State Reps. Greta Johnson (D-Akron) and Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) today introduced legislation to eliminate spousal exemptions for sex offenses, including rape and sexual battery. Ohio is one of just 13 states which legally treat marital rape differently from other forms of rape.


“We must modernize Ohio’s laws and eradicate unacceptable policy that allows someone to commit violence against their spouse,” said Boggs. “Women and men experiencing sexual violence at the hands of their spouses should not be denied the right to seek justice just because they happen to be married to the offender.”


Under current Ohio law, there must be “force or threat of force” for sexual assault perpetrated by a spouse to be considered rape. Cases where a spouse is drugged, for example, do not qualify for prosecution. Similar spousal exemptions exist throughout the Ohio Revised Code.


“Elected officials tout the importance of making Ohio a state where people want to live and work, but feeling safe and supported by the justice system is a crucial component to that equation,” said Johnson, a former Summit County assistant prosecutor. “I am appalled that there is not a larger discussion in our state about this issue. I am deeply disappointed that none of my Republican colleagues signed on as co-sponsors to this bill – protecting victims of sexual assault and rape should have nothing to do with partisan affiliation.”


Johnson introduced similar legislation in the previous General Assembly, but the bill was only granted a single committee hearing by majority lawmakers. 

 
 
  
 
House Dems Look To Renew "back-to-school" Sales Tax Holiday
Say tax-free shopping weekend will help families save hard-earned dollars
February 23, 2017
 
 

State Reps. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) and Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) today announced the introduction of House Bill 89, bipartisan legislation to establish a three-day sales tax “holiday” during the first weekend of August for “back-to-school” clothing and school supplies. If enacted, HB 89 would establish the sales tax holiday for the third consecutive year. 


“Over the last two years, we have helped Ohio families save significant amounts of money when they do their back-to-school shopping,” said Patterson. “In my district, families know they can simply cross the border into Pennsylvania to buy back-to-school clothes tax-free. Since we established the first tax holiday in 2015, we have seen a great number of families instead supporting their local businesses.” 


Not only will the holiday help offset Ohio’s 4.5 percent sales tax increase enacted by the 2013 state budget, but for three days shoppers will pay no sales tax on itemized purchases as they prepare their children for the coming of the new school year. Under the lawmakers’ proposal, qualifying products include items of clothing that are $75 or less, school supplies that are $20 or less, and school instructional materials that are $20 or less. 


Ohio families saved $3.3 million during the state’s first temporary sales tax holiday in August 2015, while generating $4.7 million in sales tax revenue. 


“The sales tax holiday is a great opportunity to help Ohio families as they prepare for the new school year, and for members of our communities to support local workers and local businesses,” said Kelly. “By saving families money, we can encourage Ohioans to spend their hard-earned dollars in their own backyard instead of crossing over the border into a neighboring state.” 


Companion legislation in the Senate was approved earlier this week by a 32-1 vote. Ohio would be one of 18 states to offer a back-to-school sales tax holiday. 

 
 
  
 
Valley Lawmakers, County Commissioners Team Up To Fight State Budget Cuts
Commissioners say current budget proposal will harm local communities
February 22, 2017
 
 

State Reps. John Boccieri (D-Poland), Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown), Glenn Holmes (D-McDonald) and Mike O’Brien (D-Warren) this morning hosted all three Mahoning County commissioners for a meeting with House Finance Committee Chairman Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton). 


Commissioners David C. Ditzler, Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Anthony Traficanti traveled to Columbus to voice their concerns regarding the negative local impact of Gov. John Kasich’s proposed fix to the Medicaid Managed Care Organization (MCO) tax formula.  


“I’m pleased our delegation’s meeting request to the budget chairmen was granted, and that our commissioners had the opportunity to express their concerns about local revenue loss,” said Boccieri. “The chairmen demonstrated that the legislature is still open to listening to local officials who are on the frontlines and can provide essential perspectives on what will keep our local communities strong and transportation systems running.” 


The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have given Ohio a deadline of June 30, 2017 to remedy its MCO tax structure so that it complies with CMS policy, but any changes may threaten the millions of dollars local communities currently receive from the tax. 


The governor’s budget proposal provides aid for some counties as it drops the MCO tax revenue in the long term, but the lack of a permanent replacement will leave Mahoning and Trumbull Counties without the approximately $3.7 million and $2.7 million in annual tax revenue, respectively. 


“These devastating cuts will directly impact our ability to deliver essential services that help seniors and children,” said Lepore-Hagan. “Our community has already been stretched thin by repeated tax-shifting from the state over the past several years, and we cannot afford yet another hit.” 


The state lawmakers also penned a letter to the governor last month detailing their concerns on this issue. 


“I’m pleased that our local officials were given the opportunity to express their concerns here in Columbus,” said Holmes. “Families in the Valley expect the buses to run on time and police and fire to show up when they dial 911, but repeated budget cuts by the state have left our communities struggling to deliver essential services. We need a permanent solution to the MCO-related cut, not a temporary Band-Aid.”   


Audrey Tillis, Department Head of the Mahoning County Office of Budget and Management, noted that the impacts of the revenue loss would be felt the most in the public safety and judiciary-related arena, as communities rely on the sales tax to cover much of those sectors’ budgets. 


“The MCO cuts will create a budgetary nightmare in Trumbull County,” said O’Brien. “At a time when law enforcement and service providers are doing everything they can to address the statewide opioid epidemic, cutting their resources will only worsen the drug crisis.”  


Joining the three Mahoning County commissioners today was a commissioner from Shelby County, as well as two representatives from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

 
 
  
 
Ohio Marks First Annual Annie Glenn Communication Disorders Awareness Day
Today, Feb. 17, honors all Ohioans who struggle with communication disorders
February 17, 2017
 
 

State Reps. Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) and John Patterson (D-Jefferson) today celebrate the first annual “Annie Glenn Communication Disorders Awareness Day” in honor of Mrs. Annie Glenn, to recognize all Ohioans who struggle with a communication disorder. The legislation passed last year and designates February 17, Annie Glenn’s birthday, as the official day of recognition.


“Today, the Ohio House of Representatives celebrates Annie Glenn’s 97th birthday by marking the first annual awareness day honoring her work as an advocate for communication disorders,” said Sheehy. “Afflicted with a severe stutter, Annie Glenn overcame her disorder and become a role model for others facing similar challenges.”


Mrs. Glenn, married to former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn for over seventy years, struggled for most of her life with a speech impediment that caused her to stutter eighty-five percent of her words. In 1973, she completed an intensive program to address her stutter at the Communications Research Institute at Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia. Since then, Mrs. Glenn has been able to speak freely and has even become a noted public speaker.

“Annie Glenn is an American hero and role model to many,” said Patterson. “Overcoming her speech impediment was a great achievement, and the fact that she became such an influential and inspiring public figure is a testament to her commitment to helping others with communication disorders.”


Mrs. Glenn remains a vocal advocate for raising awareness about communication disorders, and has received many awards for her activism. She serves on the National Deafness and other Communication Disorders Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health.

 
 
  
 
Dem Lawmakers Seek To Improve Water Quality Through Partnership With Ohio Farmers
Bill would incentivize environmentally sensitive agricultural practices to ensure safe drinking water
February 16, 2017
 
 

State Reps. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) and Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) today reintroduced legislation that seeks to protect and improve the state’s water quality by establishing the Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program, which would incentivize farmers to conserve environmentally sensitive agricultural land rather than use the property for farming or ranching. The bill was first introduced in the 131st General Assembly as House Bill 62.


“There’s nothing more important than the health and well-being of our citizens,” said Patterson. “In addition to ensuring safe and clean drinking water, the Ohio Water Quality Program would promote healthier streams, rivers and estuaries across the state. By partnering with Ohio’s farmers, we can strategically conserve farmland and establish a robust agricultural environment.”


If enacted, the bill would require the Ohio Department of Agriculture to establish the Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program. Modeled after the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), agricultural land voluntarily enrolled by farmers in the statewide conservation initiative would be exempt from property taxes. The state would reimburse local communities for any tax revenue lost as a result of the program to ensure public school districts and community services are not adversely affected.


“The Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program offers Ohio’s farmers the viable option of seeking to reduce pollutants and excessive nutrients from leaching into our watersheds,” said Sheehy. “This legislation is the next step in our state’s continued effort to improve long term water quality, without sacrificing Ohio’s crop production or farm profit.”


According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal Conservation Reserve Program is the largest private-lands conservation program in the United States. Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, CRP contributes to environmental conservation nationwide through a variety of initiatives.


For example, CRP’s Bottomland Hardwoods Initiative incentivizes farmers to replace cropland adjacent to a stream with certain hardwood trees that help restore wetlands, thereby reducing the risk of downstream flooding and helping improve overall water quality.    

 
 
  

With Ohio “on the verge of recession” and continuing to trail the nation in job growth, Democratic members of the House Finance Committee Tuesday said it was time for state leaders and lawmakers to “wake up” ahead of the next round of budget deliberations


“Republicans promised trickle-down tax policies would grow our economy and create good-paying jobs, but these policies of the past have only held Ohio back from growth and opportunity,” said Rep. Jack Cera (D-Cera), ranking member on the House Finance Committee. “After six years in charge, Gov. Kasich now says Ohio is on the verge of a recession – and yet the state budget plan offers more of the fundamentally flawed tax shifting that got us here. Ohio’s middle class families cannot afford more of the same. It’s not working. It’s time to wake up to the on-the-ground reality in our state.”


Cera and members of the House Finance Committee noted that Ohio has fallen behind economically over the past six years Republicans have been at the helm: 


-Last month Ohio lost more jobs than any state in the nation.
-Annual Ohio job creation has consistently trailed the national average since 2005.
-Ohio is the seventh largest state, but was 28th in jobs and growth since 2009.
-Nearly 30 percent of all Ohio jobs are low-wage


“While the rest of the country is moving full speed ahead in terms of economic growth, Ohio is headed toward the edge of an economic recession,” said Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati). “Families working two or three jobs just to keep up are looking to their leaders in Columbus for an approach that creates opportunity and growth. We need to answer their call with a plan for our future, not a failed plan from the past.” 


The Cincinnati lawmaker and her colleagues underlined the fact that with less economic opportunities, the quality of life for Ohio families has unequivocally declined in recent years:


-Sixteen percent of Ohioans are living in poverty, as are 23 percent of children.
-Seventeen percent of Ohioans and 1 in 4 Ohio children are “food insecure”.
-Ohio now ranks 39th among all states on America’s Health Rankings, down from 26th in 2006.
-Ohio’s incarceration rate grew by 11 percent from 2003 to 2013.
-Ohio leads the nation in heroin and opioid overdose deaths


“We need to put our communities and our kids first,” said Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron). “We can’t afford to keep prioritizing tax giveaways for the ultra-rich and expect a different result – it’s not working. It’s time to wake up.” 


Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson), who sits on the House Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education, expressed concern with the state’s backward slide in competitiveness among other states: 


-Ohio has dropped from 5th among all states to 23rd on Education Week’s annual quality rankings.
-Ohio ranks 37th among all states in the percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree or higher.
-Ohio ranks 45th among all states in college affordability


“When leading businesses like Amazon look at Ohio to create new jobs or expand, community infrastructure and an educated workforce can influence whether we win or lose,” said Patterson. “That’s why we need to make sure our children - no matter their zip code – have an equal opportunity to gain the knowledge they need to be the next generation of innovators and leaders who grow our economy. However, our children won’t have that opportunity if they’re stuck in failing, for-profit charter schools that shift critical state resources away from public schools.” 


As the House prepares to draft changes to the state budget, it is unclear whether or not Republican leaders will keep the governor’s slow-growth economic philosophy intact as they have in the previous three state budgets. 

 
 
  
 
Dem Lawmakers Look To Sink "Pink Tax" In Ohio
Bipartisan bill would remove $4 million in annual discriminatory economic barriers
February 15, 2017
 
 

In the midst of state operating budget discussions, State Reps. Greta Johnson (D-Akron) and Brigid Kelly (D-Columbus) today announced they are introducing bipartisan legislation, House Bill 61, to eliminate the $4 million yearly sales tax on feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads. The lawmakers and a recent lawsuit contend the sales tax on essential women’s healthcare items, also known as the “Pink Tax,” disproportionately affects women who already face economic hurdles given Ohio’s gender-based wage gap.


“A tampon is a medical necessity for Ohio women— not a luxury item,” said Johnson. “In a state where women are paid less for the same work as men, every cent counts. The “Pink Tax” takes unfairly more money out of the pockets of women and undermines the economic stability of working families.”


With recent tax increases on tampons and other goods and services in Ohio, a woman will pay $632.50 in state taxes on tampons – two weeks of pre-tax, full-time income for an Ohio mother who earns minimum wage.


“The “Pink Tax” holds Ohio families and women back from their full earning potential by unfairly targeting essential products needed by over half the state’s population,” said Kelly. “Continuing to nickel-and-dime women adds up, especially for minimum wage workers who will lose an even greater proportion of weekly earnings to this unfair state tax. This unfair tax ultimately means women have less money to save for their future and things like car repairs, medical costs and childcare.”


Ohio has historically waivered on sales and use taxes, reducing it in previous years before steadily increasing it under GOP control of the state since 2011. For a time in Ohio, lawmakers even saw to it that cigarettes went untaxed.


“Ohio ended taxes on cigarettes for a decade- from 1971 to 1981. We must find the political will to end this unfair ‘pink tax’ on an innate and intrinsic circumstance of being a woman.,” the lawmakers wrote in their joint request to other House lawmakers for support of the bill.


The average woman has her period for multiple days a month, every month, over the course of 30 to 40 years and will spend over $11,000 on tampons during her lifetime. According to a fiscal analysis from the Legislative Service Commission, Ohio women give the state nearly $4 million in annual taxes from purchasing medically necessary feminine hygiene products. That number would grow even higher under the governor’s proposed budget, which would increase the state sales tax from 5.75 percent to 6.25 percent.


Not only does taxing menstruation-control products present economic issues for women and families, but also potential health consequences. Without proper feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads, women are at risk of developing health complications such as vaginal infections, disease and even infertility. The medicine prescribed to treat these problems is tax exempt, but the products that can prevent them are not.


Twelve states, including Pennsylvania and Illinois, do not tax feminine hygiene products. The “Pink Tax” has also recently been eliminated in Canada and Australia.  


Ohio’s remains in the midst of its legal battle after four Cleveland women sued the Ohio Department of Taxation last year in an attempt to halt the “Pink Tax”. 

 
 
  
 
Ohio Lawmakers Introduce Bill Honoring African American Baseball Pioneer
"Moses Fleetwood Walker Day" recognizes historic career of Ohio native
February 13, 2017
 
 

State Reps. David Leland (D-Columbus)—aka “Mr. Baseball”—and Thomas West (D-Canton) reintroduced legislation today to honor Moses Fleetwood Walker, the nation’s first professional African American baseball player, by designating Walker’s birthday of October 7 as “Moses Fleetwood Walker Day” in the state of Ohio.


“Walker stood tall and persevered in the face of the incredible bigotry and discrimination he experienced throughout his career,” said West. “His legacy of bravery, which continues to inspire us today, deserves the proper recognition this legislation will bring.”


Born and raised in Ohio, Walker attended Oberlin College in 1877 and played on the school’s first varsity baseball team. His skill as a catcher and batter led to Walker being signed by the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1883, where he would begin his professional baseball career.


“Walker prevailed against all odds, overcoming obstacles to break into professional baseball during one of our nation’s bleakest periods,” said Leland, who also serves on the board of trustees for the Columbus Clippers, the Cleveland Indians’ Triple A farm team. “We introduce this bill today with the hopes of cementing Walker’s rightful place in history as the first African American to play major league baseball in the United States.”


Walker’s career in baseball was cut short when both the American Association and the National League unofficially banned African American players in 1889. It would not be until 1947 when the color barrier was finally broken by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson.


The two lawmakers introduced this legislation in February in honor of Black History Month, and also the first day of Major League Baseball Spring Training—February 13.


Similar legislation was previously introduced during the 131st General assembly, received wide bipartisan support and unanimously passed out of the House of Representatives. 

 
 
  
 
Clyde Introduces Automatic Voter Registration For Ohio
Latest trend in Voter Registration holds potential to add 1 million to voter rolls
February 09, 2017
 
 

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) today announced the introduction of House Bill 14, legislation that would enact Automatic Voter Registration in Ohio. This system will require that eligible Ohioans in state and school databases be automatically registered to vote and have their registrations automatically updated unless they choose to opt out. Automatic voter registration could potentially add over 1 million eligible voters to Ohio’s voter rolls.


“Automatic voter registration is a far more sensible way to make the list of eligible voters in Ohio,” said Rep. Clyde. “House Bill 14 will allow Ohioans to be added to the rolls when they do everyday things like get a driver’s license, seek disability services or simply turn eighteen. Antiquated voter registration is a barrier to voting. Aggressive purging of voters is a barrier to voting. Automatic voter registration is the solution.”


Camille Wimbish, director of the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition, joined Rep. Clyde at today’s introduction. “The Ohio Voter Rights Coalition is pleased to support this automatic voter registration bill because it will make the registration process more accurate, efficient and convenient for election officials and voters alike,” said Wimbish. “This reform is a win-win because it modernizes our election system and removes unnecessary barriers to the ballot box.”


House Bill 14 is modeled after voter registration modernizing provisions passed by the Ohio House seven years ago under House Bill 260, as well as an Automatic Voter Registration law first adopted by the state of Oregon and quickly followed by other states. With this legislation, Ohio would join six other states and Washington D.C. in adopting Automatic Voter Registration. Currently, more than half of U.S. states are considering some form of Automatic Voter Registration.


The Automatic Voter Registration legislation will do the following:


-          Automatically register to vote all Ohioans with a drivers’ license or state ID.


-          Automatically register to vote all Ohioans who interact with Jobs and Family Services offices and other agencies designated by the federal Motor Voter law.


-          Automatically register to vote all Ohio high school students who are eligible to vote.


-          Allow every person 21 days to opt out of voter registration in person or by mail.


-          Expand online voter registration to all eligible Ohioans, not just those with a photo ID.


-          Potentially add over 1 million eligible Ohioans to the voting rolls and update thousands more.


-          Fix Ohio’s long-standing failure to comply with the federal Motor Voter law.


Rep. Clyde currently serves as Ranking Member on the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, which hears elections and voting rights bills. She was recently named Legislator of the Year by Ohio election officials for her voting rights efforts, including challenging Secretary Husted’s aggressive voter purge and leading the effort to restore the voting rights of 17-year-olds during the primary.

 
 
  
 
Columbus Lawmakers Propose Law Change To Protect Ohio's Drinking Water
Little-known law change from last state budget threatens Hoover Reservoir buffer zones
February 06, 2017
 
 

State Reps. David Leland (D-Columbus) and Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) last week introduced legislation to keep Ohio’s drinking water clean and safe by preventing the destruction of natural buffer zones around drinking-water reservoirs, like the Hoover Reservoir in Franklin County.


“The Hoover Reservoir is a vital source of public water for Columbus, and the strip of land encircling Hoover and other reservoirs acts as a natural filter that removes contaminants that would threaten our water supply,” said Leland. “This provision, which was inserted into the previous state budget at the last minute without public input or participation, is a potential threat to the health and safety of all Franklin County residents.”


In Franklin County alone, over a million people rely on the Griggs, O’Shaughnessy and Hoover Reservoirs to supply safe and clean drinking water daily. This legislation will repeal a provision surreptitiously included in the state’s last biennial budget that allowed residents to significantly alter those zones by reducing the natural barriers that slow storm-water runoff and filter out fertilizers, exacerbating algae problems already occurring in the state.


“It is simply bad policy to give a select few people the power to alter public landscape in a way that could negatively impact everyone's water supply,” Boggs said. “This legislation will help protect Franklin County's water quality and the health of all our residents.”


The cities of Columbus, Westerville, Akron, Barberton and Lima previously sued to overturn the hastily passed state law in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court and temporarily blocked its implementation. 

 
 
  
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Dem Lawmakers Call On Kasich To Declare Opioid Crisis A Statewide Emergency

 

Democratic lawmakers today called on the Governor John Kasich to recognize the devastating opioid addiction epidemic for what it is: a public health emergency. At a statehouse press conference this morning the lawmakers said the state must have a strong, unified response and release emergency state funding to combat the statewide opioid crisis that is claiming lives in rural areas and urban centers alike.    

“The first step in any road to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, and it’s time for the administration to recognize the opioid addiction crisis as the public health emergency that it is,” said Rep. Greta Johnson (D-Akron). “Too many Ohio families are losing loved ones to drug addiction and overdoses. We must marshal all available state resources and attention to fight back against this rapidly growing threat to our communities.”



 
 

Johnson Pushes For Statewide Opioid Response

 

State Rep. Greta Johnson (D-Akron), today responded to Gov. John Kasich’s Thursday comments at the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative and the state’s actions to combat the opioid epidemic. The governor’s optimistic comments came on the same day the Ohio Department of Health released the report on 2015 Ohio Drug Overdose Data stating fentanyl-related drug overdoses more than doubled from 2014 to 2015. And the numbers continue to climb. For July 2016, Summit County alone experienced an estimated 395 overdoses, which matched the total number of overdoses in the county for the four months prior combined.*

“State leaders still refuse to call the opioid epidemic what it is: a public health crisis,” said Johnson. “It is imperative we remain hopeful and positive, but only if we are also employing all available resources to the law enforcement officers and treatment providers on the front lines. There has yet to be a coherent, statewide response to this devastating public health crisis that is killing more Ohioans than ever before. Summit County is doing a tremendous job at treating and preventing overdoses in my district, but with greater funding and direction from the state, we could be doing far more.”



 
 

Lawmakers Push Solution To Stabilize 31 Fiscally Distressed Communities Hit Hard By Kasich's Budget Cuts

 

State Reps. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) and Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) today announced a new plan to assist struggling communities hit hardest by Governor Kasich’s budget cuts and tax shifting policies over the past several years. Since taking office, Gov. Kasich cut over $1.7 billion in local community funding. Over 70 cities have lost at least $1 million each year due to Kasich’s budgeting and tax decisions, and 12 small cities have lost at least $2 million each, per year.



 
 

Ohio Rep. Greta Johnson On Women's Access To Healthcare: "We're Not Damsels In Distress Tied To Railroad Tracks, We Are The Train Carrying The Message."

 

Ohio House Democratic members hosted a press conference today to speak out against the recent attacks on women’s access to healthcare. Led by State Rep. Greta Johnson (D-Akron), the lawmakers introduced a package of bills aimed at securing and expanding women’s access to comprehensive healthcare services.

WATCH Rep. Johnson deliver her powerful closing above.