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Ohio Rep. Sharon Ray pushing for state IT upgrades

Published By The Gazette on April 26, 2021
Sharon A. Ray In The News

WADSWORTH — A new campaign to update Ohio state agencies' information and technology (IT) systems is being led by District 69 Rep. Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth.

Introduced and supported in sponsor testimony by Ray two weeks ago, Ohio House Bill 230 would require state administration to draw up new plans to enhance or update existing IT systems where needed across all of Ohio's state agencies.

Ray said Sunday that motivation for this new policy push stems from conversations with Medina County residents who, like countless others, have experienced great difficulty in navigating Columbus IT channels over the past year.

“My friend Brian Hilberg from Medina sent in an application for a liquor permit just before Thanksgiving," she said. "As the weeks went by and he had not received any communication, he began calling to follow up by phone and email with no response. He didn't even know if his application had been received. That was very disappointing. We can't have this."

"We're not just talking about the Department of Commerce," Ray added. "This will also encompass the (Ohio Department of Job and Family Services) computers. As is known, we've had a tremendous amount of fraud in that system and a lot of that is money we're never going to be able to get back."

What level of funding will be needed to for IT updates is still to be determined with results from a new study expected soon, Ray said.

State job data had become skewed in recent months with a massive swell of fraudulent unemployment claims often paired with identity theft. The weeks of Feb. 6 and 13 saw respective Medina County totals of 1,535 and 1,090 after the previous month ended in the 600s. Early February also was the first time Medina County reached the 700 initial claim mark since last May.

Suspected fraud is now estimated to represent about five percent of total claims, down from peak weeks around 40 percent.

Like many states, Ohio has also dealt with massive delays in distribution of unemployment aid to residents, especially last spring at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those difficulties have been at least partially attributed to IT systems that, in some cases, have dated back to the 20th century.

"Speaking of our liquor licensing system, that goes all the way back to 1997," said Ray. "It's also mostly paper-driven, from what I've been told. What we're hoping is this will place some responsibility on the legislature to form a consistent road map for replacement of these computer systems."

House Bill 230 has garnered support from Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., as another primary sponsor. The measure has also attracted 20 cosponsors including District 70 Rep. Darrell Kick, R-Loudonville.

"Thomas Hall is one year older than the computer systems in the Department of Commerce," said Ray, making another reference to that hardware dating back to the late-90s. "That's a good way to put it with what we're trying to do but we just can't have this. We're looking for a lot of advancement with shared information among agencies, as well."

Ray said bill specifics also focus on cybersecurity and what online hosting services the state uses.

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