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 attorney Kevin Butler, you’ll find insights into areas of law we’re watching on your behalf.
In today’s edition:
- Register today: Business Hour with Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague - Ohio Treasurer's COVD-19 Community Response Initiative
- Upcoming webinar on nationwide higher education liquidity
- At long last, Coronavirus Relief Fund monies to reach local governments
- Pending in Columbus: immunity, fireworks, open meetings measures
- Final words of praise
Register today: Business Hour with Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague - Ohio Treasurer's COVID-19 Community Response Initiative
This week a McDonald Hopkins webinar aims to guide those leading school districts and municipalities as they navigate the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, June 18, we will host a Business Hour featuring a virtual discussion with Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague, who will promote his new Ohio Treasurer's COVID-19 Community Response Initiative for school districts and local governments in Ohio. Treasurer Sprague’s program is meant to provide easy and cost-effective access to capital markets in order to help lessen the current strain on liquidity while accelerating fiscal year cash flows and addressing temporary financial shortfalls. Learn more and register here. Attendance at the webinar is free and includes the Treasurer, his staff and our group’s members Teresa Metcalf Beasley and Dave Gunning.
Upcoming webinar on nationwide higher education liquidity and loan covenants
Another webinar, Navigating Troubled Waters For Higher Education: Liquidity Management & Bank Covenants, is scheduled for next Thursday, June 25, and is aimed at those in higher education nationwide. Hosted in coordination with the global financial advisory firm Conway MacKenzie, the panel will guide attendees on forecasting liquidity, anticipating covenant defaults, and managing constructive conversations with creditors that afford higher education institutions time to stabilize in this environment. The conversation is timely, as colleges and universities look ahead in a perilous environment. Register here for this free event.
At long last, Ohio Coronavirus Relief Fund monies to reach local governments
Last week the Ohio General Assembly worked the original provisions of S.B. 310 into an amendment to H.B. 481, which overnight went from a routine land conveyance bill to the vehicle by which the state will pass along $350 million of Coronavirus Relief Fund monies under the federal CARES Act to local governments in order to permit reimbursements for expenditures made in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Once signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, the bill will set into motion a series of transactions that will enable municipalities who have not directly received CARES Act money to date to tap into new, badly needed funds for necessary expenditures incurred due to the pandemic between March 1 and December 30, 2020, that were not previously budgeted. Cities and villages are now obligated to register with the Ohio Office of Budget and Management’s grants portal, and to adopt local legislation creating a local coronavirus relief fund and accepting responsibility for using the new money appropriately. Find more from OBM here.
We’ve previously written here that guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury on how Coronavirus Relief Fund monies may be spent at the local level is shifting and still not entirely clear to mayors, finance directors and law directors, and we remain prepared to advise your municipality on how CRF money may be lawfully spent once it’s in hand.
Other items we’re watching in Columbus: immunity, fireworks, open meetings
The two Coronavirus-related tort immunity measures we’ve previously written on continue to wind their way through the Ohio General Assembly, with the expectation that the two houses will come together on a compromise version. The House is considering S.B. 308, which would protect various industries and employees from liability for pandemic-related activities in healthcare, education, governmental and other service industries. The Senate is considering a similar measure, H.B. 606, which adds specific coronavirus-related activities as well as broader public health emergency response to the list of governmental functions for which the state’s political subdivisions enjoy immunity under Chapter 2744 of the Revised Code. Because all Ohio operations stand to benefit from the expanded immunity provided in these measures – private, public, educational and nonprofit – we continue to track these bills closely.
Another bill of note, chiefly to municipalities: H.B. 253 has now cleared the Ohio House and is being considered by the Senate. Along with enacting a slew of fireworks-deregulation measures at the state level, the bill would permit all Ohioans to possess and discharge consumer-grade fireworks on their property – except, it should go without saying, if a person is under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. In a rare nod to home-rule authority, the bill would also allow local governments to continue to enforce noise ordinances vis-à-vis hobbyists’ pyrotechnic displays; to restrict the dates and times of fireworks use; and even to ban the use of consumer fireworks within jurisdictional limits altogether. In its current form, the bill would give municipalities about nine months’ time to adopt local legislation putting any such restrictions into place, and we are prepared to help you craft a law that suits your community’s needs when that time comes. We’ll keep a weather eye on how H.B. 253 does in the Senate and report here.
The Ohio Senate has unanimously approved a bill, S.B. 293, that would create a process for resolving allegations of Open Meetings Act violations within the Ohio Court of Claims. The bill now heads to the House, where it is expected to be adopted. The Court of Claims process for Open Meetings Act complaints would mirror the special master-driven process created for alleged violations of the Public Records Act, with speedier outcomes and reduced chances of attorney-fee payouts as the primary goals.
Contact anyone in our Public Law team for more guidance on these important state issues.
Final words of praise
Cheers to one of our eagle-eyed loyal readers for pointing out that last week’s Monday Message contained a regrettable typographical error we must correct. We had reported in the June 8 email blast that the new Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act allows for PPP loan forgiveness for non-payroll expenses of up to 60% of loan proceeds, but that cap should have been 40%.
And a word of kudos for our Public Law partner Amanda Gordon, who moonlights as a dedicated school board member in Wadsworth, Ohio. This past week Amanda drafted and her colleagues passed a resolution calling on Gov. Mike DeWine to permit safe, appropriately-spaced in-person graduation ceremonies to still go forward this summer – a measured and compelling request that sits in stark contrast to the tweet-storm environment often dominating the headlines on Ohio’s reopening efforts. We applaud Amanda for that.
If you have questions or need assistance, please feel free to contact any member of the McDonald Hopkins Public Law team.
Have a great week!
Teresa Metcalf Beasley
Chair, Public Law