March 30, 2020
By Kelly Vyzral
H.B. 197: Ohio’s Initial Response to the COVID-19 Challenge
On Friday, March 27th Governor DeWine signed HB 197, passed by the Ohio General Assembly to protect Ohioans during an extraordinary health and economic crisis resulting from the spread of the Corona virus (COVID-19). The legislation’s directives on education and child care centers are particularly pertinent to children and families. HB 197 also contains consumer protections for families who have lost jobs or work hours in the aftermath of extraordinary orders that have closed all but essential activity and required Ohioans to stay at home at least until April 6th. Finally, there are some provisions addressing civic functions including voting, local government meetings and tax deadlines.
Responding to the mandated closure of Ohio schools, HB 197
- Expands the use of distance learning;
- Allows use of tele-health and electronic communication methods to serve students who are receiving special education services;
- Waives state testing and report cards for the 2019-2020 school year;
- Permits seniors to graduate if their school determines they are on track to do so prior to the COVID-19 emergency;
- Provides that local schools should determine promotion for 3rd-Grade Reading Guarantee;
- Exempts schools from food processing requirements to allow for continued student meal delivery;
- Extends 2019-20 school choice designated buildings to the 2020-21 school year.
HB 197 impacts the operations of Child Care Centers as follows:
- Suspends the staff to child ratio requirements and maximum group sizes at child-care centers;2
- Allows the Department of Jobs and Family Services to continue making payments to publicly funded child care providers during the emergency;
- Delays the Step Up to Quality requirements for child care centers to receive public funding from July 1, 2020 to September 1, 2020.
Medicaid and Health
- gives the Director of Medicaid additional flexibility to prevent workforce shortages until December 1, 2020;
- allows recent nursing graduates to obtain a temporary license to practice prior to passing the licensure examination.
- changes Ohio’s unemployment laws by paying benefits for the first week of a person’s unemployment (no waiting week); changes eligibility to include COVID-19 related unemployment situations; and frees recipients from having to search for work;
- prohibits public water disconnections during the pandemic;2
- Adjusts legal and court time limits that among other things gives courts more flexibility to prevent evictions.
HB 197 responds to challenges to civic life and preserves rights created by the emergency, by
- extending absentee voting by mail for the March 17, 2020 primary election to April 28, 2020. To learn how to request your absentee ballot click here;
- extending the state tax filing deadline to conform with the federal extension to July 15, 2020;
- permitting state and local governmental units to operate meetings electronically, with public awareness and electronic participation.2
Speaker Larry Householder stated that the Legislature would not be taking further action immediately unless there was a need. He anticipates that the expected sharp fall-off of revenues to the state will require legislative adjustments to the budget, but it may take some time until the scope is more clear (Gongwer, March 25, 2020).
 Amended Substitute House Bill 197 Senate Floor (Omnibus Amendment) Summary
 Effective until the earlier of December 1, 2020 or the rescission of the March 9, 2020 Declaration of Emergency.