(The Center Square) – As high-speed internet access becomes increasingly more important amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ohio Senate passed a bill that provides $20 million this year for broadband access support throughout the state.

House Bill 2 heads back to the House to reconcile amendments from the Senate. If passed and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, it would create the state’s first Residential Broadband Expansion Program with grants to offset construction and costs to facilitate expansion of high-speed internet.

The plan would be to attack the last mile of connectivity to households. That’s where sponsor Rep. Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township, said connection remains cost-prohibitive to providers to extend service. The legislation also creates incentives for private investment into broadband infrastructure in underserved areas.

“House Bill 2 is good for Ohioans and good for Ohio’s economy,” said Greg Lawson, research fellow at The Buckeye Institute, a Columbus-based think tank. “While expanding access to high-speed broadband, House Bill 2 also ensures that taxpayer dollars will not go to wasteful government-owned networks and that approved projects are in unserved areas, as The Buckeye Institute called for.”

Governor’s power: Despite a veto override a month ago, House Democrats continue a push to eliminate a bill that removes powers from the governor in times of emergency and gives the General Assembly more oversight.

Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, introduced House Bill 269 on Wednesday, It would repeal Senate Bill 22, which passed in early March, was vetoed by Gov. Mike DeWine and had the veto overridden in both chambers days later.

SB 22 creates, among other things, a Legislative Review Committee, which could end health orders during an emergency.

“SB 22 was an error,” Galonski said. “The legislature made an attempt at curtailing the authority of the governor and local officials to make good decisions for our health in the middle of a global pandemic. The repeal of SB 22 will help put Ohio back on the correct track by making the health and safety of all Ohioans our highest priority.”

Rental assistance: The Senate also passed House Bill 167, which provides $465 million to the Development Services Agency to fund emergency rental assistance. It also gives $100 million to the Department of Public Safety for other COVID-19 relief efforts.

The legislation already passed the House.

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