Columbus Dispatch. September 21, 2023.
Editorial: Property tax increase is about to hit Ohio seniors – hard. Freezing taxes will help.
Property owners in Franklin and other counties around the state are bracing for a tidal wave of increased property taxes as home values hit historic highs.
Something must be done to stop the flood.
There is reason for a degree of hope thanks to the bipartisan group of state lawmakers working on a life preserver for some of the most vulnerable Ohioans.
To qualify, seniors would have to own their homes for 10 or more years.
How did 70 under 70 come about?
Rep. Dani Isaacsohn, D-Cincinnati, told a member of our editorial board that he and Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Township, have been eager to find areas in which to partner.
Both generally felt passionate about finding solutions to help seniors stay in their homes as property taxes rise, pricing homeowners out of neighborhoods in Hamilton County and elsewhere.
“We put our heads together and decided to work together on this bill,” Isaacsohn said.
The bill has about 25 co-sponsors from both parties, including Columbus Democratic Reps. Latyna M. Humphrey, Ismail Mohamed, Dontavius Jarrells, Adam Miller, and Munira Abdullahi as well as Republican Dave Dobos.
State Rep. Anita Somani, a Dublin Democrat, is also a cosponsor.
What about other seniors?
If the legislation were approved as is, there are several groups of seniors that would not qualify, such as those who have downsized to smaller housing in recent years.
Isaacsohn expects the bill to evolve to include more seniors. He said it is an “open effort” to help seniors living on fixed incomes. There will be hearings on the bill.
“Part of the reason you put a bill out there is to get feedback from people,” he said. “We are committed to both listening to people’s responses and improving the bill as it goes through the process.”
If passed, Isaacsohn said the state would fully reimburse any local governments — schools and other entities — that get money from levies the way it does under the homestead exemption.
Part of a larger issue
The bill speaks to our dependency on property taxes and the deeply problematic and still unconstitutional way schools are funded in Ohio.
About 66% of the funds raised by property taxes go to schools, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation. The rest is split between other local government entities such as cities, libraries and park districts.
The Ohio Supreme Court declared the state’s method of funding public education unconstitutional on March 24, 1997, and affirmed that three more times in the ensuing years.
The high court cited four major flaws in its DeRolph v. State ruling, including insufficient state funding for school facilities and a flawed school funding formula.
The average home values in Franklin County increased by 41% in reappraisals this year. The same increases are being felt in counties around the state.
For example, average values increased by 41% in Ashland County and 31% in Summit County, according to reporting by the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau.
Owners only pay a percentage of their property’s value, but as Butler County Auditor Nancy Nix has said, dramatic increases can be “catastrophic” for those on fixed incomes.
Seventy under 70 would not be a complete fix, but it would be a step in the right direction to help seniors struggling to stay in their homes as taxes rise due to increased property taxes.
More than that, the legislation is an example of what can happen when lawmakers come together in a bipartisan fashion to address issues that impact Ohioans.
They should do that more often. Good things can happen.
Toledo Blade. September 21, 2023.
Editorial: Sunlight solar settlement
The sordid episode between Toledo Solar and First Solar has ended with a settlement to dismiss the case in the federal District Court of Judge Jeffery J. Helmick.
If ever there was a local civil suit in need of the sunlight of public disclosure it’s the facts behind this solar industry scandal (“First Solar settles lawsuit filed against Toledo Solar,” Thursday).
First Solar filed suit this spring alleging that solar panels installed on the Governor’s residence in Bexley, Ohio, claimed to be Toledo Solar-made, were actually rebranded panels manufactured by First Solar in a Malaysian plant.
The business issues between the two Toledo solar firms have never been the main concern in this case. Federal Energy Department grants to Toledo Solar totaling $10.5 million make it imperative that a full disclosure of the facts in this case is on the public record.
The Biden Administration commitment to a net-zero carbon emission electric grid by 2050 requires a huge expansion of solar power. In April, when Toledo Solar received an $8.8 million grant, it was just one of 19 projects funded by the Energy Department.
Without a requirement by the federal government for a full public disclosure of the settlement between Toledo Solar and First Solar, the steps Toledo Solar has taken in response to the incident, and the oversight plan by the Energy Department to make sure taxpayer funds are not lost to fraud, political support for the grant program is inappropriate.
Toledo Solar has replaced its board of directors, corporate management, and legal counsel since the First Solar lawsuit.
But just days before the false-label scandal broke Toledo Solar put out a news release claiming to be 100 percent American-made and 100 percent ethical.
Youngstown Vindicator. September 24, 2023.
Editorial: Marsy’s Law already bringing darkness to Ohio
When we start picking and choosing what the public may know about crimes or the work and actions of their local police departments, where does it end?
It is a slippery slope and, frankly, the public’s right to know always should trump privacy issues.
Ohio’s Legislature must act quickly to make changes to a new law intended to protect victims’ rights, but that, undoubtedly, will close doors on transparency of crimes and limit information about what is happening in neighborhoods that the public absolutely has the right to know.
A sweeping piece of victims’ rights legislation known as Marsy’s Law went into effect in April following an affirmative vote at the ballot box in a constitutional amendment. The law was codified in the Ohio Legislature in recent months.
Known as the Ohio Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, Marsy’s Law states that crime victims “have the right to reasonable notice, to be present and heard at all court proceedings, to be informed of the release of the offender, to offer input on negotiated pleas, to a prompt conclusion of their case, and to restitution for economic losses resulting from the criminal offense or delinquent act.”
It all sounds reasonable, and it is.
The challenges, however, come with the requirement that victims be provided a Victim’s Rights Request Form, asking if he or she wants name, address and identifying information removed from law enforcement records, prosecution records and / or court records when such records are requested by the public or news media.
But Marsy’s law goes far beyond just removal of victim’s names. It also removes age and gender.
All sex crimes are heinous, but it’s hard to deny a big difference exists between the rape of a 25-year-old woman or a 4-year-old child.
Further, this law will mean blocking release of the exact address of a crime if it occurs at the victim’s home and the victim wishes no one to know.
That means residents in the neighborhood will have no knowledge of the location of the crime because the media will have no access to the location in order to report it.
And what if a police officer on duty is the victim of a crime? Doesn’t the public have a right to know about what happened to the officer, who undoubtedly is being financially supported by their tax dollars?
Or worse, what happens when a police officer is involved in a shooting and claims to be the victim?
NBC Channel 4 in Columbus last week reported a new barrier to transparency — one involving police-involved shootings.
On July 9, multiple Columbus police officers exchanged gunfire with men at the end of a robbery chase. The shootout on Interstate 70 closed the highway for hours and left a Columbus police officer seriously injured.
Two days later, Columbus police explained in a news release that Marsy’s Law required names of officers involved to be withheld. Because the suspects were shooting at the officers, all the officers were considered crime victims, according to the release.
A similar case in Florida involved a 13-year-old boy on a dirt bike killed as police tried to pull him over for riding recklessly. The Boynton Beach police officer who attempted the traffic stop argued he was the victim and therefore that his identity should be withheld.
Before the changes to Marsy’s Law, police departments did not have a legal reason to justify keeping officers’ identities secret. After several highly publicized killings of citizens by law enforcement, withholding officers’ names could further sow mistrust in the police.
Few would object to informing and protecting crime victims. But government must be accountable to the people. The principle of open government is one that must guide everything done in government for its public.
Each time we create new barriers to transparency, we lose more rights as citizens.
We call on our state legislators to investigate and revise Marsy’s Law, which is filled with unintended consequences and problems. It must be revisited before we become a society with no knowledge of what is happening around us and no way to find out.
Sandusky Register. September 19, 2023.
Editorial: Demand fair districts
It’s the best word we can think of to describe the behavior of the Republican majority on the state’s Redistricting Commission. They met once, on Wednesday, but could not agree on who would be the commission co-chairs, so they ended the session and canceled another one that was set for Friday, without accomplishing anything.
The last time around — with specific instructions, a timeline, a meeting schedule and a large support staff — Republican leaders ran out the clock. They let time expire and forced an election using district maps for statehouse races and congressional seats that were repeatedly ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court.
We appreciate our local statehouse representatives telling readers they oppose gerrymandering and support fair districts. In a story in the Register on Monday, nearly every Republican who responded gave assurances that they support fair elections.
State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, said she had “full faith her colleagues on both sides of the aisle (would) come to a fair and constitutional conclusion.” Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, said “it was not an easy process last time, I’m hopeful the commission works together in order to pass a map with strong representation for the people of Ohio.”
There is a sentiment from both legislators that this time there must be bipartisan agreement on the maps. That, at least, is encouraging. Gavarone, Cross and other Republican lawmakers should commit to that. They should demand it, in our view.
Ohioans voted overwhelmingly in favor of fair district maps — in 2015 and 2019. Fair districts for fair elections, the electorate was united on this demand like on no other before. Protecting democracy is the priority, and voters should expect and demand that members of the Redistricting Commission get it together and approve fair maps. Electors should demand, also, that their elected representatives settle for nothing less.