Legislative Watch – January 14, 2022

Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Highly Partisan General Assembly Maps

On Wednesday, January 12, 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court issued a ruling that invalidates the highly gerrymandered state legislative districts that were adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on a partisan basis. In 2015, Ohio voters passed a Constitutional amendment aimed at ending partisan gerrymandering.  In a 4-3 ruling, the Court stated that the plan failed to comply with provisions in the Constitution that the Commission attempt to match the statewide voting preferences of Ohio voters.

Over the past 10 years, voters in Ohio have favored Republicans over Democrats by a margin of 54% to 46%. However, the maps adopted by the Commission were drawn to give Republicans a two-thirds majority of the seats in both the House and the Senate. The Supreme Court invalidated the maps on the basis that the Commission did not attempt to correspond closely with the overall voting preferences of Ohioans.

OEA President Scott DiMauro praised the decision saying, “OEA applauds the wisdom of the Ohio Supreme Court to strike down gerrymandered maps that would have denied Ohioans a real voice at the Statehouse. This is a huge victory for Ohio voters and for Ohio schools, which are greatly impacted by the decisions of the state’s elected lawmakers.”

The majority opinion was written by Justice Melody Stewart and joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Justices Jennifer Brunner and Michael Donnelly. The three members who dissented and favored upholding the maps were Justices Sharon Kennedy, Patrick Fischer and Patrick DeWine.

The Court ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to reconvene and produce new maps within 10 days. Plaintiffs would then have three days to file any challenges to the revised maps.

Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down Congressional Map

On Friday, January 14, 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court issued a ruling striking down the highly partisan Congressional district map adopted by the Ohio General Assembly without Democratic support. Similar to the rejected General Assembly districts, the map failed to meet the requirements of a Constitutional amendment passed by voters aimed at ending partisan gerrymandering.

The 4-3 decision was written by Justice Michael Donnelly and joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Justices Jennifer Brunner and Melody Stewart. The Court ruled that the adopted plan violated the provision that a map could not unduly favor a political party. Despite a statewide voter preference of 54% Republican, the invalidated map would have favored Republicans in 12 of 15 Congressional districts.

Ohio lawmakers have 30 days to agree to new Congressional districts. If they cannot do so, the Ohio Redistricting Commission will have 30 days to do so.

Bill Introduced to Re-Establish STRS COLA

Senator Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) has introduced Senate Bill 280. The bill would require the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) to pay an annual 2% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to eligible retirees. Under current law, the STRS Board has authority to adjust the COLA amount as necessary to preserve the fiscal integrity of the system. The bill would require at least a 2% annual COLA beginning on July 1, 2022.

After the Great Recession, STRS was projected to run out of money, which forced the adoption of pension reform legislation. Active teachers had their contributions increased, were forced to work longer and collect less in retirement. Retired teachers had the COLA reduced to 2% and the STRS Board further acted to freeze the COLA when the economy didn’t recover quickly enough. Thanks to shared sacrifice, and sound financial stewardship that has improved investment returns, STRS funding is now over 80%. The STRS Board is now in a position to consider restoration of the COLA as well as changes to benefit active teachers such as eliminating the age 60 requirement or decreased employee contributions.

SB 280, as currently written, would mandate a 2% annual COLA going forward without providing a way to pay for it. Actuaries project that such a change would increase STRS unfunded liabilities by over $13 billion—roughly a 66% increase. Because the legislation does not contain any mechanism for the state to cover this needed funding, it may put the benefits of active teachers at risk.

To be clear, retired teachers need and deserve cost-of-living adjustments. At the same time, the long-term ability of STRS to pay pensions to all its members is critical. Just as shoring up the funding of STRS has taken shared sacrifice, the improved funding should benefit active and retired teachers alike.

Bill Introduced to Require Teachers to Post Syllabi Online

HB 529, introduced by state Rep. Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville, would require school districts, charter schools, public colleges (with respect to courses taught to secondary students through the college credit plus program), and private schools to post on its publicly accessible web site an internet link or title to all of the following used by each school, course, or classroom: every textbook, a course syllabus that includes a list of all “instructional materials” and activities to be “used for student instruction” in each instructional course, a written summary of each instructional course, the state academic standards related to each instructional course. OEA is currently reviewing the bill, which has not been assigned to committee yet. OEA remains concerned about any additional burdens being thrust upon members during these incredibly stressful times.