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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fresh from a successful effort at stopping a budget amendment to block the replacement of a deteriorating Cincinnati bridge, State Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-31st District) will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the Ohio budget with constituents.
Driehaus marshaled forces in the Ohio House this week after she noticed an amendment that affected the $66.5 million project had quietly been added to the state budget bill by State Rep. Bob Peterson (R-85thDistrict).
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.