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by German Lopez 12.02.2013 135 days ago
Posted In: News, Mayor, City Council, Streetcar at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Mayor and council sworn in, streetcar supporters rally, streetcar builder warns mayor

Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were sworn in yesterday. Two days prior to the ceremony, Cranley announced his appointments for council committees that play a crucial role in passing legislation through City Hall, but the choices were not without controversy as Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own party for the two most powerful committees. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican, will head the Budget and Finance Committee, and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee. Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young also didn’t receive any appointments; both supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor’s office. CityBeat covered the new City Council’s priorities in further detail here.

Among the new city government’s first priorities is canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project, but not if supporters of the project have anything to say about it. Hundreds of streetcar supporters yesterday gathered in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route to show their solidarity. They’re threatening a referendum on any action council takes to pause or cancel the project, but some are concerned council will attach a funding measure to legislation that would allow a cancellation or pause ordinance to go into effect immediately, even if the project makes it onto the November 2014 ballot.

Meanwhile, the company in charge of building the actual streetcars wrote a letter to former Mayor Mark Mallory on Nov. 30 threatening substantial costs if the project were canceled. The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF USA to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs. For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears that canceling the streetcar could lead to litigation from contractors and subcontractors as they seek their full payday. The legal costs for such lawsuits would fall on an already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services such as cops and firefighters instead of a capital budget that finances capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.

Councilman Smitherman told The Business Courier that he wasn’t aware his brother’s construction company, Jostin Construction, was involved with the streetcar project, but a 2009 press release from the local branch of the NAACP shows Smitherman acknowledging his brother’s ties to the project. Still, a Nov. 21 letter confirms that Jostin pulled out of the project. The connection is important because it presents a potential conflict of interest for Smitherman, a streetcar opponent who will likely act as one of the five necessary votes to pause and potentially cancel the project. It also raises questions about the validity of Smitherman’s anti-streetcar votes in the past few years.

Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months, according to an index from the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’ economic health.

A Republican and Democrat in the Ohio House proposed using the $400 million in savings from the federally funded Medicaid expansion to boost the local government fund, but it seems most of the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate intends to use the savings on a tax cut. The savings are a result of the Controlling Board’s controversial decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program with federal funds, which should shift some Medicaid expenses from the state to the federal level.

More women will get access to maternity leave under Obamacare.

The federally run Obamacare website relaunched in the past week, but it’s unclear if the fixes will make it easier for Ohioans to obtain health insurance.

Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, gas prices dropped across the state.

Michelle Dillingham, who lost in her bid for City Council, started her own progressive blog: The Cincinnati Forum.

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by German Lopez 12.01.2013 135 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, Streetcar at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

CAF USA Warns of Streetcar Cancellation Costs

Letter comes on eve of council vote on streetcar project

The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.

The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in.

"CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.

The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.

For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.

The letter was first posted on the Cincinnati Streetcar Facebook page. Its validity was confirmed in an email to CityBeat from former Mallory staffer Jason Barron.

On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.

Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.

City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.

Read the full letter below:

Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.01.2013 136 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar, Mayor at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
washington park streetcar rally

Hundreds Walk Streetcar Line in Support of Project

Rally precedes City Council vote to pause and potentially cancel construction

Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.

The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.

On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.

Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project, which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to referendum.

But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.

Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.

Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati.

But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.

Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.01.2013 136 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Cranley, New City Council Take Office

Swearing in sets path to contentious moves on streetcar project, parking plan

Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.

Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young  — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.

Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.

Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum.

If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.

Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.

A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.

On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.

The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.

Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.

Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.

Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.

Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.

Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.26.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor at 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
pg sittenfeld

Sittenfeld to Support Continuing Streetcar Project

Opponents might not have enough votes to prevent referendum if project is canceled

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Monday announced he will vote to continue the $132.8 million streetcar project.

Sittenfeld’s support for the project means the incoming City Council might not have the six votes required for an emergency clause that would immediately halt the project and make a cancellation vote insusceptible to referendum.

If streetcar supporters successfully put a cancellation vote to referendum, the project would be forced to continue until the streetcar once again appears on the ballot in November 2014. The continuation would sink more costs into the project as construction is forced to progress for nearly a year.

Sittenfeld’s announcement preceded a vote from the outgoing City Council to officially write the streetcar project into law, which means Mayor-elect John Cranley, a streetcar opponent, won’t be able to take administrative action to halt the project and instead must bring the project to a City Council vote after he and other newly elected officials take office on Sunday.

The two remaining swing votes in the incoming council — David Mann, who Cranley on Monday named as his choice for vice mayor, and Kevin Flynn — previously discussed delaying the project as council analyzes whether it should permanently cancel or continue with currently ongoing construction.

But Sittenfeld equated a delay to total cancellation after warnings from the federal government made it clear that the city could lose federal funds for the project even if it only delayed progress.

If either Flynn or Mann move to support the streetcar project, streetcar proponents would gain a five-vote majority on the nine-member council to continue the project and preclude a referendum.

Sittenfeld characterized his decision as the better of “two bad choices.”

“We can pursue a project that has never earned broad public consensus and that has yet to offer a viable and sustainable budget,” he said at a press conference, “or we can scrub the project and throw away tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, forgo a massive federal investment and have nothing to show for the enormous effort and expense.”

To explain his decision, Sittenfeld cited concerns about how much money has been dedicated to the project at this point, including $32.8 million in sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, according to estimates from the city. Sittenfeld noted that, at the very least, half of the city’s $87.9 million share of the project will be spent even if the city pulls the plug now.

Sittenfeld also voiced concerns that pulling back from the project and effectively forfeiting $44.9 million in allocated federal funds would damage Cincinnati’s reputation with the federal government. That could hamper projects he sees as much more important, such as the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project.

“I did my part to avoid getting us into this reality, but it cannot be wished away,” Sittenfeld said.

There was one major caveat to Sittenfeld’s decision: the operating costs for the streetcar, which the city estimates at $3.4-$4.5 million a year.

Sittenfeld said the cost must not hit Cincinnati’s already-strained operating budget and instead must be paid through fares, sponsorships, private contributions and a special improvement district that would raise property taxes near the streetcar line.

A special improvement district would require a petitioning process in which property owners holding at least 60 percent of property frontage near the streetcar line would have to sign in favor of taking on higher property taxes to pay for the streetcar.

“Ultimately, that’s a decision for the citizens,” Sittenfeld said.

If the special improvement district doesn’t come to fruition, Sittenfeld cautioned that the streetcar project would be more difficult to support going forward.

Asked whether Sittenfeld thinks some of the people who voted for him will see his decision as a betrayal, he responded that his conclusion shows the “thoughtfulness and carefulness” people expect of him when it comes to taxpayer dollars, given the costs of cancellation.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.26.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Health, Mayor, Streetcar at 07:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Federal funds tied to streetcar project, Mann named vice mayor, local life expectancy varies

For the third time, a representative from the federal government yesterday reiterated to Cincinnati officials that if the $132.8 million streetcar project is canceled, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left to the discretion of the state government, which could allocate the money anywhere in Ohio. The repeated reminders are necessary as Mayor-elect John Cranley and the incoming City Council prepare to delay or potentially terminate the project once they take office in December. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter said even a mere delay could lead to the federal government restricting or outright terminating the federal grant deals. But Cranley, a long-time opponent of the streetcar project, appeared unfazed by the news at a press conference following Carter's thorough explanation. "If we have to, we’ll give the money back," he said.

Cranley yesterday announced his intent to appoint Councilman-elect David Mann as his vice mayor. Cranley said Mann passed the "bus test," an unfortunate hypothetical scenario in which the mayor dies after being hit by a bus. Cranley also cited Mann's numerous accomplishments, ranging from achievements at Harvard University to previous stints as mayor when top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position. Mann promised to work with Cranley to make his administration a success and respectfully disagree but move on when the two men differ.

A Cincinnati Health Department report found life expectancy can vary by 20 years from one part of Cincinnati to another. Black men in particular can expect to live nearly 10 years less than white men. The Health Department said in a press release that it wants to find out why there's such a disparity.

A Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican Gov. John Kasich still ahead of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a 44 to 37 percent match-up, but FitzGerald is gaining ground. About 71 percent of Ohioans in the poll said they don't know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion about him, so FitzGerald still has time to build positive name recognition while Kasich has an opportunity to paint his opponent in a negative light before the November 2014 election.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters might be investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for improperly voting.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked the Hamilton County Board of Elections to cancel an automatic recount of the Nov. 5 vote, which Quinlivan was entitled to after she placed 10th place in the City Council race by only 859 votes.

The grand jury for the Steubenville, Ohio, rape investigation indicted four people, including a school superintendent.

Four Ohio corrections officers were fired over the escape of an inmate serving a life sentence for rape, officials announced Monday.

The University of Cincinnati is aiming for an attendance record when it hosts Louisville for a Dec. 5 game at Nippert Stadium.

The deadline to select Medicare coverage is Dec. 7 at midnight.

Scientists could be on the verge of learning how to erase and rewrite memories.

Morning News and Stuff will most likely be out of service until Monday, Dec. 2 as CityBeat staff celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday.

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by German Lopez 11.25.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, City Council at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Cranley Appoints Mann as Vice Mayor

Both mayor-elect and councilman-elect take office on Sunday

Mayor-elect John Cranley on Monday announced he will appoint Councilman-elect David Mann to act as vice mayor.

“Quite simply, he passes the bus test,” Cranley said at a press conference, suggesting that Mann is capable of doing his job if the mayor were to die after getting hit by a bus. “He’s the one guy who can serve as mayor and preserve the city’s heritage.”

Cranley cited Mann’s numerous accomplishments, including his time with the prestigious Harvard Law Review journal and previous stints as mayor when the top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position.

Mann and Cranley promised to work together, even if they don’t agree on every issue.

“Your success will be the city’s success,” Mann said to Cranley. “When we disagree, we’ll disagree with respect and go forward.”

Speaking on priorities he shares with Cranley, Mann outlined his intentions to structurally balance the budget, cancel the parking plan, investigate whether the city can afford to terminate the streetcar project, tackle the city’s high poverty rates and refocus city funding to benefit all local neighborhoods.

Cranley and Mann will officially take office on Sunday, along with the rest of the new City Council.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.25.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, Streetcar at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
streetcar

FTA: City to Lose Federal Funds If Streetcar Is Canceled

Clarification necessary as mayor-elect discusses canceling project

Although it has already been explicitly stated in two letters from the federal government, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Monday reiterated that if Cincinnati were to unravel the $132.8 million streetcar project, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal grants and another $4 million in federal funds would be transferred to the state government, which could appropriate the money to any project in Ohio.

The clarification is necessary because Mayor-elect John Cranley and a majority of the incoming City Council are looking into pausing and potentially canceling the streetcar project once they take office in December. Cranley says he will lobby the federal government to reallocate the federal funds, even though the federal government has repeatedly insisted it’s not going to happen.

Carter joined City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on the phone on Monday to walk council members through the legal technicalities involved in cancellation and how the federal government would react to such circumstances.

According to Carter, merely delaying the project at this point would break the city’s agreement with the federal government and lead the federal government to restrict the federal funds, ask the city to repay the money it already spent or terminate the deal altogether.

Still, Carter said cancellation might not hurt the city’s chances, at least from a legal perspective, of obtaining federal funds for other projects.

“It will not preclude you from pursuing other projects,” he said. “You would just have to pursue those on their own merits.”

But Carter agreed with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls that the city’s credibility could be weakened if the streetcar project were canceled.

President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized light rail projects like the streetcar, according to Carter, so the reclaimed federal money would likely go to other cities pursuing similarly ambitious transit projects.

At a press conference following the council meeting, Cranley appeared unfazed by the news.

“If we have to, we’ll give the money back,” he said.

Although much noise was made about the council meeting, there wasn’t much news in the way of substance. The federal government already outlined the cancellation costs in separate letters sent to Mayor Mark Mallory in June and earlier in November.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.25.2013
Posted In: News, Homelessness, Airport, Infrastructure at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Drop Inn Center

Morning News and Stuff

Drop Inn Center to move, sewer and water rates set to rise, CVG's losses cost region

The Drop Inn Center and 3CDC (Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation) on Friday announced a deal to move the region’s largest homeless shelter from its current location in Over-the-Rhine to Queensgate. The Drop Inn Center says the new location represents “most of the things on our wish list, which is fantastic.” And 3CDC has been pushing the shelter to move since it began its efforts to revitalize the Over-the-Rhine and downtown area, which some label gentrification. Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said in a statement that government officials and developers should be helping maintain affordable housing in all parts of the city instead of moving poor people to other neighborhoods.

Local sewer rates could rise by 6 percent and local water rates will skyrocket by 22.6 percent following proposed price hikes from the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). The higher sewer rates are needed to help pay for a federally mandated sewer upgrade that will cost $3.2 billion over 15 years, according to MSD officials. MSD says the spike in water bills is necessary because water use is declining and treatment costs are increasing.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) has lost more flights and seats since 2005 than any other major airport across the country, which effectively cost the Cincinnati area 33,000 jobs and nearly $1 billion in annual economic activity in the same time span, according to an analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer. The 78-percent drop in flights — far higher than the national average of 19 percent — comes even as CVG’s average fares increased by 26 percent, which were also above the national average of 4 percent.

Commentary from The Business Courier: “(Mayor-elect John) Cranley doubles down on streetcar cancellation.”

Supporters of Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project will meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Cincinnati Hyatt Regency Ballroom to discuss their options to prevent Cranley from stopping the streetcar project. Supporters were recently reinvigorated by the current city administration’s projections that canceling the streetcar project could cost nearly as much as completing it.  

As Ohio’s Republican legislators move to adopt a stand-your-ground law, the research shows the controversial self-defense laws might increase homicides and racial disparities in the U.S. justice system.

Economists generally agree that state officials don’t play a big role in changing the economy in the short term, but political scientists say the economy will still play a major role in deciding Ohio’s 2014 gubernatorial elections. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald argues Republican Gov. John Kasich deserves the blame for Ohio’s economy, given that Kasich initially credited his policies for Ohio’s brief economic turnaround early on in his term. But now that the economy is beginning to stagnate, Kasich refuses to take the blame and points to congressional gridlock at the federal level as the reason for Ohio’s slowdown.

Ohio paid nearly $1.2 million for a string of charter schools that closed weeks after they opened. The schools, which all operated under the name Olympus High School, are now facing an audit and have been ordered to pay back some of the money.

A state job program for disabled Ohioans could lose millions in federal funds after the U.S. Department of Education warned the state it is improperly spending the money on case management and other administrative activities. But the head of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities insists the state program is under compliance.

Ohio’s number of uninsured children is below the national average, according to a Georgetown University Center for Children and Families report.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is fast tracking business permits to outpace neighboring states.

With Thanksgiving looming, Ohio gas prices rose in the past week.

Migraine sufferers who also deal with allergies and hay fever might suffer from more severe headaches, according to a study from three medical centers that include the University of Cincinnati.

Would you ride the world’s tallest water slide?

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by German Lopez 11.22.2013
Posted In: News, Stand your ground, Guns at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Research: Stand-Your-Ground Laws Increase Homicides

As Ohio legislators advance law, studies cast doubt on claims of improved public safety

Supporters of a stand-your-ground law claim the measure would make the public safer by making it easier for people to defend themselves from criminals, but the research so far shows the law might weaken public safety in a few key areas and actually increase the amount of homicides.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Ohio House passed sweeping gun legislation that would impose a stand-your-ground law in the state. The bill now requires approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich to become law.

Stand-your-ground laws remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense in places in which a person is lawfully allowed. Current Ohio law only maintains a traditional “castle doctrine,” which removes the duty to retreat only at a person’s home or vehicle.

The laws have grown particularly controversial following the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida, where a stand-your-ground law exists but supposedly played a minor role in the trial that allowed Zimmerman to go free.

Regardless of what drove Zimmerman to his actions or allowed him to go free, three major studies found stand-your-ground laws might increase violence and widen racial disparities in the U.S. justice system.

A June 2012 paper from National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Texas A&M University researchers concluded, “Results indicate (castle doctrine and stand-your-ground) laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters.” The study looked at FBI Uniform Crime Reports from 2000 to 2010 for 21 states, including 17 states with stand-your-ground laws and four states, including Ohio, with castle doctrine laws that only apply to a person’s home and vehicle.

Another June 2012 paper from NBER stated, “Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males. According to our estimates, between 28 and 33 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws. We find no consistent evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks.” The study looked at monthly data from U.S. Vital Statistics to gauge the effect of stand-your-ground laws on homicides and firearm injuries, with supplemental analysis of data from FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports and the Health Care Utilization Project.

A July 2013 study from the left-leaning Urban Institute found “homicides with a white perpetrator and a black victim are ten times more likely to be ruled justified than cases with a black perpetrator and a white victim, and the gap is larger in states with Stand Your Ground laws.” According to the findings, stand-your-ground states are more likely to legally justify white-on-white, white-on-black and black-on-black homicides but not black-on-white homicides. For the study, the Urban Institute used FBI Supplementary Homicide Report data for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., dated between 2005 and 2010.

When confronted with such statistics, supporters of stand-your-ground laws typically note that violent crime rates dropped in the states that adopted the laws. But, as PolitiFact Florida pointed out in response to Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, violent crime began dropping before stand-your-ground laws were passed.

The nationwide violent crime rate dropped from 757.7 to 386.3 between 1992 and 2011, with more than half of the drop occurring between 1992 and 1999, according to FBI crime data. The June 2012 paper from NBER found more than 20 states passed traditional castle doctrine or stand-your-ground laws between 2000 and 2010, after the violent crime rate began to drop.

The research could show correlation instead of causation. Perhaps some unnamed factor in states that adopted stand-your-ground laws makes it more likely that they’ll see increases in homicides or racial disparities, even as violent crime declines. But, at the very least, it doesn’t seem supporters of stand-your-ground laws have the empirical evidence on their side.

 
 

 

 

 
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