On Friday, March 27, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Amended Substitute House Bill Number 197 (“House Bill 197”), passed by the 133rd General Assembly of the State of Ohio. The purpose of House Bill Number 197 is to provide emergency relief to Ohioans during the COVID-19 pandemic, in part by confirming that “essential operations of state government” will continue during the declared state of emergency, which began in Ohio on March 9, 2020.
Section 21 of House Bill 197 is of particular import to the oil and gas industry. Section 21 requires the title offices of all courts of common pleas, as well as the county map office of each county, to remain open and operational, and to allow land professionals physical access to the offices as necessary to search the records. It is intended to maintain title searchers’ access to documents that either have not been digitized or are otherwise unavailable for viewing online. Section 21 provides that each county office may impose limitations on this access, such as operating during limited hours or permitting only visits of a limited duration, and further stipulates that title searchers may be subject to “requirements and restrictions in the interest of public health.” In addition, the Bill requires all “essential services to effectuate a property transfer” (i.e., deed recording and similar services) to remain open and available across all county offices.
Section 22 extends tolling periods for various statutes of limitation, including the period of limitation for an administrative action or proceeding. It provides that any statutes of limitation set to expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020, shall be tolled for the duration of the state of emergency. This section is retroactive and relates back to March 9, 2020, the date the emergency was declared, and expires on the date the period of emergency ends or July 30, 2020, whichever is sooner.