Columbus Dispatch. March 12, 2021.

Editorial: Lawmakers aren’t equipped to make decisions about health emergencies

As the fairy tale goes, the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed before trying to blow down each of the three little pigs’ homes.

Republican lawmakers from around the Buckeye State have huffed and puffed since Republican Gov. Mike DeWine began issuing public health orders to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus a year ago.

And now they have voted to limit the authority of the governor and state and local health officials when it comes to issuing orders to keep us healthy and safe during emergencies such as the one we have experienced for a year — one that has sickened nearly 1 million Ohioans and killed nearly 18,000 here.

They huffed — bare faced — that mask mandates go too far. As a glaring show of their ignorance about public health matters and their arrogant refusal to trust science and health professionals, Republican lawmakers have consistently refused to wear masks or require them in the Statehouse.

They puffed that restrictions on businesses and the designations of who is and who is not an essential worker were an offense to the principles we hold dear.

As part of a failed effort to impeach DeWine over his handling of the pandemic, Cincinnati-area Rep. John Becker accused the governor of pressing “his boot on the throat of Ohio’s economy.”

A mask-less Republican Rep. Nino Vitale waits to vote during an Ohio House session at the Statehouse on May 6.

Some lawmakers refuse to exit the fairy-tale land and enter the reality that 530,000 Americans have died painful deaths because of the virus.

More than that, they’ve dug into a make-believe world in which they think the virus either doesn’t exist or isn’t actually all that bad.

Evidence of that came Wednesday when Ohio Republicans passed a bill — over the objections of Democrats and DeWine — that would let state lawmakers change or revoke the state’s public health orders.

That vote and the general loathing by some Republican lawmakers for masks and restrictions fly in the face of reason.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study just last week that strongly supports the fact that mask mandates slow the spread of COVID-19, and that removing restrictions on restaurant dining at this time will increase cases and deaths.

“You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing, according to the Associated Press.

The CDC said that if restaurants are open, as they are in Ohio with certain restrictions, they should follow as many prevention measures as possible. This includes masks for employees and customers who are not eating or drinking, promoting outdoor dining and having adequate indoor ventilation.

DeWine called a prior version of the bill approved Wednesday “a grave, grave mistake” and indicated that he would veto it, just as he has vetoed every attempt to curb his executive powers during the pandemic.

When and if DeWine vetoes the bill, we hope cooler heads prevail at the Statehouse and any attempt at an override is squashed.

Vaccines are going into arms in Ohio, but this is not the time to let up, as Texas and other states have done.

Only 18% of the state’s residents have been inoculated against the potentially deadly virus.

DeWine’s persistent efforts to slow the coronavirus spread, and now to see that Ohioans are vaccinated as quickly as possible, have been reasonable and effective. In short, he and health officials have issued orders that have saved lives.

Ohio is the nation’s seventh-largest state, but ranks 23rd among the states where coronavirus has spread the fastest on a per-person basis, according to a recent USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

That’s good news for Ohioans, and some of the credit for that goes to the health orders issued by state and local health officials — trained professionals who are steeped in science and proper health care.

God knows what will happen if lawmakers who can’t even see fit to wear a mask are allowed to override public health decisions.

Mask mandates and reasonable restrictions are important elements of a return to some sense of normalcy, including fully reopening the economy.

We cannot afford to live in a fairy-tale land of unreasonable huffing and puffing or turn over life-and-death decisions to untrained lawmakers who put politics ahead of public health.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer. March 12, 2021.

Editorial: When hazing kills, there can be no excuse for inaction

Can anyone in Ohio or the country by now not be aware that hazing can kill? That inducing a student to consume what one Ohio lawyer called “a copious amount of alcohol” -- as allegedly happened in this month’s death of Bowling Green State University sophomore Stone Foltz -- can be lethal? That inhaling chemicals in the guise of “pledging” to a fraternity can be just as deadly, as a coroner determined was what caused the 2018 hazing death of Ohio University freshman Collin Wiant?

And can those who govern Ohio’s universities have any doubt about their own culpability?

There should be zero tolerance on every campus in the state for hazing. It shouldn’t take a new law to make that plain. Fraternities at Ohio’s colleges should be told repeatedly that they operate on a knife’s edge, that a ban is the unqualified and certain result of any hazing abuses, and that there will be no tolerance, zero, for any violations.

Hazing also won’t stop until universities stop celebrating and supporting fraternities. If that means banning fraternities as the surest way to keep more young men from unnecessary suffering and death, so be it.

Meantime, a new law also is coming.

After Wiant’s death, his parents demanded action and change, and Collin’s Law, House Bill 310, sponsored by then-state Rep. Dave Greenspan of Westlake, cleared the Ohio House on a lopsided, bipartisan 74-14 vote last November. But it died in a state Senate committee.

The Greenspan bill sought to address both college hazing and kindergarten-through-12th-grade bullying.

After Stone Foltz’s March 7 death, following an apparent hazing incident at an off-campus Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity house near BGSU, Collin’s Law is back -- introduced Wednesday as Ohio Senate Bill 126 by Republican state Sens. Theresa Gavarone of Bowling Green and Stephanie Kunze of the Columbus area, where both Wiant and Foltz were from.

This time, the bill is focused solely on college hazing -- making “aggravated hazing” a second-degree felony and requiring the state chancellor of higher education to develop and distribute an educational plan to address hazing, including model anti-hazing policy and hazing awareness and education.

Among the four co-sponsors, as of Thursday, were Democratic state Sens. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood and Kenny Yuko of Euclid and GOP state Sen. Jerry Cirino of Kirtland.

With Gov. Mike DeWine calling for Ohio to become a “hazing-free” state and holding a phone call with presidents of the state’s universities to urge them to undertake more concerted action to crack down on hazing abuse, it’s likely SB 126 will move more swiftly than its predecessor. Giving prosecutors more tools to investigate and prosecute hazing crimes is also critical.

It’s up to universities that host fraternities to do far more than just closing the barn door, that is, the local fraternity house, after someone dies, and doing more to make students aware and wary.

Yet students should also know that, even without SB 126, the penalties for contributing to a hazing death can be heavy. After Wiant’s 2018 death -- and following a six-part investigation by The Columbus Dispatch -- nine people were indicted in Athens County, including eight students or former students. A number have already pleaded guilty to drug-related felonies and other charges.

Having caused or contributed to another’s death is in itself a heavy burden to carry through life. But felony convictions are not what most college students expect to take with them from the frat house into the world.

The bottom line is easy to say and write: Don’t haze, don’t participate in hazing, don’t allow yourself to be pressured into potentially deadly hazing practices.

But there’s a crueler, more corrosive level to hazing. While inhaling a whippit is what caused Wiant’s death, he also reportedly was beaten and waterboarded.

Plainly put, that is torture.

Hazing is barbaric and wrong, and should end, and if it requires creating a new felony crime in Ohio and forcing Ohio universities to crack down, that is what should happen. Collin’s law - Foltz’s law - should become the law in Ohio, and Ohio’s universities should move swiftly to adopt their own zero-tolerance policies.

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Akron Beacon Journal. March 14, 2021.

Editorial: A year of COVID brings out the best and worst in Americans

This past week, we marked a somber anniversary.

It’s been one year since the World Health Organization deemed COVID-19 a pandemic. One year since Gov. Mike DeWine announced the disease had reached Ohio.

The national COVID death toll has passed 530,000; almost 18,000 Ohioans have died.

For some of you, there may be personal milestones. Perhaps it’s been months since a loved one’s death from COVID or weeks since receiving a positive COVID test.

The year may have been marked with the loss of employment or an increased workload at a health-care job. You may have experienced mandated isolation from elderly parents or adult children. There may have been online school only. Family gatherings for weddings, funerals and holidays in 2020 were postponed. Maybe in 2021, we hoped.

We all saw our lives change. And the big question is how we will be affected into the future. Some of us struggle with depression or worsening mental health issues; others find out they can be surprisingly resilient and hopeful.

In the early days of the pandemic, we faced such severe shortages of PPE — masks, gowns and other gear — that the state ordered hospitals to cancel nonessential procedures. In some cases, doctors made do with what they had and some businesses switched operations to make gear. People found patterns and sewed their own masks at home, donating to friends and community groups.

In other cases, we saw the worst of people, as fraudsters cranked out counterfeit N95 masks or filed fake unemployment claims. Protesters angry with Gov. Mike DeWine’s necessary health orders pounded on windows at the Ohio Statehouse or shouted outside of then-Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton’s home. Acton ultimately resigned.

We’re left to wonder how many lives would have been saved if the Centers for Disease Control and national leaders had quickly recommended widespread mask use to control virus spread. It’s regrettable that such a simple step became a source of political division and resentment. Good leaders send a consistent, clear message about how we all can help save lives.

Still, many Americans did their best to look out for others, and as we turn a corner in this fight, we perhaps can look back with pride on all the obstacles we have overcome.

One of the greatest achievements has been the development of multiple vaccines. Just last month, the Food and Drug Administration authorized use of a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Late last year, health care workers were among the first to receive Pfizer vaccines given emergency use authorization.

The U.S. is now delivering an average of 2.17 million doses of vaccine per day.

There have been important lessons learned during the pandemic. One is that the nation must do a better job of preparing for health emergencies by having its own stores of PPE. Our leaders must do a better job of spreading useful messages and setting a good example, as DeWine did.

Technology, we’ve found, can be a friend, as when we gather with friends and family over Zoom, or it can be a foe. Ohio is among the states that must build up its computer and phone systems; it hasn’t been up to the challenge of thousands of desperate people filing for unemployment and seeking vaccines.

Our politicians who earlier argued about the usefulness of masks or the validity of elections must now come together to look ahead. How will we help businesses to reopen safely? How will we deal with the unknown numbers of people hampered by lingering effects of COVID? How will we help our children catch up after a lengthy disruption in their education? And how will we avoid the mistakes we made during the past year?

We don’t have specific answers to these questions. But we are certain that putting aside bitter partisan fighting will be essential. Listening to recommendations based on science and concern for others will go a long way in these crucial discussions.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. March 11, 2021.

Editorial: More Amtrak stops would benefit Elyria

Elyria might as well get on board with a proposed expansion of Amtrak services.

After all, as City Councilman Jack Baird said Tuesday before the Community Development Committee endorsed the idea, there really isn’t a downside for the city.

“I’d like to see more train traffic, passenger traffic in the state,” Baird, R-at large, said. “Or at least the ability to have it. In my opinion, I don’t think we have anything to lose by approving it.”

Elyria does, however, stand to gain something: Trains that stop during daylight hours.

That would be far better than the middle of the night stops that Amtrak now offers passengers coming to and going from the city.

Before that can happen, however, Congress must expand passenger rail service across the country at a proposed cost of $300 million annually. In Ohio Amtrak would add five new routes, which is why city councils in Cleveland and Cincinnati have supported the expansion.

Amtrak would pay 100 percent of the planning, engineering and construction costs in addition to a portion of the operating costs for the first five years, under a bill before Congress.

After that states would have to pick up whatever costs Amtrak couldn’t afford. Amtrak is well known for operating at a loss, which might make the bill a hard sell to many lawmakers in Columbus, who probably would have to agree to pay the expense.

Elyria, however, wouldn’t be on the hook, although rail advocate Ken Prendergast suggested the city upgrade the train station on East River Road. The station, which the city doesn’t own, is little more than a bus stop, so some improvements aren’t a bad idea. Especially bathrooms.

Restrooms were one of the key sticking points in a feud between city and Lorain County officials about whether to spend $11 million in mostly federal funds to build an elevated platform next to the Lorain County Transportation Center on East Avenue. In a former life, the building served as a New York Central station.

County Commissioner Matt Lundy, a Democrat, told Council the project was dead and that he didn’t see a way it would be revived.

That’s probably for the best.

Although former Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda predicted a new train platform would spur economic development downtown, we were never convinced it would have anywhere near the impact she hoped for.

Passengers arriving at night would find few amenities and no lodging in the immediate area and have no easy way to reach those elsewhere in the city. That’s fine if you know someone in the area, but it’s unlikely to encourage business travelers to arrive by rail.

Unfortunately, Lorain County, like most other Ohio counties, lacks a robust public transit system to complement Amtrak stops. Sure, people can get to Elyria, but Lorain County Transit operates only during the day and its routes are anemic.

For good or ill, one needs a car to travel Ohio easily. Even where larger systems exist, such as the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, it’s often far easier to hop in a car than on a bus.

Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield told us Wednesday that having additional Amtrak stops in the city wouldn’t be a primary driver of development. But he said it could serve as a great “additive” that complements other efforts, particularly if it gave county residents greater access to Cleveland.

“Rail is an important part of closing the gap between us and Cleveland,” he said.

Whitfield also said that he’d like to see improved public transportation options locally, but that’s something the city can’t really do on its own and voters have repeatedly rejected tax increases to subsidize an expanded county transit system.

There’s no guarantee that Congress will pass the expansion bill, of course. The House passed it last year, but not the Senate, which has since shifted from Republican to Democratic control.

President Joe Biden, an avid Amtrak fan, might be willing to spend political capital getting expanded rail service passed either on its own or as part of a larger infrastructure package.

There also could be changes to the legislation, but as it stands now, Elyria can only benefit if it becomes law.

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Sandusky Register. March 11, 2021.

Editorial: Work from home

Does Ohio auditor Keith Faber have a blind eye, or worse? We’re concerned something is wrong after Faber’s office declared that working from home doesn’t really count as working. Milan’s former fiscal officer was faulted by Faber’s office for billing for hours she worked from home, they said, but other village employees paid in a similar way got a free pass.

We’re suspicious by the answer to the question of why Mary Bruno, the village’s former fiscal officer, was faulted by the state auditor while other village employees weren’t.

First, records show the assertion she wasn’t at work in the pay period in question is flat-out wrong. But, in any event, work is work, even if it is performed from home. The reasoning Faber’s team gave — that Bruno was not physically at work during the pay period in question — came just weeks after they were asked why there’s a double standard.

We’re not sure how they were able to verify the physical locations where every employee was when each submitted time cards and were paid under the same circumstances for which Bruno was faulted. Is that even possible?

Why does it matter? Because the state auditor’s office is having a crisis of confidence in this one audit, which reflects on every task it performs.

Bruno — and a group of women supporting her — contend that Faber was used by village officials as a tool instead of an independent reviewer of fact and finances. The “work from home” violation Bruno allegedly committed is a manufactured one, they contend, created to shield the auditor’s investigators from criticism for botching a fraud investigation requested by the village precisely so they could fire Bruno.

Faber’s not asking, but our advice to him is that he tells his team to cut the crap. Mistakes were made. These need to be corrected, not compounded with weak, cover-your-behind reasoning. What failed, why did it fail and what reforms are needed to prevent a similar failure in the future when a community asks for an audit? Those are the questions Faber should be asking, those are the questions his team should be answering.

It matters because the integrity of the auditor’s office must be protected at all costs. In this instance, Faber is failing that mandate and diminishing the standing of his office.

END