MOUNT VERNON — The Ohio House of Representatives being back in session following the November election created a busy few weeks for 68th District Representative Rick Carfagna.
One of Carfagna’s highlights included his sponsored bill, House Bill 500, being one of the final votes passed out of the House before they broke session for the holidays. H.B. 500 has already been approved by the Senate and is now on its way to Governor Kasich to ratify or veto.
H.B. 500 provides 17 operational flexibilities to the 310 townships that exist in the state of Ohio, Carfagna said, which was inspired by his own turns as a Genoa Township official.
“I got to witness first hand some of the obstacles that can come up to public safety, roads, cemeteries, everything really,” Carfagna said. “They have the same obligations as city, town and village elected officials and this allows them some flexibility to try something new, it can be frustrating to have to go back to legislators and wait on them.”
Carfagna explained that the Senate approved the bill with some alterations, including removing zoning provisions they felt would be problematic for the Ohio Farm Bureau, and adding funding appropriations, including $100,000 to Pike County to defray the costs of the capital murder trial occurring there.
This is the seventh piece of legislation Carfagna has passed all the way to the Governor’s desk in his first general assembly, and he said he is very optimistic of its passage. He has introduced a total of 12 bills in the Ohio House of Representatives, has moved nine of those bills out of the House and now has a total of seven that have reached the Governor’s office in his first term.
The state legislature has also made strides to tackle the issue of alternative graduation pathways, Carfagna said, with H.B. 491 moving out of both the House and Senate, and awaiting Kasich’s signature.
There were no changes made to the pathways for graduating the class of 2019, Carfagna said, but the bill includes altered guidelines for the class of 2020. The class of 2019 will graduate under the same Ohio Department of Education guidelines that were awarded to the class of 2018.
The pathways in place for the class of 2020 with the new bill include maintaining a 2.5 grade point average for their final two years of high school, completing a capstone project under ODE requirements, completing work and community service hours under ODE requirements and maintaining attendance.
Carfagna explained that this will hopefully allow for some breathing space for students, educators and legislators as they work toward a more permanent solution to the problem.
“I’m encouraged that we will continue these talks after we reconvene,” Carfagna said. “And hopefully drift away from testing standards, with the end of course exams, SAT and ACT, it’s just not a proper way to measure growth for all students. The superintendents in Knox County estimated that without extending the pathways, 15 to 20 percent of students in Knox County wouldn’t graduate. And we want to make sure that Ohio diplomas mean something. We need to have a greater dialogue with what we’re equipping students for, college, life, work, it’s not the same for every student. For me, education is personal fulfillment in life, and we need to help them be self-sustaining members of society.”
H.B. 491 has been passed through the House and Senate and is awaiting ratification by Kasich to extend the graduation pathways to the classes of 2019 and 2020.
Carfagna also attended the quarterly meeting of JobsOhio, where he was able to be a fly on the wall of economic development in Ohio. During the meeting, Carfagna learned that with 212 total projects, JobsOhio brought in 20,422 new jobs and an additional $963 million in payroll.
The majority of those jobs, he explained, were in fields like advanced manufacturing, financial services and health care.
Manufacturing, he said, is something that Knox County does well and the county has a prime asset in the from of the Siemens plant. The facility is currently being marketed for expansion, due to work by Jeffry Harris, executive director of the Area Development Foundation.
With the holiday season upon us, Carfagna also took the opportunity to visit the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in early December. The food bank serves a 20-county region with 650 partner agencies, including local food pantries, shelters and after-school programs. They work tirelessly to get food into the hands of those who need it most, Carfagna said.
The food bank took in 68 million pounds of food in 2016, which included 30 million pounds of fresh produce.
“I think there’s a misperception that food banks and food pantries only take in canned foods and nonperishables,” Carfagna said. “But nutrition is a key component of this facility, including fresh meat and dairy. It can present its challenges, with refrigeration and quick distribution, but it’s an impressive operation how they manage shelf life. This is really a pivotal time of year for giving, as most communities are doing their best to give to their local food banks.”
Carfagna also explained that he likes to stay up-to-date with matters in the district, and relies heavily on local community leaders to bring issues and news to his attention, such as Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville, who visited the statehouse at the end of November for the Ohio Prosecutors Association meeting with legislators.
McConville’s visit was beneficial for Carfagna because it allowed them to discuss different issues that have come up within the county, particularly where the drug epidemic is concerned. Legislators have passed $180 million going towards the drug epidemic to fight opioid use, but that makes very little difference in Knox County where meth is the biggest problem, Carfagna said. He relies on local leaders, like McConville, to help him make informed decisions for the best interest of the whole district, he said.