SB 5 Anniversary
Five years ago this month, Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly introduced Senate Bill 5
February 12, 2016
 
 

Five years ago this month, Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly introduced Senate Bill 5. The legislation stripped collective bargaining rights from public employees including teachers, firefighters and police officers.

Governor John Kasich signed the bill into law, but it was overturned when 62% of Ohioans voted against it in a statewide referendum. In this video members of the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus recall their memories of SB 5 and discuss its implications today.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf_2PlTui74&feature=youtu.be

 
 
  

COLUMBUS— Yesterday, Senators Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) and David Burke (R-Marysville) completed the planned stops on their Medical Marijuana Listening Tour with a visit to Toledo. The tour also included events in Cleveland and Cincinnati. Written and spoken testimony from hundreds of Ohioans has provided the senators with a broad spectrum of opinions from proponents, opponents, and interested parties regarding medical marijuana in Ohio.

“I really appreciate the mothers, fathers, veterans, and so many others who came out to testify and listen to their neighbors.  I was impressed with the quality of the arguments we heard,” said Senator Yuko. “We wanted to make sure we heard from people who would be personally affected by medical marijuana. When we looked out at rooms filled with those people living with pain and illnesses, we were shown the faces of hope.”

The senators listened to a variety of proponents and opponents of medical marijuana, including the families of children with intractable seizures, veterans with PTSD, individuals with MS, individuals recovering from addiction, people with intractable and chronic pain, cancer survivors, members of law enforcement, various health professionals and concerned citizens. 

 “Many thanks to my colleague, Senator Burke, for listening to people across Ohio, and thank you to our staff for organizing these events,” said Senator Yuko. “Even though our tour together is done for now, we still have a lot of people to listen to, work to do and compromises to reach. I’m excited to continue collaborating with Senator Burke on the subject of medical marijuana.” 

The senators will continue talking with interested parties in their districts and various experts in order to make progress on this issue.

 
 
  

COLUMBUS— Yesterday, State Senator Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) introduced Senate Joint Resolution 4 that will amend Section 10 of Article I of the Constitution of the State of Ohio. This legislation will eliminate the grand jury process from the Constitution and will allow for the process to be reformed and reviewed by the Ohio legislature. 

“In the wake of high profile grand jury cases, it has become obvious that the system is not only broken, but is harmful to how we administer justice,” remarked Senator Williams. “A significant number of constituent groups have expressed their discontent with our current grand jury process.”

There are currently 23 states that do not use the grand jury process as the sole indicting force, and in most states the grand jury is not given express powers in the state’s constitution. Instead, these states use either a preliminary hearing or a bill of information to indict. This legislation does not remove the option for the prosecutor to use a grand jury in cases where there is a need for secrecy; rather it gives prosecutors greater option to bring about charges, in certain felony cases, in a more transparent manner. 

While the secrecy of the grand jury may seem fair and reliable to some, others believe that the system is imbalanced, lacks transparency and is skewed in many cases toward the outcome desired by the prosecuting attorney.  It remains impossible for citizens to know if matters are being handled properly. This problem is highlighted by the exceptionally high rate of indictments, contrasted with universal refusal to indict law enforcement.

“The time has come to address the evident problems with the secret grand jury,” said Sen. Williams. “This resolution will give the General Assembly more flexibility to determine reforms to the indictment process. The cost of reform cannot trump doing what is justice in the state of Ohio.”

Sen. Williams continued, “I applaud the creation of the Supreme Court’s Task Force to study the grand jury. However, I believe that removing the grand jury from the constitution is the only solution that will allow for comprehensive reform to the process. The grand jury no longer protects the citizen from prosecutorial overreach; instead, it shields prosecutors from accountability and transparency, especially in cases when the suspect is law enforcement.”

 
 
  
 
Senator Lou Gentile Raising Awareness For Ohioans With Disabilities
Senate Bill 130 designates October Disability History and Awareness Month
February 10, 2016
 
 

Columbus, Ohio --- Today, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 130, sponsored by State Senator Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville). This bill designates the month of October to be Disability History and Awareness Month. It also encourages schools in Ohio to provide instruction and events focused on disability history, people with disabilities, and the disability rights movement.

“It is important to recognize disability history and the contributions people with disabilities have made to our state and country,” said Senator Gentile. “It is especially important to teach our children acceptance of all people without regard to background or ability.”

The idea for this bill was brought forward by Marietta, Ohio native Terrie Lincoln, who advocates for disability rights. She is the owner and board president of Supporters of Disability Rights in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Other supporters of the bill include the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council and Disability Rights Ohio.

The bill will now move on to the Ohio House.

 
 
  

Columbus—Today, the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus sent a letter to Governor John Kasich requesting that he veto HB 294, which would defund Ohio Planned Parenthood and similar organizations, as well as any organization that contracts with them. The letter reads as follows:

 

Dear Governor Kasich,        

We write to strongly urge you to veto HB 294, which would defund Planned Parenthood and similar organizations, as well as any hospital, government agency, school, or group that contracts with them. We, along with a majority of Ohioans, believe this legislation will devastate our public healthcare system and further weaken our most vulnerable communities. To sign this legislation would mean acting against the will of the people. Among Ohio voters, 65% oppose any action to defund Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, this vindictive legislation punishes an organization for providing constitutionally protected healthcare.

Our caucus joins many others in expressing grave concerns about HB 294. Healthcare professionals and media outlets throughout Ohio have been outspoken about the disastrous effects of this bill. HB 294 would not only defund non-therapeutic abortion providers, it would also defund any organization that contracts or affiliates with abortion providers. This would harm hospitals, urgent care clinics, and even schools, which may seek to bring in clinicians for student education or preventative care purposes. During public testimony in the Senate, representatives from Columbus Public Health Department opposed this bill for fear of its costly effects on their work. If HB 294 becomes law, many hospitals could no longer contract with health departments on emergency preparedness, infant mortality, or disease management programs.

Beyond the negative impacts for hospitals and other healthcare providers, this bill could irreparably damage women’s and reproductive health, as Planned Parenthood is all too often the only healthcare option for many of our residents. The specific programs targeted by this bill are designed to fill existing gaps in our healthcare system. Over half of the 28 Planned Parenthood facilities in Ohio are in rural or medically underserved areas. Residents in these areas often do not have the luxury of simply finding another provider. Furthermore, only three of Ohio’s Planned Parenthood facilities offer any abortion services. We would therefore be defunding multiple clinics in underserved areas that exclusively provide preventative care, STD/STI testing, and family planning programs.

Throughout the defunding debate, some have argued that there are plenty of alternative healthcare options for those Ohioans who currently receive services at Planned Parenthood.

This simply is not true.  

According to press reports, the list of healthcare alternatives provided by bill supporters in the Ohio Senate “include[s] dentist offices, school nurses and a food bank as options for Ohio women.” 

The list of alternatives discussed in the Statehouse also included crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which are not healthcare clinics, nor are they equipped to be. CPCs do not have the ability or authority to provide reproductive healthcare, cancer screenings, HIV testing, STI/STD prevention, or even sex education. In addition, these centers are known nationwide for providing inaccurate and often misleading medical information. They are not a credible alternative to the wide variety of vital healthcare services offered by Planned Parenthood. It would be unwise and irresponsible to defund an organization so integral to the health of thousands of Ohioans.

In recent months, we have witnessed accusations from across the country aimed at Planned Parenthood’s validity and integrity. The widespread push to defund began with a series of undercover videos, claiming to show the illegal sale of fetal tissue. These videos have now, in every way possible, been thoroughly debunked for being purposefully misleading and potentially criminal. Eleven states have cleared Planned Parenthood of all wrongdoing. Eight other states refused to investigate at all, due to the blatantly biased sources from which the accusations arose. Here in Ohio, Planned Parenthood has been investigated by both the Attorney General and the State Auditor, and their investigations confirmed that Planned Parenthood had committed absolutely no wrongdoing. 

The evidence is overwhelming. Ohio residents need Planned Parenthood. It provides invaluable screenings for STIs (155,000 per year), HIV (18,000 per year), and cancer (14,000 per year). One in five women has been to Planned Parenthood in her lifetime, and over 80,000 Ohioans utilize its facilities every year. 

Our limited healthcare dollars should continue to go where they are proven to provide the most good, not redirected out of spite for a particular organization. The undersigned members of the Senate Democratic Caucus ask that you veto HB 294 and work with us to craft laws that help rather than harm Ohio families. 

 

A copy of the letter can also be found below:

 

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Senator Joe Schiavoni Testifies In Favor Of Senate Joint Resolution 3
SJR3 would help fund local water and sewer improvement projects without raising taxes
February 09, 2016
 
 

COLUMBUS—Today, Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) testified before the Senate Finance Committee on Senate Joint Resolution 3 (SJR3), legislation he introduced to protect Ohio’s drinking water, lakes, and streams. SJR3 would permit the issuance of state bonds to expand sewer and water improvement projects for municipalities, counties, townships, and other government entities.

If Ohio voters approve this resolution, the General Assembly would be able to authorize up to $100 million per fiscal year over a 10-year period for sewer and water capital improvements. This would be a total investment of $1 billion. It would not raise taxes.

“From Lake Erie to the Ohio River, water quality issues affect every corner of our state,” said Leader Schiavoni. “Unlike pothole filled roads and crumbling bridges that are easy to see, our underground infrastructure often goes unnoticed by the general public until something goes wrong. “ 

There is significant data to support the urgent need for water and sewer improvements. The most recent report card from the Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers gives Ohio drinking water a “D+” and its waste water systems a “C-.”  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates Ohio’s need for investment in wastewater infrastructure is $14.2 billion, plus an additional $12.6 billion for capital improvements over twenty years.

“With the lack of sufficient resources, both locally and federally, our communities are often forced to maintain and upgrade a vast network of deteriorating underground infrastructure on their own,” said Senator Schiavoni. “The State must make this critical investment to protect the health and well-being of Ohioans.”

Senate Joint Resolution 3 has bipartisan co-sponsors and the support of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.

 
 
  

Columbus—Today, State Senator Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) introduced Senate Bill 272, a bipartisan bill to give juveniles with extended and life sentences an opportunity for parole hearings. Under the bill, a prisoner who was under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense(s) for which he or she is serving a prison sentence is eligible for parole as follows:

  • If the inmate’s stated prison term totals at least fifteen years, the prisoner is eligible for parole after serving fifteen years;
  • If the inmate has a sentence that permits parole only after fifteen or more years, the prisoner is eligible for parole after serving fifteen years;
  • If the inmate is serving a sentence of life without parole, the prisoner is eligible for parole upon turning age forty.

“This bill is based on input from experts in the criminal justice field and recognition that juveniles require a different approach than adults who commit crimes that carry extended sentences,” said Senator Thomas. “It is a productive step toward improving our justice system.”
 
This language in Senator Thomas’s bill was approved by the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission after being thoroughly vetted by the participating prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and personnel from the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Department of Youth Services. Senate Bill 272 enjoys the joint sponsorship of State Senator John Eklund, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, and co-sponsorship from State Senators Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering), and Cliff Hite (R-Findlay).
 
“I am proud to join with my colleagues in the legislature to endorse the hard work of the Sentencing Commission,” said Senator Thomas. “I look forward to continuing the conversation about improving the administration of justice and working toward public safety reform in the State of Ohio.”

 
 
  

Columbus, OH—Today, State Senator Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville) announced he will introduce legislation to fix state law that has prevented an officer and his dog in the Southern Ohio city of Marietta from retiring together.  

“We recognize the close bond that exists between law enforcement officers and their K9 partners,” said Senator Gentile. “Officers and their dogs spend every day together, risking their lives to protect our communities. They should be given the option to spend retirement together, but unfortunately state law is standing in the way.”

Under current state law, cities in Ohio must sell police dogs in public auction if the K9 is still able to work but are unable to continue in their law enforcement role when their assigned officer retires. Senator Gentile's proposed legislation would allow an officer who retires in good standing from a canine or equine unit of a law enforcement agency to purchase at fair market value the police dog or horse to whom the officer was assigned. The legislation would also require the purchase to be approved by the state or local government and law enforcement agency. 

“This bill seeks to strike a balance between the best interest of the K9 officer and protecting taxpayers’ dollars by giving local government the authority to decide,” said Senator Gentile.  “It gives one more option to local governments and to the police officer to keep the bond between dog and handler whole if they decide that is the best outcome. There was a flaw in state law that prevented Marietta from taking necessary action to resolve this issue, and this bill will fix that.” 

This proposal would give cities and other local government the option not to sell police dogs or horses at auction, instead allowing the officer to purchase the animal and keep his or her partner in retirement.  

Senator Gentile’s bill is currently being drafted and will be introduced in the Ohio Senate in the near future.

 
 
  

Today, Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) introduced legislation to strengthen and clarify the public notification responsibilities of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. S.B. 269 would require Ohio EPA and local water systems to alert the public much sooner when contaminants are found in drinking water.

“There were a series of missteps leading to the Sebring water crisis. But the failure to notify the public in a timely manner is one we need to fix immediately,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni. “Ohioans need to be sure they can trust the Ohio EPA and their local water systems to promptly alert us to potential health hazards in our water.”

Senator Schiavoni’s bill addresses the failure of both Ohio EPA and the village of Sebring to alert the community after tests revealed elevated levels of lead in local drinking water.

The bill will:

  • Require Ohio EPA - within 5 days of a local water system failing to meet any public notice or education requirements – to assume responsibility for and directly make such public notice and education efforts.
  • Require a local water system to notify Ohio EPA of a possible lead contamination issue within 24 hours
  • Shorten the current 60-day timeline for public notice and education of test results that exceed guidelines to no more than 30 days.
  • Require Ohio EPA - at the time it takes over any public education and notice requirements - to assign staff to the community and water system who will have the responsibility of ensuring compliance with applicable regulations.
  • Require Ohio EPA to establish by rule that all water systems must file an updated corrosion control plan and revert to a 6 month testing cycle any time:
    • A system switches a source from which water is received
    • A system makes major renovations or repairs to any water treatment plant or system
    • Any other events that have a probability of impacting the quality or corrosivity of water within the system
    • A water system can return to annual testing only after at least two tests come back without an elevated level as called for in rule.

In the wake of the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, there have been several reports of elevated lead levels in drinking water in Ohio homes and buildings. Last summer, a test of a home in Warren found lead levels at 64 parts per billion (ppb), far higher than the government action level of 15 ppb. While the homeowner was notified of this issue, the broader community was not. Under SB 269, local water systems would be required to alert the Ohio EPA if any tests results were abnormal.

“I am shocked by the recent news of the lead levels in Warren. It is our responsibility to protect the health and well-being of our citizens,” said Senator Capri S. Cafaro (D-Hubbard). “We need to be asking for more from the Ohio EPA. This bill will be an important step to ensuring there is accountability and protection for all Ohioans.”

 
 
  

Columbus—Today, Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) announced he will introduce legislation to address the water crisis in Sebring.  One part of the legislation will require local water systems and the Ohio EPA to notify the public much sooner when tests show that a community’s drinking water is unsafe.

“Notifying the public has to be a top priority,” said Senator Schiavoni.  “This legislation would spell out the EPA’s duty to protect Ohioans by responding more quickly when there’s a water crisis like the one in Sebring.  The Ohio EPA has known since at least September that lead was found in the village’s drinking water yet the agency did not inform the public until January 21st.  While village officials share some of the responsibility, it’s clear the EPA could have acted sooner but chose not to.”

Yesterday, Senator Schiavoni sent a letter to Craig Butler, the Director of the Ohio EPA, requesting documents including emails, memos, text messages and other records of communication between EPA employees or between Ohio EPA employees and any other government office related to testing results in the Sebring water system.  The letter also reiterated a request for answers to questions that were submitted last week but remain unanswered.

Senator Schiavoni is working with State Representative John Boccieri (D-Poland) on the legislation that will include input from environmental groups and other experts.  The legislation will be formally introduced in the near future.

A copy of yesterday's letter to the Ohio EPA can be found below:

 

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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.