Legislative Profile: Thomas F. Patton

Each week, Ohio Statehouse News profiles one of our state legislators. Representative Thomas Patton (R-Strongsville) is our featured legislator this week.

Representative Thomas F. Patton is a lifelong resident of Cuyahoga County. Patton is the son of a Cleveland police officer and the father of a Cleveland Heights police officer who tragically died in the line of duty. Patton has taken up many legislative initiatives pertaining to police, firefighters, and first responders. Previously serving as a state representative and then as a state senator, he returned to the Ohio House in 2016 to serve the 7th House District as the Majority Whip and in 2019 began his second consecutive term. 
Patton served in the Senate since 2008, and for the 131st General Assembly, Patton was selected to serve as the Majority Floor Leader. He served as the Vice Chairman of the Senate Transportation, Commerce and Labor Committee, and was a member of multiple other committees including Finance. 

Why did you become involved in government?
Back in July of 2001, I was asked to become involved in state government. I was a little hesitant at first, so I told them I’d like to wait it out a little. Then 9/11 happened and something within me called me to serve. Several of my family members have served in the military and being a part of state government was going to be my way to serve the people of Ohio. It was the perfect time in my life to do so since all six of my children were grown up by then. Serving in the House and Senate for the past 18 years has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my life. I can really see when us legislators are making a difference for the whole state.

What are your legislative policy priorities or goals for the upcoming session?
I’ve been working on a PTSD bill for first responders and I’d like to see that make some movement. A lot of people don’t think that PTSD can be affecting someone if physical injury is absent, but that’s not true. The men and women who are serving our country and serving our communities need to be protected when they’re most vulnerable, just like they protect us when we’re the most vulnerable. We owe it to them.

I’m also looking forward to finding a solution for the state’s current report card system and working to better Ohio’s foster care system. We need to prioritize Ohio’s youth and through bettering their education and home life, we can make the younger generations more prepared to be successful once they enter into the real world.

What surprises/unexpected challenges did you encounter when you started?
In 18 years, there have been a lot of surprises. One thing that really surprised me that didn’t take me long to figure out is the time and process it takes for a bill to pass. But that’s just the tenure of our political environment.

I also didn’t expect to have such great relationships with the Democrats as I do. Ever since day one on Capitol Square, I realized that nothing will get done without cooperation from both sides of the aisle.

If you could change one thing with the state system, what would it be?
Term limits. They’re not as productive as people want them to be. I believe that we should increase the terms for state representatives to possibly four years. Afterall, that four-year term works in the Senate. If you’re being productive as a representative and your voters share the same thoughts, I believe you should be able to stay and keep working to represent your district.

How do you stay in touch with your district?
I really enjoy going to local events around Cuyahoga County. I’m a part of a lot of Facebook groups run by different community organizations, so I’m able to stay in the loop of what’s happening and when it’s happening so I can be a part of it. It’s fun to see and talk to constituents in a causal environment. I also make sure that I never miss an Eagle Scout Court of Honor in the district. I always pass out my cell phone number so that constituents feel comfortable reaching out to me with anything they might need. 

What is the most interesting/unusual request from a constituent?
I was asked by a senior constituent to accompany him to re-take his Driver’s License test. He passed!

Ohio is so diverse, what are the primary challenges you’re facing?
I think one challenge that Ohioans are facing is the non-traditional route that kids can take after high school to be successful in life. One of my constituents had a son who was excelling greatly in his woodworking class. He ended up going to a trade school and now works for a sheet metal union and is beyond successful. The challenge we have is that so many parents think that if their kids don’t go to college, they’re a failure. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. We need to continue to push support for alternatives, like trade schools, to encourage students to find his or her calling.

What have you done to help your district?
Out of all the things I’ve done to help Cuyahoga County the past 18 years, the one that sticks out to me the most is my work fighting for an interchange between Strongsville and Brunswick. We’ve been working with the Ohio Department of Transportation to complete a study that will have all of the logistics and numbers figured out for the partial interchange by the end of the year, but we still have more work ahead of us until we get this thing built. I’ve listened to the concerns of my constituents and I’m prioritizing their safety to increase the efficiency of traffic between two of the biggest cities in our district.

How has your district benefitted from the budget?
I’m very proud of the work my colleagues and I put into this year’s budget. So many positives have come out of it and directly impacted my district. For example, the TechCred program has been a huge success in Northeastern Ohio. People are beginning to feel more confident about finding jobs and retaining jobs. If we keep the job market strong with programs like TechCred, we will draw more and more people to Ohio, keeping it competitive.

Help Wanted! Grocers and Online Retailers Need Employees

Business is booming in grocery stores across the nation and Ohio is no exception. Shelves are being picked bare, with panicked shoppers stocking up on everything from essentials to all kinds of food in preparation for self-isolation and other implemented COVID-19 restrictions.

While other businesses are sending employees home, grocers are advertising for help online and in their stores. Online retail sales are booming as well, as Americans are being ordered to self-isolate.

Amazon sales have soared, and the retail giant said expects to add 4,600 jobs in the Buckeye state.

Kroger in St. Clairsville has a help wanted sign posted in the lobby.
“We’ve had a triple whammy here,” said a Kroger manager. “Anyone that isn’t feeling well is told to stay home. Between an increase in online orders, employees occasionally being off sick and restocking the shelves, we suffer being shorthanded.”

The manager said that the store has experienced no shortage of supplies but keeping items on the shelves has been a real challenge. “We just can’t get them on as fast as they’re going off.”

Kroger, which owns Ralphs, Food4Less and other chains, is hiring an additional 10,000 workers in stores, manufacturing plants and distribution centers amid the coronavirus outbreak, a company spokesman confirmed.
Kroger noted that jobseekers could be placed for employment within several days of applying.

Staycee Saffell, a clerk at Riesbeck’s Food Markets in Barnesville, said that there has been a constant stream of shoppers in the store. Saffell said there has been no shortage of grocery items there either, only occasionally the bread is sold but is restocked as new trucks come in.

Riesbeck’s had a help wanted sign posted near the check out.

Saffell said she is not especially concerned about being exposed to the coronavirus. “We take precautions but when you are this close to people and handling the same items, there’s not much else you can do,” said Saffell.

Some of the hottest-selling items are water, bread, milk, eggs, soaps and detergents, said Saffell.

Amazon recently announced it would be adding 100,000 new employees to meet operational needs driven by online sales resulting from COVID-19 scare. About 4,600 of these jobs will be in Ohio, according to Owen Torres, a regional communications manager for Amazon Operations.

Amazon also is said to be raising its pay scale by $2 for employees in the U.S, according to the company’s blog.

An associate at Riesbeck’s in Cambridge said they also are hiring due to being short-staffed.

On the Indeed website,  numerous retail grocer jobs in Ohio are listed at between $8 to $15 an hour pay rate.

Meanwhile, some grocers have had to close early to restock shelves and sanitize the stores. Many have set aside hours for seniors only.
Dollar General announced its plans to dedicate the first hour of each shopping day to seniors.

“Dollar General wants to provide these at-risk customers with the ability to purchase the items they need and want at the beginning of each day to avoid busier and more crowded shopping periods,” stated the retail store’s website.

Target stores began doing the same on Wednesday. The first hour of every Wednesday will be reserved for senior shoppers, according to Target’s website.

Walmart announced on Wednesday that it is changing its hours to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., in an effort to give employees enough time to restock shelves.
Walmart will hold hour-long senior shopping for customers 60 and older beginning March 24 through April 28,, according to its website. The store will open an hour early for seniors each Tuesday. Pharmacies and vision centers will also be open.

Walmart and some other retail grocers have begun to set limits in certain categories, including paper products, milk, eggs, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, water, diapers, wipes, formula and baby food.

Ohio Schools Providing Meals to Students During Closings

It’s looking more like students won’t be returning to school for the rest of the school year. Many schools continue to provide students with weekday breakfast and lunch.

Have no fear when the principle comes to call at your doorstep. He’s probably just there to deliver lunch.

Numerous school districts across Ohio are making free meals available to students who otherwise would not have access to weekday breakfast and lunch during school closures. Some districts are preparing food for pickup by families in need and some are delivering meals to students’ doorsteps.

All Ohio schools were ordered closed by the governor and will likely remain closed for the rest of the school year. The Ohio Department of Education is asking schools to continue providing meals to students in need even though the schools are closed.

“One of Ohio’s highest priorities during the ordered school-building closure period, which seeks to diminish the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), is to ensure that students receive nutritious meals,” the department’s updated guidelines state. “This is fundamental to supporting the whole child.”

The department issued updated guidelines that say it will continue to reimburse schools for meals served to students during the forced closure and that school districts should file applications as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition.

The education department is directing schools not to deny meals to those students who don’t ordinarily qualify.

In East Ohio, school administrators are preparing and delivering meals to families in the Barnesville Exempted Village School District. Elementary school principal Clint Abbott said the school is running five routes delivering meals to children.

Abbot said there are about 33 families on the list, some with multiple children.

School administrators prepare and deliver the meals themselves. Some of the food is provided by local churches.

The principle said five days of food is delivered at a time. What is in the lunch bags often depends on what foods have been donated by local churches. “It’s mostly healthy food,” said Abbot. “Foods that can be eaten by the family.”

Abbot said, for example, the meals sometime include mac & cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and bottled water, cracker snacks, Lunchable-type food, and soups in packets and cans. Abbot said bread and strawberries were part of recent delivered lunches.

With no date in sight for reopening, Abbot said the school will continue offering the free meals for as long as needed.

Abbot said that the school principals and superintendent, as well as the transportation director and cafeteria supervisor are some of those involved in preparing and delivering lunches.

Any other families in need are encouraged to contact the school. “We encourage them to reach out to us,” said Abbott.

Barnesville Superintendent Angie Hannahs said the administration is discussing a long-range plan to provide meals that would include delivery to meeting sites.

There are about 1400 students in the Barnesville school district.

Kids in the Bridgeport Exempted Village School District in Belmont County will have hot lunches available for pick up, according to Superintendent Brent Ripley.

Ripley said the district serves anywhere from 300 to 400 meals a day when school is in session and he anticipates 150 to 200 meals a day will be picked up. The program begins Thursday and will operate two days a week. Several meals could be picked up at one time, said the superintendent.

A hot lunch will be offered as well as a grab-and-go type breakfast, said Ripley.

The Shaker Heights School District in Central Ohio is taking requests from families of students who need meals while school is out. It plans to provide free breakfast and lunch to students pre-kindergarten to 12th grade from March 18 through March 20 and again from March 30 through April 3.

“Daily meals will include lunch for that day and breakfast for the next. Our options for meal items may be limited and may not meet individual dietary needs or allergy restrictions,” stated the Shaker Heights School District guidelines. “Students with food allergies should use caution before consuming these meals.”

Cincinnati Public Schools’ Student Dining Services will be distributing meals from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Tuesday to April 3, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays each week, with an additional serving day of Tuesday, March 17.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, children will receive two breakfast meals and two lunch meals. On Fridays and Tuesday, children will receive one breakfast meal and one lunch meal. All meals will exceed USDA nutritional requirements and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Census Predictions: Ohio to Lose Congressional Seat, Several Cities Reclassified as Villages

The 2020 Census could mean unfortunate changes for Ohio; Meanwhile the Census Bureau is facing challenges of its own.

Ohio is predicted to lose one congressional seat after the 2020 census and several Ohio cities could be reclassified as villages due to population shifts.

The state is expected to be about 73,000 residents short of the number needed to keep its 16 congressional seats. There are only 435 seats to go around and states that haven’t kept pace will have to shed a member of the U.S. House of Representatives to make up for the gainers.

Ohio and neighboring Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia are among the states in line to lose congressional seats after the census, according to an analysis of the new state-by-state population estimates.

The federal government has conducted a census every 10 years since 1790. The information is used to determine funding and the number of Congressional representatives states receive.

Households across the nation began receiving Census Bureau notices on Thursday.

About 80% of those receiving notices will be encouraged to fill out questionnaires online. The other 20%, who live in areas with low internet access, will be given paper questionnaires to be filled out and mailed back.

Those who fail to reply online, by mail or by telephone will receive an in-person visit by a census-taker.

This would mark the sixth consecutive decade in which Ohio would have a dwindling influence in Congress. Ohio had 24 congressional seats in the 1960s, dropping after each census since then, to 23 in the 1970s, then to 21, 19, 18 and finally 16 after the 2010 census.

Likewise, A population of 5,000 is required for city status in the state. With several Ohio cities teetering at just slightly over 5,000, city officials are urging citizens to be sure and fill out the census form so that no one goes uncounted.

The cities below could be reclassified as villages if their population drops below 5,000.

The census count allocates federal dollars for infrastructure, such as bridge and roads, and for services like community development grants, nutrition programs and health funding. Beyond services, an accurate count will serve as a basis for appointing congressional seats.

Meanwhile, as the Federal Census Bureau is urging Ohioans to participate in the count, the Bureau itself has been faced with  numerous challenges, the most recent being the coronavirus outbreak.

Meeting its goal of 500,000 census-takers is proving to be more difficult than anticipated.

To ensure an accurate count, census-takers will try to track down those who do not respond by late April and begin knocking on doors.

With emerging virus concerns, some of the Bureau’s temporary workers have expressed concern and are re-thinking their decision to work.

“There’s no question that the coronavirus crisis has created an unexpected and significant new challenge to conducting a successful census on time in all communities,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census expert. “No one knows exactly how this health crisis will affect census operations.”

Lowenthal said it’s likely that it will have to modify some of its operations.

The Census Bureau reportedly also has faced shortfalls in its IT systems, cybersecurity and partnership development.

Census workers are still being hired for door-to-door positions that pay anywhere from about $15 to $21 per hour, depending on location.

“More people might be reluctant to take this kind of job since it involves going door to door and talking with strangers,’’ said Lowenthal, former staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee.

“It’s possible that some residents might be reluctant to open their door to what is essentially a stranger,” she added.

Lowenthal said it’s more important than ever to promote responding online, by phone or by a paper questionnaire.

“That will be the easiest and safest way to make sure your household is counted especially at a time of so much uncertainty,” she said.

About 60% of US residents are expected to respond to Census questions online.

Among cities on the cusp of losing their “city” title is St. Clairsville, Ohio, in Belmont County. Anything under five thousand is considered a village, and this East Ohio municipality will be cutting it close.

St. Clairsville, Ohio; Population 5,184; Photo Credit: City-Data

St. Clairsville Mayor Kathryn Thalman encourages participation in the Census.

“I just hope people take this seriously, because it could mean the difference between us being a city and a village,” said Thalman. “We want everyone to know that everybody counts, and we want to make them count.”

Thalman noted that the city is wrestling with infrastructure issues, particularly to meet mandates for water service made by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Village status could make a difference in the amount of funding available to meet those mandates. “We know that grants are often tied to being a city,” Thalman said. “Yes, that could make a difference.”

These states are among those expected to lose representation in the US House of Representatives:

* Losing two seats: New York (to 25).
* Losing one seat: California (to 52), Illinois (17), Ohio (15), Michigan (13), Pennsylvania (17), Minnesota (7), West Virginia (2), Rhode Island (1).
* Gaining one seat: North Carolina (to 14), Arizona (10), Colorado (8), Oregon (6) and Montana (2).
* Gaining two seats: Florida (to 29)


Legislative Profile: Mark Fraizer

Each week, Ohio Statehouse News profiles one of state legislators. Representative Mark Fraizer (R-Newark) is our featured legislator this week.


State Representative Mark Fraizer

State Representative Mark Fraizer serves the 71st Ohio House District. Fraizer was born and raised in the city of Newark. He has served as a Newark City Councilman since 2016, where he contributed to the successful removal of discriminatory BSL legislation, the expansion of Community Reinvestment Areas in key locations, and the cultivation of advancement and growth throughout city. He was the Chair of the Economic Development Committee and a member on the Finance, Safety, Rules and Recreation Committees on City Council. Rep. Fraizer earned his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a minor in Economics from Otterbein University. He is a Sr. Project Manager at Huntington National Bank. He previously served on the boards of the Historic Hudson Community Association and continues to serve on the board of Invest Hope, a non-profit that serves underserved communities in Haiti. Fraizer was the primary sponsor on three key pieces of legislation while serving in the House and co-sponsored 17 bills. Fraizer was recognized with a National Security Leadership Award from Mission: Readiness Ohio while serving in the state legislature. 

Why did you become involved in government?
I became involved in politics because I wanted to help and support our local community. I have lived in Newark my whole life and I’ve seen the great potential it has, along with the rest of Licking County. Being a part of Newark City Council was just the start of my political involvement. It’s been an honor to serve Licking County as State Representative and I look forward to my continuous service.

What are your legislative policy priorities or goals for the upcoming session?
Although I have many legislative priorities for the upcoming session, my key priorities include economic development and easing the use of tools for local government. I also plan on sponsoring legislation that will assist the aging and disabled population.

What surprises/unexpected challenges did you encounter when you started?
The legislative process for how a bill becomes a law is actually very complex. Between the beginning stages of hearings and testimonies, to the passage by both chambers, to the signing by the executive branch, it’s a long, comprehensive process.

How do you stay in touch with your district?
I stay in touch with my district primarily through attending events and gatherings throughout Licking County. I like to get out and talk to constituents and I maintain and open-door policy to encourage my constituents to reach out to me.

What is the most interesting/unusual request from a constituent
I’ve received a few unusual requests involving exotic and wild animal laws.

What are some of the attractions or hotspots in your district
Our district contains the Newark Earthworks and Hopewell Indian Mounds, Longaberger Basket Building, adjacent to Dawes Arboretum, revitalized Downtown Newark with the Midland Theatre, and numerous parks and quaint communities.

Ohio is so diverse, what are the primary challenges you’re facing?
There is a lot of diversity in Newark. The needs for consistent educational funding, sustained economic growth, and infrastructural investment are all major items facing Ohio and Licking County.

What have you done to help your district?
During my time on City Council, I created two councils: The Mayor’s Council and The Economic Development Council. Both councils have greatly benefitted the community through government streamlining. During my time as State Representative, I’ve helped my district through sponsoring and supporting legislation to empower local government, support healthcare transparency and protect religious liberties and freedoms. I’m going to continue to work towards organizing and driving out solutions and funding opportunities to address transit, zoning, infrastructure and intergovernmental cooperation.

How has your district benefitted from the budget?
Although I was appointed into the House after the budget passed, Licking County has still benefitted from it. We have been able to receive additional funding for education services, children’s services and transportation services, along with a huge income tax cut. I’m looking forward to being a part the next biennium budget.

Bill to End Cruel Gassing of Unwanted Pets

Most people think the gas chamber was long ago replaced with more humane methods of euthanizing shelter animals. So did Ohio Representative David Leland, until a constituent came to him with concerns that the cruel practice is still being utilized.

This prompted Leland (D-Columbus) to devise a bill that would end the inhumane method of euthanizing domestic animals once and for all.

The legislation now has a joint sponsor Rep. James M. Hoops (R-Napoleon) and has become a bi-partisan bill with numerous cosponsors, said Leland.

Erie County Dog Pound in Sandusky, Ohio, reportedly is one of the few remaining shelters still using carbon-monoxide gas to euthanize unwanted pets. The warden was not available for comment about why it’s still in use and to what extent.  The warden did not return phone calls.

“This is not done to the extent that it used to be done,” said Leland. “The fact that it’s allowed in Ohio, that this is not prohibited,  is an issue.”

Leland said he wants to ensure that no pets are subjected to this ever again in the state.

“When shelter animals have to be put down, it should be done with the compassion we would expect for our family pet,” said Leland. “While the use of gas chambers in shelters has become a rarity in this state, we are one of the few that still allow it to happen at all. Passing this bill will demonstrate Ohio’s commitment to treating animals humanely at every stage of their lives.”

This isn’t the first time a bill to ban the gas chamber has been put before the Ohio legislature. A similar bill failed in 2018.

“This seems to have a lot of support,” said Leland. “But it’s not a slam dunk, so to speak. Even though most people are horrified at the thought of animals being gassed. This has been tried before and was not successful.”

Leland said it’s important to make legislators aware of your thoughts on the matter through telephone calls and emails.

Ohio is one of only four states in the nation that still uses this practice to euthanize in shelters.

Various animal rights organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, have publicly denounced the practice of euthanizing animals using gas.

An animal can survive in a gas chamber for as long as 25 minutes.

Under the best circumstances, an animal loses consciousness after a few minutes. If the chamber is poorly maintained or if the animal is very young, very old, ill, injured or stressed, it can take much longer. In the worst cases, the animal is still conscious while its vital organs begin to shut down.

The Humane Society recommends using sodium pentobarbital to euthanize animals.

A study commissioned by American Humane in 2009 comparing the cost of the gas chamber to Euthanasia By Injection (EBI), it determined that  EBI cost less than half, $4.98 per animal vs $2.29.

The bill only protects domestic animals. At least two counties in Ohio reportedly continue to use the gas chamber for wildlife, Butler and Knox counties.

Leland said he would consider having wildlife included in the bill but that he would need to research the issue further. “This could be added later in the process and I would be very open to having conversations about that,” Leland said.

There is also legislation in the senate that would end the practice of gassing.

Senator Kenny Yuko (D-Medina) introduced legislation in February that would prohibit putting down domestic animals by use of the gas chamber.

Senate Bill 167 states that no person shall recklessly destroy any domestic animal by the use of a any high altitude decompression chamber or carbon monoxide gas chamber.

The bill prohibits any method other than one that immediately and painlessly renders the domestic animal initially unconscious and subsequently dead.

Yuko’s bill, however, does not include wildlife and does not prohibit the use of gas chambers in the slaughtering of livestock.

Legislation Coming to Abolish Ohio’s Death Penalty

Legislation is coming soon to end the death penalty in Ohio, a bipartisan group of state senators announced.

Repost:  State Sen. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) is calling for the death penalty to be replaced with life without parole.

The bill will be introduced in the coming weeks, she said in a news conference.

“The death penalty is expensive, inhumane, impractical, unjust and often erroneous. Abolishing it is a practical solution,” Antonio said.

“This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. No matter what a person’s reason is for supporting this legislation, we all agree that this is critical for our own collective humanity. It is our responsibility to work together across party lines and legislative chambers and move forward to end the death penalty in Ohio.”

Antonio has introduced similar legislation in every General Assembly in which she’s served since 2011.

This is the first time, however, the bill has bipartisan support in the Senate.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) will be a joint sponsor of the bill and Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) plans to be a co-sponsor.

Ohio leaders have been debating the future of capital punishment as the state struggles to find a supply of lethal injection drugs.

Gov. Mike DeWine delayed seven executions last year and asked the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for a new execution protocol after drug makers threatened to cut off access to medications if Ohio used them for executions.

House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) has said his caucus is having in-depth discussions on the issue and recognizes Ohio has a death penalty law on the books that the state can’t enforce.

Those internal discussions are continuing, Householder said Thursday.
State Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) said he will oppose the bill to abolish the death penalty: “It needs to be retained for terrorists, mass murderers and the like.”

He’s skeptical the legislation will make it out of the Senate.

“I do not predict where the House would be, but I doubt the Senate would pass it. They still haven’t passed the House-passed bill that would remove the death penalty as applied to the seriously mentally ill— so why would anyone think they would abolish it altogether?”

A Gallup poll released in November said 60 percent of Americans indicated they believe life in prison without parole is better punishment than execution, but 56 percent support it for convicted murderers.

By Jennifer Edwards Baker

Repost from CINCINNATI (Fox 19); Copyright 2020 WXIX. All rights reserved

Legislative Profile: Jason C. Stephens

Each week, Ohio Statehouse News profiles one of our state legislators. Representative Jason C. Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) is our featured legislator this week.

State Representative Jason C. Stephens is serving his first term in the Ohio House. Stephens represents the 93rd House District, which includes Jackson and Gallia counties, and portions of Lawrence and Vinton counties. Stephens has a background in local government, having served as Lawrence County auditor and Lawrence County commissioner. Stephens graduated from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics/Finance and Business Management.
tephens is a small business owner and a licensed insurance agent at Stephens & Son Insurance Agency, Inc and is a co-owner of Stephens & Son Insurance of Chesapeake, Inc.

Why did you become involved in government?
I really care about my community and my area of the state. When I was in my twenties, I became involved in local politics, and in the year 2000 I was elected Lawrence County Commissioner at the age of 29. I have served as an elected official ever since. It is challenging at times to help move an area forward, but I enjoy making government work better for our people.

What are your legislative policy priorities or goals for the upcoming session?
I believe in making government at all levels operate in an efficient manner with the goal of helping, not hindering, the growth of the communities and individuals in our state. That being said, one goal of mine is to widen the access to broadband across Ohio. There are over 300,000 families across the state that do not have internet access, or only have internet access at unusable, low speeds. We need to do something to fix that and help the nearly 1 million Ohioans get access to internet. I believe that if we prioritize issues like broadband, we can help local governments better serve the people throughout the state of Ohio.

What surprises/unexpected challenges did you encounter when you started?
I had to buy some new suits and a couple of new pair of wingtips after being appointed State Representative. There is a little different dress code in Columbus than Southern Ohio.

If you could change one thing with the state system, what would it be?
I would like the state system to be less focused on the state system and more focused on the impact of state policy on the actual communities within our state. Our communities are what make Ohio such a great place to live.

How do you stay in touch with your district?
I stay on the move. My district is made up of four counties and is almost 1500 square miles, which is geographically bigger than the state of Rhode Island. I try to attend as many events as possible throughout my district, and I keep an open line of communication with the leaders of each community.

What is the most interesting/unusual request from a constituent?
Probably the most interesting requests are the ones where a few people think that I know every other elected official in the United States. The best (most entertaining) examples are when people ask me to tell national political figures (whom I have never met, by the way) what to do on some issue or another. Believe me, people can be quite passionate when it comes to these issues. The look on their face when I tell them that I don’t know the person they want me to tell can sometimes be pretty interesting.

What are some of the attractions or hotspots in your district?
The natural beauty of my district is amazing. From the ridges and the hollers, to the beautiful sunsets along the Ohio River, it truly is a great place to live. We have many state parks and the Wayne National Forrest. We also have some of the best small towns in America with all of the great festivals, parades, Friday night football and county fairs that make small town living the best.

Ohio is so diverse, what are the primary challenges you’re facing?
Although beautiful, my district faces a lot of geographical challenges when it comes to infrastructure development, and frankly, it is one of the reasons our part of the state still struggles economically. It is more expensive to build roads, run water lines, develop broadband internet service in our area, but it is essential for Ohio to invest in these vital infrastructure resources in order to keep our state growing in all regions.

What have you done to help your district?
I try to have a positive attitude. Sometimes, it is easy to look at our problems and be negative, but I believe in the future of Southern Ohio. I believe that we can move forward. At the local level, over the years, I have helped develop a power plant, a small hospital, a sewer plant, an industrial park, and many other projects. I believe that my experience in local government has been very helpful in developing policies at the state level that will continue to help my district greatly.

How has your district benefitted from the budget?
I was appointed after the budget had passed, but I am already thinking about the next biennium budget. We have so many challenges in our area, and we always have to be looking forward. I hope that budgets in the future will be continuously mindful of the fact that local governments are the actual implementers of most of the state’s policy. These local on-the-ground agencies and governments need the adequate resources and commonsense rules to effectively carry out good policy in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Why Buy What You Can Grow?

Would medical marijuana users continue to purchase the drug through Ohio’s controlled medical marijuana program if they could grow their own plants at home?

With a new ballot initiative in the works that would allow Ohioans to grow six marijuana plants at a time for their own recreational use, this is a valid question.

Not everyone has a green thumb but considering that there may soon be the option of legally growing personal-use marijuana, one must wonder how many will abandon the state’s program.

The adult-use proposal would legalize recreational marijuana for Ohioans 21 years old and over. It was submitted to the Ohio attorney general’s office on Monday and could be put before voters in November if all ballot initiative criteria is met.

A coalition called Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is behind the proposal.
The group’s spokesman and attorney Tom Haren said that, if passed, the measure would leave the state’s controlled medical marijuana program generally untouched and the two programs would work well together.

Qualifying and participating in Ohio’s program is no easy path. Critics say there are not enough certified doctors, licensed dispensaries, growers and other necessary supports, like approved testing labs. There are hoops to jump through and the expense of the drug make it impossible for some to afford.

Applicants must first locate a physician with an active Certificate to Recommend (CRT) from the State Medical Board of Ohio.

The map below, taken from the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program website, indicates how many doctors offer this service and where they are located. Some areas are without certified doctors within reasonable distance.

Certified physician locations in the state

Doctor’s visits and the required $50 state e-card fee are not covered by health insurance. Neither is the cost of the drug itself.

According to the website, one must maintain a physician-patient relationship and see the doctor at least once each year.

Dispensaries also are few and far between, with only 50 in the state.

Licensed dispensary locations in the state

Some locations are not currently open for business and others have long lines or are missing various types of the drug.

Next is the availability and cost of the product itself. Here is the current pricing from the Ohio Medical Alliance LLC website. This is an out-of-pocket expense.

Rather than hurting Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program with new competition, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesman said it would actually work to the advantage of existing growers and distributors since they are already involved in the program and have their businesses set up with approval from the state.

Haren said the state has disregarded the needs of Ohioans by not adding more to its list of qualifying conditions, even though numerous studies have shown medical marijuana would be beneficial. The state has approved about 20 conditions.

In other states that went from medical to full adult legalization, the larger demand for the recreational product can crowd out the medical market. Haren said the Ohio proposal contains language that would require the state to ensure medical marijuana is available to those who need it before recreational users.

Haren said that, if passed, the amendment would triple the number of retail marijuana locations that currently exist under Ohio’s medical marijuana program.

Under the current law, the Board of Pharmacy is no longer accepting applications for dispensary licenses.

It also and would allow for an additional 1.5 million square feet of cultivation area for new growers, said Haren. He said it would add jobs and bring in significant revenue to the state.

The proposal clarifies it is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or give the substance to minors. The plan also allows private property owners and employers to prohibit or restrict use on premises or by employees.

All the Dope on Ohio’s Marijuana Ballot Proposal

Ohio's lack of initiative to reform its four-year-old medical marijuana law brought about a new effort to legalize recreational marijuana.

There’s a movement underway to legalize adult-use of recreational marijuana in the state. A proposed amendment could be put before voters as early as November.

The proposed amendment would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by Ohioans over 21 and would allow for growing up to six plants for personal use on one’s own property, with certain limiting conditions.

A petition was submitted to the Ohio attorney general on Monday, laying the groundwork for an initiative that would go before voters in November’s general election. A ballot initiative, such as this, is a process that typically takes several months and tens of thousands of signatures to reach the ballot.

The AG’s office has ten days to certify the issue before additional steps can be taken toward getting the plan in front of voters.

A coalition called Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is behind the adult-use campaign.

The group is represented by Tom Haren, an Ohio attorney and acting spokesman. Haren previously represented medical marijuana licensees.

Haren said that, if passed, the amendment would triple the number of retail marijuana locations that currently exist under Ohio’s medical marijuana program and would allow for an additional 1.5 million square feet of cultivation area for new growers. He said it would add jobs and bring in significant revenue to the state.

The state’s lack of initiative is what brought about the need for reform, said Haren.

“It doesn’t feel that we have a real willing partner in the state to make the needed reforms,” said Haren.

“The state medical board has refused to add new qualifying conditions, despite ample evidence to support the addition of various conditions, like anxiety, autism, opiate use disorder and others.”
Another problem with the current program, Haren said, is the confusion regarding possession.

“It’s very confusing for patients to participate in because of the language regarding the 90-day supply and the confusing way to calculate possession limits when patients are making purchases,” said Haren.

In addition, Haren said there is very restrictive advertising regulations, making it difficult for patients to get information about the program from the businesses that provide the product.

Haren said the adult-use program was designed to ensure that there is sufficient access to new consumers, but in a way that prevents an over-supply of product in the market.

“Current medical marijuana operators could begin selling in the adult-use market, and the Department of Commerce could issue additional adult-use licenses after that point,” said the attorney.

The amendment will direct the department of commerce to conduct necessary studies prior to issuing new licenses so no one is excluded from the first round of adult-use licenses, Haren explained .

The program spokesman said  it would bring in significant tax revenue for the state.

The organization would direct the tax revenue after the general assembly enacts a special tax, explained the attorney.

Haren said what he really likes about the amendment is the way it addresses social equity, and that this has been a large component in legalization efforts.

Fifty percent of generated tax revenue would go directly into the state local government fund, accorinding to Haren. Twenty-five percent would go into a new commission on expungement, social equity, diversity, and so forth that would make recommendations as how to spend that money for social equity purposes.

Haren said 10 percent of tax revenue would go directly to the communities in which the retail sales took place.

If passed, Ohio would join 11 other states that have legalized marijuana for adult use purposes.

Haren said it would provide the level of access to marijuana that Ohioans were promised back in 2016.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of effort, but we’re confident that we’ll get on the ballot in November and when that happens, we’re confident we’re going to win,” said Haren.

Regarding growing of marijuana by private citizens, Haren said there are safeguards surrounding those provisions. “It can’t be grown openly or publicly, and it must be in a locked, enclosed space.”

The Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association has not come out yet in support of the measure, but individually many of the members are supportive, said Haren.

The guidelines set forth in the measure limit possession to under an ounce, with no more than eight grams of concentrate.

Adults could grow up to six plants in an enclosed area, with a limit of three flowering plants.

“Adults should be permitted to responsibly consume marijuana,” said the attorney, who added that the proposal protects Ohioans from irresponsible use and creates new chances for entrepreneurs to enter the industry.

Supporters said the plan does not impact the rights of the state’s medical marijuana patients.

The proposal clarifies it is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or give the substance to minors. The plan also allows private property owners and employers to prohibit or restrict use on premises or by employees.