In an overwhelming show of bipartisan unity, the Ohio Senate on Wednesday morning unanimously passed a bill making a lot of changes in state law. The Ohio House then joined in a few hours later, approving the bill 91-0, though legislators stress the changes are only temporary.
The bill now goes to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature.
Today, the House voted to pass House Bill 197, a package bill with law changes that Ohioans need to fight the COVID-19 crisis. We're proud of the @OHHouseDems and Republicans for working together during this time of need for our great state
— Ohio House GOP (@OHRGOPCaucus) March 25, 2020
One much-discussed measure would extend absentee voting for the March 17 primary to April 28. However, that's less time than recommended by the Ohio Secretary of State and Gov. Mike DeWine. It also doesn’t revive voter registration or reopen polls for a day of in-person voting, as some Democrats and voting rights advocates wanted.
The League of Women Voters, ACLU of Ohio and other groups issued a statement opposing the action. They're calling for the state to fund an entirely vote-by-mail system with pre-paid postage, with more time to request and submit ballots.
"April 28 is an unacceptable, unworkable date for the primary," the statement reads. "At the earliest, we suggest mid May."
In addition to election measures, the bill stops public water disconnections, suspends child-staff ratios at daycares, allows schools to provide student meals and local governments to conduct meetings electronically.
It waives school testing requirements this academic year, something DeWine suggested could happen after closing schools earlier this month.
The bill also freezes EdChoice private school vouchers at 517, the number available this school year. Unlike previous deals considered by the legislature, this bill would not expand those vouchers to 1,227 school buildings or eliminate them going forward, and it would not expand income-based vouchers.
State Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said the legislation 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, giving people more time to file taxes without penalties.
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.
The bill would allows 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 Ohio's Rainy Day Fund, which DeWine has said is under consideration.