Lawmakers focus on disrupted school year, postponed election

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The fate of the remaining school year, including graduation requirements and state-mandated testing, are among the top issues before lawmakers planning a return to Columbus this week to address challenges posed by the coronavirus.

Concluding the March 17 primary — currently rescheduled for June 2 — suspending evictions and foreclosures, prohibiting utility cut-offs and creating a grace period for people unable to renew their driver’s license with almost all BMVs shut down are also high on the priority list of lawmakers and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

The GOP-controlled House and Senate are both scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday. Lawmakers would have to suspend rules to pass legislation on an emergency basis without the normal schedule of committee hearings.

Lawmakers in the 99-member House will be divided into rooms around the Statehouse to create distance between them. The Senate has yet to release its plans for conducting session.

Much of the coming legislation will involve flexibility in dealing with the pandemic, DeWine said Monday. “It’s different ways we can get things done as we deal with this crisis every single day,” he said.

Senate President Larry Obhof said lawmakers must deal only with “issues that are time-sensitive or directly address needs created by the pandemic.”

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has proposed a plan by which postage-paid absentee ballots would be sent to every Ohioan who hadn’t already voted in the March 17 primary, along with return postage. LaRose also wants continued discretion to allow in-person voting on June 2 if DeWine’s “stay at home” order is no longer in place.

A proposal in the GOP-controlled House would limit the remainder of the primary to absentee balloting concluded by April 28. LaRose, a Republican and former lawmaker, said June 2 is the earliest date to manage such an undertaking.

House and Senate leaders and DeWine all agree that mandatory testing in schools shouldn’t happen this year, and there is also support to forgo district and school report cards.

A House proposal would also push any changes in the Ohio school voucher system to April 2021. Until the crisis hit, lawmakers had been considering possible changes to avoid a looming spike in the number of qualifying locations for the program, meant to help fund private school tuition for students from poor-performing districts and schools.

The House and Senate are both expected to allow the extension of professional licenses close to expiring, and align state tax filing deadlines with the federal postponement until July 15.

The House and Senate are also expected to propose temporary changes to the state’s open meeting laws to allow public bodies to meet by video conferencing.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press