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by Hannah McCartney 05.23.2012
Posted In: State Legislature, News at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
ohio-no-smoking_sign

Ohio Supreme Court Rules Smoking Ban Constitutional

Judge rejects Columbus restaurant's argument that ban is "oppressive"

Since 2006, the Ohio Smoke-Free Workplace Act has banned indoor smoking at public establishments and places of employment, making Ohio the first Midwestern state to enact a state-wide ban. Despite controversy and contestment, that ban will continue to be enforced statewide.

The owner of Zeno's Victorian Village in Columbus who attempted to combat the law was shut down by a unanimous 7-0 vote in the Ohio Supreme Court today, which ruled that the state's six-year smoking ban is constitutional. 

Ohio's ban affects some 280,000 establishments across the state of Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). 

According to the Supreme Court of Ohio's case summary, Zeno's was cited 10 times for violations of the ban from July 2007 and September 2009, receiving multiple fines, none of which were paid. In protest of the violations, the director of the ODH filed a complaint against Bartec Inc., the corporate entity that owns Zeno's, requesting the bar to pay all outstanding fines.

Bartec and legal representative 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonprofit legal center, asserted that the smoking ban was unconstitutional, a violation of the state's policing powers and  that prohibiting smoking in an adults-only liquor-licensed establishment such as Zeno’s is "unduly oppressive," according to the case summary.

The ban and its enforcement, argued Bartec, constitutes an unlawful taking of property, meaning an improper confiscation of the owner’s control of the indoor air.

"The goal of this legislation is to protect the health of the workers and other citizens of Ohio. ...  It does so by regulating proprietors of public places and places of employment in a minimally invasive way.  We therefore hold that the Smoke Free Act does not constitute a taking,” wrote Justice Lanzinger in her opinion.

In her written opinion, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger also cited 2002 Supreme Court decision, D.A.B.E., Inc. v. Toledo-Lucas Cty. Bd. of Health:

"We have previously stated that the General Assembly has the authority to enact a public-smoking ban. ... Although the Smoke Free Act was ultimately passed pursuant to a ballot initiative, the voters of Ohio also have a legitimate purpose in protecting the general welfare and health of Ohio citizens and workforce from the dangers of secondhand smoke in enclosed public places.  By requiring that proprietors of public places and places of employment take reasonable steps to prevent smoking on their premises by posting ‘no smoking’ signs, removing ashtrays, and requesting patrons to stop smoking, the act is rationally related to its stated objective.”

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the bar owes the state approximately $33,00 in violation fines, and the state has threatened to seize and foreclose the bar if the fines aren't paid.

See how Ohio's public smoking laws compare to those in other states across the U.S. here.

 
 
by Bill Sloat 09.26.2012
Posted In: COAST, State Legislature at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
coast

COAST Loses Fight to End Ohio Elections Commission

U.S. judge says state panel can still punish false statements

Since the Watergate-era, Ohio has had a panel with authority to penalize those who deliberately disseminate false information during elections. Cincinnati’s conservative anti-tax group COAST — which has been outspoken against the streetcar project — has chafed that it might someday run afoul of the Ohio Elections Commission for spouting off. COAST sees the Election Commission’s job of policing political discourse as creating a government-controlled censorship panel. It asked: How could anybody in Columbus have the power to decide what is true and false in political advertising? Free speech should trump the Election Commission’s power to zip lips, or levy penalties over false statements.

So COAST went to court and filed a challenge last year that asked a U.S. court in Cincinnati for an injunction putting the Ohio Elections Commission on ice. Last week, U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett (a former chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party) tossed the COAST case out of court.  

Barrett agreed with COAST that the back-and-forth of political speech is an important right. But he declared COAST had not shown its ability to make provocative statements had been damped, or “chilled,” by the existence of the Ohio Elections Commission. The lawsuit is styled COAST Candidates PAC, et al v. Ohio Elections Commission, el al, Case No. 1:11cv775, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio.  

Barrett said that if COAST had admitted it planned to lie it might have a better case. He wrote: “Plaintiffs responded that while they do not intend to engage in false speech, their speech has been chilled out of fear that any provocative statement might be challenged as false by political opponents. ... Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate something ‘more' than a subjective allegation of chill in this case.”

Barrett said there was no proof of actual or imminent harm. In other words, nobody had tried to make COAST shut up. Barrett wrote off COAST’s worries as veering into sheer fantasy.

“[COAST] would need to make some statement in the future, then Cincinnatians for Progress, or some other group or individual, would need to file a groundless complaint against plaintiffs and defendants would then fail to follow the provisions in Section 3517.22. The scenario is far too speculative.”

The legal battle started last fall over the streetcar referendum and 20 different COAST-linked tweets against the project. One said the Cincinnati Fire Department had been browned out because city money had been used to “pay for streetcar boondoggle.” When streetcar backers filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission last year, the panel cleared COAST. After citizens voted to continue the streetcar project, COAST said they were under ongoing threat of being hauled before the state commission and filed the federal lawsuit.

The challenged state law against political lies says nobody can, “post, publish, circulate, distribute or otherwise disseminate, a false statement, either knowing the same to be false or acting with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not, that is designed to promote the adoption or defeat of any ballot proposition or issue.”  

And it is still on the books.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 11.30.2012
 
 
war baby

War Is Declared! On Babies!

Conservatives claim GOP Ohio Senate prez declared war on babies by killing anti-abortion bill

America is a country at war. While the war in Iraq ostensibly drew down in December 2011, the United States has been quagmired in a war in Afghanistan for more than a decade.

But we're also in the midst of a number of other wars — cultural wars. It started with Nixon’s War on Drugs, then quickly escalated.

President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations on coal mining caused proponents to claim he had declared a War on Coal. The Affordable Care Act’s mandate that companies pay for employee contraception caused many faith groups to claim a War on Religion.

Statements from Republican politicians about “legitimate rape” and “binders full of women” caused some Democrats to claim the GOP had declared a War on Women.

And the ever-vigilant conspiracists news hounds at FOX News have exposed a scheme by Jesus-hating liberals to wage a War on Christmas for trying to remove constitutionally questionable dolled-up trees and pastoral scenes of babies in unsuitable barn-life cribbery faith-based displays from public property.

But by far the most heinous altercation being waged originated with Republican Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus, who has declared a War on Babies.

As first reported by The Enquirer, conservative groups this week sent out a press release vilifying Niehaus for killing tons of babies in a mass effort to wipe out the state’s youth population a 17-month old bill that would give Ohio one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.

Niehaus moved the so-called Heartbeat Bill — which would ban all abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat — from the Health Committee to the Rules and Reference Committee to avoid a forced vote on the legislation. He also removed staunch anti-abortion Senators Keith Faber and Shannon Jones from that committee.

“I’m shocked by Tom Niehaus’ war on pro-life women,” wrote Lori Viars in the news release. Viars is the vice president of Warren County Right to Life and vice chair of Warren County Republican Party.

Viars called for Republicans to remove Niehaus from Senate leadership. Niehaus is term-limited and will not continue on in office after this year.

Niehaus blamed Romney’s loss for his decision to kill the bill, saying that the Republican’s victory would have increased the likelihood of a U.S. Supreme Court lineup that would uphold it against a likely challenge.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 03.19.2012
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Many people in Greater Cincinnati still are reeling from the revelation over the weekend that the U.S. soldier who allegedly killed 16 people in Afghanistan grew up in Norwood. Military officials identified U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert “Bobby” Bales as the suspect in the case, which has inflamed tensions between Afghanistan and the United States and led to a renewed push to withdraw troops before the planned 2014 departure. Bales, 38, is a 1991 graduate of Norwood High School who joined the Army in November 2001, and was serving his fourth tour of duty when the incident occurred. Bales has been flown to a military jail at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to await trial.

The Cincinnati Fire Department is seeking a $6 million federal grant so it can increase staffing levels. If the department wins the grant, it will hold a recruit class to add up to 40 firefighters. The federal funding would cover two years' worth of salary and benefits for the recruits, but the city would have to pay training and equipment costs.

Basketball fans are celebrating now that Ohio has four teams in the NCAA Tournament's “Sweet 16.” Ohio University scored an upset victory Friday against Michigan, winning 65-60, and winning 62-56 against South Florida on Sunday night. The Bobcats join the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University and Ohio State University in advancing in the tournament.

The Buckeye State didn't fare so well in an analysis of government transparency and integrity. Ohio ranked 34th out of 50 states and got an overall grade of “D” in a study by the the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity.

In news elsewhere, if Mitt Romney gets the Republican Party's presidential nomination and somehow beats President Obama in the fall, he had better reward Puerto Rico in some fashion, possibly by bestowing statehood on the U.S. territory. Romney handily won the GOP's primary there Sunday, getting 83 percent of the votes. Because he won more than 50 percent, Romney will receive all 20 delegates at stake — giving him a much needed boost in his race against Rick Santorum. The next primaries are Tuesday in Illinois and Louisiana.

Rick Santorum is turning to a secretive group of rich conservatives to pump cash into his campaign. The ex-Pennsylvania senator is relying on the Council for National Policy to fill his coffers and urge right-wing Republicans to unite behind his presidential bid. The council helped Santorum raise $1.8 million last week in Houston. Formed in 1981, the group brings together some of the Right's biggest donors, and helped George W. Bush in 2000 when his campaign was floundering.

Four people are dead after a gunman burst into a Jewish school in France and opened fire. The victims include  a teacher, his two sons and another child. Officials said a man arrived in front of the school on a motorcycle or scooter. This is the third attack involving a gunman escaping on a motorcycle to take place in southwestern France during the past week, although police say it's unclear whether the attacks are terrorism-related.

Heavy fighting broke out today between Syrian security forces and anti-government activists in a wealthy neighborhood of Damascus. At least 18 members of the security forces were killed in the battle, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, but the official SANA news agency put the death toll much lower.

An upsurge in fracking means North Dakota will overtake Alaska as the second-largest U.S. producer of oil within a few months, behind Texas. State data released this month showed energy companies in January fracked more wells than they drilled for the first time in five months, suggesting oil output could grow even faster than last year's 35 percent increase.
 
 
by Hannah McCartney 07.12.2012
Posted In: Republicans, State Legislature, News, Government at 01:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
congressional_districts5-592x447

Attempt to Overturn GOP Redistricting Moves Forward

Organization submits 450,000 petition signatures to Ohio Secretary of State

Ohio's House Bill 369 has been causing fuss across the state since it was signed into law by Ohio Gov. John Kasich last December, and opponents of the bill are close to getting an amendment onto the November ballot that would redesign the congressional districts instituted by the bill. 

On July 3, Voters First, a coalition established after HB-369's inception to combat the bill's Republican-led efforts to deliberately have congressional and legislative districts drawn in their favor, submitted 450,000 petition signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State — significantly more than the 385,000 signatures necessary to obtain a spot on the November ballot. At the end of the month, the Secretary of State will review the signatures and determine which are eligible, after which the coalition will have another set period to obtain more signatures, should the 385,000 not be met.

Opponents of HB-369 argue the drawing of last year's new congressional districts represents gerrymandering — when district boundaries are deliberately manipulated to favor a specific political party, grouping certain demographics strategically and distorting voter representations. According to Voters First, last year's secretive redistricting process was led exclusively by Republicans who deliberately disregarded public input.

They've been working to amass support for a new bill that would bring transparency and fairness to the redistricting process, which typically occurs every ten years following a census.

According to Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor and member of the Voters First coalition, the issue is one that crosses all party lines. "This is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. [Gerrymandering] has been done by both parties. The opposition has been trying to characterize this as a Democrat-led effort."

What has happened, explains Tokaji, is that in Ohio the Republicans currently hold political control, so it just so happens that they jumped on the redistricting opportunity to create districts that specifically advantage them.

"You could throw a bucket of paint on the wall and it wouldn't be as ugly as these maps," says Tokaji.


In Cincinnati, the redistricting included more suburban and rural areas in the city's Congressional district, potentially giving Republicans greater weight in the district (CityBeat reported on the situation May 30 in response to We Are Ohio joining the effort to overturn the GOP-drawn maps.)

Voters First has proposed an amendment for the November ballot that would bring transparency and fairness to the redistricting process by establishing a 12-member "Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission" that would be made up of non-partisan Ohio citizens. According to Tokaji, members would have to go through an application process that would specifically eliminate politicians, lobbyists and large political donors.

Tokaji says the commission would bring to the redistricting process four key components that were deliberately absent in the 2011 process, including fairness, encouragement of competition, respect for community boundaries and compactness of districts.

"Ohioans across the political spectrum are just tired of politics as usual. They're sick of leaders acting in a selfish way. We need to change that.

To read the full text of Voters First’s proposed amendment, click here. For more information about Voters First or to sign the petition, click here.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.27.2012
Posted In: Budget, Republicans, Democrats, News, State Legislature at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio Republican supermajority hangs on 14 votes, city unveils budget, county passes budget

In the Ohio House of Representatives, the difference between a Republican supermajority and a normal majority is now 14 votes. That’s how many votes are splitting Republican Rep. Al Landis and Democratic challenger Josh O'Farrell. The small difference has already triggered an automatic recount and likely a series of lawsuits from Democrats over counting provisional ballots. The supermajority would allow Ohio House Republicans to pass legislation without worry of a governor’s veto and place any measure on the ballot — including personhood initiatives — without bipartisan approval.

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his 2013 budget proposal at a press conference yesterday. The proposal will pursue privatizing the city’s parking services to help close a $34 million deficit. The privatization plan has already faced some early criticism from Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld. The budget will also make minor cuts elsewhere. In addition to the 2013 budget, the Tentative Tax Budget proposal, which Dohoney passed to City Council and the mayor yesterday, also raises property tax rates.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners approved the 2013 budget in a 2-1 vote. Democrat Todd Portune was outvoted by Republicans Chris Monzel and Board President Greg Hartmann. The final budget was basically Hartmann’s “austerity” proposal, barring some minor tweaks. The cuts could cost 150 or more Hamilton County jobs.

Councilman Chris Smitherman is facing a challenge for his spot as president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP. The councilman’s opponent is Bob Richardson, a former officer of Laborers Local 265 and former president of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council. Richardson’s son told WVXU, “I think we have seen the NAACP veer off its core principles and turn into a tool for Smitherman and his conservative ideas.”

In a promising sign for the local economy, Greater Cincinnati banks are taking in more money from deposits.

The 21c Museum Hotel opened yesterday. But the hotel has critics, including Josh Spring from the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. Drawing a comparison to the situation between Western & Southern and the Anna Louise Inn, Spring said the hotel ended up displacing far too many people.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is taking up research into how autism develops.

A new report found expanding Medicaid in Ohio could cost the state $3.1 billion. The money would be enough to insure 457,000 uninsured Ohioans. Previous studies found states that expanded Medicaid faced less health problems.

One concern with the state's “fracking” boom: water supply. Some are worried that the amount of water needed to fuel hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique for oil and gas, will drain Ohio’s wells and reservoirs.

After some sentencing reform, Ohio’s inmate population is not decreasing as fast as some state officials would like. As the state deals with prison overpopulation and more expensive prisons, Gov. John Kasich’s administration has turned to privatization. CityBeat looked at issues surrounding private prisons and the connections between the state government and private prison companies here.

Ohio women are having fewer abortions in the state. The drop seems largely attributable to increased access to birth control. Better access to health care and improved health education are also factors.

Ever forget to take some medication? No longer. There is now a pill that can inform others when it's taken.

 
 
by 07.22.2011
 
 

Getting Deep Inside ALEC

When CityBeat profiled the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in May, just after the conservative organization held a private meeting in Cincinnati, some of its members downplayed conspiracy theories about the group and its love of secrecy.

Fueled by corporate donations, ALEC is credited with working quietly behind the scenes to draft legislation that can then be introduced by elected state lawmakers. Among its efforts, ALEC spearheaded the push in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere to introduce bills that limited or abolished collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions.

The membership list that contains the names of the roughly 2,000 state legislators and about 300 private-sector supporters who belong to ALEC is kept confidential.

State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), who sits on ALEC's board of directors, noted in the CityBeat article that the identity of its sponsors aren't kept secret. They include the American Petroleum Institute, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Coors and the National Rifle Association.

Now with the help of Aliya Rahman, an activist based at Miami University in Oxford who organized the Cincinnati protest, The Nation magazine has obtained more than 800 documents representing decades of ALEC's model legislation. The treasure trove of materials is featured in The Nation's Aug. 1-8 issue, which currently is on sale.

[UPDATE: Read more about Rahman's path to unearthing the documents here.]

In conjunction with the Center for Media and Democracy, The Nation asked policy experts to analyze this never-before-seen archive.

As The Nation's John Nichols writes, “Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to 'develop alternatives to existing policies (and) keep them alive and available,' ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces.”

A full archive of the exposed ALEC legislation is available here.

 
 
by German Lopez 05.09.2012
 
 
kasich_2

Education Reform Struggles in Ohio Legislature

Kasich faces opposition from fellow Republicans

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been put at odds with his own party during the past few days over a battle for education reform. On Tuesday, Republicans in the Ohio Senate pushed to slow down Kasich’s reforms, which would call for tougher reading standards and report-card rating systems in Ohio schools and districts.

The tougher reading standards could potentially hold back 12 percent of Ohio third-graders, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

With the new rules, kids would be tested every year starting in Kindergarten. Any kids who are below standards would receive special tutoring, and any who fail to improve to “proficient” or above by the time of the third-grade reading test would be held back.

Similar standards were passed in Florida a decade ago. While it was rough at first with 13 percent of third-graders in Florida being held back, scores have begun improving, Patricia Levesque, former education advisor to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told The Dispatch.

However, research shows holding kids back hurts them more than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of School Psychologists found that grade retention has “deleterious long-term effects,” both academically and socially.

Kasich has also proposed tougher grading standards for schools and districts, which he hopes will hold schools more accountable.

Republican critics don’t necessarily oppose all the reforms, but they would like to see the reforms implemented more carefully and slowly. School officials, state education groups and teachers unions have repeatedly asked for more time to tell parents and teachers about the upcoming changes.

The news comes at a time when states around the country are moving to enact education reform after years of disappointment. In 2010, the U.S. fell to a rating of “average” in the international rankings released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. ranked No. 14 out of 34 OECD countries in reading, No. 17 for science and a below-average No. 25 for math.

One bright spot was found earlier this year when a report showed U.S. high school graduation rates had increased to 75.5 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2001.

President Barack Obama has tried to encourage widespread education reform with his “Race to the Top” initiative. The program pushes states to compete for funds with education reform plans. The states with the best programs are then rewarded federal funds as they implement reform.

Former Gov. Ted Strickland won funds for Ohio with his reform plan, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated Ohio for being on schedule with reforms earlier this year.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.24.2012
Posted In: Governor, Education, State Legislature at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

New Website Reveals Kasich’s Cuts Locally

Education and local government aid programs cut by $241 million in Hamilton County

A new website called Cuts Hurt Ohio shows the impact of the state government slashing budgets. It gives a glimpse into how each county has been affected by cuts in education and local government aid programs.

For Hamilton County, the website shows cuts of $241 million in the 2012-2013 budget. Education funds in Hamilton County were cut by a total of $136 million, while other funds have been slashed by $105 million. The website also reports budget-related news headlines for Hamilton County: “Cincinnati superintendent salary to be cut in half,” “Townships may not have any police presence when they lose sheriff patrols” and “Report: Children services in Cincinnati stretched.”

For all of Ohio, cuts total $2.88 billion. Education programs were cut by $1.8 billion statewide, and aid provided to local governments was reduced by $1.08 billion.




Innovation Ohio and Policy Matters Ohio opened created the website to raise awareness and show the differences between former Gov. Ted Strickland’s 2010-2011 budget and Gov. John Kasich’s 2012-2013 budget. The numbers are based on data provided by the Ohio Department of Taxation and Ohio Department of Education.

Since some cuts are due to the loss of federal stimulus funds, not all the cuts are directly linked to the state government slashing its budget. But the 2012-2013 budget will pull funding to the Ohio Department of Education down to $9.8 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, which is lower than the amount of funding education received before Ohio obtained federal stimulus dollars.

To check out the website, go to www.cutshurtohio.com.

 
 
by German Lopez 05.02.2012
 
 
gay_rights_sign_by_the_enabler

City, State Move Forward With Same-Sex Rights

Trend follows other cities, states, countries and a majority of Fortune 500 companies

Cincinnati inched closer to equality after moving forward Monday with a measure that would allow city employees in same-sex and other partnerships to receive health insurance benefits.

With a push by Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay councilman in Cincinnati, the measure passed the finance committee with the support of all council members except Charlie Winburn, who abstained.

The approval came after a city report found that same-sex benefits could cost as much as $543,000 a year if 77 partners took advantage of the benefits.

The report suggested City Council mimic a system already in place in Columbus, which requires partners to prove financial interdependency and that they have been together for six months.

If the measure passes City Council, Cincinnati would be more caught up with other cities, states, countries and companies that already grant health benefits to same-sex couples. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign estimated that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health benefits to same-sex couples, including Procter and Gamble and Fifth Third Bank.

Altogether, it seems like a small step toward equality. What’s unfortunate is none of it would be required if same-sex marriage was legal in Ohio. If it was, same-sex couples could get marriage benefits, including health-care coverage.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Tuesday approved the petition language for an amendment that would overturn Ohio’s 2004 ban on gay marriage. The new amendment would define marriage as “a union of two consenting adults, regardless of gender.”

The amendment now moves forward to the Ohio Ballot Board. If approved, it will then require 385,253 signatures from registered voters and, finally, voter approval.

Ohio banned same-sex marriage in 2004 with a majority vote of 62 percent. But Ian James, co-founder of the Freedom to Marry Coalition, told the Huffington Post that he is optimistic things will be different this time, citing recent polls that show the nation is moving toward support of gay marriage.

 
 

 

 

 
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