Cleveland Plain Dealer. March 19, 2021.

Editorial: Calling out the local lawmakers who want to upend Ohio’s ability to manage an emergency

As we’ve editorialized previously, Senate Bill 22 is an irresponsible bid by the General Assembly to handcuff Gov. Mike DeWine, or any future governor, trying to save Ohioans’ lives by fighting a pandemic. By allowing the legislature to override state emergency orders and rules, to be the final authority on health matters, and to be able to issue subpoenas as part of that effort, SB 22 -- now awaiting a promised veto from DeWine -- is also a constitutionally suspect attempt to wrest executive power through legislative means.

This is more than a factional fight. It’s essentially a gripe by legislators who’ve gotten heat back home about DeWine’s actions -- even though early in the pandemic, most Ohioans recognized they were also life-saving.

Many of SB 22′s backers are the same legislators, almost all in 100% safe seats, who whined when voters complained about Ohio’s creaky unemployment compensation system – creaky because of the legislature’s neglect.

Beyond the absurdity of thinking that a legislature could somehow protect Ohioans from a pandemic when, for 24 years, it’s been unable to make its school-funding practices constitutional, despite repeated Ohio Supreme Court orders to do so, there’s this:

The nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission -- where understating things is a way of life -- is warning that Senate Bill 22 may be unconstitutional. Why? Because it would let legislators undercut a governor’s public health orders by passing a resolution rather than a bill. “A … court might find that the General Assembly cannot take an action with legal effect – such as rescinding an order of a state department – except by passing a bill.”

The reason SB 22 calls for resolutions, not bills. is because a governor may veto a bill, but not a resolution.

SB 22′s prime sponsors are GOP Sens. Terry Johnson, of Scioto County, an osteopathic physician, once a coroner, and Robert McColley, a lawyer, of Henry County.

DeWine will veto the bill, as he has said he would and as he should, and if the legislature has any sense of responsibility, it won’t override the veto.

But come what may, too many Greater Cleveland legislators who should know better qualified for the Hall of Irresponsible Fame by voting for SB 22.

They include GOP Sens. Matt Dolan, of Chagrin Falls; Nathan Manning, of North Ridgeville; Jerry Cirino, of Kirtland; Sandra O’Brien, of Ashtabula County’s Rome Township; Kristina Roegner, of Hudson; Mark Romanchuk, of Ontario; and Michael Rulli, of Salem.

And add these Greater Cleveland House members to the list of irresponsibles who supported SB 22: GOP Reps. Diane Grendell, of Chesterland; Gayle Manning, of North Ridgeville; Thomas Patton, of Strongsville; Jamie Callender, of Concord; Al Cutrona, of Canfield; Sarah Fowler Arthur, of Geneva-on-the-Lake; Timothy Ginter, of Salem; Gail Pavliga, of Atwater; Sharon Ray, of Wadsworth; Bill Roemer, of Richfield; Dick Stein, of Norwalk; and Scott Wiggam, of Wooster. They, like the senators who voted “yes” on SB 22, did their constituents no favors.

If you agree that this is wrong and a dangerous legislative overreach, give your legislators a call.

Let them know that you prefer a constitutional system in which a governor elected by all Ohioans runs the executive branch and the legislature, elected by local constituents, determines -- collectively, legislatively, through the passage of legislation subject to gubernatorial veto -- what the laws should be. And while you’re at it, you might remind them to start getting busy on school funding reform, bipartisan House Bill 1, which lies fallow in a House committee where the only testimony so far has been from its two primary sponsors, state Reps. Jamie Callender, the Lake County Republican, and Bride Rose Sweeney, a Cleveland Democrat.

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Toledo Blade. March 16, 2021.

Editorial: Protect Toledo’s water

For years Toledo has struggled to come up with a program to adequately address the threat of lead contamination in the paint of its older homes. But the lead threat goes beyond old paint and city leaders must commit to replacing the old water pipes that also could pose a danger.

Toledo plans to hire an Ann Arbor-based firm to help identify lead water pipes in Toledo and prioritize which ones to replace first to reduce the lead-poisoning threat. Using about $120,000 from a $200,000 federal grant, Blue Conduit will pair artificial intelligence with parcel and neighborhood data to help pinpoint exactly where lead service lines are located in Toledo’s neighborhoods.

Like most older, northern industrial cities, Toledo built its water system with lead pipes before the danger was understood. Beginning in the late 1940s, the city switched to copper pipes and has used copper to replace lead pipes as they break and/​or in maintenance projects that call for pipe replacement. About one-third of Toledo’s 90,000 water service lines are still lead.

The plan that begins with Blue Conduit’s work prioritizes beginning replacement projects in neighborhoods where the city knows there are lead water lines and where neighborhood groups already have been engaged in sustainability and water-quality efforts. These include Junction, Vistula, East Toledo, the Old South End, the Old West End, and the Monroe-Auburn community.

City officials have said the pipes don’t pose a health hazard to residents because Toledo’s water is treated in a way that coats the lines to prevent the lead from leaching. And Toledo regularly tests for lead in its drinking water to be sure the protective coating in those lead lines is functioning properly to protect the water. Those tests always have shown acceptable levels — less than 15 parts per billion — of the toxin. But most experts say no level is really safe.

In the years since Flint’s lead contamination crisis, authorities in Toledo and other cities around the country have been drafting plans to replace lead pipes more deliberately.

Lead hazards pose a threat to the health of the city’s residents today and they are an obstacle to attracting the city’s residents of tomorrow. Now is the time for Toledo to commit to modernizing its water system.

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Columbus Dispatch. March 18, 2021.

Editorial: Deadly, shameful college tradition of hazing must end

A seemingly sacred tradition thrives on college campuses even amid the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. It feeds on humiliation, degradation, endangerment and abuse, and sometimes it kills.

And it must stop.

When it comes to hazing, the details may differ but the deaths keep on coming. Ohio universities are no exception, but there is an opportunity for lawmakers to change that.

Stone Foltz, a 20-year-old described as a beloved son, brother and grandson, died March 7 after the family’s attorney, Sean Alto, said Foltz was given “a copious amount of alcohol” at an off-campus event organized by the fraternity to which he was pledging, the Bowling Green State University chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha International.

State Senators Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) reintroduced Collin’s Law — which would increase legal penalties for hazing — three days after the death of Foltz, a 2019 Buckeye Valley High School graduate.

You remember Collin. You might even know a young man just like him. Perhaps you were him back when you were in school.

Like so many students, Collin Wiant sought brotherhood and belonging, and he bent over backward to get it.

As part of pledging to Sigma Pi fraternity at Ohio University, he did laundry for other frat members and even skipped classes after being called in the middle of the night to clean bars and restaurants that employed his so-called brothers.

Based on reporting by this newspaper, things went far beyond putting in elbow grease.

Frat brothers beat Wiant so hard with belts during an alcohol- and drug-filled trip to Tennessee, that he was left with welts and bruises.

The 18-year-old freshman from Dublin cried to his brother about the pledging experiences, hoping to make it to full membership in December.

That didn’t happen.

Wiant collapsed and died of asphyxiation after inhaling a canister of nitrous oxide gas, known as a whippit, at an unofficial, off-campus fraternity house in Athens in November 2018.

Nine people – all but one an OU student or former student – have been indicted in Athens County. Several have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from misdemeanor negligent homicide, felony permitting drug use and hazing, a fourth-degree misdemeanor in Ohio punishable by up to 30 days in jail and an up to a $250 fine.

As it stands, hazing carries the same penalty as public indecency.

Yes, a streaker could face the same time in jail as someone who blindfolds a drunk pledge and leaves him in the woods to find his way home.

Collin’s Law offers needed changes

Efforts are underway to combat hazing.

U.S. Representative Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) was part of the bipartisan group last week that re-introduced the End All Hazing Act as part of an effort to promote transparency and accountability.

If approved, colleges and universities would have to post on their websites instances of hazing that took place on campus or within a student organization.

The reintroduced Collin’s Law would expand the definition of hazing to include the forced consumption of drugs and alcohol, and increase the criminal penalties for hazing to a second-degree misdemeanor for general hazing and a third-degree felony for any hazing involving drugs or alcohol.

It also calls for transparency at the university level and education for college students about hazing. All of those changes are clearly needed.

According to a 2018 University of Maine study, 26% of students involved in campus teams, organizations or clubs have at least one hazing experience to join or maintain membership in the group.

The 2011 beating death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion Jr. during a ritual is a reminder that hazing exists in college outside of fraternities and sororities.

There seemed to be momentum to do something about hazing in Ohio after Wiant’s death and “Broken Pledge,” the in-depth Dispatch investigation and podcast series in 2019 about hazing and Greek life.

Stone Foltz died on March 7 following a suspected hazing incident at Bowling Green State University.

State officials called for lawmakers to strengthen the law.

The original Collin’s law included regulations aimed at hazing on the college level and bullying in grades K-12. It was pushed by Kathleen and Wade Wiant, Collin’s parents, and would have been the most comprehensive hazing law in the nation.

That bill was approved in the Ohio House in November, but went nowhere in the state Senate education committee, leaving the Wiants “heartbroken.”

Lawmakers attributed the original bill’s death to time constraints and needing more answers to questions about the bullying components of the bill.

The time is now

Months have passed. A new investigation into a suspected hazing death of another central Ohio native is underway.

It is time for legislators to act against hazing. There is no compelling reason not to do so.

The new version of Collin’s Law does not include the language about bullying that apparently complicated the issue last year.

A tougher hazing law will not completely end the brutal tradition, but it would be a step in the right direction to stop history from repeating itself all too many times.

We all know that hazing happens and that it can shame, maim and kill.

It is time for our state to lead the shift away from a culture that promotes brutality as a condition of belonging to an organization, be it a fraternity, sorority, marching band or other group.

Passage of Collin’s Law will help pull up the long-established roots that have put college students at risk for generations.

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The Marietta Times. March 18, 2021.

Editorial: No one can be turned away from vaccine

An Ohio man’s accusations are raising questions about whether those who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in the Buckeye State can be turned away because they do not have health insurance. The answer is an unequivocal no.

According to a man who said he is a diabetic, there were no appointments available close to where he lives when he became eligible, so he arranged one a couple of hours from his home. He alleges that when he arrived at the Little Clinic inside Kroger in Piqua, Ohio, he was asked for his insurance and ID. When he told them he did not have health insurance, he claims those working at the Kroger clinic told him they could therefore not give him the shot.

If those accusations prove true, disciplinary action should be taken against the Kroger employee — or any supervisors who gave that person the false impression someone could be turned away for lack of insurance.

COVID-19 vaccines are free, for everyone. Those who are uninsured are covered through funding in the federal relief bill.

“It is taken care of through the federal government, so there should be no confusion whether you have insurance or not,” Christa Hyson, assistant director for emergency response and public information officer for the Health Collaborative, told another media outlet. “Some providers bill an administrative fee to your insurance. There is zero out-of-pocket cost to you.”

Folks, do not let a lack of health insurance coverage keep you from getting this life-saving vaccine; and if you are turned away, report it. We are in the midst of a public health crisis, but there is hope. Do not let administrative mistakes and incompetence dash that hope.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. March 17, 2021.

Editorial: Ford should keep its promises

Ford Motor Co.’s promises apparently aren’t built to last.

The company committed itself to build a new vehicle at the Ohio Assembly Plant starting in 2023 when it negotiated a new contract with the United Auto Workers in 2019.

The “next generation” vehicle will instead go to a plant in Mexico, Gerald Kariem, a UAW vice president focused on Ford, wrote in a letter to union members last week.

“We 100% reject the company’s decision to put corporate greed and more potential profits over American jobs and the future of our members,” Kariem wrote. “We expect the company to honor its contractual commitments to this membership and when it fails to do so we will take action.”

What form that action will take remains to be seen, but the union is absolutely right to fight the company’s disappointing decision, and not just because of what the union and Lorain County stand to lose.

When Ford and the union announced the expansion, they said it would mean a $900 million investment in the plant and approximately 1,500 new jobs. It accounted for nearly one-sixth of the $6 billion in investments in U.S. plants to which Ford committed itself in 2019.

Ford officials are trying to soften the blow by playing up what the automaker has done for Ohio Assembly, which straddles Avon Lake, Sheffield Village and Sheffield Lake. The plant’s roughly 1,740 workers produce F-650 and F-750 Medium Duty trucks, the F-350, F-450 and F-550 Super Duty chassis cab, the E-Series cutaway and stripped chassis.

Jason Moore, the plant’s manager, told employees in a letter that the conditions upon which Ford based its 2019 commitments “have changed” and that it “is investing in the plant and increasing production of Super Duty trucks.”

With regard to Super Duty trucks, Moore wrote that the company was adding more than 100 employees, including some this year. He also wrote there would be continued investment “to add overall capacity, increase Super Duty production, launch updated new models, and modernize the facility totaling more than $185 million in the three years from 2019 to 2021.”

That’s great, but it’s not all that Ford promised.

If nothing else, union members will be less inclined to believe the company’s promises when the contract expires in 2023 and negotiations on a new one begin.

Nor is it entirely clear what has changed Ford’s plans. Perhaps it was the pandemic. Perhaps the new “next-generation” vehicle can be made more cheaply in Mexico while still adhering to the terms of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement signed during the Trump administration.

The company isn’t saying. Instead, Ford officials are falling back on platitudes about how “invested” the automaker is in Ohio Assembly and its workers.

Jonathan Jennings, Ford’s vice president of global commodity purchasing and supplier technical assistance, wouldn’t even confirm or deny the union’s claim about the new product line shifting to Mexico when U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, pressed him Tuesday during a Senate Finance Committee hearing. Instead, he toed the company line.

“We are invested at that facility, and we’re looking to actually increase the capacity that facility provides from a Super Duty truck perspective, for such a strong demand,” he said.

Brown condemned Ford’s decision “to turn its back on the community” as “just unacceptable.” He also promised that his pushback wouldn’t be the last Ford would get from him or the Biden administration.

Nor should it be.

When Ford’s commitment to invest in Ohio Assembly and build a new vehicle there was announced to great fanfare, it came as a relief that Ford saw the plant as a part of its long-term strategy. That’s never a sure thing in the auto industry.

Ford shuttered its Lorain Assembly Plant years ago, and Ohio Assembly has been through multiple vehicles during its history. General Motors closed its Lordstown plant in 2019, and although a new electric truck manufacturer has moved into the plant, it doesn’t have nearly as many employees as GM did during its heyday.

Ohio Assembly still appears to have a place in Ford’s future, which is to the good, but the automaker should follow through on its commitment to the union and the community.

Ford’s promises should be as tough as its trucks.

END