Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Cleveland Plain Dealer. June 17, 2022.

Editorial: HB 690 would aid PUCO reform in balancing the public’s interest with utility interests

If the House Bill 6-FirstEnergy scandal has done nothing else, it has educated Ohioans about the cozy insiders’ world of utility regulation in Ohio.

In part, that insularity is natural. Much of what’s discussed and decided hinges on exceedingly technical engineering, financial and legal questions that only insiders can answer.

But further cloistering those processes is a Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that, not unusually for state utility commissions, is pretty insulated from the people – that is, from the rank-and-file Ohioans whose interests it’s supposed to balance against those of the state’s electric, gas and telephone companies.

Per current Ohio law, the governor appoints the five PUCO commissioners from a list submitted by a nominating council composed of an array of interest-group representatives. That nominating council mechanism itself was the result of a 1982 reform passed by the General Assembly aimed at heading off a ballot issue calling for popular election of PUCO members. (And it worked: In November 1982, a constitutional amendment calling for an elected PUCO – an amendment proposed by voter petition – lost at the ballot box, drawing 33% of the statewide vote on that issue.)

As might be expected, a nominating panel composed, ultimately, of Statehouse insiders tends to take its cue from other insiders rather than from the general public. In other words, in many respects, the nominating council has become a closed loop in recommending prospective commissioners to the governor.

In a further complication, the Ohio Supreme Court adheres to a legal doctrine, embraced in the 1950s, which says that when the high court rolls back a PUCO-approved rate increase, consumers are not entitled to a refund of the improperly charged amounts.

That paradox was alluded to in a seeming jest from former PUCO chair Asim Haque in June 2019 text messages that surfaced recently as part of the FirstEnergy-HB 6 scandal. The texts were between Haque, PUCO chair from May 2016 to March 2019, and then-FirstEnergy Senior Vice President Michael Dowling, one of two top FirstEnergy executives later forced to resign amid the HB 6 bribery scandal.

The texts suggest Haque knew a distribution modernization charge the commission had let FirstEnergy impose on consumers by final order of 2017 (amounting to from $168 million to $204 million a year) was liable to be overturned by the Supreme Court (as it was in June 2019) – but that the no-refund rule would let the utility keep the money theretofore charged.

That’s not a bit amusing to ratepayers who have had to shoulder such improperly approved PUCO charges without a hope of getting reimbursed should they be found to have been wrongly charged.

Luckily, the extra scrutiny HB 6 has prompted on the PUCO and its internal coziness with utilities is behind a needed revisiting of the PUCO makeup and the 1982 PUCO reforms.

In a welcome development that could reduce the PUCO’s insularity, two Ohio House Republicans, one a Greater Clevelander, have introduced a bill that could diversify the PUCO’s makeup.

House Bill 690, sponsored by Reps. Laura Lanese, of suburban Columbus, and Gayle Manning, of North Ridgeville, would require one of the five PUCO members to be nominated by the Office of Consumers’ Counsel. The counsel’s office represents Ohio’s residential utility consumers before the PUCO.

Greater Cleveland co-sponsors of the Lanese-Manning bill are Reps. Kent Smith, a Euclid Democrat; Casey Weinstein, a Hudson Democrat; Sharon Ray, a Wadsworth Republican; and Dan Troy, a Willowick Democrat. Five downstate legislators, three of them Republicans, also are co-sponsoring the bill.

The measure would require the Office of Consumers’ Counsel to nominate three candidates to the governor for appointment to the PUCO. The governor could not reject all three nominees. As with other appointees to the PUCO, a nominee recommended by the Consumers’ Counsel, and appointed by the governor, would have to be confirmed by the state Senate.

The legislature is out of session until November, but the Lanese-Manning bill deserves hearings and consideration in the meantime. It could and should inspire a welcome debate about state government’s proper role – and appropriate personnel – in overseeing multibillion-dollar enterprises that affect every Ohio household and every Ohio business. Adding perspective to the PUCO – via a Consumers’ Counsel nominee – would add needed insights to the commission’s role in balancing utilities’ corporate interests with the public interest.

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Toledo Blade. June 15, 2022.

Editorial: Toledo is Ohio’s best place to retire

The Toledo region is a great place to live. It’s an even better place to retire.

That truth gained some well-deserved recognition in a national report. It’s time to spread the word.

U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the 150 largest metro areas in the United States as a place to retire, and Toledo is the top spot in Ohio.

That ranking covers the multicounty Toledo metropolitan area, which includes surrounding communities.

The magazine grades Toledo health care, as measured by quality and quantity of nearby hospitals and clinics, as the best in Ohio.

Excellent values in housing drive the other major Toledo advantage: affordability.

A low birthrate and increased lifespans make the retiree population the fastest growing demographic category in America.

This means Toledo has what a large number of people need, a high-quality lifestyle at moderate cost.

For those of us living and working here now, it’s good news to find a comprehensive study showing the advantages of the Toledo region are even more pronounced upon retirement. For the many community organizations with connections to former residents who’ve left the area for careers elsewhere, this news offers a perfect opportunity to recruit potential retirees with ancestral, educational, or professional ties to Toledo.

That is a vast group of people.

In the age of email and text messages, communication with these potential Toledo retirees is nearly free.

Economic analysis of typical metro spending patterns by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows retirees drive about 16 percent of economic activity, with household spending of more than $48,000 annually.

An effort to spread the word of Toledo’s best place to retire in Ohio status could bring new residents, whose presence adds value to all the assets, both public and private, across the entire metropolitan region.

Even more importantly, the message can convince the people already here that staying here for retirement is the wise choice.

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Youngstown Vindicator. June 19, 2022.

Editorial: Permit teachers to be trained and armed if they wish

Each time a shooting occurs in one of this nation’s school buildings, renewed public cries demand increased gun control imposing new limits on Americans’ rights to purchase and own weapons.

“Government will protect us, if only we had more gun-control laws,” many will argue.

But Gov. Mike DeWine said it well last week when he signed Ohio House Bill 99 into law.

“School safety is everyone’s responsibility — not just the responsibility of our schools or government or parents,” the governor stated. “Keeping our kids safe and secure when the bell rings is something we all must work together to achieve.”

That’s why we support provisions of the House bill that many others will oppose or find controversial.

House Bill 99, which takes effect in 90 days, will grant local boards of education the authority to decide whether to allow their teachers and school workers to carry firearms into school buildings. Local school boards must require at least 24 hours of training from school employees before they can carry.

“This is a local choice, not mandated by the state,” DeWine said. “Each school board will determine what is best for their students, their staff and their community.”

We are even more pleased that the new law keeps control of this issue at the local level.

In the most recent tragic school shooting, we know that a gunman holed up in a Uvalde, Texas, classroom for more than an hour as terrified children called 9-1-1 begging for help. During that time armed officers remained outside.

Sadly, the killer had demonstrated violent behavior before entering the school and even shared hints and information online beforehand. Tragically, those clues were not followed up on.

There also was an apparent breakdown of any attempts to fortify the Uvalde school because an exit door had been propped open, allowing the killer to enter unimpeded.

Now, let us be clear. In no way are we stating that armed teachers should be the first line of defense.

Undeniably, security in our school buildings always should be paramount.

All exits always should be locked from the outside and alarmed. Metal detectors should scan all who enter. We find ways to smoothly screen passengers boarding airplanes and crowds entering concerts and sporting events, yet we avoid similar efforts to protect the lives of those who are most precious?

Likewise, a few years ago we opined that arming trained teachers would be an option worth considering.

We know that idea is controversial and many will oppose us, but we maintain that belief, provided that the school employees are comfortable with the idea and that they have received adequate training.

We know many are calling for stronger gun laws. But let’s be realistic — even if stronger gun laws were to be enacted, that wouldn’t remove existing guns from people’s homes.

And aren’t most schools already designated “gun-free zones?”

When clues are there, but they are ignored; and gun background check laws already exist, but often aren’t followed; or guns already legally banned from schools still make it inside, why do we think that newer, stricter gun laws are going to protect our kids any better?

Have our strict drug laws halted drug use in our nation, after all?

Let us remind you of this: There were armed uniformed officers outside the school in Uvalde.

If teachers or administrators wish to be trained and carry a weapon, we believe they should have that opportunity.

Why impose limits when it comes to keeping our children safe?

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. June 14, 2022.

Editorial: The state should leave transgender athletes alone

Republicans in the Ohio House decided to kick off LGBTQ Pride Month by picking on transgender kids.

On June 1, they tacked onto an unrelated education mentoring bill a cruel amendment that would bar schools from allowing “individuals of the male sex to participate on athletic teams or in athletic competitions designated only for participants of the female sex.”

If the amendment, which hasn’t been taken up yet by the Senate, were to become law, it would allow challenges to any female athlete’s gender. That athlete would then have to submit herself to an invasive exam of her internal and external reproductive anatomy, show levels of testosterone and provide an analysis of her genetic makeup.

Districts that don’t play ball with the proposed law would find themselves facing lawsuits.

The amendment, dubbed the” Save Women’s Sports Act,” would permit, as physician and state Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, said, “state-sanctioned bullying.”

That’s because it targets a tiny minority of students who are too often marginalized in school, face possible rejection from their families and have a higher rate of contemplating self-harm.

Rather than welcome transgender kids into sports, Republicans want to harass, humiliate and torment them.

Such a law is entirely unnecessary.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association already has rules designed to allow transgender girls who meet certain criteria, including providing proof that they’ve completed one year of hormone therapy, to participate on girls’ teams.

There aren’t a lot of them.

Since the fall of 2015, the OHSAA has ruled in just 48 cases, allowing 11 transgender athletes to complete. That’s out of the roughly 400,000 students in grades 7 through 12 who participated in sports sanctioned by OHSAA from 2015 through 2021.

“Those 11 approvals have resulted in no disruption of competition regarding competitive equity and they have not caused any loss in female participation, championships or scholarship opportunities,” OHSSA spokesman Tim Stried told The Associated Press last month.

Even Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, recognized that the state shouldn’t get involved in this particular culture war.

“This issue is best addressed outside of government, through individual sports leagues and athletic associations,” DeWine said of a failed attempt to pass a similar measure last year.

Yet to hear the amendment’s sponsor, state Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, tell it, she’s somehow striking a blow for equality by discriminating against transgender kids.

“Allowing biological males to compete against biological females is a discriminatory policy that turns back the clock over a half century on advances we have made for women,” she said.

Are there kids who transition who might become standout players on a sports team?

Of course, but not every transgender kid is going to be the next Lia Thomas, the transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who made waves because of how well she competed after she joined the women’s swim team.

She was permitted to do so only after she began undergoing hormone therapy as part of her transition. She had previously competed for the men’s swim team.

Even if a transgender athlete of Thomas’ caliber were to emerge at the local level, biological female athletes wouldn’t suddenly lose their ability to compete and, if they’re good enough, to win a coveted athletic scholarship.

Most student-athletes, even many who excel in high school, aren’t playing at that level.

Indeed, most of those who participate in athletics do so for the love of the competition and the camaraderie of being on a team.

The bill also would subject female college athletes to the same indignities as middle school and high school kids if their gender was disputed.

The amendment doesn’t prevent biological girls and women from competing on boys’ and men’s sports teams. Why aren’t its supporters worried about a standout female football kicker or wrestler making the boys uncomfortable or winning one of their athletic scholarships?

The other problem is that in her zeal to punish transgender kids, Powell has crafted an amendment that runs the very real risk of harming the female athletes she claims to be championing.

Given how hypercompetitive some athletes and parents can be, it’s not a stretch to imagine someone disputing an athlete’s gender simply because she outperformed another kid or doesn’t fit some busybody’s idea of what a female athlete should look like.

The possibilities for abuse are endless.

So is the amendment’s capacity to make a subset of transgender kids miserable by denying them something that brings them joy.

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Sandusky Register. June 14, 2022.

Editorial: State dead wrong arming teachers

On Monday Gov. Mike DeWine signed into a law a bill approved by lawmakers that will allow school districts to arm teachers.

This is what it’s come to: The place where we send our children now has the potential to become an armed compound because large pockets of our nation value the right to easily buy and carry a weapon of war — assault rifles — more than we value common sense.

On May 24, 19 fourth-graders and two teachers were massacred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The assault rifle the 18-year-old gunman used — which he was legally able to purchase — was so destructive that the small bodies of his victims were torn to shreds by his rapid fire. Parents were asked to bring DNA samples to identify their children, or identify them by the clothing they were wearing.

One parent identified her daughter by the green Converse shoes on her small feet.

The gunman would have had a harder time obtaining a driver’s license than he had obtaining that weapon.

In this action, our state legislature is showing a void of common sense and decency. The timing is rotten, approving arming teachers less than a week so soon after the massacre, paying no respect to families of the killed, or to families in general, that have kids attending public schools. They approved this legislation devoid of thoughtful debate, consideration of alternatives and no valid research to back up their votes.

This is a craven response that puts families, teachers and school administrators in a tough position in a similar fashion to the legislation approved earlier this year making it easier to carry concealed weapons.

This is the most egregious response to tragedy to date. If the collective reaction of lawmakers — and our governor — is to arm school teachers then they have lost touch with what Ohioans want and what parents want. It is a ferocious assault on public education, that leaves the last remaining wall of defense as local school boards and parents.

We’ve aided in inflicting damage upon our children, from Columbine, to Newtown to Parkland to Uvalde through passive compliance to the unreasonable demands of gun manufacturers and their associated lobby and organizations.

School board members and parents should fight to keep teachers focused on teaching and to convince lawmakers and the governor to see the bigger picture and not engage in what amounts to an arms race.

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