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by German Lopez 10.07.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar at 03:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
streetcar

CAF Unveils Cincinnati Streetcar Renderings

Spanish company hired by city to design, build cars

The Cincinnati streetcar took another step forward on Monday when car builder CAF USA unveiled renderings for the $133 million project.

The city has hired CAF to supply five cars. The latest details show the cars will have four doors on each side and be capable of moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around the streetcar easier.

CAF, which is based in Spain, has supplied cars for a few other U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, Houston and Sacramento, Calif.

John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August.

Unlike most other streetcars around the world, the Cincinnati cars are particularly tuned to handle sharp turns, according to Deatrick. That’s because the city didn’t want to expand roads and knock down buildings just to accommodate the transit network.

Deatrick says the true test for the cars will come once they’re shipped and tested on a completed Over-the-Rhine loop in June 2015. The streetcar is set to open for use on Sept. 15, 2016.

Check out the renderings here.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.07.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Commissioners, Budget at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Shutdown continues, council candidates meet at forum, county considers sales tax hike

Reminder: Today is the last day to register to vote in the 2013 mayoral and City Council elections. Since early voting is currently underway, it’s possible to register and vote on the same day. Get a registration form here and find out when and where to vote here.

The federal government shutdown is closing in on its second week. The shutdown has forced some services in Cincinnati to seriously cut back, ranging from Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety inspections to small business loans. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in further detail here.

City Council candidates met at a forum on Oct. 5 to discuss their different visions for the city’s future. The candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council’s goals since 2004. The forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area. Check out CityBeat’s candidate-by-candidate breakdown of the forum here.

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman plans to propose a quarter-cent hike of the county sales tax to pay for lower property taxes, the elimination of permit and inspection fees paid by businesses, or the construction of a new coroner’s lab and addition of nearly 300 jail beds, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s sales tax is currently 6.75 percent, which is lower than 65 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Sigman says the plan would refocus the county and allow it “to transition from a posture of where to cut to where to invest.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach agreed to pay more than $1,200 to dismiss a lawsuit from an anti-tax group that would have cost the city $30,000. Seelbach’s payment reimburses the city for a trip he took to Washington, D.C., to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting Cincinnati’s LGBT community. City officials said the trip also helped Seelbach market Cincinnati and learn what other cities are doing to attract and retain LGBT individuals. The lawsuit was threatened by the hyper-conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which claims to protect taxpayers from government over-spending and high taxes but simultaneously forces the city to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight off lawsuits.

Starting today, residents must use city-delivered trash carts if they want their garbage picked up. To save space in the carts, city officials are advising recycling. If city workers didn’t deliver a trash cart to your home, contact them here.

A bill in the Ohio legislature would ban licensed counselors from attempting to change a youth’s sexual orientation. The practice, known as “conversion therapy,” is widely perceived as unscientific and psychologically damaging and demeaning. California and New Jersey banned conversion therapies in the past year.

Ohio’s legislative leaders on Friday promised to make a Medicaid overhaul a focus of the ongoing fall session. It’s so far unclear what exactly the overhaul will involve. Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature has refused to take up a federally funded Medicaid expansion, which would expand eligibility for the federal-state health care program to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio estimates the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans, and it’s supported by Gov. John Kasich. But Republican legislators are skeptical of expanding a government-run health care program and claim the federal government wouldn’t be able to meet its obligations to the program, even though the federal government has met its payments since Medicaid was created in 1965.

Although insurance plans in Obamacare’s online marketplace (HealthCare.gov) offer lower premiums, the reduced prices come with less options for doctors and hospitals. But supporters argue some health care coverage is better than no health care coverage.

The Ohio branch of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, today announced a slate of Democratic endorsements for state offices, including Ed FitzGerald for governor, David Pepper for attorney general, Nina Turner for secretary of state, Connie Pillich for treasurer and John Patrick Carney for auditor.

A registry helps connect University of Cincinnati Medical Center researchers with people with a personal or family history of breast cancer. About 5,600 people are currently on the list, which researchers can tap into to collect data or solicit individuals for studies.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is investing its single largest contribution ever on treatments for mental health and behavioral issues.

Ohio gas prices dipped further this week.

A grandfather chastised his daughter in a letter for kicking out his gay grandson: “He was born this way and didn't choose it more than he being left-handed. You, however, have made a choice of being hurtful, narrow-minded and backward. So while we are in the business of disowning children, I think I'll take this moment to say goodbye to you.”

Designing an anti-poaching drone could earn someone $25,000.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.06.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, City Council at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Council Candidates Agree to Support All Neighborhoods

Eighteen of 21 candidates participated in Oct. 5 forum

Just one month before voters pick nine council members at the ballot box on Nov. 5, 18 of 21 City Council candidates on Oct. 5 participated at a candidate forum that covered issues ranging from better supporting low-income Cincinnatians to expanding downtown's growth to all 52 neighborhoods.

During the event, the candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council's goals since 2004.

The three City Council candidates not in attendance were Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman and Independent challenger Tim Dornbusch. The absences prompted forum moderator Kathy Wilson, who's also a columnist at CityBeat, to remind the audience that "a vote is a precious thing" and candidates should work to earn support by engaging the public.

Councilman Chris Seelbach and challenger David Mann, both Democrats, had surrogates stand in for them. Seelbach was attending a wedding, and Mann was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his family.

The forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area.

Here are the highlights from the 18 participating candidates, in order of their appearance:

Wendell Young (Democrat, incumbent): Young said Cincinnati should put basic services and public safety first, but he added that the city should also help address "quality of life issues" such as providing "world-class parks." He also said Cincinnati needs to structurally balance its budget, which has relied on one-time funding sources since at least 2001, and make further adjustments to the underfunded pension system. Young also explained that the city needs to strengthen its partnerships with local organizations to help combat homelessness, affordable housing, child poverty and infant mortality.

Laure Quinlivan (Democrat, incumbent): Quinlivan proudly pointed out she's the "only elected mom" on City Council. She said her goal is to make Cincinnati "cleaner, greener and smarter" by focusing on population and job growth and thriving neighborhoods. To spur such growth, Quinlivan claimed the city needs the streetcar project and more bike and hike trails, both of which she argued will attract more young adults to Cincinnati. Unlike other candidates, Quinlivan publicly supported potentially "rightsizing" — or cutting — Cincinnati's police and fire departments to structurally balance the budget. She also said the city should provide more options for health insurance to city employees so they don't all get a so-called "Cadillac plan" that's expensive for the city.

P.G. Sittenfeld (Democrat, incumbent): Sittenfeld touted downtown and Over-the-Rhine's turnaround as a model for economic growth that Cincinnati should expand to all neighborhoods. He argued the model is what attracts companies like Pure Romance to Cincinnati, as the company mentioned the city's recent urban growth as one reason it decided to stay here. (Of course, the nearly $699,000 in tax incentives over 10 years probably help as well.) When asked about his opposition to the current streetcar project, Sittenfeld said the current project is fiscally irresponsible because of its previous budget problems, which City Council fixed in June, and reduction in funding from the state government, which forced the city to pick up more of the funding share. Sittenfeld said his past two years on council were a success, but he added, "I'm not done yet."

Amy Murray (Republican and Charterite, challenger): Murray said her campaign is focused on creating a fiscally sound city by structurally balancing the budget and fixing the underfunded pension system. But she said she would do both without increasing taxes, which could force the city to cut services and retirement benefits. When asked about her opposition in 2011 to extending city employee benefits to LGBT spouses, Murray said she never had a problem with extending the benefits to LGBT individuals — which City Council did in 2012 — but was simply acknowledging that providing the extra benefits requires making cuts elsewhere to balance the budget. (Opponents previously said the issue should be about equality and fairness, not costs.)

Vanessa White (Charterite, challenger): White said her main goals are reducing poverty in Cincinnati, providing more education opportunities to residents and expanding citizen access to city officials. When specifying her goals for education, White said Cincinnati needs to do a better job incentivizing internships for youth at local businesses and touted the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which seeks to expand preschool education opportunities in Cincinnati. To increase transparency and outreach, White said she would assign City Hall staffers to answer citizens' questions after council meetings.

Michelle Dillingham (Democrat, challenger): Dillingham said the role of local government is to spur growth in abandoned areas that have been failed by the private sector. But to successfully do this, she said the city needs to engage and reach out to its citizens more often. As an example, she cited the development of an affordable housing complex in Avondale, which has been snared by sudden public outcry from a neighborhood group. Dillingham said supporting affordable housing is also more than just providing expanded services; she explained that she supports creating more jobs that would provide a living wage, which would then let more locals own or rent a home without exceeding 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs. At the end, Dillingham touted her 10-point plan to give more Cincinnatians "a seat at the table" and make the city government more inclusive.

Mike Moroski (Independent, challenger): Moroski said he intends to focus on growing Cincinnati's population, reducing re-entry into the criminal justice system and lowering child poverty. He also touted support for development projects and infrastructure, including the streetcar project. At the same time, Moroski argued some development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown is pricing low-income people out of the city's booming areas — an issue he would like to address. Moroski also said he backs efforts to increase Cincinnati's human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years. When asked about his lack of government experience, Moroski said he sees it as a "gift" and "blessing" that's given him a fresh, outside perspective. "I will be the voice for the voiceless," he said.

Melissa Wegman (Republican, challenger): Wegman opened by showing off her business credentials and neighborhood advocacy. When asked what she means when she says she'll bring a "business perspective" to council, she said she would like to see the city put more support toward small businesses. In particular, Wegman said underserved neighborhoods need more city help and funding. She also told panelists that she opposes Issue 4, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot and would semi-privatize Cincinnati's pension system.

Kevin Flynn (Charterite, challenger): Flynn said Cincinnati's budget problems are by far the most important issues facing the city, but he also trumpeted the local government's lack of transparency and engagement as major issues. He explained he's particularly opposed to the mayor's pocket veto, which allows the mayor to entirely dictate what legislation is voted on by council and potentially block any legislation he or she disagrees with. Flynn said he would like to see more citizen engagement on budget issues and more open debate between council members during public meetings.

Greg Landsman (Democrat and Charterite, challenger): Landsman stated his focus is on population, job and revenue growth, which could help him achieve his goal of a structurally balanced budget. He said the city needs to do more to attract and retain young people. Although Landsman acknowledges the city's progress, he said Cincinnati is undergoing a "tale of two cities" in which some neighborhoods prosper and others flounder. Landsman also suggested increasing human services to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years and improving city management in other areas, including the budget, pension system and roads.

Kevin Johnson (Independent, challenger): Johnson said the role of government should be to balance out the private sector and provide a safety net for those who fall through the system. He said the city needs to do more to tackle income inequality by "investing in people." Johnson said he supports recent efforts to create a land bank system for struggling neighborhoods, which aim to increase homeownership by making it more affordable and accessible. Johnson also claimed that people are tired of party politics and would like to see more transparency in government.

David Mann (Democrat and Charterite, challenger), represented by campaign manager John Juech: Speaking for Mann, Juech said his candidate got into the campaign to address Cincinnati's budget problems. Juech explained Mann will leave "all options on the table," whether it's revenue increases or service cuts, to structurally balance the budget. When asked whether Mann, who previously served 18 years on council, really deserves more time in the local government, Juech explained that Mann's experience makes him a "walking Cincinnati historian." He also argued that Mann has great relationships with county officials, particularly Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, that could make it easier to jointly manage some city services in a way that would drive down costs.

Yvette Simpson (Democrat and Charterite, incumbent): Simpson said she measures progress in Cincinnati by "how well the least of us do," which drove her to start the Cincinnati Youth Commission and other partnerships that help connect the city's youth to jobs. Although Simpson said she supports boosting funding to human services and building better relationships with human services agencies, she said providing more funding is hindered by a "simple math problem" and the city needs to balance its budget before it can provide more and better services. Simpson also said the city could and should do a better job engaging the public with big ideas.

Chris Seelbach (Democrat, incumbent), represented by legislative director Jon Harmon: Reading a statement from Seelbach, Harmon said Cincinnati is on the rise but still needs to improve in various areas. In particular, he said the city needs to do a better job funding all 52 neighborhoods, providing more opportunities for low-income Cincinnatians and eventually increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget. Harmon also touted City Council's progress with infrastructure issues, including increased road paving and bridge funding. By addressing these issues and occasionally making "tough choices," Harmon said Seelbach hopes to continue growing the city.

Pam Thomas (Democrat, incumbent): Thomas claimed she wants local government to be open, honest and transparent. She said the city's progress should be gauged through education metrics, particularly local graduation rates and, starting next year, the city's success in meeting state-mandated third-grade reading proficiency standards. Thomas replaced her husband on council after she was appointed by him and other council members earlier in 2013, but Thomas said that, unlike him, she opposes the current streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to fund development projects and help balance the budget.

Shawn Butler (Democrat, challenger): To Butler, progress means reducing income inequality, creating jobs and growing the city's population. Although Butler, who is Mayor Mark Mallory's director of community affairs, said he's generally supportive of the mayor's policies, he said the city could do a better job selling itself and reaching out to the business community. Butler also touted his experience, particularly how he's gone through eight budget cycles during his time with the mayor. To structurally balance the budget, Butler said he wouldn't increase the earnings tax and would instead pursue other options, such as tapping into money from the parking plan and cutting services.

Angela Beamon (Independent, challenger): Beamon said she would ensure city services are spread out to all citizens and neighborhoods. She suggested struggling neighborhoods are underserved — not "underperforming," a term she doesn't adhere to — and the city should do more to reach out to them. Beamon also stood firm on her opposition to the streetcar project. Instead of funding the streetcar, she said city resources should go toward promoting business ownership and services that help the underprivileged.

Sam Malone (Republican, challenger): Malone said his goal is to make all of Cincinnati's neighborhoods thrive with more businesses. He said since he lost his re-election to City Council in 2005, he's managed a small business and learned how it feels to be on the other side of the government-business relationship. Malone said his campaign slogan ("I love everybody, I come in peace") best exemplifies how he's led his life. When asked about a 2005 incident in which he disciplined his son with a belt, Malone claimed he's "running on issues" and his parenting tactics were deemed lawful by a court.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 10.04.2013
Posted In: News, COAST, City Council, Equality, LGBT, LGBT Issues, Taxes at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Seelbach: I'll Pay $1,200 to Dismiss COAST Lawsuit

Defending suit would cost the city $30,000, says councilman

Today's an expensive day for Councilman Chris Seelbach.

That's because Seelbach is writing a check today for  $1,218.59 to the city of Cincinnati to get local hyper-conservative "watchdog" group COAST to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., to accept an award for instigating positive change was an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

As a refresher, we're talking about the trip when Seelbach was one of 10 community leaders around the nation selected to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting the city's LGBT community — particularly through his efforts to extend equal partner health insurance to all city employees, create an LGBT liaison in the city's fire and police departments and requiring anyone accepting city funding to follow a non-discrimination policy a national recognition of championing Cincinnati's progression toward social justice in the past few years.

In an email from his campaign, he says that the city's law department wants to move forward with the lawsuit because the allegations are so frivolous, but Seelbach decided to just use his own personal money to prevent the city from having to spend close to $30,000 of the same taxpayer money COAST is complaining about to prove that they're wrong.

On Aug. 28, Chris Finney, chief crusader at COAST, sent a letter to the office of the city solicitor alleging that the city had committed a "misapplication of corporate funds" by sponsoring Chris Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., complaining that Seelbach and his staffers "upgraded" their hotel rooms.

Curp says that the rooms weren't only never upgraded — Seelbach and his staffers shared rooms — but that the councilman didn't even request reimbursement for several other eligible expense, like parking, meals and taxi fares — and flew out of Louisville, Ky., to take advantage of cheaper airfare.

In City Solicitor John Curp's five-page response to Finney, he refutes every claim made by COAST and ends the letter by citing an Ohio Supreme Court case that effectively ruled that private citizens (like Chris Finney and all the other COASTers) constantly contesting official acts and expenditures doesn't benefit the city and should only be allowed when it could cause serious public injury if ignored. Here's Curp's full response:

Solicitor Response - Champion of Change by chrisseelbach1



In Seelbach's campaign email, he chocks the lawsuit up to another one of COAST's attacks to continue their thinly veiled bigotry-fueled crusade against Seelbach and Cincinnati's LGBT community as a whole. "You can bet they never would have asked a City Councilmember to pay for a trip to the White House to celebrate Cincinnati if it weren't for the connection to Harvey Milk and the LGBT community."

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 10.04.2013
 
 
internet-cafe

Morning News and Stuff

Internet cafe ban in effect, Ohio's revised execution policy, shutdown discounts

Happy Government Shutdown. Check out CityBeat's coverage here.

Opponents of H.B. 7, a new law that will enforce Ohio's ban on Internet cafes that promote illegal gambling operation, failed to gather enough signatures for a referendum. The law, signed by Gov. John Kasich on June 4, goes into effect today.

Fountain Square's new locally-owned, independent bookstore and cafe, The Booksellers, hosts its grand opening today and Saturday. Read CityBeat's interview with Booksellers owner and founder of Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Neil Van Uum, here.

Entertainment Group 4EG is offering "government shutdown discounts" to all federal workers who can produce a government ID at its locations: Get $2 domestic beers at Igby's, The Lackman, Righteous Room, Pavilion, Sandbar, The Stand, St. Clair and Tap & Go, plus discounted appetizers at its Keystone Bar & Grill locations.

Ohio's
revised execution policy maintains use of pentobarbital in its death-penalty protocol, but now allows the state to secure the drug from compounding pharmacies. The state has currently been securing the drug, in short supply all across the country, from manufacturers and distributors. The revisions, however, don't address the shortage of the drug, which the state claimed it ran out of after using it to administer Harry Mitts Jr.'s exuection on Sept. 25.

Ten thousand Pacific walruses have beached themselves on a remote island off Alaska's northwest coast, unable to find sea ice as the result of climate change.

Fox News is being sued for broadcasting footage of an Arizona man shoot himself in the head on live air at the end of a car case on Sept. 28, 2012.

Dusty Baker has been canned from his position as Reds manager three days after his team lost the National League Wild Card game to the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Mariam Carey, the dental hygienist from Stamford, Conn., who was killed outside the Capitol building yesterday in a high-speed police car chase after she allegedly tried to ram the White House gates, suffered from post-partum depression. 

Here are the six best science lessons we've learned from Walter White.

Have any questions for City Council candidates? It's your last chance to submit them here and we may choose your questions at tomorrow's candidate forum at 7 p.m. at the Greenwich in Walnut Hills.

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 10.03.2013
 
 
city hall

City Offers Another Concession on MSD Contracting Rules

County shut down $3.2 billion MSD project in response to city rules

Councilman Chris Seelbach on Oct. 3 announced another concession in the ongoing city-county dispute over contracting rules for the jointly operated Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).

At the heart of the issue is a federal mandate requiring Cincinnati to retrofit and revamp its sewer system. The project is estimated to cost $3.2 billion over 15 years, making it the largest infrastructure undertaking in the city’s history.

But Hamilton County commissioners have put most of the project on hold until the county resolves its conflict with City Council, which unanimously passed in June 2012 and modified in May “responsible bidder” rules that dictate how MSD contractors should train their employees.

Critics say the law’s apprenticeship program and pre-apprenticeship fund requirements put too much of a burden on nonunion businesses. Supporters claim the requirements help create local jobs and train local workers.

The city law requires bidders to follow specific standards for apprenticeship programs, which are used by unionized and nonunion businesses to teach an employee in a certain craft, such as plumbing or construction. It also asks contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help teach applicants in different crafts.

The concession announced on Oct. 3 would replace a mandate with an incentive program.

The mandate tasked contract bidders to prove their apprenticeship programs have graduated at least one person a year for the five previous years.

The incentive program would strip the mandate and replace it with “bid credits,” which would essentially give a small advantage to bidders who prove their apprenticeship programs are graduating employees. That advantage would be weighed along with many other factors that go into the city’s evaluation of bidders.

Seelbach says the concession will be the sixth the city has given to the county, compared to the county’s single concession.

The city has already added several exemptions to its rules, including one for small businesses and another for all contracts under $400,000, which make up half of MSD contracts. The city also previously loosened safety training requirements and other apprenticeship rules.

Meanwhile, the county has merely agreed to require state-certified apprenticeship programs, although with no specific standards like the city’s.

The five-year graduation requirement was the biggest sticking point in the city-county dispute. It’s now up to commissioners to decide whether the concession is enough to let MSD work go forward. If not, the dispute could end up in court as the federal government demands its mandate be met.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 10.03.2013
Posted In: News, Not-for-profit, Health care, Health at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Ohio House Votes to Authorize Syringe-Exchange Programs

House overwhelmingly approves loosening restrictions on establishing SEPs

The Ohio House yesterday offered overwhelming support for a bill that would authorize local health boards across the state to establish syringe-exchange programs with fewer roadblocks, which could pave the way for Cincinnati to establish myriad programs across its neighborhoods most afflicted by intravenous drug use and bloodborne pathogens.  

House Bill 92, sponsored jointly by Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Rep. Barbara Sears (R-Sylvania), would remove a restriction that stipulates programs can only be implemented when a local health emergency has been declared and lays out mandates for programs to protect the rights and educate the intravenous drug users who take advantage of the programs. 

Syringe exchange programs have been the privy to significant controversy; opposers say that offering addicts the tools they need to fuel drug habits ultimately fuels destructive habits and sends the wrong message to drug abusers. 

What’s helped turn the issue non-partisan, however, is overwhelming data supporting claims that the program saves lives. In 2004, the World Health Organization published a study on the effectiveness of syringe programming in reducing HIV/AIDS that 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.” 

Adam Reilly, who is an HIV project manager for a local healthcare provider, says that a syringe exchange program is already in the works for Springdale; the location is expected to open in about a month. He says that project has been seven years in the making because of how entangled efforts to establish the program become in bureaucracy. Establishing a program is particularly laborious, he explains, because it requires citywide cooperation — including law enforcement — which has proven to be a challenge for programs in other states, where police officers are prone to harass participants entering or leaving an exchange facility.

The current bill would essentially take the issue out of the political arena, Reilly says, and thrust the responsibility onto health departments. The city of Cincinnati in 2012 already declared a public health emergency following significant proof of a citywide HIV/Hepatitis C epidemic sourced primarily from heroin abuse.

Cincinnati's now-defunct nonprofit agency STOP AIDS found through focus groups that the majority of intravenous drug users are Caucasian middle-aged males; 145 of 147 study subjects reported using ineffective methods to clean used equipment. Their data estimates that 4,000-6,000 people locally are currently living with HIV/AIDS.

STOP AIDS also estimated that spending $385,000 per year on a syringe exchange program has the potential to save nearly $50 million annually in health costs generated from contracting HIV or HCV infections.

To make the program as effective as possible, Reilly says other exchange programs offer participants assurance in writing that their identities will be protected; the House bill also says that future programs wold be required to encourage drug users to seek medical, mental health or social services, also offer counseling and other educational requirements.

The bill has been assigned to a Senate committee, where it will go through another vote and, if passed, will require Gov. John Kasich's signature to become law. 
 
 
by German Lopez 10.03.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Drugs, Energy at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
tea party pensions

Morning News and Stuff

Pension proposal could reduce benefits, energy bill contested, needle exchanges approved

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.02.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Health, Health care at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Shutdown hurts Ohio workers, infant mortality efforts continue, glitches snare Obamacare

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and we may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

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.

The ongoing federal government shutdown is keeping thousands of Ohioans from going to work. The federal government closed its doors yesterday after House Republicans refused to pass a budget that doesn’t weaken Obamacare and Senate Democrats and the White House insisted on keeping President Barack Obama’s signature health care law intact. Without a budget, non-essential federal government services can’t operate.

As part of a broader campaign to reduce Cincinnatis high infant mortality rate, the city yesterday launched another effort that aims to educate parents in the city’s most afflicted zip codes on proper ways to put their babies to sleep. According to the Cincinnati Health Department, 36 babies died from unsafe sleeping conditions between 2010 and 2011. Cradle Cincinnati plans to help prevent these deaths by reminding parents that babies should always sleep alone, in a crib and on his or her back. The education effort is just one of many to reduce Cincinnati’s infant mortality rates, which in some local zip codes have been worse than rates in third-world countries.

Ohioans who tried to use Obamacare’s online marketplaces on opening day yesterday likely ran into some website errors, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is asking participants for patience as they work out the glitches, which appear to be driven by overwhelming demand. The problems weren’t unexpected, given that software launches are often mired in issues that are later patched up. “We’re building a complicated piece of technology, and hopefully you’ll give us the same slack you give Apple,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters at a Sept. 30 briefing.

Domestic violence arrests in 2012 were down from the previous year, but law enforcement officials say they need more help from lawmakers to bring down the number, which remained above 41,000, even further. Officials claim a law on teen dating violence, which, among other things, allows protective orders on accused abusers who are under 18 years old, has helped, but advocates argue protections need to be strengthened. CityBeat covered the advocates’ efforts in further detail here.

The Ohio Libertarian Party asked lawmakers at a hearing yesterday to loosen restrictions in a bill that seeks to limit ballot access for minor political parties. The bill, which is sponsored by State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), requires minor parties to gather an estimated 100,000 signatures every two years to remain on the ballot, which Libertarians say would be difficult and expensive. Instead, Libertarians would like that provision to require the signatures every four years. Libertarians also asked lawmakers to allow voting thresholds, which give minor parties automatic recognition in Ohio if they get 3 percent or more of the vote, to apply to more than the gubernatorial race. Seitz said he’s open to the changes.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced yesterday that the Bureau of Criminal Investigation exceeded its goal of testing 1,500 rape kits in the program’s first year. In total, the agency has tested 1,585 out of 4,053 submitted kits. The program allows local and state law enforcement to analyze and match DNA evidence to verify criminal allegations. So far, it has led to 505 DNA matches.

Cincinnati could make an offer by the end of the year for a currently unused section of the Wasson Way railroad line that the city plans to convert into a five-mile bike and hike trail.

Three more downtown buildings will house apartments. Although the buildings aren’t directly on the streetcar route, the developer said that public transportation, along with bicycles, will play an important role in promoting the apartments because they won’t have dedicated parking.

The Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council is offering an energy benchmarking toolkit that allows small and medium-sized businesses to see how they can improve their environmental performance.

Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati is the No. 1 hospital for delivering babies in Ohio.

The number of induced abortions in Ohio rose between 2011 and 2012 but ended up at the second lowest levels since 1976, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is putting more than $3 million toward purchasing new vehicles and equipment that should help elderly and disabled residents across the state.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first “artificial pancreas” to help diabetics better monitor and control their insulin levels.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.01.2013
Posted In: News, Health care at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
obamacarefail

First Day of Obamacare Snared by Website Errors

Marketplace website produces waiting periods, errors

Ohioans who tried to obtain health insurance through HealthCare.gov, the online portal for Obamacare’s marketplaces, on its opening day likely ran into a few problems, ranging from delays to problems logging in.

Before logging in, participants typically go through a waiting period that can last up to a few minutes. During this time, a large message pops up that says, “Health Insurance Marketplace: Please wait. We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!”

Following the waiting period, logging in can become its own challenge. After entering a username and password, the screen often flashes a “Downstream Error,” occasionally joined with the incomprehensible code “E501.”

Even if someone manages to get through the issues and log in, another error message can pop up that makes browsing insurance plans impossible.

The problems aren’t necessarily unexpected — new software often launches with glitches that are later patched up — and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is asking participants to be patient.

“We’re building a complicated piece of technology, and hopefully you’ll give us the same slack you give Apple,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters at a Sept. 30 briefing.

Federal officials also caution that Oct. 1 is just one day of the six-month enrollment period, which will last through March. And even if someone did manage to sign up on the first day, none of the insurance plans begin coverage until Jan. 1.

Once the marketplaces do work correctly, officials promise that they will allow Cincinnatians to browse, compare and select from 46 different private insurance plans that range from a “bronze” plan that costs and covers the least to a “platinum” plan that costs and covers the most.

The plans’ raw premiums are also 16 percent lower than the federal government previously projected, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office numbers. An Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while an Ohio family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan. Without the tax credits, the individual will pay $212 a month and the family of four will pay $768 a month.

Participants must make between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level a year, or $11,490 to $45,960 in annual income for an individual, to be eligible for tax credits. Higher income levels will get smaller subsidies; lower income levels will get larger subsidies.

Anyone interested in the marketplaces can browse options and sign up online at HealthCare.gov, by phone at 800-318-2596 or in person at various locations, including community health centers and the Freestore Foodbank.

Updated: Added more details about tax subsidies in Ohio’s marketplaces.

 
 

 

 

 
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