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Editorials from around Ohio

August 12, 2019

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Tobacco will still be an issue despite age increase

The Marietta Times

Aug. 10

As Ohio this fall joins the 17 other states that have raised the age for purchasing all tobacco and electronic cigarettes to 21, parents and guardians need to bear in mind something pointed out by Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton.

“The law is the law, we’re still a tobacco-free campus (but) Juuls, vaping and chew are huge problems for us,” he said. “At the high school they take Juuls from kids daily and it’s all over the middle schools, too.”

In other words, changing the age will have no effect on those who are already hooked — particularly on electronic cigarettes — and willing to break both the law and school rules. The vast majority of those students Hampton mentioned are not yet 18, let alone 21. How are they getting this stuff? Do their parents know? (For that matter, are they dipping in to their parents’ supplies?

Tobacco use is deadly, addictive, expensive — and purchasing the products is against the law for these youngsters — yet none of those factors has stopped kids from becoming part of what Hampton rightly called “huge problems.”

It is possible raising the purchasing age will have a small effect. After all, 21-year-olds might be less likely to purchase for 16- and 17-year-old friends than perhaps an 18-year-old would be. But the problem is starting much younger than 21 or 18. From tobacco companies that still pretend they are not marketing to kids or other demographic groups, to parents and other relatives who continue to show their kids that tobacco products are used by people they love and respect, children are being influenced in ways that outweigh the consequences.

Real change is not going to come with the law, or the rules at school. Real change is going to come when we show (not just tell) our children tobacco use is not an appealing choice. Lawmakers, teachers and school administrators can’t do that alone. The clerks checking IDs at the store can’t do it, either. That part is up to you.

Online: https://bit.ly/33sDg1F

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DeWine finds a fair balance

The Akron Beacon Journal

Aug. 11

John Kasich didn’t warm many hearts at the Statehouse last week. The former governor addressed the proposals of his successor, Mike DeWine, for expanded background checks on gun sales and “safety protection orders” to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Kasich took credit. He told a Toledo Blade reporter, “We plowed the ground on that, and they ought to move quickly.”

Recall Kasich last year calling for passage of a half-dozen sensible gun regulations, crafted in consultation with a group of former state lawmakers, all gun rights proponents. The package went nowhere, in part, because the legislative majorities grew tired of their fellow Republican. Jon Husted, the lieutenant governor, sized up the strain on Thursday, telling cleveland.com that if DeWine advanced something similar to the Kasich plan, it would be “dead on arrival.”

Husted especially had in mind the governor’s proposed safety protection orders, or “red flag” legislation, allowing household members or law enforcement authorities to seek the temporary removal of guns from those viewed as a threat to themselves or others. This is a responsible step in support of public safety.

So it was good news on Friday to read about Larry Obhof, the Ohio Senate president, telling the Columbus Dispatch the DeWine protection order plan was not dead on arrival.

Advocates may see the case for such orders as obvious. Yet the reality is this is a political negotiation. A proposal for safety protection orders has little chance of gaining approval without the support of gun rights backers and organizations.

The Buckeye Firearms Association and others want to ensure there is adequate due process in light of individual gun rights. That is what DeWine and Husted have achieved in a way that should earn the support of bipartisan majorities.

Once a motion is filed seeking removal, a court hearing must be held within three days, the judge looking for “clear and convincing evidence” that a person poses a danger. Both sides would present their cases. If an order follows removing the guns, another hearing would be held in 14 days to weigh extending the order for six months. An extension would include a mental health assessment and a program of treatment.

An order could be extended further in intervals of six months, involving hearings and assessments. After three months, those under order could ask the court to return their guns if proved no longer a danger to themselves or others.

The proposal strikes an appropriate balance between individual rights and public safety. If there is a risk in waiting three days for a hearing, the governor points to a complementary law on the books, the police, a judge or mental health professional with the authority to involuntarily commit a person deemed a danger.

A similar balance exists in the governor’s call for background checks on all gun sales in the state. This is, again, about doing more to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Currently, around one-fifth of purchases go unchecked, and the checks made may be flawed because of inadequate reporting of information, something John Kasich attempted to improve through an executive order.

There is an element of politics here, too. Mike DeWine sees expanded background checks as the right thing to do. He also recognizes that a statewide initiative on background checks seems likely for next year. It will pass, if the polls are accurate about Ohioans showing strong support. The governor is asking lawmakers: Do you want to act, or wait for voters?

Online: https://bit.ly/2MeFSL0

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Fix the cost of medication or lose the business

The Toledo Blade

Aug. 11

The high cost of prescription drugs and that market’s maddening complexity have become almost more than the private sector can bear.

A fight taking place in Washington right now is over how much control the federal government should exert over the prices of drugs that Medicare buys for its millions of clients.

Under the famous agreement that George W. Bush made to fund Medicare Part D more than a decade ago, Medicare was barred from negotiating drug prices. This was done because Medicare all by itself is the biggest buyer of drugs in the world, and it would be able to essentially dictate the price of prescription drugs.

Drug makers have threatened in response that they’ll refuse to sell drugs to Medicare if they can’t negotiate a fair price for them. The ability to refuse to sell, just like to right to refuse to buy, is a key component of negotiation.

Bills offered by Democratic U.S. senators, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, would require drugmakers to negotiate under a gun.

If drug makers refuse to sell a drug at what Medicare considers a fair price, the federal government would be able to award a license to a competing drug maker to make that same drug as a generic at a price that Medicare considers fair.

The Republican-controlled Senate is balking at the government taking over the prescription drug business.

But the Senate cannot refuse to act. Nor can President Trump, who has promised to find ways to address the high cost of prescription drugs, if he wants to have a record of legislative success to run for re-election on.

The President has attempted a rule requiring drug prices to be posted in advertisements, just like in car ads. A federal judge blocked it.

The administration withdrew a proposed rule to pass savings from manufacturer rebates on to Medicare recipients when it was determined that the policy would contribute to higher premiums for senior citizens.

Bringing sanity, access, cost control, and transparency to the prescription-drug market demands a more vigorous role for the government.

There’s just no way around it.

A Republican bill pending in the Senate would add an out-of-pocket maximum for beneficiaries. And it would penalize pharmaceutical companies if the price of their drugs rise faster than inflation.

We are told that would lead to lower costs for seniors on Medicare by adding an out-of-pocket maximum for beneficiaries at $3,100 starting in 2022.

The public is demanding action. A poll by Kaiser Family Foundation found 90 percent support for listing the prices of drugs in advertising and 86 percent in favor of allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare.

The pharmaceutical industry is set to have its wings clipped, eventually, and should negotiate a program that brings some predictability and reasonable pricing to the cost of prescription drugs. The alternative is, quite simply, creeping expropriation of the industry.

Online: https://bit.ly/33vf7aP

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Unequal treatment aside, best to end small business tax break

Columbus Dispatch

Aug. 9

With a last-minute insertion to the two-year state budget passed recently, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder has bought himself a lot of grief. Lawyers and lobbyists are hopping mad that they’re being cut out of an enormous tax break for small businesses, and they’re vowing to fight this discriminatory treatment.

The lobbyists and lawyers are right that they shouldn’t be singled out for exclusion from the tax break.

We strongly believe the break should be wiped out entirely.

We’re talking about a deal that allows owners of so-called “pass-through” businesses — typically attorneys, accountants and other self-employed professionals — to take their first $250,000 of income tax-free and pay only three-fifths of the normal tax rate on income beyond that.

The idea behind it ostensibly was for business owners to use their savings to reinvest in their businesses and hire more employees. In practice, many of those claiming the tax break are solo practitioners with no employees and no intention of hiring any. And in most cases, the tax savings aren’t enough to support an additional position anyway.

It’s mostly a windfall for successful professionals, and it costs the state close to $1.2 billion per year, producing little public benefit.

To Householder’s credit, he advocated for reducing the tax break, and the version of the budget passed by the House in May would have pruned it significantly.

But Senate President Larry Obhof declared his attachment to the tax break last year, insisting it will never be eliminated, “Not while I’m here.” True to his word, the Senate fully restored the break in its budget version, with Gov. Mike DeWine’s blessing.

In negotiations to reconcile the two versions, Householder insisted on cutting out lawyers and lobbyists.

As for that last-minute carve-out, it has created a bit of a mess. First is a long line of those professionals, indignant at the slight and indicating they might sue, claiming they’re being denied equal treatment under the law.

One could argue that excluding lawyers makes some sense because so many legislators are lawyers and thus wanted to eliminate criticism that, with the tax break, they were benefiting themselves.

Or perhaps Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, was right when he accused Householder and company of singling out “generally disliked” professions.

Beyond the philosophical, those who have to implement the change — accountants and the Ohio Department of Taxation — don’t know yet how it will be applied. For example, the definition of what constitutes legal services and lobbying, for purposes of the tax law, have to be hashed out.

The change isn’t scheduled to take effect until the 2020 tax year, and a Department of Taxation statement said, ”...there is time to conduct a thorough review to ensure we fully understand the new law prior to providing guidance.”

That may be, but the better course would be eliminating this unjustified giveaway. Ohioans who see state income taxes taken out of their paychecks every week shouldn’t have to make up for the revenue given away so lawyers, doctors and accountants can work tax-free.

Sadly, eliminating it is unlikely; as evidenced by the budget and the appalling House Bill 6, an “energy bill” that guts clean-energy development and bails out failing nuclear plants, the Ohio Senate is determined to serve special interests regardless of the cost to most Ohioans.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MW0zuX

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