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by German Lopez 02.15.2013
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

GOP questions Medicaid expansion, Qualls' streetcar concerns, council backs efficiency

State legislators, particularly Republicans, have a lot of questions regarding Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion. Legislators are worried the state won’t be able to opt out of the expansion if the federal government reneges its funding promise, raising potential financial hurdles. As part of Obamacare, the federal government pays for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and the share phases down to 90 percent after that. Kasich’s budget includes a trigger — called a “circuit breaker” — in case the federal government ever funds less than currently promised. A study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the Medicaid expansion could insure nearly 500,000 people and generate $1.4 billion by raising revenue and shifting funding burdens from the state to federal government.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a longtime supporter of the streetcar, is getting concerned about some of the problems surrounding the project. In a memo to the city manager, Qualls suggested putting the streetcar project through “intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The memo was in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a setback that could cause further delays or more funding problems.

With Councilman Chris Seelbach’s strong support, City Council passed a resolution urging the state government to maintain its energy efficiency standards. State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the Public Utilities Committee, sent out a memo Feb. 1 that pledged to review the state’s standards, causing much concern among environmental groups.

Tolls for the Brent Spence Bridge could be as low as $2, according to financial consultants involved with the project. The tolls will help pay for the massive rehabilitation project, which gained national attention when President Barack Obama visited Cincinnati to support rebuilding the bridge.

State Democrats and Republicans have some questions about the governor’s Ohio Turnpike plan. Some Democrats are concerned the state government won’t actually freeze toll hikes at the rate of inflation for EZPass users. Others are worried about language in the bill. The plan leverages the Ohio Turnpike to fund a statewide construction program.

The man accused of dumping fracking waste into the Mahoning River in Youngstown was arrested and charged with violating the Clean Water Act.

Dayton wants to help illegal immigrants who are victims of crime. The Dayton City Commission approved a $30,000 contract with a law firm to help potential victims. CityBeat previously covered the recent struggles of children of illegal immigrants in Ohio.

A Dayton Daily News report found Ohio overpays unemployment compensation claims by millions of dollars.

The University of Cincinnati is launching a technology incubator for mobile apps.

In his State of the County address yesterday, Commission President Chris Monzel said Hamilton County is “on the move and getting stronger.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine and officials from other states announced a $29 million settlement with Toyota over the unintended acceleration debacle. Ohio will get $1.7 million from the settlement.

A meteor flew over Russian skies and exploded with the strength of an atomic bomb Friday, causing a sonic blast that shattered windows and injured nearly 1,000 people.

Scientists engineered mice that can’t feel the cold. Certain people on CityBeat’s staff would probably do anything for this superpower, but scientists are probably going to use it to make better pain medication.

 
 
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 10.23.2013
Posted In: News, Jail, Health care, Energy at 09:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Medicaid expansion challenged, jails go uninspected, local senator's energy bill criticized

Republican legislators filed a lawsuit against Ohio’s two-year, federally funded Medicaid expansion after Republican Gov. John Kasich went through the Controlling Board, an obscure seven-member legislative panel, instead of the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate to get approval for the expansion. The lawsuit, filed to the Ohio Supreme Court, claims, “Each representative is disenfranchised in his legislative capacity through the Controlling Board’s exercise of legislative authority.” Kasich put his request to the Controlling Board to bypass the legislature after months of unsuccessfully wrangling legislators in his own party to approve the expansion. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015; if legislators approve the expansion beyond that, the institute says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Meanwhile, some state senators plan to use the savings from the Medicaid expansion to cut taxes. For Ohioans making up to $50,000 a year, the 4-percent income tax cut would mean annual savings of less than $50.

State officials haven’t inspected southwest Ohio jails for five years, which means the jails could be breaking minimum standards set by the state without anyone knowing. The inspections were supposed to occur each year, but a lack of resources, which left only one inspector in the department, forced the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) to stop the practice and instead ask jails to inspect themselves — with limited checks on jails fabricating claims. The inspections are starting back up now that ODRC has a second jail inspector on its staff, but the inspections are announced beforehand, meaning jails can plan for them, and the punishment for failing to meet standards is historically unenforced.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, says he will introduce two amendments to walk back controversial provisions of an even more controversial bill that weakens Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. Critics say the bill would water down and effectively eliminate Ohio’s cost-saving energy standards, but Seitz, who has ties to a national conservative group that opposes energy standards, argues the rules impose too many costs on utility companies. A previous study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found repealing the standards would increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s proposal and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was ethically OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route. The exchange was provided to CityBeat and various media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged ethical violation at an Oct. 22 press conference. But Curp and Nick, who cited two previous opinions from the Ohio Ethics Commission, agreed that Qualls’ financial connection to property values was too indirect and speculative because she only picks up a flat fee for the “arms-length transactions between private parties.” Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential ethical conflict two times before.

A state prison in Toledo is no longer accepting new inmates after reports of increasing violence. The goal is to cut down on the amount of prisoners sharing a cell, ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith told The Associated Press. Smith said the change was already in the works before a recent bout of killings. The facility holds roughly 1,300 prisoners, which is close to capacity.

Former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is heading a state committee created by Gov. Kasich that’s trying to figure out how to curb college costs while improving quality.

Gallup says a majority of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana. CityBeat previously covered legalization and how it could affect Ohio in further detail here.

Women’s breasts apparently age more quickly than the rest of their bodies, according to a new study.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

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by German Lopez 09.09.2013
Posted In: News, Privacy, 2013 Election, Energy at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mikedewine

Morning News and Stuff

Facial recognition program insecure, mayoral primary tomorrow, startup innovates cooking

Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is taking steps to secure Ohio’s facial recognition program against hackers after potential problems were found. The program allows law enforcement and other public officials to use a simple photo to search driver’s license and mugshot databases to get contact information. In the past, officials needed a name or address to search such databases. But the program apparently wasn’t following proper security protocols and lacked typical requirements for passwords, including a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Previously, Gov. John Kasich compared the program’s potential for abuse to breaches of privacy made through federal surveillance programs such as the National Security Agency and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Tomorrow is the day of the mayoral primary, in which voters will decide between Democrat Roxanne Qualls, Democrat John Cranley, Libertarian Jim Berns and Independent Sandra “Queen” Noble. The two winners will move on to a head-to-head face-off on Nov. 5. Currently, Qualls and Cranley are widely seen as the frontrunners. It’s difficult to predict how many people will turn out to vote, but only 21 percent of Cincinnati voters participated in the mayoral primary in 2005.

A Cincinnati entrepreneur is aiming to innovate solar energy through his GoSun solar cooker, which will use solar collectors traditionally seen on solar panels to cook food. Patrick Sherwin launched a Kickstarter campaign for the project on Sept. 5. He says his original interest in solar energy came from a desire to move away from harmful fossil fuels that are warming the planet, and this project gives him a chance to inspire a small cultural shift.

Councilman Chris Seelbach will today introduce new legislation that will help crack down on cellphone theft by making it more difficult to sell stolen devices. The initiative will require the hundreds of dealers who currently buy cellphones second-hand to get licensed with the city and keep full records of the transaction, including a serial number of the device, a photocopy of the seller’s ID and other contact information. Seelbach has likened the requirements to existing regulations for pawn shops. The hope is that cracking down on dealers will make stolen cellphones more difficult to sell and less lucrative to potential thieves.

Four finalists remain in the search for Cincinnati’s new police chief: acting Chief Paul Humphries; Jeffrey Blackwell, deputy chief of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.

Butler County turns away more veterans seeking aid than any county in Ohio. In 2012, veterans asked for help 432 times; they were turned away nearly 40 percent of the time.

Although tax receipts are up, they’re coming in below estimate for the first two months of the new fiscal year. The lower-than-expected revenue could cause deficits in the state budget.

Ohio gas prices are rising toward the national average.

Human babies are apparently hardwired to pay attention to lemurs.

If you’re job searching, remember that a job interview can almost always go much worse:

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014 70 days ago
Posted In: News, Energy, Environment at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

Ohio Ranks No. 8 for Solar Jobs

Solar sector grew by 31 percent between 2012 and 2013

Ohio ranked No. 8 among states for solar jobs in 2013, with solar employment growing to 3,800 from 2,900 over the year, according to the Feb. 11 census report from the Solar Foundation.

Still, the state actually dropped five spots to No. 23 in per-capita rankings, which measure the amount of solar jobs relative to a state’s overall population.

The U.S. solar industry employed more than 142,000 Americans in November, representing an increase of nearly 24,000 over the year, according to the Solar Foundation. At nearly 20 percent growth, the solar sector grew more than 10 times faster than the overall economy, which on average increased employment by 1.9 percent.

Advocacy group Environment Ohio applauded the latest numbers.

“The sun is an unlimited energy source that could provide all of our energy without the air and water pollution associated with coal, oil and gas,” said Christian Adams, state associate at Environment Ohio, in a statement. “This report shows that the solar industry is putting people to work to meet a growing percentage of our energy needs with a pollution-free energy source that has no fuel costs.”

Environment Ohio praised Cincinnati in particular. In 2012, Cincinnati became the first major city in the nation to support 100 percent renewable energy through electric aggregation. Last year, City Council adopted a motion to put solar panels on one in five city rooftops by 2028 and develop new financing programs to support the goal.

In a 2012 report, Environment Ohio found Cincinnati could become the solar capital of the region and lead a boom of solar jobs.

Under a 2008 state law, utility companies must meet benchmarks that require them to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, biomass and solar, and save 22 percent of electricity through new efficiency efforts by 2025.

A 2013 report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found the law will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

Pressured by Akron-based FirstEnergy and the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is currently looking for ways to weaken the renewable energy and efficiency standards. The renewed effort comes after attempts to dismantle the law by State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who often compare Ohio’s energy law to Stalinism, failed to gain support.

Meanwhile, Environment Ohio says the state should actually increase its standards to help combat global warming and boost renewable energy jobs.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.14.2014 69 days ago
Posted In: News, Energy, State Legislature, Health care at 07:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
peter beck

Morning News and Stuff

Local politician faces charges, Ohio boosts solar jobs, Obamacare enrollment improves

State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, now faces 69 felony counts and increasing pressure to resign. Beck is accused of helping mislead investors into putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into an insolvent West Chester startup company and putting some of the funds from the company into his own campaign. Beck says he's innocent, but that hasn't stopped top Ohio Republicans from calling for him to resign to avoid a potential scandal and losing a seat in the Ohio legislature.

Ohio ranked No. 8 in the nation for solar jobs in 2013, with solar employment growing by roughly 31 percent over the year, according to the latest census from the Solar Foundation. The report found that U.S. solar jobs grew 10 times faster than overall employment across the country. Environment Ohio applauded the numbers, praising Cincinnati in particular for its own solar-friendly efforts. But the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is looking into ways to weaken or undo the law that makes many solar projects possible across the state. A report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy indicates that repealing the law could end up costing Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

The federal government reported slightly better enrollment numbers in January for Obamacare's once-troubled website, but Ohio and the nation still fell short of key demographic roles previously perpetuated by the federal government. Specifically, monthly enrollment actually beat projections for the first time since HealthCare.gov launched. But the cumulative amount of young adults signing up through January only reached 25 percent in the country and 21 percent in Ohio — far below the 39 percent goal the White House previously deemed necessary to avoid filling the insurance pool with older, less healthy enrollees who tend to use more resources and drive up costs.

With Obamacare's online marketplaces mostly fixed, some groups are now doubling efforts to get the uninsured, particularly young adults, enrolled. CityBeat interviewed Trey Daly, Ohio state director of one of those groups, here.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about responsible bidder.

Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a Democrat-backed petition that would create a statewide ballot initiative for a Voter Bill of Rights, but proponents of the initiative say they'll come back with tweaked language. In a statement, DeWine said the proposal ran afoul of federal law in two places. Even if DeWine approved the language from a legal standpoint, supporters would still need to gather roughly 385,000 valid signatures before a July deadline to get the issue on the ballot in November. CityBeat covered the Voter Bill of Rights in greater detail here.

Following the large amount of charter school closures last year, State Auditor Dave Yost is launching an investigation into three Ohio charter school sponsors and the Ohio Department of Education.

The Cincinnati area could get 2 inches of snow.

A Ky. auditor says the former finance director of Covington stole nearly $800,000.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes posted pictures of downtown Cincinnati circa 1968 here.

Sam Adams is pouring millions into a Cincinnati brewery.

Grizzly bears could offer a better solution for weight loss.

Watch Dale Hansen, a Texas sports anchor, take on the NFL and Michael Sam’s anti-gay haters:

Video | News | Weather | Sports

Mon Feb 10 20:43:08 PST 2014

Hansen Unplugged: Celebrating our differences

Michael Sam would be the first openly gay player in the NFL; says he knows there will be problems... and they’ve already started. view full article

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by German Lopez 02.19.2014 64 days ago
Posted In: News, Energy, Health, Pensions at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Local infant deaths remain high, pension fixes proposed, Seitz renews anti-efficiency efforts

Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s infant mortality rates dropped to record lows in 2013, but the city and county’s rates of infant deaths remain far above the national average. Over the past five years, the city’s infant mortality rate hit 12.4 deaths per 1,000 live births and the county’s rate reached 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. In comparison, the national average in 2011 was 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. Cradle Cincinnati, a collaborative initiative formed in 2013, pointed to three possible factors to explain the troubling rates: short time between pregnancies, maternal smoking during pregnancy and poor sleeping habits, including deaths that could be easily prevented by ensuring a baby sleeps alone, on his or her back and in a crib.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman yesterday proposed fixes for Cincinnati’s ailing pension system, and the proposal includes a hit to city retirees’ benefits. Unique to Smitherman’s plan is a new $100 million commitment to help shore up the city’s unfunded liability of $870 million, but Smitherman could not say where council would get that much money. Otherwise, the proposal would freeze cost of living increases in the system for three years and reduce future cost of living increases from a 3 percent compounded rate to a 2 percent fixed rate, among other changes. Smitherman hopes to get up-or-down votes on his plan within the next two weeks, even if it requires splitting the plan into multiple parts.

State Sen. Bill Seitz plans to renew his efforts in the Ohio legislature to dismantle the state’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. Seitz says “devastating testimony” in support of his bill should invigorate a push for his plan. But the testimony will apparently be based off a flawed industry-financed report released yesterday. A separate study, based on an economic model from the Ohio State University, found Ohio’s energy standards will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

Cincinnati plans to begin marketing an 18-acre plot of land in Lower Price Hill to bring 400 jobs to the struggling neighborhood. After the city finishes environmental remediation this month, it hopes to put the property on the market. CityBeat previously covered some of Lower Price Hill’s struggles with poverty in further detail here.

The gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald tightened from seven points in November to five points this month, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. But the survey did not include Libertarian candidate Charlie Earl as a choice — an omission that could work to Kasich’s favor in the polling results.

Gay families are being excluded from Obamacare benefits in Ohio and other states in which same-sex marriage is not recognized. That means Ohio’s gay families can’t get financial benefits going to traditional families to help them get covered. President Barack Obama’s administration says it’s aware of the issue, but it doesn’t plan a fix until next year.

Some Ohio lawmakers want an investigation into Kasich’s administration after documents showed his administration planning to work with oil and gas companies to promote fracking in state parks and forests. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. CityBeat covered fracking and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

Bad news: A Chinese firm won’t bring an $80 million project to the Cincinnati area after all.

An Ohio driver rescued a kitten found frozen on the road.

A parasite commonly found in cats can now be found in arctic beluga whales. Scientists say melting ice barriers — a symptom of climate change — explains the pathogen’s increased migration.

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