Today, the Ohio General Assembly – employing extraordinary social distancing and other precautions to limit members’ interaction and protect their health – returned to the Statehouse to pass a comprehensive package of emergency measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It represents Ohio lawmakers’ first legislative response to the coronavirus outbreak. The package was added to an already pending bill, House Bill 197, so as to expedite its consideration and passage procedurally, and was passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House.
The measures were developed by the legislature in consultation with the DeWine Administration, and are necessary to address a number of pressing issues, including providing the Administration and state agencies with additional tools to fight the outbreak and flexibility to deliver more assistance and relief to Ohioans and Ohio businesses, clarifying the fate of the March 17 primary election, and giving certainty to the lingering question of school voucher eligibility for the 2020-2021 school year.
While the bill delivers no direct financial assistance to employers struggling with cash flow and other hardships due to the economic fallout caused by COVID-19, it does contain several provisions sought by the Ohio Chamber. These provisions are primarily in regards to upcoming tax filings, and will relieve administrative burdens for Ohio employers who are understandably focused right now on many other, more essential management priorities.
Helpfully, the state personal income tax return due date has been moved from April 15th to July 15th to match the extended federal tax return date. HB 197 also gives the Ohio tax commissioner the authority to extend due dates for tax returns filed with the Ohio Department of Taxation, discretion to waive penalties and interest, and authority to extend the dates for estimated and accelerated tax payments.
In addition, HB 197 ensures employers can continue to withhold local income taxes using their business location even though many employees are now working remotely. Working from home would typically trigger changes in Ohio’s withholding and income tax laws – changes that would be cumbersome and difficult to implement for businesses that don’t regularly permit work from home. The legislature is to be commended for recognizing and alleviating this potential issue before it ever becomes a problem.
Similarly, any license, permit, certificate, registration, etc. issued by a state agency or a local government that would otherwise expire between the effective date of the bill and December 1, 2020, is automatically extended until December 1. This, too, will allow individuals and employers to continue to operate without having to worry about pending license renewals or meeting continuing education requirements.
Also, HB 197 codifies Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 17 executive order that made substantial temporary changes to Ohioans’ unemployment compensation eligibility.
One other noteworthy change that’s part of the COVID-19 emergency package, intended to ensure access to justice during this time when our court system is experiencing the same challenge to its ability and capacity to operate normally as every other government and private entity, is a provision that tolls, or suspends, the statute of limitation period. The tolling applies to all civil and administrative claims, including (but not limited to) personal injury, employment discrimination, product liability, and workers’ compensation claims, that would have expired between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020.
The Ohio Chamber believes statutes of limitation are essential because they help create a stable and predictable civil justice system and opposes any effort to permanently extend civil statutes of limitation. This extension, however, will have a minimal lasting impact on Ohio’s legal climate because the provision is narrowly crafted to only apply to claims that run past their limitation period during the state of emergency or before July 30, 2020.
All but one of the changes added today to HB 197 are temporary, and will expire on December 1 or upon the rescission of Gov. DeWine’s March 9 executive order. The bill will go into effect immediately once the governor signs it into law.