Written by Belinda Jones, OPARR Executive Director
The Ohio General Assembly schedule was greatly impacted by the pandemic. They basically took off the months of March and April and came back early May with a flurry of activity and a fair amount of divisiveness. Almost immediately upon their return to Columbus (plus virtual meetings), there was a noticeable divide about whether to wear masks or not. Oddly, the mask debate seems to fall along party lines with republicans not wearing masks and democrats adhering to the Governor's recommendations.
The other "great divide" centered around the Governor and ODH Director Amy Acton's aggressive approach at slowing the spread of Covid. Certainly, Ohioans can boast that the strict measures put in place saved us from some of the horror other states saw (or are seeing) as a result of the pandemic, but at the same time, the toll on Ohio businesses is catastrophic. By and large, the green industry was relatively "lucky" as we were deemed essential and were allowed to stay open from the outset. Others were not as lucky. House Speaker Larry Householder (R; Glenford) convened a committee to vet business concerns during the "shut down". Some House members took issue with the Governor and Dr. Acton's approaches and there were several intense words of skirmish via Twitter and the press.
The pressure became so intense that protestors met outside of the Governor's press conferences and there were even protestors that appeared at Dr. Acton's home. Having worked literally 24/7 for months, Dr. Acton recently stepped down as ODH Director and will now serve as the Governor's health advisor. Attorney Lance Hines will serve as interim Director of ODH.
Of course the divisiveness was only exacerbated with the unfortunate killing of George Floyd and others. Although mostly peaceful, protestors have at times lit up Columbus, the state house, other beloved buildings like the Ohio Theater with graffiti. As the melee continued, House democrats worked on legislation to have racism declared a public health crises and they tried to amend bills that pertained to the sale, distribution and display of the confederate flag. Overall, this has been a very disturbing spring.
While the legislature was stagnant for a few months, when they returned in May, there were many new bill introductions. Here are some of the bills we are following on your behalf:
SB 308 (Dolan) and HB 606 (Grendell) although not identical bills both generally would revise the laws governing immunity from civil liability and professional discipline for health care providers during disasters or emergencies, to provide qualified civil immunity to service providers providing services during and after a government-declared disaster, and to declare an emergency. Both bills passed through their respective chambers but neither made it to the Governor's desk. The lack of final action is really frustrating to health care providers and businesses who were hoping for immunity in these trying times.
Additional bills we are following on your behalf include:
HB 183 (Manchester, Patterson) To allow income tax credits for beginning farmers who participate in a financial management program and for businesses that sell or rent agricultural land, livestock, facilities, or equipment to beginning farmers.
HB 222 (Stolfus, House) would provide a tax credit for CDL training
HB 432 (Powell, Lang) regarding occupational licensing reciprocity
HB 485 (Stephens, Scherer) would remove renewal requirements for CAUV
HB 495 (Stein) pertains to vehicle registration for farm buses
HB 625 (Galonski) would name the hardy mum as one of the state's flowers
HB 665 (D. Jones) To modify the laws governing agricultural societies, to recodify the law governing amusement ride safety, to address funding and other issues related to county and independent agricultural societies and the Ohio Expositions Commission, and to declare an emergency.
SB 1 (McColley, Roegner) To require certain agencies to reduce the number of regulatory restrictions and to continue the provision of this act (pending in conference committee)
If you have any questions about any of the bills referenced above, call me at 614-679-5062.
Executive Agency Issues
While the pandemic has been hard on businesses, it has also posed challenges to state agencies. For example, as you know, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has statutory responsibility for pesticide applicator testing. How will such testing be accomplished in the days of social distancing?
OPARR Chairman Lonnie Alonso, Brian Laurent and I had a conference call with ODA to check on their plans. Certainly, some believe that on-line testing is the wave of the future but others have concerns. After numerous meetings in house, we learned that ODA was able to reopen for testing. In-person pesticide and fertilizer applicator testing opened up on June 2nd in the Bromfield auditorium at ODA in Reynoldsburg. ODA had limited capacity, so they were hoping to reserve initial in-person testing for folks that need new certification to conduct a particular business function. ODA has been working to add capacity and possibly additional locations in July.
Additional details are available here: https://agri.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/oda/divisions/plant-health/news-and-events/limited-pesticide-fertilizer-testing-to-resume-june-2
Questions can be directed the ODA pesticide team at 614-728-6987.
The next update will contain information about the state house "races to watch". In the meantime, know that we are in the process of contacting allies to join us in a fundraiser in August (hopefully) for Sen. Kunze (R; Hilliard). Watch for more information about this event in the coming weeks. If you want to be a host/participant, please contact me.
Heartbreak in the Ag Community
At deadline for this article, all hearts around capital square and particularly in the ag community are broken as we unexpectedly had to say goodbye to one of our own, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s, Yvonne Lesicko. Having previously worked in the telecom industry for years, Yvonne joined the Farm Bureau in 2012 with a stellar reputation in hand. Having grown up on a grain farm, Yvonne embraced the ag family and was admired and lauded by all of us for her intellect, political savvy, and her contagious enthusiasm. The Ohio Lobbying Association (OLA) issued the following quote: Adam Ward, Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President, shared the following statement:
"Yvonne Lesicko, Ohio Farm Bureau's vice president of public policy, passed away last night unexpectedly. She was 48. Yvonne was full of life, loved her husband Scott, son Oscar and all of her family and friends with the enthusiasm she approached all things. We are all in disbelief. Yvonne’s energy, humor and zest for life make this seem particularly unreal."
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Yvonne Lesicko Memorial Fund established by the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. This fund was established to support the causes and initiatives that she cared so deeply about, including but not limited to, farmer mental health, women in leadership, agricultural and environmental policy and youth scholarships. Visit www.OFBF.org to make online contributions or mail contributions to: Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation ATTN: Luke Houghton, P.O. Box, 182383 ,Columbus, OH 43218-2383. Make checks payable to the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. Please put in the memo line Yvonne Lesicko Memorial Fund.
Please keep OPARR board member Tony Seegers and the entire OFBF family in your thoughts.