Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
Ohioans have left Gov. Mike DeWine with few options to fight COVID-19
Akron Beacon Journal
Eight months after shutting Ohio down during the early emergence of COVID-19, Gov. Mike DeWine can’t win.
Too many Ohioans have ignored his pleas to avoid gatherings and wear masks. Pandemic fatigue is real, even for people taking this health threat seriously. Our upcoming holiday season and colder weather will undoubtedly make things worse.
DeWine’s fellow Republicans bristle at any suggestion of closing down businesses to control a troubling spike in cases and hospitalizations. Democrats assail him for losing his political spine just months after they praised his bold actions. Our president says all the wrong things, leaving governors to fight alone.
We concede it seems odd for DeWine to react to November’s explosion of new cases with less firepower than he used for March’s first few cases. The curve is anything but flattened.
Then again, in March we knew very little about COVID-19, how it spread and how rapidly sick people might overwhelm our hospitals already struggling to find personal protective equipment for caregivers. Few people owned masks. Social distancing was a new concept.
The governor did what he had to do this spring. Anyone who suggests otherwise either isn’t being honest with themselves or recklessly disregards others.
Fast forward to today and the pandemic presents a much different challenge, although hospital capacity remains a critical concern forcing DeWine’s hand.
Doctors can more effectively treat the sickest and now face a greater threat from community spread while off duty than from contagious patients. Businesses are equipped to protect employees, which the vast majority do successfully. Even schools have taught students while avoiding virus spread.
Still, the threat is unrelenting and growing while our federal government sits and watches.
DeWine’s warning Wednesday night that he might close restaurants, bars and fitness centers while adding teeth to the state’s mask requirement and enforcement, is unfortunate but grounded in reality.
Crowded indoor restaurants where people remove masks to eat and drink give the virus a chance to spread no matter how well management follows the rules. Further reducing capacity might balance economic and health considerations, especially with owners already destined to lose significant holiday business.
The governor’s plan to use Bureau of Workers’ Compensation inspectors to ensure businesses are enforcing the mask mandate seems more appropriate, although it could force lower-paid service employees to police uncooperative patrons. The threat of 24-hour shutdowns for second violations certainly carries significant weight for owners.
Some Ohioans joked that DeWine’s speech pleading for cooperation resembled a parent counting to 3 in tiny fractions before finally punishing a child.
We see a governor who’s acted boldly and pleaded with residents who have increasingly rejected his sound advice rooted in science.
If DeWine finds himself forced to impose more restrictions, it will hardly be his fault. It will reflect the will of Ohioans who have decided the risk of a potentially deadly illness is worth living their lives as they see fit.
The consequences of those decisions remain to be seen.
Please wear a mask. Avoid unnecessary gatherings. Pray for our health care workers.
Plenty of work for legislators before the year ends, but will they do it?
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio lawmakers could do a lot to restore an election-weary public’s faith in government by getting some important work done before the term ends on Dec. 31.
The so-called lame duck session typically is crowded with last-gasp attempts to get bills passed, including those that for one reason or another got little attention over the previous two years. It could be especially busy this time around because the coronavirus pandemic interfered with legislative work for much of the spring and summer.
We’re glad to note that legislative leaders seem focused, among other priorities, on a capital works budget, school funding, criminal sentencing reform and repeal of the House Bill 6 nuclear plant bailout. We’re disappointed, yet again, that they’re unlikely to take any meaningful action to curb gun violence.
The simplest item of business should be repealing HB 6. It’s simple because it clearly is the product of unprecedented corruption: a U.S. District Attorney in July revealed an investigation that charged then-House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates with bribery and racketeering. Since then two defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
In addition, FirstEnergy Corp., which is implicated but not charged in the investigation, has fired four top executives including its CEO, citing unethical behavior. FirstEnergy once owned the power plants that are subject to the bailout and was the parent company of a new entity that now owns them.
Some lawmakers have urged a “repeal and replace” of HB 6, but no time should be spent debating what parts to keep. No bailout money should go to the power plants without a full understanding of FirstEnergy’s role in the scandal, and the rest of the bill — undermining the development of clean energy in Ohio — is terrible policy that shouldn’t have been enacted in the first place.
Repeal the bill and come back in January to consider a forward-looking energy policy.
Another priority — approving a new formula for funding public schools — isn’t nearly so simple. Given that general assembly after general assembly has failed for decades to agree on a fair and sustainable formula, it’s fair to ask why the 133rd thinks it can do the job.
It helps that Rep. Bob Cupp, co-author of a proposed plan with Rep. John Patterson, is now house speaker. Cupp, a Republican former state senator and supreme court justice from Lima, and Patterson, a Democrat from Jefferson, set out to do what many public education advocates long have wanted: to establish the cost of a basic education and ensure that every school district can afford it. Past formulas weren’t based on any defined cost.
The plan also attempts to do two other important things:
1. Change the way charter schools are funded. Since charters first appeared in Ohio, the state has allocated funding to traditional school districts based on every child who lives in the district and then required districts to count how many kids opted for charters and pass their share of the funding on to the charter schools. This has been a burden on school districts and has heightened the conflict between districts and charters. Lawmakers need to clarify how and when a charter school’s enrollment would be determined for funding, but separating charter funding from district funding would be fairer and more transparent.
2. Give extra help to high-poverty districts by taking into account average income, not just property values, in determining how much local revenue each district should be expected to generate. Overreliance on property taxes and inadequate funding for poor districts were key flaws cited when the Ohio Supreme Court declared Ohio’s school funding system unconstitutional 23 years ago.
Paying for the plan would require hiking education spending by nearly $2 billion per year. Given that lawmakers are looking at a deficit of about the same amount because of pandemic-shrunken revenues, the plan likely would have to be phased in over several years.
Passing the Cupp/Patterson plan won’t solve every problem with funding Ohio’s schools, but it would mark the most substantial progress in many years.
Perhaps the most overdue item on the lame duck agenda is criminal sentencing reform, in the form of Senate Bill 3. It was introduced in February 2019, after a ballot effort to change sentencing via a state constitutional amendment failed by a wide margin.
SB 3 finally was approved by the Senate in late June of this year and introduced in the House a week later, but has seen no committee hearings. The recalcitrance may be because the House had its own criminal sentencing reform legislation, House Bill 1, which has been ignored in the Senate since the House passed it in September 2019. The Senate measure, which has broad bipartisan support, aims to tackle addiction by reclassifying most low-level drug felony charges to misdemeanors.
That gives people with addiction a better chance at rebuilding their lives by focusing on treatment and avoiding the stigma of a felony offense, which can rule someone ineligible for many jobs. It also avoids the expensive use of jail and prison space for people who don’t belong there. As with all major reforms, SB 3 may need tweaks in the future, but Ohio has waited too long already for this more sensible and humane approach to drug laws. The House should pass Senate Bill 3 as a starting point.
Perhaps the easiest lift for Republicans and Democrats to reach agreement will be a capital spending bill. Normally that budget is enacted midyear, but the COVID-19 shock to the economy in June prompted lawmakers to simply re-authorize existing levels of spending while also allocating some federal CARES Act relief dollars.
Ohio’s economy needs a stimulus and the state has plenty of infrastructure that needs to be built or repaired; a reasonable spending bill would help with both of those needs.
LegIslation with little hope of passage in the waning weeks of this legislative session is Senate Bill 221. It would enact Gov. Mike Dewine’s STRONG Ohio plan to curb gun violence in the wake of the Aug. 4, 2019, mass shooting in Dayton with nine people killed in about 40 seconds. DeWine proposed the bill after angry Ohioans implored him to “Do something!” and predicted it could meet legislative approval, but he apparently underestimated the force of Ohio’s gun lobby.
Now it seems the session will end without action on SB 221, which would have increased background checks for gun purchases and improved systems for temporarily disarming those deemed a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness or addiction. Not acting to curb gun violence in this legislative session gives new meaning to “lame duck.”
Should Ohio put an inmate with dementia to death?
Clevland Plain Dealer
James Frazier was 64 in 2005 when he was sentenced to die in the 2004 Toledo murder and robbery of Mary Stevenson, a 49-year-old with cerebral palsy who lived in the same federally subsidized low-income apartment complex.
Frazier was living on Social Security disability, which he argued in his death penalty appeal was tied to his low intellectual functioning. His IQ was rated as borderline, just over 70, by experts for both the prosecution and defense.
But it wasn’t until 2014 that the U.S. Supreme Court, which had earlier ruled that severely intellectually disabled individuals should not be put to death, threw out Florida’s strict cutoff of a 70 IQ for executions. In its 2014 ruling, the high court pointed to a standard five-point margin of error on IQ tests (which Frazier would have fallen within), and ruled a more comprehensive assessment of mental functioning should be used.
In 2007, the Ohio Supreme Court had unanimously turned down Frazier’s challenge to his death sentence on the grounds of his low mental functioning; his lawyers’ failure to use it as a defense at trial; and the prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges against two of the three African American jurors in the final jury pool, among other alleged errors. Frazier is Black. The Ohio Supreme Court noted in its ruling that Frazier grew up in a chaotic and deeply impoverished family with a largely absent and abusive father, and was kidnapped and raped by a man as he got off a bus when he was only 13 or 14, an experience that still haunted him. As a boy, Frazier was taunted by fellow students for his slowness, and refrained from participating in most non-school activities from shame over his shabby clothes.
Frazier, at 79, is now the oldest inmate on Ohio’s Death Row, suffering from dementia so acute that he cannot recall his trial, much less the murder for which he was convicted, say his current lawyers, who have filed a notice of insanity seeking to have him removed from Death Row. It’s the first time a dementia defense has been raised on Ohio’s Death Row, according to experts interviewed by cleveland.com’s John Caniglia -- but likely won’t be the last. Ohio hasn’t executed anyone since July 2018, in part because of a lack of death penalty drugs.
Our editorial board has long opposed the death penalty but this case raises the further question of how a state with the death penalty should deal with aging defendants who’ve lost mental understanding. The U.S. Supreme Court last year wrote that a Death Row inmate with dementia who cannot “reach a rational understanding of why the State wants to execute him” should not be put to death. But is it right that Frazier should escape the sentence adjudicated against him simply because he has lost knowledge of what has happened, or is about to happen?
It’s up to us
The Toledo Blade
When it comes to the coronavirus in northwest Ohio, things are bad and they look like they’re about to get worse. But they don’t have to.
As the prevalence of coronavirus cases spirals in some smaller northwest Ohio counties, health authorities are warning that the region’s relatively large counties — Lucas and Wood counties — could be headed for a similar super spike in the coronavirus.
All of Ohio is experiencing a surge in cases in recent weeks. With a “high incidence” of cases in nearly all of Ohio’s 88 counties now, Gov. Mike DeWine has said “there is nowhere left to hide.”
And yet, Lucas County and Wood County are still faring relatively better than nearby Putnam County, with an infection rate of 915 per 100,000 people, and Allen County, with 375 cases per 100,000 people.
Lucas County still has an infection rate of just 159 cases per 100,000 people and Wood County has 191 per 100,000 people.
Wood County’s health commissioner has urged these two populous counties to recognize this threat and take their fate into their own hands. “We have the ability to control the outcomes ourselves,” he said.
We know what to do: Wear masks, maintain social distancing, wash our hands frequently, avoid crowds and large gatherings.
These precautions are relatively simple, if not always easy. Who hasn’t been halfway across the store parking lot before they realized they forgot their mask in the car? They require some diligence and patience.
These measures, however, are the best strategies we have to control the spread of coronavirus before a vaccine arrives.
And ignoring these simple preventative strategies -- or worse, mocking them, as some do -- comes with a great cost. Surging numbers of coronavirus cases threaten, as always, to overwhelm our health-care system. They post particular dangers to our elderly and others with health complications.
The virus is already a burden on our economy, our quality of life, and, of course, our health. It’s difficult to imagine the situation spiraling into an even worse scenario, though that is an immediate threat. Whether we can halt the surging infection rate is up to us. We must do the things we need to do.
Biden must make energy plans clear
The Marietta Times
Joe Biden is not yet president-elect officially, but it seems clear he will be the nation’s next chief executive. The sooner he clarifies his agenda — especially regarding energy — the better.
It is probably no coincidence that within days of the election, some energy companies began revealing their own plans.
Two major firms, American Electric Power and First Energy, have revealed plans to reduce generation using fossil fuels. AEP says it will eliminate 1,633 megawatts of coal-fueled generation by the end of 2028. First Energy plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent, by 2030.
That will adversely affect electricity prices in areas served by the companies. Many Americans already are paying more for power than we did just a few years ago, because of the move away from coal-fired generating stations.
How will Biden address electric generation? Will he use executive orders to make mining and use of coal even less attractive?
Also of concern in our area is Biden’s stance on natural gas and petroleum production. Will he, as critics warned, “ban fracking?”
Hydraulic fracturing of gas and oil wells has been the reason Americans have become largely self-reliant for energy. It also has become a key facet of the economies in some states.
Banning or even placing new limits on fracking would inflict drastic harm on both our states.
It also would force gas and gasoline prices up nationally.
Biden may not have formulated a detailed energy strategy. During the election campaign, he clearly wanted to appeal to his base voters, many of whom favor harsh steps against fossil fuels such as those suggested in the “New Green Deal.”
At the same time, Biden disavowed warnings he would ban fracking, in order to persuade more conservative voters to back him.
But what are his post-election plans? We don’t know. We hope Biden will adopt a rational energy policy. One way or another, however, the sooner we know what he plans, the better.