Ohio Senate approves bill addressing coronavirus impact

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Mandatory state testing for schools would be ditched this year and Ohioans who didn't vote in the March 17 primary would have until April 28 to cast an absentee ballot under emergency legislation approved Wednesday by the Ohio Senate to address the impact of the coronavirus.

The bill also would allow high school seniors to graduate if they were on track already, waive district and school report cards, let school districts use distance learning to make up for missed days caused by the virus-related closure of districts statewide, and freeze the school voucher program at the current level of 517 schools.

Recent nursing graduates could receive a temporary certification to allow them to begin work immediately, and people unable to renew drivers' licenses or professional licences wouldn't be penalized. The deadline for filing state income taxes would be extended until July 15 under the legislation approved unanimously in the Senate.

Seven members of the 33-member body were absent after Senate President Larry Obhof told anyone not feeling well to stay away. Many lawmakers were dressed casually, as Obhof had discouraged business attire, “which is cleaned less frequently than casual clothing.”

The Medina Republican warned after the vote that Ohioans face continued tough times.

“The best way that we can strengthen the economy for the future, the best way that we can try to continue to preserve our way of life, is by making sure first and foremost that everybody is safe, and that everybody is healthy,” Obhof said. “I would suggest that none of these choices are easy, none of them are fun.”

The bill was scheduled for consideration later Wednesday by the House, which planned to divide its 99 lawmakers into eight rooms around the Statehouse to allow for social distancing.

Among additional provisions, the bill:

— Allows the rehiring of recently retired state employees in critical agencies including prisons, youth detention facilities, mental health and addiction services, veterans services and developmental disabilities.

— Allows open meetings to be conducted electronically as long as the public is notified and can participate.

— Bans water cut-offs for the duration of the pandemic.

Also Wednesday, the state Controlling Board added $15.6 million to the Ohio Department of Health budget to provide supplies to front-line healthcare workers. The bipartisan legislative board approves a wide variety of state spending.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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