January 2021 newsletter

Congress Approves Relief Package

Better late than never, Congress finally approved another relief package to address the ongoing economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 5,593-page Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act appropriates $900 billion in economic relief to individuals, businesses, childcare providers, and schools.

It includes another round of direct stimulus checks—$600 per adult who are in certain income thresholds, and the same amount for children. It provides an extension of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for up to $300 per week and lengthens the maximum number of weeks. The package includes $25 billion in rent and utility assistance and extends a ban on evictions that was scheduled to expire at the end of December. To address the increasing number of households with food insecurity, $13 billion was added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. An investment of $7 billion will help to expand access to broadband service including $3.2 billion to provide up to $50 per month for low-income families.

OPLC Sees Success on Priority Issues as the 133rd General Assembly Wraps Up Its Work

From January until the November 3 election, the General Assembly approved 35 bills. During Lame Duck, from the election day through the last session on December 22, the legislature approved more than 50 bills including several of our priority bills:

Occupational Licensing Reform—House Bill 263 was one of our priorities for this session. The bill removes barriers to occupational licensing for individuals with criminal records. It requires licensing agencies to create lists of disqualifying offenses that are directly related to the duties and responsibilities of the licensed occupation. With just a few exceptions, licensing agencies can only consider those offenses when reviewing an application for five years from the date of conviction or release from incarceration, whichever is latest.

Record Sealing—House Bill 1, which broadens the scope of intervention in lieu of conviction and expands the opportunity for the sealing of criminal records. The bill expands the Conviction Records Sealing Law so that more offenders are eligible to have their conviction records sealed. The bill eliminates a cap, currently based on the total number of felony convictions, on the number of fourth- and fifth-degree felony convictions and misdemeanor convictions that an offender is eligible to seal. The bill was amended before Senate approval to include provisions that prohibit the shackling of pregnant women and create a clearer definition of a technical violation of parole or probation.

Mental Health Parity—House Bill 443, mental health parity legislation, was one of our priority bills for this session. A compromise was struck to place the provisions of HB443 that align Ohio parity law with the federal parity law into SB284. The bill was signed by Governor Mike DeWine on December 21, 2020. While the final version of parity legislation did not include everything we advocated for, it is a good first step.

Driver’s License Reinstatement Fees—House Bill 285, which established the Driver’s License Reinstatement Fee Amnesty Program was signed by Governor Mike DeWine in June. The program, administered by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, began December 13, 2020.

Lame Duck proved to be too short for other issues.

Timely Transfer of School Records—House Bill 111 received unanimous approval from the Senate Education Committee after defeating an amendment to allow school records to be withheld by a school that was owed more than $1,000. The bill, one of our priorities for this year, requires that school records be transferred within five days of receiving a request from the new school, was not scheduled for a Senate floor vote before the Senate adjourned. This will be a priority advocacy issue for 2021.

School Funding—By a vote of 87-9, the Ohio House approved a complete overhaul to school in early December. House Bill 305 is the culmination of more than six years of work by outgoing Representative John Patterson (D-Jefferson), Representative Gary Scherer (R-Circleville), and current Speaker of the House Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and is the largest effort to reform Ohio’s school funding formula since it was declared unconstitutional. The Senate declined to take up HB305 during lame duck. The debate will continue in the next General Assembly when they take up the next biennial budget. 

Opening Day Slated for Monday, January 4, 2021

The 134th General Assembly will start its new two-year session on January 4, 2021, with both House and Senate sessions scheduled. While the majority and minority caucuses selected their leadership teams shortly after the November election, the leaders will be formally elected. Other business during the first week will include naming committee chairs and members and adopting rules. We will see two new faces in the Senate and 23 new faces in the House of Representatives.

We look forward to working with new and returning lawmakers on issues that will expand justice and help lift Ohioans out of poverty.