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by German Lopez 10.17.2013
Posted In: Governor, Abortion, News at 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

State Could Force Local Abortion Clinic to Close

Governor signed new anti-abortion restrictions into law with state budget in June

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) could order the Lebanon Road Surgery Center, a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic, to shut down after a hearing examiner upheld ODH’s decision to revoke the clinic’s license because the clinic failed to establish a transfer agreement with a nearby hospital.

Abortion rights advocates touted the closure as another example of how new regulations in the recently passed state budget will limit access to legal abortions across the state. But ODH handed down its original decision for the Cincinnati-area abortion clinic in November 2012, more than half a year before Gov. John Kasich in June signed the state budget and its anti-abortion restrictions into law.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio decried “the closure of an abortion provider in the Cincinnati area despite an exemplary record of medical safety.”

“Just as we feared when Gov. Kasich enacted medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers, officials at the Ohio Department of Health have launched a regulatory witch hunt against Ohio’s abortion providers and have recommended the closure of an abortion clinic in Cincinnati,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, in a statement.

Ohio Right to Life, which opposes abortion rights, celebrated the decision.

“We are gratified to see yet another late-term abortionist shutting down,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, in a statement. “As a result of this Health Department order, Martin Haskell, a strong proponent and former practitioner of the controversial and deadly partial-birth abortion procedure, will no longer be able to abort children and jeopardize womens health in Hamilton County.”

Ohio law classifies abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical facilities and requires they establish transfer agreements with nearby hospitals, where clinics can send patients for more comprehensive care in case of an emergency. The 2014-2015 state budget also barred abortion clinics from establishing transfer agreements with public hospitals, which abortion-rights advocates say greatly hinders the clinics because private hospitals are generally religious and oppose abortion rights.

The Cincinnati-area clinic is just one of five Ohio clinics in the past year to either close down or face the threat of closing down, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Without the five, Ohio would be reduced to just nine abortion clinics.

On Oct. 9, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio announced a lawsuit against Ohio’s newest anti-abortion restrictions. The ACLU claims the regulations went beyond the budget’s purpose of appropriating funds and therefore violated the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language.

The hearing examiner’s decision:

 
 
by German Lopez 10.17.2013
Posted In: News, Emery Theatre, Homelessness, Budget at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Shutdown ends, homeless sue county, Requiem makes demands in battle for Emery Theatre

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.

Congress last night voted to end a partial government shutdown that lasted for more than two weeks and avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt. In the end, House Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner and local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, got less than nothing for their threats of default and shutdown: Obamacare wasn’t repealed or delayed, taxes weren’t cut and federal spending remained flat. Instead, Republicans were left with the worst polling results Gallup measured for either political party since it began asking the question in 1992. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats got the clean budget and debt ceiling bills they were asking for all along. But the funding measures only last until Jan. 15 and the debt ceiling increase remains until Feb. 7, leaving some groups on both sides of the aisle to ask whether the dramatic showdown will happen all over again in a few months.

Four local homeless sued Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil over his attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center with the threat of jail time. Homeless advocates argue the policy punishes homeless people for being homeless; they say the county should focus on creating jobs and housing opportunities, not arresting people who are just trying to find a safe spot to sleep. But the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office says it’s addressing a public health issue; Major Charmaine McGuffey, head of the Hamilton County Justice Department, says that every morning county officials are forced to clean up urine and feces left by the homeless the night before, and often the county doesn’t have the resources to completely disinfect the areas.

In the ongoing legal battle for the Emery Theatre, the Requiem Project amended its lawsuit against the University of Cincinnati and lessees and asked the courts to remove UC from ownership of the building. Requiem argues UC has failed to live up to the goals of Mary Emery’s charitable trust by allowing the building to fall into disrepair and non-use over the years. Courts originally approved the development of apartments in the building as long as the profits went toward renovating the theater, but after 14 years apartment operators say there are multiple mortgages on the property and no profits. The trial is scheduled for February.

Commentary: “Governor Finally Accepts Federal Funds.”

Now in print: Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who’s running for mayor against fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, rejected support from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), and the conservative organization’s history of anti-LGBT causes helps explain why.

Qualls scored higher across the board than Cranley in the scorecard released today by the African-American Chamber of Commerce. Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University, previously told CityBeat that the black vote will likely decide the mayoral election. Council candidates Charlie Winburn, P.G. Sittenfeld, Vanessa White, Yvette Simpson, David Mann and Pam Thomas also topped the scorecard.

Ohio House Republicans may sue Gov. John Kasich for his decision to bypass the legislature and instead get approval from a seven-member legislative panel for the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which would use Obamacare dollars to extend eligibility for the government-run health insurance program to more low-income Ohioans for at least two years. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade. CityBeat covered Kasich’s decision in further detail here.

Meanwhile, the Ohio House and Senate are debating three different ways to approach an overhaul of Medicaid and bring the program’s costs down. State Rep. Barbara Sears’ bill pushes for a swathe of reforms and cost controls, while State Rep. John Becker’s bill aims to significantly weaken the program to the absolute minimums required by the federal government. Becker’s proposal would likely leave hundreds of thousands of low-income Ohioans without health insurance.

Speaking in Cincinnati yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the federal government is working to correct the many errors plaguing Obamacare’s online marketplaces. The glitches and traffic overload have made HealthCare.gov, which acts as Obamacare’s shopping portal for Ohio and 35 other states, practically unusable for most Americans since the website launched on Oct. 1.

Ohio’s prison agency reassigned the warden and second-in-command at the Correctional Reception Center weeks after Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro was found dead in his cell.

A 20-year-old woman is expected to recover after her car crashed into a Winton Hills building while she overdosed on heroin, according to Cincinnati police.

Cincinnati is the only Ohio city to make Livability.com’s top 100 places to live.

Headline: “Bad sperm? Drop the bacon.”

A new study argues ancient climate change led early humans to adapt and evolve.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.16.2013
Posted In: News, Homelessness, Courts at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
county courthouse

Homeless Sue County Over Courthouse Eviction Policy

Advocates say tactic focuses on the wrong problem

Homeless advocates gathered in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday to speak out against the county sheriff’s attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center with the threat of jail time.

The press conference came on the same day that four local homeless filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil’s new policy is cruel and unusual because it punishes people for being homeless.

Major Charmaine McGuffey, head of the Hamilton County Justice Department, says the policy is necessary to address a public health issue. She explains that every morning county officials are forced to clean up urine and feces left by the homeless the night before, and often the county doesn’t have the resources to completely disinfect the areas.

Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says county officials should stop using taxpayer money to address public defecation and focus on the state of the economy. Hes asking locals to tell county officials, “I want my government to invest in jobs and housing, not in pushing people to the margins.”

If the policy remains, Spring says the county could at least compromise and hold enforcement until the winter shelter opens, which would provide another housing opportunity for many of the homeless people who currently rely on county buildings for a safe spot to sleep.

McGuffey says the current timeline for the winter shelter opening — two months — is too much time to wait for what she describes as a public health issue. She says it’s also unclear whether local organizations, which are still gathering funds for the shelter, will have enough money to open it.

At the press conference, Spring was joined by several homeless people who shared their experiences. All the speakers echoed a similar theme: They’re not homeless by choice, and they only sleep on county property because it’s much safer than the alternatives, such as alleys and abandoned buildings.

McGuffey insists no one is trying to demonize homeless people. She says officers try to link homeless people with local human services when possible. Some of that outreach is already underway through trained officers and neighborhood liaisons, and starting next week the county will bring in a trained mental health professional to act as an advocate and outreach coordinator.

But if help can’t be found, McGuffey says officers have to threaten arrest to invoke a sense of immediacy” or homeless people might never leave the properties and the public health issue would go unaddressed.

So far, the sheriff’s office sees the program as successful. Over the past four weeks, it’s brought down the amount of homeless people camping out at the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center each night from 40 to 12, according to McGuffey. She says the reductions exemplify people who were redirected to human services, but there’s no hard evidence showing those people actually got help or whether the reduction is temporary.

Spring says there aren’t enough human services to get all of the city’s homeless help. That, he claims, is the real problem that needs local officials attention.

Over the past decade, City Council fell far short of its funding goal for human services, which aid homeless and low-income Cincinnatians.

Several council candidates, including Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Mike Moroski, say increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget will be a priority for them over the next few years. The increase would represent an improvement, but it would still fall short of the city’s 1.5 percent goal.

Meanwhile, Strategies to End Homelessness aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 over the next five years through an initiative backed by the city and county.

As part of Homelessness Awareness Month, Spring and other advocates will march in support of homeless causes later this month. The march will begin at 3 p.m. on Oct. 26 at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.

The lawsuit:


 
 
by Danny Cross 10.16.2013
Posted In: News, Not-for-profit at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
news1_emerytheater_mpmf2012_amydeaton

Requiem Project Wants UC to Give Up Emery Building

Nonprofit says UC and lessees have failed their charitable purpose

When Mary Emery donated the money to build the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute in 1908, she stipulated that the building would contain an assembly hall available to the public. Her charitable trust has been tasked with ensuring that The Emery Theatre, located in the basement of the building at the corner of Walnut Street and Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine, is used for public performances ever since.

The Requiem Project, a nonprofit organization formed in 2008 to oversee programming and raise money to renovate the century-old theater, says that’s exactly where the University of Cincinnati has failed to fulfill the requirements of overseeing the property, and it is asking the Court of Common Pleas to remove UC from ownership of the building.

The Requiem Project yesterday filed an amendment to its lawsuit against UC and lessees of the property housing the Emery Theatre, arguing that UC and the organizations operating the building have systematically failed their charitable purpose by allowing the theater to fall into disrepair after non-use for so many years.

The suit asks the court to award the Requiem Project the lease under which another nonprofit, the Emery Center Corp. (ECC), is currently operating the theater via a series of subleases from UC. If UC is removed as owner, the building could be overseen by the city or another nonprofit organization and Requiem could sublease from it.

UC assumed control of the building in the 1970s but needed permission to renovate most of it into apartments because of the charitable trust’s requirement that the building continue to serve the community. A 1999 court ruling allowed the development but required all profits to be used to renovate the Emery Theatre. Fourteen years later, the apartment operators say there are multiple mortgages on the property and no profits. 

“The Court should remove UC as owner and trustee of the property, as UC has proved itself an unfit custodian,” the complaint states.

The complaint includes photos of various rundown areas inside the theater with captions such as, “Closed-off bathrooms. UC’s ‘saving’ The Emery” and “UC’s standard of fiduciary ‘care.’”

CityBeat covered the original lawsuit in August here.

The complaint accuses UC, ECC and Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP) — the for-profit company that oversees the building’s apartments of conspiring to breach a 2010 letter of intent that stated ECC would sublease the theater to Requiem on the same terms as ECC is currently operating the theater. Requiem says the binding letter of intent is still valid and gives its organizers the right to a long-term lease that will allow them to raise money while operating the theater.

The Requiem’s cofounders, Tina Manchise and Tara Gordon, maintain in their lawsuit that the ECC and UC are purposely blocking the Requiem from moving forward with their original plan to incrementally update the 1,600-seat theater and allow programming to continue during the process. 

After signing the letter of intent in 2010, the Requiem Project temporarily opened the Emery Theatre in 2011 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Mary Emery’s dedication of the theater and to reintroduce the public to the long-overlooked resource — the theater was modeled after Carnegie Hall in New York City and is considered “acoustically pure.” It was the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1912-36 and has hosted the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Although UC owns the building, it subleases the building to ECALP, which subleases the Emery Theatre to ECC. When contacted by CityBeat in August, UC spokesperson Greg Hand declined to comment, only stating that UC doesn’t have a relationship with the Requiem Project because its only relationship is with ECALP.

ECC informed Requiem in January that it would not renew its management agreement “for no cause,” according to the lawsuit, and then asked Requiem to vacate the building in August.

The complaint also seeks damages related to money Requiem has invested in the theater and losses caused by the August eviction. It is schedule for trial in February.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.16.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Homelessness, Health care at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

First streetcar tracks set, homeless to sue county, Medicaid expansion expected to pass

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.

Cincinnati yesterday laid down the first two streetcar tracks, putting the project on a clear path to completion after years of financial and political hurdles. The $133 million project is now expected to continue its construction phase over the next three years, with a goal of opening to the public on Sept. 15, 2016. City officials, including Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, celebrated the milestone and thanked supporters for remaining committed to the project. Meanwhile, former Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for laying down the tracks instead of delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December. Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.

The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition yesterday announced it’s suing the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department over a new policy that attempts to remove homeless people from courthouse steps with the threat of arrest. The sheriff’s office says it still intends to redirect homeless people to housing and other services, but it told WVXU that clearing out the courthouse is necessary to invoke a “type of immediacy” to encourage homeless residents “to seek housing and a better situation.” Advocates call the policy dangerous and unfair. A press conference will be held later today to discuss the lawsuit.

State Senate President Keith Faber says he expects Gov. John Kasich’s proposal for a two-year, federally funded Medicaid expansion to gain approval from a seven-member legislative oversight panel known as the Controlling Board. Faber, a Republican who opposes the expansion, says it’s now time for the legislature to consider broader reforms for Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income and disabled Ohioans. After months of wrangling with legislators in his own political party to approve the expansion, Kasich, a Republican, on Friday announced he would bypass the legislature and instead ask the Controlling Board to approve federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans for two years. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Mayor Mallory says the Millenium Hotel’s owners agreed to conduct a feasibility study to see what kind of renovations the market will support for the hotel. Mallory told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the agreement is the first sign of progress since discussions about overhauling the shabby hotel began.

To tackle concerns about second-hand smoking, one state senator proposed a bill that would ban smoking in a car when a young child is present. It’s the second time in two years State Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) introduced the bill.

Allegiant Air will offer low fares to fly to Florida from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), ending months of speculation over whether the airline would pick CVG or Lunken Airport.

A state audit released on Tuesday found a local water worker was paid $437 in 2001 for work that wasn’t done.

Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel was named the No. 1 hotel in the country and tied for No. 11 in the world in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Scientists found a way to block the dopamine rush associated with THC and make marijuana un-fun to help people with a psychological dependence on the drug.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.15.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Mayor at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

City Sets First Streetcar Tracks

Project moves forward despite political and financial hurdles

Standing in front of roughly 40 supporters, city leaders gave the order on Tuesday to lay down the first two streetcar tracks.

The milestone has been years in the making for the $133 million streetcar project — ever since City Council approved the streetcar plan in 2008 and the project broke ground in February 2012.

“This is another great day in our great city,” proclaimed Mayor Mark Mallory, a major proponent of the streetcar. “This is the project that will not stop.”

Political and financial hurdles snared the massive project in the past five years, but city officials say the construction phase is so far within budget and on time, putting it on track to open to the public on Sept. 15, 2016.

Until then, City Manager Milton Dohoney asked for patience as construction progresses.

But not everyone was happy with the milestone. Ex-Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for not delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December.

“The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people of Cincinnati from the beginning,” Cranley said in a statement. “To lay track for a project that can’t be completed for three years right before an election that will serve as a referendum on the project is a slap in face to the voters.”

Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.

Multiple streetcar supporters at the event told CityBeat that Cranley’s demands are ridiculous. They say that delaying a project with contractual obligations and deadlines for two months because of a political campaign would cripple the city’s ability to take on future projects as weary contractors question the city’s commitments.

Streetcar supporters back the project as both another option for public transit and an economic development driver. Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the Over-the-Rhine and downtown loop will produce a three-to-one return on investment.

Opponents say the project is too costly. They argue the project forced the city to raise property taxes and forgo other capital projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 75 and Martin Luther King Drive.

The project already went through two referendums in 2009 and 2011 in which voters effectively approved the streetcar.

Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in federal funds from the project in 2011 after he won the 2010 gubernatorial election against former Gov. Ted Strickland, whose administration allocated the money to the streetcar.

Earlier in 2013, City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap after construction bids for the project came in higher than expected.

Despite the hurdles, city leaders remain committed to the project. They estimate the first section of the track — on Elm Street between 12th and Henry streets — will be finished in January 2014.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.15.2013
Posted In: News, Unions, 2013 Election, Streetcar at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar track arrives, thousands to get new ballots, "right to work" supporters aim for 2014

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.

City leaders will host an event today to lay down the first streetcar track. The event will take place at 11 a.m. near Music Hall at Elm and 12th streets. The moment has been years in the making for Cincinnati, which continued pursuing the streetcar project through two referendums, Gov. John Kasich’s decision to pull $52 million from the project and a separate $17.4 million budget gap. Meanwhile, ex-Councilman John Cranley, citing costs, says he would cancel the project if he wins the mayoral election against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls on Nov. 5, even though canceling at this point could cost more than completing the project.

More than 3,000 Cincinnatians who already voted early will get new ballots in the mail after an Ohio Supreme Court decision forced the Hamilton County Board of Elections to change the ballot language for Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system. Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, says the old ballots will at least count for every candidate and issue except Issue 4, but the 3,000-plus voters could have to refile their ballots to have their votes counted on the controversial pension issue. The board will make the final decision on whether to count the old votes for or against Issue 4 after it hears from state officials and reviews election law, Krisel says.

Supporters of a type of anti-union law infamously dubbed “right to work” say they’re gathering petitions to get the issue on the ballot in 2014. The anti-union proposal wouldn’t ban unions, but it would significantly weaken them by banning agreements between companies and unions that mandate union membership for employees and allow unions to collect dues and fees from nonunion members. The proposal first lost in Ohio in 1958, and it’s been a “flashpoint” for union politics ever since, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Cranley says he’d pick a Democrat as his vice mayor if elected to office. The announcement came on the same day a group of Democratic ward chairs pressured him to announce he’d pick a Democrat as his vice mayor. It was previously rumored that Cranley would choose Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman over any of the Democrats on City Council. The news is the second time in a week Cranley attempted to rebuke the idea that he’s the conservative alternative to Qualls. Previously, Cranley told CityBeat he doesn’t want and would reject an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group with a history of anti-gay causes.

In a 3-1 vote, the Hamilton County Board of Elections decided to keep Randy Simes, the pro-streetcar founder of UrbanCincy.com, on the local voter rolls. Tea party groups contested Simes’ ability to vote in Cincinnati because he’s currently on assignment in South Korea and they believed he lived in Chicago when he voted in the Sept. 10 mayoral primary. But Simes says he intends to return to Cincinnati once he completes his assignment in South Korea, leading election officials to conclude that the case is similar to when Procter & Gamble or General Electric employees work abroad but retain their right to vote in Cincinnati. Simes’ supporters said the whole case reeked of politics; the tea party groups behind the charges oppose Qualls for mayor, who Simes openly supports.

Cincinnati yesterday broke ground on its new police headquarters in District 3, which covers East Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Lower Price Hill, Millvale, North Fairmount, Riverside, Roll Hill, Sayler Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, South Fairmount, West Price Hill and Westwood on the West Side.

WCPO will host a mayoral candidate debate between Qualls and Cranley tonight at 7 p.m. Submit questions for the candidates here.

The Cincinnati Enquirer yesterday hosted an online chat with streetcar project executive John Deatrick. Check out the replay here.

Mercy Health hopes to sell two hospitals to consolidate its medical services on the West Side of Cincinnati.

Headline: “Man grabs attacking black bear’s tongue.”

Here’s an army robot firing a machine gun:

 
 
by German Lopez 10.14.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, 2013 Election at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
tea party pensions

Thousands of Early Voters to Get New Ballots

Ohio Supreme Court forces board to change ballot language for pension amendment

More than 3,000 Cincinnatians who already voted early will get new ballots in the mail after an Ohio Supreme Court decision forced the Hamilton County Board of Elections to change the ballot language for Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system.

It remains unclear whether the early voters, who represent roughly 1.5 percent of registered Cincinnati voters, will have their old votes for or against Issue 4 counted if they fail to send in a new ballot with the new language. The board will decide on that issue after hearing back from state officials and reviewing election law, according to Sally Krisel, deputy director of Hamilton County Board of Elections.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Oct. 10 upheld most of the ballot language for Issue 4, including portions that claim the amendment could lead to higher taxes and cut city services. But the court also ordered the Board of Elections to add language describing how much Cincinnati can contribute to retirement accounts under the new system and how the amendment will affect future retirees.

The court’s decision came after the Board of Elections received more than 3,000 ballots from early voters. Those voters will now get new ballots with revised language for Issue 4.

Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the tea party group behind Issue 4, sued the Board of Elections to get the ballot language changed. The organization complained that the ballot language included speculation not included in the actual city charter amendment, but the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the language to remain.

Krisel says the original ballot language was suggested by the city, approved by the board and signed off by Ohio’s secretary of state.

Although the Ohio Supreme Court asked the board to add new sections, Krisel notes the additions have very little to do with the tax and spending portions that led Cincinnati for Pension Reform to sue in the first place. The court’s ruling instead took issue with how the board used its discretion on other issues.

If approved by voters, the charter amendment would move future city employees into individual retirement accounts similar to 401k plans that are common in the private sector. Currently, the city pools pension funds into a public system and manages the investments through an independent board.

City officials and other opponents of Issue 4 argue the amendment could increase costs and cut benefits for city employees. Both the concerns were acknowledged in a Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute, even though the think tank actually backs Issue 4.

Supporters of Issue 4 argue it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability, which reached $862 million in 2013 after the city underfunded the pension system for years and economic downturns shrunk investments financing the system. Moody’s named the liability as one of the reasons it downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating.

City officials acknowledge the enormous financial problems posed by the unfunded pension liability, but they say it would be better to make reforms within the system instead of scrapping it altogether.

City Council passed reforms in 2011 that address future costs, and council is expected to take up reforms that address the unfunded liability after the November election, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat.

Voters will make the final decision on Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.14.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Health care, Commissioners at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Governor bypasses legislature, voter turnout historically low, museum price tag criticized

Gov. John Kasich will not look to the full legislature to expand Medicaid and is instead asking a seven-member legislative oversight panel to consider using federal funds for the next two years to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The Controlling Board, which is made up of one Kasich appointee, four Republican legislators and two Democratic legislators, will make its decision on Oct. 21. The expansion would allow Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program, to cover all Ohioans up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Cincinnati’s 2013 mayoral and City Council elections may be on track for the lowest ever voter turnout. As of Friday, the Hamilton County Board of Elections had processed 3,173 absentee ballot applications in Cincinnati. At the same point in 2011, the board had processed 8,964 applications in the city. The numbers come just one month after a measly 5.68 percent of voters cast a ballot in the mayoral primary election, much lower than the mayoral primaries held on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and 2005.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann acknowledges Union Terminal is in need of repairs, but he says the Museum Center must lower the estimated $180 million price tag on the project. “These are great facilities, but we don't have an unlimited amount of dollars, and I think taxpayers expect us to view their tax dollars in that way. I think that number for the Museum Center is too high right now. I've encouraged them to bring that number way down for (county commissioners) to consider having the property tax payers of this county pay for it,” Hartmann said.

Hamilton County judges say witness intimidation is on the rise, which could be making it more difficult to put criminals in prison. Judges are so concerned that they banned cellphones from their courtrooms after some residents used the devices to take pictures of witnesses and showed the photos in neighborhoods as an intimidation tactic, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Now, some witnesses are refusing to testify even when threatened with jail. To them, the threat of violent crime is so real that some jail time makes more sense in comparison.

City officials plan to break ground today for a new police station for District 3 on the west side of Cincinnati. The district serves East Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Lower Price Hill, Millvale, North Fairmount, Riverside, Roll Hill, Sayler Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, South Fairmount, West Price Hill and Westwood.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Ohio EPA to explain in writing why a proposed permit for Murray Energy’s coal slurry project doesn’t include certain pollution limits. Without the restrictions on specific toxic gases, the U.S. EPA could reject the project’s permit. Former Ohio EPA Surface Water Division Chief George Elmaraghy previously said his call to adhere to pollution limits for coal companies led the Kasich administration to fire him.

Part of Ohio’s electronic food stamp system temporarily shut down on Saturday after a glitch cropped up at Xerox, the company that handles the electronic benefit system. The partial shutdown affected 16 other states as well.

StateImpact Ohio recommends “eight must-read posts” on Ohio’s new Common Core education standards.

Ohio gas prices increased this week, edging toward the U.S. average.

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble appeared in Reuters’ list of top 100 innovators for the third year in a row.

Popular Science hosts an in-depth look at what it will take to find life outside of Earth. Hint: It requires more funding and public support.

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.11.2013
Posted In: News, Health care at 12:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Governor Bypasses Legislature for Medicaid Expansion

Legislative panel to consider expanding eligibility

After months of wrangling with legislators from his own political party to support the federally funded Medicaid expansion, Republican Gov. John Kasich decided to bypass the legislature and instead ask a seven-member legislative oversight panel to consider expanding Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans.

Kasich’s decision to go through the Controlling Board means he no longer requires a vote in the Ohio House and Senate to take on the expansion. The choice is instead left to the seven members of the panel: one Kasich appointee, four Republican legislators and two Democratic legislators.

For most of the year, Kasich has been lobbying Republican legislators, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, to approve the expansion. But Republican legislators refused, citing concerns about the federal government’s involvement in the health care system and fears that the federal government can’t afford the expansion.

Meanwhile, Democrats, in a rare alliance with a Republican governor, applauded Kasich for taking up a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Kasich’s administration initiated the alternative route to expansion on Sept. 26, when Ohio’s Medicaid director submitted a plan to the federal government to expand Medicaid eligibility. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday approved the plan.

Following federal approval, Ohio’s Medicaid director on Friday submitted a request to the Controlling Board to take up the expansion for two years. The board will make its decision on Oct. 21.

The expansion would allow Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program, to cover anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less.

The expansion is necessary to fill what officials call a “coverage gap.” Currently, parents with incomes between 90 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level and childless adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level don’t qualify for either Obamacare’s tax credits or Medicaid.

The expansion would be financed with mostly federal funds. Under Obamacare, the federal government pays for the entire expansion through 2016. Afterward, the federal contribution is phased down and indefinitely held at 90 percent of the expansion’s total costs.

In comparison, the federal government’s 2013 contribution to Ohio’s Medicaid program was nearly 64 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans throughout the next decade.

This story was updated with more information.

 
 

 

 

 
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