Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) President Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) issued the following statement, paying tribute to the late Nelson Mandela:
“Today we lost a world champion of change and peace. Because of his sacrifice and determination to fight against apartheid and for voting rights in South Africa, the world is a better place. In his spirit, we must continue to fight for voting rights, justice and equality for all—even in the face of great odds.”
COLUMBUS– Today, State Reps. Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) and Robert Hagan (D-Youngstown) renewed their call for the passage of Ohio House Concurrent Resolution 39, which urges Congress to enact the Safe Freight Act. Reps. Sheehy and Hagan-both seasoned railroad workers- believe the recent transportation train tragedy in New York could have been avoided if two crew members were in the operating cab.
The federal Safe Freight Act, which is still pending in Congress, would require a freight train crew to consist of at least two qualified individuals. Updating these standards would increase the overall safety of train operations, especially in the event that one crew member loses alertness or is no longer able to perform his or her duties. A two person crew could also foster safer grade crossings, by decreasing the chance of potentially dangerous blindspots.
“We cannot allow preventable train accidents to occur because of a lack of appropriate safety standards,” said Rep. Sheehy. “In the meantime, I urge my colleagues in the Ohio General Assembly to pass H.C.R 39 to urge Congress to pass this legislation quickly. It will save lives. ”
H.C.R 39 was introduced earlier this year following the runaway freight train incident that killed 47 people in the Canadian province of Quebec. It is believed that this accident also could have been avoided if the single-crew member had another individual to help him properly secure the cars to prevent the runaway.
“It amazes me that only one person is required to operate a train, yet we’d never think of having a pilot fly a plane alone,” said Rep. Hagan. “This year there have been a number of train derailments that could have been prevented if a second crew member was on site.”
Rep. Sheehy is a former railway conductor and Rep. Hagan currently works as a locomotive engineer. Each representative has over 30 years of experience on Ohio’s railways.
On Wednesday, State Reps. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) and John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake) introduced legislation to grow the state’s “Straight A” fund with some $400 million in expected budget savings from Medicaid expansion.
“This is a real opportunity to prioritize our children’s education at a time when our local schools have been devastated by state budget cuts,” said Rep. Patterson. “So many schools throughout the state have been working hard to stabilize our children’s education with very limited means.”
This month, the Ohio Department of Education will notify the final “Straight A” fund grant recipients of their award status. An alarming number of schools applied for the program that provides funds for schools to implement student achievement and efficiency projects. To date, of the original 569 applications for funding, 210 proposals have been rejected. The remaining 359 proposals are seeking roughly $560 million, which is far more than the $250 million available over the next two years.
“It is the state’s obligation to provide an adequate and equitable education for all of our children, and in recent years the state has moved in the wrong direction,” Rep. Rogers said. “We understand the variety of needs in the many areas around our state. And this is one proposal that could help Ohio better meet its responsibility to our children while being a good steward of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. We can’t afford to turn our backs on public education.”
Since Gov. Kasich took office, local school funding has been cut by roughly half-a-billion dollars. The number of school funding levies since Gov. Kasich took office has increased dramatically—so has the dollar amount of proposed local tax increases. The added downward pressure on local taxpayers comes at a time when the state is sitting on $1.5 billion in cash reserves, in addition to the expected Medicaid savings.
The proposed legislation would increase the Straight A Fund by $404 million over the next two years and would use funds exclusively from the savings realized by Medicaid expansion. If the expected savings from Medicaid expansion do not equal $404 million, the bill allows the Director of Budget and Management to adjust the appropriations accordingly.
The long-awaited JobsOhio report was issued by State Auditor Dave Yost in late November, but it created more questions than answers.
The haphazard report fails to give Ohioans a full account of all possible wrongdoing. Yet in between the lines are troubling highlights of an organization that fails to document expenses and employee purchases or guard against fraud and conflicts of interest. These basic practices are ‘Business 101,’ and JobsOhio is flunking.
With a fundamentally-flawed organization at the helm of Ohio’s economic development, it’s no surprise that our jobless rate continues to trend upward, now surpassing the national average.
JobsOhio desperately needs more transparency. They need to be vigilant in the way they spend taxpayer dollars by addressing their fundamental flaws, restoring Ohioans’ trust and creating good jobs for Ohioans.
I cosponsored legislation in June that would address these issues, but the under GOP control, it’s unlikely this bill will see any action—just like correcting the troubling shortcomings of JobsOhio.
Today, Senator Charleta B. Tavares (D – Columbus) and Representative Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) called on Governor Kasich to restore access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for 134,000 low-income Ohioans. The call to action comes as Ohioans prepare to celebrate the start of the holiday season with Thanksgiving on November 28.
"During this holiday season we should do all we can to make sure every resident of Ohio has the food they need," said Sen. Tavares. "That's why at this time of rising unemployment we are calling on Governor Kasich to request a statewide waiver like our neighboring states have done."
Ohio has participated in the statewide waiver program because of high employment rates since 2007. Current SNAP rules require childless adults who are not disabled to work or participate in a qualifying job-training program for a minimum of 20 hours per week. However, the federal government will waive the requirement in light of Ohio’s struggling economy. There would be no additional cost to the state of Ohio to again seek the waiver. Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan have already requested and been granted waivers to extend SNAP benefits.
Gov. Kasich recently extended the SNAP federal work waiver to only 16 counties, disproportionately affecting Ohio’s urban areas and other rural counties around the state. Lawmakers cited Ohio’s troubling trend of growing joblessness, a stagnant economy and lack of Work Experience Program (WEP) opportunities as reasoning to equitably extend the SNAP federal waiver to all 88 Ohio counties. Currently, there are only 9,000 available slots in the WEP program.
“The regretful irony of this situation is that Governor Kasich is championing his work on Medicaid expansion for the poor, but, at the same time, he will take food off the table of some of these very same people,” said Rep. Ramos. “Instead of working to fix fundamental problems with our state’s economy, Governor Kasich’s administration has decided to play politics with people’s food when there just aren’t enough jobs to go around.”
Due to the refusal to seek the waiver, the additional burden to feed Ohio families has fallen on Ohio’s food banks—whose resources are already limited. The Ohio Association of Food Banks Executive Director, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, who has reached out to Governor Kasich requesting a restoration of the SNAP benefits, joined the legislators.
"Unfortunately, November has turned into a nightmare for our agencies and the individuals and families that we serve because funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have expired," said Hamler-Fugitt. "The cold hard reality of hunger is about to get a whole lot worse beginning in January for 134,000 Ohioans because of these additional cuts to the SNAP program."
Sen. Tavares and Sen. Capri Cafaro (D-Hubbard) and Rep. Ramos will soon introduce legislation that would require the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services to extend the federal waiver to all 88 Ohio counties should the administration choose to stand firm on their decision.
Discern—to separate (a thing) mentally from another; recognize as separate or different (Webster’s New World Dictionary)
Recently two pieces of legislation were passed by the Ohio House which required the use of “discernment.” House Bill 5 (which addresses municipal tax issues) and House Bill 144 (which bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors) provided ample fodder to practice discernment.
It is well-known that Ohio’s municipal tax laws are archaic—reflecting, in the extreme, local control run amok. Over the years, business owners have wasted precious time and resources to file multiple tax forms to comply with each municipality in which a business may have operated. Clearly streamlining and increased efficiency were at the heart of this well-intended bill. All corners supported this component of HB 5.
However, also included in the bill was a concept, opposed by many groups (including the Oho Municipal League) and numerous local governmental officials with whom I spoke representing Ashtabula, Chardon, Conneaut, Geneva, and Jefferson, respectively. That controversial concept is called Net Operating Loss (NOL) which permits businesses to carry forward losses into succeeding years. Though the federal and state governments permit a 20-year NOL, 175 municipal entities in Ohio do not allow for any carryover while a few dozen more permit four years of less. The end result of HB 5 will be yet another financial blow to local governments in the form of lost revenue, estimated by the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission to be millions of dollars annually.
This, in addition to losing revenue from the tangible personal property tax and the estate tax coupled with cuts to the local government fund will cripple the ability of many municipalities to fund such basic services as police and fire protection at levels we expect—let alone fund infrastructure maintenance and improvements.
Discernment required me to balance tax code streamlining with the reality of funding cuts for local governments. A compromise amendment which would have permitted each municipality to set its own NOL at 1, 3, or 5 years was also defeated. I voted against HB 5 (along with a handful of Republicans), as I could not tolerate additional revenue losses to local governments even though I do support a streamlined tax code. Discernment…
HB 144 provided an additional opportunity to practice discernment. On its face, sales of e-cigarettes will be banned to minors—a concept accepted on both sides of the aisle. However, I thought it strange that the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association would oppose HB 144. Further investigation revealed that “below the surface of House Bill 144 is a tobacco-industry-crafted ‘Trojan horse’ designed to ensure that the emerging electronic-cigarette market and other alternative nicotine products remain taxed at a lower rate than traditional cigarettes and stay outside the state’s indoor smoking ban (Columbus Dispatch, July 22, 2013).” The same article also noted that the bill was brought to a state legislator by “Lorillard Tobacco Co., the nation’s third-largest cigarette manufacturer, which also purchased e-cigarette company Blu in July 2012.” Once more, using discernment, I cast a “no” vote weighing all components of the proposed legislation.
No one ever said that that the task to represent our District would be easy. I share the journey of HB 5 and 144 as an illustration of the need for careful discernment when forecasting all of the consequences (both intended and unintended). Because I care about the consequences of all legislation upon our District, I listen to all points of view to decide a course of action.
To be consistent then, I must discern what policy choices brings the most benefit to our people with the least consequences. I am, and will remain, diligent in my pursuit of discernment to serve you, the citizens of the 99th District.
The state jobs report for Sept. and Oct. was released today, highlighting a troubling trend of growing joblessness in Ohio. 427,000 Ohioans are out of work, making Ohio’s unemployment rate – 7.5 percent – higher than the national average. Ohio’s unemployment rate is the highest it’s been since Feb. 2012.
“Our economic recovery has come to a grinding halt as Gov. Kasich’s trickle-down economic policies continue to take effect,” said House Democratic Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard (D-Columbus). “This is the 7th time the unemployment rate has increased under Kasich since he inherited 10 straight months of declining unemployment. Tax cuts for the richest Ohioans simply do not create jobs.”
Ohio’s economy has stalled over the last year, and in recent months, layoffs have been announced from companies like Ormet, Lockheed Martin, Chase, Bank of America, Volvo, Meijer, Ben Venue Labs and others. Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of Gov. Kasich’s controversial economic development program known as JobsOhio.
“Relative to the national unemployment rate, Ohio is worse off now than before Gov. Kasich was elected. We’re moving in the wrong direction,” Leader Heard added.
Under the direction of JobsOhio and Gov. Kasich, there have been months when Ohio has led the nation in job loss. Over the past year, at least two studies have found Ohio trailing the nation in job creation, ranking the state 44th and 47th.
Thursday, State Rep. Matt Lundy (D-Elyria) responded to the release of the State Auditor’s report on JobsOhio. The report found noncompliance with certain statutory requirements dealing with ethics statements and employee compensation. The report did little to examine the breadth or depth of alleged conflicts of interest at the controversial entity.
“This report shows why JobsOhio continues to be fertile ground for corruption,” said Rep. Lundy. “Sadly, Governor Kasich remains silent as Ohio trails the majority of the nation in job creation and JobsOhio staffers lavishly spend money and skirt around ethics. At some point, the organizational structure seems to be more about personal perks than creating jobs. “
Rep. Lundy sponsored The JobsOhio Accountability Act-- House Bill 189 --with State Rep. John Patrick Carney (D-Columbus) in June of this year to address the lack of transparency and accountability at JobsOhio.
“Until JobsOhio is subject to transparency, ethics and audits, it will continue to hide behind a curtain of secrecy,” Rep. Lundy added. “The lack of accountability will only result in more cozy deals and lavish spending with the public being left in the dark.”
The JobsOhio Accountability Act is a comprehensive four point plan to ensure accountability at the state’s controversial economic development entity and to bring JobsOhio in line with the same standards as other state agencies. It would restore state ethics and public records standards, require a full public audit by the Auditor of State, create a website to track the dollars, reinstate the Inspector General’s authority and establish whistleblower protections.
The bill, which was referred to the Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, has yet to receive a hearing.
State Reps. Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) and Mike Foley (D-Cleveland) were joined by the Ohio AFL-CIO on Thursday to highlight a proposal that would make Ohio companies more responsible to their employees and accountable to taxpayers.
The lawmakers cited a 2009 Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) report that revealed some of the most profitable corporations in Ohio have large numbers of employees enrolled in public assistance programs like Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance.
“Ohioans who have a job that forces them to rely on public assistance are frustrated with an economy that isn’t working for them,” said Rep. Hagan. “We’re 44th in job creation, yet some of the most profitable corporations in our state continue to get tax breaks while taxpayers pick up the tab for their employees’ health benefits.”
Rep. Hagan highlighted House Bill 356, legislation that would require ODJFS to publish a report showing how much public assistance the 50 largest corporations in Ohio use. The report would be provided to JobsOhio, the Development Services Agency and Columbus decision makers so they could understand the full weight of taxpayer subsidies to a company before deciding to hand out more tax dollars.
“Some corporations are raking in record amounts of cash, while employees can’t afford to put food on the table,” Rep. Foley said. “It is bad enough that many retail employees won’t be able to spend time with their families this holiday, but having to hold employee food drives is an affront to the dignity of hardworking Ohioans.”
Foley will soon introduce legislation that would provide triple-pay to employees who are required to work on Thanksgiving.
“Ohioans deserve true living wages, and taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent to prop up these corporations’ bottom lines,” said Matt Smith of the Ohio AFL-CIO. “When did an honest day’s work stop equaling an honest day’s pay?”
In a press conference on Thursday, State Reps. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) and Mike Curtin (D- Marble Cliff) called for an end to the hyper-partisan voter ID proposals circulating in the Ohio General Assembly.
Rep. Curtin highlighted the need for leaders to work together to craft common sense election policies that would make voting easy:
“We know that there is no evidence of voter fraud. Photo ID is a solution in search of a problem. We should be able to have a civil conversation in the General Assembly about these policies, and create elections laws that are reasonable and easy to follow.”
Rep. Clyde emphasized that voter ID policies will limit access to voting and will likely cost Ohio’s taxpayers millions of dollars to implement:
“There is no justification for requiring a photo ID in order to vote. Up to twenty percent of current voters do not have such an ID. Furthermore, addressing this problem will cost taxpayers as much as $43 million over four years. There is simply no bipartisan reason for Ohio to pass a voter ID law.”
Both lawmakers urged their colleagues not to pass any further changes to election laws without considerable bipartisan support.