Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Gov. DeWine has fought COVID-19 with determination but is hobbled by an archaic system

The Clevland Plain Dealer

Jan. 3

In 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine faced a foe neither he nor most of us were expecting -- a global pandemic that brought economic devastation to many Ohioans, taxed the state’s resources and hospital systems to their limits and killed thousands. The COVID-19 pandemic also exposed the stark inadequacies of Ohio’s approach to public health, including laws and a public health system that hadn’t been updated in a century, and whose funding was woefully subpar.

DeWine rightfully earned praise for how he’s led Ohio during the pandemic. So have the men and women of the state Health Department. Ohioans are also indebted to the department’s former director, Dr. Amy Acton, for the deep understanding and public health expertise with which she guided the state’s initial, determined response, and for her dedication to the public interest.

The governor, a Republican, has drawn fire, much of it demagogic, from publicity-hungry General Assembly Republicans. But given a relentless virus, and a White House that endangered Americans by discounting COVID-19′s danger, the DeWine administration has fought hard to protect Ohioans. The governor deserves our thanks.

But he also needs to push GOP legislators in 2021 to set aside the grandstanding and start making positive changes in our public health setup so Ohio isn’t so woefully handicapped in essentials such as contact tracing and disease reporting. The state also needs to be able to exercise far more comprehensive oversight to ensure efficient and effective approaches to disease testing, quarantines and vaccinations during health emergencies.

Generals are always prepared for the last war; we can’t see the future, but we can see the past. So, for example, we expect Pentagon planners to learn lessons from, say, the Vietnam, Afghan or Iraq wars to guide generals and admirals who’ll fight the wars that may come.

Yet as to public health, Ohio has been fighting COVID-19 using an administrative setup created just after World War I, in 1919, to fight the 1918-19 flu pandemic, which, among many other Ohioans, killed 4,400 Cleveland residents, the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History reports.

During episodic or localized outbreaks of disease or illness, a decentralized public health system, such as Ohio’s, can be -- and has often been -- effective. But due to ever-increasing international travel, and similarly accelerating worldwide trade in commodities that can host pathogens, COVID-19 may be just the beginning of a series of pandemics. For that, Ohio is unprepared – and must change.

Perhaps today’s public health machinery made sense in 1919 -- so long ago that women couldn’t vote in Ohio. But a 101-year-old public health law is beyond its shelf life.

In part because the 113 local health districts (in a state with 88 counties) have for a century taken the lead on public health, General Assembly funding for the Ohio Department of Health and its mission has been constricted. For this fiscal year, the General Assembly appropriated about $108 million in state and federal general revenue for the Ohio Health Department; the appropriation for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (fishing, hunting, state parks) was about $135 million. According to research reported by the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center, Ohio spends $14 per capita on public health. Only three states spend less: Kansas ($13); Nevada ($11); Missouri ($7).

True, the Ohio Department of Health’s overall appropriation for this budget biennium was significantly larger than it was for the previous biennium. But that was mainly because of additional funding for two children’s health programs. Moreover, in early 2019, the Legislative Service Commission found that, of the Health Department’s 1,105 employees, only 60 were assigned to the Bureau of Infectious Diseases (set to rise to 66), Of course, the pandemic led to some immediate changes in state operations.

But long-range, there’s a pattern of legislative underinvestment in the Health Department and overreliance on local agencies. Citing Ohio Association of Health Commissioners data, the Legislative Service Commission reported 75% of funds for local health departments come from local sources, not Columbus. That needs to change.

What also needs to change is the state’s difficulty in gathering statistics for accurate reporting and oversight of public health measures. That’s not just essential for being able to provide timely, up-to-date numbers that accurately measure the extent of the crisis, but also to make sure that such critical endeavors as infectious-disease testing and contact tracing and the timely and efficient delivery of vaccinations are carried out as fairly and quickly as possible.

Ohio is one of the few states that doesn’t license its hospitals, forgoing a critical lever of control in a health emergency. Yet Ohio’s hospitals have also proved themselves essential partners during this pandemic by assuring timely regional consultation and apportionment of hospital resources.

These facts hand the DeWine administration and the legislature a three-fold task: to modernize Ohio’s public health laws and system; to bolster the Health Department’s resources; and to give the state greater powers in a health emergency to mandate timely and accurate health reporting and deployment of scarce resources.

Online: https://bit.ly/3pSMejd

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Airport needs leadership

The Toledo Blade

Jan. 4

Not one, but TWO studies are in the works to examine Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport’s impact on the region and how it can be better utilized. Studies are fine, but what Toledo really needs to make the most of its airport is bold leadership.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority has approved a $125,000 strategic study of the airport, which will include an assessment of the financial health and sustainability of airport operations, a review of air cargo and industrial development opportunities there, and “a complete market assessment and airline-specific review of air service” at the airport.

Meanwhile, the city of Toledo, which owns the airport and leases it to the port authority for $1 a year, is partnering with the Lucas County commissioners on a $150,000 study looking at governance, and specifically whether the airport would function better under its own dedicated authority.

Studies like this can pave the way for necessary change. They also can sometimes produce nothing more than thick reports that gather dust on a shelf.

If these reports are worth the time and money being spent on them, they will be followed by action on what should be obvious — the region needs an airport authority that focuses solely on Toledo Express. The authority must be truly regional and it must focus on building Toledo Express as a driver of economic growth.

And even before that comes to fruition, state, local, and federal leaders must recognize that Toledo needs federal assistance to develop the airport into the facility the region needs.

Toledo Express needs two things to reinvent itself. One is a second long runway. The second is removal of the unnecessary roundabouts on county roads surrounding the airport. It is likely that the roundabouts will impede a second runway. They should never have been built. They cost $2.5 million to build. Perhaps engineers can figure out a feasible runway plan without the removal of the impediments, but that may be a complex feat.

The Toledo region is at a crossroads in terms of revitalization. The nascent momentum that is building will need some help to continue to build.

This region will not be able to be successful at long-term, meaningful economic development without a vital airport. When business travelers have to rely on Detroit’s airport rather than a strong local alternative, economic development hits a brick wall.

The airport can do more for the Toledo region. The region’s leaders need to step up and do more for it.

Online: https://bit.ly/391jgGT

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‘No-knock’ raids must be abolished

The Warren Tribune Chronicle

Jan. 4

Law enforcement agencies throughout the nation have been rethinking their tactics this year, in efforts to prevent tragedies such as the death in March of Louisville, Ky., resident Breonna Taylor.

Taylor died during a raid by police investigating illegal drug trafficking — with which she was not alleged to have been involved. She perished in a hail of bullets after police burst into her apartment and her boyfriend, who says he thought criminals had invaded their home, opened fire. Police fired back, and Taylor was killed.

Louisville police insist they announced their presence before breaking down the apartment door. Taylor’s boyfriend has said he did not hear the officers.

Law enforcement agencies sometimes use “no-knock” raids in such situations. They do not reveal their presence before charging into homes and apartments. The consequences, whether targets of a raid are not alerted or, in the Taylor case, may not hear warnings, can be tragic.

“No-knock” raids should be banned for that reason. Indeed, they sometimes give law enforcement the opportunity to prevent destruction of evidence — but they also can result in needless violence, including deaths.

It is to be hoped that law enforcement agencies will abandon “no-knock” tactics on their own. Where they do not, state legislators should step in and enact statutory bans.

Online: https://bit.ly/2XaeYrg

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Throw out partisan politics to help people

The Marietta Times

Jan. 2

For months, Americans’ pleas for Congress to give us more financial help in coping with COVID-19 fell on political ears–much worse than merely deaf ones–in Washington.

Exactly why lawmakers were unable to agree on a second CARES Act is open to debate. Republican loyalists believe the problem was Democrat leaders’ chicanery. Democrats contend the problem was just the opposite of that.

That tells us much about the matter, of course. It was a classic political standoff, with politicians avoiding blame by faulting their opponents–while the American people continued to suffer.

Then, nearly three weeks ago, three U.S. senators — Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska–decided they had had enough. They formed a coalition of a couple of dozen senators and representatives from both parties and proposed a new $908 billion relief bill.

They made it clear they were sick and tired of the issue being used as a political football and that it was time for Congress to put the people first.

Seldom during the past several days have the names Manchin, Collins and Murkowski been in the news. Other, more well-known politicians have taken the spotlight. All were eager to get credit for the new package of relief funding.

Without majorities in both chambers of Congress, the bill would never have been passed. But the bottom line–disturbing yet encouraging at the same time–is that it took the three courageous senators to stand up to both their parties and get the ball rolling.

It is disturbing that it took so long for lawmakers to put politics aside. It is encouraging, however, that the MCM triumvirate prevailed.

Once the three centrists got the ball rolling, politicians both Democrat and Republican resumed their partisan jockeying for position; and there is still political game-playing with addendums to the effort. Members of the centrist coalition had emphasized none of them was entirely happy with the $908 billion plan — but they added that in the spirit of compromise, they all supported it.

Beginning Jan. 20, Democrat Joe Biden will sit in the Oval Office as president. Democrats continue to control the House of Representatives. Assuming a special election for senators from Georgia goes their way, Republicans will maintain their hold on the Senate. The federal government will be divided.

If gridlock persists, only Biden, with the vast authority Congress has ceded to the executive branch during the past half-century, will be able to get things done.

For now, because a very few senators understood the need to compromise, Americans are going to get more help coping with the epidemic. Now, if we could just beat that other disease: politics.

Online: https://bit.ly/3rWlgJ2

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DeWine should veto ‘Chase and Kill’

The Sandusky Register

Jan. 4

A study by the American Medical Association found that the number of homicides in Florida increased by more than 24% after that state implemented its “Stand Your Ground” law. The number of homicides committed with a gun increased 32%, according to the study.

An American Bar Association study determined that interracial homicides spiked in all states with Stand Your Ground laws, which were formerly known as the “Make My Day” law, and, more recently, “Shoot to Kill,” and “Chase and Kill” laws. The latter, in our view, are more apt titles than the former.

Another study of data from 23 states with Stand Your Ground laws found that white homicide defendants with Black victims were 12 times more likely to have Stand Your Ground ruled in their favor than Black defendants whose victims were white. There are no readily available studies that suggest what social benefit there might be or that refute the disturbing findings.

But proponents of Ohio’s version of this law pushed it forward late in the General Assembly’s 2020 session without refuting those findings as if the disparities don’t matter. The disrespect they’ve shown their colleagues of color is appalling. More Black people will die unjustifiably as a result of their vote, but that doesn’t matter, the disparities don’t matter. Their failure to address the concerns raised by numerous civil rights groups and individuals about this legislation is unconscionable and cowardly.

None of the lawmakers who voted in favor of enacting this chase and kill law will address the disturbing results of what it means to enact a law like this or the concerns rights groups have raised. They dismiss those concerns without comment, hoping to serve up the red meat of Stand Your Ground without consequence. A press secretary for the Republican majority in the state Senate is among those who will not address questions and concerns. Instead, he gave it yet another name: the “Duty to Retreat” law.

That is simply misleading, at best, or downright dishonest. There is no duty to retreat in the legislation statehouse Republicans approved Dec. 18, which is still awaiting Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature before it becomes law. It is more accurate to call this legislation “Chase and Kill.” Republicans who support it aren’t being straight with Ohioans about it.

More Black people will be killed without justification. That will be the result. That’s what is known. According to the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, it will result in guilty defendants being acquitted at trial because lawmakers are extending the definition of self-defense in a dangerous way.

We urge DeWine to veto Senate Bill 175.

Online: https://bit.ly/359gpuh

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