by German Lopez
Ohio must recognize gay couple, Qualls knocks pension plan, 1.25 million in state uninsured
A federal judge ruled that a state death certificate must recognize the marriage of a newlywed same-sex couple,
but the order only applies to James Obergefell
and John Arthur. It’s the first time a same-sex marriage is recognized
in Ohio. The two men had the case expedited because Arthur is suffering
from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a deadly neurological disease with
no known cure. Al Gerhardstein, the attorney for the two husbands, says
the ruling could be the beginning of legal challenges from gay couples
inspired by the Supreme Court’s ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which could put further pressure on Ohio to legalize same-sex marriage. CityBeat covered ongoing efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state here,
although the group in charge of the movement is now aiming to put the
issue on the ballot in 2014, not 2013 as originally planned.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in a statement called the tea
party-backed charter amendment that would revamp the city’s pension
system “a wolf in sheep's clothing.” She is also requesting the city
administration study the amendment’s consequences and report back to
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Aug. 5. The amendment
would funnel new hires into a private retirement plan similar to what’s
typically found in the private sector — except, unlike private-sector
workers, city employees don’t pay into Social Security and don’t collect
Social Security benefits from their years with the city. The amendment
was announced less than a week after Moody’s, a credit ratings agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating in part because of the city’s increasing pension liability.
A poll analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati suggests more than 1.25 million Ohioans are uninsured,
with about 17 percent of the working-age population lacking insurance.
It also found that Ohioans are increasingly reliant on public programs
to obtain health benefits. The analysis looked at the Health
Foundation’s 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll.
The results could spur further efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility
in the state, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found
would save the state money and insure nearly half a million Ohioans
over the next decade. Republican legislators rejected the Medicaid
expansion in the state budget, citing concerns that the federal government wouldn’t be able to uphold its 90-percent funding commitment.
Gov. John Kasich wants to fast track
the I-71/MLK Interchange in part by using revenue from the Ohio
Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich’s recommendations, which must be approved by
the state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council, add up to $107.7
million in state funds.
State Rep. Peter Beck, a Mason Republican who’s facing 16 felony charges of fraud, won’t resign his seat.
Twenty-eight people have applied to become Cincinnati’s next police chief.
With a recent uptick in violence, many have called on the city to
expedite the process of replacing James Craig, the former police chief
who left for Detroit earlier in the year.Despite rising interest rates, Cincinnati-area home sales in June continued their strong trend up.
For-profit entities are opening more online schools in Ohio, with the process set by state legislators to shut out public educators. A previous investigation by CityBeat found online schools tend to do worse and cost more than their peers.
The city administration and social media network Nextdoor are partnering up
to better link Cincinnati’s neighborhoods with the local government.
The network will provide a free website for each of the city’s
neighborhoods, which the city says will allow residents to “to get to
know their neighbors, ask questions and exchange local advice and
recommendations.” City officials plan to use the websites to regularly
reach out to local citizens.
Computer software from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could make the Internet three times faster.
by German Lopez
Port wants parking lease money, Ohio No. 2 for job losses, Kasich plans more tax cuts
New documents acquired by The Cincinnati Enquirer show the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority wants $27 million of the city’s $92 million parking lease.
The Port Authority, a city-funded development agency, says it would use
the money for various projects around the city. The request, which has
been supported by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, may explain why the Port
Authority inexplicably took four days to sign its lease agreement with the city:
It wanted some of the money for itself. The city is leasing its parking
meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire
various private operators from around the country to manage the assets.
The deal will provide $92 million up front and at least $3 million a
year afterward, which the city plans to use for development projects and
to plug budget gaps.
Ohio lost the No. 2 most jobs in the nation last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That pushed the state unemployment rate to 7.2 percent in June, up from 7 percent in May, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
found. The state lost 12,500 jobs in June, with the private sector
showing losses across the board. The month’s big losses mean the state
has only added 15,000 jobs in the past year, even though the state
actually topped job growth in May with more than 32,000 new jobs. In
June, Pew Charitable Trusts found Ohio was the No. 46 state for job growth between April 2012 and April this year.
Gov. John Kasich says he wants to further cut state taxes to reduce the bracket for the wealthiest Ohioans
to less than 5 percent. Such a cut could require raising regressive
taxes that put more of a burden on the state’s poorest, such as the
sales tax. The latest two-year state budget, which Kasich signed into
law, did just that, as CityBeat previously covered:
It cut income taxes in a way that favored the wealthy, then it raised
sales taxes in a way that forced the lowest-income Ohioans to pay more.
A report released yesterday suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs
if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation. The
Environment Ohio report finds the state’s regulations on “fracking,” an
oil and gas extraction process, require too little financial assurance
from drilling companies to dissuade dangerous risks. In Ohio, fracking
well operators are required to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well, but even those payments can be avoided through regulatory
loopholes. At the same time, damage caused by fracking can cost
communities and the state millions of dollars, and simply reclaiming the
well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says he wouldn’t have prosecuted George Zimmerman,
the man who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old last year in
Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter and
second-degree murder by a jury on July 13 after he claimed self-defense.
A lack of local access to healthy foods was linked to higher obesity rates
in a study released yesterday. That could be troubling news for
Avondale and other Cincinnati neighborhoods that are deemed “food
deserts,” areas that don’t have reasonable access to healthy foods. CityBeat covered the efforts of some city officials, including Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, to end food deserts here.
Cincinnati is looking for feedback on local bike projects.
The American Civil Liberties Union is asking Ohio to avoid shutting off electricity in state prisons,
calling the practice “dangerous” as temperatures approach 100
degrees. Ohio’s prisons have already shut down electricity twice in the
afternoon this week and relied on backup generators. The shutdowns are commonly deployed as part of a power
agreement that’s generated $1.3 million for the state since 2010.
Harris Teeter Supermarkets shareholders are suing to stop a planned acquisition from Kroger.
Detroit yesterday became the biggest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.
An “invisibility wetsuit” hides people from sharks.
by German Lopez
Inclusion becomes mayoral issue, streetcar clears hurdle, state budget cuts local funding
Following Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s announcement Friday to increase city contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses once elected, fellow Democratic mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls echoed support for the proposals, although she disputed Cranley’s record on the issue.
One issue in particular is the Croson study that would allow the city
to prepare for a broader inclusion plan for minorities and women. Qualls has repeatedly proposed a Croson study during her time in
City Council and previous time in the mayor’s office, but she says
Cranley failed to publicly raise the issue at all during his time on
council between 2000 and 2009.
Cincinnati’s streetcar project cleared another hurdle
Friday when Messer Construction announced it needed $500,000 to carry
out construction work, which is easily covered by the project’s $10
million contingency fund.
With a construction contract, new funding and accountability measures
now moving forward, the only potential issue is who has to pay to
move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The city claims
Duke Energy does, while the energy company puts the onus on the city.
That issue is currently being worked out in court, although the city has
already set aside $15 million to carry out the work for now and just in
case Duke isn’t forced to carry the costs. Throughout the streetcar’s
history, the project has been mired in misrepresentations and
exaggerations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
The recently approved two-year state budget provides about $517 million less local government funding than the budget did in 2011,
even though it pays for $2.7 billion in new tax cuts. Democrats have been highly critical of the cuts, but the
governor’s office says local governments are effectively getting more
funding through other sources not particularly geared for city and
county governments. CityBeat covered local government funding in greater detail here and the state budget here.
Some state officials are pushing to establish an online, searchable database that would allow Ohio taxpayers to track state spending penny-by-penny. The state treasurer’s office already maintains a database for teacher and state employee salaries.
The Health Careers Collaborative, an organization working to increase health care employment in Greater Cincinnati, has a new leader.
Amish communities in Ohio are questioning whether they should take royalties for land that would be used for fracking,
an oil and gas extraction process that environmentalists claim is
dangerous for surrounding air and water. For the Amish, the issue is
spiritual, rooted in their religious restrictions against technology and
many facets of the modern world. CityBeat covered fracking and its ongoing effect on some Ohio communities in greater detail here.
Ohio gas prices are starting up this week.
Twinkies are returning to store shelves today.
HD 189773b, a blue exoplanet, may look hospitable, but the planet has a bad habit of raining glass sideways.
13 Comments · Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Most anti-streetcar talking points are
perpetuated without proper context, but they’ve still been effective in
rallying a libertarian-style argument against government spending,
despite the potential benefits.
by German Lopez
Cranley's inclusion plan, effort targets abortion limits, more charter school waste found
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley is releasing a plan
today that promises to reward more of the city’s business contracts to
black people, Latinos and women if he’s elected. Cranley says he will
hire an inclusion officer that would help him achieve the goals of the plan,
which is modeled partly after the African American Chamber of Commerce’s
OPEN Cincinnati Plan that was passed by City Council in 2009. “In order
to make Cincinnati a world-class city, we have to have a thriving,
diverse middle class. We can’t do that if we leave half of our residents
behind economically,” Cranley said in a statement. Cranley’s main
opponent in the mayoral race is Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls,
who supported the OPEN Cincinnati Plan in 2009. So far, the main issues surrounding the campaign have been the streetcar and parking plan — both of which Cranley opposes and Qualls supports.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is asking Ohioans to take up a long, complicated petitioning process
that could lead to the repeal of some of the anti-abortion measures in
the state budget. The process could force the Ohio General Assembly to
consider repealing some of the measures unrelated to appropriating state
funds, or it could put the repeal effort on the ballot in November
2014. FitzGerald is jump-starting the repeal campaign through a new
website, Ohioans Fight Back. CityBeat
covered the state budget and its anti-abortion provisions, which
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed into law, in further detail here.
A state audit found more evidence of misused public funds
at Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy (CCPA), Greater Cincinnati’s
largest charter school, including one example of salary overpayment and a
range of inappropriate purchases of meals and entertainment. The
school’s former superintendent and treasurer are already facing trial on
charges of theft for previously discovered incidents. CCPA is set to
receive $6 million from the state in 2014, up 3 percent from the
previous year.The state’s prison watchdog released a new report that found force is more often used against blacks in Ohio prisons.
Nearly 65 percent of “use of force” incidents in 2012 involved blacks,
even though they only make up about 46 percent of the total prison
After analyzing reports from the first quarter, Hamilton County revised its estimates for casino revenue downward.
That means $500,000 less in 2014 for the stadium fund, which has long
presented problems for the county’s budget. Still, the county says the
revision isn’t a big problem and the focus should instead be on the bigger problem: a looming $30 million budget gap.
Following an approved transfer from the governor and his staff, Ohio’s “rainy day fund” hit an all-time record of $1.5 billion.
The fund is typically tapped into during emergency economic situations
in which the state must spend a lot of extra money or take extraordinary
measures to fix a sudden budget shortfall.
Cincinnati area exports reached a record high in 2012.
Ohio is No. 4 in the nation for foreclosures,
according to a report from real estate information company RealtyTrac.
The report adds more doubt to claims that Ohio is undergoing some
sort of unique economic recovery, following a string of reports that
found year-over-year job growth is lacking in the state. Still, Ohio added
more jobs than any other state in May. If the robust growth holds in the
June job report due next week, it could be a great economic sign for the state.
Early streetcar work is leading to a downtown street closure this weekend, presenting yet another sign that the project is moving forward. Earlier this week, CityBeat published the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project.
New evidence suggests a fraction of disposable wells used during the hydraulic fracturing process — also known as “fracking” — cause earthquakes,
but the risk can be averted with careful monitoring, according to the
researchers. Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water
underground to free up oil and gas reserves. CityBeat covered its effects in Ohio in further detail here.
A nanoparticle device can kill germs with sunlight.
by German Lopez
Qualls asks for quick chief search, Ohio highway rank drops, Dems OKed abortion "gag"
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is calling for a quick police
chief search following a bout of local violence during the past few
weeks. In a memo to City Manager Milton Dohoney, Qualls argues a police
chief replacement is necessary to clamp down on crime, particularly gun
and gang-related violence. She asks the city manager to report to City
Council on the hiring search in early August and have a full replacement
ready by the end of the summer. Former Police Chief James Craig
recently left Cincinnati to take the police chief job in Detroit, his
Ohio dropped from No. 13 to No. 25
in a state-by-state ranking of highways. The report from the Reason
Foundation, a libertarian think tank, looked at highway conditions and cost
effectiveness. Among the findings: About 22.73 percent of Ohio’s bridges
were deemed deficient in 2009, down from 24.51 percent in 2007. Twenty
states reported more than one in four bridges as deficient — a threshold
Ohio barely missed. Despite Ohio being relatively worse off, the nation
as a whole improved in major categories, according to the report: “Six
of the seven key indicators of system condition showed improvement,
including large gains in rural interstate and urban interstate
condition, and a reduction in the fatality rate.”
Ohio Democrats now criticizing the state budget’s rape counselor restriction voted for the measure in a separate House bill on June 16.
The “gag,” as Democrats now call it, prevents publicly funded rape
counselors from discussing abortion as a viable medical option for rape
victims. “Democrats supported the bill to fund rape crisis centers and
we were led to believe that this offensive language gagging rape
counselors would be fixed in the budget,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman
Chris Redfern told the Associated Press through a spokesperson. “It was
not.” Democrats voted against the state budget that actually encoded
the measure into law.
On July 11 at Fountain Square, anti-abortion group Created Equal plans to use a jumbo screen to show a graphic video containing footage of aborted fetuses and their separated limbs.
Three more statewide online schools — known as “e-schools” — are coming to Ohio
following approval from the Department of Education. Proponents of
e-schools call them a “valuable alternative” to traditional schooling.
But some education experts and studies have found e-schools often perform poorly.
Mason is having some success using private-public partnerships to attract high-tech companies.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol says “pilot error” caused the stunt airplane crash that killed two at last month’s Dayton Air Show.
BBC explains why phones sometimes feel like they’re vibrating when they’re not.
New contact lenses give telescopic vision.
Fireworks would likely look boring in space.
by German Lopez
State tax plan favors wealthy, state budget limits abortion, mayoral primary incoming
The Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly yesterday
passed its state budget for the next two years, and Gov. John Kasich is
expected to sign the bill this weekend. Part of the budget is a tax plan
that would cut income taxes but raise sales and property taxes in a way
that Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning public policy think tank, says
would ultimately favor the state’s wealthiest.
On average, individuals in the top 1 percent would see their taxes fall by $6,083, or
0.7 percent, under the plan, while those in the bottom 20 percent would pay about
$12, or 0.1 percent, more in taxes, according to Policy Matters’
The state budget also includes several anti-abortion measures: less funding for Planned Parenthood, more funding for
anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, regulations that could be used
by the state health director to shut down abortion clinics and a
requirement for doctors to do an external ultrasound on a woman seeking
an abortion and inform her whether a heartbeat is detected. Republicans claim they’re protecting the sanctity of
human life, while abortion rights advocates are labeling the measures
an attack on women’s rights.
Cincinnati will have a mayoral primary on Sept. 10.
Five candidates vying for the highest elected position in the city:
Democrats Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley, Libertarian Jim Berns,
self-identified Republican Stacy Smith and Sandra Queen Noble. Qualls
and Cranley are widely seen as the favorites, with each candidate
splitting on issues like the parking lease and streetcar. Qualls supports the policies, while Cranley opposes both. A recent poll from the Cranley campaign found the race deadlocked, with Cranley and Qualls both getting 40 percent of the vote and the rest of polled voters claiming they’re undecided.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will appear at the Northside Fourth of July parade. Giffords will be in Cincinnati as part of a nationwide tour on gun violence.
Elmwood Place’s speed cameras are being confiscated by the Hamilton County Sheriff Department. Judge Robert Ruehlman originally told
operating company Optotraffic to turn the cameras off, but when the company
didn’t listen, the judge ruled the cameras should be confiscated.
The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments released its new bike map for southwest Ohio.
President Barack Obama signaled on Thursday that the federal government will extend marriage benefits to gay and lesbian couples in all states,
even those states that don’t allow same-sex marriage. That may mean a
gay couple in Ohio could get married in New York and Massachusetts and
still have their marriage counted at the federal level, but state
limitations would still remain. The administration’s plans follow a U.S.
Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that struck down a federal ban on
The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
Ohio’s two senators were split on the bill: Democratic Sen. Sherrod
Brown voted for it, while Republican Sen. Rob Portman voted against it. A
Congressional Budget Office report previously found the bill would reduce the nation’s deficit and boost the economy over the next decade.
Scientists cloned a mouse with a mere blood sample.
CityBeat won a bunch of awards at Wednesday’s
Society of Professional Journalists Cincinnati chapter awards banquet
and hall of fame induction ceremony. Read about them here.
1 Comment · Wednesday, June 12, 2013
As county and state officials move to
investigate and potentially prosecute voter fraud cases, local groups
are pushing back, warning that the investigations could cause a chilling
effect among voters.
by German Lopez
Posted In: Voting
at 10:27 AM | Permalink
Critics warn of potential chilling effect
As county and state officials move to investigate and
potentially prosecute voter fraud cases, local groups are pushing back,
warning that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls became the latest to speak out
in a letter to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Ohio Secretary
of State Jon Husted.
“The current legal investigations perpetuate the idea that
voter fraud is widespread, when it’s not true,” she wrote. “We need to
work together to give citizens the confidence that the election process
is fair and accessible to those who have followed the law and
pre-determined process. When citizens are confused about the process of
voting they are intimidated from exercising their full rights to vote,
which erodes confidence in and the integrity of our democracy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) and
League of Women Voters of Ohio sent similar letters to Husted in the
past few weeks, echoing fears that the investigations will intimidate
voters into staying out of future elections.
The controversy surrounds 39 “double voter” cases recently sent to the county prosecutor by the Hamilton County Board of
Elections. In most of the cases, the voters in question sent in an
absentee ballot prior to Election Day then voted on Election Day through a provisional
ballot, which are given to voters when there’s questions about
eligibility. Even though the voters technically voted
twice, their votes were only counted once.
The letters from Qualls and the League of Women Voters claim
the cases were sent to the county prosecutor based on a narrow
interpretation of state law and other sections of election law back the voters’ actions.
The letters reference Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2),
which says, “If a registered elector appears to vote in that precinct
and that elector has requested an absent voter's ballot for that
election and the director has received a sealed identification envelope
purporting to contain that elector's voted absent voter's ballots for
that election, the elector shall be permitted to cast a provisional
ballot under section 3505.181 of the Revised Code in that precinct on the day of that election.” The law goes on to clarify only one of the votes should be counted.
Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of
Elections on May 31, siding with the Republicans on the board who wanted
to send the case to the county prosecutor.
Alex Triantafilou, an elections board member and chairman
of the Hamilton County Republican Party, says Republicans just want an investigation.
“I think anytime a person casts two ballots we ought to
ask why,” Triantafilou says. “This is not to prejudge any of these cases
as criminal charges. That’s not been our intention. What we want is a
qualified investigator to ask the question and then answer it.”
Tim Burke, chairman of the local elections board and the
Hamilton County Democratic Party, disagrees: “This is a damn shame.
What’s happening to those voters is absolutely wrong.”
Burke claims the law was followed and no further investigation is necessary. He alleges
Republicans are trying to suppress voters.
“I fear that what’s going on is that elements of the
Republican Party want to create the impression that there is massive
voter fraud going on, and they want to scare the hell out of people to
intimidate them and discourage them from voting in the future,” Burke
says. “I think part of what’s going on here is an effort to identify
voter fraud in order to justify more restrictions on voting rights.”
Triantafilou argues Democrats, including Burke, are
playing politics: “It’s a continuation of the kind of fear that
Democrats try to instill in the electorate, and it’s a political weapon.
We’re not trying to do that. They alleged voter suppression in the last
election cycle. That was nonsensical. The problem really is fraud.”
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:29 PM | Permalink
Campaign event could violate state law
Update (June 5, 11:20 p.m.): Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn't hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.In perhaps an act of civil disobedience, Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is planning to hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday.But the event could run foul of state law for both Berns and attendees. Ohio law prohibits obtaining, possessing or using a controlled substance — a category that includes marijuana.The event will take place at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Clifton Avenue on Wednesday at 5 p.m."If you want one of the plants I suggest you get there early," Berns said in a statement.In this year's mayoral race, Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally considered the top contenders, although neither candidate has received an official endorsement from the local Democratic Party.Berns has differentiated himself from the frontrunners by pushing marijuana legalization in his platform. Drug prohibition laws are generally dictated at state and federal levels, but city governments can legalize or decriminalize certain drugs and force police departments to give the issue lower priority.Marijuana is already decriminalized in Ohio. Cincinnati re-criminalized the drug in 2006, but the drug was decriminalized through a city budget passed in 2010.Some groups are attempting to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio. CityBeat covered those efforts in further detail here.