Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Cleveland Plain Dealer. January XX, 2024.

Editorial: Ohio Voters Bill of Rights amendment won’t pass as written. It needs to be revised

Progressive Ohioans hoping to bolster voters’ rights by a ballot issue that would amend the Ohio Constitution are awaiting the outcome of a second bid for paperwork approval by Ohio’s Republican attorney general, David Yost.

Yost, who rejected backers’ initial summary of their “Ohio Voters Bill of Rights” amendment, now has until this Thursday to decide if the new petition language is an accurate summary of the proposal. Getting Yost’s approval of the language is the first of a multistep process for qualifying the issue for the Nov. 5 ballot -- including collecting the valid signatures of 413,487 Ohio registered voters by July 3.

But there’s a greater impediment to this ballot proposal than Yost’s review or the needed petition signatures: The proposal itself way overreaches, virtually guaranteeing defeat and making the whole exercise one in futility.

Backers need to trim their sails and limit their amendment to the most clearly egregious aspects of Ohio’s current voting law -- the ones that weight the scales against voters. They need to target the low-hanging fruit, if you will, of needed voting reforms. Without that, the amendment is a grab-bag of stretch wishes, not a practical list.

Backers of the voting-rights measure clearly want to get it on the ballot in a high-turnout presidential election year like this one, to help with passage.

But what about the likely negative impact of an overreaching voting-rights constitutional amendment on the same ballot as the highly consequential “Citizens not Politicians” Ohio redistricting amendment? Petitions for the redistricting measure, backed by Republican Maureen O’Connor, the former Ohio Supreme Court chief justice, are already circulating for signatures.

In Ohio’s partisan political landscape, surely opponents of both these measures will try to link them in the voters’ minds. If one of the proposed amendments is a weak link with provisions going well beyond what most Ohioans could be expected to support, both reform measures could be in jeopardy.

Groups backing the Voters Bill of Rights include the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, the Ohio Chapter of the NAACP, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and the Ohio Unity Coalition.

According to cleveland.com’s Andrew J. Tobias, key parts of their proposed constitutional amendment would: automatically register all otherwise eligible Ohioans to vote; let Ohioans register to vote and then vote on the same day (Election Day voter registration); let counties expand early voting hours and offer multiple sites for early in-person voting and ballot drop boxes; and repeal Ohio’s newly toughened photo ID requirement for in-person voting, instead letting voters swear to their identity in a signed affidavit.

The clear overreaches include Election Day voter registration, which was required in a 1977 law that Ohio voters voted to overturn within six months via a constitutional amendment. County election boards also broadly oppose the idea today on administrative grounds.

The other clear overreach in the amendment seeks to eliminate the voter photo ID requirement that took effect last year under the prior year’s elections reform law, House Bill 458. Yes, the HB 458 requirement was poorly thought through, neglecting to add Ohio’s veterans photo ID cards to the list of allowed identification, and failing to adequately inform voters of alternatives or to ensure that all categories of voters, including older Ohioans and college students, would have adequate access to alternatives, including a free state photo ID card.

But those flaws can be fixed via legislation, education and outreach. Voters, who mostly use photo IDs anyway, are unlikely to see the requirement’s prohibition in a constitutional amendment as a positive.

Better to concentrate the Voters Bill of Rights on issues voters clearly favor because they make it easier to vote, such as multiple secure ballot drop boxes, to make it less challenging to drop off absentee ballots, and more early-voting locations and opportunities before an election. These are options voters in large metropolitan counties, in particular, urgently need.

It’s unclear at this stage whether backers of the Voters Bill of Rights could or would withdraw their pending request to Yost to amend it to make it more realistic and achievable. But it’s certainly not too late for them to change course to save this effort, even if it means deferring to next year’s November election.

And saving the Voters Bill of Rights is just what’s at issue. No part of this Bill of Rights will ever be adopted if it contains poison pills almost guaranteed to prompt the majority of Ohio voters to reject it.

___

Toledo Blade. January 20, 2024.

Editorial: Governor ignores ethics

There is much going right in Ohio and Gov. Mike DeWine is deeply involved in many factors driving economic growth around the state. The governor’s grasp of policy detail was obvious in a wide-ranging discussion with The Blade Editorial Board and Columbus Bureau Chief Jim Provance.

So it’s troubling that Mr. DeWine had no policy proposals on the most glaring problem at the Statehouse: the deeply embedded culture of corruption behind criminal convictions on bribery charges for legislation that forced every Ohio resident and business to enrich FirstEnergy and the state’s other electric utilities.

We’re not going to rehash the details of the scandal as they are well-known after nearly three years of coverage. But in sentencing former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges for their roles in the bribery case, federal Judge Timothy Black said there is a “threat to government legitimacy in Ohio.”

There is no more important issue for Governor DeWine than ethics reform in response to the assessment from federal court that business as usual at the Statehouse “is doing immeasurable damage to the institution of democracy in Ohio.”

Success on every policy proposal becomes a failure if state government legitimacy is degraded by indifference to corruption. Mr. DeWine told The Blade, “I am in favor or any kind of reform that would be deemed constitutional and bring more transparency.”

There is an ethics reform bill in the Ohio House, filled with transparency provisions Governor DeWine should be pushing to get passed. House Bill 16 is designed to prevent the appointment of utility regulators with multimillion-dollar ties to the industry.

The $22 million in consulting contracts between former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo and FirstEnergy would have to have been disclosed publicly in the application process for a PUCO appointment.

Mr. Randazzo has been indicted on 11 felony counts for his alleged assistance to FirstEnergy while presiding over Ohio utility regulation.

___

Youngtown Vindicator. January 18, 2024.

Editorial: Body-camera grant program yields benefits

Although the value of body-worn cameras by police officers is positively priceless, the cost to law enforcement agencies for these crucial crime-fighting tools too often proves prohibitively pricey.

That’s why a program created by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2021 to offer grant awards totaling $5 million yearly for these essential devices merits commendation and continuation.

Just last week, the Ohio Body-Worn Camera Grant Program dished out about $4.8 million to law enforcement agencies throughout the state, including seven grants totaling about $240,000 in the Mahoning Valley.

Recipients in Mahoning County were the Springfield Township Police Department ($64,121), Poland Township Police Department ($47,203), Milton Township Police Department ($13,231) and Coitsville Township Police Department ($5,816).

Awardees in Trumbull County were the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office ($68,158), Champion Police Department ($25,083) and the Hubbard City Police Department ($11,742).

Those funds will come in handy considering the steep expenses of maintaining a viable body-worn cameras program.

How steep? A cost analysis of police body-worn cameras in 2021 by the Energetics Technology Center estimated the average annual contract cost of body cameras, including support and personnel costs, at $2,445 for one camera per officer. Multiply that by the hundreds of officers in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties who stand to benefit from them, and one easily can see why the expense might be burdensome for increasingly cash-strapped county, municipal and township budgets.

In fact, high costs rise as the No. 1 reason hands-down why policing agencies, particularly those in relatively small communities across Ohio, have been hesitant to implement this increasingly necessary technology. They simply cannot afford them, they say.

But given the growing body of knowledge on body-worn cameras’ effectiveness in enhancing criminal justice, we believe police agencies in communities large and small cannot afford to operate effectively without them.

Among the documented benefits:

● Body cameras improve police accountability and lower reports of police misconduct.

● They are an effective police reform tool and have strong support from the public.

● Body cameras reduce the number of complaints filed and substantially lessen the amount of costly time it takes to investigate and resolve complaints.

From our perspective as the Fourth Estate of government, body-worn cameras also prove valuable in strengthening accountability and transparency to the public on police news. Public release of such videos allows detailed and accurate explanations of crime scenes as they unfold. To that end, we’re pleased that one recommended use of the Ohio body camera grant program is to help finance speedy responses to Freedom of Information requests for such footage from the news media.

With so much going for them, local law enforcement agencies needing to implement or update body cameras for their men and women in blue should not hesitate to contact the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services to apply for the next round of $5 million in body camera grants. Some of the individual awards range as high as $240,000.

Short of that, public bodies that control the purse strings of police departments in the Valley should exhaust all avenues to find the needed resources to institute or expand body-worn cameras programs. Though no panacea for reducing crime and improving police-community relations, body cameras go a very long way toward efficient and transparent policing.

As such, they truly exemplify your tax dollars at work.

___

Marietta Times. January 19, 2024.

Editorial: Cure needed for increased school absences

In Ohio, the number of students missing a significant amount of school time has become such a concern that two lawmakers have pitched what may seem like an outlandish idea. State Reps. Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp., and Dani Isaacsohn, D-Evanston, want to establish a pilot program that would offer cash incentives for both attendance and high school graduation, according to a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“It’s about getting back to the culture of being in school every day,” Isaacsohn said.

Lawmakers and school officials are so desperate because approximately one-third of Ohio students miss at least 10% of school days. That’s a huge problem.

According to the Enquirer, House Bill 348 would allow districts to apply for the program, naming up to two school buildings with chronic absentee rates that put them in the top quartile. Then, the state would pick at least one urban and one rural district to participate.

From there, half of kindergarteners and half of ninth graders would be in a control group, which would not get payments, while the others would receive cash incentives. Three different payment configuration options would be tested.

If something feels a little icky about paying children to come to school, think about what the return on investment might be if it works. Should lawmakers determine such a plan is worth trying, they must also spend some effort on figuring out why so many children are chronically absent from school or dropping out, and whether government can do anything about it. Are we treating a symptom rather than seeking to cure the problem?

Lawmakers must not stop with one unusual idea on this one. If we are to get more of our kids to attend and stay in school, a multi-faceted and sustained approach will be essential.

END