as Speaker.  His earlier departure coincided with another FBI investigation stemming from e-mails and related to funneling of campaign contributions.  No charges were ever filed in that case.

The other four individuals arrested are Neil Clark, founder of Grant Street Consultants, a prominent lobbying firm in Columbus; former Ohio Republican Party chair and consultant Matthew Borges; Juan Cespedes, co-founder of The Oxley Group in Columbus; and Jeffrey Longstreth, adviser to Householder.  They were released from custody afterward, with travel restrictions and prohibitions on contact with others involved in the case.  All face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

U.S. Attorney David DeVillers held a news conference later that same day to brief the media and public on the federal racketeering case. He announced that the criminal complaint released to the public on Tuesday alleges that Householder and the four others orchestrated an operation to accept over $60 million dollars from “Company A” in return for a public bailout for the company worth more than $1 billion.  While the complaint does not name “Company A,” prosecutors indicate at numerous points in the Complaint that the company is FirstEnergy Corp. –including citations to news articles that mention the company by name.

Numerous state officials have called upon Speaker Householder to resign, including Governor DeWine.  Members of the House Republican caucus will apparently meet soon to discuss a leadership path forward.  As further detailed below, efforts to repeal H.B. 6 are underway in both the House and the Senate, and Governor DeWine is now calling for such a repeal.

COVID-19 Update:
Mask Requirements:

With COVID cases on the rise, on July 22 Governor DeWine announced that beginning on Thursday, July 23, at 6:00 p.m., a statewide mask mandate will go into effect for citizens living in all 88 Ohio counties.  All individuals in Ohio must wear facial coverings in public at all times when:

  • At an indoor location that is not a residence
  • Outdoors, but unable to maintain six-foot social distance from people who are not household members
  • Waiting for, riding, driving, or operating public transportation, such as a taxi, a car service, or a private car used for ride-sharing.

The order only requires those 10 years old or older to wear a mask. Additional exclusions include:

  • Those with a medical condition or a disability or those communicating with someone with a disability;
  • Those who are actively exercising or playing sports;
  • Those who are officiants at religious services;
  • Those who are actively involved in public safety; or
  • Those who are actively eating or drinking.

Travel Advisory:

The same day, the Governor announced Governor DeWine announced a travel advisory for all individuals coming into Ohio from states reporting positive COVID-19 testing rates of 15 percent or higher. Those traveling from one of the following states should self-quarantine for 14 days at home or in a hotel.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • South Carolina
  • Texas

The self-quarantine recommendation applies to those who live in Ohio and to people who are traveling into Ohio from any of these states.

NON-COVID-19 BILLS (Changes from last month are noted below in bold.):

Senate Bills:

SB 1 REGULATIONS  (McColley, R., Roegner, K.)  This bill would require each state agency to reduce the regulatory restrictions contained in its rules by 30% by 2022, according to a schedule and criteria set forth in the bill.  It also prohibits an agency from adopting new regulatory restrictions that would increase the percentage of restrictions in the agency’s rules and requires an agency that does not achieve a reduction in regulatory restrictions according to the required schedule to eliminate two restrictions before enacting a new rule containing a restriction.  It allows the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) to lessen an agency’s required reduction in regulatory restrictions if the agency fails to meet a reduction goal and show cause why the agency’s required reduction should be lessened.  Effective January 1, 2023, it limits the total number of regulatory restrictions that may be in effect in Ohio. The bill passed in the Senate May 8 and has been referred to the House State and Local Government Committee, where a first hearing occurred June 12, 2019.  The bill passed the House State and Local Government Committee on May 6, 2020, but the Senate refused to concur in the House’s change to the legislation that seeks to rein in the Ohio Department of Health’s order-making authority.  As such, Senators Schuring, Roegner, and Antonio were named as conferees to work on the bill with the House’s conferees of Representatives Wiggam, Seitz, and Kelly.

SB 4 SCHOOL FACILITIES (Rulli, M., Kunze, S.) This bill’s original contents had already been made law under the budget bill (HB 166), but during June 2020, state lawmakers sought to use this capital appropriation bill to fold in the provisions of HB 670 and authorize up to $555 million in one-year bonding authority for school construction ($300 million) and new public works projects ($255 million, of which $175 million is for the State Capital Improvement Program, known as Issue 2, for roads, bridges, water, wastewater, stormwater and other projects; and $37.5 million for the Clean Ohio Program).  Several amendments also were inserted into the bill related to (1) allowing municipalities and townships to borrow from TIF Funds; (2) allowing charter counties to side-step competitive bidding for their purchase of PPE; and (3) applying Prevailing Wage requirements to Transportation Improvement Districts.  (This trio of amendments first appeared in SB 310, but they were not included in the final, as-passed version of that bill.)  Senate Bill 4 was signed into law by Governor DeWine on July 24, 2020, with an effective date of October 12, 2020.  Bricker has published a bulletin on the changes to TIF law, which can be accessed at this link:  http://www.developohio.com/post/detail/little-noticed-change-to-tif-law-allows-municipalities-and-townships-to-redirect-up-to-25-percent-of-their-tif-funds-to-public-safety-road-and-bridge-maintenance-during-fy-2020-2021-234876

SB 8 OPPORTUNITY ZONES  (Schuring, K.)  This bill would authorize tax credits for investments in an Ohio Opportunity Zone.  As introduced, to qualify for the tax credit, investors must invest at least $250,000 during the taxable year, and the amount of the credit allowed shall be equal to one percent of the amount invested.  At a fourth hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee, a substitute bill was introduced March 12 which establishes an Opportunity Zone Investment Tax Credit program and a new opportunity zone fund that must be used exclusively for projects in opportunity zones. The new program creates a non-refundable 10% tax credit that that would be capped at $50 million over the course of a biennium. The revisions would prohibit a single entity from utilizing both the proposed program and the Invest Ohio program credit. The bill was passed by the Senate April 3 and referred to the House Economic and Workforce Development Committee, where a first hearing occurred May 8. The main provisions of this bill were included in the final Budget Bill (HB 166).

SB 37 TAX CREDIT  (Schuring, K.)  This bill would extend eligibility for and make other changes to the motion picture tax credit.  Among other changes, “Broadway theatrical productions” would become eligible for the credit, the types of expenses upon which the credit is based would be broadened to include post-production, advertising, and promotional expenditures, and the Director of Ohio Development Services Agency would begin awarding motion picture and Broadway theatrical production tax credit certificates in two competitive rounds each fiscal year. The first round of applications would be approved by July 31, and the second round would be approved by January 31.  The bill passed in the Senate May 8, 2019 and was referred in the House to the Finance Committee.  The main provisions of this bill were included in the Budget Bill.

SB 39 INSURANCE TAX  (Schuring, K.)  This measure would authorize an insurance premiums tax credit for capital contributions to transformational mixed use development projects.  To qualify, projects must:

(a)        have a transformational economic impact within the project area approved by the director of the development services agency;

(b)       be a mixed use development that integrates some combination of retail, office, residential, recreation, structured parking, and other similar uses; and

(c)        include at least one building that is fifteen or more stories in height or has a floor area of at least three hundred fifty thousand square feet.

The bill was assigned to the Senate Finance Committee, and the Senate passed a Substitute Bill June 26, 2019:

  • allowing projects involving two or more connected buildings to qualify for the credit as long as they collectively meet the program’s square-footage requirements, and
  • establishing public reporting requirements regarding projects supported by the program.

The bill passed in the Senate June 26 and was referred to the House Economic & Workforce Development Committee, where a fourth hearing occurred November 6.  A substitute bill was introduced December 11 which would:

  • Limit the DSA director to approving only four TMUDs per fiscal year with a carryover provision (in lieu of a cap).
  • Require ranking of applications by their economic value and transformational impact. Specific consideration will be given to the new state and local taxes generated from the project and its surrounding area. The project that has the most significant transformational impact and has a pro forma that shows the most expeditious schedule for the new state and local taxes to exceed the amount of the tax credit, will be the one that is approved.
  • Require a project to go into construction no later than one year after the TMUD credit is approved by the DSA Director; and
  • Increase the historic tax credit percentage from 25% to 35% for rural areas.

The substitute bill was amended by the Committee February 5 to:

  • Provide that the Ohio Tax Credit Authority would administer the program instead of the director of the Development Services Agency;
  • Sunset the law on June 30, 2022;
  • Give lien rights to commercial real estate brokers;
  • Remove references to the Historic Preservation Tax Credit;
  • Amend the rural area provisions to annually make $20 million of the proposed annual $100 million credits available to rural sites not located within 10 miles of a major city and specify that projects in those areas need only include buildings at least four stories in height with a total square footage of 75,000, and
  • Provide for a $40 million tax credit per-project cap.

On February 12, 2020, the substitute bill was further amended to:

  • Amend the rural area provisions to make projects eligible that are only two stories high;
  • Extend eligibility for the credit to June 30, 2023, and
  • Enlarge eligibility to include development sites located within ten miles of a major city if they will provide at least $4 million in annual payroll even if the building is not 15 stories in height or 350,000 square feet.

The bill remains in the House Economic and Workforce Development Committee.

SB 89   CAREER-TECH EDUCATION AND ENTERPRISE ZONE TAX ABATEMENTS (Huffman, M.) This bill, introduced March 6, would make changes to Ohio’s career-tech education programs, make changes regarding STEM school report cards, prohibit the use of value-added data for evaluations of career-technical educators, revise the law on community school fiscal officer liability, make changes regarding school financing studies by the Department of Education, revise the eligibility and operation of the Educational Choice Scholarship program, rename the income-based expansion of the Educational Choice Scholarship program as the Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship program and modify the Ohio Revised Code sections relating to enterprise zone tax exemptions to require that if an agreement is negotiated between the legislative authority and the school district in which the project is located to compensate the district for all or part of the taxes exempted, the legislative authority must also compensate the joint vocational school district within which the property is located at the same rate and under the same terms received by the school district.  The bill passed in the Senate October 23 and was assigned to the House Primary & Secondary Education Committee. The House recently chose the bill to be the vehicle to address concerns with the state’s EdChoice program, in which eligibility requirements had been loosened last fall due to changes made in HB 166 (the state budget bill).  The EdChoice program provides vouchers and thus helps fund private school tuition for students at public schools that fail to meet state performance guidelines. On February 5, the Committee accepted an amendment that would change eligibility for vouchers to be based on family income, versus being based on whether schools meet state performance guidelines, and then the bill was passed in a House Session that same day.  Other changes made by the amendment would, among other things, repeal a process established in the budget allowing residents within a township split between two or more school districts to petition to transfer territory to a new school district, and permit career centers to earn STEM and STEAM school designations.  The Senate has not yet concurred with the amended bill.  In the meantime, the Senate moved to make the EdChoice changes through House Bill 9, and a conference committee was named to reconcile the matters.  Numerous hearings of the committee occurred, and witnesses included private school students, parents and officials who continue to push for no change in the state’s voucher programs, while public school representatives continue to ask for tighter voucher eligibility requirements.  On February 26, 2020 the Governor met with House Speaker Householder and Senate President Obhof to discuss the issues between the two chambers over the EdChoice Scholarship Program, and discussions will continue.

SB 95 BUSINESS INVESTMENTS  (Peterson, B., Kunze, S.) Introduced as SB 309 in the last General Assembly, this bill would lengthen the maximum term of the job creation tax credit available under ORC 121.171 from 15 to 30 years for businesses making substantial fixed asset and employment investments (and meeting the definition of “megaprojects” as set forth in the bill) and for their suppliers, authorize commercial activity tax exclusions for receipts of those suppliers from sales to such businesses, and authorize local governments to grant longer term (up to 30 years) property tax exemptions (enterprise zones or community reinvestment areas) for such businesses or suppliers.  To qualify as a “megaproject”, projects must involve unique sites, extremely robust utility service, and a technically skilled workforce;  the megaproject operator of the project must compensate the project’s employees at an average hourly wage of at least three hundred per cent of the federal minimum wage under U.S.C. 206, exclusive of employee benefits, at the time the tax credit authority approves the project for a credit under this section; and the project must satisfy either of the following by the metric evaluation date applicable to the project : (i) The megaproject operator makes at least one billion dollars in fixed-asset investments in the project, or (ii) The megaproject operator creates at least seventy-five million dollars in Ohio employee payroll at the project.  The bill passed in the Senate June 12 and was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee where a second hearing occurred November 19, 2019.  Thereafter, the House committee held another hearing on May 19, 2020 at which interested party testimony from Policy Matters, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, and the Ohio State Bar Association, among others, was presented.

SB 109  TAX CREDITS  (Schuring, K.)  Introduced on March 13, this bill would establish a Workforce Scholarship Program and authorize the Chancellor of Higher Education to designate five public or private institutions to participate in the program.  It also authorizes the granting of scholarships and tax credits to students who pursue and complete the training programs for in-demand jobs at these designated institutions.  The bill was referred to the Finance Committee, where a second hearing occurred October 8, 2019.

SB 132 GAS TAX ALLOCATIONS  (Williams, S.)  This bill would modify the amount of revenue derived from any increase in the motor fuel tax rate that is allocated to local governments and to change the manner in which that revenue is divided between municipal corporations, counties, and townships. It was referred to the Senate Transportation, Commerce & Workforce Committee on May 1, 2019.

SB 153 TAX CREDITS (Dolan, M.)  Introduced May 21, this bill focused on assisting manufacturers and entities with significant corporate administrative functions in Ohio by amending the state’s Job Retention Tax Credit program under ORC 122.171 to expand eligibility based on new capital investment rather than payroll or employee count.  Manufacturers that invest the lesser of either $50 million or 5% of the book value of their tangible personal property used at the project site over a 3 year consecutive period would be eligible.  If such manufacturers receive the credit, they must commit to maintain an agreed-upon number of full-time equivalent employees during the term of the credit.  Entities with significant corporate administrative functions are eligible if: 1. They are either located in a foreign trade zone, employ at least five hundred full-time equivalent employees, or have an annual Ohio employee payroll of at least thirty-five million dollars; and 2. They make a capital investment of at least $20 million at the project site over 3 consecutive calendar years. Such entities must commit either: 1. To retain at least 500 FTEs at the project site during the term of the credit, or 2. Maintain an annual Ohio employee payroll of at least $35 million for the term of the credit or remain in a foreign trade zone for the entire term of the credit. The bill’s provisions were included in the final Budget Bill (HB 166), and the Ohio Development Services Agency is working on program guidelines.

SB 180 DEVELOPMENT BONDS (Schaffer, T.)  Introduced August 5, 2019, this bill would authorize the issuance of industrial development bonds by a township and would authorize counties, townships, and municipal corporations to issue industrial development bonds without requiring the county, township, or municipal corporation to designate a community improvement corporation as its agency for industrial, commercial, distribution, and research development.  On September 10, 2019, the bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee where a first hearing occurred October 1.

SB 212 NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENT AREAS (Schuring, K.)  Introduced October 7, 2019, this bill would authorize townships and municipal corporations to designate areas as “Neighborhood Development Areas” (NDAs) within which new homes and improvements to existing homes are wholly or partially exempted from property taxation.  The designation would be done by a resolution or ordinance that includes the following:

(a)        A description of the boundaries of the neighborhood development area;

(b)       Identification of the municipal or township officer or employee who will accept applications;

(c)        Findings to demonstrate that the designation of the area will encourage the construction of new single-family dwellings, or the improvement of existing single-family dwellings, that in either case would be unlikely to occur in the absence of such a designation;

(d)       The number of years during which the area will be designated as a neighborhood development area or that the area will be designated as such for a continuing period of time;

(e)        A description of how the designation of the neighborhood development area would (i) improve the overall quality of life in the township or municipal corporation and (ii) cause additional property tax revenue to be generated once exemptions    no longer apply than if the area had not been designated;

(f) The percentage of value that will be exempt from taxation which shall be seventy per cent of assessed value or, if the approval of the board of education of each school district within which parcels in the area are located is obtained,  one hundred per cent.

The legislative authority or board may not include in the designated areas any parcel that is already subject to an exemption authorized under a community reinvestment area (CRA) or tax increment financing (TIF).

If the intended exemption if 100%, written notice must be provided to the board of education of the affected school district, which may approve or disapprove the designation of the neighborhood development area not later than 14 days prior to the date intended for the proposed municipal or township action.  If the board of education fails to timely certify a resolution to the board of township trustees or the legislative authority of the municipal corporation, the board of education shall be considered to have approved of the designation of the neighborhood development area.  If all boards of education that receive notice approve the designation of the neighborhood development area, the board of township trustees or legislative authority of the municipal corporation may adopt a resolution or ordinance prescribing a percentage of value under division (B)(1)(f) of this section of one hundred per cent.

The bill was assigned to the Senate Ways & Means Committee, where a Substitute Bill was approved February 4, 2020.  The changes made would require that before approving an area as an NDA, there must be showing that the community lacks housing and that development would not occur without an NDA.  Also, projections must be presented showing how an NDA would generate funds.  Finally, the amendment clarified the process to be followed in negotiating an agreement with the applicable school district if the NDA will offer a 100% tax exemption.  At a hearing February 11 for interested parties testimony, a representative from the Greater Ohio Policy Center suggested that it may make more sense to amend the existing CRA statutes rather than enact a new NDA program. On February 25, the bill was further amended to add to the process of creating the NDAs by requiring at least three hearings on such proposals by cities or townships, and requiring notifications to any impacted taxing entities. It amendment also added the word “affordable” to the definition of public purpose in the bill.  The bill passed in the Senate March 4 and moved to the House, where it was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and subject to its first hearing on May 19, 2020.

SB 219 APPRENTICE PROGRAM (Williams, S.)  Introduced October 15, this bill would empower the Ohio Departments of Education and Higher Education to establish a career pathways apprentice program for high school grades 9-12.   The purposes of the program would be to establish partnerships between schools, businesses, communities, local government entities, and nonprofit organizations to create career pathways for apprenticeships in the following professions: (a) Manufacturing; (b) Information technology; (c) Financial services; (d) Business operation (e) Healthcare, and (f) Education. The program would also be charged with providing information and technical assistance to high school students who enroll in the program and reducing obstacles to and ensure compatibility with division (J)(3) of section 3313.603 of the Revised Code. The program may incorporate or work in conjunction with other apprentice and pre-apprentice programs already in operation under the Revised Code.  The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee where a first hearing occurred February 11, 2020.  Sponsor Sandra Williams said that the program is similar to one in Colorado called “CareerWise Colorado” and that the goal of the measure is to help students obtain free college credit, receive industry certifications and earn wages while gaining relevant work experience.

SB 234 WIND REGULATIONS (McColley, R.)  This bill, introduced November 6, 2019, is a companion bill to HB 401 and its provisions are identical. A first hearing occurred December 10 in the Energy and Public Utilities Committee.  At a second hearing January 28, numerous proponents in favor of stronger local controls submitted testimony in favor of the bill. A third hearing February 11, 2020, caused numerous opponents to turn out, many of whom testified that providing a referendum process to local townships after a wind project has been approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board would deter future wind development.

SB 257 ELECTRIC VEHICLES (O’Brien, S., Rulli, M.)  Introduced December 23, this bill would authorize tax incentives for the purchase of plug-in electric motor vehicles and charging stations.  It has been referred to the Ways and Means Committee where a first hearing occurred February 11.  Thereafter, the Committee held its third hearing on June 9, 2020.

SB 316 CAPITAL APPROPRIATIONS (DOLAN, M.)  This bill was introduced May 26 and would make $1.28 billion in capital appropriations. On June 10, the provisions of this bill were amended into HB 481 (see above).

SB 335 PROPERTY TAXES (Craig, H.)  This bill seeks to reduce property taxes on owner-occupied homes to the extent that property taxes increase by more than 3% from the previous year.

SJR 3 TAX INCREASES (Burke, D.) Introduced December 11, this Senate Resolution proposes to enact Section 7 of Article XII of the Constitution of the State of Ohio to require that any increase in income tax rates be approved by a supermajority (two-thirds) of the membership of each house of the General Assembly.  If the Resolution is approved by three-fifths of the members of both the House and the Senate, then the proposed amendment would be submitted to the electors of the state to be voted on at the general election to be held on November 3, 2020.  The measure was referred to the Ways and Means Committee December 17 where a fourth hearing occurred March 3, 2020.  During opponent testimony, concerns were expressed that the measure could hurt the state’s bond ratings, as has occurred in states with similar measures.  Thereafter, an additional committee hearing was held May 13.  On June 9, the Senate Ways and Means Committee reported-out the bill for consideration by the full chamber.

 

COVID-19 RELATED BILLS:

Senate Bills:

SB 297 PROHIBIT FORECLOSURES, EVICTIONS (ANTONIO N, CRAIG H) This bill (a companion bill to HB 562) would  prohibit foreclosure activity and the eviction of residential and commercial tenants during the state of emergency declared regarding COVID-19 and refer such proceedings caused by the state of emergency to mediation. The bill had its first hearing July 21 in the Senate General Government & Agency Review Committee.

SB 299 REQUIRE PAID LEAVE (CRAIG H) This bill, a companion to HB 593, would require paid leave for an employee who is unable to work due to quarantine or mandatory isolation and create a grant program to compensate contract workers who cannot perform services during public health emergencies.

SB 301 PRICE GOUGING (MANNING, N., WILLIAMS, S.) This bill, a companion to HB 590 would make changes to the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act to protect consumers during the COVID-19 emergency.

SB 308 CIVIL IMMUNITY (HUFFMAN, M.) This bill would revise the law governing immunity from civil liability and professional discipline for health care providers during disasters or emergencies and provide qualified civil immunity to service providers providing services during and after a government-declared disaster.  The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it has had several hearings.

SB 310 FEDERAL FUNDS (DOLAN, M.) This bill was introduced May 5 and received fast-tracked approval by the Senate Finance Committee and full Senate the same day.  The bill would provide for the distribution of federal coronavirus relief funding from the CARES Act to local subdivisions.   $4.55 billion was set aside for Ohio, with approximately $2 billion earmarked for local governments.  Through the federal legislation, six jurisdictions – the city of Columbus and Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Montgomery and Summit counties – received $775 million in funding directly, leaving about $1.2 billion for the remaining local governments in the state.  This bill appropriates $350 million of that amount to local governments at this time.  State legislators are holding the remaining funds in hopes that the federal government will loosen restrictions on use. Under current guidelines, the money must be spent on COVID-19 related expenses such as personal protective equipment or overtime for first responders and cannot be used to replace lost revenues.  Local government officials have warned that without flexible federal aid, they will be forced to make steep budget cuts.  On June 10, the provisions of this bill were amended into HB 481 (see above).

Capitalizing on rural corporate site location opportunities

Rural communities are prime targets for companies considering a corporate site location project. Rural areas in the U.S. cover 97 % of the nation’s land area but contain 19.3 % of the population who are more likely to own a single family home, are older and less likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or be in poverty than their urban counters.

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AEP Names Wells Vice President, Sales, Economic and Business Development

American Electric Power (Nasdaq: AEP) has promoted Timothy J. Wells to vice president, Sales, Economic and Business Development, effective Nov. 2, 2020. Wells replaces Mark James who retired last month.

Wells, 55, will lead AEP’s efforts to attract new commercial and industrial customers to its service territory and help existing customers take advantage of AEP’s growing menu of business consultation services. AEP has unique expertise in the energy field and has become a trusted energy advisor to many of its larger customers. Wells will be responsible for leading growth in services that fall outside of the distribution and transmission of electricity, in addition to helping communities bring new jobs to their local economies.

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