Compiled by The Associated Press
Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 5, 2023.
Editorial: HJR 1 would blast away constitutional amendment rights Ohio citizens have had for 111 years
As an exercise in cynicism, it’s bad enough that GOP lawmakers contend proposed House Joint Resolution 1 is just to keep the Ohio Constitution from being cluttered up with all sorts of special-interest nonsense.
In reality, the measure, which is still in committee, would all but trash citizen-initiated constitutional amendment rights Ohioans have enjoyed since 1912. It remains in committee in part because Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens, who owes his speakership to Democratic as well as Republican votes, still appears to be wavering on whether to allow it to come to the floor for a vote. Yet with GOP lawmakers overwhelmingly behind it, that might change.
But the cynicism of HJR 1 is made worse, if that can be possible, by the push to revive the August special election option that legislators virtually abolished just two months ago. Abolished so definitively, in fact, that Republicans have had to introduce another bill to allow (and authorize $20 million to pay for) a possible special election Aug. 8 to try to get HJR 1 passed before the November election.
And why that timing? Could it, cynically, be because the November election is when abortion-rights supporters aim to get a reproductive rights amendment on Ohio voters’ ballots? Many Ohioans likely will vote “no” on that measure, of course, but at least its proponents are not trying to gin the rules to make it virtually impossible for the “nays” to prevail.
It’s also not hard to see that behind HJR 1 and the revival of the August special election is the idea that a simple majority of Ohio voters shouldn’t be enough — that majority shouldn’t rule, that a majority of citizens’ wishes don’t count when it comes to overruling what Statehouse figures want.
Yet, if we are to draw any lessons from the Larry Householder/House Bill 6 corruption scandal, it is that what Statehouse figures want is sometimes very, very bad for Ohio — and that, if citizens as a whole want to amend what happens at the Statehouse, they should be able to, without poison-pill legislative maneuvering or dark-money corruption.
In January, August special elections were seen as unneeded, costly exercises by Ohio cynic-in-chief Frank LaRose, who as Ohio secretary of state is Ohio’s chief elections officer. LaRose was full of praise in January when Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 458 into law. The bill, into which all manner of major electoral changes, including photo voter IDs and tighter absentee-ballot deadlines, had been crammed, started out life — and is titled — “Eliminate August special elections except for US House nomination.”
LaRose had applauded that part of the law, in particular, calling August special elections “a costly, low-turnout, and unnecessary election for our county (elections) boards to administer.”
Now, he and others can hardly wait to hold another August special election, courtesy of $20 million of our tax dollars (if Senate Bill 92, which is now pending in a Senate committee, or another measure authorizing this passes, of course).
Then there’s HJR 1 itself, sold as just a way to keep frivolous causes from littering the Ohio Constitution by making it harder to pass citizen-initiated amendments — from a simple majority to 60%. Never mind that a simple majority has served Ohio well for 111 years.
That’s not all HJR 1 would do.
The 60% threshold would apply to any constitutional change, whether initiated by citizens, the General Assembly or a constitutional convention.
Far less widely noted are two provisions that apply only to citizen-initiated efforts and that would make it almost impossible for regular citizens even to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. HJR 1 would mandate petition-signature targets in all 88 Ohio counties, not just the 44 required now, and it would eliminate the 10-day “cure” period to fix any deficiency in signatures by gathering more if some are disallowed.
Ohio’s rigid signature-gathering rules already make it hard to get citizen-initiated measures on the ballot. Yet it can be done. That was the idea of the 1912 reformers in the first place — to check the raw power of a legislature disdainful of citizens’ views by making it possible for citizens themselves to appeal to fellow citizens to right wrongs and amend how things work in Ohio.
At one stroke, HJR 1 could wipe out those reforms and leave Ohio citizens’ referendum rights in tatters.
Toledo Blade. April 5, 2023.
Editorial: Court ruling correct
Freddie Mac and U.S. Bank have an obligation to be stewards of property, not to refuse to pay the property taxes like a deadbeat absentee landowner
The Ohio Supreme Court has slapped down one of the nation’s largest banks over its attempt to nickel-and-dime the Lucas County Land Bank over the loss of vacant and abandoned homes.
The unanimous Supreme Court decision, which was tied to a case from Toledo, is an important victory for the Lucas County Land Bank. The 2006 land bank legislation is Ohio’s foremost legal tool to fight blight caused by vacant and abandoned homes.
U.S. Bank, the seventh largest bank in the United States, challenged the tax foreclosure of an abandoned house at 526 E. Streicher St. in North Toledo. It claimed that the land bank’s seizure of the vacant home under Ohio’s land bank law deprived the bank of some $38,000 in value.
To protect the $38,000 value in the house it shouldn’t have been neglected for so long allowing what value it did have to be squandered, in the process contributing to the loss of value by other dwellings in the neighborhood.
The court decided U.S. Bank didn’t have standing to bring the case against Toledo — as well as land banks in Summit and Cuyahoga counties — because it didn’t own the house when it was seized for back taxes.
The big bank made a stupid little mistake and bought the rights to a property it knew was in foreclosure, expecting to collect money following a county property auction. Ohio’s 2006 land bank law allows land banks to take a property before it goes to auction to stop the cycle of foreclosure and auction.
The unpaid taxes were $8,721 in March, 2017, when Lucas County took possession of the home in lieu of the unpaid taxes.
The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Company known as Freddie Mac, had foreclosed on the property for a delinquent mortgage of $50,000.
Freddie Mac did not pay the property taxes on the Streicher Street home, nor did it contest the property seizure by the Lucas County Land Bank in the 2017 hearing.
Instead, Freddie Mac sold the property to U.S. Bank, giving the bank the right to the proceeds from a foreclosure auction of the Streicher Street property with a $38,000 tax valuation. Since there was no property auction, there was no value for U.S. Bank to claim.
Big institutions such as Freddie Mac and U.S. Bank have an obligation to be stewards of property, not refuse to pay the property taxes like a deadbeat absentee landowner. Simply paying the back taxes would have kept the property on Freddie Mac inventory.
Communities such as Toledo should be able to look to banks as partners in preserving existing infrastructure or rebuilding neighborhoods that are experiencing blight. They shouldn’t be hastening it.
All any financial institution has to do to keep property from falling to land bank ownership is to pay their taxes.
No pay-no say.
The court got it right.
Youngstown Vindicator. April 5, 2023.
Editorial: Ohio Senate Bill could slow fraud against business
It’s hard enough to be an entrepreneur without any external challenges tossed into the mix. But businesses in Ohio also have to be on the lookout for a problem most of us associate more with individuals: identity theft.
Believe it or not, criminals have become adept at stealing the identities of business entities, or submitting other fraudulent filings. Dun and Bradstreet reported a 254 percent increase in business identity theft in 2020. The aim is to appoint themselves as a statutory agent and take over the identity of the business to secure loans without the intent to pay them back. Fraudsters also attempt to grab unclaimed funds, steal the business’ checks, and deposit them into their own accounts. They can also use a person’s information (such as name and address) without their permission, to file to start a business. This could connect the victim to the illegal activity of the new “business.”
“We’ve made Ohio the best state in the nation to start and grow a business, and that means we need to look out for our entrepreneurs,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said. “In today’s tech-driven culture, businesses of all sizes face the growing threat of identity theft and fraud. (Senate Bill 98) is designed to crack down on the bad actors trying to rip off Ohio’s job creators.”
In fact, LaRose, state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, and Ohio Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Stivers are supporting SB 98 because they believe it will help protect entrepreneurs and their businesses.
SB 98 would improve businesses’ ability to report fraudulent filings; limit reinstatements (so an old business cannot be revived for illegal purposes); require agent addresses to be residential or business addresses, rather than P.O. boxes or commercial mailboxes; and require clarification that official-looking notices and intentionally misleading mailers be clearly marked as not coming from a government agency. That last requirement would also force the inclusion of the Secretary of State’s website, where businesses can access authentic documents and resources.
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network, scams in which fraudsters imitate official government entities and charge exorbitant amounts for government services that are usually free or low cost rose by 45 percent nationally from 2019 to 2020.
With fraudsters that creative, it will be hard for legislators to keep up, but SB 98 will help. Lawmakers should not hesitate to offer businesses as much support against predatory criminals as the law can give them.
Elyria Chronicle. April 4, 2023.
Editorial: The U.S. doesn’t need an official language
The United States faces many vexing problems, but the lack of an official language isn’t one of them.
That didn’t stop U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Cincinnati, last week from putting out a bill to declare English the nation’s official language.
The bill would “require government functions to be conducted in English, and adjust requirements for naturalization by introducing a universal English language testing standard,” according to a news release from Vance’s office announcing the bill.
“This commonsense legislation recognizes an inherent truth: English is the language of this country. That is why the overwhelming majority of the American people support this proposal,” Vance said in the release. “The English language has been a cornerstone of American culture for over 250 years. It is far past time for Congress to codify its place into law, which is exactly what this bill does.”
English is indeed a “cornerstone of American culture,” but the nation has managed to go 250 years without having an official language.
It could survive another 250 without one.
A U.S. Census Bureau report, released last year, found that of the nearly 309 million Americans 5 years or older, the vast majority, more than 241 million, spoke only English at home in 2019. Nearly 68 million spoke a language other than English at home, the most common being Spanish, which was spoken by nearly 42 million people.
Vance is correct that most other nations have an official language, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. needs one. Some states have declared English their official language, although Ohio isn’t one of them and hasn’t suffered from it.
This nation remains, as the saying goes, “a melting pot” of cultures, languages and people from all over the world.
Imposing a national language wouldn’t change that, but it would make interacting with government pointlessly difficult for some citizens, permanent residents and visitors.
Government should be responsive to the needs of the people, regardless of the languages they speak.
Vance’s bill wouldn’t prohibit government officials from “communicating unofficially” in another language so long as “official functions” are performed in English, although there are exceptions when dealing with national security, international relations, trade, tourism, commerce, the census and the criminal justice system.
There are several other caveats, including that the legislation could not be used to limit the preservation or use of Native Alaskan or Native American languages.
Other languages also could continue to be taught in the U.S., and “terms of art or phrases” from other languages could continue to be used. We suppose that means the unofficial national motto, E pluribus unum (Latin for “Out of many, one”), won’t have to be removed from the Great Seal of the United States.
Then there’s an exception for government communications regarding public health and safety.
Vance’s inclusion of exceptions to the rules he wants to impose tells us he recognizes that the use of other languages is sometimes necessary, even by the federal government.
One example, although not granted a specific exception in the bill, is the requirement under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to provide equal access to the ballot box for those educated in American schools. That includes American citizens hailing from Puerto Rico, where the predominant language is Spanish.
Lorain County has a large Puerto Rican population, which is why the county Board of Elections, under the terms of a 2011 agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, provides Spanish-language ballots.
We suspect Vance is pushing the idea because it’s popular, even if it’s unnecessary. In his news release, Vance pointed to a Rasmussen poll, conducted last year, in which 78 percent of those polled agreed that English should be the country’s official language.
That’s a large enough swath of the population to show there’s bipartisan support for imposing an official language, although the idea is probably more popular on the right than the left.
Consider that Vance wants to make speaking English a requirement to become a U.S. citizen.
Proficiency in English already is a requirement to become a naturalized citizen. There are, however, limited exceptions depending on age, permanent residency status and medical disabilities, but those don’t appear to have a place under Vance’s proposal.
Speaking English makes life easier for those living in the United States, but it shouldn’t be used to define who is an American.
Sandusky Register. April 5, 2023.
Editorial: Text and drive, get pulled over
There are some lawyers who wish they were journalists, instead, and there are some journalists who think they’re lawyers. We’re not in either category, thankfully, but we do appreciate the law in all its language and purpose.
When our legislators work the way it is intended to work, the law never stops changing, being adapted, improved and made better for the greater good. Other laws — the draconian ones, especially — we hope gets stripped down or eliminated altogether. The language is rich and abundant, sometimes dizzyingly so, but purpose, intent and integrity are ever present, again, we hope.
There are new laws and modifications to some current statutes going into effect this week. Senate Bill 288, nearly 500 pages, changed several criminal statutes and introduced new crimes.
The change making it unlawful to text and drive, perhaps, is the perfect example of developing law. Remember: There was a time when drinking and driving was merely frowned upon. Some might say it’s still too often treated lightly, but it is a crime to drink and drive. Repeated offenses raise that from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Now texting and driving at the same time is unlawful, and it’s about time. We welcome this change.
It’s also extremely selfish, self-important and reckless. So if you’re guilty of doing it, please stop. If you have family or friends who text while driving, urge them to stop it. Tell them it’s selfish, self-important and reckless.
House Bill 288 also made these changes:
• It created a new offense called strangulation. A person is guilty of strangulation if that person causes serious physical harm or causes a substantial risk of serious physical harm to another by means of strangulation or suffocation. The charge can range from a fifth-degree felony to a second-degree felony. Prior to the law going into effect, an offender could only be charged with an assault or felonious assault.
• Sexual assault examination kits requirements for handling biological samples from sexual assault examination kits are being extended to human trafficking crimes. Any government entity that retains evidence is now required to secure biological evidence related to the prosecution of crimes or delinquent acts that are violations of trafficking in persons.
• The name of the charge petty theft is changed to misdemeanor theft.
• Illegal use or possession of marijuana drug paraphernalia is specified to “not constitute a criminal record.” A person arrested or convicted for a violation of this prohibition is not required to report it in response to any inquiries about the person’s criminal record, including inquiries in a job application.
• A person using or possessing with intent to use any drug testing strips to determine the presence of fentanyl or fentanyl-related compounds is no longer subject to a charge of illegal use or possession of drug paraphernalia.
• Conspiracy or attempt to commit or complicity in committing aggravated murder or murder no longer have statutes of limitations.
• The penalty for disturbing a lawful meeting when it involves religious worship is increased from a fourth-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor.
• The mandatory five-year prison sentence for convictions of aggravated vehicular homicide if the victim is a peace officer or BCI investigator is now extended to cases in which the victim was a firefighter or EMT.
• Modifications to criminal record sealing and expungement.
• Underage consumption of alcohol drops from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree misdemeanor.