As Americans reflect today on the impact and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s important we remember one often understated piece of that historic legacy: the reverend’s resolute advocacy for economic justice.
Dr. King professed that economic opportunity is the foundation on which disenfranchised groups may achieve social and political empowerment. He understood that without a job or an income, a worker “has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.”
King’s message transcends the issue of race and suggests that any American who suffers under economic inequality is without the promises guaranteed to them by the American Dream. Understanding this, Dr. King campaigned for political changes that would not only benefit the black civil rights movement but also ensure a decent quality of life for all working class Americans. In sum, the issues Dr. King fought for weren’t black or minority issues alone, they were and are AMERICAN issues.
Dr. King’s message of economic justice still resonates today, as working men and women from all walks of life in Ohio struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table for their families.
So, in celebrating Dr. King’s legacy it is important that we not simply reflect on his lessons as if they apply only to the past. Instead, we must embrace and utilize the meaning of Dr. King’s work to address the economic challenges that remain, in order to chart a brighter path to the future for all Ohioans.
State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) today commented on the enactment of House Bill 463, legislation signed into law this week by Gov. John Kasich that will help communities fight blight by establishing an expedited foreclosure process for abandoned and vacant homes.
“Abandoned homes stuck in the lengthy foreclosure process can depress neighborhood property values and attract vandalism and crime,” said Lepore-Hagan. “Modernizing Ohio’s foreclosure laws helps stabilize neighborhoods and prevent urban decay by giving communities a tool to speed up the foreclosure process.”
HB 463 also included a provision requiring vacant and abandoned homes foreclosed under the new expedited process to be secured using clear polycarbonate windows and doors rather than the traditional plywood. Federal mortgage financier Fannie Mae has been using the transparent, virtually unbreakable clear boards to secure vacant homes since early 2014, and proponents say the clear boards are more secure, reduce crime and are more visually appealing.
Through the new state law, clear boarding will only be mandated for abandoned homes under the expedited foreclosure process.
“Clear boarding will better secure vacant properties and reduce some of the visual blight associated with vacant homes,” said Lepore-Hagan. “I believe this new law will contribute in a positive way to the tremendous progress being made by the Mahoning County Land Bank, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC), City of Youngstown and others in restoring and revitalizing our neighborhoods.”
HB 463 also addresses the oversight and functions in sheriff’s sales and processes by local governments to act in eradicating blight. The new law change goes into effect 90 days after the bill’s enactment.
Glenn Holmes (D-McDonald) was officially sworn in to the Ohio House of Representatives Tuesday as state representative of the 63rd House District. Holmes, elected to his first House term in November, will serve the people of Trumbull County in, but not limited to, Hubbard, Lordstown, Niles, Girard, Cortland and Newton Falls.
“I am honored to join the state legislature, and I am committed to being an effective voice for the people of the sixty-third district,” said Holmes. “I believe that through God, community, and country all things are possible. I look forward to working in a bipartisan way to ensure all Ohioans have the opportunity for a high quality of life in a state they are proud to call home.”
Holmes served his community as Mayor of McDonald for the past nine years, and as McDonald Village councilman prior. During his leadership as Mayor, Holmes was able to save the village millions in healthcare costs while providing working people with quality care, resulting in a $2 million budget surplus. The village was also able to maintain investments in essential services while enhancing the local community with the addition of a new community center and summer splash park for children and families.
Holmes believes cooperation is key to building new relationships and getting things done. He is a devoted husband and proud father of three adult children and grandfather of four.
In what proved to be an unpredictable year for government and politics across the nation, Ohio House Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) says his caucus found both challenges and successes in the Buckeye State.
From helping to stop sweeping unemployment insurance cuts – at the beginning of 2016 and again at the end of legislative session in Dec. – to fighting back against GOP-led, eleventh-hour lawmaking that brought to the governor’s desk government shutdown legislation; sweeping intrusions on a woman’s sovereignty to make her own healthcare decisions; and a toppling of several self-government principles in Ohio, Democratic lawmakers have faced a busy, and at times contentious, legislative session in 2016.
This year also saw members from both parties come together, something Strahorn believes was productive, to successfully take on issues like medical marijuana, charter-school reforms and infant mortality. That approach, the Leader says, was also helpful in tempering tax shifting proposals, attacks on working people and cuts to school funding.
“It is easy for a party that controls every aspect of state government to get sidetracked with initiatives that are heavy on politics and light on good public policy, but by keeping communication open and standing up for fundamental American values when they are threatened, we have been effective in influencing legislation and having a credible voice in policy debates,” said Strahorn.
Though the Ohio legislature finally passed opioid omnibus legislation during lame duck session after months of inaction, a record number of Ohioans are losing their lives each day to heroin and opioids while the Buckeye State leads the nation in overdose deaths. This summer, House Democratic lawmakers called for a unified, strategic approach to combat the opioid epidemic and called on Gov. John Kasich to declare the opioid epidemic a statewide emergency, release emergency funding and increase long-term funding for treatment.
“The opioid addiction epidemic is one of the greatest challenges facing our state and the well-being of Ohio families,” said Strahorn. “The devastation wrought by drug abuse touches all corners of the states, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status; from suburban Columbus to Portsmouth to Cleveland, Ohio families are losing their loved ones. Instead of throwing different ideas at the wall to see what sticks, the state needs to recognize the opioid epidemic for the public health emergency that it is and advance a unified, strategic approach.”
Leader Strahorn indicates his caucus will double down in the new year on their work toward a more unified and strategic approach – one that includes increased funding – in slowing the rise of opioids and heroin in Ohio.
“Heroin and opioid overdose deaths are perhaps the single biggest quality-of-life indicator that we need to get under control in Ohio,” said Strahorn. “Talking about prevention efforts with young people isn’t enough – we need real resources on the ground.”
In addition to redoubled efforts against the statewide heroin epidemic, the Leader also sees an opportunity to continue an important conversation about the health and well-being of working people in the state. Earlier in the year, Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate put forward an eight-point economic plan they say will strengthen and grow the middle class in Ohio. Specifically, they offered legislation to ensure equal pay for equal work, provide paid family leave, increase the minimum wage, rebalance Ohio’s tax responsibility and create jobs through infrastructure rebuilding and advanced energy investments.
“Sometimes knee-jerk policymaking and legislative culture wars can overshadow our ability to improve the quality of life for the majority of Ohioans – not just now, but for generations of Ohioans to come,” Strahorn said. “We all generally want the same things – good jobs, economic stability, quality schools, access to world-class healthcare and the freedom to make decisions we think are best for our families. I believe we have the ability and responsibility to set politics aside and look to our state’s long-term health.”
Despite Democratic efforts to focus on economic issues this year, legislative attention turned toward erecting barriers to access to women’s healthcare, with Republican lawmakers overriding the fierce objections of House Democratic members to push through an ideologically-driven measure to defund Planned Parenthood and two separate and sweeping intrusions into women’s decisions about their own healthcare. Both restrictions on access to healthcare – the six-week abortion ban and 20-week ban – did not include exceptions for rape or incest.
“Decades after Roe v. Wade, Ohio women continue to face politically-motivated attacks on their access to healthcare that strip them of sovereignty over their own bodies,” Strahorn said. “We need to refocus legislative efforts away from intruding on the most personal, private healthcare decisions, and instead to issues we all believe are important – a stronger economy, better paying jobs, increased access to care, safe communities, affordable education. The list goes on. There are more than enough issues that need our full attention.”
State Reps. Michael P. Sheehy (D-Oregon) today sent a letter to Governor Kasich urging him to veto House Bill (HB) 554, legislation that dramatically changes the state’s energy efficiency standards to unenforceable “goals” for the next three years.
“This legislation will undermine the economic and job growth of advanced energy businesses like First Solar in northwest Ohio,” said Sheehy. “Other leading businesses across the nation – and the globe – are turning to renewable energy sources to power their state-of-the-art 21st century facilities. Leading companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola Enterprises and General Motors have all publicly pledged to produce one-hundred percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources.”
The freeze to Ohio’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, Energy Efficiency, and Peak Energy Demand Reduction benchmarks were set to expire at the start of 2017 and revert back to original standards. Instead, this legislation makes those standards “goals” instead of a requirement for the next several years, jeopardizing jobs, consumer savings and public health.
Ohio House Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) today applauded Gov. John Kasich’s veto of House Bill 493, legislation that would ban abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as five to six weeks. The House leader also commended today’s Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Decision against the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), effectively keeping the Women’s Med Center of Dayton open.
“At a time when people feel uncertain about the future of their healthcare, Ohio should be doing everything it can to increase access to care, not limit it with roadblocks that have been found to be unconstitutional,” said Strahorn. “Despite today’s mostly positive news, too many women across our state still face barriers to care and politicians who want to intrude on healthcare decisions best left to women in consultation with their families, faith and physicians.”
The governor vetoed HB 493 today after eleventh-hour lawmaking last week brought two measures that intrude on women’s personal healthcare decisions to the governor’s desk. The governor signed the other into law, a 20-week abortion ban with no exception for rape or incest.
Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court ruled against state efforts to shutter a local healthcare facility that provides pregnancy termination services. ODH sought to close the Women’s Med Center of Dayton after alleging the health care facility didn’t qualify for a variance from a 2013 Ohio transfer agreement restriction – a hurdle that has been struck down twice as unconstitutional by Ohio courts.
The Montgomery County court essentially found in their determination that the ODH director’s expectations of the Dayton clinic were subjective and invalid and would harm 2,000 women who annually use the facility’s healthcare services.
In an early Friday morning House session, the Republican-controlled House rubber stamped a sweeping bill that could shut down state government by giving the legislature new power to dissolve executive-branch state agencies. The bill, Senate Bill 329, would force some 25 state agencies every four years to spend extra money and resources to defend against elimination based on a number of factors, including the potential for privatization, and a regulations evaluation against other states.
“Not only is this sweeping transference of power an extreme and troubling departure from the American democratic foundation of checks and balances, but it puts Ohioans in danger by potentially shutting down essential services overnight,” said House Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton). “This would create chaos within our state and could lead to outsourcing primary functions of the state like education, public safety, public health and workers’ compensation. It is nothing more than a power grab under the cover of night and guise of review.”
If Gov. John Kasich signs SB 329 into law, every four years, the legislature must take affirmative action on any agency up for review or the agency is shuttered. The state legislature does maintain oversight of some executive functions currently, but the body is primarily tasked with debating and vetting proposed law changes – a slow process that traditionally leaves many proposals unreviewed.
"SB 329 comes straight out of the Congressional playbook of government shutdown politics," said Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent). "Brinkmanship is a dangerous way to govern. I hope the governor does the responsible thing and vetoes this reckless piece of legislation."
The bill now goes to the governor after a 1:40 a.m. vote on the House floor.
State Reps. John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake) and Bob Cupp (R-Allen County) today announced the Senate passage of House Bill 436, legislation to address an inconsistency in state law with regard to OVI license suspension and offender vehicle mobilization.
HB 436 previously passed unanimously in the Ohio House in March and in the Senate Transportation Commerce and Labor Committee last week.
“This bill is the product of consultation with some of my friends in the judicial branch, including Mentor Municipal Court Judge Trebets,” said Rogers. “They came to me explaining this issue, which I recognized to be an issue from my many years as a prosecutor.”
Under current law, a court may allow a second-time OVI (Operating a Vehicle Impaired) offender restricted driving privileges after 45 days of the imposition of a driver’s license suspension. However, a court may not release the offender’s vehicle from the immobilized order until the full 90 days have elapsed. This lack of conformity can result in individuals being able to drive lawfully, but without a vehicle to do it in.
“HB 436 will enable the existing law on this matter to work better and in a more practical way by making the time periods for suspension and immobilization work together. Moreover, it gives the judges handling the case needed discretion tailored to the particular circumstances,” said Cupp.
If the courts lift the immobilization order, and the offender later violates any condition imposed by the court, the bill authorizes re-imposition of the immobilization for the duration of any time remaining on the original immobilization period.
The bill now goes to the governor’s desk for approval. If signed, it will become effective 90 days later.
House Democratic lawmakers today heralded the passage of Senate Bill 27, legislation to ensure firefighters disabled by cancer as a result of their hazardous line of work are eligible for benefits from the workers’ compensation fund and the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund.
“The first responders who keep us safe shouldn’t face medical uncertainty or financial instability after years of selfless sacrifice,” said Assistant Democratic Leader Nicholas J. Celebrezze (D-Parma). “That’s why this reform ensures our everyday heroes don’t have to go it alone.”
Research conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that firefighters show higher rates of certain types of cancer than the general U.S. population as a result of occupational exposure. The study also found that the chance of a lunch cancer diagnosis or death for a firefighter increases with the amount of time spent at fires, while the chance of leukemia death increases with the number of fire runs.
“How many of us would be brave enough to run into a fire instead of away from it? Firefighters risk their safety every day in order to protect their neighbors and their community, so it is only right that we have their back in times of medical need,” said Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire). “This legislation is a long overdue reform that will assist the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day.”
Current Ohio law does not presume that firefighters who are disabled by cancer are presumed to have incurred the cancer from performing official duties as a firefighter. As a result, many active and retired firefighters are prohibited from receiving certain benefits and compensation for performing official duties, and are left to deal with their illness alone.
SB 27 will provide coverage for any firefighter disabled by cancer – full-time or volunteer – who has worked for at least six years on hazardous duty, unless the employer can demonstrate otherwise.
“Firefighters go to work every day knowing there’s a possibility that they could be in an accident that could change their life and affect their families forever. However, firefighters must also grapple with the heightened risk of developing cancer on top of their already dangerous work conditions,” said Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-Warren). “This legislation is the least that we can do for these courageous men and women who sacrifice their life and good health for the safety and wellbeing of us all.”
Once SB 27 is signed into law, Ohio will join 36 other states that already have presumptive cancer laws.
State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) recently testified in the House Health and Aging Committee on House Bill (HB) 132—or the Ohio Prevention First Act—legislation that seeks to prevent unintended pregnancies by offering comprehensive, abstinence-inclusive sexual health education for teens and ensure greater access to contraception.
“By providing young adults with responsible sexual education, we can not only prevent unintended pregnancies, but educate those on the health risks of unprotected sex,” said Lepore-Hagan. “Adolescents will engage in sexual activity whether we acknowledge it or not. It is important that we provide them with the necessary tools to make informed decisions when it comes to sex and contraception.”
In 2014, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancyreported that Ohio has the 28th highest teen birth rate and unplanned pregnancy rate in the nation. This demonstrates a greater need for effective and accessible sexual education, as well as contraception. This legislation seeks to prevent health insurance companies from limiting or excluding coverage for FDA-approved prescription contraception, as well as require pharmacies to dispense any prescribed drug, device or over-the-counter medication in stock without delay and with respect for all customers.
“The Ohio Prevention First Act will also ensure that pharmacies provide access to contraception without bias or discrimination,” continued Lepore-Hagan. “I acknowledge the position of those that believe this law will infringe on their religious principles, and—whether one agrees or disagrees with the use of contraception—it is important to maintain that each individual has the right to make their own decisions regarding the use of contraception. We must enact policies that protect women’s reproductive rights and provide Ohioans with the resources to plan for healthy, thriving families on their own terms.”
In addition, this legislation will establish the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force, made up of government officials, health practitioners, and members of the community such as parents and teens, to better educate Ohioans about pregnancy prevention. HB 132 also requires the Department of Health to keep their website updated with accurate information on emergency contraception, and ensure that sexual assault victims have access to emergency contraception, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections in all hospital emergency rooms.
Yesterday was the first hearing of the bill, which needs to pass both the House and Senate to become law by the end of this year. Similar legislation has been introduced in the past two General Assemblies.
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.”
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.”
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 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.