“Distracted Driving” Could Soon be a Primary Offense

Lawmakers held the first hearing on House Bill 468 Tuesday, legislation that would make distracted driving a statewide primary offense.

Using a cellular device while driving currently is a secondary offense in Ohio, meaning police must witness another offense before pulling over a driver.

Representative  Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) said the purpose of the bill is to keep Ohioans safe.

“What we’re doing is making it a primary offense to be using your handheld electronic device while you’re driving, other than just in a very few ways,” said Lightbody, who represents Ohio District 19, including part of Franklin County.

“The whole goal of this is to keep people safe on the highway, including nearby pedestrians,” said Lightbody. “If you can engage with your device wirelessly, without touching your device, that is allowed. You cannot engage or interact with a game or view Netflix.”

Lightbody said use of navigational apps would be acceptable, as long as the device was not being held in the driver’s hand.

“You can dial and receive a phone call, but you cannot conduct the call with the device in your hand,” said Lightbody. “The conversation has to be wireless or through speaker phone.”

The bill is in the Transportation and Public Safety Committee.

The legislator said it is already a primary offense in some cities and municipalities in Ohio to use a cellular device while driving, including Columbus, Bexley and Westerville.

Auto insurance companies and law enforcement support the bill, she said.

Lightbody said that police officers detect use of phones by watching the behavior of drivers.

“Anyone who is driving erratically, they can approach and look to see what the driver is doing,” said the legislator. “There’s a police officer in Columbus who has been very active in enforcing Columbus’s primary offense law. He looks for an activity called head bobbing. He holds his body cam up to the window, so he’s documenting that this person is using their call phone.”

In response to those that feel the law would be too far-reaching, Lightbody said, “There are laws that govern how we drive, like stopping at a stop sign or staying within the speed limit. This would be one of those laws. The whole point is to keep everyone safe including the drivers of those cars, passengers and nearby pedestrians.”

Governor Mike DeWine previously stated that he supports making distracted driving a primary offense in order to curtail the number of deaths and crashes caused by inattentive drivers.

Advocates of Automatic Voter Registration Make Second Attempt at Ballot Initiative

Opponents argue AVR threatens election security, creates administrative burden and encourages ill-informed voting.

A revised petition to allow Automatic Voter Registration on Ohio’s November ballot was submitted to state officials Monday.

The filing is the first part of a multi-step process that eventually will require the campaign to gather signatures from hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters so that the measure can be placed on the ballot.

Under the proposed constitutional amendment, Ohioans would automatically be registered to vote upon applying for or renewing a driver’s license or other state-issued ID. Supporters of automatic registration say that it increases turnout, allows for updating and correcting voter rolls, and aligns with the goal of election security.

The first draft was rejected by the the Ohio Attorney General because the summary was longer than the language for the actual constitutional amendment. The office also said the summary included a paragraph of text that’s not included in the amendment.

Opponents of Automatic Voter Registration argue that it threatens election security, creates an administrative burden on election officials, and encourages ill-informed voting.

Members of “Secure and Fair Elections” and a collection of voting rights advocates delivered the revised petition. The coalition is led by the ACLU of Ohio
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Twenty-one states currently have same-day voter registration. About a dozen more have some manner of automated voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Per the Attorney General’s request, the updated summary is what advocates will use when circulating the initiative for signatures.

The group will need to collect about 443,000 valid signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot.

The measure would reinstate and expand what previously was referred to as “Golden Week,” which state lawmakers eliminated in 2014. Another element of the proposed amendment is a required, statewide post-election audit.

Proof of residency is a key requirement in all states that offer same day registration.

In a traditional (pre-Election Day) registration, which is what Ohio currently uses, election officials have time to send a non-forwardable mailing to the prospective voter in order to verify the voter’s residence before processing the registration application.

Because that isn’t possible with AVR, the prospective voter must present proof of residency at the time of registration or soon after registering. A current driver’s license or ID card will suffice in all states. In some states, documents such as a paycheck or utility bill with an address is acceptable for proving residence.

A few states also permit an already-registered voter to vouch for the residency of an Election Day registrant.

Other elements of the proposal would put guarantees in writing that military service members and overseas citizens receive their ballots on time and that voters with disabilities have equal access to the polls.

The Attorney General’s office said in a statement that its role is to determine whether the summary is a “fair and truthful representation of the proposed the group acknowledges that rejected petition language is a common practice and it says they will be refiling.”

Opinion: Ohio Democratic Party Chairman’s Trolling of Portman Getting Old

Repost from Cincinnati.com

A few days ago, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper penned a bizarre screed attacking U.S. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, by alleging some imaginary misdeed involving Ukraine. 

David Pepper, then a candidate for Ohio attorney general, speaks with The Enquirer’s editorial board on October 2, 2014. The Enquirer/Leigh Taylor

David Pepper, then a candidate for Ohio attorney general, speaks with The Enquirer’s editorial board on October 2, 2014. The Enquirer/Leigh Taylor (Photo: The Enquirer/Leigh Taylor)

If you follow Pepper on Twitter, this will be nothing new. Pepper has an almost maniacal obsession with trolling Senator Portman. Ever since Portman’s reelection in 2016, Pepper has been assailing him daily.

It’s not clear what Pepper’s problem is with Portman. They’re both from Cincinnati, raised by successful families and attended top-notch universities. The only stark difference between them is their careers.

Portman is a highly respected and successful politician by both election and appointment. He has been elected seven times to Congress and twice to the Senate. He has served as a director of the Office of Management and Budget and U.S. trade representative.

Pepper’s career in public service is less impressive. He was off to a pretty good start getting elected to Cincinnati City Council, but then lost a campaign for mayor. Then he was elected as a Hamilton County commissioner in 2006, and that was his last winning election for public office. In 2010, he ran for auditor of state, losing to Dave Yost, and then for attorney general, losing to Mike DeWine.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, left, with Cincinnati's Jim Obergefell, at the Democratic National Convention in July.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, left, with Cincinnati’s Jim Obergefell, at the Democratic National Convention in July. (Photo: The Enquirer/Jason Williams)

In 2015, Pepper was elected chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.

A state party chairman has one job, and that is to elect members of their party to public office. To get that job done, you only have to do two things: raise money and recruit good candidates. To be fair, there’s a lot of work that goes into completing those two tasks to achieve that singular goal. I know, because I did it for four years as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.

By both measures, Pepper and the Ohio Democratic Party haven’t done very well.

The 2018 election was THE big year for Democrats; midterm elections tend to be a disaster for the party in the White House, and all five statewide offices were open seats.  Democrats had some success in many states that year, but not Ohio. Republicans swept all five statewide offices that “Democrat wave” year.

Using nearly every possible metric, the party is failing this cycle, too. A Republican supermajority in the state Senate. Check. A near 2-to-1 Republican state House majority. Check. A strong and vibrant GOP congressional delegation chock full of key committee slots and nationally recognized party leaders. You betcha. Of course, there’s all those statewide constitutional offices Republicans hold – with officials who are popular and working alongside a robust Ohio Republican Party. 

And if all that weren’t enough, consider that just this week it was announced Ohio’s Republican Supreme Court candidates outraised their likely Democratic opponents nearly 15-1. That’s a staggering amount and illustrates the stark comparison between a vibrant Republican Party and state Democratic Party lacking leadership and aimlessly adrift. 

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, arrives at the Capitol in Washington during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, arrives at the Capitol in Washington during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) (Photo: Julio Cortez, AP)

You may be wondering why a lifelong Republican would care about the fortunes of the Ohio Democratic Party.  

Strong Republican and Democratic parties provide stability and create healthy competition. Like Ray C. Bliss – the legendary county, state and national Republican chairman – I believe the two-party system is the key to the past success and future of our republic. That’s part of it.

Another part of it, I’m tired of Pepper’s one-man rant against Portman. Rob Portman is the kind of thoughtful, talented and hardworking politician that succeeds in Ohio. I like our senator and so do many Ohioans; he won his first election by 18 points and his reelection by 23 points! Frankly, Pepper trolling Portman is getting old.

The last part of it is an act of compassion. Pepper can’t be enjoying life very much behind a laptop or mobile phone hurling insults at Portman. Pepper has become the Jim Harbaugh of Ohio politics.

Kevin DeWine is a former Ohio Republican Party chairman and speaker pro tem of the Ohio House of Representatives.

House Candidate Joe Dills Loses Endorsement of Ohio Republican Party

The Ohio Republican Party’s governing body withdrew its endorsement of legislative candidate Joe Dills Thursday night, citing concerns about the candidate’s activity on a married dating website. 

Dills had the endorsement of the state Republican party until information recently surfaced of Dills’ involvement with the Ashley Madison site. This prompted the Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman, Jane Timken, to ask that Dills leave the race for the 65th House District, but Dills refused.

The candidate admitted on Facebook that he had an Ashley Madison account while a single man in 2013. In an email to cleveland.com, Dills reportedly said that while it was “wrong” for him to join the site, he intended to stay in the race. 

“It has come to my attention that there is additional information regarding Mr. Dills using a second account on Ashley Madison while he was married to his current wife,” Timken said, in a statement. “I want to be clear, Ashley Madison is a site for discreet affairs – affairs between married people.”

Dills, of Union Township,  is one of three Republicans running for the 65th House District seat, along with former U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt and pistol instructor Dillon Blevins. The district includes northern and western Clermont County.

Timken continued, “Moreover, Joe emphatically declared he never used this site while married to his current wife. I feel for his family in this time, and wish that he would have been open and transparent when the initial report came out,” said the GOP chairman. “I stand by my previous statement and urge him to do what’s best for his family and community – immediately withdraw from this race.”

Ohio GOP Communications Director, Evan Machan, said the organization recently received additional condemnatory information about Dills.

“Starting on Friday, January 24, we received information stating that Joe Dills had actively used the website Ashley Madison to meet married women,” stated Machan. “Upon receiving these reports and in an effort to shield Joe’s family from public embarrassment, at my request, and through back channels we asked Mr. Dills to withdraw from the race.”

Machan stated that the back channel discussions deteriorated and Dills stated publicly that he would not withdraw and that he never used these sites while married to his current wife. 

“Early this week, we received new reports that this was far from the truth,” Machan said in the statement. “Starting with the Cincinnati Enquirer publishing that his wife had shown up to his work and, “believed her husband was having an affair* followed by a report that he had another Ashley Madison account that was active in 2015 – a year after him and his current wife were married – it was clear that Mr. Dills lied to the public.”

*Source: Miami Township Police Report, Incident Number 1-16-000904, Narrative Reporting Office Steven Burgess

Earlier Thursday, the House GOP’s campaign arm reportedly gave state party leaders 116 pages of opposition research about Dills. The document detailed tax liens, traffic records and allegations of shoving his ex-wife.  

“Joe Dills clearly isn’t ready for this public exposure. It’s only going to get worse,” according to the document which included research by FAR Public Affairs, LLC.

Timken said she did not know the firm that had prepared the report but it contained mostly public records. 

The alleged abuse was detailed in a background investigation report completed when Dills applied to the Ohio Highway Patrol in 2015. In the report, Dills’ first wife said he “grabbed her arm, picked her up and slammed her on the ground” during a heated argument in 2010. 

Dills’ ex-wife did not report the incident to police at the time and told the Ohio Highway Patrol investigator that it was the only time Dills had laid a hand on her, according to the background report. Dills told the patrol investigator that he was defending himself and had never struck a woman.

State party officials reportedly verified the dating site information by comparing it to their own copy of the Ashley Madison files that were leaked in 2015 after the site was hacked, according to a GOP official. Following the hack, the state party downloaded all of the hacked files, which contain data on about 32 million users.

The files can be searched by the public as well, via searchable websites.

Legislative Profile: Dave Greenspan

Each week, Ohio Statehouse News profiles one of our state legislators. Representative Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake) is our featured legislator this week. 

Greenspan is serving his second term in the Ohio House of Representatives. Prior to this, the legislator  served on the Cuyahoga County Council. He represents the 16th Ohio House District, which includes the cities of Bay Village, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Rocky River and Westlake in Northeastern Ohio.

Why did you become involved in government?

My grandmother told me if you want to give something truly valuable, give of your time. Government service enables me to give back to the community. I’ve always had an interest in public policy. In 2010, I was encouraged to run for county government. Several years later, here I am serving at the state level. 

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

My priorities focus around local government, law enforcement, anti-bullying and anti-hazing, sports gaming, quality of life issues, mental health and deadly weapons due process protocol and government transparency.  

What surprises/unexpected challenges did you encounter when you started?

We have a very diverse population in this state. One of the challenges is responding to the different sets of needs between the rural, suburban and urban areas. For example, in urban areas you’re dealing with things like food insecurity and public transportation. The suburban and rural areas have their own unique sets of challenges. You need to find a balance between what is important to your district, and what is important to the state as a whole 

If you could change one thing with the state system, what would it be?

Something that stands out in my mind is that much of Ohio’s infrastructure dates back to World War II era. Aging infrastructure and water systems is a problem for communities across Ohio. 

How do you stay in touch with your district?  

If an individual reaches out, I call them back personally whenever possible. I also stay in touch with my constituents through a quarterly newsletter, social media, outreach events and town hall meetings. We have a monthly radio show, The Advocate on 1420 AM, in Cleveland.   

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

We’re fortunate to have so many attractions and things to do. To name a few, there’s Huntington Beach on Lake Erie, which is very popular, Huntington Playhouse, Rocky River and Crocker Park in Westlake.

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

Again the different needs of rural, suburban and Urban parts of the state. 

What have you done to help your district?

I’ve been fortunate to have numerous bills passed that have benefitted, not only my district, but the state. In my district,  Bay Village emergency response boathouse, funds to shore up historical buildings, to rebuild the Nature and Science Center, Bayarts,  Fairview Park community center-Red Cross relief shelter, North Olmsted emergency services so that they can communicate more effectively, just to name a few.       

Spectator Safety Top Priority of HB 479

Legislation in the Ohio House would require pole-to-pole safety netting in Ohio ballparks by the start of the 2021 season. The bill was introduced in response to  serious injury to spectators at Major and Minor League Baseball games.

Some ballparks are being proactive and have already extended or have plans to extend their protective netting.  House Bill 479  would make this mandatory for the ones that haven’t taken the initiative.

“Baseball players are getting bigger and stronger each year, while fans are sitting closer to the action,” said Representative Rick Perales ( R-Beavercreek) who introduced the bill along with Representative  John Patterson  (D-Jefferson).

A baseball can be hit in excess of 100 mph by top batters 

“There have been a number of incidents in Ohio and around the country with people being seriously injured, sometimes killed, with foul balls and bats landing in the lower levels of the stadium,” said Perales. 

“Many professional groups have taken it upon themselves to install netting as a safeguard,” Perales added. “This bill is simply requiring it of all Ohio professional teams.”

Patterson got involved with the issue when a constituent reached out to him with concerns about safety in ballparks. 

The constituent, Dina Simpson, 46, was permanently blinded in one eye after being struck in the head with a line drive. Simpson was sitting with her family at a Lake County Captains game, a Single A Farm Club for the Cleveland Indians.

Simpson has been pushing for legislation to require netting since 2017 when the injury occurred. 

“I couldn’t say no,” said Patterson. “This just makes sense.”

It just so happened that, prior to being a legislator, Patterson’s dream was to be a college baseball coach. Incidentally, he said, Urban Meyer used to play for him on a American Legion team years ago.

“Our job as Ohio lawmakers is to protect Ohioans,” said Patterson. “Fans have been moved closer to the action over the years and pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Then there are distractions, mainly cell phones, and that’s a mix for tragedy.”

Patterson noted that the safety netting would be retractable. Once a game begins, however, the fans would need to be protected. 

Currently, many ball fields have safety netting in the dugout areas. The law would require netting along the first and third baselines, from the end of the dugout to the outfield foul poles. The outfield would not require netting.

Perales said that it has yet to be decided which legislative committee will be looking at specifics on the bill.

“We wanted to get this conversation started,” said the lawmaker. “I would think that it is something that everyone would get behind due to fan safety.”

Sponsors say bill will have support

“We will have interested party meetings with representatives from the ball teams,” added Perales. “We will try to come up with a good design.”

“My colleagues in the House and the Senate are always conscious of protecting Ohioans,” said Perales. “That’s one of our missions, protecting the citizens of Ohio, their safety. That’s one of the cornerstones of our government. I think that they would support a very rational logical approach that works for everybody.”

Perales said he doesn’t believe the cost of installing the required safety netting would impact Ohio’s professional ball teams, as the expense would not be excessive.

Injuries and death at ballparks 

Ballpark injuries range from vision loss to concussions. Several deaths have been reported nationwide and in Ohio.  Most of the injuries have occurred in the foul-ball zone, but some have also taken place during batting practice and home-run blasts, according to reports. 

In December, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said all 30 MLB teams would extend their safety netting. Manfred said the changes would be made for the 2020 season. The netting will extend all the way to the foul poles in some parks. In others, it will go substantially beyond the far end of the dugout, the commissioner said. 

Death at the Ballpark, the book

Bob Gorman, author of “Death at the Ballpark,”  said the number of fan injuries is likely much higher than reports show. 

“I think the number is a lot higher than people realize. I think the teams know it,” said Gorman, whose book is a comprehensive history of fatalities at ballparks. “I think they’ve intentionally downplayed it.”

“The physics of getting struck with a baseball can be brutal. Baseballs are hard, weigh about five ounces and are nine inches around, roughly the size of a fist. And in the major leagues, they can fly off the bat of the best hitters at more than 100 miles an hour. At that speed, they can strike a fan about a second after leaving the bat,” Gorman said in his book. 

Candidate Joe Dills Asked to Leave Ohio House Race After Ashley Madison Revelation

The Ohio Republican Party is asking candidate Joe Dills to withdraw from the race for Ohio House District 65 after he admitted to setting up an Ashley Madison account. 

The party may rescind its endorsement, which was made prior to learning details of Dill’s involvement with the married dating site. A decision from the Republican Party’s Central Committee is expected late next week.

Dills called the allegations a smear campaign and refused to drop out. He is running in the Republican primary against former U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt and Dillon Blevins, a NRA-certified pistol instructor. 

The Air Force veteran and small business owner was endorsed by both the Clermont County Republican Party and Ohio Republican Party in his GOP primary campaign.

Ohio Statehouse News will be following the race and interviewing candidates. Stay tuned!

Dills claimed that he was single at the time the account was established. 

On  Dill’s Facebook page the candidate stated that he never used the site to actively meet with anyone and was never involved in any illicit behavior beyond creating the profile on that site.

Statewide Broadband Could Become Reality for Ohio

Waiting for Broadband is only funny in memes.

If you’re among the estimated one million Ohioans with shoddy internet or no internet access at all, you may feel left behind by the Information Age. Broadband access is as essential as running water, yet some 300,000 Ohio households are without it, mainly in rural areas.

Ohio House Bill 13 proposes to change that. This residential broadband expansion legislation would extend high speed internet throughout the state, most importantly to unserved areas that cable providers currently don’t go. 

Rural areas have been left behind in the digital era

The bill’s sponsor, Representative  Rick Carfagna, (R- Genoa Township) knows a little something about broadband. Carfagna worked in the cable industry for 14 years as a liaison to local governments before being elected to the Ohio House, where he represents the eastern half of Delaware County and all of Knox County.

“I understand the economics of the broadband issue, and the frustrations behind not being able to get these facilities and these resources out to unserved areas,” said Carfagna, who noted that one of the main barriers in rural areas is a low population density. “Broadband providers simply don’t offer service where there aren’t enough customers to pay for it,” he added. 

Along with Carfagna, Representative Michael O’Brien, (D-Warren) is a sponsor on the broadband bill. 

The Proposed legislation has big goals

Carfagna said that HB 13 was pretty modest starting out, but that it is in the process of being modified to meet some more ambitious goals. At the direction of Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, (R-Glenford) the legislation is being made more inclusive and robust.

“Speaker Householder recognizes this as a serious problem and something we should make a public policy priority,” said Carfagna. “He designated this as one of our caucus’ priority bills.”

“The thought is, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right,” said Carfagna. “Let’s be ambitious. Let’s be expansive. It will be significantly different from the original bill,” added the representative. “It will be bigger and better.” 

Expanded broadband means a more competitive Ohio

Access to broadband has been shown to increase job growth and educational opportunities, it benefits small businesses and even improves healthcare, explained Carfagna. Telemedicine is an example of how a strong internet infrastructure can improve healthcare in Ohio, he said.   

Much of rural Ohio and small pocket areas of Ohio’s inner cities are lacking reliable and affordable broadband, said Cera. 

Many other states already have statewide broadband access

HB 13 is currently in the House Finance Committee, of which Representative Jack Cera, (D-Bellaire) is a ranking member. Cera represents Monroe and Jefferson counties and parts of Belmont County in East Ohio, some of the most underserved and rural areas of the state. Cera said he is very supportive of any efforts to expand broadband. The challenge, he said, is how to go about it. “Broadband expansion has been done in other states with great results and it can be successful here too,” said the legislator. “Technology is going to continue to evolve and improve rapidly and it’s important that we keep pace.” 

“Quality internet access is necessary, from kids, to business, to health care,” Cera added. “It’s a shame that the parts of Ohio that need help the most, Appalachia, has the biggest problem with it.”

Cera said cellular coverage also needs a serious look.  “In the counties that I represent, we have whole communities that have no access to cellular service.”

Grants would help pay for broadband expansion

Cera said that state and federal grants would likely help fund a statewide broadband undertaking. “You could probably spread a program out over a few years and it wouldn’t be very much per year,” said Cera. “We really need to get moving on this. Everybody needs to come together to come up with the best solutions.”

A similar bill, HB 281, passed easily in the House with 92 votes during the last general assembly.

“Most, if not all, the representatives get the issue,” said Carfagna. “Every district, I don’t care how urban or suburban or affluent you are, you’re going to have unserved and underserved households. This is a legitimate issue that cuts across all demographics, though it’s obviously more prevalent in the rural areas.”

Lack of broadband access negatively affects every district

The proposed legislation would go hand in hand with the Ohio Broadband Strategy, created under the direction of Lt. Governor Jon Husted. Husted’s plan calls for aggressively expanding and enhancing the state’s broadband network. If approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it will qualify local governments in Ohio for funding through the federal ReConnectprogram.

The representative said the cost of the project is to be determined by Governor Mike Devine’s office. 

“I don’t have a dollar amount at this point,” said Carfagna. “The governor’s office is working on that. When we release a revised bill, I think that the amount that will be inserted in there will be a meaningful amount to do some ambitious projects.”

Overcoming cost hurdle of statewide broadband access

The challenge of a statewide broadband expansion is determining the “cost hurdle” that has prevented cable companies from getting to end users, the representative explained. This funding gap would be the difference between the total amount of money a broadband provider calculates is necessary to construct the last miles of a specific broadband network and the total amount of money that the provider has determined is the maximum amount that is cost effective. 

“I’m convinced that if the bill does pass and is signed into law, it will be a success,” Carfagna added. “It will prove its worth and it will produce real tangible results.”