Regulation of “Forever Chemicals” in Ohio Drinking Water on Tap

Unregulated chemical compound linked to cancers, thyroid disease, colitis and other serious health issues.

Even though they’ve been around for decades, most people only recently have heard of  “forever chemicals.”

This group of 3,500 man-made chemicals is used to make household products water-proof and non-stick. The problem is that the substance has found its way out of the household and into the nation’s water systems.

They’re called forever chemicals because they are resistant to breaking down in the environment and have been linked to numerous serious health issues. Worse, they are completely unregulated by the government.

The movie Dark Waters was based on the contamination of water in Parkersburg, West Virginia, with forever chemicals that were allegedly spilled by an area DuPont plant.

Two Ohio representatives want to keep forever chemicals out of Ohio’s drinking water by establishing maximum allowable contaminant levels for PFAS, also known as forever chemicals.

Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) and Rep. C. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) are sponsoring House Bill 497 which confronts the problem of forever chemicals here in Ohio.

“The scientific data being gathered on these dangerous toxins has created an imperative to address the need for clean water and the elimination of pollutants in our environment,” Rep. Lightbody said.

Supporters of the bill say that it will compliment Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent call to explore the issue. DeWine issued an order in September 2019 to figure out how prevalent these chemicals may be in Ohio’s drinking water.

A PFAS Action Plan resulted from the order, which will be taken on by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Health.

This would be the first step in learning how widespread the problem is in the state.

Building on that effort, the legislation would require the Ohio EPA director to adopt rules establishing maximum levels for both drinking and surface water. Among specific chemicals to be policed include Chromium-6 and 1.4 dioxane.

Environmental watchdog groups say contamination of U.S. drinking water with manmade forever chemicals is far worse than previously thought.
In forming the rules, the OEPA director would be asked to consider limits adopted by other states, studies and scientific evidence, materials produced by the federal government and recent independent and government agency peer-reviewed studies.

“The scientific data being gathered on these dangerous toxins has created an imperative to address the need for clean water and the elimination of pollutants in our environment,” said Lightbody.

The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.

The EPA said it has helped states and communities address PFAS and that it is working to put limits on the two main chemicals but did not give a timeline.

Throughout 2019 and now in 2020, the scope of this new potential health crisis has come more into focus.

About 700 PFAS-contaminated sites have reportedly been identified nationwide, while more than 110 million people may now be drinking contaminated water. More recent testing found high PFAS levels in drinking water in 34 major US cities.

Some researchers say nearly every source of surface water in the country is contaminated.

“They’re everywhere,” warned Christopher Tavenor of the Ohio Environmental Council, “and there are serious health concerns with these substances.”

Some drinking water supplies in Ohio have been impacted, including water supplies in Belpre and Little Hocking Water Association. They both sit across the Ohio River from a DuPont plant near Parkersburg, WV, that relied on forever chemicals for production.

The plant first came under scrutiny in the late 1990s after Ohio environmental attorney Rob Bilott got a tip from a farmer. The farmer’s cattle were dying after drinking contaminated water.

Bilott took the case and went on to become the lead attorney in the nation on PFAS contamination, successfully taking DuPont to court for negligence and winning millions of dollars in damages in class action lawsuits.
Ohio also filed a lawsuit against DuPont alleging the company “caused widespread PFOA contamination in Ohio as a result of decades-long, intentional releases of massive amounts” of the chemical into the environment.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has long advocated for tough federal standards for PFAS and related chemicals, far lower than the EPA’s suggested guidelines.

The EWG set up an interactive map that shows PFAS in the drinking water of dozens of U.S. cities, including metropolitan areas. PFAS Contamination in the U.S.

PFAS Contamination sites in Ohio

Another map reveals industrial sites in Cleveland and across the country that have used the chemicals for industrial uses such as electroplating, raising concerns over the chemicals seeping into ground water, rivers and streams. Suspected Industrial Discharges of PFAS

Under pressure from Congress, the EPA in January took steps toward setting new, lower legal limits for two PFAS chemicals. It’s also proposing a regulatory determination to set national standards.

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. It would require the EPA to designate PFAS and related “forever chemicals” as hazardous materials. The legislation is currently being reviewed by a Senate committee.

 

Legislative Profile: Bill Seitz

Each week, Ohio Statehouse News profiles one of our state legislators. Representative Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) is our featured legislator this week.

State Representative Bill Seitz is a lifelong resident of Western Hamilton County. He represents the Greater Cincinnati area. Seitz began his public service career as a member of the Cincinnati Board of Education and the St. Antoninus Parish Education Commission. 
Beginning in 2000, Seitz served in the Ohio House of Representatives for almost seven years. Seitz then went on to serve in the Ohio Senate from 2007 to 2016 before returning to the Ohio House where he is now serving the 30th House District in his second consecutive term. 

Why did you become involved in government?

I was looking to utilize my extensive background as a lawyer and an experienced local elected official to impact state law across so many issues that affect all Ohioans: economic prosperity, improved education and health care outcomes, and vital reforms in our civil and criminal justice systems.

What are your legislative policy priorities or goals for the upcoming session?

I remain committed to state level action to stem the flow of illegal immigration through legislation preventing illegal aliens from receiving workers’ compensation, encouraging law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, and preventing illegal aliens from voting. In addition, I am pushing for final legislative action on reforming Ohio’s fireworks law, requiring law enforcement to record custodial interrogations, improving Ohio’s civil commitment law for persons with drug and alcohol addictions, repealing dower, and further reforming our criminal justice system to reduce prison overcrowding and to help ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into law abiding society.

How do you stay in touch with your district?

Mainly, through a combination of personal contact via the numerous clubs and organizations I belong to, and through frequent guest appearances on Cincinnati radio media.

What is the most interesting/unusual request from a constituent?

Requests to intervene in constituents’ court cases are always unusual, and generally incapable of being accommodated.

What are some of the attractions or hotspots in your district?

Restaurants – Ron’s Roost, Maury’s Tiny Cove, Price Hill Chili, Kennings Circle K, The Farm.
Attractions – Western Hills Country Club, Mount St. Joseph College, Covedale Theatre, Harvest Home Fair, Delhi Skirt Game, Neumann Golf Course, German Heritage Museum, Delhi Historical Society Museum.

Ohio is so diverse, what are the primary challenges you’re facing?

Currently, the debate over school vouchers is a big deal. Longer term, we have changing demographics, and a decline in local shopping opportunities.

What have you done to help your district?

The Green Township tax increment financing plan we adopted in 1994, and expanded legislatively thereafter, has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Green Township and paid for virtually every capital expense for 25 years. I have changed the state gas tax allocation formula twice, in order to provide substantially more money to large townships like Delhi and Green. My advocacy for state-funded community capital projects have provided millions of dollars for Delhi and Green Township park and recreational facilities, for the Covedale Theatre, the Price Hill Incline Theatre, the Madcap Puppet Theatre, and others. Legislative budget changes which I have championed have provided the lion’s share of the money needed to rebuild the Western Hills viaduct.

How has your district benefitted from the budget?

In 2019, we significantly increased the percentage of gas tax money going to local cities, counties, and townships. This funding stream provides much-needed help to local governments to maintain and improve our road and bridge infrastructure. We also have cut the state income tax repeatedly since 2005, putting more money in the pockets of my district’s constituents.

Unsecured Loads Pose Serious Hazard on Ohio Roadways

Proposed Legislation: Secure your load or face steep penalties.

A television reporter’s request for help from an Ohio legislator resulted in a newly proposed law, House Bill 510.

The reporter was Ron Regan of 5 on Your Side in Cleveland. Regan was working on a story and needed some specifics on the number of accidents caused by unsecured loads on Ohio highways.

The representative Regan went to for help was Tom Patton (R-Strongsville).

When Patton obtained the information the reporter needed,  Patton realized there was a serious problem in the state that needed to be addressed.

“The numbers were way up there,” said Patton. “When you’re seeing 6,800 crashes because people are not taking the time or that extra strap to secure a load, something needs to change.”

Watch Regan’s investigative report that uncovered thousands of accidents in Ohio result from unsecured loads.

What Patton discovered was that, according to crash data from the Ohio Highway Patrol, debris from unsecured loads contributed to some 6,794 crashes from 2015 to 2019.

“There were an alarming number of crashes,” said Patton. “Some of these resulted in very serious injuries and even some fatalities.”

Specifically, during that same time period, there were 715 injuries and at least six fatalities, data showed.

Motorists were charged in some of the incidents but the charges and fines were minimal, even when significant injury was involved.

Ohio is among the most lax in the nation when it comes to fines and penalties for unsecured loads. Currently, this offense is capped at $150 in Ohio with no jail time. There is no provision if someone is injured as a result of the unsecured debris.

Patton’s legislation would significantly increase fines and penalties for drivers convicted of unsecured load violations.

If passed, House Bill 510 would boost fines to $500 for an unsecured load violation and $2,500 and a third-degree misdemeanor if someone is injured. The violation is currently considered a minor misdemeanor.

Ohio is unlike 28 other states that have maximum fines from $500 to $5,000 and 16 others that provide for possible jail time, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Government Accountability Office study on unsecured loads and penalties.

As introduced, the new legislation states that no trash, rubbish, waste, wire, paper, cartons, boxes, glass, solid waste, or any other material of an unsanitary nature that is susceptible to blowing or bouncing from a moving vehicle shall be driven or moved on any highway unless the load is covered with a sufficient cover to prevent the load or any part of the load from spilling onto the highway.

The exception to this rule, according to the proposal, is when driving or moving a farm vehicle used to transport agricultural produce or agricultural production materials. It also excludes rubbish vehicles in the process of acquiring a load.

The Ohio Revised Code currently only required that vehicles are “so constructed, loaded, or covered as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking or otherwise escaping”.

Mounting Effort to Repeal Ohio’s Death Penalty

The era of the death penalty could be slowly coming to an end in Ohio, where executions have been on hold during a year-long struggle to obtain execution drugs.

Now there’s a new effort underway to abolish capital punishment in the state.

Conservative leadership in the Ohio House last week announced its effort to eliminate the death penalty through the formation of the Ohio branch of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

The group is a network of conservatives questioning the alignment of capital punishment with their conservative principles.

As policymakers and the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction seek to obtain intravenous execution drugs or to pass a law allowing an alternative method, there seems to be growing momentum for scrapping the death penalty altogether.

Gov. Mike DeWine said pharmaceutical companies don’t want their products used to carry out executions and have threatened to block access to the medications, which have other medical uses for Ohioans.

Since taking office last year, DeWine has issued 11 stays of execution delays. At the same time, juries have handed down six new death sentences.

The state is the eighth in the country in total number of executions. There have been 56 executions since the state resumed the death penalty in 1999.

Thirty-five conservative leaders from around the state have signed CCATDP’s national Statement of Support to End the Death Penalty, something that they pointed out has already occurred in half of the other states in the nation.

The creator of Ohio’s death penalty law said he thinks the state won’t have another execution. Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, who wrote Ohio’s death penalty law, said he thinks Ohio has already seen its last execution. He said this is a good thing.

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility  where the state’s executions take place. Photo Credit: John Minchillo

Pfeifer said he now opposes how the law is used, but he doubts lawmakers will abolish the law entirely.

“I think it’ll be a tough sell to get the legislature to repeal the death penalty that’s on the books,” Pfeifer reportedly said.

Pfeifer is now with the Ohio Judicial Conference. Pfeifer admitted that the death penalty has been good for one thing: plea bargains, which is useful in avoiding trials that are painful for the victims’ survivors and costly for the courts.

While support for death penalty appears to be mounting, Senate President Larry Obhof, (R-Medina), reportedly said in early February that it is “unlikely” the Ohio General Assembly will abolish the death penalty completely within the next year.

Obhof said that most lawmakers still favor executions in “particularly heinous cases.”

The Conservative Statement of Support to End the Death Penalty was signed by 35  Conservative leaders listed below:

Selling Your Vote and Other Voter Fraud

Could someone sell their vote to the highest bidder? Asking for a friend.

Don’t judge. My friend isn’t the first person to contemplate selling their vote. Not long ago there was a website called vote-auction.com where folks could auction off their vote to the highest bidder.

Disillusioned voters who intended to sit out the November election put their votes up for bid on the site.

There was just one problem: This is voter fraud, which is a felony. The site was abruptly shut down.

Potential felony charges aside, if someone were to sell their vote, how much would it bring?

Judging by what candidates paid in campaign funds, votes in presidential elections cost the most.

Check out these price tags. A vote cost presidential candidate Hillary Clinton $21.64 in the 2016 election, while a vote cost President Donald Trump somewhat less at $15.20.

Gary Johnson paid bargain-basement prices in the 2016 presidential race, with each vote costing him under three dollars, possibly a good example of “you get what you pay for.”

Some have suggested offering incentives to get people to the polls, a sort of round-about way of paying for votes. One city even offered a lottery jackpot of $10,000 to a random voter.

The secret ballot system makes cheating in an election difficult. Even if a voter wanted to sell their vote and actually found a buyer, the voter would be hard-pressed to offer proof that their vote was cast how the buyer wanted. This is called vote-buying which, reportedly, is very rare.

Voter impersonation at the polls also is a rarity, but apparently can happen.

Federal law requires a voter to provide some sort of official identification before they can register to vote or cast a ballot in an election. Ohio requires an ID to register and on election day at the polls.

When voter fraud occurs, it almost never happens at a polling station, according to law experts. It most commonly occurs through absentee ballots.

Absentee mail-in ballots make it easy to forge a signature, buy or sell a vote or impersonate a voter.

Voting by absentee ballot used to be very uncommon. The voter first had to provide a valid reason to the Board of Elections for being unable to vote on election day before being approved. It’s becoming more commonplace today, and is even encouraged.

Here are some other ways voter fraud can occur.

Voter registration fraud: Filling out and submitting a voter registration card for a fictional person or filling out a voter registration card with the name of a real person but, without that person’s consent, and forging his or her signature on the card.

Votes cast in the names of deceased people: The name of a deceased person remains on a state’s official list of registered voters and a living person fraudulently casts a ballot in that name.

Felon vote fraud: The casting of a ballot by a person who is a convicted felon and is not eligible to vote as a result of the conviction.

Voter suppression: A variety of tactics aimed at lowering or suppressing the number of voters who might otherwise vote in an election.

Ballot stuffing: Casting illegal votes or submitting more than one ballot per voter.

Does your vote count for anything? USA Today recently ran an opinion piece entitled, “Your vote almost certainly won’t matter. On Election Day, work and donate your earnings.”

It stated that your vote matters only if you break a tie. Furthermore, Republican and Democratic voters cancel each other out.

You could always do what this guy did and list your vote on eBay.

2020 vote Citizen; non felon. NC vote; Voting is important to some not as important to me. Once vote is bought I’ll support whoever; open to any political conversations, Wanted a 1,500,000 for vote but eBay only allows 25k…. 

 

Rep. Wiggam Fights to Designate Drug Cartels As Foreign Terrorist Organizations

Legislation to help Ohio’s opioid battle

Taking on Ohio’s opioid epidemic, Representative Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) championed the passage of legislation that would encourage the federal government to designate certain transnational criminal organizations (TCO), commonly known as cartels, and based in Mexico, as foreign terrorist organizations.

Wiggam described HCR 10 as an effort to address the ongoing opioid epidemic confronting Ohio. “It is well established that our country’s southern border presents a significant challenge in our fight against the opioid epidemic in that drug cartels are responsible for the flow of opioids across the border into the United States, and into Ohio. As we continue to see our fellow citizens suffer from addiction, it is imperative that we do what we can to address the problem at its source. We can no longer sit idly by while an influx of opioids crosses our borders and kills our citizens.”

In addition to the influx of opioids, these criminal organizations are also responsible for the proliferation of human trafficking in our country and state, an issue which goes hand in hand with the opioid epidemic. Human and drug trafficking are key threats to Ohio’s economy, well-being, and overall vitality.

Data shows that the vast majority of women who are trafficked have also been forced into opiate addiction so that they are complaint with their traffickers. A recent report from the Cincinnati Enquirer  noted that more than 1,030 juveniles were victims of human trafficking between 2014 and 2016, and that another 4,309 youths were at risk of being trafficking victims. The Mexican-based drug cartels control the majority of the flow of opioids and other illicit drugs into this country and into our state.

Derek S. Matlz a 28-year career veteran as a Special Agent in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is actively involved in the private sector supporting law enforcement agencies around the world as they aggressively target TOC networks causing death and destruction in communities around the world. Matlz testified that the Mexican cartels are one of the TOC biggest threats to the United States.

“The Mexican TCO’s are a tremendous threat to public health, safety and national security. In my view based on experience, the Mexican TCO’s are one of the greatest criminal threats to America. Mexican drug cartels dominate the drug business in the United States and are operating in over 50 countries around the world and most cities in the United States. They operate like a fortune 500 company in many ways but employ devastating violence as well. They have major hubs in Southern California, Arizona, Chicago, Texas, New York and Atlanta. The cartels also expanded into South Florida as they developed a huge customer market with their high purity products that are killing Americans at an unprecedented level.

The major cartels that have the most substantial impact in America are the Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation, Gulf, Juarez, Los Zetas and the Beltran Leyva enterprise.

In my view, the Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation cartels are currently the most influential in Mexico and have a very large operation in the U.S. Even though Chapo Guzman was convicted on all counts and will spend his life in prison, the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels remain a huge threat and seem to be growing daily as migrants are walking across the porous border establishing cartel business in U.S. cities like Columbus, Ohio. The bad guys are taking full advantage of the antiquated laws that make no sense.”

The Mexican-based drug cartels control the majority of the flow of opioids and other illicit drugs into this country and into our state. The cartels control large swaths of territory in Mexico to cultivate and produce these drugs and then transport them across the border.

Columbus Dispatch headline tells the story, “Ohio is ground zero in the fight against opioid abuse.” The article states, “Fayette County, 40 miles southwest of Columbus, has the seventh-highest number of fentanyl overdose deaths per capita in the nation, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed by the Washington Post.”

Wiggam said, “This resolution expresses the desire of the State of Ohio to have the Federal Government designate transnational organizations based in Mexico as Foreign Terrorist Organizations pursuant to 8 USC 1189, to allow the government of the United States to use appropriate means to eliminate and/or mitigate the operations of these organizations which have such a profound negative impact upon the wellbeing of our state.

By designating Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, the Federal Government would have at its disposal, if it so chooses, enhanced intelligence capabilities, the ability to freeze financial assets of the cartels, the ability to pursue those who provide material support to the cartels, and if necessary, enhanced military options.”

In December, at the request of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador President Trump delayed designating certain Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations.

Bipartisan legilation Bill classifies seven Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations was introduced in congress

A recent Wall Street Journal article states, “Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, under pressure from the Trump administration, has beefed up his strategy to fight drug cartels, including bringing the marines, Mexico’s elite security force, back to the front lines of the drug war. The moves mark a shift by Mexico from a counter narcotics strategy that largely ended the pursuit of high-profile arrests and focused almost exclusively on poverty alleviation.”

Representative Wiggam responds to these updates stating, “I appreciate that President Trump is working these issues out and I am pleased the President of Mexico has taken this action. Our law enforcement is doing the best job it can to address the TOC out of Mexico and although they are doing a great job we need all the help we can get to deal with these criminal organizations that have no boundaries. I would be encouraged if there is a way for the President to move forward. I think it is important to note that the majority of elected officials voted to as the President to go after these cartels.”

Legislative Profile: D.J. Swearingen

Each week, Ohio Statehouse News profiles one of our state legislators. Representative D.J.Swearingen (R-Huron) is our featured legislator this week.

Rep. Swearingen is serving his first term as state representative. He represents the 89th House District, which encompasses both Erie and Ottawa counties.
Swearingen received his Bachelor’s degree in from Bowling Green State and his Juris Doctor Degree from the University of Dayton School of Law, cum laude. 

 

Why did you become involved in government?   I became involved because I genuinely wanted to work towards common sense solutions to everyday problems that are in the best interests of Ohioans. I hope that when I leave office, whenever that time comes, I can look back and say that I accomplished this.

What are your legislative policy priorities or goals for the upcoming session?         I want everyone in my district to have the opportunity to be able to pursue their life’s ambition and earn a wage that supports their family. This includes prioritizing workforce development initiatives in making sure that our workers have the skills that they need to be successful, working to make sure that our younger generation of Ohioans are job ready when they come out of school, their apprenticeship, or earn their credential, continuing to work towards ending the opioid crisis, and improving the water quality of Lake Erie, among other goals.

What surprises/unexpected challenges did you encounter when you started?Representing around 115,000 with one other person in the office has presented quite the challenge when it comes to fielding all of the constituent questions and requests that come to the office.

How do you stay in touch with your district?  I try to be at community events as much as my schedule will allow. I read all of the area newspapers and follow developments on social media. I will send correspondence from the office frequently, but nothing comes close to actually showing up at a community event and being physically present.

What is the most interesting/unusual request from a constituent?  We get a lot of requests and all of them are important because they come from constituents. I honestly have not received an unusual request yet. I am sure there will be one eventually.

What are some of the attractions or hotspots in your district?  There are absolutely too many to list. We are the tourism capitol of the State, in my opinion, and we have a lot of industry and agriculture in addition to that. We have Lake Erie, beaches, the islands, many great marinas, Cedar Point, Kalahari, the Great Wolf Lodge, the birthplace of Thomas Edison in Milan, a rejuvenated downtown Sandusky, as well as many great places to go bird watching. I am sure that I even left some off the list and for that I apologize in advance. We truly have the best district in the State.

Ohio is so diverse, what are the primary challenges you’re facing?  The primary challenge that we are facing is retaining our young people and providing them opportunities where they can get a good job with good pay – essentially making sure that there are sustainable opportunities here in our area that will make them lifelong and fulfilled residents in the district. There are obviously others like the ones mentioned above – opioids, addressing mental health concerns, and continuing to clean up Lake Erie.

What have you done to help your district?   I have been involved on several different workforce and economic development initiatives, assisted in constituent matters that cover a wide variety of topics primarily helping constituents navigate the many facets of government, and introduced and supported legislation pertinent to my district.

How has your district benefitted from the budget?  Primarily from the funding for cleaning up Lake Erie in addition to the wrap around services included for children, among others

Bill to Remove Vague Language in Ohio’s Conceal-Carry Law

An Ohio legislator is working to protect legal gun owners by removing “vague” terminology from the Ohio code that, he said, puts concealed carry permit holders at risk.

Representative Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) sponsored House Bill 425 which would modify this rule to clarify when and how to notify law enforcement to avoid confusion.

It would require those with concealed carry handgun licenses to verbally tell an officer that they’re armed or hand over that license after being asked for identification. The current law merely requires them to tell law enforcement “promptly.”

Proponents of the legislation are being heard in committee today at the Statehouse.

It is currently a first-degree misdemeanor if a permit holder fails to “promptly” reveal that there is a firearm in the vehicle when pulled over by police.

HB 425 also would downgrade the penalty for not notifying from a first-degree misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 to a civil citation, with a maximum fine of $25.

Wiggam said the new legislation would protect concealed-carry licensees so that they may comfortably answer law enforcement’s questions without fear of being arrested due to subjective notification language and harsh penalties.

Buckeye Firearms Association supports HB 425 and has said that the requirement to “promptly” notify an officer that one is carrying a gun is too vague. The association said this leaves lawful gun owners at risk of being subject to repercussion.

This is the fourth time the Buckeye Firearms Association has made that argument before the General Assembly in recent years. Similar legislation has failed.

Proponents said that 41 of 50 states have no duty to notify, as law enforcement is trained to assume citizens may be in possession is firearms.

Scott Wiggam is Wayne County’s Conservative Champion

A new flashing lights law for horse-drawn vehicles would save lives.

It’s been a top issue from constituents since Rep. Scott Wiggam took office, slow-moving, horse-drawn vehicles on roadways and the resulting collisions. Not surprising, since Wiggam’s House District 1 includes Apple Creek and other Amish-populated communities in Wayne County.

“One of the main complaints is lack of visibility and the speed differential,” said Wiggam (R-Wooster).

Some 120 accidents were reported in Ohio last year, many of which involved serious injury and fatalities.

Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville) was receiving similar complaints. Kick’s district includes Holmes County, which is 42 percent Amish. The two representatives put their heads together and created legislation that they said would increase buggy visibility, reduce collisions and save lives.

“We put together a bill that I believe 100 percent that will save lives,” said Wiggam.

The Roadway Safety Legislation would require that horse-drawn buggies be equipped with flashing yellow lights and new high-visibility reflective tape. But it hasn’t been an easy sell to some Amish communities. Currently, Ohio code requires only one light on front of the buggy, one reflector in the rear and a slow-moving vehicle emblem.

The new law would require that the flashing lights be active during daylight hours, as well. “Anytime they are using the roadways they would need to be on,” said Kick.

The lights would likely be battery or solar powered.
Ohio has the highest number of Amish in the nation, with a population nearing 60,000.

The two representatives have met with Bishops of several Amish orders and are awaiting their input.

Some Amish in the state have taken it upon themselves to install flashing lights and high visibility reflective tape, said Wiggam. Other Amish sects, however, have held out citing religious reasons. Kick said that once the law would go into effect, those not abiding by the ruling would be ticketed.
There have been more than 870 crashes involving horse drawn buggies since 2014, according to data.

Wiggam explained that Amish lives are more threatened in a collision because of the speed differential and the weight of the vehicle vs the weight of the buggy. The representative said the bulk of collisions occur during daylight hours.

“You can see the flashing light before you can see the vehicle,” said Kick.
The lights would be mounted at the top of the buggy, according to Wiggam. “Either the back uppermost part of the buggy or the top,” said Wiggam. “Both would work.”

There are many different Amish groups, within the statewide Amish community .

“Some are much more progressive in lighting of their vehicles with battery or solar powered, even turn signals,” said Kick. “Some in the older order Amish don’t want any type of reflective tape, making them flashy. It’s not an easy sale for some.

“This has been requested for many years,” added Kick. “A lot of people feel it’s time to bring them up to date for the sake of safety.”

Driving in Amish communities is different than driving on other rural or urban highways.

In Amish communities you will see horse-drawn buggies or equipment on the roadway as they travel to town or the fields. Statistics show that more than 65 percent of all traffic deaths occur in rural areas and 50 percent of those deaths are on country roads, according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The legislators said the new bill would bring uniformity across the state.

Since 2014, there have been over 872 reported crashes involving an animal with a rider or an animal-drawn vehicle in Ohio, including at least 18 fatal crashes that killed 20 people, according to statistics

Ohio Death Penalty on Life Support

Regardless of legislators’ stand on the death penalty, Ohio won’t be conducting executions anytime soon. The state’s access to lethal injection drugs has been blocked by pharmaceutical companies, leaving officials with a law on the books that cannot be enforced.

With 138 inmates on Ohio’s death row, executions are at a standstill. Ohio’s last execution was July 2018.

Difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs and the expense of prosecuting and appealing death-penalty cases has lawmakers questioning if Ohio’s death penalty should be phased out.

Gov. Mike DeWine asked legislative leaders to consider repealing Ohio’s 18-year-old law. Since taking office in January 2019, DeWine has granted numerous death penalty reprieves due to lack of necessary pharmaceuticals.

Drug companies oppose the use of their drugs for executions and DeWine has expressed concern that drug makers could withhold the medications for other purposes if their drugs are used for lethal injection.

The governor’s most recent warrants of reprieve were issued for condemned prisoners Gregory Lott, John Stumpf, and Warren “Keith” Henness. The inmates were scheduled to die later this year. DeWine moved Lott’s and Stumpf’s executions to 2021 and Henness’ execution to 2022.

Another concern of lawmakers is the cost of imposing the death penalty. The appeals process for convicted capitol offenders can take years to decades. Taxpayers are often left footing the bill for attorneys on both sides.

Ohio is one of 29 states with the death penalty.

Unfortunately, Ohio does not have specific data on costs associated with the death penalty. A study comparing costs of death penalty cases and life without parole cases in the state hasn’t been conducted in over a decade. The weight of evidence, however, suggests that death penalty cases nationwide are more expensive than life without parole cases.

A 2016 fiscal analysis reviewed fourteen state and federal studies on the topic and all found death penalty cases to be more expensive than life without parole cases, usually to the tune of $1.2 million more spent on death penalty cases in 2015 dollars.

Earlier this month, The Columbus Dispatch called upon Ohio legislators to end the death penalty. Given Ohio’s lethal-injection dilemma and policy concerns, the Dispatch concluded, “The only reason left for execution is vengeance, which is not an element of justice or the proper business of the state. It’s time for Ohio to do away with the death penalty.”

Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty released a statement asking states to repeal the death penalty. In a webcast press conference last year, the organization highlighted on-going efforts by conservative advocates in Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming to abolish the death penalty in those states.

The organization stated that the death penalty is a failed policy that does not keep communities safe or help victims’ families heal.