Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Akron Beacon Journal. Aug. 27, 2021.

Editorial: Voluntary mask policies at schools put parents in difficult situation

We don’t need a crystal ball to credibly predict schools with voluntary mask policies will be a virus-infested mess in a few weeks.

It’s already happening across America and in one Ohio district, which was forced to switch to remote learning when more than 100 students were reported absent due to COVID-19 cases and quarantine requirements. That district strongly recommends but does not require masks.

Now, we hope we’re wrong. But most local school boards are putting parents in an impossible situation by not requiring masks and removing many of the safeguards that kept masked children largely safe last year.

Remote learning is no longer an option for many districts, especially during quarantines. Hybrid schedules are gone. Social distancing will be tough with more kids attending. And kids under 12 can’t be vaccinated for now.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Akron hospitals again surpassed 100 Thursday for the first time since January as the deadly delta variant continues to spread. Ohio also reported 5,432 new cases, the most since Jan. 28.

Masks would reduce challenges for parents

Should parents send their unvaccinated children to in-person classes and risk exposure or keep them safe at home? How disruptive will likely cases and close contact quarantine requirements be to actually teaching children? How many parents will have to stay home with children who are told they can’t go to school for a week or longer?

Masks would greatly reduce all of those challenges.

More importantly, masks may save children’s lives or help avoid significant health problems from a highly contagious variant that is sickening far more young people than the original COVID-19 virus. Doctors also are encountering more serious cases in children than before, although deaths thankfully remain rare.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, as of Aug. 19, reported more than 4.59 million children had tested positive for COVID-19, including 180,000 cases in the prior week.

How school boards are risking the health of younger students

While a more permissive mask policy may work in schools serving vaccinated older students, it’s shocking to see board members willingly risk the health of younger students.

This is especially true in Revere, where numerous parents with medical backgrounds lobbied the board to make masks mandatory. Front-line doctors in the local battle against COVID shared their real experiences watching families say final goodbyes and coping with full appointment schedules of sick children.

Dr. Jeffrey Archinal, the parent of first and third graders at Revere, told board members: “We don’t have more space for sick kids. So if we’re going to keep school open, we have to lessen the amount of sick kids.”

The five board members ignored their pleas and voted unanimously to side with those who believe they have the freedom to spread a deadly virus without any consideration for others.

To be fair, Revere is hardly alone. Only Akron, Hudson, Twinsburg and Nordonia are listening to the scientific facts and requiring masks in local public schools.

Here are the consequences of not wearing masks

The consequences could be severe. With only a few schools back in session last week, Summit County Public Health was already reporting 70 students under quarantine and 27 positive cases.

If there’s one sliver of good news in all of this, parents can ask their children to wear masks, which will decrease their odds of getting sick and allow them to stay in school if they do have close contact. Whether kids will wear them is another matter.

With COVID negatively impacting children for a third consecutive school year, we would urge all local school boards to immediately make masks mandatory until this current crisis wanes.

Surely we all can agree children need to be in school and safe.

Masks can help achieve that goal.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer. Aug. 27, 2021.

Editorial: Repeal HB 6 in full to end costly coal subsidies, restore utility energy efficiency programs

In a welcome example of cross-party Statehouse cooperation in an otherwise contentious General Assembly, a prominent Ohio House Democrat and a prominent Ohio House Republican are co-sponsoring a bill to allow, but not require, Ohio’s electric companies to help customers save money on their electric bills.

As introduced, House Bill 389 would make it clear that electric companies may “develop … energy savings portfolios to help (ratepayers) … save energy” – that is, via various techniques and mechanisms, help Ohioans use less electricity. The bill, introduced Aug. 12, has not yet been referred to a House committee for hearings.

HB 389′s sponsors are former Democratic State Chair David Leland, an Ohio House member from a Columbus district, and Republican Rep. Bill Seitz, a major player in the conservative, pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council. Seitz represents a suburban Cincinnati district. As the Ohio House’s majority floor leader, Seitz ranks as the No. 3 Republican in the Ohio House’s GOP majority caucus.

Cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer reports that “environmental groups, most investor-owned utilities, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are backing the bill … in the wake of the House Bill 6 scandal,” a refreshing example of policy consensus.

HB 6, passed in July 2019, and immediately signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, aimed to bail out two money-losing nuclear power plants formerly owned by FirstEnergy Corp. – the Perry plant in Lake County east of Cleveland, and the Davis-Besse plant in Ottawa County near Toledo.

Leland voted “no” on HB 6, Seitz voted “yes” on the measure.

A federal grand jury subsequently indicted five Statehouse figures, including now-former House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Perry County’s Glenford, on corruption charges in connection with HB 6′s passage. The grand jury alleged that HB 6 was passed with the help of $60 million-plus in corrupt spending.

Two of Householder’s co-defendants have since admitted to racketeering in a plea bargain and one died an apparent suicide. Charges against Householder and former GOP State Chair Matt Borges are still pending; the two must be considered innocent until, and if, found guilty.

Earlier this year, the legislature repealed the nuclear subsidies in HB 6 and ended its juicy pro-utility decoupling provisions. But many other questionable or downright pernicious provisions rammed into the bill to ensure its passage remain -- likely because influential utilities in the state, and legislators friendly to them, want them to stay. And that is costing ratepayers and leading to confusion for utility regulators.

For instance, HB 6 repealed an Ohio law that had required (not just allowed) electric companies to offer energy efficiency plans. That repeal evidently has stoked uncertainty at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio over whether electric companies could voluntarily offer such plans.

The Leland-Seitz bill would, in effect, clarify that voluntary plans are permissible. This is constructive legislation and it deserves to become law.

But it doesn’t absolve the General Assembly for continuing to duck unfinished business – the full repeal of House Bill 6. It’s politically convenient but deceitful for state legislators to pretend HB 6 is history, just because the nuclear subsidies and decoupling provisions are gone.

HB 6 not only isn’t history – it’s still making ratepayers in Ohio fork out lots of cash, needlessly.

If you doubt that, consider how much money HB 6 has already forced Ohio electricity customers to pay to subsidize two coal-burning power plants, including one in Indiana, that are owned by a group of electric companies, including Ohio companies.

Since January 2020, according to the Ohio Office of Consumers’ Counsel, which represents Ohio’s residential utility consumers, HB 6 has forced Ohioans to pay more than $140.4 million in subsidies to bail out the Kyger Creek coal plant in Gallia County, Ohio, and Clifty Creek coal plant in Indiana. Over that same period, the OCC calculates, the two plants have spewed more than 17 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

HB 6 also continues to hobble Ohioans in benefiting from utility-based renewable energy and energy efficiency options.

For all this, Ohioans can thank their General Assembly, which has failed to yank House Bill 6, root and branch, out of the Revised Code. The legislature’s continued failure to do so – given all the surrounding circumstances – is something that should induce voters, maybe even grand jurors, to ask why.

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Youngstown Vindicator. Aug. 29, 2021.

Editorial: AWOL leaders of redistricting show disrespect

As Ohio sprints to meet fast-approaching deadlines for redrawing its state and federal legislative districts, the stench of Elbridge Gerry must not waft its way into the process.

Gerry reigns as the father of gerrymandering. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed a bill in 1812 that created a wacky salamander-shaped voting district in Boston to preserve a stronghold for his Democratic-Republican Party. Ergo, the term “gerrymander” was born.

Flash forward 209 years to today’s exercise in Ohio of reshaping the state’s General Assembly and U.S. congressional districts for maximum fairness and minimum gerrymandering for the next 10 years. Because the Buckeye State has had an ignoble track record of drawing salamander-like boundaries to protect the dominant political party in power, the reforms Ohioans voted in over the past six years to ensure greater fairness in the process must be rigidly followed and unflinchingly respected.

Sadly, judging by a forum in Youngstown last week to gather public input on the shape of things to come, some redistricting decision makers have blatantly thumbed their noses at those noble goals.

The proof is in their paltry turnout. Only two official members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission — state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, and Ohio Auditor Keith Faber — bothered to show up at Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center for the mid-afternoon forum last Monday. Those members absent without official leave were Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Speaker of the House Robert R. Cupp, Senate President Matt Huffman, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes.

Such chronic absenteeism sends a distressing message from these public officeholders about their commitment to their critically important task: We don’t care much about what constituents in the Youngstown-Warren area think about redistricting.

An incredulous state Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, a forum attendee, summarized it best: “This is the most important thing in a decade, and they can’t show up in the Mahoning Valley.”

Perhaps the panel members already have created new legislative boundaries, and the absentees saw no need in hearing legitimate and constructive public input. After all, the commission has only two more days to meet a self-imposed deadline to reveal the first draft of new maps.

If that scenario is indeed true, we’d fervently hope the panelists at least would consider the input they received second-hand from residents at the well-attended forums throughout the state in tweaking their work.

For example, some at the Youngstown hearing voiced similar concerns as we did last Sunday in this space on the need to keep the Mahoning Valley united as one viable and cohesive congressional district. As we noted then, our region has too much to lose if our state and federal legislative districts get sliced and diced into multiple fragmented districts.

And though the new process approved by voters three years ago includes several safeguards — such as recommending keeping entire counties within one or two congressional districts — it also has loopholes that allow for gerrymandering to creep into the process. For example, if a 10-year map does not gain majority bipartisan approval by November, the Republican majority could then singlehandedly implement four-year maps.

Such defeatist scenarios, however, need not come to pass. A first step toward ensuring they do not is for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to take its work and the input of its constituents seriously as it enters the home stretch.

By Wednesday, the panel will unveil its initial plans for divvying up the new legislative districts. Then it plans to take those maps on the road for more comment and criticism.

On that road show, no-shows must be unacceptable. Each and every member of the commission ought to attend each and every forum in person to listen intently to the concerns from those who will be most impacted by the panel’s mapmaking. Then members should apply that input when tweaking the final drafts of the maps, due no later than Sept. 15.

We’d also recommend scheduling some of the forums in the evening to benefit those who cannot make daytime events due to work obligations. After all, the greater the participation, the greater the fairness.

In addition to fairness, respect for the process must remain paramount in mind among all commission members. They can best prove that commitment by showing up in person at all future hearings.

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Newark Advocate. Aug. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Are Denison students Granville residents or not?

The 2020 U.S. Census provided another layer on the debate of whether Denison University students are truly residents of Granville.

The answer seems to depend on who you ask and what you are counting them for.

Readers might remember a 2018 controversy when a group from Granville argued that Denison students shouldn’t be allowed to register and vote in local elections because they aren’t really residents of the community.

A tax referendum for Granville schools passed by 142 votes that year, which received strong support from the precinct where Denison is located.

Denison’s faculty spoke out loudly in support of their students’ right to participate in local elections. They noted that the students work local jobs, eat at local restaurants and use local village amenities. The state noted that court cases have ruled that college students can register to vote where they attend classes if they spend most of the year there.

In fact, we wrote an opinion at the time saying those students should have the right to determine what their residence is, as it would be impossible to know whether a person’s true loyalty is where they reside for school or where they grew up. Who is to say whether non-students who live in Granville are more invested in the community than students?

So we found it odd that Granville gets to ignore these students when it comes to whether the municipality is a village or city.

The 1912 Ohio Constitution mandates that communities transition to city government when they surpass 5,000 in population. Johnstown passed this threshold with the 2020 Census.

The 2020 Census found a population count of 5,946 within the Village of Granville — far higher than Johnstown — yet Granville will remain a village. Why? Because Denison students don’t count. According to Ohio Revised Code 703.01, college students are specifically exempted from counting toward municipal status. The only other group exempted is prison inmates.

So Granville simply subtracts the roughly 2,000 Denison students from its total and it falls safely below the city population threshold.

But there is a catch. A separate section of the state law - 703.011 - mandates that a village transition to a city once it surpasses 5,000 registered voters. Under this provision, Denison students could push the village toward being a city. In the 2020 general election, Granville had 4,653 registered voters, putting it perilously close to the city threshold.

There likely are good arguments to be made in both directions on whether Denison students should be counted as Granville residents. What seems incongruous, however, is students get to help select who serves on the village council, but don’t necessarily count on whether Granville remains a village or not.

Transitioning to a city does require some meaningful changes, including how the local government is formed, shifting of responsibility for road maintenance from the state and the requirement to recognize collective bargaining with employees.

Of course, setting the population threshold for cities at 5,000 is also a completely arbitrary decision. There is no reason it couldn’t be 7,500, 10,000 or not even directly tied to a number.

We understand this is a fairly unique circumstance, but it does give us the opportunity to look at how Ohio treats its college students, and how it sets its municipal governments. This might be the best way, but we encourage officials to provide some clarity before it becomes a problem.

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Marietta Times. Aug. 27, 2021.

Editorial: Schools need reliable air-conditioning

Schools in several Ohio counties are closing or going back to remote learning at the start of the school year. While one might assume that is happening because of the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, there is another culprit: extreme heat.

Throughout the state school buildings are so old or in such disrepair that they do not have working air conditioning. Marietta residents have been all too familiar with such challenges. Now, Columbus City Schools has 20 buildings that either have no air conditioning at all or are in the process of getting systems installed. Students at those schools are learning remotely while the heat wave holds on. Many districts in Northeast Ohio are simply remaining closed until the temperature drops enough for students to be able to earn safely and comfortably.

In July, Steve Dyer, government relations director at the Ohio Education Association and a former Democratic state lawmaker from Akron, talked to the Associated Press about Ohio’s new Fair School Funding Plan.

“It’s much more of a ‘What do kids need, and let’s pay for it’ thing, rather than, ‘Here’s how much money we’re willing to spend, let’s divide it by the number of kids and see what we come up with,’” he said. “It’s a totally different way of looking at school funding.”

It is ridiculous to have to say it, but despite lawmakers and public officials being surprised by it every August, it has been abundantly clear for years our kids need schools with reliable air conditioning. In fact, given the need for HVAC systems that provide not only temperature control, but good ventilation and air circulation to help stem the spread of COVID-19 and other contagions, it should be doubly on the minds of those in charge of funding to make it happen.

Bureaucrats and politicians are masters of the ignore-it-and-hope-it-goes-away technique. In the case of air conditioning in schools, that usually works for them, as fall weather removes the problem and they can forget about it until it arises again next school year.

Perhaps, given the amount of federal money flooding into counties and school districts, this is the year officials solve this very real public health and education challenge once and for all.

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