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Alert 4  Public Law Monday Message

Tuesday, May 26

To our friends, clients and colleagues in local and regional government, welcome to our latest Monday Message (delivered on Tuesday, thanks to Memorial Day) from the Public Law Group at McDonald Hopkins. In today's email, assembled by attorneys Kevin Butler, Dave Gunning, Margaret O’Bryon and Kelsey Smith, you’ll find insights into areas of law we’re watching on your behalf.

In today’s edition:

  • Are in-person public meetings allowed again?
  • Plastic bag and container legislation receives key vote
  • Workers’ comp claims may soon include first responder PTSD diagnoses
  • Nonprofits wise to map out near-term actions, long-term objectives
  • Liquor sales from the neighbor kid’s lemonade stand? New bill would expand locations for permit holders

Are in-person public meetings allowed again?

We’ve studied closely the orders coming fast from Columbus, most recently last week. While the upshot of the orders is to reopen most of Ohio following the COVID-19 shutdown, officials responsible for complying with open meetings laws must pay close attention to how all the statewide orders interact with one another. 

It should be noted that H.B. 197, which was adopted early in the coronavirus pandemic, continues to permit public meetings to be conducted remotely so long as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s state of emergency remains in effect, or at least through 2020. But public bodies interested in resuming in-person meetings now that Ohioans are no longer required to stay home should first determine whether gatherings of 10 or more people – including public officials and audience attendees – are still banned in any particular environments such as civic auditoriums, committee chambers and campus boardrooms. For starters, we encourage a read of this helpful guidance by Kelsey Smith of our team.

Our Public Law team includes several current and former law directors and legislators with decades of experience in counseling public entities of all types on sunshine laws, and more recently in view of the statewide COVID-19 restrictions. If you have questions or need assistance in any of these areas, please contact any member of the group.

Plastic bag and container preemption bill gains steam but loses longevity

On May 20, the Ohio Senate’s Local Government, Public Safety & Veterans Affairs Committee referred out of committee H.B. 242, which passed the Ohio House last year and which prohibits home-rule counties, limited home-rule townships and all municipalities from imposing a tax or fee on “auxiliary containers.” What are auxiliary containers? Think plastic and paper bags, Styrofoam cups, plastic straws and cardboard containers, any of which are designed for consuming merchandise, food, or beverages and transporting them from restaurants, groceries, and other establishments. 

The bill also permits these products to be used by anyone anywhere in the state, including, for example, in the checkout aisle at the grocery store and in your favorite drinks. The legislation would have the effect of undoing Cuyahoga County’s recent ordinance imposing a countywide plastic bag ban upon certain retail establishments.

Pro-business organizations generally lined up in favor of the bill, and those advocating for environmental and home-rule concerns testified against it. Before the committee voted to send it to the full Senate last week, the bill was amended to include a one-year sunset provision. Public or private entities looking to impose similar restrictions on single-use plastics and other disposables may wish to take note.

Workers’ comp claims may soon include first responder PTSD diagnoses

Another bill we’re watching on behalf of our clients is H.B. 308, which if adopted would grant workers’ compensation benefits to police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The measure has passed the Ohio House and has received support for passage in the Senate General Government and Agency Review Committee. If signed into law, as our attorney Margaret O’Bryon writes here, the bill would allow workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD claims without requiring an accompanying physical injury – a major shift from prior precedent and a potential $44 million expense to the workers’ comp system in the first year alone, not to mention increased employer premium contributions. We’ll continue to monitor the legislation and provide updates here.

Nonprofits wise to map out near-term actions, long-term objectives

Dave Gunning, an attorney in the Public Law group and himself a dedicated advisor to many nonprofit entities, writes today about the short-term and distant goalsetting that must occur within charitable and other nonprofit organizations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing everything from the most basic question of staying open to mergers, mission formation, cost reduction, board involvement and long-term strategies, it’s an important primer for entities that rely heavily on tenuous funding streams and government support. Read more here.

Liquor sales from the neighbor kid’s lemonade stand? New bill would expand locations for permit holders

Our final update this week: Especially after a long, hot holiday weekend, we’re looking forward to watching H.B. 669’s path through the General Assembly. Introduced just last week and ostensibly aimed at offering liquor permit holders some coronavirus-era financial relief, the bill would permanently relax where beer, wine and liquor can be sold in Ohio. Beer delivered by the pizza delivery driver? No problem, say the bill’s sponsors. Cocktails sold on a makeshift patio recently installed to respond to the new distancing guidelines? Sure thing. Booze peddled on the front lawn of the house next to the bar or restaurant? With the city’s and the homeowner’s permission, skoal! 

The Legislative Service Commission has provided a good summary of the measure, which at its core aims to allow liquor permit holders the ability to sell to customers in a wider array of places notwithstanding the locational restrictions placed on their permits.  The impetus: six-foot distancing guidelines that are keeping thirsty patrons outside the establishments or at home altogether. 

This may very well be welcome relief for bars and restaurants, though it remains to be seen how municipalities will react.  We’ll watch the bill’s progress and report back.

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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