by German Lopez 10.08.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Budget, Privacy at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar renderings unveiled, county won't raise taxes, facial recognition scrutinized

CAF USA yesterday unveiled new renderings for Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project. The city has hired CAF to supply five cars, which 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. 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, and he expects to really test out the cars once the Over-the-Rhine loop is completed in June 2015. Hamilton County commissioners unanimously agreed the 2014 budget won’t include tax increases. It’s also the first budget in six years that won’t require major cuts. Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman’s budget proposal doesn’t explicitly suggest a tax hike, but it does explain how a sales tax hike could be used to offset other expenditures, such as a cut in property taxes. But commissioners all said they’re opposed to a sales tax hike. Commissioners will likely retool the budget and pass the final version in November. Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper called on Ohio to restrict access of the state’s facial recognition system to a small group of a couple dozen specially trained law enforcement officers, which would take calls for the system 24/7. Under Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio in June secretly launched a facial recognition program that allows law enforcement to use a photo to search state databases and connect suspects with contact information; previously, searching the databases required a name or address. In his defense, DeWine claimed the system is vital for law enforcement and widely used across the country. But an investigation from The Cincinnati Enquirer found Ohio’s system grants access to thousands more officials than other states’ systems. The Hamilton County Board of Elections began a hearing yesterday on whether Randy Simes, owner of UrbanCincy.com, can vote in Cincinnati after living in Chicago and moving to South Korea. Simes registered to vote in the mayoral primary election through Travis Estell’s address, where Simes says he stays when he’s in town. Simes’ supporters say the conservative groups behind the hearing are attacking him for political purposes because he supports the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls for mayor, both of which the groups oppose. The attorney for the conservative groups said that he doesn’t want voting “treated as a game.” Some members of the board of elections said they were disturbed by the political undertones of the hearing and a request for emails between Simes and Estell. Gov. John Kasich yesterday announced voluntary guidelines urging doctors to use caution when prescribing high levels of opioid painkillers for long-term use to patients. The restrictions are in response to a rise in prescription drug abuse and overdoses across the country. Some members of the medical community say they’re concerned the guidelines will lead to temporary disruption in pain care, but others say the kinks should work themselves out in the long term. Letters from State Treasurer Josh Mandel show he lobbied for Suarez Corp. to seek relief from litigation for the company. The two letters were obtained on Jan. 2 by a federal grand jury that later indicted Benjamin Suarez, owner of Suarez Corp., and Michael Giorgo, chief financial officer of the company, on charges of illegally funneling about $200,000 to Mandel and a Republican congressman’s campaigns in 2011. Among states and the District of Columbia, WalletHub estimates Ohio is No. 32 most affected by the federal government shutdown. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in greater detail here. Ohio gave 23 communities $8 million for local infrastructure improvements, but Cincinnati and Hamilton County were not among the recipients. Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino held its spot as Ohio’s top-earning casino in September. Enrollment to Cincinnati State increased despite a statewide decline. The university also received a $2.75 million manufacturing training grant. Science confirmed that political extremists think they’re always right and everyone else is wrong. Watch coffee shop customers freak out at a real-life Carrie: 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 10.07.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Commissioners, Budget at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 09.27.2013
Posted In: News, Women, Development, Privatization at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Conflicts of interest at JobsOhio, transportation projects approved, Ohio women fare poorly

CityBeat is participating in a City Council candidate forum on Oct. 5. Have any questions you would like to ask candidates? Submit them here. State Auditor Dave Yost says he will investigate the potential conflicts of interest found by the Ohio Ethics Commission for nine of 22 top JobsOhio officials, including six of nine board members. For critics, the conflicts of interest add more concerns about JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that proposes tax breaks for businesses and has been mired in controversy ever since it was set up by Gov. John Kasich and Republicans to replace the Ohio Department of Development. Because the agency is privatized and deals with private businesses, many of its dealings are kept from the public under state law. Republicans argue the secrecy is necessary to allow JobsOhio to more quickly establish job-creating development deals, but Democrats say the secrecy makes it too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable.A state board approved nearly $3 billion in transportation projects proposed by Kasich, including work on the MLK/I-75 Interchange in Cincinnati that city and state officials say will create thousands of jobs in the region. The projects will require additional state and local money to be fully funded over the next few years. In comparison to men, Ohio women have lower incomes, hold fewer leadership roles and disproportionately suffer from the state’s high infant mortality rate. The issues placed Ohio at No. 30 out of 50 states for women’s issues in a Sept. 25 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP). The report analyzed 36 indicators for women in the categories of economic security, leadership and health; it then graded the states and ranked them based on the grades. CAP, a left-leaning organization, is touting the report to support progressive policies that could help lift women out of such disparities, including the federally funded Medicaid expansion and an increase to minimum wages.Commentary: “Ohio legislator worried a same-sex marriage case will turn the country socialist, make him cry.” Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who’s running against fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, says he doesn’t know if he can stop the parking plan if he’s elected. Cranley explained it will only be possible if the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority doesn’t set up contracts and sell bonds for the deal before the election. Under the parking plan, the city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire various private operators to manage the assets. Qualls supports the plan because it will raise money and resources to fund development projects and modernize the city’s parking services, but Cranley argues it cedes too much control over the city’s parking assets. It turns out Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye won’t be removed from Ohio’s education guidelines. State Board of Education President Debe Terhar, a Cincinnati Republican, initially called the book “pornographic” and demanded its removal from the state guidelines, which led the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio to criticize Terhar and ask her to reconsider her comments. With the latest delay, small businesses won’t be able to enroll online for Obamacare’s marketplaces until November. Until then, small businesses will only be able to sign up by mail, fax or phone. The delay is the latest of a few setbacks for Obamacare, but the rest of the federally run online marketplaces will still launch on Oct. 1 as planned. CityBeat covered statewide efforts to promote and obstruct the marketplaces in further detail here.Gov. Kasich is donating to charity more than $22,000 that he received in campaign contributions from an indicted man. The city has begun work on a retail corridor that will start on Fourth Street and run north through Race Street. The corridor will take years to complete, but city officials say it will be different than previous failed plans. The number of passengers whose trips originate at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has increased for six straight months, according to airport officials. Data-analysis company Dunnhumby is looking to invest in Cincinnati startups. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center landed federal money to test vaccines. The contract could prove the largest the hospital has ever obtained, according to The Business Courier. Police in the Netherlands use trained rats to catch criminals.

Pure Romance to Remain in Ohio

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Pure Romance on Sept. 24 announced that it is moving to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John Kasich’s administration to not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus company.  
by German Lopez 09.24.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Business, Development at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar on track, initiative to redevelop homes, Pure Romance touted in tax credit debate

The streetcar project is on track for its Sept. 15, 2016 opening date, according to a monthly progress report released by the city yesterday. Through Aug. 31, the city spent $22.1 million on the project, including nearly $2 million in federal funding. In total, the project is estimated to cost $133 million, and about $45 million will come from the federal government. CityBeat covered the project and political misrepresentations surrounding it in further detail here. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners yesterday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment. The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees, which would pay for the home loans if a borrower defaulted. Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects. If City Council passes the motion supporting the initiative, the city administration will have 60 days to come up with a budgeted plan, which Council will also have to approve.A Democratic state legislator used Pure Romance’s troubles to criticize Ohio’s process for granting tax credits. State Rep. Chris Redfern, who sits on the legislature’s Controlling Board, repeatedly brought up Pure Romance when discussing tax credits for three companies supported by Gov. John Kasich’s administration. Redfern ultimately didn’t vote against the tax credits, but he only backed down after getting state officials to say the three companies were meeting all of the state’s priorities. Pure Romance originally planned to move its headquarters and 60 jobs from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati and create 60 jobs in the process. But since the company was denied state tax credits, it’s openly discussed moving to Kentucky to take up a better tax offer. The Kasich administration says it denied the tax credits because Pure Romance isn’t part of a targeted industry, but Democrats argue the administration is killing jobs in Ohio just because of prudish feelings toward Pure Romance’s product lineup, which includes sex toys. Cincinnati will be honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later today for connecting residents to renewable energy sources, according to a press release from the city. Some environmental groups have already praised Cincinnati for championing solar energy in particular, as CityBeat covered here. At a City Council forum last night, residents demanded walkable, livable neighborhoods that include grocery stores.Internet cafes need more than 71,000 signatures to get on the November 2014 ballot. The cafes are attempting to overturn a state law that effectively forces them out of business. State officials argue the law is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafes say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money. The Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) marketplaces will go live in one week, regardless of whether the federal government shuts down. The marketplaces will allow users to enroll in insurance plans with tax subsidies from the federal government. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here. A Democratic state legislator is pushing new requirements that would force lobbyists to disclose their annual salaries. I-75 lanes are temporarily closing for improvements. Step one to stopping malicious hackers: Learn their ways.
by German Lopez 09.16.2013
Posted In: News, JobsOhio, Health care, Business at 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Medicaid expansion petition certified, more tax credit secrecy, disparity study in 2015

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a petition effort that, if approved by voters, would require the state to expand its Medicaid program. The effort now must gather roughly 116,000 signatures to be approved by the Ohio Ballot Board and eventually end up on the 2014 ballot. Under Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs; if they accept, the federal government will pay for the full expansion through 2016 then indefinitely phase down its payments to 90 percent after that. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate $1.8 billion in extra revenue. But the expansion has been so far rejected by Republican legislators, who tend to be opposed to government-run health care programs and say they’re concerned the federal government won’t be able to uphold its commitment to Medicaid as it has for nearly four decades. CityBeat covered the expansion in greater detail here. In another example of rising secrecy surrounding JobsOhio, state tax credit estimates are now exempt from public records law, which means the public will no longer be able to see the value of tax credits granted to new and expanding businesses. The estimate is used by JobsOhio to gauge whether it should propose granting a tax break to a certain business, but the Ohio Development Services Agency says it’s concerned the numbers aren’t accurate in the long term. In the past few months, JobsOhio has been mired in controversy because of its lack of transparency. Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive nature allow the privatized development agency to move more quickly with job-creating development deals, but Democrats argue tax dollars are being used with little accountability. The final results of Cincinnati’s disparity study for city contracts aren’t expected until 2015. The city is pursuing the study, which is estimated to cost between $500,000 and $1.5 million, to gauge whether Cincinnati should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses. The study is necessary before making such changes because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires governments to empirically prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before favorably targeting such groups. Meet Cincinnati’s new police chief: Jeffrey Blackwell. He’s currently deputy chief at the Columbus Division of Police, where he’s been for 26 years. Blackwell was picked over three other finalists: Paul Humphries, who’s been acting Cincinnati Police chief since June; 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. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio criticized Debe Terhar, president of the State Board of Education, for calling Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye “pornographic” and demanding it be removed from the state’s teaching guidelines. Terhar and others have criticized the book because it contains a scene in which a father rapes his daughter. The Common Core standards adopted by Ohio suggest The Bluest Eye as an example of reading text complexity, quality and range for high school juniors who are typically 16 or 17 years old, but it’s ultimately up to school districts to decide whether the novel belongs in the curriculum. Removing mention of the book from the state’s guidelines wouldn’t explicitly ban the book in Ohio schools, but it would weaken the novel’s prominence as a teaching tool. The University of Cincinnati Medical Center is part of an international effort involving clinical trials to cure Alzheimer’s, the neurodegenerative disease with no known cure that causes long-term memory loss, confusion, mood swings and other symptoms typical of dementia. Police are searching for an active shooter on the grounds of the Washington Navy Yard in the District of Columbia. The shooter has barricaded himself in a room after allegedly shooting at least three people. Ohio gas prices are back down. An unarmed drone club for children with autism might teach the children to view things from different perspectives.
by German Lopez 09.10.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cincinnati Zoo Levy Renewal to Appear on November Ballot

Zoo claims levy renewal is a good investment for region

After getting approval from county commissioners, a levy renewal for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot as Issue 2. The renewal wouldn’t increase taxes from today’s rates, but it would keep property taxes $10 higher for every $100,000 of home value.If approved by voters, the funding would go to the care, feeding and maintenance of the zoo’s animals and botanical gardens. The Cincinnati Zoo is promoting Issue 2 by claiming it’s a good investment for the region. A study from the University of Cincinnati Economic Center found the zoo had a $143 million impact on the Cincinnati area in 2012 — representing nearly 3.9 times the zoo’s total spending — and produced 1,700 jobs and nearly $1.6 million in tax revenue for Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The “Renew the Zoo” campaign is already in full motion at friendsofthecincinnatizoo.org.
by German Lopez 08.30.2013
Posted In: News, LGBT Issues, Welfare, Privacy at 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
evolution of equality

Morning News and Stuff

Gay marriages recognized, facial recognition panel appointed, drug testing for welfare fails

The federal government announced yesterday that same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax and Medicare purposes even if the marriage is considered illegal in the state where the couple resides. That means gay Ohioans could get married in a state where it’s legal, such as Massachusetts or California, and have their marriages recognized by the federal government even if the couple lives in Ohio. The change does not apply to Social Security, which will continue basing benefits on where couples live, not where they got married. The changes also won’t apply to taxes at the local and state level until those governments legalize same-sex marriage for themselves. Freedom Ohio is currently working to get same-sex marriage on Ohio’s ballot in 2014, as CityBeat covered in further detail here. Attorney General Mike DeWine on Thursday appointed the panel that will review the state’s facial recognition program. It includes Democrats, Republicans, judges, law enforcement and prosecutors, but not civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, that asked to be involved. Shortly after the program was formally unveiled on Monday, the ACLU asked DeWine to shut it down until proper protocols are put in place to protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases. A Republican state senator is introducing legislation that would attach drug testing to welfare benefits in Ohio, but similar measures have failed in other states. Under the proposal, welfare recipients in three counties would be required to take a drug test if they admit in a questionnaire to using drugs in the past six months. In Utah, the state government spent more than $30,000 screening welfare applicants, but only 12 people tested positive, according to Deseret News. The policy has also faced legal troubles, particularly in Florida, but since the Ohio proposal only requires drug testing after information is solicited through a questionnaire, it’s unclear whether privacy concerns will hold up in court. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, is speaking out against a $300 million light rail project that would run from downtown Cincinnati to Milford, Ohio. Hartmann says he’s concerned ridership numbers will be low and costs will be too high. County commissioners are involved with the project through the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District. Ex-Councilman John Cranley continues to outraise and outspend Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in the mayoral race. But money rarely matters in political campaigns, according to research and Cincinnati’s mayoral history. The conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is asking the city solicitor to force Councilman Chris Seelbach to repay the city for his trip to Washington, D.C., where Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council member, received the White House’s Champion of Change Award. Seelbach says the trip served a public purpose; mainly, the trip allowed him and his staff to spend time with other award recipients to learn how to better deal with LGBT issues. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble announced it backs legislation that would prevent employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Ohio currently has no such law. Ohio’s prison population is growing again, which has spurred further calls from state officials to continue pursuing sentencing reform. The state government in 2012 passed some reform that weakened sentences and made it easier for convicts to have their records expunged, but Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr says more needs to be done. Ohio gun owners are gathering in Columbus today to call on Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to support comprehensive background checks for firearms, according to a press release from Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Polling data released by the group found 83 percent of Ohioans support comprehensive background checks. A Democratic state representative is asking Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to explain why he’s accused of forcing the Ohio EPA’s top water watchdog to resign, but Kasich’s people don’t seem to be taking the concern too seriously. Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols responded to the demands by telling The Columbus Dispatch, “If she had her way, we’d all be living on a collective farm cooking organic quinoa over a dung fire. So I think we’ll take her views in context.” George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA’s surface-water division, was allegedly asked to step down by Kasich after Elmaraghy claimed Ohio coal companies want water-pollution permits “that may have a negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.” Republican lawmakers are notoriously friendly with oil, gas and coal companies. Two more are being investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for illegally voting in Ohio while living in other states. Gas prices are rising in time for Labor Day weekend, but they should be cheaper than last year. The famous “47 percent” is now down to 43 percent. The Tax Policy Center says the change is driven by the recovering economy, rising incomes and cuts to federal assistance programs. Antarctica appears to be bleeding in a phenomenon that shows life can exist without sunlight or oxygen. Popular Science has an explainer for cruise missiles, the weapon that soon may be deployed against Syria.
by German Lopez 08.27.2013
Posted In: News, Governor, Courts, Privacy at 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Former governor dies, facial recognition program criticized, county prosecutor mocks court

Former Gov. John Gilligan, a Cincinnati Democrat best known for winning the creation of the state income tax, died at 92 yesterday. Gilligan’s most lasting accomplishment was also what doomed his career; the state income tax was unpopular when it passed, even though it allowed Gilligan to boost funding for education, mental health and law enforcement programs. Gilligan’s political career began in Cincinnati Council. From there, he rose to U.S. representative and then governor. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio yesterday asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to shut down a facial recognition program used by law enforcement until state officials verify and develop safety protocols that protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy. DeWine formally unveiled the program in a press conference yesterday. It allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases. The program has been live for more than two months and so far used for 2,677 searches, but until now it was kept hidden from the public and hasn’t been checked by outside groups for proper safety protocols. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters stepped down as Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s attorney and called her handling of the court a “judicial circus.” Hunter has been mired in controversy ever since she took the bench: She was found in contempt by a higher court, and she’s been sued multiple times by media, including four times by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Deters, who under state law had to legally represent Hunter, said the legal troubles were too much, but his stepping down also complies with Hunter’s wishes to find her own hand-picked attorney. The University of Cincinnati is one of the top colleges where students can get the most out of their money, according to PolicyMic. UC performs better than average in the graduation rate, debt at time of graduation, percentage of undergraduate students receiving Pell grants and starting salary after graduation, yet the school manages to stay only slightly above the national average for tuition and board and room costs. Mayor Mark Mallory previously approved eliminating city parking requirements, which should allow residential development projects to greatly reduce or completely toss out parking space mandates downtown. “The goal of the ordinance is to encourage development in the urban core by permitting developers to determine their own parking needs for downtown developments,” said Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. “I firmly believe that the market will work to meet parking demands better than government minimum parking requirements.” The tax changes passed in the state budget earlier this year, including an income tax cut and sales tax hike, will go into effect on Sept. 1. The changes have been criticized for favoring the wealthiest Ohioans, as CityBeat covered in further detail here. Gov. John Kasich approved tax credits that are expected to create more than 591 jobs statewide, with at least 40 of the jobs being created at the Benjamin Steel Company in Cincinnati. Nearly one in five workers at Ohio casinos has quit or been fired. High turnover isn’t unusual in the casino business, but the numbers give a clearer glimpse at the volatility. Piloting a military drone can apparently take quite the psychological toll.
by German Lopez 08.21.2013
Posted In: News, Human services, Economy, Privatization at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
poor priorities

Morning News and Stuff

Homeless shelters report rise in calls, Cincinnati loses jobs, JobsOhio controversy continues

Greater Cincinnati homeless shelters are reporting a 31 percent increase in the number of families calling for help — a sign that homelessness may be trending up. Meanwhile, City Council managed to avoid cutting funding to human services that help the homeless this year, but the local government has steadily provided less funding since 2004, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.Cincinnati lost 4,000 jobs from June to July, but it gained 14,000 between July 2012 and July this year, far above the 3,000 necessary to keep up with annual population growth, according to data released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was at 7.1 percent in July, down from 7.3 percent in June and 7.4 percent in July 2012. The labor force shrunk in comparison to the previous month and year, which means the unemployment rate fell partly because many people stopped looking for jobs. In comparison, Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in July and the U.S. rate was 7.4 percent. More JobsOhio controversy: The state panel that approves tax credits recommended by the privatized development agency has never said no, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Gov. John Kasich and Republicans say the Ohio Tax Credit Authority is supposed to be an independent watchdog on JobsOhio, but both JobsOhio and the Ohio Tax Credit Authority have their boards appointed by the governor. Democrats have been highly critical of JobsOhio for its lack of transparency and privatized nature, but Republicans say both are good traits for an agency that needs to move fast to land job-creating development deals. Meanwhile, two Democrats in the Ohio House are pushing a ban on Ohio officials, including the governor, receiving outside pay. The proposal is largely in response to JobsOhio recommending $619,000 in tax credits in 2012 and 2013 to Worthington Industries, a company that paid Kasich through 2012 for his time on its board. The Ohio Ethics Commission refused to investigate the potential conflict of interest because it said Kasich made a clean break from Worthington when he was elected. Hamilton County taxpayers might have to put up $10 million to give the Cincinnati Bengals a high-definition scoreboard, thanks to the team’s lease with the county. Economists generally see stadiums as one of the most over-hyped, unsuccessful urban investments, according to The Nation. No City Council member supports the tea party-backed pension amendment that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city workers, excluding cops and firefighters, contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, Cincinnati pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials and unions claim the measure will cost the city more than the current system and hurt retirement gains for city employees. But tea party groups say the amendment is necessary to address Cincinnati’s growing pension costs, including an $862 million unfunded liability. CityBeat wrote about the amendment and the groups that could be behind it in further detail here. Ohio is partnering up with the Jason Foundation to provide training and information to teachers, coaches, other school personnel, parents and students about suicide, the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds after car accidents. The measure aims to curb down suicide rates. Hamilton County and Cincinnati are pursuing joint funding of technology upgrades for 911 services, and the two local governments are moving permitting services to one location, according to a statement from Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s office. Hartmann has long pursued more city-county collaboration so both can run more efficiently and bring down costs. The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati is now called Interact for Health. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) yesterday reported 2013’s first case of West Nile Virus. A 72-year-old woman in Cuyahoga County is apparently being hospitalized for the disease. ODH Director Ted Wymyslo said in a statement that, while Ohio has dealt with West Nile Virus since 2002, cases have dropped in the past year. The University of Cincinnati is set to break another record for enrollment this fall. Dunnhumby USA yesterday unveiled the design for its downtown headquarters. A new electric car can fold itself in half when parking.