Ohio Senate Republicans unveiled a budget plan yesterday that would keep social issues at the forefront and refocus tax reforms on small businesses instead of all Ohioans.
The budget plan would potentially allow Ohio's health director to shut down abortion clinics, effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion.
The plan would also cut income taxes by 50 percent for businesses owners while undoing a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut for all Ohioans.
Republicans say the tax cuts will spur the state's economy, but Democrats were quick to argue the tax cuts will exclude a majority of Ohioans, particularly low- and middle-income earners.
The small business tax cut was originally proposed by Gov. John Kasich alongside a 20-percent across-the-board tax cut for all Ohioans, but the Ohio House undid both suggestions in its own budget plan in favor of a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut.
Meanwhile, the conservative push on social issues echoes priorities established in the Ohio House budget bill, which was passed on April 18 ("The Chastity Bunch," issue of April 24).
But the Ohio Senate plan comes with a new addition: It would give the director of the Ohio Department of Health the power to close ambulatory surgical centers without cause, which could be "a thinly veiled tool to close abortion clinics and effectively outlaw abortion across the state," according to NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
The other Ohio Senate measures are drawn from the Ohio House budget bill, including a rework of family services funding that prioritizes other programs over Planned Parenthood, leading to less funds for the controversial women's health program.
The change has been trumpeted by Republicans who claim it will allow more programs to get funding. But the cuts have been criticized by Planned Parenthood advocates, who say other programs already compete for family planning services funding; those programs are just dismissed as inferior under the current competitive distribution process.
The Ohio Senate budget plan would also shift a separate set of funds to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which essentially act as the anti-abortion alternative to family planning institutions like Planned Parenthood.Supporters of CPCs, including Denise Leipold of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, praise them for promoting "chastity" and "abstinence."
But CPCs have been criticized by pro-choice groups for misleading women about false links between abortion, breast cancer, mental health problems and infertility. An "undercover investigation" from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio found 47 percent of CPCs gave misleading information about abortions and mental health problems and 48 percent gave false information about abortions, breast cancer and infertility.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio criticized the measures in a statement.
"Just when you thought the budget couldn’t get any worse for Ohio women, it does," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, in a statement. "This budget attacks every choice a woman can make about her reproductive health. If she wants to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, her family planning provider may be defunded. If she gets pregnant when she is unable to become a parent, the abortion clinic in her community may be shuttered. If she chooses to become a parent and needs assistance to provide for her child, funding may no longer be available. Gov. Kasich can stop these attacks on women’s health care. We need him to pledge to line-item veto these dangerous measures when they reach his desk."
Just like the Ohio House budget plan, the Ohio Senate's plan also forgoes the Medicaid expansion. Kasich and Ohio Democrats have supported the expansion, but the Republican majority in the legislature has so far stood in opposition.
The expansion would use mostly federal funds from the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") to increase the eligibility cut-off for Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The first three years would be completely paid by the federal government. Afterward, federal funding would be phased down to 90 percent over the next decade, where it would remain.
A study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade.
Despite staunch opposition in budget talks, Republicans have introduced a standalone bill that would expand and reform Medicaid, which Republicans say will let them take a more "holistic" approach to the health care program.
The Ohio Senate budget plan also pulled out controversial language that would have forced public universities and colleges to decide between $370 million in higher out-of-state tuition rates and providing out-of-state students with documents required for voting in Ohio.
If the budget plan is approved by the Ohio Senate, it will head to the Ohio House and Kasich for final approval.
Update (1:51 p.m.): This story was updated with comments from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
The House Health Committee heard testimony from bill supporters and opponents. "If PP is defunded, we will still offer a full range of options for care, but the working poor will have no way to pay for them," testified Beth Lonn, Chief Operating Officer of Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio, according to a tweet from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio.
Opponents of HB 298 express concern that the reprioritizing of funds would deny high-need women, particularly those of low income, access to preventive, affordable health care services. "More than 96% of what we do is to provide essential lifesaving cancer screenings, breast exams, birth control, sex education and counseling to nearly 100,000 Ohio women and families, regardless of one’s ability to pay," reads a segment on the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio website.Rep. Nicki Antonio (D-Lakewood) expressed her concern for bill supporters' motivation, noting, "The proposed defunding bill is is a move based on ideology, not on practical needs of Ohioans...There are many counties in Ohio without alternatives to PP. It's a 'Health Care Desert.'"
Supporters of the bill such as Ohio Right to Life tout the measure as a way to steer funds away from the "abortion industry." The bill is now awaiting a committee vote.
Tea party activists are working to gather the 380,000 signatures needed to get the Ohio Workplace Freedom Act on the ballot. They have until July 3.
The Michigan House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the first of two right-to-work bills, both of which were passed by the state Senate last week. Gov. Rick Snyder has told multiple media outlets that he could sign the bills as early as Wednesday.
Michigan would be the 24th right-to-work state in the nation and the second in the Midwest. Indiana passed a similar law earlier this year.
Members of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus wore red carnations — Ohio’s state flower and a symbol of the labor movement — at the Statehouse Tuesday to show support for Michigan workers.
“Put simply, so called ‘right to work’ is wrong. Statistics show states with this anti-working family legislation have lower wages and higher poverty rates,” Ohio state Rep. Connie Pillich, D-Montgomery, wrote in an emailed statement.
“We will continue to stand together and fight against these unfair attacks on workers in Ohio, Michigan and across the country.”
Despite the effort to put a right-to-work law on the ballot next year — a similar effort was unsuccessful in 2012 — it doesn’t seem like Ohio is in any rush to join Michigan and Indiana.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has higher priorities than passing a right-to-work law. The newspaper reports that Ohio added 127,000 jobs in the past two years and ranks fourth nationally and first in the Midwest in terms of job creation.
Kasich said the agenda for the last two years of his first term include tax cuts, an education overhaul and infrastructure improvement to keep the state competitive.
“I have an agenda that I think is going to benefit the state of Ohio,” Kasich told the newspaper. “We’re doing very well vis-a-vis the rest of the country now, and I think if we continue to pursue the agenda I have and the legislature has, I think we’ll continue to be successful.”
FUN FACT: Michigan's right-to-work bill will be signed into law in the Romney Building. George Romney, former Michigan governor and father of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was an opponent of right-to-work laws.
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).
This week's issue of CityBeat features a lengthy letter to the editor by Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls explaining why she opposes Ohio Senate Bill No. 5, which limited collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions including police and firefighters.
If GOP leaders thought they were going to get rid of Denise Driehaus with their new state legislature map, they can think again.
Driehaus made it official today, announcing she would move into the new 31st House District before next year's election. Several weeks ago, the Republican-controlled state apportionment board reconfigured state legislative district boundaries and radically altered the political makeup of the current 31st House District, which Driehaus represents in Columbus.
The state-level political turmoil caused by the Tea Party and its financial backers, the Koch brothers, got its start in Wisconsin under rookie Gov. Scott Walker. Today, Wisconsin voters have the opportunity to oust six Republican state senators in unprecedented recall elections.
Follow the action via a live blog set up by Isthmus, the alt weekly paper in Madison, Wisc. Polls are open until 8 p.m. Central time, so there won't be a lot of action until later.
Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, sent the email Tuesday.
Husted noted that 40,000 poll workers are needed across Ohio. “We can debate the efficacy of the law and voting procedures until we are blue in the face, but the truth is that those 40,000 individuals can have more of an impact on the ultimate success of our elections than the Secretary of State, lawmakers and judges combined,” he wrote.
When informed about the email, the head of Hamilton County’s Democratic Party said more poll workers always are needed. But he is worried those spurred to apply because of Husted’s email will do so due to the wrong motivation and potentially could cause problems at the polls.
“Many of our poll workers serve year after year in multiple elections,” said Tim Burke, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman. “Just because this November is a presidential election doesn’t mean that our trained and experienced workers should be pushed aside by those folks, on either side, who want to be poll workers in the presidential, but not in other elections as well. That is a conversation I have had on a number of occasions with the election protection leaders on the Democratic side.”
Burke added, “The role of poll workers should be to assist voters in voting correctly, and better than 99 percent of the time, that is what the poll workers — be they Democrats or Republicans — properly do. I am hesitant to bring in poll workers who think their role is to be election police who want to spend Election Day ferreting out fraud and subjecting qualified voters to cross examinations.”
In Husted’s email, the Secretary of State also acknowledged the partisan battle over the GOP-backed push for voters to show a photo I.D. at polls.
“Unfortunately, the fact that there is ‘room for improvement’ seems to be the only common ground we have been able to find when it comes to elections reform,” Husted wrote. “The closer we get to Election Day, the more heated the rhetoric on both sides will become. One side believes the law is too restrictive and that legal voters are being suppressed. The other side says the system is vulnerable to fraud because there aren't enough checks to ensure only eligible voters are casting ballots.”
It should be noted that no study has ever found evidence of widespread voter fraud.
In 2007, a five-year review conducted by the U.S. Justice Department and ordered by President George W. Bush found that just 120 people had been charged and 86 convicted as of 2006 — a miniscule amount when compared to the number of eligible voters in the United States.
Back then, The New York Times wrote, “A federal panel, the Election Assistance Commission, reported last year that the pervasiveness of fraud was debatable. That conclusion played down findings of the consultants who said there was little evidence of it across the country, according to a review of the original report by The New York Times that was reported on Wednesday.”
The Times added, “Mistakes and lapses in enforcing voting and registration rules routinely occur in elections, allowing thousands of ineligible voters to go to the polls. But the federal cases provide little evidence of widespread, organized fraud, prosecutors and election law experts said.”
The Republican Party also tried to raise allegations of voter registration fraud during the 2008 presidential election, when it began looking like John McCain would lose. When pressed in November 2008, a top official with the McCain- Palin “Honest and Open Election Committee” couldn’t cite a single instance in which problems with fake voter registrations resulted in phony votes being cast.
At Husted’s urging, Republican
state lawmakers recently acted to repeal portions of House Bill No. 194. Facing
a referendum on the law in November that could’ve increased Democratic voter
turnout, the repeal restores some opportunities for early voting and allows
poll workers to guide voters to the correct precinct.
In Hamilton County, Democrats who want to be poll workers should call 513-632-7041; Republicans should call 513-632-7042.
Here is Husted’s text in its entirety: