Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
Barberton school district is doing the right thing
Akron Beacon Journal
The Barberton City School District is doing the prudent thing by allowing some members of the Magics boys basketball team to engage in silent protest by kneeling or sitting during the pregame playing of the national anthem.
The district is also doing the right thing.
Although it has yet to be confirmed, the protests are believed to be an effort to draw attention to police brutality against minority members of the community and seem to be inspired by the near-identical 2016 protests of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick against systematic oppression and racial injustice.
They also follow directly in the tradition of nonviolent activism as practiced by slain civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birth our nation will commemorate on Monday.
Certainly, the Barberton students have a legal right to protest guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court made that clear with its 1943 decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in which it ruled that public schools — unlike private entities such as the NFL, which are legally entitled to enforce their own work requirements — can not compel students to participate in rituals based upon the premise of national unity.
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote in a 6-3 majority opinion, “it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
The school district acknowledges that disciplining the students or attempting to prevent them from protesting would break the law and, undoubtedly, would be challenged in court — where the district surely would lose.
“The Barberton City School District supports every student’s right to free speech, as protected by the United States Constitution and supported by Ohio Revised Code (state law),” the school district said in a statement. “Ohio Revised Code 3313.602 states that a school district cannot compel an act of patriotism on the part of a student.”
The district instead chose the wiser course, allowing the protest, rather than waste taxpayer dollars on legal fees.
But we applaud the district for not simply stopping there, saying it could do no more.
Instead, in the face of some public opposition, the district has defended the students for exercising their rights and has used the controversy as a real-life teaching tool.
“While many people may not share this student’s point of view, as a public school district we are proud of all of our students who are learning important lessons about life that public schools are uniquely suited to teach — that people can hold different beliefs and can still coexist, get along, and even work together toward common goals,” the district said in its statement.
Although we understand the raw emotions evoked when patriotism, the military or the U.S. flag are involved, that’s all the more reason for such speech to be fiercely protected. As the Founding Fathers knew, popular speech does not require protection.
Justice Jackson said as much in his 1943 decision: ”(F)reedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”
We are being tested again.
The Barberton City School District gives us reason to believe our answer will be the right one.
Security deposit options remove affordable housing barriers
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Shelling out $600 to $1,200 for a security deposit in addition to the first month's rent can be a real barrier to affordable housing for lower-income renters in Cincinnati. That's why City Council should get behind an ordinance proposed by Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld that would remove that upfront barrier and give hundreds of renters in the Queen City a better shot at landing in housing they feel good about.
Sittenfeld's "Renter's Choice" proposal, which council is expected to vote on Wednesday, would provide landlords and renters with a three alternatives to the traditional upfront security deposit, which is usually equivalent to 100% of the first month's rent. Those options are:
Rental security insurance. Tenants could pay a nonrefundable monthly fee (as little as $3 a month) to a certified, licensed insurance provider instead of a security deposit. The insurance provider covers the apartment, paying the landlord for any damages.
An installment plan. Tenants would pay the security deposit over a period of no less than six months. For example, instead of paying $900 upfront, a tenant can pay $150 per month for the first six months, making it significantly more manageable.
Pay a reduced security deposit. If a landlord stills desires to get money upfront, it can be no more than the equivalent of 50% of the first month's rent. So instead of paying $900 upfront, a tenant would pay no more than $450 upfront.
Tenants would get their money back at the end of the lease under every option except rental security insurance. Each option dramatically reduces the upfront costs for renters, which some might not have on hand. The legislation also allows landlords to choose the option they prefer once a tenant indicates they want to forgo the traditional security deposit instead of mandating a specific alternative.
We also like the fact that Sittenfeld's proposal exempts landlords who own 25 units or less from the regulations. The city shouldn't overburden landlords with one or two units who don't have the financial or administrative capacity to meet the requirements of the new law.
Still, many landlords might chafe under this proposal. Some will say the legislation is a solution in search of a problem, and that there's no real outcry for such a remedy. The Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Apartment Association argued that Cincinnati is not New York or California, where security deposits can range thousands of dollars compared with $250 to $500 here. Besides, many conscientious landlords are already working with tenants by utilizing installment plans for deposits.
But this editorial board also got to hear firsthand from local renters who talked about what it's like living paycheck to paycheck and how challenging it can be to come up with an upfront security deposit, even one as low as $200. They shared how the cost of rent and security deposits can limit their housing options to certain parts of the city (namely the West Side), and can create challenges for them with access to transportation, employment and education for their children.
We credit the councilman for the thoughtful and collaborative process in which he engaged landlords and tenants to get to this point. The legislation, which Sittenfeld calls "the first of its-kind in the nation," has gone through several revisions, addressing several of the concerns landlords had with the initial proposal. The latest version has gotten the endorsement of the Real Estate Investors Association of Greater Cincinnati, according to Sittenfeld.
It is our hope that Sittenfeld, council, landlords and tenants will continue to collaborate and tweak the legislation, even once it's passed, in order to perfect it. In a city heavily populated by renters, City Council must remain focused on putting forth legislation that insures people have access to affordable housing and affordable housing options across our city.
Sittenfeld's "Renter's Choice" proposal does just that by removing what can be a steep financial barrier for some.
Updating the rules
The Toledo Blade
Michigan has taken a step into the digital age that recognizes the reality of the ubiquitous cell phone and laptop and will now allow them into courthouses. Ohio ought to follow suit.
Under the new policies published by Michigan Supreme Court, people can bring “portable electronic devices” — phones, laptops, and tablets — into courtrooms to take notes on court proceedings, access the Internet and, send or receive texts.
People still won’t be able to photograph or record proceedings without the judge’s approval, and that’s reasonable.
Some judges fretted that people will be distracted by their devices. Or that ringtones will distract the judges, lawyers, jurors, bailiffs, and other professionals trying to do their jobs. They’re right that the courtroom is a place for focus on the business at hand, just like a classroom, church, or the theater. The Michigan rule trusts the public to handle their devices responsibly. This is an expectation that the public will have to live up to.
People use their phones and tablets to take notes and communicate, and judges are right to expect that such devices will be used appropriately and don’t interfere with testimony and deliberation. In other words, not to watch the latest TicTok dance videos with the sound up. The instructions from the judges also free up the public to use their cell phones and tablets in the clerk’s office to take pictures of documents.
This rule was opposed by some Michigan county clerks, who fear the loss of revenue from copying fees. Courthouse regulations should prioritize the public’s needs over those of bureaucrats and elected officials. Fees are based on the costs of services, and if copier use declines, so will the cost of toner and wear and tear on printers.
In this matter, Michigan is a step ahead of some Ohio counties, some of which still restrict possession of electronic devices in courthouses.
Lucas County Common Pleas Court provides locked pouches for the public who enter the courthouse in which to carry their devices, and there they must stay until they exit the building.
Wider latitude should be given to the public in the courthouse, including the ability to quietly text while sitting in the back of a courtroom, to make a phone call in the hallway, or to take pictures of a document in a legal file.
Citizens deserve a full, fair impeachment hearing by US Senate
The Columbus Dispatch
The hand-wringing and political theater of recent weeks about when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would deliver two articles of impeachment and how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would manage the trial on those charges is over.
The House has finally delivered the impeachment articles against President Donald Trump. Now the Senate is bound to conduct a trial in which it will “consider evidence” and “hear witnesses,” as that responsibility is acknowledged on its official website.
More than 230 years ago, the founding fathers put considerable thought into creating the process of impeachment and delegating specific powers to both the House and the Senate as they drafted the Constitution in 1787. Alexander Hamilton then took care to explain the founders’ thinking in the Federalist Papers that he wrote to argue for ratification of the nation’s bedrock document.
As the nation looks on in coming weeks, The Dispatch urges all 100 U.S. Senators and especially Ohio’s senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman, to live up to the faith placed in them and their institution long ago to deliver fair and impartial justice as Trump becomes the third president to face an impeachment trial.
A fair trial means being open to considering evidence gathered in months of House proceedings as well as hearing from witnesses and even receiving new evidence, especially in light of developments occurring since the House approved two articles of impeachment on Dec. 18.
Just before the House voted Wednesday to formally deliver the articles to the Senate, new revelations emerged that an indicted associate of the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says Trump “knew exactly what was going on” regarding efforts to use presidential powers to win personal political help from Ukraine President Volodymir Zelenskiy. Additionally, Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton, believed to have direct knowledge of the president’s actions with Ukraine, has said he would testify in the Senate if asked.
The two charges against Trump are that he abused his power by pressuring Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, potentially the Democratic nominee to challenge Trump’s reelection bid in November, and that he obstructed Congress’ investigation.
McConnell and other Senate leaders have criticized the case against Trump as weak and not supported by direct evidence or witnesses, but that is precisely the point of the article of impeachment accusing the president of obstructing Congress’ effort to investigate claims against him. Witnesses and documents requested by the House were blocked by Trump and the White House.
It would be the ultimate hypocrisy for the Senate to fail to even pursue the very witnesses and documents that it criticizes the House for failing to secure.
We would like to think that the founding fathers’ faith in the Senate to represent the people’s interests in fairly judging impeachment charges was well placed.
In Federalist No. 65, Hamilton explained why the Senate was given such great responsibility — relying heavily on the presumption that senators would be secure enough in their own status, “unawed and uninfluenced,” to be necessarily impartial and not beholden to other influences.
Following up in Federalist No. 66, Hamilton answered objections to having the Senate try impeachment cases by arguing that senators’ “pride” and “virtue” would keep them from being unduly corrupted by a future president.
Some Republican senators have indicated that they are so ingratiated to Trump or too insecure in their own political futures without his support to be impartial jurors for his impeachment trial. McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have called for a quick acquittal and rejected the need for witnesses — although Graham advocated the opposite view 20 years ago in arguing that the Senate should hear witnesses in the impeachment trial of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
The Dispatch urges all senators to live up to the founders’ faith in their virtue and give the citizens they represent a full, fair and impartial trial on the impeachment charges against Donald John Trump. It is the least they must do to honor their positions of trust.