How local are local ballot initiatives? Not very, according to a new investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, a national, non-profit news organization. Ohioans last year were inundated with ads –costing tens of millions of dollars – in support of or opposed to a controversial ballot measure to legalize marijuana. Much of the support for the measure came from groups or individuals outside of the state. Turns out, state ballot measures across the country often are not either proposed by or promoted financially by “grassroots” citizens wanting to improve their local communities, according to CPI’s findings.
Ohio is among the nation’s leaders when it comes to the number of title loan companies with local outlets, according to recent data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit investigative news organization based in Washington, D.C. Read the story at www.cpi.org. The Center, in a new investigation, tracked how much these high-interest lenders have donated to the campaigns of state lawmakers. In Ohio, the contributions have totaled about $158,00 since 2004, according to CPI’s study. Three major lending companies operate in Ohio. Select Management Resources, which operates under the names Loan Star, Loan Max and Midwest Title Loans, is the largest operator with over 100 locations in the state The others are Community Loans of America, which operates about 40 stores, and TMX Finance, with 24 stores.
Where did a mysterious amendment come from, Rep. Ron Amstutz was asked after a House Finance Committee meeting in 2014. After some hemming and hawing, the panel’s chairman came up with an answer:
Out of thin air. He later said he was joking. But Ohioans who want to keep track of both their tax money and their public officials don’t find much humor in the Buckeye state’s laws and everyday practices on government accountability, ethics and transparency. In recent years Ohio’s legislature has weakened many of those laws – the same legislature that since 2012 has seen seven members convicted of crimes, including grand theft, bribery, perjury, money laundering and securities fraud.
If you live in Ohio and own a television, you’ve most likely seen one of the frequent ads promoting passage of Issue 3, the state ballot measure to legalize marijuana. If it passes, Ohio would become the fifth state to legalize recreational and medical marijuana use at the same time. It turns out, the frequency of the ads – and the amount of money being spent on them – make our state a bellweather for advertising expenditures on ballot issues. Ohio accounts for about half of the roughly $6.4 million that’s been spent so far on measures that will appear on 28 state ballots this November. That’s according to the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit investigative news organization.
The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision to remove from this November’s ballot measures by Medina, Fulton and Athens counties that would have banned hydraulic fracturing and related infrastructure projects. (Medina, Fulton decisions.pdf) (Athens charter petition). However, in a separate ruling, the court allowed the city of Youngstown to proceed with an anti-fracking charter amendment and ordered it be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot. Fracking opponents have questioned the state’s choice of outside counsel to help rule on the ballot issue.
Editor’s note: Ohioans in November will vote on whether to make marijuana legal for medical and recreational use. ResponsibleOhio has proposed what’s become a controversial ballot measure; it’s been reported that the group of investors in marijuana cultivation and sales will spend up to $20 million to campaign for its passage. Already, 23 states have legalized the sale of marijuana for medical use and four states allow pot for recreational use. After this year’s Ohio’s vote, the country could see an even greater movement to end the prohibition on marijuana through state, rather than federal, legislation. “I actually consider 2016 to be what I call the game-over year because there’s a good chance that a bunch of states will legalize marijuana,” said Bill Piper, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs.
Ohio last year approved a bill allowing high school students to receive up to two units of academic credit for instruction outside the public school classroom. Students can get credit for religious instruction as long as no public funds or publicly paid personnel are involved and they’re not taught in public school buildings. The Center for Investigative Reporting, now found at the website revealnews.org has an update of what’s going on around the country when it comes to “religious release” programs.
Since 2003, more than 30 states – including Ohio – either have cut workers’ compensation benefits or made it harder for injured workers to qualify for benefits. That’s according to a just-released series of stories by ProPublica non-profit investigative news organization and National Public Radio. The story was published just as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a report saying that, on average, workers comp pays only 20% of the cost of workers’ injuries and illnesses in the United States. Workers pay half the cost out -of-pocket and the rest is paid by private insurance and other government funding sources. In Ohio, workers’ comp benefit cuts came in the mid-2000s, when laws were passed raising the burden of proof for employees when an injury aggravated an existing condition, and lowering the “life” of claims to automatically close cases five years after the last medical treatment, making it difficult to receive payment if an injury recurs.
The biggest donor to state elections in November was the Republic Governors Association, which spent $68.6 million, according to a data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity. The Ohio Republican Party got $9 million of that pot, with $3 million directed to Gov. Kasich’s re-election campaign. Mike DeWine, who won re-election as Ohio’s Attorney General, received $1.3 million from the RGA. In contrast the Democratic Governors’ Association spent $32 million on state races in November. Kasich’s opponent, former Cuyahoga County executive, did not receive donations from the Democratic association.
On Monday, Jan. 20, four death-row inmates in Ohio filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Columbus challenging the law that shields the names of companies that provide lethal injection drugs to the state in death penalty cases. This comes at a time when Ohio is changing the drugs it uses after a botched execution in 2014. The Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that covers criminal justice issues, reports that an alternative drug that Ohio is considering is hard to come by – and its source may never be known under the state’s secrecy law. The piece was reported and written by Maurice Chammah. You can follow the Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.