February 22, 2021 Monday Message from the McDonald Hopkins Public Law Team

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Monday, February 22, 2021

To our friends, clients and colleagues in local and regional government, higher education and the nonprofit sector, welcome to our latest Monday Message from the Public Law Group at McDonald Hopkins. In today’s email, assembled by attorneys Teresa Metcalf Beasley, Margaret O’Bryon, Mike Wise and Kevin Butler, you’ll find insights into areas of law we’re watching on your behalf.

In today’s edition:

  • In our monthly segment, ‘5 Questions With’ Yvette Ittu of Cleveland Development Advisors
  • Restrictions on special improvement district territory relaxed with H.B. 444
  • Mayors of Ohio’s largest cities release 2021 policy priorities
  • Unemployment compensation fraud: what employers and individuals can do
  • Ohio energy conference features Wise as panel moderator, broad discussion of policy
  • Congrats to Arfons, Corkran and Wildey on HBCU work

In our monthly segment, ‘5 Questions With’ Yvette Ittu of Cleveland Development Advisors

5 Questions with Yvette Ittu HubSpot

In today’s edition of the Monday Message, we’re excited to continue our series, “5 Questions With” – a monthly segment in which we ask local, regional and statewide leaders to pass along their wisdom on items of current and lasting interest, all in a brief, easy-to-read format.

For our latest installment we’ve asked Yvette Ittu, who leads the economic development strategists at Cleveland Development Advisors, to weigh in on CDA’s contribution to transformative real estate and job-creation projects in northeast Ohio, as well as how the pandemic has affected neighborhood revitalization to date and what she’s expecting from the Biden-Harris administration. Ittu shares insights on CDA, an affiliate of Greater Cleveland Partnership, pivoting from loan-based investments to grantmaking during the pandemic and what the top priorities should be for continued growth in the region. “From an economic development standpoint,” she says, “focus on workforce development and closing the skills gap is and should be among the highest priority for our community.”

Read more from Ittu here or click the banner above.

Restrictions on special improvement district territory relaxed with H.B. 444

Hats off to our friends at the City of Medina, which created the Medina County Energy Improvement District, for leading the effort to expand the use of special improvement districts (SIDs) with the recent passage of H.B. 444.  

As veteran special improvement district attorney Teresa Metcalf Beasley points out, SIDs continue to be used throughout the state as an economic development tool to enhance certain public services or improvements within the district such as lighting, signage, parking lots, holiday lighting, landscaping, snow removal and safety, and they can also include erosion control projects and energy efficiency projects that utilize Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, financing.

A SID is created by the voluntary petition of property owners within a certain territory who agree to pay an additional fee designated for specific services or improvements within the borders of the district through a special assessment levied by the municipality or township on the property in the SID. Prior to the amendment in H.B. 444, a SID could be created within a single municipality or township within a single county or within contiguous municipalities and townships. The latter provision was somewhat limiting to the expansion of an energy special improvement district (ESID), especially if a contiguous municipality or township would not be able to participate. In those situations, the ESID was not able to expand its boundaries to non-contiguous municipalities or townships, resulting in a negative impact on economic development.

Thanks to H.B. 444, the law now provides that a SID may be created or expanded to “municipal corporations and townships within a single county, or counties that adjoin one another,” eliminating the requirement that that participating municipal corporations and townships themselves be contiguous. With this change, which becomes effective April 12, the expansion and creation of SIDs can serve as an even stronger tool for economic development.

Mayors of Ohio’s largest cities release 2021 policy priorities

The preservation of commuter tax, imperiled by legislative and court challenges as a result of employees working from home during the pandemic, tops the list of priorities released earlier this month by a coalition of mayors from Ohio’s largest cities.

The Ohio Mayors Alliance urges the state government to keep intact a provision of last year’s omnibus pandemic response bill, H.B. 197, that continues to pay income tax to cities where employees ordinarily work notwithstanding the fact that they may be telecommunting during the pandemic. OMA estimates that 85 percent of jobs in Ohio are located in metropolitan areas and “any change to current law while a large number of employees are still working from home would be a major setback for Ohio’s economic recovery.”

OMA’s other announced policy priorities include:

  • Ensuring the federal stimulus package is completed
  • Addressing racial inequality, promoting justice and improving public safety
  • Advocating for a balanced redistricting process
  • Promoting the economic impacts of cities and the value of continued investments
  • Strengthening education attainment and career pathways
  • Advancing clean energy and supporting improved sustainability
  • Promoting healthy communities and continuing to address the addiction crisis
  • Protecting home rule
  • Finding solutions for accessible housing and cities’ infrastructure needs

OMA is a bipartisan group of mayors across Ohio whose primary objective is to advocate for cities. Read more on its policy agenda here.

Unemployment compensation fraud: what employers and individuals can do

One of the many unanticipated consequences of the COVID-19 crisis is a virtual explosion in fraudulent unemployment claims that individuals, employers and states are now dealing with across the country. While unemployment fraud is not new, the availability of enhanced benefits through the CARES Act and other payment programs has led to skyrocketing false claims using stolen identity information.  

While both employers and claimants can commit unemployment fraud under their state unemployment laws, the current crisis primarily involves use of stolen identities by third parties to file unemployment claims. Ohio is among the states that have been particularly hard hit by the scammers. The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services reports that in the first week in February alone, a third or more of new claims were likely fraudulent. Both the federal and state governments are fighting back and deploying resources to assist employers and individuals.

Our public law and labor and employment partners Margaret O’Bryon and Miriam Rosen have offered insight into combatting this unemployment fraud epidemic. Click here to read their tips on what employers should do at both the state and federal levels and what individuals can do concerning identity theft and unemployment.

Ohio energy conference features Wise as panel moderator, broad discussion of policy

On February 18 our public law stalwart Mike Wise moderated the keynote legislative panel for the 25th Annual Ohio Energy Savings and Management Conference. This is typically the largest energy conference in the Midwest. Mike’s panel included Ohio Sens. Jerry Cirino and Bob Peterson, Reps. Jeff Crossman Jim Hoops and Kent Smith, Bradley H. Belden (energy chairman of the Ohio Manufacturer’s Association), Stephanie Kromer (Ohio Chamber of Commerce), Kevin Murray (Industrial Energy Users) and Joe Price (Ohio Energy Group). Topics addressed included the nuclear energy subsidies found in the controversial H.B. 6, the status of electric deregulation in Ohio, energy policies in the Biden-Harris administration, the status of the Utica Shale Play and the status of renewable energy policies in Ohio.

Watch the panel discussion here. More information on the conference and panel may be found here.

Congrats to Arfons, Corkran and Wildey on HBCU work

Cheers to Chad Arfons, Kaitlin Corkran and Kirstyn Wildey – all members of our public law team – whose work with a group of like-minded firms, including the architecture firm DLR Group, Old National Bank and Monarch Private Capital, helped a group of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities advocate for and ultimately secure grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which will be used to preserve and enhance those signature campuses. Read more on the grants from the National Trust here, and join us as we congratulate our colleagues Chad, Kaitlin and Kirstyn – already well known for their work in historic and other tax-credit project financings.

Feel free to contact any member of the McDonald Hopkins Public Law team if you have questions or need assistance on any of the matters we’ve covered above or with your legal needs in general.

Teresa Metcalf Beasley
Chair, Public Law

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This Publication is designed to provide current information for our clients, friends and their advisors regarding important legal developments. The foregoing discussion is general information rather than specific legal advice. Because it is necessary to apply legal principles to specific facts, always consult your legal advisor before using this discussion as a basis for a specific action.

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