Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Cleveland Plain Dealer. May 15, 2022.

Editorial: Statehouse misinformation on bail hurts justice on many levels

Less than two years after Ohio amended Criminal Rule 46 in a bipartisan process to reduce the use of cash bail so those without means don’t unfairly stew in jail awaiting trial, the GOP bench in favor of bail reform seems to have cleared.

Instead, we’re seeing a lot of grandstanding and misinformation in a misguided effort to get an Ohio constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot to widen use of cash bail. Never mind that such an amendment is being oversold. It cannot undo either Crim. R. 46 requirements or the U.S. constitutional bar against excessive bail.

Simply put, House Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by state Reps. Jeff LaRe of Fairfield County near Columbus and D.J. Swearingen of Huron, and Senate Joint Resolution 5, sponsored by state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, also of Huron, are little more than a confused mass of hot air sitting atop a mound of inaccurate assertions that public safety can’t be considered in setting bail.

Safety can be considered -- if the decision is that someone is too dangerous to be let out and must be held in jail prior to trial. That decision in turn triggers a pretrial detention hearing so the suspect and his or her attorney can make their case for bail, before being held without it.

As legal expert after legal expert has patiently explained to House and Senate committees during hearings on HJR 2 and SJR 5, unaffordable bail imposed without such a hearing is by definition excessive and, as such, contrary not just to Ohio law but also the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which explicitly bars “excessive bail.”

At the same time, Ohio law already provides for pretrial detention hearings to protect the public’s safety when required -- without need of a constitutional amendment.

Yet, when the time came Thursday to vote on HJR 2 -- and a related bill, House Bill 607, also sponsored by LaRe and Swearingen -- the result was predictable. Party-line 7-2 votes in the House Criminal Justice Committee to send the resolution and bill to the House floor.

Voters should be surprised, however, that lawmakers seem to be moving like lightning on this legislation while proceeding snaillike on critical 2022 redistricting decisions.

The reason: Urging folks to the polls Nov. 8 to amend the Ohio Constitution supposedly to make safety a requirement of bail decisions may, to some at the Statehouse, seem like a surefire way to turn out law-and-order voters for critical mid-term elections.

Too bad that what the constitutional amendment (and related legislation) really seeks to do is to distort bail reform and challenge Ohio Supreme Court precedent by making excessive cash bail easier to achieve. And, in the process, with three Supreme Court positions, including chief justice, on the Nov. 8 ballot, maybe change the composition of the court.

A key focus of this parade of misinformation is the Ohio Supreme Court’s 4-3 January ruling in Dubose v. McGuffey, in which the majority upheld an appellate court ruling that a trial court’s decision to impose $1.5 million bail against an accused Hamilton County murderer, Justin Dubose, without a pretrial detention hearing, amounted to excessive bail. The appellate court reduced Dubose’s bail to $500,000, which the Supreme Court majority also upheld, noting that, under Crim. R. 46, once a determination is made to set bail and not hold a suspect prior to trial for public safety reasons, it becomes a mostly financial exercise to set bail sufficient so that the suspect will appear for trial -- while other non-bail means can be used, such as GPS monitoring and home detention, to restrict the defendant’s movements, if needed.

Significantly, the Ohio Supreme Court split in that case along the now-familiar lines of its redistricting rulings, with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, siding with the court’s three Democrats, and the court’s three other Republicans dissenting -- baldly, in the case of Justice R. Pat DeWine, who wrote, “Make no mistake: what the majority does today will make Ohio communities less safe.”

To the contrary, what makes Ohio communities less safe is misleading the public and wrongly enflaming attitudes on cash bail -- where reform is really, truly just about justice for all, so being poor isn’t an automatic ticket to jail.

This constitutional amendment should not make it to the Nov. 8 ballot, but if it does, Ohio voters should, to recast a phrase from Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” resoundingly say: “Hold, enough!”

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Toledo Blade. May 14, 2022.

Editorial: Build the road

It’s time to stop the dawdling and build a U.S. 23 freeway from Toledo to Columbus. The Ohio Department of Transportation plans to give Toledo and northwest Ohio the shaft again. We won’t stand for it.

Toledo remains the only major Ohio city without a highway to the state capital. That is absurd. It closes down economic opportunities for thousands of hardworking folks in our area. It cuts our businesses off from economic development in the center of the state. It cuts us off from Intel.

Columbus and its bureaucrats have designated us for second-class status. Toledoans are part of Ohio, and we’re fed up with ODOT and its stand against highway plans that benefit actual people, not rare salamanders.

We refuse to be treated as second-class citizens, and now is the time for politicians to take a stand. It’s time for Toledo to get a direct path to Columbus. The job needs to get started now, ODOT approved or not. The future of northwest Ohio cannot be left in the hands of bureaucrats.

ODOT’s so–called study contained a foregone conclusion. Those bureaucratic twaddlers would much rather say “No” than get the job done.

The way things are going, Ukraine will be rebuilt before Toledo will have a limited-access road to Columbus. We want the project fast-tracked, ODOT’s enervated bureaucrats pushed out of the way, and the Columbus Road built in the next gubernatorial term. We don’t want a “Fort to Port” generation or more to pass before this happens.

Strong governors ignore bureaucrats and order them to get it done. Spinelessness from a governor does nothing for Toledo.

Mr. DeWine’s spokesman’s response on the study’s conclusion was:

“We are at a reflection point.”

Reflection point? That reflection point is decades old. How about making something happen? You’re the governor, Mr. DeWine. You run ODOT. Or do the bureaucrats run you?

The governor should not join the likes of Gov. Michael V. DiSalle, who reneged on his promise to then-Blade publisher, Paul Block, Jr., to get the road between Toledo and Columbus planned and started between 1959 and 1963.

In those days it could be completed in one gubernatorial term. The Blade proudly helped James Rhodes defeat “Tax Hike Mike” in the 1962 governor’s election. It didn’t matter that DiSalle was a Toledoan. He forgot his promise and his hometown. We never forget what these politicians and parties promise.

Michael DiSalle was an earlier-era Democrat; nevertheless, his sin of breaching his promise to build the Columbus Road falls more on the Democrats. Nan Whaley should immediately promise it will be built if she wins.

Ms. Whaley should look at the absurd contents of the ODOT study. Here’s a portion of the executive summary of the study:

“The study clearly indicated that improvements to the existing U.S. 23 corridor would positively affect tens of thousands of drivers daily. Public feedback has shown that improvements to safety and congestion is a top priority for many who live and travel along the route. …”

What? Then build the damn road.

ODOT must get out of the way, or be forced out of the way by a strong governor.

The Ohio Turnpike Commission was created by the Ohio legislature and signed into law by Gov. Frank Lausche in 1949. The entire 241-mile Ohio Turnpike opened in 1955. The Toledo-Columbus project could be decided, designed, and built in one gubernatorial term if there was will. We insist that happen.

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Youngstown Vindicator. May 10, 2022.

Editorial: We must devote more effort to teen mental health help

Though it seems as though every day we hear more and more agencies acknowledging the terrible toll taken by COVID-19 on mental health, particularly for our children, it took a while to get to the point of action to reverse the problem.

According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, a policy research group, 38 states enacted nearly 100 laws to support mental health in our schools last year, while dozens more became law this year in at least 22 states. Indeed, Ohio is among them.

According to Mental Health America, nationwide more than 60 percent of children who experience a severe depressive episode do not receive treatment. But when these results are broken down by state, Ohio is a bit above average, with 60-69 percent totals. We are doing better than only Texas, Mississippi, Arizona and Hawaii on that front.

While we are taking steps in the right direction, the Buckeye State must do more to help young people who are in mental health crisis seek and receive treatment. Teachers, school administrators and parents should be educated on what to do when they see a child struggling with mental health issues, and be able to assist in getting them the help they need.

It goes beyond training, though. There is other action to take.

“Schools need to create a safe and open culture where kids know it’s OK to talk about suicide and mental illness,” said Julie Goldstein Grumet, vice president of the Education Development Center, a policy research group. “Training is great and important, but it has to be embedded in a comprehensive approach where it’s not ‘one and done.’”

Better to take this as a wake-up call and spring to action now, than to be shaken into action by a tragedy later.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. May 12, 2022.

Editorial: Cities shouldn’t be so quick to surveil civilians

Elyria shouldn’t install surveillance cameras downtown.

The city hasn’t settled on doing so, but it is investigating a camera system for the area and is seeking a $190,000 state grant to help pay for a potential pilot project.

Elyria Mayor Whitfield told our reporter Kevin Martin last week that cameras could be part of a more comprehensive downtown security plan. He acknowledged that while downtown has traditionally been safe, surveillance cameras would mean additional security.

Elyria Fire Chief Joe Pronesti said he favored such a system because it would help with investigating accidents and fires as well as assisting in training.

Those are all noble aims, but what of the loss of privacy for civilians going about their day-to-day lives?

Even Whitfield admitted he had concerns about surveillance cameras.

“We’ve got to be careful around surveillance and making sure we’re using this for the right reasons,” Whitfield said. “That’s one reason why I’m not a big fan of pointing these cameras at already disadvantaged populations, or just surveilling poor people.”

Those are legitimate fears, and they apply equally to everyone who wanders in front of a government surveillance camera.

Among the arguments we’ve heard in favor of cameras or any number of other surveillance programs is that if someone hasn’t done anything wrong, they need not worry.

That’s not the case. Because cameras indiscriminately record people’s everyday activities, they can capture all manner of information including who folks interact with, which political meetings they attend, when they go to the doctor and so on.

All of those examples are perfectly legal, but are pieces of information that the government has no business knowing. Not only that, because the information is in the hands of the government, it is subject to public records laws and subpoenas.

Even if someone isn’t doing anything wrong, merely knowing that he or she is under surveillance has a way of changing behaviors.

We expressed similar reservations in 2020 when Wellington installed nine surveillance cameras to cover “every inch” of its downtown.

Moreover, installing cameras in downtown Elyria would add to the burgeoning surveillance apparatus the city is assembling.

City Council already approved a contract that would install 50 traffic-control cameras around the city. The cameras wouldn’t generate tickets, but 11 of them, located near entrance points to the city would be able to read license plates. Safety Service Director Kevin Brubaker told Martin Wednesday that the cameras haven’t gone up yet because the city is still waiting for the equipment to arrive.

Sooner or later, the system will be installed and the city will be able to track who’s coming and going from Elyria. The system will store its data for 60 days.

Avon Lake has taken a similar approach, installing four license-plate reading cameras on roads leading into the city. The point, as Avon Lake Police Lt. Sean Bockelman said last month, is to assist law enforcement, including helping to identify suspicious vehicles.

“It gives us both an investigative tool and a heads up whenever there is something that has entered our city,” Bockelman said.

That certainly sounds benign. The cops are just keeping an eye out for trouble.

But it isn’t just suspicious or stolen vehicles being checked out when a motorist drives into Avon Lake. It’s every vehicle, which puts in the hands of police a detailed record of the comings and goings of civilians.

None of this is to say that cameras don’t have a place in modern society. Security cameras at businesses, government facilities and even homes have a role to play. Police body cameras are an important tool for holding officers and those they interact with accountable. (Elyria has rightly, if belatedly, moved to equip its officers with such technology.)

The trick, however, is to use cameras, which grow more powerful by the year, in limited ways that protect both public safety and public privacy.

Blanket surveillance or license-plate reading cameras encircling a city are too broad of an approach.

Such systems might help with safety, but the price is diminished privacy.

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Sandusky Register. May 10, 2022.

Editorial: Wrong about public health, again

A move by state lawmakers to strip local governments of the power to appoint members of the local health board is, in our view, a continuing abuse of power. It’s also unneeded, unnecessary and dangerous.

State Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, chairman of the House state and local government committee, last week scheduled a hearing for this morning to hear opposition testimony to House Bill 463, which would consolidate appointment power to just the county commissioner boards that are served by the public health board.

Currently, all local governments in a public health district have input on who is appointed to health boards. Wiggam, and other lawmakers who want to change that hope to gut public health departments and that, in our view, is just not wise. There’s no reason for this we can see, and these lawmakers must be stopped.

Wiggam and other House Republicans who support this bill don’t want to hear testimony. This is just lip service to create the illusion this is an above-the-board effort for just cause. It isn’t that. It’s a blatant power grab to consolidate power over health boards and continue the right-wing war on public health that Wiggam and others double-downed on during the pandemic.

Wiggam, a close ally of former House Speaker Larry Householder prior to Householder’s arrest in the $61 million bribery scheme, has long been an enemy of public health measures. In June 2020, he and 18 other House Republicans signed a letter declaring that the pandemic had peaked. They called for public health orders to be canceled.

In the months that followed that misinformed call, infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 rose exponentially. Wiggam and his fellow Republican lawmakers were dead wrong then, and they’re dead wrong now.

We see no reason to consolidate power under one local government. The system is not broken and does not need fixed, especially by individuals like Wiggam, who don’t understand the need for public health measures and don’t respect it.

It’s a blatant abuse of power.

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