In a strong showing of unity, state lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill making a lot of changes in state law related to the response to coronavirus – but they stress that they’re only temporary. The package now goes on to Gov. Mike DeWine.
Read highlights of the bill:
Here are the highlights of the bill the Ohio Senate just passed on the primary, tax day, school testing, EdChoice, etc pic.twitter.com/kQecJvDxvP
— Karen Kasler (@karenkasler) March 25, 2020
The bill stops public water disconnections, suspends child-staff ratios at day cares, allows schools to provide student meals and local governments to conduct meetings electronically. It waives school testing requirements this academic year and freezes EdChoice private school vouchers at 517, the number available this school year. But it would not expand those vouchers to 1,227 school buildings or eliminate them going forward, and it would not expand income-based vouchers - all of which were possible or under discussion before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said it also waives the one-week waiting period for unemployment compensation and allows people to get jobless benefits if they are sick or quarantined. These are changes that were announced by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted as the order came down to close bars and make restaurants carryout only.
“When this crisis is over, the temporary law that we are putting in today will suspend and we will return to permanent law," Dolan said.
The state tax deadline would move to July 15, same as the federal one.
And the bill extends absentee voting for the March 17 primary to April 28, but doesn’t reopen voter registration or reopen the polls for a day of in person voting. The League of Women Voters has issued a statement opposing the action.
The bill also allows recently retired state employees to be rehired at certain state agencies, including for prisons. It allows for distance learning for schools, and allows special education providers to use telehealth and electronic communication with students on the state’s special needs vouchers. It allows the state to continue to pay publicly funded daycare providers so they can quickly return to full operation.
It allows for delays in criminal and civil trials through July 30, and requires county offices that deal with certain property and title issues that can’t be done online to stay open. The bill also allows for recent nursing graduates to get temporary licenses so they can practice before the licensure examination.
And it starts the process of allowing transfer of money from the rainy day fund, which Gov. Mike DeWine has said is under consideration.
Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said lawmakers worked late into Tuesday night to come up with something that went along with what Gov. Mike DeWine has been doing on coronavirus.
“We tried very hard to make sure that what ended up in the final version of this bill was specific to the coronavirus and the state’s response to that and the needs created by that," Obhof said.
House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) said when lawmakers do return, he expects they’ll be passing a package to try to help not only people who’ve lost jobs due to coronavirus shutdowns.
“A lot of them are going to return to work, some of it might come slowly before they’re back to work. So it’s a situation where we’re going to have to really get busy and make some decisions as far as trying to move forward with some type of a stimulus package," Householder said.
The package goes on to Gov. Mike DeWine, who wrote in a statement: "I want to that Senate President Obhof, House Speaker Householder, Minority Leaders Sykes and Yuko, and all members of the Ohio General Assembly who worked for the bipartisan and unanimous passage of House Bill 197. This bill will ensure continuity of government, extended mail-in voting for our primary, clarity for schools and students, relief to workers impacted by COVID-19, and measures to make sure we are prepared to help Ohioans get back to work when this pandemic subsides. I applaud the collaborative work on this bill and look forward to signing it soon."