Ohio Senate votes on broadband expansion program

State officials move to expand Ohioans access to high-speed internet.
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State officials move to expand Ohioans access to high-speed internet.

The Ohio Senate voted 32-0 on Wednesday to create a new residential broadband expansion grant program as a way to extend access to high speed internet to more Ohioans.

Senate Bill 8 calls for $20 million in grant money to be administered by the state Development Services Agency and an appointed five-member board.

Roughly 1 million Ohioans lack access to high speed internet services, which makes working from home, attending online classes and accessing tele-medicine visits difficult.

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The bill has support from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio, Ohio Poverty Law Center, Ohio Farm Bureau, Dayton Development Coalition and others. Government associations representing cities, townships and counties also are backing the bill.

A companion bill is also being considered in the Ohio House. And in his budget proposal, Gov. Mike DeWine wants to allocate $250 million to expand access to broadband.

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The Senate also unanimously approved Senate Bill 2, which aims to expand access to beds in the state’s six psychiatric hospitals. Currently, two-thirds of the beds are occupied by people who are admitted through court orders that they be restored to competency to stand trial. About half of those people are charged with non-violent misdemeanors and could be assessed and treated in less expensive, less secure centers. Many people restored to competency are then released by the courts for time served and then not sent to further treatment.

“That results in people going through a revolving door of courts, jails and state hospitals without any progress. This bill will help end that revolving door,” said state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green.

Senate Bill 2 mimics legislation that failed to clear the final legislative hurdles last year. DeWine pitched the change as a component of his STRONG Ohio gun policy reform package after the Aug. 4, 2019, mass shooting in the Oregon District.

DeWine wants to give courts the ability to send non-violent defendants to step-down facilities for treatment when appropriate, leaving the secure beds for violent patients.

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