Archive for January, 2012

House Democrats Outline 2012 Priorities to Strengthen Middle Class

Ohio House Democratic Leader Armond Budish and members of the House Democratic Caucus at a press conference announcing their legislative agenda for 2012. They will focus on jobs, communities, rights and opportunities to help Ohioans restore the American Dream.

Ohio House Democrats announced the beginning of their legislative agenda for 2012 to strengthen working and middle class families.  The priorities build upon the Compact with the Middle Class announced last year and focus specifically on four categories – jobs, communities, rights and opportunities.

“While Statehouse Republicans continue their overreaching partisan priorities, House Democrats are committed to common-sense solutions that put working and middle class families first,” said House Minority Leader Armond Budish (D-Beachwood).  “We will place a renewed focus this year on creating jobs, rebuilding Ohio communities, protecting the rights of Ohioans and improving education and workforce training opportunities.”

The legislative initiatives are a mix of new proposals and several bills that have already been introduced by House Democrats. The new bills include a Local Government Jobs Fund, a Community Foreclosure Protection Fund, a Voter’s Bill of Rights and the Ohioans Back to Work Program.  House Democrats will be introducing additional legislation in the coming weeks focused on putting working and middle class families first. 

“For the last year, Statehouse Republicans have been turning over state assets to private companies and giving away state tax dollars to special interest friends,” said Minority Whip Tracy Heard.  “Instead of leaving behind working families and hurting local communities, our priorities will help Ohioans restore the American Dream. 

Creating jobs continues to be a top priority for House Democrats.  The Community Jobs Protection Fund will help communities return cops and firefighters to the streets by dedicating every new dollar of state revenue back to local communities.  House Democrats have also developed the JobsOhio Accountability Act to ensure oversight and accountability of taxpayer dollars going to companies seeking state support. 

“Rather than balancing the budget on the backs of local communities and taking away workers’ rights, women’s rights and voters’ rights, our priorities will restore some balance in Ohio between Republican special interests and middle class families,” said Assistant Minority Leader Matt Szollosi (D-Oregon). 

Additionally, House Democrats have also proposed a new Ohio Voter’s Bill of Rights, improvements to help workers and new protections for healthcare patients against rate increases and claim denials. Greater protections for education funding are addressed through increased accountability measures and a new workforce training program has also been proposed.

“These priorities represent a continuation of our efforts to stand up for working and middle class families throughout Ohio,” said State Rep. Debbie Phillips. 

An outline of the House Democratic priorities is listed below.  Additional bills focused on jobs, communities, rights and opportunities will be introduced in the coming weeks.

Rep. Pillich to Introduce Legislation to Make State Watchdog More Accountable

State Rep. Connie Pillich (D-Montgomery) introduced legislation today to create greater accountability and oversight for the office of the Inspector General by requiring a bipartisan appointing process through the four legislative leaders.  This legislation will ensure the state’s top watchdog maintains the necessary distance from partisan political activities.

“Recent activities have brought attention to the need for greater distance from political partisanship by the state’s top watchdog.  The Inspector General is charged with the responsibility of investigating wrongdoing in state government and protecting taxpayers from waste, fraud and abuse within the executive branch.  Under no circumstance should Inspector General participate in any activity that could raise questions about the integrity and independence of the office,” said Rep. Pillich.

Serious questions about Inspector General Randy Meyer’s ability to objectively investigate wrongdoing in state government have been raised by his lack of judgment, and a report by the Columbus Dispatch that Mr. Meyer has only conducted 12 investigative reports, the fewest from the IG’s office since 2007.  And most recently the Cleveland Plain Dealer uncovered the hiring of Mr. Meyer’s son by ODOT, an agency overseen by a deputy Inspector General for ODOT, whom is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of Mr. Meyer.

“At a time when the people of Ohio feel Columbus and government are out of touch and unaccountable, the role of an independent Ohio Inspector General is more important than ever,” said Rep. Pillich. “While similar bills have been introduced in past General Assemblies it is now evidently clear that legislative action is needed to ensure the Inspector General be independent, and maintain an independent appearance so that investigations and recommendations will be impartial and viewed by others as impartial.”

This legislation will provide the necessary distance from political activities to ensure the Inspector General can effectively and objectively investigate potential wrong doing by state officials. It will do so by taking the appointing authority away from the governor and giving it to the four legislative leaders.  The appointment must be approved with 3 out of the 4 votes of these bipartisan leaders.  This bill will also adopt the same restrictions on political activity for all employees of the IG and the IG as followed by other legislative and administrative employees. The IG would serve a six year term subject to removal by the Senate for gross neglect, misconduct, and/ or dereliction of duty.

Lawmakers Propose Common Sense Solution to Controversial HB 194

State Reps. Kathleen Clyde (D- Kent), Tracy Maxwell Heard (D- Columbus) and Alicia Reece (D- Cincinnati) announced on Friday a common sense legislative solution to increase voter access, establish a more accurate voter database, and improve that ballot counting process. This week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted called for the repeal of the controversial House Bill 194, which is currently facing a voter referendum in the fall.

Democrat’s election law reforms would restore the requirement that poll workers direct voters to the correct polling place. It would ensure early voting lasts thru the Monday before Election Day and it would restore less burdensome vote-counting rules.

“In response to the colossal failure in legislative leadership by the Republicans, we again are saying work with us. Here are our priorities for creating better elections in Ohio that promote more participation in our elections, and ensure that more ballots are counted.  We were shut out of the process last time, but we hope that the Republicans learn from their mistakes and work with us,” said Rep. Clyde.

This bill will fix Ohio’s provisional ballot problem by reducing the number of reasons for making voters cast provisional ballots, and it will make it clear that election officials will be held responsible for mistakes instead of blaming and tripping up voters.  Votes will be counted unless there is clear evidence that a vote is invalid, and it will add college ID’s and passport to the acceptable voter ID list.

“Our proposal will trust Boards of Election to determine a voter’s clear intent where a candidate’s name is written in and possibly spelled wrong.  If a bipartisan board can determine the voter’s clear intent, that vote will count.  We will not allow literacy tests to be part of Ohio law,” said Rep. Heard.  “Our bill will apply the same rules for all voters.”

“This week, I called for federal elections monitors in Cincinnati due to a still unresolved 2010 Hamilton County Juvenile Court race.  This bill will ensure situations such as this do not continue to happen,” said Rep. Reece.  “Our proposal will ensure all votes are counted, and it will reduce the number of provisional ballots due to poll worker error or change of address.”

The proposed legislation will also ensure Motor Voter compliance – Currently, Ohio is not meeting its obligation to update voter registrations when voters change their address with the BMV.  There is no excuse for this; by not complying we risk losing federal Help America Vote Act funds by failing to meet the conditions to receive the funds. The BMV and Secretary of State must work together to make Ohio complaint now.

House and Senate Leaders Question Inspector General Meyer’s Participation in GOP Fundraiser

Ohio House Democratic Leader Armond Budish and Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro sent a letter to Gov. Kasich questioning the conduct of Inspector General Randall Meyer after news he participated in the most partisan of activities – fundraising for the Republican Party. The Ohio Inspector General is a non-partisan agent responsible for investigating fraud and corruption of state officials.

“In order to maintain the integrity of the Inspector General’s office, I am calling on Gov. Kasich to immediately suspend Mr. Meyer.  I believe this suspension will give the Governor the opportunity to review the facts and make an informed decision about Mr. Meyer’s future ability to fairly and objectively carry out his duties,” said Leader Budish.

Leader Cafaro added that, “Inspector Generals are expected to hold themselves to a higher standard and that includes avoiding partisan political activity in order to protect the integrity of the office.”

A copy of the letter can be seen below.

January 19, 2012

The Honorable John Kasich, Governor
77 S. High Street, 30th Floor
Columbus, OH  43215

Dear Governor Kasich:

It is with great concern that we write to you today regarding Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer’s participation in a political fundraiser last week.  We believe this to be an extremely serious breach of protocol for a public official charged with objectively investigating wrongdoing in state government.

In fact, we do not believe that the Inspector General should be participating in political fundraisers for either party, as his office has suggested.  The Ohio Inspector General’s appearance at political fundraisers undermines the credibility of this office and weakens the public’s trust of its investigatory findings. 

Mr. Meyer’s participation at a Clinton County Republican fundraiser comes on the heels of a separate report highlighting the lack of meaningful investigations by his office.  At a time when people on both sides of the aisle are raising questions about the potential for corruption and misconduct by lobbyists and special interests, we believe the role of the Ohio Inspector General has never been more important.

Current law allows the Governor to appoint his own Inspector General.  You selected Mr. Meyer, who is a registered Republican and former employee of Lt. Governor Mary Taylor.  You’ll note that we did not raise these concerns about Mr. Meyer’s partisan leanings when his appointment was announced last year.

However, there is growing concern that Mr. Meyer’s partisanship is impairing his ability to objectively investigate potential wrongdoing in state government.  We have heard from a number of individuals who have raised the following concerns:

  • As reported by the Columbus Dispatch, Mr. Meyer has only conducted 12 investigative reports, the fewest from the Inspector General’s office since 2007. 
  • An investigation was requested regarding a possible conflict of interest between Ohio Superintendent Stan Heffner and one of the nation’s largest education testing companies and nothing has been done.
  • Instead of focusing on wrongdoing in state government, Mr. Meyer has targeted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by placing a link on his office’s homepage to encourage complaints about this program. 
  • Also, a question has arisen about the possibility that a relative of former Republican House Speaker and current chair of the Casino Control Commission Jo Ann Davidson has been employed at the Inspector General’s office.  If so, how might that impair the impartiality of potential investigations into the Commission?

The Inspector General is the state’s watchdog and must maintain a reasonable distance from the political activity and interests of those he is charged with potentially investigating.  We believe his participation in the most partisan of activities – political fundraising – and other questionable partisan activities warrants immediate action.  Lack of action will further weaken the integrity and credibility of the Inspector General’s office and it will reinforce the idea that state government is unaccountable to the people of Ohio.

Respectfully,

Armond Budish
Minority Leader
Ohio House of Representatives

Capri Cafaro
Minority Leader
Ohio Senate

Reps. Antonio & Garland Introduce Sexual Assault Legislation

State Representatives Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Nancy Garland (D-New Albany) along with Senator Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) today introduced legislation to ensure sexual assault survivors are provided with medically and factually accurate, unbiased information from hospitals.

“Make no mistake, this is not a democratic or republican issue, nor is this an issue of ideology,” said Rep. Antonio. “This is an issue of fairness, compassion and the right of survivors of sexual assault to have full access to emergency care and treatment—something that should resonate with all Ohioans.”

The Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act requires all hospital emergency rooms to provide survivors of sexual assault with treatment that can prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, if the survivor wishes to use them. The bill would place the responsibility on the hospital to have policies in place to ensure access for survivors with the medical treatment they need by requiring immediate safe, effective methods of pregnancy and disease prevention following an assault.

“Comprehensive and compassionate care helps women in crisis move from victim to survivor,” said Rep Garland. “The C.A.R.E. Act is a common-sense approach. It will help ensure sexual assault victims are given accurate, unbiased information in a timely manner when they visit the hospital, allowing them to make informed choices about their lives.

The House Bill will go to the Rules and Reference for a committee assignment. Senator Turner introduced companion legislation, which is Senate Bill 283.

Rep. Fedor Sponsors 3rd Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day

State Representative Teresa Fedor and the National Association of Social Workers hosted the Third Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day at the Columbus Statehouse.  Special guests included Attorney General Mike DeWine, Amy Allen of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney James Moroney, Lucas County Judge Connie Zemmelman, Franklin County Judge Paul Herbert, Montgomery County Judge Gregory Singer, and Theresa Flores, survivor and Director of Awareness and Training for Gracehaven. 

Representative Fedor has been organizing Human Trafficking Awareness Days to bring light to this important issue.  Cases of human trafficking have been reported in every county in Ohio – from forced labor at massage parlors, to parents selling their children for drugs, to a highly-organized gang operation that recruited and moved underage girls from one location to another selling them for sex.  Human trafficking is a very real problem that is affecting more than 1,000 Ohio children every year.  More than 3,000 Ohio children are considered to be high risk for trafficking.

Representative Fedor has also introduced new legislation, H.B. 262 or the Safe Harbor Act, which aims help minor victims of human trafficking.  “When a minor is being sexually exploited, that minor is often arrested on prostitution charges and is sent to jail.  Quite simply, this does not solve the problem.  If the arrested minor is instead provided with needed services to recover, that minor will be able to break the cycle of abuse and become a contributing member of society.  Without some form of intervention, 77 percent of sexually exploited youth simply continue to be prostitutes in adulthood,” said Rep. Fedor.

Leader Budish Disappointed in Partisan Appointment to Housing Study Committee

Ohio House Democratic Leader Armond Budish (D-Beachwood) sent a letter to Speaker Batchelder today raising concerns over Ohio Housing Study Committee appointments. House Bill 153, enacted last summer, included the formation of a task force to review the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. The task force is to include two members from each chamber appointed by the Speaker and Senate President, and tradition in similar situations has been to appoint one member from each party.  Speaker Batchelder appointed Reps. Cheryl Grossman and Peter Beck, both Republicans.  While Senate President Niehaus appointed one Democrat Sen. Mike Skindell, and one Republican Sen. Tim Schaffer. 

“I am deeply disappointed in the Speaker’s decision to insert partisan politics into the review of a well respected non-partisan and non-political agency,” said Leader Budish.  “I hope this is an unintentional oversight that we can remedy quickly.”

A copy of Leader Budish’s letter to Speaker Batchelder can be seen below.

Dear Speaker Batchelder,

With the Ohio Housing Study Committee set to begin its work this week to review the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, it has come to my attention that there is no Democratic representation on the Committee from the House.  As required in HB 153 enacted last summer, the Committee must include two members from each chamber of the General Assembly to be appointed by the Speaker and Senate President.  It was expected, both in the tradition of this institution and in the spirit of bi-partisanship, that one member from each party would be appointed to the Committee from both the House and Senate.

While President Niehaus has recognized the importance of providing bi-partisan balance on the Committee, I am disappointed to learn that you have instead chosen to appoint two members of your own caucus to the Committee, making the partisan legislative membership of the Committee 3 to 1 in favor of Republicans.  Given that the Committee is set to review an agency that has a board consisting of members appointed from both political parties, and the agency is widely viewed as a non-partisan and non-political entity, I am deeply concerned by your decision to tilt the legislative membership of the Committee toward a single political party.  It is my hope that this is simply an unintentional oversight on your part and not an indication of an attempt to bias the Committee’s work and findings.

Therefore, I ask that you reconsider your selection of House members and choose instead to appoint a member of the House Democratic Caucus.  I am happy to provide you with the name of a Democratic member who is willing and eager to serve on this important task force, and I look forward to working with you to remedy this oversight before the Committee begins its work tomorrow.


Sincerely,
Armond Budish
Minority Leader
8th House District


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