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Legislature passes new COVID-19 laws

Dear readers: Just a few days ago, the Ohio legislature passed new laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although these laws are set to expire at the conclusion of the governor’s declared state of emergency or by certain specific dates if the emergency continues, there are some fundamental changes that affect all of us.

As of the writing of this article, the governor has not yet signed the bill to enact it into law, and in theory, he could line-item veto parts if he doesn’t want them to become effective. However, he has indicated that he will sign the bill as is.

The bill permits the Ohio tax commissioner to extend the tax return filing and payment deadline for Ohio to July 15, 2020. It also provides that when he extends that deadline, the extension will also occur automatically for all municipal tax returns.

For those who are concerned about your driver’s license or registrations expiring while the BMV is closed, the bill provides that all state issued licenses are continued and considered to still be valid if the expiration date occurs during the state of emergency.

The licenses will be valid until the sooner of 90 days after the emergency ends, or Dec. 1, 2020. Included in these licenses are CCW permits.

For civil lawsuits, criminal speedy trial deadlines, and other statutes of limitations, the time is “tolled” between March 9 and the sooner of when the emergency ends or July 30, 2020.  This will allow court hearings to be continued and help with the fact that courthouses have limited access throughout Ohio.

For schools, state mandated testing will not occur this year, and prevents the Ohio Department of Education from publishing school ratings on the state report card for this year.

Government councils and other bodies will be permitted to meet via electronic means (telephone or video) during the emergency.

The meetings must still be set up so that the public can hear all discussion except executive sessions, and the governmental entities must notify the press at least 24 hours in advance of their intention to meet electronically and how the public can join.

Finally, the primary election has been extended for absentee ballot purposes only until April 28, 2020.  Under the bill, all electors registered to vote by the original registration deadline of Feb. 18 who have not voted can request and receive an absentee ballot.

The bill requires the secretary of state to mail a postcard to each elector in Ohio with information about voting under the bill. There is some lack of clarity currently over whether the absentee application must be received from the voter “by mail” or can be dropped off, but it is expected this will be explained by a directive from the Secretary of State within the next few days.

Thought for the Week: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” — John F. Kennedy

It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at LawyerMark@yahoo.com. The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.