Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has been asked to look into whether the governor’s limits to mass gatherings applies to the state legislature.
A waiver seems appropriate.
A return by legislators to Columbus earlier than planned would allow them to deal with issues such as extending absentee voting, determining a new date for the primary, and school choice.
Both chambers of the General Assembly have extended their election recess until April due to the coronavirus. Originally, they were not scheduled to return to Columbus until next week. The House, however, had extended that break until April 3. State Senate employees had two sessions planned for next week, but the rest of their time involved working from home through April 6.
Senate President Larry Obhof (R., Medina) has vowed, “The Senate will work collaboratively with the governor and the secretary of state in the coming days on any legislation necessary to deal with this unique and challenging set of circumstances, including determining a new date for the primary election. “We have several sessions scheduled already, and if necessary, we will use them to deal with the challenges before us.”
Larry Householder, of the House, hasn’t been as forthcoming.
The election isn’t the only issue that needs to be addressed.
DeWine may seek lawmakers’ help for waiving testing requirements that are scheduled as well as shortening the mandatory length of the school year.
Then there is April 1.
That is the date for parents to begin applying for EdChoice scholarships. It was originally set for Feb. 1, but was moved back following an outcry from public school officials.
Without a change to Ohio’s voucher law, the number of public schools deemed under-performing would skyrocket from about 500 this year to more than 1,200 this fall due to changes in the school grade card.
That could be a huge financial hit for public schools. Ohio’s current system gives students taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private school if they meet either of two criteria – family income below 200% of the poverty line, or if the student’s home public school is deemed “under-performing” on the state report card.
State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) is suggesting passage of another measure delaying the application period for the parents to apply for EdChoice scholarships.
“My thought is a national emergency and state emergency give a lot of powers to the federal and state governments to enact what they feel is necessary in an unusual times,” she told Advanced Ohio Media. “If there is a possibility for a moratorium, that should be considered.”
A delay could create more problems, however, as school officials need to project student counts for next year and parents need to make decisions based on where their children will attend school.
State Sen. Matt Huffman (R., Lima), however, is optimistic a compromise can be reached in the next two weeks. He said the six-member conference committee that is charged with fashioning a compromise on the voucher issue has stayed in communication.
“We have been working since the end of the last conference committee with members of the House and Senate and a lot of interested parties,” Huffman told the Toledo Blade. “It would take into account the House’s position, the governor’s position, and then our caucus position.”
Still, if a compromise is reached, the House and Senate need to be in session to vote on it.
Now is not the time for the Legislature to be on an extended break.