SUDDES: What do carnival barkers and General Assembly members have in common?

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University.

Combined ShapeCaption
Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University.

Carnival barkers and General Assembly members share one secret – the hand is faster than the eye along the midway or at the Statehouse. All the more so, given that Ohioans face distractions ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to the weekly trials of the three B’s – the Browns, the Buckeyes and the Bengals. So while many Ohioans’ eyes are elsewhere, the General Assembly is drilling and sawing Ohio’s Revised Code to meet private interests’ specs.

A Senate-House conference committee is gearing up to craft a bill legalizing sports betting in Ohio. Whether that’s good or bad for Jane and John Taxpayer remains to be seen. But you can be sure the promoters of sports betting – just like the promoters of Ohio’s casinos – don’t aim to lose any money: Gambling is the one business where the proprietor always wins.

Then there’s the latest entry in Ohio’s quest to treat the environment as a slash-and-burn zone. House Bill 175, which the House passed 61-33 on Sept. 29. (The only Democrat voting “yes” was Rep. Richard Brown, of Canal Winchester. The only Republican voting “no” was Rep. Laura Lanese, of Grove City.)

Gobbledygook aside, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer, a Uhrichsville Republican, would hogtie Ohio’s power to fight water pollution by ending the state’s regulation of so-called “ephemeral streams,” defined as “surface water … that flows or pools only in response to precipitation, such as rain or snow,” the Legislative Service Commission reports.

HB 175 is opposed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency – which answers to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine; by the Darby Creek Association, dedicated to protecting Central Ohio’s regionally and nationally prized Big and Little Darby Creeks (they’re national and state scenic rivers); by the Ohio Environmental Action Fund; and by former Ohio first lady Hope Taft. She and former Gov. Bob Taft live in Greene County, along the Little Miami River, also a nationally prized wild and scenic river. And Hope Taft is vice president of the Ohio Scenic Rivers Association. “[Ephemeral streams are] like capillaries are to our circulatory system, if enough are damaged our whole body gets sick,” Hope Taft said in testimony opposing HB 175.

And we’re not talking small stakes. According to Ohio EPA Director Laurie A. Stevenson’s testimony in opposition to HB 175, of an estimated 115, 206 miles of Ohio primary headwaters streams, “an estimated 36,405 miles are ephemeral streams,” from which the bill would yank protection.

The Little Miami “drains a total of 1,758 square miles and flows through all or part of 11 counties. Major municipalities partially or fully in the watershed include Xenia, Beavercreek, Wilmington, and Cincinnati and some of its suburbs,” the state EPA reports

Moreover, as the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund’s Peter Bucher observed in his opposition testimony, HB 175 would undercut Mike DeWine’s multi-million-dollar H2Ohio program, aimed at protecting Ohio’s waters. “HB 175 takes our state in the wrong direction,” Bucher said – unless, that is, the Senate slams on the brakes.

Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be Ohio’s General Assembly if a clutch of pro-gun bills wasn’t floating around. The latest is Substitute Senate Bill 185, to crimp state and local officials’ emergency powers to suppress riots or mobs. The bill declares firearms and ammunition to be “life-sustaining” – yes, irony is lost on our legislators – " ‘essential’ businesses” during an emergency. The bill then forbids Ohio’s state and local officials to forbid the sale of firearms, ammunition or for that matter the sale of any deadly weapon during an emergency. As an example of Statehouse absurdity, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Tim Shaffer, a Lancaster Republican, would be hard to top.

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University.

About the Author