State schools

Free speech and other new rules for public schools passed by legislature

Each institution must establish a complaint process, including for any grade penalties based on student speech instead of “ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance.” Schools should investigate alleged violations, hold a hearing and determine a resolution. All such complaints and investigations must be reported to the state annually.

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Institutions could further limit the time, place, and manner of free expression, including the use of academic property and through class rules; establish “reasonable viewpoint-neutral restrictions in non-public forums”; and do not have to allow disruption of previously scheduled activities in a public forum, according to the bill’s analysis.

Cirino said the bill includes a number of changes from its original version last June, such as removing free speech policy requirements for K-12 schools.

State Rep. Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, said the bill wasn’t perfect, but now protecting free speech “goes both ways,” bringing the bill ” very far from its disastrous beginning”.

The bill also sets many other rules for state institutions, including:

  • A requirement that the creation of new diplomas take into account the development priorities of the State’s workforce.
  • Prohibit additional charges for activities such as grading assignments associated with regular classes.
  • Charge more for online classes than the same class in person.
  • Created a unique second chance pilot program, a one-time payment of up to $2,000 for students who have exhausted financial aid but still have classes to take. The current state budget includes $3 million for this purpose.
  • Require state universities to establish joint enrollment programs with multiple community colleges.
  • Require annual reports on attendance and mental health costs.
  • Prohibit public schools from contacting a company that boycotts Israel “or other jurisdictions with which Ohio may enjoy open trade.”

Property Value Challenges

The House and Senate also agreed to Substitute House Bill 126, which changes the process for objecting to property tax assessments. It had already been passed by both houses, but stalled on March 2 when the House refused to accept the Senate amendments.

County auditors and other officials who had previously supported the bill spoke out against the House amendment. Now both legislative houses have accepted a report from the conference committee, sending the bill to DeWine.

The bill sponsored by State Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova Twp., has been in the works for several legislative sessions. Real estate appraisal challenges are often made by school districts against large commercial properties.

School districts will still be able to initiate these challenges, but will only be able to do so if the property was sold in the previous tax year; and the difference in appraisal estimates must be at least $500,000 plus 10% of the sale value, according to Sen. Louis Blessing, R-Colerain Twp. This figure of $500,000 is also indexed to inflation.

Assessment challenges also cannot be appealed to the state Board of Tax Appeals except by the owner, Blessing said.

School districts will be prohibited from entering into future “private payment” agreements, in which the owner pays the district not to dispute an assessment; but these existing agreements will be grandfathered.

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Merrin called the conference committee’s work a “carefully crafted compromise” after discussions between businesses, schools, lawmakers and county auditors.

“This is a process where all parties got amendments,” he said.

Some Democrats still opposed it. State Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, said the bill would likely limit challenges to assessments over $5 million, meaning schools in smaller communities would have little opportunity to discuss funding property tax they receive.

State Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, said it would limit even large districts; Columbus City schools estimate the change could cost them $3 million each year, she said.

Visit to a retirement home

Nursing homes, hospices and other long-term care facilities will have to allow patient visits during future outbreaks and other emergencies under House Bill 120, which passed the House in March 2021 and won Senate approval on Wednesday.

The House immediately and unanimously accepted the Senate amendments, giving the bill final approval.

State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, said the bill requires these medical facilities to develop and publish policies allowing for compassionate care visits. This covers family, clergy and others, although establishments are allowed to set health precautions.