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by German Lopez 04.10.2012
 
 
187640-personhood

Republican 'War on Women' Marches Forward

Election year causes GOP candidates to downplay rhetoric, but legislation remains

Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what Republican House Speaker John Boehner said would be priority No. 1 for Republicans after sweeping the House of Representatives and many state legislatures in 2010. This, Republicans said, was why they were elected: People wanted to see changes in the economy fast.

But, apparently, there was one other priority.

Almost immediately after coming into office in 2011, Virginia Republicans set the national stage for vital women’s health issues. House Bill 1 — the first bill Virginia Republicans chose to take on — was a personhood bill, a bill that define life beginning at conception. Not only would the bill have banned abortion, it would also have banned the birth control pill, which sometimes prevents birth by stopping the implantation of a fertilized egg.

An impartial observer might wonder why a personhood bill would be a top Republican priority. After all, the same election that put all these Republicans in power also had a personhood bill overwhelmingly rejected in Mississippi — a state so socially conservative that 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans want to make interracial marriage illegal, according to a recent poll from Public Policy Polling.

Nonetheless, this was the issue Virginia Republicans decided to give serious attention. In an economy with a 9 percent unemployment rate at the time, this was the most important issue to Virginia Republicans.

Ohio wasn’t much luckier with its crop of Republicans. Five months after inauguration, the Ohio House passed its “heartbeat” bill, or H.B. 125. To this day, it’s the most radical anti-abortion bill in the country. Not only would it ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, but the bill makes no exceptions for rape, incest or life-threatening circumstances.

Ohio and Virginia were not alone. Republicans were pushing anti-abortion, anti-contraception bills all around the nation. Pennsylvania, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas all made national headlines with their own bills. In more than 20 states, bills have been introduced to restrict insurance coverage of abortions, according to ABC News. At the federal level, Republicans have made funding for Planned Parenthood a top issue time and time again, and insurance companies covering contraception recently became such a big issue that the White House had to step in.

So much for keeping the government out of health care. The same political party that clamored for small government now couldn’t wait to regulate women’s health care. Apparently, the economy is too much for the government to handle, but every woman’s uterus is fair game.

There has been some backlash. After Virginia tried to pass a bill that would force doctors to give patients seeking abortion a transvaginal ultrasound, women’s health advocates in states across the nation organized protests, leading to governors and state legislatures beginning to back down in their rhetoric. Even Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who originally supported the transvaginal ultrasound bill, has been downplaying his involvement in Virginia’s anti-abortion, anti-contraception bills.

Now, Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee for president, is facing some of the backlash. In a recent Gallup poll, women came out severely against Romney. In the category of women under 50, Obama held 60 percent of voters, while Romney held only 30 percent. That’s right, Obama now leads with women under 50 by a two-to-one margin.

But while that may stop some rhetoric, the bills and laws are still coming forward. The Ohio heartbeat bill is still being pushed by some Republicans in the Ohio Senate, and a personhood initiative could show up in Ohio’s 2012 ballot after a stamp of approval from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. Mississippi also plans to reintroduce its personhood initiative in the 2012 ballot, and other states are beginning to pass around petitions for their own initiatives as well.

In the end, one is left to wonder what could stop social conservatives. Public backlash and poor polling don’t seem to be enough to stop the Republican war on women, and in some cases it might have actually emboldened them.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 04.06.2012
 
 
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Analysis: 'Stand Your Ground' States Have More Shootings

Shadowy ALEC group helps push for the laws

An analysis of U.S. crime data by a British newspaper has found there’s been a 25 percent increase in civilian justifiable homicides since the controversial “stand your ground” (SYG) laws started being introduced in 2005.

London’s Guardian newspaper analyzed data from FBI and state sources. It concludes that the spike in civilian justifiable homicides is related not only to SYG laws, but also weak gun control laws in certain states.

Florida was the first state to introduce an SYG law in 2005 and similar measures have now been adopted in some form by more than 20 states. Most were passed in 2006. Ohio doesn’t yet have such a law, but it’s believed that gun advocates might be planning a campaign for one here soon.

Florida’s SYG law is expected to be part of the defense made for George Zimmerman, if he is charged with a crime. Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin, Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. The incident has triggered widespread public outrage.

The Guardian’s analysis shows that SYG laws alone cannot be statistically linked with the rise in justifiable homicides. But in states with both SYG laws and the weakest gun control laws — as defined by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — it found a statistical correlation with an increase in justifiable homicides.

Across the United States, such killings have risen sharply over the past five years, according to the data provided by the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. From 2001-05, there were 1,225 homicides classified as justifiable, compared to 1,528 in the period 2006-10. By contrast, violent crime overall has been falling.

"The police are shooting more people and citizens are shooting more people. We're evolving into an increasingly coarse society with no obligation to diffuse a situation and rapidly turn to force,” said Professor Dennis Kenney, of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and an ex-police sergeant in Florida. "People are literally getting away with murder."

SYG laws allow a potential crime victim who is in fear of “grave harm” to use deadly force in public places, not just inside their own homes. They eliminate the legal requirement to retreat before a person may claim he or she acted in self-defense.

SYG laws have been pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model legislation for state lawmakers to use.

State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) is among ALEC's leaders, as CityBeat has previously reported here and here. The group, which held its annual meeting in Cincinnati last spring, has a membership of nearly 2,000 state legislators and around 300 private-sector members.

Funded by the Koch brothers, the National Rifle Association, oil companies and others, ALEC’s model bills have served as the template for "voter ID" laws that swept the nation in 2011, for the voucher programs that privatize public education, for anti-immigrant legislation, and for the wave of anti-labor union legislation pushed during the past two years in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

This week Coca-Cola and PepsiCo dropped their memberships in ALEC, amid the threat of boycotts.

In 2010 National Public Radio reported that Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), a private-sector ALEC board member, participated in the drafting of Arizona Senate Bill No. 1070. The report documented the behind-the-scenes effort to draft and pass the law and how the CCA stood to benefit from people incarcerated under it.

Marvin Meadors, a Huffington Post contributor, has described ALEC as “a bill-churning mill which uses corporate money to draft model legislation that advances the agenda of the Far Right and encourages crony capitalism.”

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 03.05.2012
Posted In: Governor, Government, Ethics at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
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ACLU of Ohio Protests Privatizing State Prisons

Says it will add to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to unnecessary incarcerations

There are certain institutions in the U.S. that we don't like to think of as strictly profit-seeking endeavors. It can be difficult to swallow that (supposedly) do-good establishments like retirement homes, textbook companies and hospitals exist to bring in revenue rather than serve the needs of a community without waiver. In Ohio, one state prison is already that a business and others could soon follow suit. 

In September of 2011, Ohio became the first state in the nation to sell a state prison facility to a private prison company when the Lake Erie Correctional Institute in Ashtabula County was sold to the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest prison operator, for $72.7 million.

The idea to privatize Ohio prisons was concocted by Gov. John Kasich in an attempt to fill an $8 billion hole in Ohio's budget. The sale brought in an extra $50 million to use in balancing Ohio's prison budget.

Kasich's budget strategy included an overhaul of Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which means that private prison facility owners would actually benefit from more incarcerations. Now, CCA has made an offerto  48 U.S. states to buy and privatize state prisons. The offer, the Corrections Investment Initiative, outlines CCA's plan to spend up to $250 million on state, local and federal entities and then manage the facilities. According to the CCA's statement from Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer at CCA, they're only interested in buying facilities that are willing to sign over rights of ownership to the CCA for a minimum of 20 years, and states must agree to keep the facilities at least 90 percent full.


With six million Americans in the corrections system, the U.S. already has the highest rates of incarceration in the world — including per capita and in absolute terms surpassing countries like Iran, China and Russia. CCA'S website glorifies its mission as noble; a video on the home page shows a patriotic, proudly waving flag. Text touts its strategies as forward-thinking and altruistic, noting that they are "protecting public safety, employing the best people in solid careers, rehabilitating inmates, giving back to communities, and bringing innovative security to government corrections."

The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement strongly opposing the change; it argues that privatizing state prisons will add debt to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to more unnecessary incarcerations. According to "Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization," a report published by ACLU-Ohio, privately-run prisons only offer a short-term infusion of cash, not long-term savings. "Cost savings in privately run facilities [like those run by CCA] are achieved by cutting the pay of workers," says Mike Bricker, ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy. Corrections officers in private facilities make significantly less and receive far less benefits than those in public facilities. This difference, he says, results in an astronomically higher turnover rate in private facilities. "When something bad happens, they leave," he says.

The high turnover rate makes for a consistently less experienced staff, which means officers aren't as well-prepared when a bad situation does arise. He cites an example when cutting corners came at a high price: A CCA-run Youngstown facility that opened in 1997 brought in 1,700 violent inmates from Washington, D.C. at what was supposed to be a medium-security prison. Over the course of a year, there were 16 stabbings, two murders and six escapes; the situation became such a concern to the community that Youngstown sued CCA in 1998 and the facility was shut down.

According to Brickner, the smallest incident is enough to negate the short-term revenue from privatizing prisons; when the main objective is profit, privatized prisons want to book non-violent offenders who won't be in facilities for a long period of time. That means cells become overcrowded when minor offenders could be in rehabilitation, and extremely violent detainees tend to be managed improperly.

"It is inherently wrong to allow private businesses to make a profit off the incarceration of others," said Brickner in an ACLU press release. “Our state’s prison system is bloated, and private corporations have a vested financial interest to ensure our prisons remain full. If state officials have any hope of shrinking our prison population, we must implement transformative criminal justice reform policies and reject interests that grow our prison system.”

Brickner suggests that concerned citizens contact their elected representatives to express their opposition to privatizing prisons. Read the ACLU's full report on privatizing prisons here.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 02.17.2012
Posted In: Public Policy, Ethics, Government at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
courtgavel

Ohio Executions On Hold

Supreme Court upholds lower court ruling that state has failed to follow proper protocol

A ruling that resulted in a temporary halt in Ohio executions last week means there are 148 inmates on Ohio's death row with uncertain futures. Ohio's death penalty is currently under scrutiny, largely due to opposition that's been raised from documented failures to follow protocol in state executions.

In January, Federal District Court Judge Gregory Frost of Newark, Ohio halted condemned murderer Charles Lorraine's Ohio execution because Ohio has allegedly demonstrated problems over the last several months upholding the execution protocol the state put in place itself in 1981. On Feb. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Frost's decision, saying that because Ohio had been proven to stray from its own execution policies, it couldn't be trusted to carry out Lorraine's execution or any other death sentences. The next execution in Ohio is scheduled for April.

Frost is one of several advocating for the abandonment on Ohio's death penalty. "For close to eight years, the Court has dealt with inmate challenges to the constitutionality of Ohio’s execution protocol. During that time, the litigation has morphed from focusing primarily on allegations of cruel and unusual punishment to allegations of equal protection violations. Ohio has been in a dubious cycle of defending often indefensible conduct, subsequently reforming its protocol when called on that conduct, and then failing to follow through on its own reforms," said Frost in his written opinion.

He goes on to describe instances in which state agents lied to the Court concerning state executions, expressing frustration about the state's lack of commitment to constitutional execution. "No judge is a micro-manager of executions and no judge wants to find himself mired in the ongoing litigation in which he must continually babysit the parties," said Frost.  

That's just a piece of it; there are other judicial bigwigs hoping to have Ohio's death penalty overturned, including Senior Associate Justice for the Ohio Supreme Court Paul Pfiefer, who helped write Ohio's death penalty law when he was a state senator more than 30 years ago. According to Pfeifer, he's changed his mind because he sees the option of life without the possibility of parole more moral and socially beneficial.

Evidently, most of the deviations from the execution regulations were minor paperwork technicalities. Huffington Post reports the errors included switching the official whose job it was to announce the start and finish times of the lethal injection and not properly documenting that the inmate's medical records were reviewed.

Those in support of the hold, however, make another point. Controlling life and death is the most important power the state of Ohio holds; if it can't follow minor rules that it set for itself, who's to say there won't be larger, more detrimental errors in the future?
 
It's difficult to tell whether or not Ohio will just get a slap on the wrist for its slip-ups or if reform will be seriously considered. The death penalty has almost always been a part of Ohio's history, since it became a state in 1803. Ohio ranked third in the U.S. for executions among the 34 states that have the death penalty in 2011.

Listen to Paul Pfeifer and hear more about the controversy on The Sound of Ideas radio program below.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 02.02.2012
Posted In: Government, Community, Public Policy at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
privatization

Pros and Cons of Privatization

The push to privatize services traditionally provided by government is the focus of a community forum slated for next week.

Since the Reagan era, privatization — or the outsourcing of public services to the private sector — has been touted as a way to make government more efficient and less costly. Critics, however, allege it is a form of union-busting that often leads to lower wages for workers and reduced accountability to the public.

Read More

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 10.31.2011
 
 
seal_of_cincinnati,_ohio

Candidates On: Consolidating City and County Services

As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.

Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.

During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.

Today’s question is, “What are your thoughts on consolidating some city and county services? If you support the concept, are there specific services that should be considered for consolidation? Conversely, are there specific services that should be deemed off-the-table?”

Read More

 
 
by Danny Cross 10.19.2011
 
 
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Ghiz Posts Critics' Personal Information on Facebook

Occupy Cincinnati supporters angry over publication of home and email addresses

Leslie Ghiz has angered some Occupy Cincinnati supporters by posting on her Facebook page the home and email address of one individual and the email address of another who criticized her for pressuring City Manager Milton Dohoney to kick the protesters out of the park. The two individuals wrote to Ghiz's campaign, according to Ghiz.

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by Kevin Osborne 10.19.2011
Posted In: 2011 Election, City Council, Government at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
seal_of_cincinnati,_ohio

Candidates On: Taking a Two-Month Summer Break

As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.

Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.

During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.

Today’s question is, “Do you believe City Council should continue taking its two-month summer break, or should it meet weekly during the summer?”

Read More

 
 
by Danny Cross 10.19.2011
 
 
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Occupy Cincinnati Updates 10/19

A federal judge has ordered police to stop ticketing Occupy Cincinnati protesters after the group filed a lawsuit against the city for banning people from Piatt Park when it closes. The city has already ticketed protesters approximately $25,000.

J. Robert Linneman, one of the attorneys who filed the suit, according to Bloomberg Businessweek:

"This case is not about the whether you agree with the political views of Occupy Cincinnati or Occupy Wall Street; it's about the right of the people to assemble in a public park and to engage in protected speech."

Read More

 
 
by Danny Cross 10.18.2011
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Uh oh, the owners of buildings adjacent to Piatt Park are angry and they're not going to take it anymore. They reportedly met with city officials yesterday led by Arn Bortz, former mayor and Towne Properties partner/Councilman Chris Bortz's super-rich uncle, to ask that they be removed. Bortz also accused protesters of defecating in the park and abusing people walking through, both well-known annoyances for neo-fascists.

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