PIQUA — The annual State of the State address was held Thursday morning at the Fort Piqua Plaza, where State Sen. Bill Beagle and State Rep. Steve Huffman discussed legislative changes.
Huffman briefly touched on medical marijuana, and as the author and primary sponsor of that legislation, he argued that it was done to keep the legalization of the recreational use marijuana at bay.
“Ohio’s not Colorado, and we’re not California,” Huffman said.
The bill came nearly one year after Ohio voters struck down a referendum in November 2015 to legalize marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use.
Huffman said that they wanted to create protections for business owners, as employers can still refuse to hire someone or terminate someone’s employment due to that person’s use, possession, and/or distribution of medical marijuana.
Huffman added that the program, which is not expected to be fully operational until September, is narrow.
“No one’s applied in Miami County to be a cultivator or a distributor,” Huffman said.
Huffman also spoke against insurance mandates, citing a mandate last year for insurance companies to cover different types of autism. “Insurance mandates (are) just going to raise your insurance rates,” he said.
On the opioid epidemic, Huffman said that the state allocated $180 million in new funds in the state budget to combat the issue.
On Medicaid, Huffman said that the state legislature is working on decreasing the cost of Medicaid, saying the General Assembly is taking back some oversight of Medicaid and “will decide who will be on Medicaid.”
In regard to unemployment compensation, the state is looking to cut benefits. This is to avoid what happened during and after the 2008 recession, when the state had to borrow money in order to pay for unemployment compensation.
“The employer’s going to pay more,” Huffman said. “The workers are going to have to pay their share, too.”
Huffman said that they are working on a bill that will decrease the maximum number of weeks people are eligible to receive benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.
“Right now it’s a working bill,” Huffman said.
State Rep. Kirk Schuring’s bill currently proposes lowering the benefit period from 26 weeks to 24 weeks.
Huffman said that legislators discussed going so far as nine weeks with a sliding scale, but Huffman “did not think it’s going to get to nine.”
The state also held the third sales tax holiday this year, which they hope to have become an annual day. There is also a proposed bill to eliminate sales tax on eyeglasses, frames, and contact lenses.
Huffman also said that Gov. John Kasich wanted to decrease the personal income tax on Ohio residents and increase the Ohio Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) along with the taxes on cigarettes, which Huffman said is “a moving target on businesses.” The legislature did not increase those taxes, and Huffman added, “We were not able to decrease the personal income tax.”
Beagle on workforce
Beagle spoke prior to Huffman, discussing workforce initiatives in the state legislature.
“Finding the right workforce is important for all of us,” Beagle said.
Beagle spoke on a disconnect between educators and workforce needs, but he also noted programs were available at local schools in Miami County as well as at the Upper Valley Career Center.
“The nature of work is changing,” Beagle said, adding that the future appears “technology-heavy.”
Automation was a concern in regard to technology. Beagle cited statistics that said almost half of U.S. employment can be phased out in the future.
On the flip side, Beagle cited statistics that 65 percent of students are expected to be working at jobs that do not exist yet.
“That’s a challenge,” Beagle said.
Companies also have a shrinking lifespan, Beagle said, saying that their lifespan was 18 years for businesses in 2012.
“Career education is more important than ever,” Beagle said.
Beagle cited more statistics that illustrate a disconnect between teachers and parents, showing that 70 percent of parents are interested in their children having access to career education options, while only 24 percent of teachers believe their students are interested in career education.
“About a year ago, we were given a call to action by Gov. Kasich,” Beagle said, explaining that the governor’s workforce board was instructed to identify ways to prepare and retrain the workforce.
While Beagle said, “I think we have a lot going on in our area,” he also identified actions that the state is taking to bridge the gap between educators and businesses throughout the state.
The state is requiring the Ohio Department of Education and Department of Higher Education to develop career workforce collaboration models, such as co-ops and internships. The Department of Education also has to work with businesses and area chambers of commerce.
They added arts to the STEM designation to create a STEAM designation, Beagle said.
“We created the Ohio Means Jobs seal for diplomas,” Beagle said. He explained that this was not a requirement for graduation, but it was a designation to show those students “took extra initiative.”
“We’re going to continue to pursue this,” Beagle said.
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