The Ohio Senate and House of Representatives passed a package of changes (HB 197) aimed at addressing issues related to the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, March 26. The Governor signed the bill into law on Friday, March 29. The bill contained an emergency clause, so it is effective immediately. Here are the highlights for townships:Public Meetings: Authorizes public bodies to meet by electronic means (teleconference, video conference, or other electronic means), provided that the public body provides notice of the meeting and allows public access by similar electronic method, including but not limited to live-streaming, local radio, television, cable, or public access channels, or call in information for a teleconference. For a more detailed summary, please click here.*
- Extension of March 17 Election: Extends absentee voting for the March 17 primary election through April 28. Voters may apply for an absentee ballot by noon on April 25.
- Drinking Water Access: Allows the Ohio EPA to issue an order prohibiting public water systems from disconnecting customers and requiring that they restore service without fees to any customer disconnected as a result of nonpayment.*
- Audit Changes: Allows the Auditor of State to waive certain audit requirements for an audit period during the pandemic, including:
- The requirement to conduct a standard financial audit after conducting an agreed-upon procedure audit in two consecutive audit periods; and
- All criteria a public office is required to satisfy in order for the Auditor to conduct an agreed-upon procedure audit instead of a financial audit (currently, the Auditor may waive one criterion).
- Waiving Fees: Allows the Ohio Public Works Commission, Ohio Water Development Authority, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to waive penalties and late fees associated with outstanding loans and other requirements.*
- Unemployment Compensation Changes: Makes several changes to qualifications for unemployment related to the coronavirus, including waiving the one week waiting period, waiving the requirement to be actively seeking work, and allowing these charges to be mutualized.*
- Tax Compliance: Expressly authorizes the Tax Commissioner to extend state tax filing and payment deadlines for the duration on the declared emergency and to waive associated interest and penalties for taxpayers. (Note: the federal income tax deadline has been moved to July 15.)
- Administrative Hearings: The bill includes a provision regarding the tolling of administrative statutes of limitations, such as those that may relate to zoning hearings. Please work with your county prosecutor or legal counsel on how this provision might affect you.
*Many of these provisions are temporary during the state of emergency and sunset when the state of emergency is lifted or by December 1, 2020, whichever is sooner. These temporary provisions are marked with an asterisk.
Be sure to thank members of the General Assembly and the Governor for their attention to township issues during this process. The OTA will continue to update members on changes related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Just before midnight on Tuesday, March 25, the Senate passed a $2 trillion emergency package (HR 748) intended to stave off total economic collapse in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, its third in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill passed the House on Friday with the President signing soon thereafter. The measure is the biggest economic rescue package in US history.In addition to the details provided in this summary, below are highlights of some specific policies and programs of particular interest to townships:
- State Stabilization Fund:
- The bill includes $150 billion for a Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is essentially serving as a state stabilization fund. $11 billion is directed to the District of Columbia, territories, and tribal governments. Of the remaining $139 billion, local governments with populations over 500,000 or more can apply for their own direct funding, and smaller local governments must go through their states. The funds will be distributed to states using a population-based formula to determine the amount each state receives.
- No state will receive less than $1.25 billion, including the direct funds sent to the larger local governments. The funds can only cover costs directly related to COVID-19 responses from March to the end of the 2020. The restrictions on spending mean the bill can help states with their additional costs but doesn't address the overall revenue losses they use to fund regular operations. NOTE: The bill stipulates that within 30 days of enactment the Treasury Secretary shall distribute funds to state and local governments.
Other notable provisions:
- Cash Payments: Lawmakers settled on a $1,200 payout in tax rebate checks per individual, or $2,400 per married couple filing jointly, with an additional $500 per child. Benefits would start to phase down at $75,000 adjusted gross income for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers.
- Small Businesses: The bill provides about $377 billion in loans, much of which would be forgiven if workers are kept on the payroll.
- Hospital Funds: Aid to hospitals increased in the final measure to about $100 billion.
- FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund: FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund will receive $45 billion. The funds will help state and local efforts with medical response, protective equipment, shelter, food, and services.
- Airport and Industry Aid:
- $10 billion is directed to assist airports - commercial and general aviation. The airline industry ended up with $32 billion in direct cash grants, in addition to $29 billion in loans in the bill, after airline unions argued the companies would need to lay off employees without grants.
- Other struggling industries, such as hotels, would also receive aid. And $17 billion in loans would go to "businesses critical to national security," including Boeing.
- Elections: States will receive $400 million to help them prepare to hold elections during the pandemic.