Editorials from around Ohio

June 3, 2019

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

The Canton Repository, June 2

Over the several days leading up to Wednesday’s vote on House Bill 6, state Rep. Thomas West found himself in the same position as this Editorial Board, trying to understand complex legislation that seemingly was changing by the day.

The last revision came only hours before lawmakers, in a 54-43 vote, approved the bill that would overhaul the state’s energy policy.

Gone are the state’s renewable portfolio standards and its energy efficiency mandates. Preserved, for at least several more years, are Ohio’s two nuclear power plants and the thousands of jobs they support directly and indirectly. Added is the Ohio Clean Air Program, which will provide credits to qualifying clean-energy electricity producers (nuclear and large-scale solar projects).

And tipping the scale for West and other lawmakers is a provision that changes the surcharges all electricity users are paying. The Legislative Service Commission calculates residential customers will save an average of $3.68 per month on their electric bills.

Commercial and industrial users could save even more, and top executives from several in our area, along with labor group leaders, contacted West directly, stating their positions on the bill and asking for his support.

With every incarnation of House Bill 6, West said he asked a simple question, “What is this going to do to ratepayers?”

“This will reduce every person’s bill,” he said.

That’s not to say West is completely sold on the final version of the legislation. Nor are we.

“It was the right thing to do to pass this bill, but it has some weaknesses. I hope the Senate addresses those areas of weakness,” he said, citing energy efficiency standards as one specific area to target.

For this board, bailing out FirstEnergy’s two nuclear power plants — one east of Cleveland, the other near Toledo — is a difficult provision to accept. We agree with critics of the bill who ask why government should be helping to determine “winners” and “losers” in the competitive marketplace. The bill also bails out two coal-fired plants, a late change we find particularly troubling.

The alternative to approving the bill, however, would leave the state in a worse condition. Ohio is not in position to take off-line the two sources of nearly all of its clean energy.

The Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants account for 15 percent of Ohio’s electricity generation overall and a staggering 90 percent of its clean — meaning zero-carbon emission — electricity production.

It’s a reflection of (and indictment of) the state’s poor record at developing clean, alternative energy sources over the past decade that it finds itself today needing to maintain nuclear power plants mainly because wind and solar account for only about 2 percent of its energy portfolio.

That is unacceptable. It is imperative the provisions in HB6 incentivizing large-scale solar projects be used aggressively so that we, as ratepayers, are not placed in a similar position another decade from now: tepidly supporting a bill only because the alternative is even less desirable.

In the final roll call, West joined nine other Democrats in support of the bill. Republican Scott Oelslager likewise voted yes. Reggie Stoltzfus and 16 other Republicans voted no.

Each of our local representatives made the decision he felt was right for his constituents, and that’s what we send them to Columbus to do. Now we watch for the revisions to come in the Senate. In the end, we need progress toward an energy policy that retires more outdated coal-fired plants, stops propping up segments of the market and moves Ohio toward cleaner, renewable alternatives at a pace at least comparable with other states.

Online: https://bit.ly/2W7z56w


The Columbus Dispatch, June 2

This is a big problem: The State Medical Board of Ohio says state law and its confidentiality rules forbid the release of information from a board investigation unless misconduct charges are filed.

Why is this a problem?

It’s a problem — no, an outrage — because we know that the medical board investigated complaints in 1996 about the late Dr. Richard Strauss molesting Ohio State University students but we — the public and the victims — don’t know what the board investigators concluded.

We know from a recent report by independent investigators from the Seattle-based Perkins Coie law firm, hired by Ohio State, that Strauss sexually assaulted at least 177 students across two decades while serving in Ohio State’s athletic department and at the student health center.

But we don’t know what the medical board investigation says or why the board did not take action that might have stopped Strauss from preying on students and held him accountable for the assaults that began soon after he started at OSU in 1978, according to victims and the OSU investigation.

The medical board did share details from its 1996 inquiry with OSU’s Perkins Coie investigators but initially required the university to keep that information secret in the report that OSU released on May 17, so part of the university’s full report was redacted accordingly.

Strauss killed himself in 2005, seven years after he retired from Ohio State, so the opportunity for justice through the criminal court process is gone.

The medical board, at Ohio State’s request, finally voted on May 23 to waive its confidentiality interest in its investigative materials regarding Strauss, but it then set up another hurdle by saying that Ohio State would have to obtain waivers from each entity involved in the medical board’s investigation before OSU could release redacted portions of the university’s report on Strauss’ sexual abuse.

We understand the need to protect victims if they are among the entities mentioned in the medical board report, and it would be prudent to redact specific information that might identify them. But to keep secret the entire medical board report for lack of waivers from everyone involved would be to hide important details in this tragedy.

Those details could shed light on the actions of a doctor who preyed on students. The information also would shed light on the work of the medical board, and based on what we know from the investigation for which Ohio State paid $6.2 million so far, we have serious questions about why the medical board took no action against Strauss.

Did it do a proper investigation, or did it take no action because it wasn’t thorough? Or was the board covering for someone? Or covering for itself?

If Ohio law or the medical board’s own rules truly preclude it from releasing the investigation of a deceased doctor, one accused of heinous crimes that apparently continued for two years after the board investigated, then the law needs to be changed quickly and for many reasons.

Without transparency, there is no way to know whether the medical board is doing its job properly. There is no way to know whether the board is appropriately protecting falsely accused doctors or inappropriately denying justice to victims who were abused by doctors.

And in this case, we don’t know whether members of the medical board at the time should join Ohio State officials of the past in owning responsibility for allowing a serial abuser to maintain unfettered access to unsuspecting students for years.

It is good that Gov. Mike DeWine has appointed a 15-member panel to dissect the medical board investigation into Strauss.

DeWine has asked the working group to examine the redacted information and determine whether the medical board acted appropriately.

The group has an Aug. 1 deadline to produce its findings, which could include recommendations on law changes regarding the release of complaints and investigations concerning physicians.

For those who have waited decades for justice, Aug. 1 probably seems a long way away. If there are ways to release the bulk of the medical board’s report from 1996 sooner by conducting limited redaction to protect victims, the lawyers on all sides of this matter should rush to make that happen.

Online: https://bit.ly/2wAqgb2


The Akron Beacon Journal, May 31

Robert Mueller made Nancy Pelosi’s job more difficult. When the special counsel spoke publicly for the first time this week, he reinforced a top finding of his investigation into the Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election. He explained that he followed the Justice Department policy prohibiting the indictment of a president. Thus, the absence of an indictment wasn’t the equivalent of clearing President Trump of obstruction of justice. Mueller then sharpened his point, as he did in his lengthy report released in April. He stressed that if he had confidence the president did not commit a crime, he would have said so.

No surprise these words spurred additional Democrats, in the U.S. House and on the presidential campaign trail, to call for the start of an impeachment inquiry. That includes the chairs of the Rules Committee and the Homeland Security Committee. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Niles Democrat, reflected the mounting view, telling NPR that “Mueller basically said that he would have indicted the president but for the fact that the law would not allow it.” He added: We may be left with no choice but to impeach him.”

The impeachment drive includes more than the liberal firebrands. Even moderate types, such as John Hickenlooper, a former Colorado governor, have joined the ranks.

This isn’t what Speaker Pelosi has been advising. She has cautioned against an official impeachment inquiry, arguing that such a step is what the president wants. If she says, as she did this week during an appearance, that “nothing is off the table,? she also has warned against taking the bait. There is something to her concern, the president skilled at the politics of grievance or playing the victim, keen to portray his adversaries as going too far.

Perhaps the speaker has in mind the impeachment of Bill Clinton, House Republicans overreaching and the public recognizing as much. No doubt, she is concerned about holding her majority, captured last fall by Democrats winning in districts the president carried two years earlier. Put that in jeopardy when the Republican majority in the Senate would prove a lock for the president?

All of this political calculation offends many who see the House with a constitutional duty to proceed in view of the president’s impeachable offenses, his efforts to impede the FBI and later the Mueller investigation, including urging aides to falsify the record. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, has arrived at such thinking.

Yet there is something Pelosi asks her caucus to weigh — the potential for an impeachment inquiry to make Trump stronger. Thus, her concern goes beyond futility in the Senate. What if events work to secure Trump a second term? That would be a Democratic calamity.

The speaker understands that impeachment is a political matter, more than anything. Congress defines “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Thus, Pelosi also accounts for the deep partisan divide. Impeachment means seeking to overturn the result of a presidential election. That is consequential, even when the incumbent did not prevail in the popular vote. So the circumstances point to what the speaker told her audience on Wednesday: ” ... we do want to make such a compelling case, such an ironclad case, that even the Republican Senate ... will be convinced of the path we have to take as a country.”

So House Democrats have an obligation to conduct the necessary oversight, especially in addressing the Mueller findings and in examining the president’s vast business dealings for conflicts of interest. That may not be enough now for some in their ranks. It is the way to the hard-won consensus the speaker rightly wants to see.

Online: https://bit.ly/2WCqU6z


The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 2

A bipartisan plan pending in Ohio’s House would help Ohioans protect, preserve and restore water quality in their lakes and rivers, notably - but not just - in Lake Erie.

House Bill 7 is a significant and needed step forward in creating a permanent source of funding for Ohio clean-water protections that are crucial to safeguarding Ohio’s future and its abundant water-related jobs, as well as to the health and well-being of its residents.

However, the bill would limit annual outlays from a new H2Ohio Fund to $50 million. And it arguably creates less-than-ideal funding paths. Neither are necessarily deal-breakers, but they require further debate.

House Bill 7′s sponsors are Reps. Haraz N. Ghanbari, a Perrysburg Republican, and John Patterson, a Jefferson Democrat. The bill responds to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s call, in his March 5 State of the State speech, for a “new . H2Ohio Fund, to invest in targeted solutions to ensure safe and clean water all across the state of Ohio.”

HB 7 would create an H2Ohio Advisory Council to disburse up to $50 million a year in loans and grants from a trust fund. The bill would also create an H2Ohio Endowment Board to advise Ohio’s treasurer in managing the trust fund, including whether, and in what amounts, the treasurer should sell bonds to help finance H2Ohio. (The bonds wouldn’t be general obligations - backed by Ohio’s taxing power - but revenue bonds backed by loan repayment to the H2Ohio trust fund.)

Most of H2Ohio’s money would come from surpluses in Ohio’s General Revenue Fund. GRF surpluses flow into Ohio’s rainy day fund till it reaches a formula amount. Remaining cash is then allotted to Ohio’s income-tax reduction fund.

HB 7 would make H2Ohio second in the surplus line, ahead of the tax reduction fund. Some legislators may object to that. However, legislative analysts found that, were HB 7 in effect, surplus state cash would have gone to H2Ohio in four of the last five fiscal years.

Ghanbari indicated that HB 7, as introduced, is a starting point for discussion. That discussion is needed. As noted, key facets that require more debate include whether state surpluses offer ironclad funding - and whether $50 million a year is nearly enough for H2Ohio to do its work.

Earlier this year, for example, the Environmental Working Group and Environmental Law & Policy Center reported that the Maumee River, the biggest watershed in the Great Lakes basin, “overloaded with fertilizer and manure, is the single largest source of the phosphorus that triggers blooms of toxic algae in Lake Erie.” The groups also found that “over half of the manure in the Maumee River watershed comes from an exploding number of unregulated factory farms.”

Yet last summer, the factory farm and fertilizer lobbies helped stymie a Maumee cleanup plan devised by then-Gov. John Kasich.

Someone should remind those lobbies that Ohio’s lakes and streams belong to all Ohioans.

Clean water is crucial to good health. And pollution imposes real costs. Ohio State economists reported in 2017 that, over six years, algal blooms at central Ohio’s Buckeye Lake and western Ohio’s Grand Lake St. Marys cost Ohio homeowners $152 million in lost property value.

Besides assuring solid H2Ohio funding, legislators should consider whether the program needs both an 18-member Advisory Council and a 12-member Endowment Board. (Except for expenses, members of both would be unpaid.) Ghanbari said, and it’s a fair point, that two bodies would check and balance each other. Still, eight of the 18 Advisory Council members would hold other state offices. Having members who’d see the H2Ohio program as their No. 1 responsibility would be preferable.

Debate on HB 7 should focus on assuring that H2Ohio gets predictable, and enough, funding. Then the General Assembly should send the measure to DeWine’s desk - the sooner the better.

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

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