(The Center Square) – State lawmakers on Wednesday passed a bill aimed at addressing a myriad of issues stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak, postponing the tax filing deadline and extending how long Ohioans have to vote in this month’s primary election.
Both the state Senate and the state House unanimously passed Amended Substitute House Bill 197, which, in part, extends absentee voting by mail for the March 17 primary to April 28 and moves Ohio’s tax filing deadline to July 15, in line with the federal change. It also bars utilities from disconnecting customers’ water and allows high school seniors to graduate if their school determines they are “on track to do so.”
Ohio, like other states, is grappling with a virtual shutdown, prompting lawmakers to take action. Many of the provisions included in the bill remain in place until either Gov. Mike DeWine’s order declaring a state of emergency is repealed or Dec. 1, whichever comes first.
“The safety, health and wellbeing of all Ohioans is our highest priority,” Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said in a statement.
The bill waives state testing and report cards for the 2019-20 school year, freezes 2020-21 EdChoice eligibility to 2019-20 levels and exempts schools from food processing requirements. It also codifies the governor’s executive order on unemployment compensation, changing eligibility requirements to include COVID-19 related unemployment, waiving a week waiting period and eliminating the work search requirement.
“While we know that not everything we wanted addressed was taken care of in this one bill, this is a good start to ensure our government continues to work for the people, especially during this crisis,” House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, said in a statement.
Another provision allows local governments, higher education boards and state boards and commissions to meet virtually if the public is aware of the meeting and able to participate. It also extends licenses issued by state agencies and political subdivisions and grants a 90-day window for renewal.
The bill allocates $20 million for the Department of Administrative Services operation of state agency capital facility projects, which will be repaid following an upcoming bond sale, officials said. The legislation also authorizes $7 million to cover costs for the extended primary.
“This bill was absolutely necessary,” Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, said in a statement. “The lives and safety of Ohioans are at risk and we had to do something.
"Not everything that we wanted to see in this bill was included but I hope we will have the opportunity to do more soon,” Yuko added. “Right now the priority is stopping the spread of the virus and making sure Ohioans are safe.”
The bill now heads to DeWine for his signature.
“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,” DeWine said in a statement.
Earlier this week, DeWine announced a hiring freeze for all agencies, boards and commissions under his control. On Sunday, the governor announced a “Stay at Home” order that took effect on Monday and remains in effect until April 6, unless altered.