AIA Ohio Government Affairs Update
By Luther Liggett

Budget Bill.  Upon passing the biennial Operating Budget, House Bill 33, the General Assembly left for home.  The Senate has scheduled to return one day per week from September through December 2023; the House has scheduled no dates at this time.

The Budget is effective July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2025, as mandated by the Ohio Constitution.  Covering all agencies, public colleges and universities, the enacted version is 6,198 pages long, consisting of $95 billion in annual appropriations.  The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, primarily responsible for school construction, will receive $411 million in the current fiscal year, and $339 million the following year.

The Governor exercised his Line-Item Veto 44 times, deleting certain language from the Budget.  At AIA Ohio’s urging, the Governor deleted House Bill 65 and Senate Bill 67’s attempt to circumvent the Ohio Building Code permitting process.  Reflecting AIA’s argument, the Governor’s Veto Message states in relevant part, “Ohio’s building and fire codes are based on model codes developed by experts on fire science and risks.*** Our current system is designed to have strict standards with the ability for local inspectors to issue variances from certain codes when appropriate, and this [vetoed] provision could result in a significant life safety risk to Ohioans.”

The legislature may reconvene for the purpose of passing an override of the vetoes.  However, that typically would be done for legislation with existing consensus.  In the case of the building code amendment, the Committees failed to hold proponent or opponent hearings, thus thwarting the deliberative consensus-building process.

The bill also changes the composition of the Architect’s Board to designate one of the five members as “a member of the general public and who is not an architect”, R.C. 4703.01.  This is consistent with insuring that the Board is not viewed as merely a license-protection or monopolistic effort to limit competition.

Finally, the bill also amended R.C. 153.12 to allow local governments to award a construction contract bid in excess of the cost estimate by not more than 20%, instead of the historical 10% excess.

Issue One: Construction Bonds at Risk.  The Republican Legislative Caucus created a Special Election for August 8, 2023 for consideration of an Ohio Constitutional amendment to increase the vote to at least 60% to approve any future Constitutional amendment.  The partisan attempt is to change election rules before the November vote on placing abortion rights protections in the Constitution, expecting that to pass with a majority vote.

But the unintended consequences are harmful to the construction industry.  Historical infrastructure, housing, and the Third Frontier programs would not have passed with that super majority requirement.  AIA-Ohio issued a call for opposition stating, “If passed, this amendment will likely have a significant and devastating effect on the architecture profession by setting the threshold to approve project funding too high and making it too difficult to meet.”

Eliminating Competitive Bids.  Senate Bill 23 and House Bill 145 would allow any Ohio political subdivision to avoid competitive bidding for construction merely by joining with another subdivision that participates in a “joint purchasing program” operated by a trade association.  Sponsored by Senator George Lang (R, West Chester), the Bill follows prior session Senate Bill 260, giving the rationale in Sponsor Testimony that this would “allow for the efficient, expedited, and professional process of contract administration.”  The Associated General Contractors have testified in opposition, with additional opposition from the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ohio and the National Electrical Contractors Association, Ohio/Michigan Chapter.

Sunset Review.  The Architects Board and Landscape Architects Board received notice that in the Fall of 2023, the House State and Local Government Committee will review these licenses this spring, to determine whether the Boards should be terminated as an unnecessary obstacle to employment.  The Ohio General Assembly is reviewing all licensure boards on a 6-year cycle, generally renewing all.  Of particular risk is the possibility of combining the Architects’ and Landscape Architects’ Boards, given their unified staffing.

Expedited Building Appeals.  Senate Bill 41 passed the Ohio Senate unanimously, to provide for expedited hearings before the state or local Boards of Building Appeals, to provide variances to the Building Code.  The sponsor Senator Kristina Roegner (R, Hudson) testified that the regular process can take months and delay construction.  The bill now moves for consideration in the House.