Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Fixing corrupt energy bill would help Ohio’s environment

Akron Beacon Journal

July 25

Ohioans have good reason to feel outraged.

On Tuesday, federal officials revealed a mammoth pay-to-play scheme at the Statehouse, with Larry Householder, the House speaker, allegedly accepting $60 million from FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions, now Energy Harbor, in exchange for engineering passage of House Bill 6 a year ago.

The centerpiece of the legislation was the controversial $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants, Perry and Davis-Besse, both along Lake Erie.

What the U.S. attorney described is a searing betrayal of the public trust. No surprise, then, that a bipartisan contingent of state lawmakers, joined by longtime critics of the legislation, has called for repealing the bill.

State Rep. Mike Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat, argued: “When corruption is revealed, it is important that we act quickly to fix what has been broken.”

It is worth focusing on the word “fix,” as Gov. Mike DeWine did on Thursday in calling for lawmakers to act “very quickly” to repeal and replace House Bill 6. The legislation can be repaired without overturning the benefit to Ohio and the planet by preserving two nuclear power plants that account for 90% of the state’s clean energy.

Perry and Davis-Besse are not outliers. The nuclear power industry has suffered as a whole in its struggle to compete with cheap, carbon-emitting natural gas. Several nuclear plants have shut down. This isn’t a moment to permit prices and markets to dictate entirely. Nuclear power carries much social value as the pace and disruption of climate change mount.

Consider Joe Biden recently altering his timetable for reaching all carbon-free power generation. The Democratic presidential candidate moved the date from 2050 to 2035. The shift reflects good science. It also highlights the need for nuclear power. Lose Perry and Davis-Besse, and projections show clean alternatives would not make up the difference until the middle of the next decade.

Nuclear power is an insurance policy, a proven and substantial generator to complement solar, wind and other clean renewable sources. The Perry and Davis-Besse plants also bolster the local economy, linked to 1,400 jobs and revenue streams for schools and others.

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How, then, to fix House Bill 6?

Perhaps there is a way to apply a financial cost, along the lines of subtracting $60 million from the scheduled subsidy to account for the “dark money” routed to the Householder operation. Whatever the outline of a penalty, the new legislation must not put in jeopardy the nuclear power plants going forward.

It would be better for lawmakers to examine the most conspicuous shortcomings in the bill.

The legislation all but gutted the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. Restoring the standards in some way may strike the Republican majorities as a non-starter, although the bill included support for solar projects.

Such resistance makes it more difficult for Ohio to capitalize in the expanding clean economy, inviting the state to fall further behind its peers. In the era of COVID-19, this thinking also neglects public health. A study last year forecast a net state benefit from the stronger renewable standards of $170 million in 2030.

House Bill 6 also included a fee paid by electricity customers to subsidize two coal-fired power plants. The fee, nearly twice the 85 cents per month ratepayers will provide the nuclear power plants, lacks merit — with coal being both uncompetitive and a leading carbon emitter.

The governor has set forth no small task. Repeal may be easy. Sound repair? That seems trickier. The expectation is the governor will lead the way. Ohio has an opportunity to get right its energy future.

Whatever the stench brought by Larry Householder and others, House Bill 6 preserves a key source of clean power.



Lawmakers put Ohioans’ health at risk with Senate Bill 1

Columbus Dispatch

July 28

The relentless march of coronavirus through Ohio and across the United States would seem to demand more aggressive government action to protect citizens, not less.

But try telling that to Ohio lawmakers who propose a 14-day limit on orders issued by the state health director.

Thankfully, Gov. Mike DeWine has finally ordered a statewide mandate on wearing face masks in public places to try to slow the transmission of the virus and reduce the record pace of new COVID-19 cases in the state.

Widespread compliance with this common-sense preventive measure not only would keep more Ohioans healthy but also help build their confidence in being able to safely patronize local businesses that are desperate to recover from earlier stay-at-home orders.

The Dispatch also applauds the governor’s July 17 decision to veto legislation that would have reduced the penalty for violating state health orders. And so far, lawmakers who blustered about overriding the veto have not made good on that threat.

Senate Bill 55 would have lessened the penalty for violating a health order during a pandemic — such as DeWine’s new statewide mask mandate — from a second-degree misdemeanor with a maximum $750 fine and up to 90 days in jail to requiring just a warning for a first violation and no more than a $150 fine for subsequent violations.

In reality, the penalties have little bearing on individuals’ compliance with orders like the mask mandate and have been rarely enforced for businesses violating health orders intended to slow the spread of the virus.

What has more impact is the message such legislation sends to Ohioans who are already buffeted by conflicting communications at the federal level.

It doesn’t help that the nation’s chief executive frequently contradicts fervent pleas of the country’s top infectious disease experts, and his administration has campaigned to undercut solid scientific advice.

When state legislators also politicize what should be the purview of medical experts, we all lose.

Which brings us to Senate Bill 1, legislation that has been passed by both the Ohio House and Senate, but with different variations. The bill would make it even more difficult for the governor to issue meaningful health orders during the pandemic. It is pending in a House-Senate conference committee appointed to seek agreement on a single version.

SB 1 was initially proposed to create a process for state agencies to reduce state regulations by 30% by 2022. But the House amended the bill before passing it May 6 to prohibit orders issued by the state health director — then Dr. Amy Acton — from lasting longer than 14 days unless approved by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. JCARR is a legislative body of 10 members — five from each chamber — and controlled by Republicans who hold three of the five House and Senate seats.

Another outrageous House change would allow any Ohio citizen to seek a court order to force the health director to comply with the bill, and they would not have to prove harm to win a court ruling.

The healthiest option for Ohio would be for SB 1 to die in conference committee unless the provisions interfering with orders from the state health director are excised.



War is not a game

Toledo Blade

July 28

War is not a game. But impressionable kids may not be able to tell the difference if the U.S. military continues its e-sports recruitment.

The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force have all launched e-sports teams and have been using popular video-game-streaming websites, such as Twitch, to drum up recruitment. Active and reserve personnel have been hopping online to stream themselves playing video games and, in the process, talk with viewers about a range of topics, including the opportunities afforded by military service. Recruit numbers have been down and the military is turning to modern platforms to expand its reach.

But the military’s e-sports teams quickly found themselves embroiled in controversy. Automated links would drop into the army’s Twitch chats that told viewers they could win a premium Xbox controller in a giveaway. But these links reportedly took viewers to a recruitment web page with no reference to any contests or giveaways.

When one considers that a large portion of Twitch users are underage, primarily 13 to 17-year-old boys who may just want a nifty video game controller, and that military recruitment of people under 18 is illegal, what the military is doing raises numerous red flags.

What’s more, both the Army and Navy e-sports operations have been accused of violating some users’ freedom of speech rights after banning those who posted questions about war crimes committed by the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Knight First Amendment Institute have both stated that these bans likely violate the First Amendment and should be reversed immediately.

Because of the controversy, the Army unceremoniously suspended its efforts to recruit via Twitch. Meanwhile, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) recently introduced an amendment to a House Appropriations bill that would ban the military from using video gaming streaming sites for recruitment, calling the strategy “irresponsible.”

Whether the practice is ended voluntarily or by legislation, the military’s Twitch experiment should be shuttered for good. While military service is a noble and patriotic act, conflating that service with the bloody theatrics of violent video games is a recipe for disaster. Throw in phony giveaways, marketing to children, and violations of the First Amendment, and it is clear the military should figure out a better way to modernize recruitment.



Eliminating resource officers not the best idea

Marietta Times

July 28

Calls for change in law enforcement range from those demanding police departments be virtually disbanded to others insisting on better training for officers and more accountability for the bad apples among them. Common to most reform proposals is that law enforcement personnel be more engaged in constructive relationships with their communities.

But many police officers and sheriffs’ deputies have been doing just that for years — and, incredibly, some are calling for those initiatives to be abandoned.

Such involvement goes by various names. Perhaps the most recognizable is the resource officer program. In uses police officers whose “beats” are school buildings.

Critics of police presence in schools argue it intimidates students. Perhaps so, in some situations. Police presence in some schools, often those with records of on-campus violence, sometimes is heavy-handed. Students can be required to pass through metal detectors and have their backpacks searched every morning to ensure they are not bringing weapons to class.

Clearly, law enforcement presence in schools should be as low-key and unobtrusive as possible. Students should not be afraid of police officers.

But in many — probably most — schools with resource officers, the goal is to build relationships with students, not to intimidate them. They serve as disciplinary adjuncts, stepping in only when teachers and principals find themselves overwhelmed by potentially dangerous situations.

More than a few students feel safer when resource officers are present, we suspect.

Like every other aspect of the debate over law enforcement, this one ought to be discussed. Perhaps some adjustments need to be made in some schools.

But simply wiping the slate clean — eliminating resource officer programs that really do build relationships with communities — would be a foolish, perhaps even detrimental, reaction.



Urgent action needed on new COVID relief

The Warren Tribune Chronicle

July 28

Debate over a new coronavirus relief package continues in Congress and at the White House.

Disagreements are both legitimate and political, but one thing ought to be obvious to all involved: Millions of Americans will be in very real financial trouble if a deal is not achieved quickly. Outlines of the proposal call for it to include $1 trillion in aid to individuals, families, companies, organizations and local and state governments, including public schools. Agreement seems to end there, however.

One important, essential act by Congress need not involve appropriating more money. It is altering restrictions on the about $3 trillion in aid already approved.

Billions of dollars have been handed out to states already. There is a limit on how the money can be spent, however: It is restricted to reimbursing local and state governments for expenses linked directly to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Even as they have been battling the crisis, however, most local and state entities have seen revenue supporting their budget plummet because of the economic slowdown. Many are in desperate need of help to keep the books in balance.

Critics of budget bailouts for local and state governments worry the money would be used to make up for years of mismanagement related to politics, not COVID-19. Surely someone in Washington is creative enough to write a bill eliminating that kind of abuse.

Evidence that budget bailout money is needed because of revenue loss due to the epidemic ought to be required. Trust us on this: Municipal, county and state entities will have no trouble providing that proof.

Enacting a new coronavirus relief package is another story — but one that also needs to be addressed, and soon. Millions of Americans remain unemployed because of the epidemic. Within days, funding to help states provided them with help will run out.

Across the nation, the crisis continues to threaten the very existence of many businesses. They, too, needed help.

Finally, public schools preparing to reopen for the new academic year require supplemental funding to deal with challenges such as keeping students safe and, if distance learning must be employed, providing it.

Congress needs to act — within days, not weeks.