Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
Local business groups, unions, progressive organizations, the mayor and all council members are united against a tea party-backed ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, and a Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute helps explain the opposition. The report echoes concerns from both sides: It finds new employees would have their benefits cut by one-third under the tea party’s proposed system, but it also shows that, when measured differently, Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability might currently stand at $2.57 billion, more than three times the $862 million estimate city officials typically use. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees contribute to and manage their own individual retirement accounts; under the current system, the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. The idea is to move workers from a public system to private, 401k-style plans. Voters will decide on the amendment when it appears on the ballot as Issue 4 on Nov. 5.
Environmental and business groups argued in front of the Ohio Senate yesterday that a new deregulatory bill would effectively gut Ohio’s energy efficiency standards and hurt the state’s green businesses, but the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), claims it’s “not as loosey-goosey” as environmental and business groups make it seem. The biggest point of contention: Seitz’s bill would allow utility companies to count energy savings that are seen as “business as usual” toward energy efficiency standards. That, green groups argue, would let businesses claim they’re becoming more energy efficient without making any real energy-efficiency investments. It could also cost Ohioans more money: A previous report from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition found the bill could increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s bill in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the deregulatory attempts here.
The Ohio House yesterday approved a bill that expands local authority to pursue needle-exchange programs that would provide clean needles to drug addicts. Supporters of the bill say it would help local communities reduce drug-related infections and perhaps drug addiction, but opponents claim it surrenders to drug pushers by enabling more drug activity. A 2004 study from the World Health Organization found “a compelling case that (needle-exchange programs) substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among (injection drug users) and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” CityBeat covered the war on drugs and the changing approach to combating Ohio and the nation’s drug problems in further detail here.
Some help for voting: “2013 City Council Candidates at a Glance.”
The Cincinnati Bengals want a new high-definition scoreboard that could cost county taxpayers $10 million. But taxpayers don’t have much of a choice in the matter; the stadium lease requires taxpayers purchase and install new technology, including a scoreboard, at the Bengals’ request once the technology is taken up at 14-plus other NFL stadiums.
Women gathered at the Ohio Statehouse yesterday to protest measures in the recently passed state budget that restrict access to legal abortions and defund family planning clinics, including Planned Parenthood. CityBeat covered the state budget, including the anti-abortion restrictions, in further detail here.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio says Republican legislators should forget their fight against Obamacare and instead focus on a deficit-reduction package. Republicans helped cause a federal government shutdown by only passing budget bills that weaken Obamacare, but Democrats have refused to negotiate over the health care law, which is widely viewed as President Barack Obama’s legacy-defining domestic policy. Meanwhile, Obamacare’s online marketplaces opened on Tuesday, allowing participants to compare and browse subsidized private insurance plans. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote them in further detail here.
The $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project will require tolls, according to a study released by Kentucky and Ohio transportation officials on Thursday. Officials at every level of government have been pursuing a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge as concerns mount over its economy-damaging inadequacies.
A $26 million residential and retail development project is coming just north of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino.
Greater Cincinnati Water Works is using an extra layer of ultraviolet disinfection treatment to make local water cleaner.
The second round of Ohio’s job training program offers $30 million to help businesses train workers so they can remain competitive without shedding employees.
“Project Censored” analyzes the stories the mainstream media failed to cover in the past year. Check the list out here.
A new study found eye contact makes people less likely to agree with a persuasive argument, especially if they’re skeptical in the first place.
With the war on drugs widely considered a failure after more than four decades, experts are suggesting legalization and decriminalization as viable alternatives. One concern: Despite recent attempts at sentencing reform, Ohio’s prison population is set to grow further and breach a capacity barrier previously set by the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling against California. With costs rising and drug use rates seemingly unaffected by harsher enforcement, groups of academics, former law enforcement officials and civil libertarians say it’s time to look at states and countries that have abandoned criminalization and harsh enforcement with great success. To read the full story, click here.
A planned supportive housing facility in Avondale is raising concerns for residents who claim the complex could hurt a neighborhood already plagued by poverty, crime, obesity, unemployment and homelessness. Particularly worrying for Avondale 29, the group opposing the plans, is that the facility is near a daycare and elementary school, which the group says could have a negative impact on neighborhood children. Supporters of the facility say the opposition is based on widespread misinformation. They point to a similar similar supportive housing facility in Columbus, which, according to the Columbus Police Department’s Gary Scott, had a positive impact on the community surrounding it.
Opponents of Cincinnati’s parking lease were dealt two major blows in court yesterday: The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear their first legal challenge and effectively upheld the city’s referendum-immune emergency powers, and the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court refused to place a temporary restraining order on the lease despite claims that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the deal without City Council approval. Both the challenges come from the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which claims parking rates and enforcement hours will rise because the city is ceding too much power over its services by leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. Supporters of the parking lease argue the plan is necessary to leverage the city’s parking assets to finance development projects that will grow the city’s tax base.
Commentary: “Secrecy Plagues Potentially Good Programs.”
The city is fighting to have a document removed from its legal battle over the streetcar with Duke Energy. City officials says the document is “nothing scandalous” and the city just made a mistake by accidentally disclosing it, but a Duke attorney says the document is a source of “embarrassment” for the city and important to the case. As part of an agreement, Cincinnati and Duke are arguing in court to settle who has to pay an estimated $15 million to move utility lines to accommodate for the streetcar route.
Advocates of the federally funded Medicaid expansion yesterday filed petitions to the state attorney general’s office to get the issue on the 2014 ballot. As part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. If they accept, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the expansion’s cost for three years then indefinitely phase down to 90 percent. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would save Ohio $1.8 billion and insure half a million Ohioans. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and state Democrats support the expansion, but Republican legislators are resisting it.
More than two-thirds of Ohioans support laws that protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, but more than four in five mistakenly think such laws are already in place at the state and federal levels, according to the 2013 Ohio Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey also found a slim majority of Ohioans oppose amending the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage, which somewhat contradicts earlier polls from The Washington Post and Quinnipiac University that found a plurality of Ohioans now support same-sex marriage.
State agencies are probing the second high-profile suicide in an Ohio prison in the past month. Ariel Castro, a Cleveland man who was sentenced to life for kidnapping three women and beating and raping them as he held them for a decade, was found hanging on Tuesday after an apparent suicide. His death was the seventh suicide in an Ohio prison this year and the 35th since 2008. “As horrifying as Mr. Castro’s crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety from himself and others,” said Christine Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, in a statement. “Questions remain whether Mr. Castro was properly screened for suicide risk and mental illness.”
The Ohio Development Services Agency is offering $30 million in loans and grants to employers who train their workforce. “Building a strong economy is about ensuring Ohio’s workforce has the tools it needs for success,” said David Goodman, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, in a statement. “We want our workforce to be ready for the competitive jobs of tomorrow.”
Ohio legislators are asking the federal government to pursue a balanced-budget amendment. Although the amendment might sound like a good idea in campaign platitudes, many economists agree it’s a bad idea because it limits the federal government’s flexibility in reacting to economic downturns that typically cause deficits by lowering tax revenues and increasing the amount of people on government services.
A Fairfield, Ohio, woman is being forced by the Fairfield Board of Zoning Appeals to get rid of five of her seven dogs. The woman, who says she suffers from depression, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, says she needs the dogs to cope. The zoning board said it had heard anonymous complaints from neighbors, which apparently convinced the board to not provide an exemption for Fairfield’s two-pet limit.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is considering dropping some products and offering low-price alternatives for others in response to growing concerns about lacking performance.
For the second time in a year, an Ohio judge is publicly shaming a convicted idiot.
A new implant allows doctors look into people’s brains.
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Also, take our texting while driving survey here.
With a $3.2 billion price tag and 15- to 20-year time scale, Cincinnati’s plan to retrofit and replace its sewers is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the city’s history, but the program is experiencing hurdles as the city and county clash over how to reward contracts and whether the government should have a say in training employees. Cincinnati recently passed and modified a “responsible bidder” law that sets rules for apprenticeship programs and a fund for pre-apprenticeship programs, which Councilman Chris Seelbach says help promote local jobs and job training. But critics, backed by county officials and business organizations, say the law puts too much of a burden on contractors.
The Ohio Senate budget bill would restore $717 million in education funding, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome $1.8 billion in education funding cuts carried out in the last biennium budget. The funding increase also disproportionately favors the wealthy, with the property-poorest one-third of school districts getting 15 percent of the funding increases and the top one-third getting the vast majority. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn’t hand out “free marijuana plants” at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.
With 8-0 support from City Council, Mayor Mark Mallory appointed Stan Chesley to the city’s Human Relations Commission yesterday. Chesley retired from practicing law after he was disbarred in Kentucky for allegedly keeping millions of dollars that should have gone to clients involved in a lawsuit about phen-fen, a diet drug. Mallory and Chesley have worked together in the past, particularly to raise money for the city’s swimming pools.
Ohio lawmakers are considering two laws that would tighten rules about who can carry guns in schools and encourage religious education. The changes related to guns would involve local law enforcement in deciding who can carry guns, but it would also allow schools to conceal the names of who can carry a firearm and protect those individuals from liability for accidents unless there was “reckless and wanton conduct.” The changes for religious education would allow public high schools to give credit to students who take religious courses outside of school.
Ohio senators scrapped a plan that would have raised vehicle registration fees.
Ohio gas prices jumped above $4 this week.
NASA is building an intergalactic GPS.
Sleep-deprived men are apparently really bad at judging who wants to sleep with them.
Update (June 5, 11:20 p.m.): Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn't hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.
In perhaps an act of civil disobedience, Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is planning to hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday.
But the event could run foul of state law for both Berns and attendees. Ohio law prohibits obtaining, possessing or using a controlled substance — a category that includes marijuana.
The event will take place at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Clifton Avenue on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
"If you want one of the plants I suggest you get there early," Berns said in a statement.
In this year's mayoral race, Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally considered the top contenders, although neither candidate has received an official endorsement from the local Democratic Party.
Berns has differentiated himself from the frontrunners by pushing marijuana legalization in his platform.
Drug prohibition laws are generally dictated at state and federal levels, but city governments can legalize or decriminalize certain drugs and force police departments to give the issue lower priority.
Marijuana is already decriminalized in Ohio. Cincinnati re-criminalized the drug in 2006, but the drug was decriminalized through a city budget passed in 2010.
Some groups are attempting to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio. CityBeat covered those efforts in further detail here.
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a Mill Creek sewer overhaul plan that includes bringing back a long-buried creek in the area. The unconventional strategy is the Metropolitan Sewer District’s (MSD) attempt at dealing with storm overflow in a green, sustainable manner that also saves taxpayers money — particularly in comparison to an expensive deep underground tunnel that the EPA originally suggested. CityBeat previously covered MSD’s green plans in further detail here.
A law that would ban mandatory union membership is temporarily back on the Ohio House agenda, leaving union advocates worried that Republicans are trying to push the anti-union law, which supporters of the change call “right to work,” once again. Still, lawmakers say they’re only giving the law one hearing as required by House rules for legislation introduced early on in the session. Under current law, employers and unions are allowed to agree to mandating union membership for employees, but the anti-union law would bar that agreement. Many states have already taken up similar laws, and they’ve been linked to a significant decline of unions around the nation.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is partnering with Ohio State Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Kyle Parker to continue the fight against synthetic drugs. In a statement, DeWine’s office said the partnership will help state officials expedite the process of banning synthetic drugs as they are found. “Despite the success of House Bill 334, which outlawed a multitude of synthetic drugs in 2012, rogue chemists continue to create new, dangerous chemicals that fall outside of Ohio's controlled substances law,” DeWine said in a statement.
Cost for vehicle registration in Ohio could go up under a plan being considered by state lawmakers.
Two more alleged voter fraud cases were sent to the county prosecutor. So far, most of the Hamilton County voter fraud cases involve people voting twice — supposedly on accident — by first early voting and then voting on Election Day.
A Gillette commercial is at the center of the most important question of our time: How does Superman shave?
The “cutest couple” at a suburban New York school is two boys.
Being from Ohio may have ruined Neil Armstrong’s most famous quote.
In case you missed it, here is the news section for the latest issue of CityBeat:
School superintendents will hear about Gov. John Kasich’s school funding proposal Thursday. The proposal, which will change how all of Ohio’s schools are publicly funded, will be released to the wider public Feb. 4. Many school officials are bracing for the worst, according to Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. Rob Nichols previously told CityBeat that the proposal is “a big undertaking”: “Many governors have tried before. Many states have been sued over their formulas. It’s something we have to take our time with and get it done right.”
Ohio’s largest prison staff union is asking Kasich’s administration to increase the amount of prison security officers following a late December report from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The report found a correlation between rising prison violence and a decrease in prison security staff, affirming a position the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association has held for years.
A Journal News report found substance abuse comes at a heavy loss for Ohio employers, including more workplace injuries, higher medical costs, more absenteeism and reduced productivity. Some experts advocate for drug testing to lower the costs, while others argue drug testing can often affect innocent, responsible drug users. Employers are much more likely to test for marijuana over alcohol, even though multiple studies show cannabis is less addictive and harmful.
The flu epidemic may be leveling off in Ohio. The state health department revealed the amount of hospitalizations involving the flu have plateaued, but the department cautions the calm could be temporary.
The women’s sections of county and regional jails are facing higher levels of overcrowding. The overcrowding is a result of a 2011 law that enables fourth- and fifth-degree felons to be held at county jails instead of state prisons.
A new online tool reveals the salaries of public school teachers and staff.
The extensive audit of Ohio schools and their attendance information will be released Feb. 11. The preliminary reports found Cincinnati Public Schools were clean. The investigation into attendance fraud began when Lockland schools in Hamilton County were caught falsifying attendance data.
A new poll found an overwhelming majority of Kentucky parents favor raising the school dropout age to 18, up from the current age of 16.
Ohio gas prices are still rising.
Researchers made super-realistic lung tissue with levitating cells. The development allows researchers to better study how toxins affect the lungs.
A local music teacher says Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy offered him a job and then rescinded the offer after asking him if he is gay. Jonathan Zeng says he went through the school's extensive interview process, was offered a position and then called back in for a discussion about religious questions in his application, during which he was asked directly if he is gay. Zeng says he asked why such information was pertinent, and an administrator said it was school policy not to employ teachers who are gay because they work with children and something about the sanctity of marriage. When contacted by local media CHCA released the following statement:
CHCA keeps confidential all matters discussed within a candidate's interview. We're looking into this matter, although the initial information we have seen contains inaccuracies. We will not be discussing individual hiring decisions or interviews.Cincinnati's deficit isn't going to get better any time soon, according to a new report.
Senate Republicans yesterday blocked a Democratic bill calling for equal pay in the workplace, and the Dems are going to stick it in their faces during this year's campaigns. From the AP:
As expected, the pay equity bill failed along party lines, 52-47, short of the required 60-vote threshold. But for majority Democrats, passage wasn't the only point. The debate itself was aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive on yet another women's issue, this one overtly economic after a government report showing slower-than-expected job growth.
"It is incredibly disappointing that in this make-or-break moment for the middle class, Senate Republicans put partisan politics ahead of American women and their families," Obama said in a statement after the vote.
"Even Mitt Romney has refused to publicly oppose this legislation," added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "He should show some leadership."
The Washington Post wonders whether Mitt Romney can use Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's template for surviving a recall election to try to win the presidency. It involves “big money, powerful organization and enormous enthusiasm among his base.” Exit polls in the state suggest Obama is ahead, however.
China wants foreign embassies to stop releasing reports and Tweeting about its poor air quality.
Gonorrhea growing resistant to antibiotics? Rut roh.
Dinosaurs apparently weighed less than scientists previously thought. Adjust paper-mache Brontosaurus as necessary.
Facebook is considering letting kids younger than 13 use the site.
The Boston Celtics took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat on Tuesday and could send Bron Bron and Co. back home on Thursday.
The ongoing saga involving Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig and his nonexistent policing powers will continue into July, as a hearing scheduled for Thursday has been continued. Craig's attorneys will argue in front of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission that his prior experience, and certification in three other states, should exempt him from a state rule requiring all officers pass a certification exam before earning police powers. Craig believes he was hired to do things other than study for an entry-level policing test, and some states would already have certified him.
A statewide ban on texting while driving moved through the Ohio House of Representatives yesterday and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Kasich. The law makes the writing, sending or reading of a text message while driving a secondary offense, meaning officers may not pull over an adult driver for the act. Teens, however, under House Bill 99 will be prohibited from using any electronic device other than GPS and may be pulled over for it.
Kasich on Tuesday followed through with the GOP plan to overturn its own controversial election law that was to go before voters in November. State Republicans and election officials now say there's no reason for the law to go in front of voters thanks to the 300,000 signatures gathered by President Obama's re-election campaign and other opponents, but opponents of the election law point out that the repeal still reaffirms an election law change that would end early voting the weekend before an election. Democrats plan to keep the issue on the ballot.
But people on both sides of the issue say there's no precedent for a legislative repeal of a bill that also is the subject of a referendum, so it's unclear how a court might rule if a legal challenge is filed.
Jennifer Brunner, a former Democratic secretary of state and a leader in the Fair Elections Ohio campaign that brought the referendum, said Tuesday that the action taken by Gov. John Kasich and Legislature doesn't force the removal of the question from November ballots.
"Since this issue is a case of first impression for any court, we do not see the statement of the Secretary of State to be determinative on this issue," Brunner said in an email. "The issue remains on the ballot."
More drama from Columbus: Republicans are moving forward with a test program requiring some welfare recipients to submit to drug testing in order to continue receiving benefits. Opponents say the process stigmatizes the poor, while the GOP says it's just a simple process involving poor people paying the upfront costs for drug tests, being reimbursed if they pass and living on the streets for six months if they fail.
Northern Kentucky leaders plan to use the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine as a model for reinvesting in their urban core. A nonprofit organization has raised $10 million during the past five years to get started spurring commercial and residential investment.
Two Kentucky high school students who were turned away from their senior prom for arriving as a same-sex couple have argued that if their Catholic high school wants to ban students based on upholding the church's teachings, such a ban should include couples who have had premarital sex and kids who plan to get wasted after the prom.
Apparently viewers of Harry's Law, which was set in Cincinnati and used a stage-version of Arnold's as the lawyer gang's regular hangout, are too old to attract advertising dollars despite their relatively high numbers.
The show ranked very low among viewers ages 18 to 49, the demographic most advertisers care about. In fact, its young-adult numbers were beneath those for "Prime Suspect," a cop show that NBC canceled earlier this season, and roughly on par with those of "Off Their Rockers," the Betty White show about senior citizens pulling pranks on younger people.
"It was a difficult decision," an NBC executive said Sunday, quoted by the site Deadline.com. "Everyone here respects 'Harry's Law' a lot but we were finding it hard to grow the audience for it. Its audience skewed very old and it is hard to monetize that."
President Obama raised $44 million during April for his and other Democratic campaigns.
John Boehner says that when the federal government raises the debt limit again America can expect another prolonged fight about cuts.
George W. Bush has found “freedom” wherever he ended up after having little to offer the GOP after his tumultuous two terms as president. From ABC News:
We don't see much of Bush these days. He's the president that a lot of people would like to forget, still so toxic that he's widely considered more likely to hurt than help the Republican Party by participating in the 2012 campaign.
Bush's speech Tuesday morning was a rare exception. He spoke in a small, nondescript room to about 200 people about democracy activists, promoting a human rights campaign that's part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
His presence on the national stage is perhaps best seen in his presence on the small stage at 1777 F Street. At the end of the affair, Bush and his wife were called back up to be presented with writings by Czech human rights icon Vaclav Havel. They posed for pictures as the audience clapped, and when they were done, Bush glanced around as if unsure what to do next.
He walked back to his seat, but then quickly walked back onto the stage and behind the lectern. He leaned forward into the microphone, paused, and said slyly, "Thanks for coming."
Bush waited a second or two. Then he said, "See ya later."
He waved, and then he left.
Is U.S. energy independence a pipe dream? This article says no.
Apple might soon give you a larger iPhone screen.
A private rocket launch this week could be the start of commercial space travel.
Here are some important tips about sunscreen as summer approaches and the circle in the sky threatens to burn off our skin.
A retired Cincinnati police captain will be among the speakers Thursday at a local event about legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana in Ohio.
Howard Rahtz, who retired from the Cincinnati Police Department in 2007, will speak at a forum organized by the Ohio Medical Cannabis Association (OMCA). The group is trying to collect enough signatures to get an amendment to Ohio’s constitution on the ballot that would allow the use of cannabis with a physician’s prescription.
The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. in Room 500 at Swift Hall on the University of Cincinnati campus.
Other speakers will include Theresa Daniello, a mother of five children who is OMCA’s executive director, and Mark Ramach, the group’s attorney.
After their presentation, attendees can participate in a question and answer session about the proposed amendment.
Rahtz, who is a volunteer with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, is a conservative who has no interest in using drugs but supports legal and controlled public sale of marijuana. With a dual background in drug treatment and drug interdiction, Rahtz has first-hand experience with drug enforcement policy.
“I defy you to find anybody who will applaud what the war on drugs has accomplished,” Rahtz told CityBeat in June 2011. “Use rates have not changed in four decades. We’ve accomplished nothing. We spend more money, we incarcerate more people than any other place in the world and we end up with less for it. The fact is, what we’re doing isn’t working. My question is, particularly in this age of shrinking resources, are we going to continue pouring money down this rat hole?”