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2020 is looking to be a pivotal year in politics. But this year's elections are about much more than the race for the White House. And the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a complicating factor. WKSU, our colleagues at public radio stations across Ohio and the region and at NPR will bring you coverage of all the races from the national to the local level.

Morning Headlines: Brown Will Not Run in 2020, Ohio House Approves Gas Tax Increase

Sherrod Brown at Ohio military installation
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown at Ohio Military Installation

Here are your morning headlines for Friday, March 8:

  • Brown will not run in 2020;
  • Ohio House approves gas tax increase;
  • UA may phase out College of Applied Science and Technology;
  • DeWine recommends $74M budget increase for family services;
  • Veteran: DeWine should delay scheduled executions;
  • AG office has distributed most of $12M for school safety grants;
  • Bill would reduce penalties for drug possession, increase penalties for traffickers;
  • NuCLEus developer announces scaled-down version of project;
  • Kent State golf coach herb Page announces retirement;
  • Cleveland Browns to meet with free agent Kevin Johnson;
  • Kent State men's basketball to play for Wagon Wheel;
  • Akron-based The Black Keys debuts new song, first in five years

Brown will not run in 2020
Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown announced Thursday he’s not going to run for president in 2020. His decision comes after recent visits to several early-voting states to highlight his worker-friendly policy agenda. Brown said he believed his Dignity of Work tour succeeded in putting the struggles of average Americans on the radar for 2020, and that he "can be most effective" by remaining in the Senate. Brown said he will continue to call out what he calls President Donald Trump's "phony populism" and will do everything he can to elect a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate next year. There are already a dozen candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination for president.

Ohio House approves gas tax increase
The Ohio House has passed a transportation budget bill that includes an increase in the state's gas tax to help maintain roads and bridges. The bill would increase the gas tax by 10.7 cents per gallon over two years and the diesel tax by 20 cents per gallon over three years. Both increases would start Oct. 1. Gov. Mike DeWine had called for a hike of 18 cents a gallon. He called yesterday’s House bill "far from ideal" and said he plans to work with the Senate to improve it. The legislation also would provide public transit with $100 million a year in federal transportation funds — more than double what DeWine had proposed. The bill now heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

UA to phase out College of Applied Science and Technology
The University of Akron’s (UA) interim president has proposed a reorganization plan that would shutter the school’s College of Applied Science and Technology with its programs being moved into different colleges. Cleveland.com reports  president John Green presented the plan to the Faculty Senate yesterday.  It would move a number of departments from the College of Arts and Sciences including chemistry, biology and math into different colleges. Two new colleges — one for Polymer, Chemical and Biological Sciences, the other for Engineering, Science and Technology — would be created. UA would also set up a non-degree Innovation College for online learning and adult programs. This comes after last year’s announcement that the university would phase out 80 degree programs. Cleveland.com reports that Green told the senate the reorganization is necessary.

DeWine recommends $74M budget increase for family services
Gov. Mike DeWine is recommending a $74 million annual increase in state funding for family and children services as part of his proposed two-year budget. The increase would bring the state budget for family and children services to a total $151 million a year. DeWine said Ohio hasn't been doing "its fair share at all in regard to these children." The proposal includes $90 million a year in state child-protection funding to counties and $25 million a year for serving children with the most extensive needs who require help from multiple state agencies. Additional details will be released when DeWine submits his budget to the Ohio General Assembly on March 15.

Veteran: DeWine should delay scheduled executions
A veteran public defender said Gov. DeWine should delay all currently scheduled executions while the state comes up with a new lethal injection system. David Stebbins is a Columbus-based federal defense attorney. He called DeWine's decision to postpone three executions commendable but said more must be done. DeWine has ordered the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to create a new injection process after a federal judge's scathing critique in January of the current method. He has delayed four executions in total since that order. Ohio has 23 executions scheduled over the next four years.

AG office has distributed most of $12M for school safety grants
The Ohio Attorney General's Office said the state has distributed most of the $12 million that lawmakers allotted last year for school safety grants. Schools were eligible to get at least $2,500 each for efforts such as training school resource officers and funding programs to help students struggling with mental health issues. They were required to work with local law enforcement representatives to decide how to spend the grants.

Bill would reduce penalties for drug possession, increase penalties for traffickers
A bill co-sponsored by Trumbull County Sen. Sean O’Brienwould reduce the penalties for minor drug possession and toughen penalties for drug traffickers. The bipartisan Senate bill introduced this week also would allow people convicted of low-level drug possession charges to have their records sealed on completion of drug court requirements. State Sen. John Eklund is the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said the proposal is meant to provide help to Ohioans struggling with addiction before they go to jail. Eklund said the bill also ensures traffickers are arrested and sent to prison. The legislation creates harsher penalties for trafficking, deeming it aggravated trafficking, major trafficking or trafficking, depending on the amount of drugs involved.

NuCLEus developer announces scaled-down version of project
The developer of downtown Cleveland’s proposed nuCLEus project has unveiled a new scaled-down version of the project. Cleveland.com reports new renderings of the project were filed with the city Thursday. Two 24-story towers would replace the originally proposed 54-story project. Ezra Stark, the chief of operating officer of developer Stark Enterprises, said the project was revised because of changing market demand and to take advantage of public subsidies supported only by tax incremental financing. The price tag of the project is dropping from an estimated $500 million to $300 million.

Kent State golf coach herb Page announces retirement
Longtime Kent State golf coach Herb Page is retiring at the end of this season. Page has coached the Golden Flashes since 1977, building the men's golf program into one of the nation's most consistent and decorated. Under Page, Kent State has won 22 Mid-American Conference titles, appeared in 17 NCAA championships. He's coached 28 All-Americans, including Ben Curtis, the 2003 British Open champion.

Cleveland Browns to meet with free agent Kevin Johnson
Free agent cornerback Kevin Johnson is scheduled to meet with the Cleveland Browns. A source told the Associated Press that Johnson, who was released this week by the Houston Texans, is scheduled to be at the team's headquarters later this week. The 26-year-old met with Buffalo on Wednesday.

Kent State men's basketball to play for Wagon Wheel
The Kent State men's basketball team will take on Akron Friday night for the prestigious Wagon Wheel trophy. Akron walked away with a win on its home court the last time the teams faced off in early February. It's also senior night for Kent State, so the team hopes to send the seniors out with a win.

Akron-based The Black Keys debuts new song, first in five years
Akron-based rock band The Black Keys has made a comeback. The duo released a new song called "Lo/Hi" Thursday. It's the first song in five years for the band. The last song they released was "Turn Blue" in 2014. So far, there's no word that the new song is a part of a larger project.

Editor's note: The University of Akron headline has been updated to indicate the plan is a proposal and has not been finalized. It also clarifies that the departments of chemistry, biology, and math would not be eliminated but moved into other colleges. 

Andrew Meyer is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.