Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Cleveland Plain Dealer. June 12, 2022.

Editorial: Ohio’s cynically partisan zero-sum games over redistricting show reforms are needed

In January, as an Ohio Supreme Court majority rejected the first of a slew of what it found to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered General Assembly and congressional maps, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor made a prescient observation: Allowing partisans to continue to game Ohio’s redistricting process -- as voters essentially did via 2015 and 2018 amendments to the Ohio Constitution that left redistricting decisions in the hands of elected Republicans and Democrats -- likely doomed the reform efforts.

And O’Connor, a Republican who, because of judicial age limits in Ohio, is stepping down at the end of her current term, went further. In an opinion seconded by Democratic Justice Jennifer Brunner, she offered a prescription for change, via another vote of the people, noting that, “In other states, voters have elected ballot measures that strip redistricting authority from state legislatures and partisan officeholders and place it instead with nonpartisan redistricting commissions.”

In other words, amend the Ohio Constitution again, she suggested, to wring partisanship from the process “with a truly independent, nonpartisan commission that more effectively distances the redistricting process from partisan politics.”

It’s an idea Ohio voters and those who believe in political fairness should consider -- and one O’Connor might be willing to champion once she’s out of office.

The sad truth is that, in what should have been the first test of Ohio redistricting reforms this year, Ohioans lost, and partisanship won -- at least as far the 2022 pitched battle over General Assembly and congressional redistricting is concerned.

The process was gamed by Republicans every step of the way, but does anybody think Democrats wouldn’t have done the same if they were in the driver’s seat?

This process has done damage not just to the voters’ intent, but also to the primacy of the state’s judiciary. Over the course of the last five months, elected Republicans, including Gov. Mike DeWine, have repeatedly defied or just ignored redistricting orders from a 4-3 Ohio Supreme Court majority led by O’Connor.

Almost inevitably, that will erode the court’s authority going forward. And it’s hurt justice, as maps already found to be unconstitutional nonetheless will guide this year’s congressional and state legislative elections.

The partisan gridlock also allowed an outside panel of three federal judges to step into the fray, ordering Ohio -- on a 2-1 vote -- to nominate General Assembly candidates at a special, Aug. 2 primary election, using GOP-tilted districts, after months of courthouse jousting.

Did politics influence the federal panel? It’s not possible to say for sure, although the two judges in the majority were appointed by former President Donald Trump while the dissenting justice had been named by Democrat Bill Clinton

In any case, pending any procedural reforms, in two years the litigation circus will return to Columbus courtrooms, because Aug 2′s districts, along with congressional elections in Ohio this year, are only for this year’s elections.

Many Ohioans have justifiably derided Republicans’ manipulation of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. But politicians don’t play to lose. So, with the immediate future set via the federal order, the question should be, not so much who’s to blame, but what needs done so 2024 (and 2031) won’t be a rerun.

In effect, the voters’ amendments to General Assembly redistricting were blind to built-in political conflicts of interest.

Why, for example, should legislators be in a position to draw their own colleagues’ districts? Moreover, in what’s supposed to be a check-and-balance government, why should executive officers be in a position to tilt the political complexion of a (theoretically watchdog) legislative branch?

Should Ohioans consider, instead, the “truly independent, nonpartisan commission” O’Connor suggested in her Jan. 12 concurrence? At a minimum, that’s an idea worth exploring.

Third question: Should Ohio’s Supreme Court have found Republican redistricting commissioners in contempt of court for failing to meet Supreme Court deadlines? Trouble there is that a constitutional clash might have made martyrs of anyone the court punished.

What’s clear, given this year’s experience, is that Ohioans didn’t get what they ordered in their 2015 and 2018 redistricting reforms. What’s also clear is that what those two amendments promised – a nonpartisan process – wasn’t delivered either, because, as written, and in the hands of crafty litigators, it couldn’t be.

That’s why, unless Ohioans want a rerun of 2022 in 2024, or 2031, some things may have to change.

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Toledo Blade. June 9, 2022.

Editorial: Ohio justices made right call in health-care case

Members of the Ohio Supreme Court made the correct decision by staying out of what is clearly the legislature’s business.

A lawsuit against the state’s pandemic restrictions argued that the court should require legislators to enforce a portion of the Ohio Constitution that says the state can’t compel individuals to participate in a health care system.

That provision was enacted in regard to the Affordable Care Act. Long before the pandemic.

The theory in the Ohio case was that testing, masking, and other restrictions violated that provision.

It’s important to note that the provision isn’t very specific. That’s different from another provision the court recently considered.

The justices unanimously ruled they couldn’t order lawmakers to act, or not to act, on legislation to enforce the health care provision.

That unanimity must have come as some sort of relief.

The members of the Ohio Supreme Court found themselves consumed by the whirlwind of political fervor surrounding the Ohio redistricting process. The seven justices were sharply divided in deciding the redistricting cases. Both the cases on state legislative and congressional redistricting were decided by 4–3 votes. Both ruled that maps submitted by the state redistricting commission did not meet constitutional standards.

The difference between the redistricting issue and the pandemic legislation issues are larger than they might appear.

The court must enforce the Ohio Constitution and can make orders flowing from that document.

But in deciding policy delegated to the legislature or executive branches they must leave matters alone.

The court also can’t order the legislature to do anything. They can invalidate an unconstitutional law once passed and signed into law.

That’s very different from the redistricting decision. The court issued an order requiring the state redistricting commission to create maps that met the requirements of the Ohio Constitution. That’s after they found the submitted maps didn’t meet constitutional requirements. The commission is not the legislature, although it included members of the legislature. That ruling was based on a clear constitutional provision.

The important thing in the pandemic case is that all the members of the court upheld the separation of powers between our executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

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Youngstown Vindicator. June 6, 2022.

Editorial: DeWine’s plan is only part of the solution for school security

After last month’s tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, Gov. Mike DeWine likely was doing what most of us were doing — wondering how to stop the massacres in our schools that just keep happening. But being a governor, DeWine was in a position to quickly “do something,” as it were, and announce plans to spend “a significant amount of money” on ensuring every school building in the state is protected.

Superintendents have been asked which schools need infrastructure additions, in an effort DeWine acknowledges “is not going to be cheap.”

That’s an understatement. Though details are scant, DeWine is probably talking about additions such as metal detectors and classroom barricades. “When we’re dealing with our children’s lives, we must be willing to spend the money we need to spend,” he said.

While most Ohioans would agree with him, DeWine must be careful he is not spending money for the sake of spending, while the underlying issues go unaddressed. Are there, for example, awareness and mental health programs that would do just as much good — in fact would also be money we need to spend because “we’re dealing with our children’s lives?”

DeWine’s focus on tactics to defend our kids’ lives moments before a tragedy unfolds is understandable. And he is to be commended for also announcing plans to pay for “comprehensive” training for all Ohio educators to help identify troubled kids early.

But those working and studying in our schools should not bear the burden for fixing all of what is wrong in our culture on this issue. Nor should taxpayers be saddled with the burden of paying to turn our schools into fortresses unless we are certain such measures truly will save lives.

DeWine’s idea may be the right one. It can’t be the only one.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. June 7, 2022.

Editorial: 24 hours isn’t enough training for armed teachers

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine should veto a bill that would allow teachers to carry guns in schools with minimal training.

Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen. DeWine, a Republican, has already said he’d sign the bill, which passed the General Assembly on a largely party-line vote last week.

The bill would allow teachers to carry weapons after 24 hours of initial training with an additional eight hours of training each year after that. The training would focus on stopping active shooters, de-escalation, emergency first aid and “scenario-based or simulated training exercises.” It also would include “tactical” live-fire training.

Districts could require additional training, which they should if they plan to have armed staff roaming the halls.

State Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, and state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, voted in favor of the bill, which had faced opposition from law enforcement groups and teachers’ unions. State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, a former teacher, voted against it.

State Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, was the lone Republican in the House to vote against it.

Manning, also a former teacher, told us Monday that she wasn’t against arming teachers, particularly in rural southern Ohio, where police response times can be longer. She said she believed there needed to be more training, although she didn’t know how much would be appropriate.

“I don’t know how you get that done in 24 hours,” she said.

She’s right. That’s not nearly enough training to carry a gun into a school, especially considering that Ohio currently requires school staff who want to carry guns to receive either 728 hours of peace officer training or have 20 years of experience in law enforcement.

In a statement after the bill was passed, DeWine explained why he supported slashing the training requirements.

“My office worked with the General Assembly to remove hundreds of hours of curriculum irrelevant to school safety and to ensure training requirements were specific to a school environment and contained significant scenario-based training,” DeWine said.

We wouldn’t call all of that extra training “irrelevant,” even if it doesn’t all focus on schools.

On the other hand, perhaps Ohioans should count themselves lucky that Republicans didn’t eliminate training altogether. That’s what they did with the state’s concealed-carry license law, which for years required eight hours of training and a license to carry a concealed handgun.

Those requirements weren’t particularly onerous, but Republicans nevertheless eliminated them. Starting next week, anyone who’s legally eligible to possess a handgun can walk around with a concealed weapon. No training or license required.

That strikes us as a recipe for bad things to happen.

Even fully trained and sworn police officers make mistakes, which is why they undergo such extensive training.

Could an armed teacher stop a school shooter? Certainly, it’s possible, but being armed is no guarantee that a teacher with a gun will be able to stop a bad guy with a gun.

Police responding to the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, were carrying weapons, but they stood by for more than an hour after the gunman entered Robb Elementary School. Before he was taken out, 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered.

Having a gun by no means guarantees that a teacher will react appropriately in the event of a shooting. Armed teachers could make mistakes, including firing at the wrong target, hitting bystanders or even doing nothing.

Then there’s the possibility that officers responding to a school shooting could mistake an armed teacher for the attacker.

There are other reasons to worry about inadequately trained teachers packing heat. Some could pull their weapons at inappropriate times. A gun could accidentally discharge. Teachers could be disarmed and their own weapons turned against them or the students they’re supposed to protect.

There are better ways to deal with gun violence. DeWine, for instance, put forward a package of gun-reform measures, including so-called “red-flag laws” and expanded background checks, in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Dayton in 2019. It, too, didn’t go far enough, but Republicans in Columbus haven’t bothered to act on it.

To be fair, arming teachers isn’t the only thing that Ohio lawmakers have done in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting. They included $100 million for school safety in the state’s capital budget. The money will be doled out in the form of grants to “harden” schools.

That’s all well and good, but it’s not enough.

Neither is putting guns in the hands of undertrained teachers.

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