Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Youngstown Vindicator. January 12, 2024.

Editorial: Enjoy sports betting, but do it responsibly

One year after sports betting became legal in Ohio, we are seeing enormous amounts of spending that we expect will only grow.

As we reported last week, the Ohio Casino Control Commission reports indicate that nearly $848 million in taxable revenue was brought into the state from sports gaming January through November 2023.

Ohio’s Legislative Service Commission estimates that sports betting eventually will become a multibillion-dollar industry in Ohio.

Locally, more than $6 million came in through Austintown’s Hollywood gaming.

“Sports betting has been a welcome addition to our property, which now offers VLT (video lottery terminal) gaming, horse racing, Ohio Lottery games, dining and live entertainment providing yet another option for guests in the Mahoning Valley to take in when visiting us,” Kevin Brogan, director of marketing at Hollywood Gaming, recently told our reporter.

And more sports gambling opportunities are in the offing for the Valley.

That’s because the Ohio Casino Control Commission has approved a gaming proprietor license request for Phantom Fireworks Inc., which allows the holder to offer sports wagering at a qualified gaming facility.

Plans for the company’s sports book are still in development, a Phantom official said, but he was vague on the plans and the timeline.

It should be noted that some of the gambling revenue goes to a good cause — to the Ohio Sports Gaming Profit Veterans Fund.

It all sounds great, and certainly it can bring some excitement to our state and our Valley, along with revenue into our state. But the hope for quick wealth and prosperity, coupled with all the excitement, has us concerned.

Let’s face it, the dangers of gaming are very, very real. And we assume those risks have increased right along with the betting revenue.

Sure, it can bring a thrill and some quick cash, but we caution that sports betting also can be dangerous and quickly spiral out of control, particularly for compulsive gamblers.

That’s why we remind those who dabble in Ohio gaming to include realistic personal spending limits, and stick to it.

Gambling addiction counselors and experts advise compulsive gamblers to talk to their health care provider or seek help from a mental health professional.

The Mayo Clinic offers these recovery skills that may help resist urges of compulsive gambling.

• Stay focused on your No. 1 goal: Not to gamble.

• Tell yourself it’s too risky to gamble at all. One bet typically leads to another and another.

• Give yourself permission to ask for help, as sheer willpower isn’t enough to overcome compulsive gambling. Ask a family member or friend to encourage you to follow your treatment plan.

• Recognize and then avoid situations that trigger your urge to bet.

• Family members of people with a compulsive gambling problem may benefit from counseling, even if the gambler is unwilling to participate in therapy.

If you think you or someone you know has a gambling problem, the National Council on Problem Gambling operates a confidential 24/7 hotline and text line at 1-800-522-4700.

Also, Ohio for Responsible Gambling offers help. It can be reached online at www.ohio.gov/responsible-gambling or by calling 1-800-589-9966.

Make 2024 a good year. Enjoy it, but be smart and be cautious.

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Toledo Blade. January 12, 2024.

Editorial: No mixed messages

The Federal Highway Administration is not amused.

The agency just released an 1,100-page manual on traffic control devices that includes the admonition to states to stop using jokey electronic billboard messaging and is giving state transportation departments two years to comply.

The feds say the messages are distracting for drivers, and they’re right.

The manual indicates that messages on electronic bulletin boards must be immediate need-to-know, informing drivers of lane closings for repair work, blockage from a crash, or safety hazards caused by weather.

“Humorous messages might be misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users,” the manual says about some rib-tickling department of transportation messages that are more suited for standup than driveby.

Ohio is one of many states displaying wit to convey a safety message. “Visiting In-laws? Slow down, get there late,” is an example of the Ohio bureaucrat-created message board humor.

What’s got the feds up in arms is messages such as the one that is popular in multiple states, “get your head out of your apps.”

It’s either causing drivers to whip out their cell phone to take pictures, or they’re staring at the board to understand the joke.

On top of that, it’s off-color and doesn’t belong in the public space.

The state-paid comics in transportation departments contend that safety messages like “click it or ticket” are ignored, while humorous ones are read and retained.

We don’t often say this, but when it comes to state-funded comedy message boards, the nanny state federal bureaucrats are right.

Traffic messaging is serious business.

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The Plain Dealer. January 12, 2024.

Editorial: The outrageous blank check Ohio just wrote on behalf of the state’s gas customers

It’s not clear if such rankings are kept, but any list of the most pro-utility states – and pro-utility governors – would surely give Ohio, and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, a place near the top of the scoreboard.

Latest example: The governor’s decision to sign into law Amended Substitute House Bill 201, which, according to the pithy comment of a legislator who opposed the measure, state Sen. Kent Smith, a Euclid Democrat, “ allows gas utility companies to build pipelines anywhere under the guise of economic development.

“That means,” he added in a Dec. 31 cleveland.com guest column, “the utility could build a bunch of pipelines to dozens of potential industrial sites, hoping that a company moves into just one of those sites and the utility gets a new customer.”

But here’s the rub: Even if those pipelines are in fact never used by new customers won’t matter on gas consumers’ monthly bills: HB 201 requires ratepayers to cover the cost of any gas lines built, plus any planning or development work that may have preceded pipeline construction and its regulatory approval -- all, essentially, on speculation.

The new law offers no clear explanation for why consumers, rather than utility investors, should pay for gas lines that might never benefit consumers or the state’s economic development goals. Meanwhile, the “Intel” argument -- that the state needs pipeline-equipped sites -- falls flat when one considers that Intel Corp. wasn’t influenced by that, and in fact aims to use all-renewable power at its Ohio mega-factory site.

However, there’s no question about one point: The hurriedly added pipeline provisions in HB 201 -- a bill that started out life as (and still contains) a prohibition on Ohio adopting California’s strict auto emissions standards or trying to ban cars based on their fuel source -- will plump up gas companies’ profits.

As cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer and Jake Zuckerman reported, the bill DeWine signed Dec. 28 would let Ohio gas utilities “charge Ohio’s 3.7 million gas customers up to $1.50 per month for as long as five years to extend gas lines to sites that could potentially be used for megaprojects, even if no buyer has been lined up yet.” That could work out to as much as $5.55 million per month.

The $1.50 monthly charge was already in law but applied only to narrowly defined and authorized actual investments -- which have dwindled in number (and costs on customers’ bills).

“Columbia Gas currently charges its customers 63 cents per month on their monthly bills. Both Dominion and CenterPoint charge their customers 3 cents per month,” Pelzer and Zuckerman reported.

In other words, natural gas utilities were in search of a bonanza, and got one, thanks to Ohio’s obsequiously pro-utility elected officials -- and the pipeline amendments rushed into being over a roughly 36-hour period. Among those who opposed the gas utility giveaway was the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, whose members are among the state’s biggest consumers of natural gas.

True, there is a gossamer-thin stipulation that, to qualify, prospective sites wound have to be supported by JobsOhio, the state’s economic development quango, its affiliates, or the state Development Department.

Still, those agencies are hardly immune to executive -- or legislative branch -- nudging, i.e., lobbying. And the procedural template that HB 201 creates amounts to a bypass of rate-case procedures by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that, for all their weaknesses, offer some rate-setting safeguards for Ohio consumers.

The General Assembly’s excessive deference to utilities has already stoked the FirstEnergy Corp./House Bill 6 scandal and its still-ongoing federal corruption investigation. Among consequences: the convictions and imprisonment of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Republican State Chair Matthew Borges, and the indictment of former PUCO Chair Samuel Randazzo, who awaits trial and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

DeWine signed HB 6 the same day the General Assembly passed it in July 2019. And while the General Assembly has since repealed parts of HB 6, it still requires Ohio ratepayers to shell out more than $153,000 a day to subsidize two money-losing coal-fired power plants, one in Indiana. HB 6 also squeezed Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards in provisions that also remain in effect.

The passage of House Bill 201 is evidence, were more needed, that what the utilities want from the General Assembly, and the governor, they usually get. That is, what should be a ratepayer-utility balance at the Statehouse is anything but. As a matter of fairness, that needs to change.

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Akron Beacon Journal. January 14, 2024.

Editorial: Having one voice for Akron in the U.S. House brings many benefits

When Rep. Emilia Sykes was minority leader of the Ohio House, she’d sit down each term with her Democratic freshman colleagues and ask them, “What does success look like for you?”

Inevitably, they’d share grand but unrealistic plans — things like, “I’m going to fix the school funding formula.”

Sykes realized as a Democratic leader in a Republican-controlled state legislature that she had to choose her battles and find ways to help her constituents. She knew getting her bills passed would likely be an uphill battle.

Effective lawmakers find ways to assist those they were elected to serve and to advocate for their community, even when gridlock makes it nearly impossible to get laws passed.

Sykes has taken this approach with her to Washington as she begins the second year of her first two-year term representing Ohio’s 13th Congressional District.

During a recent meeting with the editorial boards of the Akron Beacon Journal and Canton Repository, Sykes shared how she has tried to effectively navigate what she calls “one of the least effective Congresses in modern history” to benefit the region.

Her tenure marks the first time in decades that Akron and its nearly 200,000 residents are represented by a single member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The city’s power had been diluted because lawmakers carved the city into as many as four separate districts.

It’s a welcome change.

“We did not seek out a very broad package of legislative activity because, quite frankly, I just didn’t think it was going to be very fruitful to do so,” Sykes said. “And I’m very glad that we made that decision, because you could spin your wheels pretty significantly trying to put together a lot of legislation for it to go nowhere.”

Instead, Sykes secured appointments on the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee — bodies that are important to the region, especially as Akron seeks to capitalize off its polymer expertise.

In October, the U.S. Department of Commerce named Akron one of 31 new federal tech hubs from more than 400 applicants across the country. Akron’s polymer cluster will now compete for about $500 million in funding from the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act. Between five to 10 of the hubs will receive up to $75 million each.

This potential influx of federal funding could be exactly what Akron needs to take advantage of its historical strengths to expand the local economy.

Sykes has been working with the Greater Akron Chamber and other regional partners in the initiative to help strengthen the application. There’s also more clout, as she said, in a letter of support “from a member of Congress who actually lives here and is going to ask and lobby and continue to advocate in a way that we really haven’t had because all of our members of Congress lived elsewhere for so many periods of time.”

When the Federal Railroad Administration announced last year that Ohio is in line for service expansion but Akron and Canton weren’t part of the plans, Sykes took notice.

“No one even bothered to mention Akron-Canton in the conversation,” she said. “It just never came up. And that is what I hear over and over. No one said it; no one said those two communities.”

She then met with the Amtrak CEO to urge future expansions to include the region, citing such benefits as connecting travelers with Akron-Canton Airport and workers in Central Ohio’s growing job market with Greater Akron’s more affordable housing stock. There’s no word yet whether her request will go anywhere, but at least someone is speaking up for the region.

During her tenure, she brought back $100 million in federal dollars to the district. The Akron Metro RTA station, for example, received a $37 million grant to build a new facility. In Stark County, SARTA is getting another $4 million in federal funds to continue to be the leader in hydrogen-powered vehicles in the country.

As a legislator, Sykes can’t write grants for constituents, but she has knowledge of what grants are available, and she can share advise on how to secure them.

There is still a lot work to be done — a fact Sykes readily acknowledges. Too many Akron-Canton residents still struggle to make ends meet or pay off students loans. Downtown Akron has many vacancies to fill in a post-COVID, work-from-home era. And local businesses need more workers.

What’s Sykes’ No. 1 priority for the remaining year of her freshman term?

“So it’s pretty boring,” she said. “I just want this government to work for people in this area.”

In these times of uncivil discourse and ineffective division in federal politics, we’ll take boring any day.

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Elyria Chronicle. January 9, 2024.

Editorial: Courts, not lawmakers, should decide abortion cases

Most people recognize that the proper place to sort out legal disputes is in the courtroom.

This bit of constitutional and conventional wisdom appears to be lost on a few hard-right members of the Ohio General Assembly, who have introduced a bill that would strip state courts of the power to decide abortion cases.

House Bill 371 would instead shift that responsibility to the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Any new or existing legal actions or decisions seeking “to enforce or implement” Issue 1 would be dismissed or vacated were the bill to become law. Additionally, any judge who did rule on a legal dispute involving abortion could face impeachment.

This terrible idea is a direct attempt to undermine the will of the nearly 57 percent of Ohio voters who in November cast their ballots in favor of Issue 1, enshrining abortion and other reproductive rights into the Ohio Constitution.

State Reps. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, and Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, dubbed their bill the “Issue 1 Implementation Act,” even though it’s obvious the bill is designed to do the opposite.

When Dean, Gross and a handful of other lawmakers first floated the idea of having lawmakers, rather than judges, oversee Ohio’s abortion laws shortly after the November election, they weren’t exactly subtle in their reasoning.

Here’s how they described the idea in a news release at the time: “To prevent mischief by pro-abortion courts with Issue 1, Ohio legislators will consider removing jurisdiction from the judiciary over this ambiguous ballot initiative. The Ohio legislature alone will consider what, if any, modifications to make to existing laws based on public hearings and input from legal experts on both sides.”

By “mischief” they appear to mean courts ruling in accordance with the state Constitution.

That’s what the Ohio Supreme Court did in the wake of Issue 1’s passage when it dismissed a challenge from state Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, to a preliminary injunction that has prevented enforcement of the state’s so-called heartbeat bill.

The court cited a “change in law” in kicking the case back down to the lower courts for further review. It doesn’t take a law degree to realize that the heartbeat bill runs afoul of the new amendment and should be ruled unconstitutional.

Signed in 2019 by GOP Gov. Mike DeWine, it banned abortion in almost all cases after a fetal heartbeat could be detected, usually around six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant.

Fortunately, House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, didn’t appear enthusiastic about the idea of stripping the judicial branch of power.

“This is Schoolhouse Rock type stuff,” Stephens said in November, according to the Ohio Capital Journal. “We need to make sure that we have the three branches of government, and the Constitution is what we abide by.”

Stephens is correct on that point.

It’s important to remember that Stephens is not some secret progressive who favored putting abortion rights into the Ohio Constitution. He, along with most other elected Republicans, vehemently opposed it.

Additionally, he supported another proposed constitutional amendment that would have made changing the state Constitution harder, an idea voters rejected in an expensive special election held in August. (The whole point of that exercise was to make it more difficult to put abortion protections in the Constitution.)

Beyond that, Stephens, along with Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, suggested in November that there would be future efforts to roll back or change the amendment voters had just approved.

Given Ohio voters’ clear preference for abortion rights, we doubt such efforts would be successful, but they would at least be in keeping with the how the system is supposed to work.

What Dean, Gross and their allies have proposed is a way to circumvent not only the will of the people, but the state Constitution itself.

The idea is not only undemocratic; it’s unconstitutional.

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