Legislative Update - September 2020
General Legislative Overview
The Ohio General Assembly returned from summer recess last week to address a myriad of legislative issues including HB 606, the Covid-19 Immunity bill (see article below.) After agreeing to changes made by the Senate to a number of House bills, Speaker Cupp unexpectedly adjourned session without voting many more legislative initiatives. The Speaker said “We had amendments Democrats were going to offer that were going to take us in a reckless and hasty direction that was not appropriate, so we have decided rather than go through that charade, we would adjourn for today.” "These bills can be picked up again at another time. It's the silly season and that was fully on display here today, regretfully.”
There are a handful of tentative session dates scheduled for both the House and Senate in the next two months but, at this time, it is unclear if the chambers will meet. This all means it will very likely be an aggressive lame duck session after the November election.
HB 606 Covid Immunity Bill Passes
HB 606 passed both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate and now awaits action by the Governor. The Governor has voiced his support of the ideas in the legislation. The bill deals with civil immunity for transmission of coronavirus infection. With some exemptions, the bill generally precludes bringing a civil action for damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property if the cause of action is based on injury, death, or loss caused by the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, or SARS-CoV-2, or any mutation thereof.
The protections would be from the date of the state of emergency due to COVID-19, Executive Order 2020-01D, issued on March 9, 2020, and extends through September 30, 2021.
The bill defines “person” as in continuing law, i.e., an individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, and association, and also includes a school; a for-profit, nonprofit entity, governmental entity, or religious entity; or a “state institution of higher education,”
Supporters feel that this bill will help give more certainty to Ohio’s businesses.
Another Round of CARES Act Funding Is Addressed by The Ohio Senate
An additional $650 million of federal CARES Act funding would be allocated to local communities across Ohio for COVID-19 pandemic-related expenses. Ohio held this funding back to see if the federal government would relax its restrictions. That federal relief has not come. Thus, Ohio felt it was time to distribute this funding. The bill passed the Ohio Senate quickly and now goes to the Ohio House. Senate Bill 357 (Dolan) will be made available to counties, municipalities and townships for necessary expenses associated with the current public health emergency and will be distributed on a per capita basis. This funding excludes Ohio’s six jurisdictions with populations over 500,000 because they already qualify for direct payments from the CARES Act; this includes the city of Columbus, and Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Montgomery and Summit county governments. Municipalities and townships within these counties, however, are still eligible for the funding appropriated in this legislation. Local governments support this bill.
Cuyahoga County Equity Committee
The County Equity Committee was appointed and will take up issues related to equity within the County. The committee will have public hearings. The next meeting will likely take place later this month in September.
Special Committee Meets to Discuss HB 6 Energy Bill Repeal
The House Select Committee on Energy Policy & Oversight that Speaker Bob Cupp appointed met this week and heard from legislators and the legislative service commission staff. Democrats voiced that there has been enough talk about the bill. Democrats attempted to pass a Republican proposal out of committee, but they were voted down 9-6. Chairman Jim Hoops feels the committee remains in fact-finding mode. He discussed that the group's next meeting will likely take place next week and feature information from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and PJM Interconnection.
Ohio Secretary of State Update
With 55 days until Election Day, 1,000,579 absentee ballots have been requested, including 14,253 from military and overseas voters. In 2016, it took until 28 days before the election for Ohio to break the 1 million absentee ballot request mark.