Ohio Department of Health (ODH) coronavirus case statistics showed an increase from 70,601 cases on Thursday, July 16 to 80,186 cases on Thursday, July 23. In addition, total COVID-19 deaths reached 3,256 as of July 23.
Although Gov. Mike DeWine used his appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend to explain the lack of a statewide mask mandate, by Wednesday he had announced one that went into effect at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 23. He cited "abundantly clear" evidence that masks help to halt virus transmission and the expected escalation of additional counties into the higher-risk "red" category of the state's health alert system.
Gov. DeWine confirmed the increase in the number of counties with a level three "red" designation under the Ohio Public Health Advisory System on Thursday, July 23, noting they now total 23. Newly-designated red counties include Clark, Defiance, Erie, Hardin, Henry, Lawrence, Marion and Medina. Those continuing at that level include the counties of Athens, Allen, Clermont, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Hamilton, Licking, Lucas, Montgomery, Pickaway, Richland, Scioto and Union.
One of Ohio's biggest school districts is hedging on earlier plans for a partial resumption of in-person learning, while some districts are eyeing a full return to classrooms. Citing a "sobering" report from public health officials on the spread of COVID-19 within the district, Columbus City Schools (CCS) Superintendent Talisa Dixon said the school system "will need to give serious consideration to beginning the school year with a fully remote learning model for grades K-12." The district's teachers' union, meanwhile, released an open letter Monday calling for an all-virtual beginning to the school year. The district previously discussed a plan to split the K-8 population in half, with each group attending two days per week, while high school classes would be remote for the first semester.
Among the state's other large school districts, Cleveland Municipal Schools, CEO Eric Gordon pushed the start of school from mid-August back to Sept. 8, although students at the district's year-round buildings will begin Aug. 24. The district announced it intends to unveil a full reopening plan by month's end. In Toledo Public Schools, students will be divided into A and B groups, with the former attending in-person on Mondays and Thursdays, the latter Tuesdays and Friday. Wednesday will be set aside for "deep cleaning." The district also has an all-virtual school that students can attend. The Akron Public Schools Board of Education discussed a plan that would have K-2 students in buildings five days per week, while grades 3-8 students would attend two days per week and high school students would learn online the entire week.
The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee drew a stream of opposition testimony Tuesday to legislation on arming school employees, while Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) raised the idea of using it as a vehicle for his proposal to create a school marshal program to improve school security. Though SB317 (Coley) was starred for a vote, Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester), chair of the committee and sponsor of the bill, said the panel would not take action on the legislation Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) and Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) for an "Education Freedom Roundtable" Thursday morning hosted by James Ragland, director of provider outreach at School Choice Ohio. DeVos touted the Trump administration's position on school choice, saying educational freedom is more necessary now than ever before amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said now is a time to expand school choice as parents look for educational options, and noted that "there is a real opportunity" with the next round of COVID-19 relief to give more opportunities to students.
The attorney general's office recently deposed ECOT founder William Lager in the case alleging the contracts between the now-defunct online charter school and other companies linked to Lager were illegal. But the judge in the case, Judge Kim Cocroft of Franklin County Common Pleas Court, granted a request from the former school treasurer to cancel her deposition, as well as Lager's bid to extend other case proceedings given the pandemic. Meanwhile, Judge Michael Holbrook of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court granted Attorney General Dave Yost's request to file documents under seal in the case managing the remaining assets of the school.
Noting the rarity of such charges, federal officials Tuesday said House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) had been charged as part of a racketeering case in which he and four other defendants allegedly received $60 million to "pass and maintain" HB6 (Callender-Wilkin), a controversial subsidy of FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) that passed last year. Also charged Tuesday were Matt Borges, a lobbyist and former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party; Juan Cespedes, co-founder of the Oxley Group; Neil Clark, president of Grant Street Consultants; and Jeff Longstreth, an adviser to Householder.
The news led to widespread calls for Householder's resignation from Gov. Mike DeWine and bipartisan legislative and state party leaders. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose also announced that he had referred 19 "apparent or alleged" violations of state campaign finance law related to the federal charges to the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC).
A day after Householder was arrested on federal charges, members of the House on both sides of the aisle, including those who helped to install him as speaker, said he should step aside to focus on his legal issues and that the pending case will make it hard for him to continue to lead the chamber.
The day before HB6 (Callender-Wilkin) passed in the House, an unnamed representative met with FBI agents to voice his concerns about the unusual process involved. Their conversation is detailed in the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday following the arrest of Householder and four others as part of an ongoing federal racketeering investigation. The 82-page document authored by FBI Special Agent Blane Wetzel alleges how approximately $60.89 million was provided by "Company A" to Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) organization purportedly controlled by Householder, with the funds used to support the election of his affiliated candidates in 2018, ensure passage of HB6 and prevent it from being overturned by ballot initiative.
As a result of the revelations surfacing following Householder's arrest over alleged racketeering actions around HB6, the Ohio Legislature is mounting a bipartisan/bicameral effort to repeal the energy subsidy law as Democrats and Republicans work on several proposals. Sen. Sean O'Brien (D-Cortland) joined Rep. Michael O'Brien (D-Warren), co-chair of the House Energy and Natural Resources Energy Generation Subcommittee that launched HB6 and Rep. Gil Blair (D-Mineral Ridge), a fellow member of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee and subcommittee, in announcing efforts Wednesday to overturn the taxpayer-supported subsidy. Sens. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) have also joined the efforts.
The Senate Tuesday unanimously passed five items on its agenda with little debate, including legislation that updates Ohio's laws regarding limited liability corporations (LLC), SB276. Senators also sent HB123 (Holmes-Manning) back to the House for concurrence, after unanimously adopting an emergency clause to the bill. The bill addresses school security and youth suicide awareness education, but was amended by the Senate Education Committee to include funding for e-schools that serve drop-out recovery students.