Statehouse Preview: Week of April 23

Nothing.

That’s our preview for what will happen at the Statehouse this week.

Lawmakers have given themselves another light week as many members are locked in heated primary contests to retain their seat or seek another. As a result, no committee hearings are scheduled and the Senate session that had been planned for Wednesday was cancelled.

Instead of previewing committee action, we’ll use this opportunity to catch up on policy-related developments happening in and out of the legislature.

ECOT Rip-Off Gets Bigger

Today comes word that a whistleblower has come forward accusing ECOT (the recently-closed online charter school) of manipulating the school’s attendance data to capture more state revenue after the school was told it must repay the state $60 million for already-overstated student enrollment numbers. Our education expert, Stephen Dyer, explains how state funding levels for charter schools are determined, and how ECOT apparently gamed the system at the expense of local public schools.

Environmental Protections

Last week a study was released showing the state’s $6 million effort to curb nutrients that lead to toxic algae blooms–including one in 2014 that left Toledo without drinking water–have had no impact. Since 2011, the state has relied on voluntary measures to cut down on the nutrient load, most of which comes from farm runoff. Now, the Kasich administration admits regulation is needed, but farm groups and Republican lawmakers are not exactly embracing the proposal.

Payday Lending

Also last week, a House panel voted to advance payday lending reform legislation (HB123) out of committee. In doing so, members rejected a compromised brokered by acting House Speaker Kirk Schuring with lenders that had been panned as “watered down” reform. Members–aware of the glaring spotlight they are under thanks to an FBI investigation into improper influence of the payday lending industry–likely prefer to toss the hot potato over to the Senate to work out the details, leaving Ohio waiting relief.

Renewable Energy

On Friday, after indicating that it was a priority for passage this spring, Senate President Obhof backed off plans to pass HB114, legislation that would kill Ohio’s renewable energy standards in favor of voluntary targets, calling it a “long term project.” That’s good news, but also worrisome as Obhof had earlier said a much-needed fix to Ohio’s onerous “setback” requirements for wind energy projects would be tied up with the fate of HB114. A report, released last week, found that the inability to attract wind investment is hurting the bottom lines of many of Ohio’s rural counties.

Mission Accomplished?

“Nothing” will continue to be the primary activity of Statehouse lawmakers, at least for the immediate future. The House is currently leaderless following the resignation of Speaker Cliff Rosenberger amid revelations of an FBI corruption inquiry, and isn’t expected to select a new leader until after the May 8 primary. On the Senate side, President Obhof has effectively declared “Mission Accomplished” for this legislative term, saying“On the priorities that we set out, we’ve tried as much as possible that we could get those done.”

That’s certainly debatable. Among the long list of unfinished business in the legislature are proposals to shore up Ohio’s unemployment compensation fund, dedicate resources for the upgrade of Ohio’s aging elections infrastructure and set up a grant program to help local school districts install safety upgrades in the wake of school shootings. Dozens more bills in both chambers remain “below the line,” meaning they have been approved by committees but have not been put before all members for an up or down vote.

As lawmakers wrap up work before taking a long summer recess on the campaign trail, we’ll be taking a closer look at other significant proposals that have stalled and just how much–or how little–the Legislature has accomplished in its two year term.

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