Editorials from around Ohio

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

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Voting bill makes registration easier and clears out deadwood

The Columbus Dispatch

Aug. 26

A bill to modernize voter registration in Ohio has the potential to ease concerns of voting-rights advocates and bolster public confidence in elections. Sponsors of Senate Bill 186 should clarify some bill language that is causing confusion, but the bill deserves a warm welcome from those who want to see as many Ohioans as possible participating in elections.

Under the bill, sponsored by Democrat Vernon Sykes of Akron and Republican Nathan Manning of North Ridgeville, registering to vote or updating one's address would require no more than a "yes" answer when Ohioans come in contact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or other state agencies.

When a person's primary business with the agency is done, a voter-registration screen would be generated, already filled out with the information the person has just given. The person would be asked whether he or she wants to register or update. If the answer is yes, the form can be filed instantly.

It's a big improvement over current law, which requires BMV and other state-agency employees to ask customers if they want to fill out a registration form. Employees don't always offer the form, and some people can't take the time to fill it out.

A pre-populated form, built into the underlying transaction, would make registrations more accurate and closer to automatic — the goal of many voting-advocacy groups.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose shies away from the word "automatic," referring to the proposed system as "verified" registration.

Either way, it could do a lot to end the tension between voter-rights groups and the secretary of state's office over its efforts to clear the rolls of no-longer-valid registrations.

Voters' groups long have objected to Ohio's "supplemental process." Under it, registered voters who skip two federal (even-numbered-year) elections are sent a notice at their listed address asking them to confirm that they still live there and want to remain registered. If they don't respond to the notice and don't vote in the next federal election, they're removed from the rolls.

Nearly everyone visits the BMV over a four-year period; near-automatic updating of registrations should eliminate many of the "phantom" registrations — from when people move and register at their new addresses without canceling their old registrations — that are a big part of what critics call the "purge." It also would restart the clock for people who are registered but haven't voted.

LaRose and the bill's sponsors should address questions and suggestions from a coalition of voters' groups, which wants the bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to "pre-register" when they get their first driver's licenses, so that they'll be ready to vote when they turn 18. The idea is worth considering; pre-registration could boost typically low turnout rates among young voters.

Common Cause and other groups also are right to question a prepaid postcard that would be handed to people who register under the new system. It's meant as a way for people to later change or cancel their registrations, but it includes a blank in which people can designate a political party affiliation. Party preference isn't part of voter registration in Ohio; in primary elections, voters can choose whatever party's ballot they prefer.

Rather than confusing voters with the party question, SB 168 should remain focused on modernizing voter registration. It does a good job of that and is overdue.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MFjM4Q

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NASA Glenn has huge economic impact on Northeast Ohio

The Lorain Morning Journal

Aug. 24

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration John H. Glenn Research Center will have a major role in sending astronauts back to the moon, and the space agency's economic impact on Northeast Ohio is one that can't go unnoticed.

According to NASA, the Glenn Research Center's economic impact in Ohio exceeds an incredible $1.4 billion a year.

But before discussing the economics, what the Glenn Research Center is doing to prepare the world for another jaunt to the moon also is extraordinary.

The Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland and the Plum Brook Station in Sandusky will house and test pieces of the newest vessel that will take a man and woman to the moon in the next five years.

Testing should start within the next month at the Plum Brook Station, a remote test facility for the Glenn Research Center.

As the Plum Brook Station prepares for its thermal vacuum, electro-magnetic interference and acoustic testing of the Orion vessel's crew capsule and service module for the Artemis 1 project, government and NASA officials toured the facilities Aug. 21 for an inside look at the station's aeronautical and space exploration initiatives.

Janet Kavandi, director of the Glenn Research Center, said that once testing is completed, the portions of the Orion vessel will return to the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Fla., where it will launch in 2021.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, was in attendance and said the United States of America is returning to the moon, but in a way that's never been done before.

Unlike the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bridenstine declared the U.S. is going to the moon and plans to stay there.

Bridenstine said the mission largely is to utilize resources on the moon, like water and ice, to live and work there for longer periods of time.

The moon is 238,900 miles from the Earth.

Bridenstine said the moon is the proven ground, but Mars is where NASA is headed.

Just like on the moon, he vows that one day, an American astronaut eventually will travel to the red planet and place an American flag on the surface.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Ninth Congressional District Rep. Marcy Kaptur saw up close the NASA Electric Aircraft Testbed and Hypersonic Test Facility.

Many of these facilities, such as the Mechanical Vibration facility -- the loudest and second biggest of its kind in the world -- are unique to Ohio.

Portman said he was impressed with what they saw.

Kaptur noted that Ohio has played a major role in the Artemis 1 project's success.

The test facilities at the Glenn Research Center and Plum Brook Station can't be found anywhere else on the face of the earth.

And the Plum Brook Station is the only place in the world where an upper-stage rocket can be fired in a vacuum, and the only place in the universe that can test a full-sized spacecraft for all the conditions or launch and flight in one facility.

In addition, the Plum Brook Station was used to test Mars rovers, parts of the Orion spacecraft and large commercial hardware for Boeing and SpaceX.

Plum Brook Station also is working on hybrid-electric propulsion systems for commercial planes that will go airborne by General Electric Aviation in 2021.

Rodger Dyson, technical lead of Hybrid Gas Electric Propulsion at the Glenn Research Center, said these new systems, similar to a hybrid car which utilizes an engine and battery, will make the aircraft three to five percent more efficient.

For the systems to work, they must give off a higher voltage and the craft must be lighter.

But what's more impressive to this region is the economic impact.

According to an economic impact study by Cleveland State University's Center for Economic Development, the Glenn Research Center generates more than $700 million annually in economic activity and creates over 7,000 jobs.

The study continues that NASA Glenn also generates nearly $500 million in labor income and more than $125 million in tax revenue per year.

As for the Plum Brook Station itself, which reopened in 1987, thousands of jobs are both directly and indirectly involved in all of its initiatives, whether private sector, federally funded or contracted.

A highly skilled workforce of engineers, technicians and administrative and support personnel comprise the Plum Brook Station team.

Also of importance is the Artemis 1 project will utilize 124 Ohio suppliers.

That means that more than 100 Ohio companies and their employees can say they are going to be a part of NASA returning to the moon, and possibly to Mars and beyond.

This is quite impressive for Northeast Ohio, astronomically and economically.

Online: https://bit.ly/31XGGrw

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Medicaid saves lives in the opioid crisis

Akron Beacon Journal

Aug. 24

How has the Medicaid expansion benefited Ohio? The Urban Institute provides an answer in a new study. The Washington, D.C., research group looked at the patterns across states involving prescriptions of a medication to treat opioid addiction. The medication is buprenorphine, which eases cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. The study found that those states choosing to expand saw a much larger increase in such prescriptions, meaning the medication was more available to Ohioans in need.

That translates to lives saved. Put another way, if Ohio ranks among the states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, the death toll from overdoses climbing sharply from nearly 20 per 1,000 residents in 2013 to 45 per 1,000 four years later, the outcome could have been much worse.

The study looks at the years 2011 to 2018, the Affordable Care Act approved in 2010, the Medicaid expansion taking effect here in 2014. During that period, the number of prescriptions for buprenorphine increased dramatically, from 1.3 million to 6.2 million nationwide. Much of the increase took place in states with the expansion, where prescriptions rose from 40 per 1,000 Medicaid enrollees to 138 per 1,000. In states without the expansion, prescriptions went from 16 to 40 per 1,000 residents.

No question, as the study cautions, many factors are at work in something as complex as the opioid crisis and how states and communities respond. For instance, Arkansas expanded Medicaid, yet it had one of the lowest rates for prescribing buprenorphine. At the same time, the trend is plain. The study notes that the five states with the highest prescription rates for the medication, Vermont, West Virginia, Montana, Kentucky and Ohio, all expanded Medicaid.

It matters that the Affordable Care Act includes addiction treatment among the "essential benefits" available through the expansion and insurance coverage purchased via the online exchanges. The expansion made coverage accessible for many adults living just above the poverty line. More, there are other medication-assisted treatments, naltrexone and methadone, the study did not examine yet also help addicts through withdrawal to sustained recovery.

Ohioans know how devastating the opioid crisis has been, annual overdose deaths going from 489 in 2005 to more than 5,000 in 2017. The number declined 20 percent last year. Still, the toll far exceeds the 1,500 that alarmed six years ago. Overdose deaths across the country, 70,000 in 2017, have contributed heavily to the decline in life expectancy.

The Medicaid expansion has played a leading role in beginning to slow the wreckage. That contribution adds perspective to the misguided decision of the Trump White House to join fellow Republicans in seeking through the courts to overturn the Affordable Care Act. They argue the elimination of the individual mandate gutted the entire law, including the Medicaid expansion. Yet Congress made no such claim at the time.

The lawsuit serves as an unfortunate distraction. Attention belongs on doing more to address the opioid crisis, recognizing the multiple efforts required, from ensuring the availability of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, to expanding access to treatment, especially the longer term version that helps addicts rebuild and sustain productive lives.

All that requires resources, and the Statehouse did a better job on that front in the recent budget process. What is shortsighted is applying work requirements to the expansion as Gov. Mike DeWine and Republican lawmakers want, putting many Ohioans at risk of losing ready access to health care.

It is hard to conceive making the necessary progress without the Medicaid expansion. The Urban Institute study affirms the positive difference it has made.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Ziav9f

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Facial-recognition protections by AG Dave Yost signal welcome determination to guard Ohio data from abuse

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Aug. 25

Ohio Attorney General David Yost has done the right thing in suspending, pending further training, the access of roughly 4,500 law enforcement officers to the state's facial recognition database. This follows a probe Yost ordered that determined that Ohio's 24 million images, such as driver's license photos and mugshots, had not been subject to facial-recognition fishing expeditions.

Rather, law enforcement agencies have used Ohio's database appropriately, the study found, to identify criminal suspects, the unidentified dead and people suffering from amnesia, as cleveland.com's Jeremy Pelzer reports.

Ohio's facial-recognition program is part of an Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG) network overseen by the AG's office that went active in June 2013. Its primary goal has been to help local, state and federal officials identify suspects in criminal investigations. Based on Yost's review, that's largely what it's been used for.

However, that still means that thousands of OHLEG accounts had access to this data, including for searches on behalf of federal agencies, for whom 418 searches were conducted from 2017 through this July, according to Yost's review.

In addition to barring access to the data pending further training, Yost, a Columbus-area Republican, also is moving to set up a task force that will include civilian technology experts and others to advise state officials on best practices and safeguards going forward.

That's also wise and follows the equally wise decision of Yost's predecessor as attorney general, now-Gov. Mike DeWine, to set up two task forces early on, to provide guidance to keep this sensitive database from being abused. One key safeguard applied then, according to DeWine recently, as reported by Pelzer, was to limit access only for specific cases, as opposed to broad fishing expeditions.

A Washington Post report, published in early July, revealed that a number of states had given federal agencies access to their facial recognition databases. Ohio wasn't mentioned in the Post's report. But it prompted queries about Ohio's data. That, in turn, led Yost to order a review.

Yost's review indicated that, of 25,558 active Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway accounts, 4,549 people had access to Ohio facial recognition data.

Pelzer reports that Yost believes those with access to the database will drop after the training. Among training goals: to make users aware of the system's limitations, such as current software's inadequacy in correctly identifying women and African-Americans.

From 2017 through July 31, authorized personnel conducted 11,070 facial-recognition searches, the Yost study found.

Of those searches, 3.8 percent (418) were for federal agencies, including 90 sought by the State Department; 116 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and 144 by the U.S. Border Patrol's Sandusky station. (The patrol's station is now in Port Clinton.)

All told, the proportion of queries directed at Ohio's database originating with federal agencies was 3 percent in 2017; 4.5 percent in 2018; and 4.1 percent through July 31 this year.

Yost's study suggests that Ohio's facial recognition resources have been appropriately used. Even better, the training he's ordered before law enforcement authorities can regain access to the database will help ensure appropriate use going forward. The task force Yost is creating likely will suggest other safeguards, too.

All of this is reassuring.

But the public's vigilance most not abate. Such databases are all too tempting for law enforcement. Going forward, Ohioans still will have to keep their eye on the people keeping eyes on them.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ZoNlJx