COLUMBUS, Ohio – Yesterday in the Ohio Senate’s Transportation, Commerce, and Labor Committee, Senator Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville) testified in support of Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 17. The resolution urges Congress to enact the bipartisan Miners Protection Act pending in the United States Senate.

“Our retired coal miners have worked hard and have earned their pensions and benefits. Congress has an obligation to ensure that the promises made to them are kept,” said Sen. Gentile. “They have powered our homes and businesses, and built this region. The Miners Protection Act keeps those promises and protects retired miners.”

The Miners Protection Act transfers certain federal funds that are not being used currently into the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan in order to pay the full amount of the pensions and health benefits for beneficiaries. The Act does not require new spending. It also allows for workers that retired from a company that has since filed for bankruptcy to be included in a separate plan in order to receive healthcare. Without Congressional action, the plan will be insolvent and retirees will likely see cuts in the amount of their pension and benefits.

Also present in the committee were members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Among the members was Babe Erdos, resident of Belmont, Ohio and Ohio Legislative and Political Coordinator for the UMWA, who offered testimony in support of the resolution.

“Coal miners have worked hard, played by the rules, but through no fault of their own find their retirement in jeopardy. They deserve to retire with dignity and not be concerned about economic security,” said Mr. Erdos during testimony.

The 1974 Pension Plan that pays out to retired miners is underfunded due to the 2008 financial crisis and the closing of several mining companies. The Miners Protection Act is a bipartisan effort to create solvency in the Plan and ensure all retirees receive the full pension and health benefits they were promised. The Act is sponsored by Democrat, Republican, and Independent members of the United States Senate.

 
 
  
 
Senator Lou Gentile Pushes Disability Awareness
Offers amendment to designate disability history and awareness month
May 26, 2016
 
 

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Yesterday, the Ohio Senate Finance Committee voted to adopt a bill sponsored by Senator Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville) as part of an amendment to a larger bill package, House Bill 483, regarding developmental disabilities. Senator Gentile’s bill designates October as Disability History & Awareness Month. 

“I am proud to offer this amendment. We have been working on this bill for over a year, and I’m glad to be able to make progress and see it become law,” said Senator Gentile. “Being an advocate for Ohioans with disabilities is important, and this bill will allow more people and children to become aware of the incredible impact people with disabilities have on our communities.” 

Senator Gentile’s bill to designate disability awareness month originally passed the Ohio Senate in February with no opposition and twenty-nine cosponsors. After the Senate, it was sent to the Ohio House but was not scheduled for committee hearings. It was added to the larger bill package yesterday morning because Senator Gentile was able to work with leadership in the Senate and the Department of Developmental Disabilities who agreed that it would be a good addition to state law.

The idea for a disability history and awareness month was brought to the attention of Senator Gentile by Terrie Lincoln, a disability advocate from Marietta, Ohio. She founded Supporters of Disability Rights in the Mid-Ohio Valley, which is active in promoting disability rights in Southeastern Ohio.

The larger bill package, House Bill 483, passed the Ohio Senate late last night and now heads to the Governor’s desk.

 
 
  

COLUMBUS— State Rep. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) and State Senator Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) today applauded the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 159, which designates a portion of State Route 2 – also known as the West Shoreway, beginning in Lakewood and connecting to Cleveland – as the Richard F. Celeste Shoreway.
 
“I am pleased to announce the passage of this bill, which honors hometown public servant Richard F. Celeste and his career of service to our state,” said Rep. Antonio. “The naming of this portion of the shoreway celebrates an outstanding governor and the Celeste family’s legacy of public service to Ohio.”
 
Richard F. Celeste served two terms as Ohio governor from 1983 to 1991. Governor Celeste and his brother, former Representative Ted Celeste, are both natives of Lakewood, Ohio. Their father, Frank P. Celeste, served two terms as mayor of Lakewood from 1956 to1963.

“Governor Celeste has led a long and distinguished career as a public servant,” said Senator Skindell. “Personally, it is an honor for me to see this legislation passed, as I was inspired by candidate and Governor Celeste when I was attending college in the 1980s. It is also an honor to know that this portion of State Route 2 will bear the name of a great governor and great man, Richard Celeste.” 

Celeste had a storied and impressive career of service to the people of the State of Ohio and the United States, as he served in various capacities under Presidents Kennedy, Carter, Clinton and Bush. He served as U.S. Ambassador to India from 1997 until 2001. The following year he was inaugurated as the 12th president of Colorado College in Colorado Springs and has since retired.

 
 
  
Senator Yuko shares stories of Ohioans who testified in support of medical marijuana

COLUMBUS – Today, Senate Senator Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) celebrated the Ohio Senate’s passage of House Bill 523, a bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana in Ohio. Senator Yuko has been introducing bills to legalize medical marijuana since he was a Representative in the Ohio House. H.B. 523 passed the Senate 18-15.

“This bill is not perfect, but it gives Ohio patients a critical medical option they need. It is not acceptable to make them wait any longer,” said Senator Yuko. “If we can give one veteran comfort, if we can ease one patient’s horrible pain, if we can prevent one heroin overdose or save one child’s life--this bill will be worth it.”

Senator Yuko has championed the issue of medical marijuana throughout his time in the Ohio Statehouse. This year, Senator Yuko and Senator Dave Burke (R- Marysville) held a series of town hall forums across the state to gather Ohioans’ opinions on medical marijuana. The senators heard from dozens of Ohio citizens and professional organizations on their listening tour. Senator Yuko shared some of these citizen testimonies while advocating for the bill on the floor.

“I truly believe that if every one of my colleagues had been able to join Senator Burke and myself on our listening tour, the vote for this bill would be unanimous,” said Senator Yuko.

The bill will now return to the Ohio House for a concurrence vote.

 
 
  
Senator Brown presides over Senate chamber as SB 247 is passed

COLUMBUS – Today, Senator Edna Brown (D-Toledo) applauded the Ohio Senate's passage of Senate Bill 247, the Children’s Nutrition Bill. Senator Brown and Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) introduced this bill to increase access to nutritious meals for children during the summer months, when free and reduced price meals through school programs are not available.  

“I am very grateful to my colleagues for passing this much-needed bill, because hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation,” said Senator Brown. “Food insecurity is a problem year round for many families. This bill moves us one step closer to ensuring that all Ohio children receive adequate nutrition.”

SB 247 requires school districts to permit an alternative summer meal sponsor – such as a local nonprofit – to use school facilities to provide summer meals if the district declines to provide them itself in areas where at least one-half of the pupils are eligible for free lunches. The State Board of Education is responsible for providing a list of approved alternative summer meal sponsors to maintain quality and safety standards. 

The idea for SB 247 was brought to the Ohio Senate by Children’s Hunger Alliance, a non-profit organization focused on fighting childhood hunger in all 88 counties in Ohio. By working with childcare providers and breakfast, after school and summer meal programs, Children’s Hunger Alliance strives to ensure that children without access receive healthy food, nutrition education and physical activity.

“When school doors close, many children lose access to healthy school meals,” said Mary Lynn Foster, President & CEO of Children’s Hunger Alliance, after the bill was introduced in November 2015. “Summer nutrition programs help children receive healthy food, which prevents summer weight gain and summer learning loss.” 

The most recent data from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) indicates that over 850,000 school-aged children in Ohio are eligible for free and reduced price meals through the federal School Meal Program. Although more than 75% of eligible children access school lunches during the academic year, FRAC reports that fewer than 11% of these same children access meals through nutrition programs during summer months.

SB 247 now moves on to the House for consideration.

 
 
  

COLUMBUS—Today, Senate Bill 291 – a bill introduced by Senator Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) – passed the Ohio Senate with unanimous, bipartisan support. SB 291 would designate the month of September as “Pain Awareness Month” in the state of Ohio.

“Awareness is the first step toward solving Ohio’s pain management crisis. I want Ohioans suffering from chronic pain to know that they are not alone, and that there are healthy ways to help manage their pain,” said Senator Yuko. “I am proud to see my Senate colleagues take this important step to raise awareness of pain management issues in Ohio.”

Nearly 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain – more than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. Chronic pain can result from a variety of underlying problems, but for many the pain cannot be cured, only treated. Senator Yuko urges those suffering from chronic pain to adopt a healthy pain management plan.

“The public needs to be aware that just because you can’t witness a person’s pain, it doesn’t mean that person isn’t suffering,” said Senator Yuko. “I hope this bill will pass the House with bi-partisan support so we can bring healthy and safe pain management to the forefront of patient care.”

Senator Yuko introduced similar legislation in the House during the 128th and 129th General Assemblies. His bill passed the House during the 129th General Assembly.

 
 
  

State Senator Michael Skindell (D- Lakewood) has reintroduced legislation to expand Ohio Civil Rights Law to extend employment and housing protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the covered areas currently identified as unlawful discriminatory practices. 

Ohio is currently one of 28 states that do not provide housing and workplace protections for sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in a clear, consistent manner. 14 Ohio cities have passed non-discrimination ordinances, and 80 of the top 98 employers in Ohio have policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Senate Bill 318 would extend these protections to every person who lives and works in Ohio.

“As we work to grow our economy and lower unemployment, we must not allow discrimination of any form to occur,” said Senator Skindell. “Qualified and competent employees can currently lose their jobs due only to their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Ohio should attract and retain the most talented workers regardless of these characteristics. This legislation will also provide equity and fairness in the housing market.”

 
 
  
 
National Spotlight Reinforces Need For Online School Reform
"...publicly funded online schools like ECOT have become the new dropout factories."
May 19, 2016
 
 

COLUMBUS – Today, a troubling New York Times article shed new light on the gravity of the problems at Ohio’s largest e-schools. Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) and Cathy Johnson – former President of the Ohio School Boards Association and current President of the South-Western City School Board – responded to these revelations with a call for the immediate passage of Senate Bill 298, Leader Schiavoni’s e-school reform bill.

“If students aren’t logging in, they aren’t learning, and they aren’t going to graduate,” said Senator Schiavoni. “High dropout rates are directly linked to problems with attendance. My bill addresses the heart of these issues. S.B. 298’s passage would be a significant step toward correcting the shocking failure of many e-schools to educate our students.”

The New York Times article scrutinizes the finances and graduation rates of Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which is the largest online charter school in Ohio. The Times notes that “more students drop out of ECOT or fail to finish high school within 4 years than at any other school in the country," and that "for every 100 students who graduate on time, 80 do not." Based on this number, over 6,500 or almost 45% of Ohio’s 15,000 ECOT students will either drop out or fail to finish high school in four years.

“It is deeply disturbing to know that the students we lose each year to ECOT have such a high likelihood of never receiving their diploma,” said Ms. Johnson. “As a longtime educator and current school board president, I am appalled that ECOT takes taxpayer dollars while failing to give thousands of students even a basic education. It is time that e-schools follow the same rigorous standards of accountability and transparency as traditional schools. Legislators must take action today.” 

This school year alone, South-Western City Schools will lose over 400 students and $3 million in funding to ECOT. South-Western is Ohio’s ninth largest school district.

In addition to strengthening attendance data collection and reporting, S.B. 298 would trigger earlier interventions when students do not log into class. It would also require parent-teacher conferences if a student’s academic performance declines, and would require turnover (mobility) rates to be listed on each e-school’s report card.

 

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Senate Democrats Voice Strong Opposition To "Healthy Ohio Program"
Thousands of Ohioans could lose their healthcare if program is established
May 16, 2016
 
 

Columbus—Today, all the members of the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus sent a letter to the Ohio Department of Medicaid to express their strong opposition to the Healthy Ohio Program because it will limit access to healthcare.  Specifically, the letter asked that a federal waiver that’s needed to establish the Healthy Ohio Program be rejected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“Since the beginning, I have been speaking out against the Healthy Ohio Program that was placed in House Bill 64,” said Senator Capri S. Cafaro, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Medicaid Committee. “By forcing Health Savings Accounts, or Buckeye Accounts as they are known in this proposal, on our most vulnerable population, we would cause so many of our Medicaid recipients to lose their access to healthcare. This would be taking a step backwards from the progress we have made in the last four years and would be doing a disservice to the people of Ohio.” 

The Healthy Ohio Program, which was mandated by the passage of House Bill 64, requires Medicaid participants to pay $99 or 2% of their income for healthcare coverage.  As a result, it’s estimated that 130,000 Ohioans who live near or below the poverty line will lose their coverage because they can’t afford it.

A copy of the entire letter can be read here.

 

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COLUMBUS— Today, State Senator Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) voiced opposition to the passage of House Bill 180, which will eliminate the City of Cleveland’s current local hiring standards, established in the Fannie Lewis Law (2004), which guarantee a certain percentage of city residents’ employment on public construction projects.

Plans to eliminate local hiring requirements began almost two years ago, due to the fact that contractors - outside of Ohio and within - wished to hire their own employees instead of Cleveland residents. During last year’s budget discussions, a similar provision was removed from the main operating budget at the request of Senator Williams, holding off the encroachment on local control for nearly a year.

During today’s floor debate, Senator Williams said of the motives behind House Bill 180, “In other words, some contractors want to benefit from Cleveland’s economic development dollars, but they don’t want to hire Cleveland residents.”

Senator Williams commented further, “For more than a decade, Cleveland’s business community has worked with the City of Cleveland and contractors on a reasonable goal for local hiring on construction projects. Local governments must be able to hire their residents, instead of having their residents result to illegal actives such as robbery, stealing, and gang activity in an effort to make ends meet.”

House Bill 180 will directly impact the City of Cleveland, the City of Akron, and any other municipality that employ residents on construction projects.

“This legislation comes at a time when Cleveland, with an unemployment rate higher than the state and national average at 5.5%, and a labor participation rate of 57%, can least afford this type of cut to city employment,” remarked Senator Williams.

House Bill 180 will now be sent to the Governor’s office for his approval and signature.

 
 
  
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Senate Democrats Lauch Statewide Tour Of Ohio Schools

 

COLUMBUS - Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have launched a series of trips around the state to gather opinions from parents and educators on ways to improve education in Ohio.



 
 

Senator Tavares To Introduce Eyewitness Protection Act

 

Columbus—Next week, Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Charleta B. Tavares (D-Columbus) will introduce legislation aimed at protecting citizens who record law enforcement and civilian involved incidents. The Eyewitness Protection Act will give a person the right to lawfully record any incident involving law enforcement or the public and to maintain custody and control of that recording and the device used to record the incident. 



 
 

Senate Democrats Submit More Than 500 Budget Amendments

 

Columbus—Today, members of the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus submitted more than 500 amendments to House Bill 64, the biennial state budget.  The amendments represent the commitment of Senate Democrats to help Ohio families, grow our communities through targeted investments and increase opportunities for everyone. 



 
 

Senator Thomas Testifies To Reinstate Pete Rose To Major League Baseball

 

Columbus—Today, State Senator Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) testified before members of the State and Local Government Committee on Senate Concurrent Resolution 4 to urge Commissioner Robert Manfred to reinstate Pete Rose to Major League Baseball. The resolution also encourages the Baseball Writers' Association to consider Pete Rose for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.