Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Toledo Blade. December 2, 2023.

Editorial: Lake law needed

The International Joint Commission created by the United States and Canada in 1972 to monitor and protect the quality of water in the lakes and rivers shared by the two nations has worrisome news for Lake Erie.

The latest IJC assessment of the Great Lakes concludes that Lake Erie is in the worst shape of all the Great Lakes. The IJC says Lake Erie has deteriorated since 1970, has not achieved the goal of a 40 percent reduction of phosphorus from 2008 levels, and the worst portion of the worst lake is the western basin serving as Toledo’s water source.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972 has been a great success at eliminating pollution from industries and cities from entering Lake Erie. Laws against this source of pollution have been enacted and enforced in both the United States and Canada. Now the IJC says their “most urgent focus” is on a Lake Erie action plan that brings the same standard of enforceable laws to pollution created by runoff of fertilizer or manure from unregulated agriculture.

It’s a longstanding refrain in the IJC assessment of the Great Lakes provided every three years. In 2017, enforceable standards for nonpoint sources of pollution was the recommendation for Lake Erie. In 2020, the IJC said laws regulating concentrated animal feeding operations were needed. The 2023 report says voluntary programs in Ohio and Canada are not working and need to become enforceable law.

The international body flatly rejects Ohio’s claim that H2Ohio has the state “on the right track” for Lake Erie protection. The IJC says the “major challenge” to combating the algal blooms spreading from Lake Erie’s western basin to the central shoreline is a “voluntary, non-regulatory approach to nonpoint pollution.”

Basically, as long as the United States and Canada treat CAFOs like factories instead of farms Lake Erie will not meet agreed-upon standards for safe drinking water, swimming, fishing, and boating.

Ohio can have unregulated multi-thousand-head livestock feeding operations or it can have a Lake Erie shoreline safe for swimmers. But it cannot have both.

The problem isn’t solely Ohio. IJC says enforceable regulations on CAFOs need to have a common framework in the United States and Canada. The common framework of voluntary programs isn’t solving the problem and the PR spin claiming otherwise isn’t fooling the public.

___

Youngtown Vindicator. November 27, 2023.

Editorial: Need is great; if you can help, don’t hesitate

It is one thing to be told there is anecdotal evidence the need for support of food banks is only growing. It is quite another to learn there is hard proof. According to a report by the Ohio Capital Journal, Ohio food banks are seeing record-breaking amounts of need.

In part because of changes to the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, advocates say growing needs are not being met.

In the Southeast Ohio Foodbank region, for example, approximately 1 in 6 people are affected by food insecurity.

“Rising food prices, the end of SNAP Emergency Allotments, wage stagnation, and underemployment have contributed to the increased need for emergency food services in the region. Individuals facing food insecurity often have to make difficult choices between food and other basic necessities like utilities, transportation, medicine, housing, and education,” the organization says.

While it may have taken a few days for many of us to work through our Thanksgiving leftovers, other families are wondering how they will afford their next meal, let alone the edible luxuries too many of us take for granted.

In Trumbull County, the Warren Family Mission served 2,253 meals for the Thanksgiving holiday meal; 1,539 of them were deliveries.

In Mahoning County, 600 to 700 people were expected to come through the doors on Thursday for a free holiday meal at the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley.

As agencies like this, along with foodbank officials like Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, continue to work on behalf of vulnerable families, all the rest of us can do is give what we can — financially and in the form of food and other necessities.

For those becoming numb to the incessant pleas for support of nonprofits this season, consider that such an onslaught of requests is a worrying sign of the depth of the struggles faced by too many in our midst. If you can do something about it, don’t hesitate.

___

Sandusky Register. November 30, 2023.

Editorial: Buzzword legislating

One of many concerns a gerrymandered legislature creates is the mediocrity that comes along when election results are all but guaranteed because district maps give one party an unfair advantage over the other.

In other words, lawmakers don’t have to work so hard to be assured of keeping their seats when the fix is in.

In Ohio, our legislature and the state’s caucus in Washington are so gerrymandered that residents overwhelmingly supported laws to outlaw the practice in 2016 and 2018. Voters approved two amendments to the state’s constitution that were designed to remedy the situation to make elections fair.

Voters were right, but they were betrayed by leaders who failed to keep schedules, failed to draw up fair district maps. They strong-armed the process, thwarted it and defied the law, settling for district maps that the state Supreme Court ruled were unconstitutional.

The rule of law, which was a talking point for Republicans for generations, was supplanted by a “laws are for others” approach to elections.

Worse than that, this gerrymandered majority in Columbus does not have a skill set that enables it to seriously legislate. Where leadership is needed, lawmakers recycle the politically motivated ideas of others. There is no subset of serious men and women deep-thinking solutions to our state’s challenges. Instead, we have lawmakers looking to TV pundits and right-wing social media sites for their ideas.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit group made up of conservative state legislators and their private sector patrons, drafts and shares model legislation. Our lawmakers — near every one of them — send out press releases and newsletters announcing “their” legislative proposals, when in fact the proposals come from this group.

And that, dear readers, is how boneheaded legislation gets passed into law.

House Bill 327, introduced in Columbus recently, is yet another one in a long line of legislative proposals brimming with buzzwords but void of substance. If approved, HB 327 would require employers to use the federal e-verify system to verify the citizenship status of new hires to make sure they aren’t hiring illegal(s) workers.

The e-verify system doesn’t work, and the legislation doesn’t address workforce shortages at all, which are impacting nearly every work sector in the state and across the nation. The sponsors of HB 327 didn’t ponder this legislation, or deep-think it, at all. It was handed to them with marching orders. It will have little impact on anything, or anyone, if it’s enacted.

So much business gets done that way in Columbus, so many laws and legislative proposals are cookie-cutter from the American Legislative Exchange Council: Stand Your Ground; Critical Race Theory; Don’t Say Gay; anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ proposals; anti-public education regulation; school voucher legislation... the list is endless.

The No. 1 job for Ohio lawmakers is to assure Ohioans that rules matter and our elections are fair. Now is the time for that; not culture war political proposals like HB 327.

___

The Plain Dealer. December 3, 2023.

Editorial: Driver’s-license-suspension reform bill shows constructive bipartisanship is not dead at the Statehouse

In a welcome development, state legislators are sponsoring a bipartisan measure, Senate Bill 37, to help Ohio drivers whose licenses have been suspended. This is exactly the kind of cross-aisle cooperation that the General Assembly needs to generate more often. It’s also very much needed as part of ongoing efforts to correct an injustice in Ohio where most license suspensions are not for driving infractions but for inability to pay court and related debts.

“Ohio is one of 23 states that suspend driver’s licenses for failure to pay civil or criminal fines or fees,” The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland reported last year in a major study of the problem, “ Road to Nowhere: Debt-Related Driver’s License Suspensions in Ohio.”

“Approximately 60% of all Ohio driver’s license suspensions are based on a person’s failure to pay money owed to a court, to the Ohio BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles), or to a private third-party,” the society said in a summary of its findings.

Among other findings, the society reported that Ohio motorists face more than 3 million debt-related suspensions annually; that such suspensions cost residents of Ohio’s highest poverty ZIP codes an average of $7.9 million annually; and that such suspensions cost residents of Ohio ZIP codes with the highest percentages of people of color an average of $12 million each year.

It’s also notable that, in the absence of national identification documents, showing a valid photo ID, of which driver’s licenses are examples, is increasingly important -- for example, a valid Ohio driver’s license can help ensure that an Ohio voter is given a ballot at the polls.

Even before the Legal Aid study, it was obvious Ohio needed to fix what had turned into a nightmarish Catch 22 system for drivers racking up multiple suspensions by driving anyway, because they couldn’t afford the reinstatement fees growing like topsy -- and that couldn’t be worked off with community service. The problem’s extent prompted pilot projects and new laws whose successes SB 37 is now seeking to build upon more comprehensively.

Sponsored by Republican state Sen. Louis Blessing III and Democratic state Sen. Catherine Ingram, both Cincinnatians, SB 37 is pending in the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission, SB 37 – if approved by the Senate and Ohio House and signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine – would pare back the plethora of reasons for which Ohioans’ driver’s licenses can now be suspended.

According to the sponsors’ testimony, “Under current Ohio law, there are almost 70 violations that can result in someone losing their driver’s license. Unfortunately, these penalties often impact low-income individuals and families the hardest. Imagine a person is convicted of something that has nothing to do with driving, for example drug possession, and has their driver’s license suspended. Just like that, their ability to drive to work, take their child to school, go to a medical appointment, or pick up groceries has been severely diminished, if not completely vanished.”

Their bill, they noted, “does not make any changes to driver’s license suspensions when the violations involve driving.” Suspension is clearly warranted, for example, in cases of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The bill would leave Ohio’s DUI law, a criminal law, in place.

As for Ohio’s financial responsibility law for motorists, which in effect requires drivers to be insured, in the proposed Blessing-Ingram bill the insurance requirement would remain in place, but the “lookback period” – the time span for determining whether an offender was a repeat offender – would be pruned back from five years to one year.

The Ohio State Bar Association is among those backing SB 37, telling the committee it “supports reforms that limit driver’s license suspensions to dangerous driving offenses and make it easier for a person to get their license back when they have complied with court orders and penalties. The loss of a driver’s license creates a substantial barrier to employment and responsible citizenship.”

In accordance with federal law, SB 37′s sponsors said the bill cannot prevent courts from imposing license suspensions for failure to pay child support. But the bill would let a driver present evidence that such a suspension would, in effect, prevent the payment of child support (for example, because of an inability to drive to a job, etc.).

All in all, Senate Bill 37 is constructive, bipartisan – and deserves passage by the General Assembly.

END