State Rep. Nick Barborak (D-Lisbon) today announced that he will be introducing bipartisan legislation to eliminate the sales tax on common fuels used for heating purposes, such as propane, oil and kerosene. To provide Ohioans tax relief as early as this winter, the bill includes an emergency clause.
“Ohioans that have been squeezed by the recession need some security and stability when it comes to keeping their families safe during the winter months,” said Rep. Barborak. “The state sales tax hike has made heating fuel like propane, wood and oil even more expensive at a time when too many families are still struggling to make ends meet. The state should take action to avoid putting people in a situation where they have to decide between filling their gas tank or heating their house.”
Currently, household consumers do not pay a sales tax on non-contractual natural gas or electric use. This bipartisan legislation would align state laws to exempt heating fuels from the sales tax as well. The proposed legislation would only apply to fuels being used specifically for heating.
State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) introduced legislation today to institute a three-year suspension of high-stakes decisions based on student test scores in measuring student growth and evaluating teacher performance. In June, the legislature voted to suspend high-stakes decisions based on test scores for the 2014-2015 school year, but schools say one year does not provide enough time for a successful transition.
“Ohio’s New Learning Standards and related assessments have taken effect this year, and deliberate implementation is critical to ensuring that the transition to higher-level standards is successful,” said Rep. Fedor. “This legislation would essentially give Ohio’s schools, educators and students the time to implement the standards effectively and without threat of punishment.”
During a suspension – often referred to as a “safe-harbor” period – report card ratings cannot be used to trigger state sanctions, such as making schools eligible for vouchers. Additionally, student growth measures cannot be used to make decisions regarding the dismissal, retention, tenure or compensation of a teacher.
"Ohio is at a critical moment where the state must decide how to move forward in a way that truly improves public education for our children. The switch to new learning standards shows a serious commitment to our children’s future,” said Melissa Cropper, President of Ohio Federation of Teachers. “However, testing continues to be an obstacle to a vibrant learning environment when instructional time is lost to hours of tests and test preparation - this is a poor frame for teaching, learning and understanding. A three-year pause on the high stakes decisions attached to testing will give Ohio time to make thoughtful decisions about the next steps in educating our children and what role testing should have in that process.”
H.B. 642 was referred to the House Education Committee, and has yet to receive a committee hearing. To date, 18 legislators have co-sponsored the legislation.
State Reps. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Nicholas J. Celebrezze (D-Parma) sent a letter today to Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder asking him to consider legislation, House Bill 628, that would authorize the state’s Inspector General (IG) to investigate the Attorney General’s (AG) office for any wrongful acts or omissions following continued allegations of harassment in the office.
As reported by Associated Press Thursday, staff failed to properly report an incident where a senior lawyer made violent, derogatory comments to a legal secretary last year. In an almost unprecedented move, the senior lawyer’s supervisor was allowed to appeal the decision against him, ultimately clearing his name.
“With this latest revelation, it would certainly seem that the Attorney General’s office may be a hostile workplace for women,” said Rep. Antonio. “When allegations of harassment under a Democratic AG surfaced, we came together in a bipartisan way to protect the integrity of the office and ensure taxpayers had answers. Instead of the media chipping away at allegations of impropriety, it is time for the state to be accountable.”
In an unrelated incident in April 2013, AG Mike DeWine personally involved himself in the office’s only review of sexual harassment allegations, pressuring an internal compliance officer to name the sexual harassment whistleblower—a misstep he was told at the time was improper. Ultimately, DeWine talked to the whistleblower personally and the allegations where dropped.
“Taxpayers deserve to know why this supervisor was allowed special treatment to clear his name from such a clear and unacceptable omission,” said Rep. Celebrezze. “This latest misstep raises serious concerns about the integrity of the Attorney General’s office, especially with incidents in which female employees are involved. We need an investigation to determine if this is commonplace.”
A copy of the legislators’ letter can be seen below:
Dear Speaker Batchelder,
Recent investigative news reports have uncovered a series of troubling allegations that suggest the Attorney General’s office has mishandled investigations into allegations of workplace harassment targeting women.
In April 2013, the Attorney General personally involved himself in the only review allegations of sexual harassment against a female employee in the office. The Attorney General pressured an internal compliance officer to name the sexual harassment whistleblower, a misstep he was told at the time was improper. The complaints were retracted following the Attorney General’s meeting with the whistleblower.
Thursday it was reported that a supervisor failed to properly report an incident where an assistant attorney made violent, derogatory comments toward a legal secretary. This supervisor seems to have been given special treatment in determining whether he had failed to properly report the situation. And for the first time in five years, the finding that established he had neglected his reporting duty was overturned.
Mr. Speaker, in the past the legislature has come together in a bipartisan way to address allegations of harassment in the Ohio Attorney General’s office. In 2008, Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly voted for Senate Bill 3, which contained a bipartisan provision that required the state’s Inspector General to investigate then-Attorney General Marc Dann’s office after an allegation of sexual harassment surfaced through the news media. As you probably recall, the investigation led to deeper findings of gross misconduct that ultimately led to Mr. Dann’s resignation as Ohio Attorney General.
We feel that no one is above the law, and that when circumstances necessitate a greater understanding of alleged wrongdoing, it is incumbent upon the legislature to exercise its oversight capacity to compel integrity and accountability in state government. It is in this spirit that lawmakers came together in 2008 to ensure taxpayers had a complete picture of how the Attorney General’s office was functioning. And, it is in this same spirit that we recently introduced House Bill 628 to once again authorize the Inspector General to investigate the Office of Attorney General to determine whether wrongful acts or omissions have, or are being, committed.
We appreciate your attention to this request and advocate for the passage of this stand-alone legislation. However, we acknowledge that tight-knit political alliances could complicate the passage of a stand-alone bill, so we would also appreciate your consideration of incorporating the measure as an amendment to legislation that moves through the legislature during lame duck session.
We have included copies of the relevant news articles for your review.
Nickie J. Antonio
13th House District
Nicholas J. Celebrezze
15th House District
State Reps. Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) and John Patterson (D-Jefferson) today urged the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to continue working to establish state standards for safe levels of microcystin in Ohio’s public water systems, a step that would be required with the passage of the Lake Erie lawmakers’ legislation—House Bill 625.
The lawmakers’ appeal follows recent comments by Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler indicating that the agency would not pursue state-specific standards, but instead wait until the U.S. EPA sets a national standard before Summer 2015.
“The Ohio EPA should settle on a standard so testing practices can be fine-tuned and deemed adequate before microcystin becomes a problem again next summer,” Sheehy said. “It’s disappointing—and downright unacceptable—that our state officials are sitting on their hands and unwilling to do more to prevent the next water crisis.”
The lawmakers also chastised Ohio EPA officials for their lack of state-level leadership on microcystin, a toxin responsible for the temporary loss of water for 500,000 Toledo-area residents in August. They said the agency’s frequent disagreements with standards set by the U.S. EPA, most recently over climate change, should be an indication that Ohio regulators would be better satisfied by standards of their own creation.
“This is about developing an Ohio solution for an Ohio problem,” said Rep. Patterson. “This is our opportunity to make a difference at the state and local levels, but the Ohio EPA seems to be punting to the same federal government it consistently attacks for overreaching. Ohio can immediately address the toxins that are polluting our drinking water. We are only missing the will.”
In September, Reps. Sheehy and Patterson introduced HB 625, legislation to establish state standards for acceptable and dangerous levels of microcystin in Ohio’s drinking water. HB 625 would also require the Ohio EPA to develop procedures for testing the toxin.
In response to today’s report that a healthcare worker who recently visited family in Ohio was diagnosed with Ebola upon returning to Texas, Democratic State Rep. Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) and ranking House Health Committee member Rep. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Cleveland) called on House and Senate leaders to hold a joint health committee hearing on state protocol for managing Ebola infections.
The letter’s text is below:
Dear Speaker Batchelder and President Faber:
With the news breaking that a patient infected with the Ebola virus very recently visited the state of Ohio, we are calling upon the House and Senate leadership to convene a joint meeting of the health committees of both chambers. We feel it is imperative that the new leadership of the Ohio Department of Health brief the legislature and citizens on public health protocols with regard to Ebola in Ohio.
As the executive agency tasked with protecting public well-being, the Department of Health must maintain robust, comprehensive protocols in the event that Ohioans are exposed to a deadly virus. While it is important not to raise unnecessary alarm, we are troubled by the tone of this week’s conference call by state health officials in which they seemed more focused on downplaying the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in Ohio than on communicating protocols for preventing the spread of the disease in our state.
A joint committee hearing between the two chambers’ respective health committees should provide Director Hodges and his staff at the Department of Health with an appropriate venue in which to communicate to lawmakers, health providers, and the public on what active steps the department is taking to prepare for an Ebola outbreak.
Time is of the essence. We strongly urge the joint committee meeting be scheduled with all due haste.
Representative Robert F. Hagan
House District 58
Representative Nickie J. Antonio
Ranking Member, House Health & Aging Committee
House District 13
Cc: Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard, House Minority Leader
Representative Lynn Wachtmann, Chair of House Health & Aging Committee
Senator Shannon Jones, Chair of Senate Medicaid, Health and Human Services Committee
Richard Hodges, Director of the Ohio Department of Health
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) sent a letter Tuesday to Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Rick Hodges requesting the state’s preparedness plan for a potential Ebola infection in the state. The lawmaker stressed the importance of treatment, prevention and quarantine protocols to contain any potential patients.
“In light of this ongoing outbreak, I believe it is imperative that Ohio has adequate protocols in place to treat any cases in our state and to prevent transmission of potentially deadly diseases,” said Rep. Hagan. “It is important that the new leadership at ODH is able to communicate a comprehensive contagion management plan to health providers, lawmakers and taxpayers.”
The lawmaker’s letter follows the infection of over 8,000 individuals worldwide, mainly in Western Africa. To date in the United States, one patient has died from the Ebola virus in Dallas, TX.
A copy of Rep. Hagan’s letter can be seen below.
Richard Hodges, Director
Ohio Dept. of Health
246 North High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215
Dear Director Hodges,
I write to you with concern regarding Ohio’s preparedness to prevent the spread of highly-communicable infectious diseases. As the executive agency tasked with protecting public well-being, the Department of Health must maintain robust, comprehensive protocols in the event that Ohioans are exposed to a deadly virus.
We, as a global community, are currently in the midst of the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Despite the outbreak greatly affecting countries in Western Africa, we live in such an interconnected world that the disease has already infected and killed individuals in Europe and the United States.
In light of this ongoing outbreak, I believe it is imperative that Ohio has adequate protocols in place to treat any future infected individuals in our state and to prevent transmission at that time. As such, I respectfully request that the Department of Health update my office on what steps are actively being taken to prevent the disease from spreading to Ohio, as well as the protocols that will be followed should an infected individual surface in Ohio, including quarantine procedures.
I look forward to your timely response to my letter.
Representative Robert F. Hagan
House District 58
State Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) recently helped bring together Northeast Ohio farmers, The Ohio State University, county auditors, soil and water conservancy groups and County Farm Bureaus to address dramatic property tax increases on farmers from the state’s voluntary farm tax savings program, the Current Agriculture Use and Valuation (CAUV). The Ashtabula County lawmaker says he heard from concerned constituents that some were facing tax increases of over 300 percent on their farmland this year.
The first meeting at the OSU Agriculture Extension office in Jefferson, Ohio brought together over twenty stakeholders, representing nearly every form of agriculture in the region, including organic growers, dairy farmers, grain farmers, fisheries, and even woodlot entrepreneurs. The CAUV task force held its second meeting Monday in Ashtabula County.
The task force is currently taking a regional approach in addressing potential solutions to agricultural land value increases under the CAUV, but many hope the group can offer statewide recommendations that will help mitigate dramatic property tax increases on farmers in 41 counties across the state.
“It is my hope and intention that this task force will provide some very comprehensive thought to this program that has benefitted farmers since 1973,” said Rep. Patterson. “It is only through this collaborative discussion and research that we can present a plan that won’t result in a knee-jerk legislative reaction that could be very harmful for our current and future farmers of this county, region and state.”
Ohio’s CAUV was established 40 years ago in an effort to add predictability to farmers’ property tax bills while incorporating land valuation practices that were thought to be fairer, like a rolling average of crop prices, soil conditions and harvest volume.
Many farmers throughout the state use the CAUV, but in recent years, the program has proved to be somewhat volatile. Though farmers have felt the disastrous effects of the global recession in recent years, their property tax rates under CAUV will stick struggling farmers with big tax increases at the beginning of the year.
For a complete summary of the CAUV Task Force meetings, contact the OSU Extension Office at (440) 576-9008.
House Democratic representatives today sent a letter to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Director Gary Mohr calling for the state to terminate its contract with the state’s privately-run prison food service staffing company, Aramark, marking at least the fifth time lawmakers have asked the state to take control of privatized food service operations.
“The irrefutable and troubling facts against Aramark reaffirms why there was such strong initial opposition, both in the legislature and the general public, to privatizing any part of our prison system,” said Rep. Matt Lundy (D-Elyria). “With the ninety-day notice requirement in the contract, I am calling on the administration to terminate its relationship with Aramark and start 2015 off on the right foot by having the state take full control of our prisons again.”
Over 100 Aramark employees have been banned from Ohio prisons since the first year of the privatization due to problems ranging from sexual abuse and drug smuggling to inappropriate relationships with inmates, according to a Dayton Daily News investigation. Aramark has also racked up state contract violations, including unsafe food conditions, staffing shortfalls and food shortages.
“Maybe they cut costs, but they cut corners to get there and that’s not what Ohioans deserve or expect,” said Rep. Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) a member of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC). “It’s time for the state to take control of operations at our state prisons and ensure that there is security and accountability in the way our state does business.”
Aramark has been fined twice by the state for violating safety and security requirements at Ohio prisons, but the Kasich Administration has dodged previous calls for the termination of Aramark’s contract. Instead, the state will use some of the fines to hold additional training for Aramark employees.
“We shouldn’t be in the business of remediation for bad actors,” said Rep. Nicholas J. Celebrezze (D-Parma), a CIIC member. “The state needs to sign contracts with businesses that are able to meet our requirements and expectations.”
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) highlighted recent findings that show significant funding educational quality gaps between Youngstown City Schools (YCS) and area charter schools. These findings were compiled for the first time in a new website—KnowYourCharter.com. The site compares metrics from public schools and traditional charter schools using detailed state reports.
“As the state spends more and more taxpayer dollars on charter schools, it’s clear that the ‘experiment’ of funding charters is now routine and warrants further public and government scrutiny,” said Rep. Hagan. “This is a powerful accountability and transparency tool for parents and state’s education leaders.”
During the 2012-2013 school year, over $22 million in local tax dollars were siphoned from city schools and redirected to charter schools. Thirteen of those nineteen charter schools graded by the state received a “D” or “F” on their state report card. YCS is rated a “D.”
At least six of the schools received over $10,000 in state funding per pupil. YCS’s state share per pupil is roughly $8,200.
“It is really startling to see how some of the worst performing schools are receiving more money from the state than our public schools. I think it’s clear from these numbers that we need to refocus back on improving our children’s public schools,” added Rep. Hagan.
KnowYourCharter.com was created by the Ohio Education Association and progressive think tank Innovation Ohio in an effort to increase financial transparency and accountability. Data used on the website is taken from the Ohio Department of Education and compares academic performance among traditional public schools and charter schools.
Today, State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) highlighted recent findings that reveal a significant funding gap between Toledo City Schools (TCS) and area charter schools. These findings were compiled for the first time in a new website—KnowYourCharter.com. The site compares fiscal and performance information from public schools and traditional charter schools using detailed reports of state data.
“Ohio’s funding model has put our traditional public school students and teachers at a major disadvantage,” said Rep. Fedor. “And when charter schools siphon funds from public schools, our students have even fewer resources. It’s clear that our students are lacking equal access to educational opportunities. Ohio’s funding model and charter school accountability need to be addressed immediately—our students’ success depends on it.”
According to the data, on average, Toledo charter schools receive $8,770 per student while TCS students receive only $6,497. Even with the additional funding, most area charter schools continue to underperform, with more than half earning a “D” or “F” rating on the state’s report card.
In total, over $73 million in state aid was deducted from TCS last year and transferred to area charter schools.
“While these charter schools are underperforming, they are also spending twice the amount as TCS on administrative costs. It really calls into question where our state’s educational priorities lie,” added Rep. Fedor.
KnowYourCharter.com was created by the Ohio Education Association and progressive think tank Innovation Ohio in an effort to increase financial transparency and accountability. Data used on the website is taken directly from the Ohio Department of Education and compares academic performance among traditional public schools and charter schools.