House Bill 235 makes hiring, doing business in Ohio more expensive

Logan Kolas Apr 30, 2022

This opinion piece was originally published in The Lima News.

A bill pending in the General Assembly threatens to make hiring workers at Lima’s Cenovus and other Ohio oil refineries harder, which risks making gas prices even higher. The proposed legislation is misguided and poorly timed.

The High Hazard Training Certification Act (House Bill 235) would replace flexible business discretion in Ohio’s four oil refineries with the stiff, heavy hand of government, forcing them to hire 80 percent of their contracted or subcontracted construction workers from apprenticeship programs by 2024. The legislation is a de-facto hiring quota that requires an unnecessary solution in search of a problem.

Ohio has struggled to adapt to changing economic conditions and equip its workforce with modern skillsets for decades. Successful economies require talented labor pools and flexibility to adjust to rapidly shifting markets. House Bill 235, unfortunately, would rob Ohio’s oil refineries of both.

Under the guise of worker safety, the proposal tells employers how to train new employees and which employees to hire. Those are decisions best left to businesses with industry and market knowledge, and the incentives aligned to achieve efficiency, safety, and long-term workplace success. Government regulators lack that knowledge and those incentives, and state-mandated employee training will not guarantee safety. Ohio’s oil industry is already subject to state and federal safety regulations that could fill a phonebook, and an aggressive plaintiffs’ bar eager to sue “Big Oil” whenever it breaks the rules.

While doing little to promote worker safety, bureaucratically imposed hiring quotas would make training and equipping new employees with the requisite skills even more difficult. And such quotas seem superfluous at best. Ohio already boasts more than 20,000 active apprentices and 960 active apprenticeship programs—not because government told them to, but mainly because Ohio employers and employees have voluntarily decided that those apprenticeships provide valuable training.

And the bill’s timing, of course, could not be worse. Like most of the country, Ohio suffers from a statewide labor shortage, and the coronavirus pandemic has widened existing gaps between employer-needs and employee-skills, which makes it harder for businesses to find qualified employees. Government mandates like House Bill 235 will shrink the available labor pool, making it more expensive for refineries like Cenovus to hire, and thereby increase operating costs that will inevitably be passed along to drivers already struggling to afford high gas prices at the pump.

Instead of telling private businesses how and who to hire, state legislators should be looking for more market-driven ways to make worker training easier and more affordable. Ohio’s TechCred program, for example, has been successfully offering financial assistance to businesses looking to invest in their employees. Rather than forcing businesses to hire specific workers, this program empowers them to find the best person for the job and provides resources to help employers equip new hires with more skills. House Bill 235 replaces such flexibility and empowerment with rigid quotas and unfunded mandates.

With Ohio already lagging the rest of the country in dynamism, innovation and competitiveness, state policymakers should seek ways to make the workforce more flexible and more responsive to market changes, not less. The General Assembly’s pending proposal, however, does neither. Instead, it will only make hiring more expensive and risk higher consumer prices down the road.

Logan Kolas is an economic policy analyst with The Buckeye Institute’s Economic Research Center and the author of “Policy Solutions for More Innovation: Modernizing Ohio’s Policies to Seize New Economic Opportunities.” His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.