Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Senators Tavares and Turner Introduce Absentee Ballot Legislation

Columbus –State Senators Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) and Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) have introduced legislation in the Ohio Senate to restore local control to Ohio’s elections process. If enacted, Senate Bill 227 would allow local boards of election to mail unsolicited applications for absentee ballots and require the Ohio Secretary of State to reimburse the cost of the mailings for elections in even numbered years.

“SB 227 provides a pro-democracy, pro-voter approach to our elections process,” said Senator Tavares. “This is a fundamental form of outreach to the citizen-taxpayers to remind them of the election, encourage their participation and provide a tool for them to easily, efficiently and effectively cast their ballots.”

During recent elections, Franklin and Cuyahoga counties have mailed unsolicited absentee ballot applications to encourage early voting and the result has been shorter lines on election day. However, a controversial provision of House Bill 194, recently passed by the General Assembly, would prohibit these unsolicited mailings. While HB 194 may be subject to a referendum, Senators Tavares and Turner have taken the proactive step of seeking to restore- the rights of local boards of election to better serve the needs of their counties.

“Senate Bill 227 will return local control to the elections process and make it easier and more convenient for citizens to cast their vote,” said Senator Turner. “The one-size-fits-all prescriptions coming out of Columbus ignores the fact that these medicines treat each patient differently. Our bill would allow counties to tailor their policies to the needs of their local communities to maximize voter participation.”

SB 227 would also allow voters to request and return absentee ballot applications through email.

Senator Sawyer Gives Testimony on Public Records Legislation

Columbus – Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) today gave sponsor testimony on Senate Bill 221 in the Senate’s Education Committee. Senate Bill 221 would remove the provision that prevents achievement assessments administered in Ohio schools for grades 3 – 8 from becoming public records. The provision was added to the recently enacted state biennium budget.

“At a time where a lot of focus is being put on teacher performance and performance-based evaluations, it is important to keep these kinds of useful resources in place for teachers to better themselves,” said Senator Sawyer. “This is an opportunity for teacher’s to improve their students’ performance.”

Under prior law, at least 40 percent of the assessment questions that are used to compute student scores were public record. Any questions that could be reused on future assessments were barred from public record. Senator Sawyer’s bill would revert back to those previous standards.

“Achievement assessments are used as a measurement tool to see where the strengths and weaknesses lie in subject areas for Ohio’s children,” said Senator Sawyer. “If these assessments are not made public records, we will not be able be to determine where we need to focus our improvement.”

Teachers have historically used the public questions to help prepare themselves for future assessments and to get an accurate picture on how they have prepared their students. Teachers also used the test results to create short-cycle assessments which are used for preparation as well.

The current law will be in effect for the 2011-2012 and all following school years.

Senator Brown to Introduce Legislation Abolishing Death Penalty

Columbus – State Senator Edna Brown (D-Toledo) announced today that she will soon introduce legislation to abolish the death penalty in Ohio. Senator Brown’s announcement comes on the heels of Governor Kasich’s decision to not execute convicted killer Joseph Murphy.

“Despite the Parole Board and the Governor’s decision, I plan to introduce legislation that will abolish the death penalty in Ohio,” said Senator Brown. “The timing is right to end this archaic practice, especially after watching the controversial execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.”

Last week in an 8-0 vote, the Ohio Parole Board recommended that Joseph Murphy should not be executed and instead, spend the rest of his life in jail without parole. Murphy was convicted of murdering a 72-year old woman in Marion, Ohio in 1987. The board’s decision was based on Murphy’s traumatic childhood and history of sexual abuse.

“Mr. Murphy should be punished for his heinous acts,” said Senator Brown. “But his punishment should be spending the rest of his life in jail, and not by execution.”

Governor Kasich’s concurrence with the parole board marks the fourth time since July that an execution in Ohio has been postponed or called off. The Governor’s decision is also in line with former Ohio Supreme Court Judge Thomas J. Moyer, who also agreed that Murphy’s life should be spared in 1992.

While her legislation is being considered, Senator Brown is also urging the Governor to place a moratorium on all executions until a study, commissioned by Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is completed. The study will not decide on whether or not Ohio should have the death penalty, but rather study the overall procedure. The study will be done by a task force through the Ohio Bar Association.

Senator Brown’s legislation will mirror HB 160, which is sponsored by Reps. Celeste (D-Grandview Heights) and Antonio (D-Lakewood).

Senator Cafaro Announces Clean Ohio Funds for Ashtabula

Columbus – Senate Democratic Leader Capri S. Cafaro (D-Hubbard) announced today that the State Controlling Board approved the release of $263,131 in Clean Ohio Assistance to the city of Ashtabula. The funds will be used for a Phase II Environmental Assessment and clean up on the Tannery Hill Property.

“I am excited to see this area of land being revitalized and put to new use,” said Senator Cafaro.

After the assessment, the city would like to transform the property into a large city-owned outdoor recreational area. The site would include a seasonal farmer’s market, pavilion and parking area. The project will create more areas for fishing and maintain a bait and tackle shop.

“This project is an excellent opportunity to enhance green space in Ashtabula,” said Senator Cafaro. “Not only will we increase local tourism, but we’ll also be able to provide more families with locally grown produce.

The Tannery Hill property totals 10.53 acres northeast of downtown Ashtabula and is adjacent to the Ashtabula River. The Phase II Assessment would include the installation on 95 soil borings, 16 shallow monitoring wells and one deep monitoring well.

The Controlling Board provides legislative oversight over certain capital and operating expenditures by state agencies and has approval authority over various other state fiscal activities.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Senator Kearney Comments on President Obama’s Visit to Cincinnati

Columbus - State Senator Eric H. Kearney (D-Cincinnati) issued the following statement today after President Obama visited Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge to urge support for the American Jobs Act:

“I’m pleased that President Obama came to Cincinnati to call for an end to the partisan gridlock in Washington so that we can focus on what should be our top priority, which is putting Americans back to work.

Passing the American Jobs Act is the first step to ensuring that projects like the Brent Spence Bridge get the repairs they need while creating vital jobs for our economy. The American Jobs Act is based on bipartisan ideas that will create jobs now and put more money in the pockets of working and middle class Americans. It will also cut taxes for small businesses that are so vital to the economic growth of Cincinnati and the entire nation.

The Brent Spence Bridge is one of the most frequently used trucking routes in America, yet it needs several significant repairs to remain reliable and safe. Thousands of people use the bridge to travel through Ohio everyday. Having sound transportation infrastructure will ensure that Cincinnati remains a great place to do business.”

Senator Kearney represents Cincinnati, Norwood, Deer Park, Silverton, Springfield Township, Golf Manor, St. Bernard, Elmwood Place, Cheviot, Addyston, North Bend, Columbia Township and Cleves.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Senator Sawyer Introduces Bill for Alternative Redistricting Plan

Columbus – State Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) today introduced legislation (SB 225) calling for a more balanced approach to congressional redistricting that better maintains communities of interest and increases the number of competitive districts in Ohio. The map was one of the top entries in a non-partisan competition sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Ohio and other citizen groups.

“The map drawn by Republicans (HB 319) represents a new extreme in gerrymandering for the state of Ohio,” said Senator Sawyer. “My legislation illustrates how it is possible to draw a fairer map that uses the same data and follows the law.”

The map contained in Senator Sawyer’s legislation was drawn by Republican State Representative Mike Fortner of Illinois. The map maintains communities of interest, promotes competitiveness and complies with the Voting Rights Act. It also does the following:

• Keeps 79 of Ohio’s 88 counties in single congressional districts.
• Creates competitive races in 11 of 16 congressional districts, compared to just two in the Republican plan.
• Gives Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties entire districts within their boundaries.

Senator Sawyer is not endorsing Mr. Fortner’s plan specifically, but rather the more balanced approach it represents. This approach, based on public input, promotes fairness and inclusion instead of the narrow self interest of one political party.

“Mr. Fortner’s map may not be perfect, but its light years head of House Bill 319,” said Senator Sawyer. “I hope my legislation will lead to a thorough conversation about the supercharged partisanship that has over taken our current redistricting process.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Senator Sawyer Introduces Legislation to Close Under-performing Schools

Columbus – State Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) recently introduced Senate Bill 219, which would repeal the provision of current law exempting a community school from the requirement to permanently close for poor academic performance.

“I am open to the idea of effective drop out prevention programs; and I recognize the challenges that many students face, especially those that may have once dropped out of school,” said Senator Sawyer. “Although I understand that these students may need special treatment, ignoring chronic failure of charter school programs does not serve these kids well and only turns a blind eye to the program’s underperformance.”

Senator Sawyer’s legislation is an effort to close remaining loopholes that charter schools have from the closure provisions. More than 25 percent of charter schools in Ohio are exempt from closure under the dropout recovery waiver regardless of performance.

Currently, 45 percent of Ohio’s charter schools are in academic emergency or academic watch. But charter schools are able to opt out of closure if a majority of its students are enrolled in a drop out prevention and recovery program and if they are granted a waiver by the Department of Education.

Senator Sawyer serves as the Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Education Committee.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Senator Skindell's News Conference calling for Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

State Senator Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) has introduced two bills in an effort to protect Ohioans from the hazards associated with the use of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, a method used in the oil and gas drilling process.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Senator Skindell Comments on Prison Sale

Columbus – State Senator Michael J. Skindell (D-Lakewood) issued the following statement today after the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced the State of Ohio will be selling one prison instead of five:

“Fortunately the taxpayers of Ohio received a temporary reprieve from the sale of more valuable state assets. The fact that the Kasich administration found a buyer for only one state prison shows they greatly overestimated the potential cost savings from privatization.

“Today’s announcement is further proof that Ohio’s state-run prisons are already being operated efficiently and effectively, thanks in no small part to the hard work of the employees of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. If that wasn’t the case, DRC would have been able to find more private companies willing to purchase Ohio prisons with the stipulation they cut operating costs by at least 5%.”

Senator Turner to Introduce Bill Requiring General Assembly Members to Take Drug Tests

Columbus –State Senator Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) will soon introduce legislation that will require members of the Ohio General Assembly to be randomly drug tested once a year in order to receive their pay.

“If we are going to be sincere in preventing individuals from obtaining public funds while also using illegal drugs, then we should start with the people who have the greatest impact on state dollars, politicians,” said Senator Turner.

The legislation would require drug testing of all General Assembly members once a year, but the drug tests will be administered on a random basis. Legislators would pay for the drug testing first and then they would be reimbursed for the cost of the test once a negative test result is received. A refusal to submit to drug testing would result in the forfeiture of the politicians pay.

“As members of the General Assembly we have a great deal of responsibility. Millions of tax payer dollars are spent based on legislation that we pass. Elected officials should be held to same level of accountability as a single mother receiving food stamps,” said Senator Turner. “If we want to ‘protect’ the tax payers investments, then what we ask of our citizens shouldn’t be different from what we ask from our politicians.”

If the elected official tests positive for illegal drug use, then they would be automatically enrolled into the Emergency Assistance Program (EAP) through the state of Ohio. The elected official will forfeit their pay check and will not be compensated for future service until they have undergone drug treatment through EAP and have tested negative for illegal drugs 30 days after the original positive test.

The Caucus

Minority Leader Eric H. Kearney - Cincinnati - 9th District
Assistant Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni - Canfield - 33rd District
Minority Whip Nina Turner - Cleveland - 25th District
Assistant Minority Whip Edna Brown - Toledo - 11th District
Senator Tom Sawyer - Akron - 28th District
Senator Charleta B. Tavares - Columbus - 15th District
Senator Shirley Smith - Cleveland - 21st District
Senator Michael J. Skindell - Cleveland - 23rd District
Senator Lou Gentile - Steubenville - 30th District
Senator Capri S. Cafaro - Hubbard - 32nd District

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