Education advocate and state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) today issued the following statement on Attorney General Mike DeWine’s announcement he is asking the courts to pursue recovery of some $60 million in stolen taxpayer funds from now defunct online charter school ECOT:


“Taxpayers are right to be concerned that they may never receive a return on their eighty-million dollar investment into an online charter school that was more concerned about padding the pockets of politicians like Mike DeWine instead of providing education opportunities to our children.


“Because public pressure and bad headlines have backed Mike DeWine into the smallest political corner, he has only now felt it important to recover millions of stolen taxpayer dollars. When Ohio officials were fraudulently changing letter grades to get ECOT more taxpayer dollars for kids who never attended school, Mike DeWine did nothing and let the trail go cold.


“But now, the books have already been cooked, the fraudsters have skipped town, and there’s likely next-to-nothing of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to claw back from the defunct and shuttered online charter.  This should be a wake up call to all elected officials to put people first over powerful political donors from the moment they put their hand on the bible and swear to uphold the constitution.”


 


 

 
 
  
 
Boggs Proposes State Ban On Taxpayer-funded Hush Money
Bill would outlaw payoffs like ECOT's half-million dollar employee secrecy pacts
August 21, 2018
 
 

As questions surrounding the appropriate use of non-disclosure agreements arise for government employees, Ohio too has seen the use of these unique secrecy contracts by the now-defunct, taxpayer-funded online charter school ECOT, which spent over half-a-million dollars to buy former employees’ silence against making statements that would be critical of the school or it’s for-profit management companies.


The contracts also prevent former ECOT employees from bringing legal action against the online charter or its founder, Bill Lager.


State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) said the ECOT hush money, and reports that it attempted to silence a former employee-turned-whistleblower with a similar contract and cash pay-out, pushed her to draft legislation to ban the practice in Ohio.


“Ohioans shouldn’t be footing the bill for hush money designed to buy someone’s silence, dilute accountability, and keep potentially questionable conduct a secret,” said Boggs. “When it comes to how our taxes are being used, it’s simply a bad investment to pay for a practice that replaces transparency with secrecy.”


Under the bill, entities funded with public money in Ohio would be prohibited from using taxpayer dollars to buy a person’s silence when the intent is to conceal damaging information from the public or to silence whistle blowers, potentially covering up corruption.


“I can think of no greater waste than an organization spending a half-million dollars of state taxpayer money to silence its employees and prevent potentially wrongful conduct from coming to light,” Boggs added, “We can never allow this happen again.”


Though non-disclosure agreements aren’t supposed to prevent reports of criminal behavior, Boggs says illegal wrongdoing can sometimes be difficult to spot for an employee who is focused on doing their job. The Columbus lawmaker is hopeful a ban on these questionable secrecy agreements allows for a more open and honest discussion about what employees experienced, which could potentially lead law enforcement officials to bring charges based on their assessment of employee reports.


The bill will be given a number and assigned to a House committee for further consideration in the near future.

 
 
  

In the wake of last week’s storm floods of Boardman-area residents’ homes, State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) and other local elected officials are urging Boardman Township Trustee Tom Costello to quickly share the township’s flood-mitigation plan and to work with state officials to address local safety and health issues, much like Austintown and Poland did when faced with similar issues.


“When families and citizens experience the financial and physical devastation that flooding brings, they need serious solutions that prioritize their safety and well-being,” said Boccieri. “I stand ready to assist local officials who need to establish a comprehensive plan immediately to ensure this never happens again.”


Comprehensive flood-mitigation plans have been put in place by local leaders in Poland and Austintown Townships to effectively deal with similar issues in recent years.


“In 1994, we had multiple subdivisions that had in structure flooding effecting close to one-thousand homes,” said Mahoning County Commissioner and former Austintown Township Trustee David Ditzler. “As an Austintown Trustee we identified the areas that impacted the most homes, and the solutions to rectify the problems. We established a ten year plan to alleviate all the flooding in Austintown. We proceeded to apply for all grants available to townships, and over the next ten years we secured almost six million dollars for flood alleviating projects. This plan eliminated the flooding in the areas that impacted the most homes.”


The Mahoning Valley Delegation has partnered with local communities in the past to draw down on state resources to address water issues. When asked by trustees from Austintown and Poland to address flooding off the turnpike in Austintown to storm drain issues in Poland, the local delegation assisted with hydrology studies, analysis by Department of Natural Resources, Federal Army Corp of Engineers studies and even involved the students at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center (MCCTC), who flew drones to map township flood plains.


“As our local media has reported extensively, in recent years and just as recently as two weeks ago, Governor Kasich refuses to undo the painful Republican budget cuts of two-billion dollars to our communities over the last seven years,” Boccieri added. “The Governor has shunned both Democrat and Republican efforts to redirect more funding to our communities to deal with issues like infrastructure, public health, and public safety with veto threats. The sad reality is that money will stay in the Rainy Day fund until he leaves office this December.”


Valley lawmakers have fought to pass bills, like House Bill 499 and House Joint Resolution 14, legislation that would release more funding for local infrastructure projects and issue public bonds to pay for sewer and water upgrades, respectively.


Boccieri noted that Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are available and Soil and Water Conservation Districts are organized to help Boardman Township Trustee Tom Costello and his team solidify a strong 10-year plan. 


“That approach was successful in Austintown, and it can be successful in Boardman too,” said Boccieri.


In the past, the Valley Delegation supported the formation of the ABC Water and Stormwater District as a way to better leverage funds to address stormwater issues across Austintown, Boardman and Canfield Townships.


“When we were faced with our own crisis, we asked State Rep. John Boccieri and Sen. Joe Schiavoni to help with flooding issues in Poland and they responded,” Poland Township Trustee Eric Ungaro said. “They came to public meetings, toured flooded areas and helped identify resources.”


In other matters involving strengthening the state and local partnership, Boardman Township Trustees Brad Calhoun and Larry Moliterno said Boccieri’s partnership on local issues has been important in the past.


“When public safety was in jeopardy after ten years of inaction on dangerous railroad crossings and tracks, John answered our calls for help and connected us with the Ohio Rail Development Commission to secure funding that we could use locally to make needed repairs to critical infrastructure. His office’s open door policy has made it easier for us to do our jobs effectively at the local level, and we hope to engage him again with a real plan to put our residents’ concerns first.”

 
 
  

State Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) responded to today’s Ohio Department of Medicaid decision to fire the state’s pharmacy middlemen after reading an advance copy of Auditor Dave Yost’s report on the deceptive healthcare pricing scheme that cost Ohio taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Yost’s report is expected to be made publicly available tomorrow.


“Today’s decision to fire cheating big-pharma middlemen is proof positive of what many of us have been saying all along: big healthcare corporations have been ripping off Ohio consumers by hundreds of millions of dollars to line their own pockets and boost their own bottom line,” said West. “This decision is a win for consumers and small independent pharmacies alike, but we shouldn’t wait until January 1 to stop this rip off.”


The state said it will continue using the rigged system of prescription pricing through Jan. 1, until it switches to a pass-through pricing model when Gov. John Kasich’s term expires.


“The fact that this has been allowed to continue for so long is an insult to the hardworking taxpayers of Ohio who are concerned about accessing affordable and lifesaving healthcare,” added West. “It is troubling that the Administration is only taking action now, after being forwarded an advanced copy of Auditor Dave Yost’s report on this deceptive healthcare practice. More than just damage control, Ohioans deserve immediate and long-term solutions to a rigged system that has cost them a significant part of their paychecks in recent years.”


In June, the Ohio House passed House Bill 479, Rep. West’s bipartisan bill to crack down on PBMs by prohibiting gag rules that prevent pharmacists from informing consumers when they are overpaying for prescription drugs—a move that could put millions back into the pockets of Ohio consumers.

 
 
  
 
Lawmaker Eyes Next Step In Resolving Statehouse Discrimination
Civil Rights Commission complaint takes on discriminatory Statehouse security policies
August 13, 2018
 
 

State Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) is optimistic that four agencies will sit down by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s (OCRC) Aug. 16 mediation deadline to address racial profiling and discrimination by State Highway Patrol and private guards at the security checkpoints for the Riffe Tower and the Statehouse.


"Now that the State Highway Patrol’s self-review is completed, the next step is to sit down with all parties for mediation,” said Sykes. “I'm keeping an open mind and remain hopeful that we can come together to ensure everyone is treated equally at their state capitol.”


Sykes said that if some parties aren’t willing to meet OCRC’s mediation deadline, she will rely on the outcome of the commission’s independent investigation to determine a final resolution.


“We can improve Ohio by putting this shameful chapter of racial profiling behind us,” Sykes added. “We should create clear, objective and fair policies with all state agencies and departments to ensure safety and equal accommodations while treating everyone with dignity and respect.”


Sykes and other black women state legislators expressed concerns when the State Highway Patrol was involved in a number of incidents in which black women lawmakers were questioned and given extra scrutiny while white male lawmakers went freely through security checkpoints.


“The State Highway Patrol and Public Safety Director John Born have never acknowledged even the possibility of bias, but I believe our words and stories will have greater value with an impartial third party like the Civil Rights Commission,” Sykes said.


The State Highway Patrol reviewed its own security procedures last week, issuing their own report, and admitting no wrongdoing.


"The bigger issue is, if the State Highway Patrol is profiling elected officials, how are they treating Ohio citizens and other minorities who are coming to the Statehouse? Coming together to have an honest conversation is critical in understanding these issues," Sykes said.


Sykes is calling on the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, and the Ohio House of Representatives to join in mediation and encourages the patrol and public services department to sit down as well.

 
 
  
 
Lawmakers To Introduce Whistleblower Reforms In Wake Of Ongoing Statehouse Corruption Reports
Say effort will hold those in power accountable to Ohio taxpayers
August 09, 2018
 
 

State Reps. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) and Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) today announced they will introduce new whistleblower reforms for employees who come forward to report wrongdoing and corruption to authorities. The announcement follows explosive, far-reaching corruption cases that have rocked state government over the past year.


“When someone blows the whistle on corruption in state government, it’s our duty to listen, hold officials accountable and ensure the little guy is protected,” said Cera. “In some ways, we’ve become numb to the scandals and cover-ups because those who try to do the right thing are too often silenced—and that needs to change.”


Current Ohio law recognizes public and private sector employees who blow the whistle on potentially corrupt activities, but it provides them few protections from retribution, retaliation and loss of earnings and compensation for doing the right thing.


“This past year has seen one scandal after another, with high-ranking state officials looking the other way while taxpayer dollars were wasted and used to line the pockets of ECOT mastermind Bill Lager. They must be held accountable to Ohio taxpayers,” said Clyde. “By protecting those who report wrongdoing, we can begin to take on the culture of corruption that has plagued state government for too long. It’s time for a change.”


Cera and Clyde’s plan would simplify reporting, broaden coverage of protected disclosures, better protect whistleblowers from all forms of retaliation, increase the time to bring suit for retaliation, and improve remedies for those who experience retaliation. Here are some provisions the bill will include:


-Protects an employee who refuses to participate in, or remain silent about, any illegal activity. Current law only protects an employee who reports specified offenses that the employee believes are criminal offenses.


-Eliminates the requirement that a report must be made pursuant to a specific process to be protected under the law.


-Eliminates the requirement that a report must be made to specified individuals or entities to be protected under the law.


-Expands the remedies a whistleblower may receive to include any other damages to which the employee may be entitled, including compensation for pain and suffering


-Entitles a whistleblower who prevails in a lawsuit to reasonable attorney fees and costs. Current law allows but does not require a court to award reasonable attorney fees and costs to a prevailing party.


-Increases the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit under the statute from 180 days to at least one year after the retaliatory action was taken.


“Ohio has one of the worst whistleblower laws in America,” said Fred Gittes, an employment law expert and local attorney who has worked with the lawmakers to draft the bill. “In most instances, you have to report verbally and in writing to your own employer instead of being able to go to the appropriate government enforcement authority. That’s a serious deterrent to employees reporting wrongdoing.”


Over a year ago, an ECOT whistleblower came forward to the Department of Education and Auditor Dave Yost, alleging tens of millions of dollars in fraud against the taxpayers at the now defunct online charter school.


“What happened at ECOT over the last eighteen years, when one-hundred and eight-nine million dollars were taken to educate kids who were never there, is outrageous,” said Steve Dyer, the Innovation Ohio Policy fellow who spoke at the news conference. “The fact that people just looked the other way, and employees didn’t feel empowered to come forward and speak out against the obvious corruption going on, speaks to the weakness in leadership at the state level and the weakness of our state whistleblower laws. Strong whistleblower laws give you protection against this kind of public corruption.”


In the last year, employees vocalized problems with the Department of Administrative Service’s rigged, no-bid IT contract scheme that saw tens of millions in misspent taxpayer dollars handed out with little to no oversight.


An ongoing FBI investigation into activities surrounding payday lending regulation shows that we do not have the tools in place to empower those who encounter wrongdoing to speak out. Anonymous statehouse employees turned to a Statehouse political blog to share details related to the FBI investigation into and resignation of their former boss, Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville).


The lawmakers plan on introducing the bill to reform Ohio’s 20-year old whistleblower law in the coming weeks.


Watch the whistleblower news conference in its entirety here: http://www.ohiochannel.org/video/press-conference-lawmakers-announce-state-whistleblower-reforms

 
 
  
 
ECOT Supreme Court Case Paves Path For Criminal Convictions, Says Lawmaker
Failed charter school system designed to fund campaigns, not educate children
August 08, 2018
 
 

After the Ohio Supreme Court today ruled the online charter school ECOT violated state law by fraudulently boosting student attendance records to cheat taxpayers of some $80 million, state Rep. Teresa Fedor says the next step is holding the operators and founder criminally accountable.


“Today’s ruling brings us one step closer to fully understanding the extent of this tangled web of political payoffs and taxpayer fraud,” said Fedor. “Elected officials at the highest level of power turned a blind eye to this criminal empire while they took huge sums of campaign cash. Obviously, federal authorities now have an even more important role in independently determining the scope of corruption and malfeasance – not only within the school, but within state government.”


Three years after it was exposed that Gov. John Kasich’s handpicked charter-czar David Hansen, husband of Kasich’s chief of staff, was illegally changing charter school grades to allow failing charter schools like ECOT to draw down on more taxpayer funding, little has happened at the Republican-controlled Statehouse to crack down, once and for all, on Ohio’s largely unregulated charter school industry.


“There is no doubt that the corrupt charter school system in Ohio was designed, not to help our children prepare for their future, but to help pad Republican campaign coffers,” Fedor added. “Today’s ruling reiterates what Bill Lager allegedly said, this whole scheme ‘isn’t about the children.’”


Before today’s court decision, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine recused himself from the ECOT case a year after hearing oral arguments. DeWine took campaign cash from ECOT, like his father, Attorney General Mike DeWine.


“Charter school corruption in Ohio has been a long and winding road, with numerous stops and breakdowns along the way,” said Fedor. “I think today’s court decision brings us very close to fully understanding what is at the end of a corrupt road that was paved with political donations, falsified documents and broken promises to our children and families.”


The senior DeWine shied away from cracking down on ECOT after some $80 million in tax dollars was found to be fraudulently received by overinflating student attendance records. After saying there was nothing his office could do, AG DeWine decided to pursue collections of the ill-gotten money after numerous news reports and mounting public pressure.


Over a year ago, an ECOT whistleblower contacted Auditor Dave Yost about fraud and corruption at the school, a call Yost ignored until acknowledging the apparent fraud at ECOT recently. At the time, Fedor called on Yost to thoroughly investigate ECOT and Hansen’s illegal data scrubbing at ODE, something Yost failed to do. Yost also took substantial campaign donations from ECOT’s founder.

 
 
  
 
Clyde Commemorates 53rd Anniversary Of VRA With Voting Facts For Tomorrow's Special Congressional Election
Accurate voting info essential to fair and secure elections
August 06, 2018
 
 

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) today issued a statement commemorating the 53rd anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and putting out information on frequently asked voting questions in advance of tomorrow’s August 7 special congressional election in central Ohio.


“Today marks a special day in our country’s history when we committed to making voting rights for all a reality instead of a promise that existed only on paper for some. Since 1965, we have struggled to remove all the barriers to voting, especially for communities that have historically been disenfranchised and targeted with extra voting obstacles. But we draw on the power of this mid-century civil rights achievement to keep up the fight today.


“Some of today’s Ohio voting laws are confusing, but every voter can have a smooth voting experience and have their ballot counted when they’re prepared with accurate voting information. If voters are ever in doubt about where to go or what to do, they should call their county Board of Elections for assistance. Our neighborhood poll workers are also there to help.”


The below information addresses frequently misunderstood Ohio voting rules and can also be attributed to Rep. Clyde:


Voter ID


State of Ohio driver’s license and ID cards can be used to vote even if they still have an old address on them. Most other voter IDs have to have a current address on them. Military IDs do not have to have an address on them.


College student voter ID


Student ID cards issued by colleges are not accepted as voter ID. But students without a driver’s license or other ID can use an official document like an account statement from their public college or a utility statement from their private college. The statement has to have the student’s current local address on it.


Voters without ID


Voters who don’t have a driver’s license or other ID to show at the polls can still vote. Voters can cast a provisional ballot and that ballot will count as long as the voter is registered and provides ID on the envelope, like writing in the last 4 digits of one’s SSN or their full driver’s license number on the ballot envelope. Voters do not need to go to their county Board of Elections after Election Day to show ID unless they left the ID section of the ballot envelope blank when they voted.


Voter moved from address where he or she is registered to vote


Voters who move can vote even if they have not updated their registration address. They just need to be registered somewhere in Ohio. Voters can show up at their Early Voting location or the Election Day polling location for their new current address and they can vote and update their address simultaneously.


Requested absentee ballot but didn’t return it


Your absentee ballot has to be in the mail by the Monday before Election Day. Mailing it on Election day is too late. If you haven’t mailed yours, you can drop it off at your county Board of Elections by 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Or you can vote a provisional ballot at your neighborhood polling location. Call your Board of Elections if you need help finding where to vote.


Don’t leave without voting!


Voters who encounter any problem at the polls should not leave their polling location without at least casting a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are counted as long as you are in the polling location assigned to your current address and you fill out the ballot envelope correctly and completely. Voters: Make sure you are in the right place and don’t leave without voting!


Rep. Clyde serves as Ranking Member on the House Government Accountability and Oversight committee, which hears elections and redistricting-related bills. She is an attorney and former election official and was named 2016 Legislator of the Year by the Ohio Association of Election Officials for her elections work.

 
 
  
 
Reece To Moderate National Urban League's New Era Of Leadership Panel
Ohio lawmaker to lead discussion on young black leaders and emerging issues like voter protections, "Stand your Ground"
August 02, 2018
 
 

Ohio state Rep. Alicia Reece will lead a discussion on race, representation and important policy issues, like the threat of so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws and anti-voting legislation, at the National Urban League’s annual conference in Columbus TODAY at 2:30 p.m. in the Greater Columbus Convention Center Room C171.


Reece, the moderator of the Young, Black and Elected – New Era of Leadership panel, will be joined by Black leaders from across the nation, including DeSoto, Texas Councilwoman Canidce Quarles, and Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson.


“When the Black community sees progress, we all, as Americans, share in that progress and the new opportunity that comes from it,” said Reece.  “But we can’t make progress in this country when fundamentally flawed laws like so-called Stand Your Ground and anti-voter restrictions sow fear and justified racial violence in our communities. With these emerging threats to the basic security and safety of communities throughout our nation, the only path to a brighter future begins with action.”

 
 
  
 
Dem Lawmakers Say Statehouse Sexual Harassment Case Tainted By Conflict Of Interest
Demand re-do of Seitz investigation in light of revelation
August 02, 2018
 
 

In response to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office*, state Reps. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) today called on AG DeWine to re-do the investigation into sexual harassment at the Statehouse in light of new information tainting the original investigation of state Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati).


“The conflict of interests here is glaring,” the lawmakers wrote in a response letter to AG DeWine. “This latest conflict to surface shows that the investigation that exonerated Seitz is even more tainted than we first believed.”


A copy of the lawmakers’ letter is attached. 

 

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Clyde Commemorates 53rd Anniversary Of VRA With Voting Facts For Tomorrow's Special Congressional Election

 

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) today issued a statement commemorating the 53rd anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and putting out information on frequently asked voting questions in advance of tomorrow’s August 7 special congressional election in central Ohio.



 
 

Clyde Statement On Court Order Reinstating Voting Rights For Purged Voters

 

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) today issued a statement following a recent federal court order requiring Secretary Husted to issue a directive reinstating the “APRI exception.” The court-ordered directive will require purged voters’ ballots to be counted in the upcoming central Ohio congressional race that will occur next Tuesday, August 7. 



 
 

Ashford's Bipartisan Predatory Lending Reform Bill To Become Law

 

State Rep. Michael Ashford (D-Toledo), a joint sponsor of House Bill 123, today issued the following statement in response to Gov. Kasich’s signing of the bill to crack down on predatory short-term lenders in Ohio:



 
 

With Fair Season In Full Swing, Amusement Ride Safety Protections Linger At Ohio Statehouse

 

As summer heats up and families flock to fairs and festivals, including the Ohio State Fair which opened this week, beefed up safety standards for amusement rides sit dormant in the Ohio House.

After last year’s Fireball amusement ride failure at the Ohio State Fair tragically claimed the life of Tyler Jarrell and sent seven others to the hospital with serious injuries, state Rep. John Patterson’s (D-Jefferson) attention turned to ensuring such a tragedy never takes place in Ohio again.