Ohio Takes Sweeping Legislative Action to Address COVID-19 Emergency

The Ohio General Assembly is working quickly to pass legislation addressing different aspects of the current COVID-19 crisis.  Late yesterday, Amended Substitute House Bill 197 was passed, implementing a number of important changes.  These provisions will go into effect immediately after Governor DeWine signs the bill.  Highlights of some of those changes are described below.


Exempting Schools as Food Processing Establishments

Authorizes the Director of Agriculture, during the period of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D, but not beyond December 1, 2020, to exempt a school as a food processing establishment under R.C. § 3715.021 if the school or entity has been issued a food service operation license under Chapter 3717 and is transporting food only for purposes of the U.S.D.A.’s Seamless Summer Option Program or the Summer Food Service Program.  Authorizes the same exemption on otherwise similar terms for other entities, provided that the entity is transporting food only for purposes of the Summer Food Service Program.


Extending Deadlines for Actions by State Agencies and License Holders

Extending the deadlines for “state agencies” to take actions otherwise required to be taken during the period of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D to the earlier of 90 days after the emergency ends or December 1, 2020.

Extending the deadlines for persons required to take action during the period of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D (but in no case beyond December 1, 2020) to maintain the validity of a “license” to the earlier of 90 days after the emergency ends or December 1, 2020.  Prohibits agencies from taking disciplinary action against license holders if the action is based on the authorized delay.


Open Meetings

Notwithstanding any conflicting provision of the Revised Code, authorizes public bodies, for the period of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D (but in no case beyond December 1, 2020), to hold and attend meetings and conduct and attend hearings via teleconference, video conference and other similar technology.  Grants resolutions, rules and formal actions of the public body the same effect as if they had occurred during an open meeting or hearing. Requires public bodies to make provisions for meeting attendance (and hearing attendance if the public is otherwise permitted to attend the hearing) commensurate with the method in which the meeting is conducted (e.g., livestreaming by internet, public access television, call-in information for teleconference, etc.).  The public must be able to observe and hear the discussions and deliberations of all members of the public body, whether that member is attending in person or electronically.  Requires public bodies conducting electronic hearings to establish, with widely-available electronic equipment, means by which that public body may converse with witnesses, and receive documentary testimony and physical evidence.


Authorizing Re-Hire of Public Servants Without Forfeiture of Retirement Benefits

During the period of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D (but in no case beyond December 1, 2020), a PERS retirant or other system retirant who is employed by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the Department of Youth Services, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Department of Veteran’s Services, or the Department of Developmental Disabilities shall not be required to forfeit the retirant’s retirement allowance as described in division (B)(4) of R.C. § 145.38.


K-12 School Testing, Accountability and Hours

 Authorizing the board of education of a school district, the governing authority of a community school established under Chapter 3314 that is not an internet- or computer-based community school, the governing body of a STEM school established under Chapter 3326, or the governing authority of a chartered non-public school to do either of the following to make up days or hours that the schools were ordered closed due to the COVID emergency.

  • If an entity adopted a plan under § 3313.482 to require students to access and complete classroom lessons posted on the entity’s website, the entity may amend that plan to provide for making up any number of hours that the schools were ordered closed due to the COVID emergency.
  • If an entity did not adopt a plan under § 3313.482, the entity may adopt a plan.


Authorizing Electronic and Telehealth Delivery of Services by Certain Professionals to Students Participating in Autism Scholarship Program, Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program, or who were otherwise receiving those professional services.  

Authorizing, for the period of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D (but in no case beyond December 1, 2020), professionals licensed by the Ohio Speech and Hearing Professionals Board; the Ohio Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Athletic Trainers Board, the State Board of Psychology; Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board; State Board of Education (with respect to intervention therapists), to continue to provide licensed services by electronic delivery or telehealth communication to any student participating in the Autism Scholarship Program or the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program, or to any student enrolled in a public or private school who was receiving those services before the Director of Health’s Order, regardless of the method of delivery.  Prohibits licensing boards from taking actions against a professional who provides services in accordance with this section.


Relieving Schools from Administering Assessments during 2019-2020 School Year

Relieving (for the 2019-2020 school year only) city, exempted village, local, joint vocational, or municipal school districts, any community school established under R.C. Chapter 3314, any STEM school established under R.C. Chapter 3326, any chartered non-public school, the State School for the Deaf and the State School for the Blind from obligations under R.C. §§ 3301.0710 to 331.0712, § 3313.903, § 3314.017 to administer assessments. Clarifying that students may not be deemed ineligible to renew scholarships for the 2020-2021 school year under the Educational Choice Scholarship Program, the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program, or the Pilot Scholarship Program based solely on the student not having been administered an assessment during the 2019-2020 school year. Prohibiting the Department of Education from excluding any student to whom an assessment was not administered from counting in the district or school’s enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year.  Prohibits holding back 3rd grade students based solely on that student’s reading performance in the 2019-2020 school year unless the student’s principal and reading teacher agree that the student is reading below grade level and not prepared to be promoted to 4th grade.  Requiring an award of high school diplomas to students enrolled in 12th grade (or otherwise on track to graduate during the 2019-2020 school year) who had not completed by March 17, 2020 requirements for a high school diploma, if that student’s principal, in consultation with teachers and counselors, determines that the student has successfully completed the curriculum as of the date the school was closed by the Director of Health’s order; however, no school or district may award a diploma under this section after September 30, 2020.  Instructs schools and districts to continue to provide ways to engage students between March 17, 2020 and the end of the school year.  Authorizes the Superintendent of Public Instruction, for the duration of the emergency (but in no case beyond December 1, 2020), to waive or extend any deadlines for actions required of the State Board of Education, the Department of Education or any person licensed or regulated by them to ensure prioritization of student, family and community safety while continuing to ensure the efficient operations of schools.


Unemployment Compensation Changes

Eliminates, during the period of emergency (but in no case after December 1, 2020), the unemployment compensation benefits waiting period.  Allows Director of Job and Family Services to waive requirements that benefit recipient be actively seeking suitable work.  Notwithstanding R.C. § 4141.29(D)(2), allows for unemployment compensation applications from employees who are unemployed or unable to return to return to work because of an isolation or quarantine order issued by the individual’s employer, governor, board of health, health commissioner or Director of Health.


Tolling Statutes of Limitation

Tolling (with retroactive effect) criminal, civil and administrative periods of limitation that expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020, but only until the earlier of the date the emergency ends or July 30, 2020.  This section applies not only to the commencement of actions, but also tolls certain other time limitations and deadlines associated with criminal, civil and administrative matters.


Addressing Work-from-Home Impacts on Municipal Income Taxes

During the period of the emergency, and for thirty days after, any day on which an employee performs personal services at a location to which the employee is required to report because of the emergency declaration, including that employee’s home, shall be considered as having been performed at the employee’s principal place of work.


Extending State, Municipal and School District Tax Filing Deadlines

Authorizes the Tax Commissioner to grant, during the period of emergency, extensions of time within which to file any report required by law and clarifies that no penalties or interest will accrue during those extensions for failing to file or pay taxes or fees.  If the Tax Commissioner extends the state income tax deadline for all taxpayers, taxpayers shall automatically receive a commensurate extension to file municipal net profit tax returns.


These updates are not intended to constitute legal advice or form an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions, we encourage you to contact an attorney at Mazanac, Raskin & Ryder to help you address your specific circumstances.