2020 will definitely be a year to remember. Now that the end of the year upon us, this time of the year also brings with it the end of the 133rd General Assembly and the lame duck session which bookends the legislative calendar. This year’s lame duck didn’t disappoint with a flurry of legislation activity pushed through in the final weeks leading into the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. This year’s lame duck session also had a new twist to contend with before; the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate in cancelling scheduled sessions and committees due to a number of legislative members who contracted the virus. The absence of members impacted the workflow of each chamber and likely impacted some of the topics which weren’t taken up during the period.
One of the biggest legislative issues to get resolved was the passage of the approximately $2 billion state capital budget. The state capital budget supports infrastructure improvements and a variety of projects throughout the state in all 88 counties including funding for K-12 building construction, higher education institutions, county jail improvements, parks, and state facility construction and improvements. The state capital budget is an important piece of legislation allowing the state to maintain infrastructure, while also supporting local government partners for a number of projects supporting jobs and the quality of life in communities throughout the state.
Education was another big topic discussed during the lame duck session. Speaker Bob Cupp and the Ohio House finalized an overhaul of Ohio’s K-12 funding system with the passage of House Bill 305. Speaker Cupp and members of the Ohio House worked throughout the two-years of the general assembly to move the legislation forward and in the last weeks of this year’s session the bill passed the House and moved to over to the Ohio Senate. Although many statewide education association groups supported the passage of House Bill 305, the Ohio Senate decided the legislation needed more examination due to the financial impact to the Ohio’s budget and decided against moving the bill. Senate President-Elect Matt Huffman has indicated that he and his senate colleagues are committed to working with Speaker Cupp on the issue and have signaled it will be an issue for the next operating budget due from Governor DeWine at the end of January.
Even though education funding reform didn’t make it through the legislative process, other important legislative initiatives did make it to Governor DeWine’s desk for signature. House Bill 409, a bill dealing with student attendance for online-community schools picked a number of important amendments in the Ohio Senate extending a number of the COVID-19 related provisions dealing with school accountability, including the extension of the prohibition of the issuance of overall grades on the state report card, as well as other school measurements. One area that will continue to be debated into the 134th General Assembly is whether Ohio will ask for a federal waiver to suspend statewide student testing and assessments, like the state did during the 19-20 school year at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.
A fix for House Bill 6 the state energy policy at the center of the former Speaker Larry Householder federal racketeering scandal is another issues which occupied a lot of legislative time, but didn’t see any additional changes even though both the Ohio Senate and Ohio House both indicated an interest in revisiting the bill and the policy. A number of pieces of legislation including bills from both republicans and democrats saw a number of committee hearings including a compromise piece of legislation that would have delayed the provisions of House Bill 6 from taking effect for 1 year. In the end the House and Senate wrapped up their work for year without taking any additional action related to the policy. This is certain to continue to be an issue into the 134th General Assembly, including continued litigation supported by Attorney General Dave Yost to restrict the state implementing the provisions of the law.
Looking ahead to the new 134th general assembly the next two-year operating budget will be the primary legislative item on the agenda for the next six months. Another big issue facing the general assembly and the state is redistricting, which is likely set to start in the summer of 2021. This will be the first redistricting cycle where the state apportionment board and the general assembly will be operating under new rules passed in 2018.