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Columbus—On June 27, the Ohio Senate voted along party lines to pass House Bill 59, the state’s biennial budget. The budget is the state’s largest and most complex piece of legislation and serves as a barometer of legislative and executive priorities. Among other provisions, HB 59 re-prioritizes federal family planning dollars, directing money only to clinics that do not specialize in family planning services. This measure will strip women’s health clinics of funding, even those that have never provided abortion services. Republicans alleged that public health departments will provide services such as breast exams, pap smears, and contraceptives, though at least one health department—Licking County, near Columbus—has said they would not be interested in providing these services to women even if they received increased funding. The budget also introduces a new tax cut for select small businesses that will amount to a loss of $1.4 billion in revenue for the state. Though 80% of the business owners eligible for this tax cut will receive just $375 annually, the GOP claimed that the measure would foster job creation in the state. Of all the businesses that could apply for the tax credit, just 1.5% would save enough money to hire just one minimum wage employee. Senator Turner offered amendments that would restore funding to family planning clinics, increase K-12 school funding, and allow spouses in same-sex military couples to apply for unemployment compensation upon duty reassignment. The bill passed on a party-line vote, with Senator Turner voting down the proposal.
District Court Ruling a Victory for Voters
Columbus—In another victory for Ohio voters, a U.S. District judge ruled on July 9 to make permanent the temporary order forcing local boards of election to count provisional ballots cast in the right polling place but in the wrong precinct location. The permanent injunction, issued by Judge Algenon Marbley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, ends part of a longstanding court case filed by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) against then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in 2006. The plaintiffs alleged that not counting ballots cast at the right polling place, but in the wrong precinct location due to poll worker error unjustly violated voters’ right to have their ballot counted. “I applaud Judge Marbley’s decision to continue the counting of right church, wrong pew ballots,” Senator Turner said in response to the ruling. “Voters should not be disenfranchised for someone else’s mistake.” So called “right church, wrong pew” provisional ballots became increasingly common after boards of elections began consolidating multiple precinct polling places into the same location. In the often chaotic environment of election day, poll workers can accidentally misdirect a voter. Judge Marbley’s order will remain in effect unless altered by the court or the General Assembly, a point that Turner latched on to. “I encourage my colleagues in the legislature to take up the Voter Protection Act, and put this critical safeguard for Ohio voters in the Revised Code—where proper election laws ought to be.” “While I am thankful it did, the court system should not have to protect a citizen’s right to vote from their lawmakers,” she said. Also at issue in the NEOCH case is Ohio’s voter identification statute. The law, partially blocked in 2010 by Judge Marbley, requires voters to produce a current utility bill, bank statement, or driver’s license—all of which require a citizen to have financial means. Under an order issued at the time, voters are allowed to use the last four digits of their social security number as ID. The judge’s final decision on the matter is expected soon.
Lake Erie Rated Dirtiest in U.S., Congress Cuts Funding by 80%
Cleveland—The U.S. House Interior & Environment Subcommittee voted to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by 80% as part of a package of cuts to environmental programs nationwide proposed by GOP leaders. The cuts come after a report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council ranked Ohio’s beaches last in a survey of 30 states. Water quality has been compromised for decades in the shallowest of the Great Lakes, and Ohio received the same poor ranking in 2007. The report shows that 28 of Ohio’s 63 beaches experienced dangerous levels of bacteria in 20% of samples tested. Beaches at Villa Angela and Euclid State Parks recorded some of the most distressing levels of bacteria, including E. coli. “To slash 80% of funding dedicated to improving public health and safety along our shores as part of blind budget cuts is irresponsible and puts our constituents at increased risk. Advocates and lawmakers alike realize the success and importance of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to the economic and environmental health of the region. Despite this, House Republicans voted for these draconian cuts to the program,” Senator Turner said. In addition to over 40 million people who receive drinking water from the Great Lakes, more than 1.5 million jobs are connected to the Great Lakes, generating $62 billion in wages. The proposed cuts will now go before the full House Appropriations Committee for final approval.
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