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Business, sunshine law issues lurk in Legislature

Dennis Hetzel Executive DirectorBy Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director

As the Ohio Legislature hurtles toward passage of a two-year budget in late June (or early July if things don’t go well), this is a good time to summarize where things stand.

Business issues

The good news: Any sales tax expansion in House Bill 49 (the budget bill) has been removed by the House Finance Committee.  The expansion of the sales tax to advertising was not part of Gov. Kasich’s initial proposal either.

The bad news: Municipal tax reform may be dead. The concept of centralized collection of municipal income taxes in one place would have save time and money for many ONMA members. The latest proposal makes this optional, which probably is OK, but adds the absurd notion of charging businesses a 1 percent fee to utilize this. In other words, you pay a tax in order to pay your taxes.  To be continued.

Township website advertising: Ohio townships would have the right to sell advertising on their websites in competition with local media because of an amendment to the budget bill.


Sunshine issues in the budget bill

Drug fatality review board: We hope to tighten overly broad language that would restrict any scrutiny of how these new boards will operate. Confidential information, such as personal medical information, will continue to be protected.

Office of Long Term Care ombudsman investigations: There already is expansive language in the law that protects release of proprietary information of long-term care facilities being investigated. New language would block access to all records in the ombudsman’s files.

Lottery internal audit reports: The Ohio Lottery would receive a special open records exemption that would allow the lottery director and commission chair to delay release of an internal audit until both have physical possession of the report. The opportunity to play games with this information is obvious.

Probate judges and parks boards: Ohio probate judges have had control over parks for decades. Because of feuds and controversies in Geauga County, expansive language was added to HB 49 that, in our opinion, is unconstitutional.  It allows probate judges to “fine or penalize outside groups that ‘interfere’ with a park district’s purpose or mission.”  (Cleveland.com)  No definition of “interfere.” We agreed to an amendment suggestion this week that addresses the free-speech issues.

Confidential contract information: Responding to a Columbus Dispatch investigation of contract practices at the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Rep. Keith Faber added language that increases legislative oversight. Some records used in the bid analysis of IT contracts would be confidential. We are pushing to clarify that these records would be public once the bid or contract is awarded.

Teleconference and video conference public meetings:  Meetings of the Workforce Investment Board and Ohio Banking Commission could be conducted by videoconference and/or teleconference. The WIB is using our model language; the OBC is not. We have an agreement to have the banking commission adopt our language to ensure public access and good procedures.


Other sunshine law bills

School bus accidents: House Bill 8, which we strongly oppose, will be headed to the House floor soon. It will require redaction of the names of minors in school-bus accident reports. Aside: The “fiscal note” attached to HB 8 notes that it will cost the state Highway Patrol $200,000 in the first year and $100,000 annually to perform these redactions. We have offered some compromise ideas to no avail.

‘Mugshot’ sites: We support Rep. John Barnes’ bill that would penalize those who charge for removal of a public record. This is a targeted at websites that post arrest booking photos and charge hundreds of dollars for removal – something none of our members would do. The bill is headed to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

Expungement vs. sealing: Sealing records and expunging records are very different things. Sealing, when it works correctly, sharply limits access and should prevent horror stories of unfounded arrests popping up on criminal background checks. Expungement means complete destruction of records.  House Bill 64 would expunge records of those who are falsely arrested for certain crimes. We argue that the answer is to fix and enforce the record-sealing law, not destroy records of when the government makes mistakes.

We also are working in the background on other long-term goals, such as “anti-SLAPP” legislation and access to body camera video.  As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

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