Tracked Senate Bills – March 2021

Mar 17, 2021 | Advocacy

Jeffry Harris
Bricker & Eckler LLP

 

 

State News:

More COVID Relief proposed in Ohio General Assembly:   Lawmakers are proposing another $2.15B in funding for statewide distribution as President Biden’s federal package (totaling $1.9T) winds through the U.S. Congress.

Bills were proposed March 2 in the Ohio House and Senate to push funding out to schools, businesses and a variety of other Ohio entities.  This state-level aid is sourced from the federal COVID relief package signed by the former president on December 27, 2020, with the state’s General Revenue Fund as another funding source.

Relevant to economic developers, this state aid package includes:

Senate Bill 109 / House Bill 168:

  • $150MM for a second round of small business grants;
  • $112MM for child care providers;
  • $20MM for indoor entertainment grants; and,
  • $10MM for new business grants.

Senate Bill 108 / House Bill 169:

  • $100MM for bars and restaurants, and,
  • $25MM for lodging businesses.

Debate rages regarding township referenda of wind & solar projects: We’re closely tracking the companion bills in the Ohio General Assembly (SB 52 and HB 118, each described below) that would subject wind and solar projects to potential referenda by township electors.

On March 9, the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee and the House Public Utilities Committee received nearly 100 pieces of testimony, most of it in written form.  In-person testimony tended to reflect arguments around property values and a distrust in the power siting process, with proponents testifying that wind and solar projects should be located in industrial zoned areas or secure special use permits for areas of the respective townships.  Commercial developers and business groups are arguing their opposition to the measures.  Noted one witness, there are “deep seeded hard feelings” on both sides.

Debate rages regarding CRA law changes: On March 9, the House Ways and Means Committee heard opponent testimony from witnesses who argued HB 123 (described below) would disrupt the balance between economic developers and school districts.

The Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO) acknowledged the role of CRAs and other economic development tools, noting they must be “implemented carefully” to protect school districts and their students.  In particular, OASBO expressed its concern with increasing from 50% to 75% those CRA abatement thresholds requiring school board approval.  Further, HB 123 proposes eliminating the requirement to share income taxes if the enabling municipality imposes an income tax; to this point, OASBO pointed out the original drafters of the 1994 law change “put a lot of effort into it.”  Finally, OASBO noted the current CRA law gives school districts a “seat at the table” and they want those provisions to be maintained. These comments were joined by the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) and the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA).

Private broadband access expansion effort announced:  Charter Communications announced it will expand high-speed internet availability to 112,000 unserved homes and businesses across Ohio.  Funded by $450MM in private dollars and $106MMM in federal funding via the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity auction, this is part of a national expansion by private providers.

Federal News:

Congress gives final approval to President Biden’s $1.856T American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA): On Wednesday, March 10, nearly on a party-line vote, the U.S. House passed the Senate’s version of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.  This is the second-largest pandemic aid bill, following the $2.2T stimulus package passed in 2020.  President Biden then signed the measure the next day, Thursday, March 11.

Formally, Section 9901 of HR 1319 (117th Congress) provides $350B to state and local governments, to be available through December 31, 2024.  The first tranche of these funds are to arrive to political subdivisions within 30 days of the State receiving ARPA funds (which themselves are to arrive to the State within 60 days of ARPA’s passage).

The entire ARPA measure includes the following levels of COVID relief:

  • $350B to state and local governments;
  • $10B for critical infrastructure projects;
  • $14B for vaccine distribution efforts;
  • $130B to school districts;
  • $30B to public transit agencies;
  • $45B in rental, utility, and mortgage assistance payments;
  • Up to $1,400/recipient in direct payments to taxpayers, with caps set at:
    • Individuals making $80,000/year
    • Single parents making $120,000/year
    • Couples with household income of $160,000/year
  • Unemployment benefits have been extended (but not increased) through September 6, 2021; and,
  • A 1-year expansion to all taxpayers of child tax credits of $300/child up to age 5 and $250/child ages 6 to 17.

This is a far larger stimulus plan than the ARRA package passed during the early stages of the Obama Administration (in response to the home mortgage loan crisis).  That plan ($787B) is widely viewed by economists as having been too small to effect any lasting impact on the economy.  From a political perspective, Democrats in Washington have a dim view the 2008 deal, as that stimulus package had been reduced to gain Republican support – which never materialized.  In this current aid package, Democrats charged ahead, concluding there was no deal to be had with Republicans that would meet the current needs of the pandemic-ravaged economy.

Last week, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, noted his inflation concerns as the economy may overheat with President Biden’s level of COVID stimulus; this has been voiced by many political talking heads and Wall Street traders.  But the Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell, has expressly stated there is little cause for worries about inflation: the Fed will not raise interest rates until it sees the economy at full employment (i.e., less than 5% unemployment), inflation above 2% (i.e., consumer price index increases in the costs of goods), and evidence such price increases are poised to remain permanent.  Chairman Powell said this month, “There’s a difference between a one-time surge in prices and ongoing inflation.”

PENDING LEGISLATION IN THE 134TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY

SENATE BILLS:

SB 8 BROADBAND SERVICES (McColley, R.)  Introduced on January 21, 2021, this bill addresses broadband expansion, including access to electric cooperative easements and facilities, and to make an appropriation.  Note the companion HB 2 in the lower chamber. 

This bill is a refresh of House Bill 13 (133rd General Assembly), which failed in the final stretch to enactment during the lame duck last session.  Sponsor Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) notes this version represents a negotiated substitute bill that had been poised for adoption last December. 

This bill seeks to establish an Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Program (R.C. 122.40 et seq.) to induce internet providers to construct last-mile infrastructure to underserved areas, particularly in rural Ohio.  Changes since the last General Assembly’s version include moving the program to ODSA, with the agency reviewing grant applications for the proposed Broadband Expansion Program Authority. 

This Senate vehicle appropriates $20MM to the ODSA program in state fiscal year 2022.

After three hearings before the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee during late January and February, the Senate unanimously adopted the measure on February 10; it now moves to the House, where is has been referred to the House Finance Committee.

SB 10 ELECTRIC RATES (Romanchuk, M.). This bill seeks to change to two (2) FirstEnergy-friendly rate provisions: (a) repealing HB 6’s so-called “decoupling mechanism” that allowed FirstEnergy to lock its annual guaranteed revenue at 2018 levels – or $978MM/year; and (b) repealing the prior state budget bill’s modification to the significantly excessive earnings test (or SEET) determination as to whether FirstEnergy utilities obtained significantly excessive earnings that must be refunded (the budget bill had allowed FirstEnergy to combine figures across its three companies, offsetting gains at Ohio Edison with those from less profitable companies under its umbrella).  Note the companion HB 128 in the lower chamber.  This legislation leaves unchanged HB 6’s nuclear subsidies for the FirstEnergy power plants.

During February, the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee held three hearings, with the Senate unanimously passing the bill on February 17.  The bill has been referred to the House Public Utilities Committee.

SB 13 CONTRACT LIMITATIONS (Lang, G.). This bill shortens the period of limitations for actions upon a contract; makes changes to the borrowing statute pertaining to applicable periods of limitations; and establish a statute of repose for a legal malpractice actions.  Note the companion HB 53 in the lower chamber.  The bill was heard and reported out by the Senate Judiciary Committee in early February, passed the Senate by unanimous vote on February 3, and passed the House by unanimous vote on February 24.  The measure was signed into law by Governor DeWine on March 16 and takes effect 90 days hence.

SB 19 TAX EXEMPTION (Schaffer, T.) Introduced on January 26, this bill establishes a property tax exemption for certain property used for wetland mitigation projects.  Specifically, this legislation codifies into law a current practice for property used in wetland mitigation projects used by nonprofit organizations.  Bill sponsor, Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), noted, “If counties decide that they can charge property taxes on these wetlands, we would drastically hurt development that would normally occur in our districts,”

After the Senate Ways & Means Committee quickly reported out the measure, the Senate unanimously passed the bill on February 24.  The House Ways & Means Committee had its second hearing on the measure on March 16.

SB 32 CHARGING STATIONS (Rulli, M.) This bill would require the Director of ODOT to establish an electric vehicle charging station grant rebate program and to make an appropriation.  Note the companion HB 47 in the lower chamber.  This measure had its first hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee on February 17.

SB 44 ENERGY LAW (Rulli, M., Cirino, J.) Introduced on February 2, 2021, this bill seeks to repeal the nuclear resource credit payment provisions, and amend, and rename as solar resource, the renewable resource credit payment provisions of H.B. 6 of the 133rd General Assembly.  Note the companion SB 128 in the lower chamber. 

Sponsors Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) and Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) note their proposal takes a more targeted approach to addressing the ongoing uncertainty over the future of last session’s HB 6.  Specifically, this bill repeals the nuclear subsidies program portion of HB 6 while maintaining previous bill’s $20MM in annual solar subsidies.  All other aspects of HB6 would remain in place.  By design, Sen. Cirino noted, “It doesn’t open up the whole of House Bill 6 for negotiation”; the Senator represents a district in which is located one of the subject nuclear energy plants.

This measure was approved unanimously by the Senate on March 2.  It was referred to the House on March 9.

SB 45 TAX INDUCEMENTS (Peterson, B., Kunze, S.) Introduced on February 2, 2021, this bill seeks to enhance state and local tax inducements for businesses making substantial fixed asset and employment investments and their suppliers.  The measure had its third hearing before the Senate Ways & Means Committee on February 23.

SB 52 WIND FARMS (Reineke, B., McColley, R.) Introduced February 9, 2021, this bill requires inclusion of safety specifications in wind farm certificate applications, modifies wind turbine setbacks, and permits a township referendum vote on certain wind farm and solar facility certificates.  Note the companion HB 118 in the lower chamber.  In effect, this bill allows local voters to veto turbine projects approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board.

The measure had its second hearing before the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee on March 9, with significant written and in-person testimony submitted, for-and-against. 

SB 61 PLANNED COMMUNITIES (Blessing, L., Antonio, N.)  Introduced on February 17, 2021, this bill concerns condominiums and planned community properties and seeks to make changes to the New Community Law (R.C. Chapter 349).  This measure had its first hearing on March 16 in the Senate Local Government & Elections Committee.

SB 83 BROWNFIELD SITES (Williams, S., Rulli, M.) Introduced on February 23, 2021, this bill seeks to require OEPA to conduct a study to determine where brownfield sites are located in Ohio and to make an appropriation.  This measure had its first hearing on March 16 in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.

SB 84 CLEAN OHIO FUND (Williams, S., Rulli, M.)  Introduced on February 23, 2021, this bill seeks to make changes to the law relating to the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund   Note the companion HB 143 in the lower chamber.  This measure had its first hearing on March 16 in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.

SB 97 MUNICIPAL TAXES (Roegner, K.) Introduced on February 25, 2021, this bill seeks to modify municipal income tax employer withholding rules for COVID-19-related work-from-home employees.  This measure has been referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

SB 98 Tax Exemption (Antani, N.)  Introduced on February 24, 2021, this measure seeks to exempt from sales and use tax things used primarily to move completed manufactured products or general merchandise.  The bill has been referred to the

Senate Ways & Means Committee.

SB 108 BUSINESS GRANTS (Huffman, S., Romanchuk, M.)  Introduced on March 2, 2021, this bill would provide grants to bars and restaurants and the lodging industry and make an appropriation.  Note the companion HB 169 in the lower chamber.  On March 16, at its second hearing, this bill was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee and will proceed to the Senate for a full vote.

SB 109 GRANT PROGRAM (Manning, N., Rulli, M.) Introduced on March 2, 2021, this bill would provide grants to businesses, local fairs, child care providers, and veterans’ homes and make an appropriation.  Note the companion HB 168 in the lower chamber.  On March 16, at its second hearing, this bill was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee and will proceed to the Senate for a full vote.

This measure had its first hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on March 9.

SB 112 TAX FORECLOSURES (Dolan, M.) Introduced on March 2, 2021, this bill seeks to make changes to the law relating to tax foreclosures and county land reutilization corporations.  This measure is a re-introduction of the county land bank law changes proposed in August 2020 under companion bills in the previous Ohio General Assembly (HB 755 and SB 356). 

As was the case with the previously introduced bills, SB 112 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 measure had its first hearing in the Senate Local Government & Elections Committee on March 16.

 

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