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Alert 4  Public Law Monday Message

Monday, June 22

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: Upcoming webinar on nationwide higher education liquidity and loan covenants
  • Immunity measure to be heard in Ohio Senate this week
  • State auditor announces new resources for local governments
  • Spotlight on economic development tools: Special improvement districts
  • Missed the Ohio Treasurer on cashflow program? Replay the archived webinar here

Register today: Upcoming webinar on nationwide higher education liquidity and loan covenants

This Thursday, June 25, marks the date of an insightful webinar aimed at those in higher education nationwide as they envision enrollment declines and an iffy reopening picture. Hosted by McDonald Hopkins and co-sponsored by the global financial advisory firm Conway MacKenzie, our hour-long event titled Navigating Troubled Waters For Higher Education: Liquidity Management & Bank Covenants will guide attendees on forecasting liquidity, anticipating covenant defaults, and managing constructive conversations with creditors that afford higher-ed institutions time to stabilize in this challenging environment. Panelists include our Business Restructuring co-chair Steve Gross and Public Law chair Teresa Metcalf Beasley, as well as a number of education industry analysts from Conway MacKenzie. Register here today for this free event.

Immunity measure to be heard in Ohio Senate this week

This week the Ohio House’s coronavirus-related tort immunity measure, H.B. 606, sees action in the Ohio Senate’s Judiciary Committee. One of two similar tort immunity measures we’ve previously written on, H.B. 606 would protect various industries and employees from liability for pandemic-related activities in healthcare, education, governmental and other service industries – including by expanding the provisions of Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2744, which grants political subdivisions of the state immunity for certain acts. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly and awaits a compromise version that merges it with its Senate counterpart, S.B. 308, which is currently pending in the House’s Civil Justice Committee. 

A brief explanation may be useful on some of the ways in which H.B. 606 and S.B. 308 compare. The latest House version would immunize any person or entity in Ohio from civil liability for COVID-related activities occurring between March 9 and December 31, 2020, if the activity was alleged to have caused injury, death or loss by exposure to or transmission of coronavirus. The House version would also add measures into the law limiting liability for political subdivisions in Ohio for any of their actions designed to:

  • Comply with any order issued as a result of COVID-19 by a health department, the state government, an emergency management agency, or another political subdivision.
  • Abate the effects of the conditions for which either a state emergency declaration or a public health emergency has been issued.
  • Perform “[t]he provision or nonprovision of any function of local government” during the COVID-19 public health emergency or any other public health emergency declared by the federal government, the state government, another local government or a health district.

The latest Senate version, meanwhile, would extend the immunity period through April 2021, and would grant broad immunity to any person or entity providing services in that time period from claims of illness, injury, death, or loss arising from:

  • Services provided in response to or to address COVID-19.
  • Services that may have exposed a person to an illness during the pandemic.
  • Services that may have contributed to a person’s illness or injury during the pandemic.

Unlike its House cousin, the Senate version would not directly affect the state law regarding political subdivision immunity, but instead would create new immunities upon which local governmental entities (and all others) could rely. Additionally, the Senate bill would prohibit class action lawsuits arising from any of the above activity, whereas the House bill would not. Finally, the House version would create rebuttable presumptions within the state’s workers’ compensation law, not found in the Senate version, that favor certain employees who might contract a coronavirus. 

Because all Ohio operations stand to benefit from the expanded immunity provided in these measures – private, public, healthcare, educational and nonprofit – we continue to track these bills closely and will report on their progress here.

State auditor announces new resources for local governments

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber last week unveiled a new compendium of resources for local governments aimed at helping to “maintain continuity and manage the accounting implications of your respective coronavirus responses, while continuing to stay safe and healthy.” Among its materials, the page provides links to content on federal and state financial assistance, deadline extensions, guidance on financial reporting, and agency advisories related to the pandemic. We found the site helpful and so we pass it along; access the auditor’s page here.

Contact anyone in our Public Law team for more guidance on these important state issues.

Spotlight on economic development tools: Special improvement districts

We are fortunate to count among our ranks an entire team of attorneys who have spent their careers helping government, education and nonprofit entities employ special mechanisms to provide creative and cost-effective solutions for economic development projects and preserve clients’ bottom lines. In our Monday Message we’ll periodically highlight some of these special, often unused financing vehicles sitting right in your back yard.

Today’s spotlight is on special improvement districts – areas of land within which property owners pay privately-approved special assessments to fund specific services or improvements within the district’s borders. In Ohio these are creatures of statute and most frequently take the form of business or neighborhood improvement districts, special energy districts and, most recently, Lake Erie shoreline special improvement districts. The improvements are traditionally financed by special assessments levied by the property owners on their own land – assessments that provide a dedicated source of funds to permit borrowing and to allow for the repayment of the costs of the improvements over a lengthy enough period of time, eliminating any financial impediments to the viability of the projects themselves.

Special improvement districts are often overlooked, but they’re great examples of public-private partnerships whose upfront opportunity costs – forming a nonprofit entity to serve as the district’s governing body, gathering local legislative approvals, coordinating with owners in a neighborhood, and lining up the lenders – are dwarfed by the long-term benefits. Our Public Law team features current and former city, school and county officials who are highly skilled in economic development work, and thus are well suited to advise public and private clients on forming special improvement districts. Contact any one of us to learn more.

Missed the Ohio Treasurer on his cashflow program? Replay the webinar here

We take a final moment today to thank Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague and his senior counsel, Jonathan Azoff, for joining McDonald Hopkins online last week to discuss the Treasurer’s new COVID-19 Community Response Initiative, a program meant to provide timely and cost-effective cashflow to local governments and school districts around Ohio navigating the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Applications for the program are due in June for those interested. Learn more by contacting the Treasurer’s office, and if you missed the one-hour webinar you may watch an archived version here.

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

©2020 McDonald Hopkins LLC All Rights Reserved
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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