Baldridge Sees Need to Expand Broadband Access

State Representative Brian Baldridge (R-Winchester)

By Del Duduit

Ohio State Representative Brian Baldridge has a unique perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down most of the nation, including his state.

Baldridge, a Republican from Adams County, is not only a legislator in his first term, but he is also a firefighter and paramedic. He was a four-term county commissioner and was in office during the national economic downturn in 2008. His experience, he believes, will guide him to help his constituents get through this current situation.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was one of the first in the nation to shut down his state and is being credited with getting ahead of the virus that has spread all over the world.

But as a result, many people have had to close their businesses, and the numbers of people filing for unemployment have skyrocketed.

“This is certainly new territory,” he said on Good Friday. “But we did see how the economic recession in ‘08 affected our communities. For some, it was devastating. When we get past this, we know how to work with local governments to help them and better assist our citizens.”

Baldridge represents the 90th District, which includes all of Adams and Scioto and a portion of Lawrence County. He was appointed by the Ohio Speaker of the House to serve on the Economic Recovery Task Force and will examine ways to help Buckeyes get back on their feet as soon as possible.

“We will discuss the economy with business owners and leaders and find a new direction to help bring everyone together and help each other,” he said. “This is our opportunity to move forward to help local communities and businesses lift themselves out of this financial problem.”

From a first responder standpoint, Baldridge said he is more aware than ever about making sure he takes precautions to protect himself and his family and friends.

“This is a very serious time in our nation, state and community,” he added. “This pandemic has changed me and how I do business. I am more safety cautious, and I make sure that I don’t wear the same clothes I had on at the fire department at home. When I make my transition toward home, I disinfect and make sure I don’t bring anything potentially dangerous to anyone.”

Schools in the area remain closed, and students are either learning online or from their parents. One area Baldridge said he will focus on as soon as possible is to put an emphasis to make broadband available to all Ohioans.

“A lot of my district is rural, and there are some people who don’t have access to broadband,” he said. “A big portion of my district has people who are off the grid and cannot work at the same speed because of this, and it’s not a good situation. We don’t want anyone to fall behind because they don’t have broadband, especially students and people who are encouraged to work from home.”

School districts are doing all they can to ensure students have what they need to complete assigned work, he added, but they are limited if there is no broadband access.

“Many districts are providing hard copies to students, and that’s great because they are doing their best,” he said. “But every student needs broadband access, and we are going to look at this issue right away.”

He added the current situation is a trying time in Ohio and the nation, but it’s also a good opportunity to connect with people who are close to each other.

“We are going to get through this,” he said. “And we will be wiser and stronger. But I am a firm believer in my faith, and this is a time to rely on friends and family and grow closer and stronger. That’s one big thing I see coming out of all this.”

Del Duduit is a guest writer for Ohio Statehouse News

Del Duduit is an award-winning writer and author who lives in Lucasville, Ohio with his wife, Angie. They attend Rubyville Community Church. Follow his blog at delduduit.com/blog and his Twitter @delduduit. He is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.

Ohio’s Tiger King

Before Joe Exotic and Netflix’s Tiger King hit the airwaves, Ohio had its own Tiger King. Many still question his tragic end.

 

Netflix’s wildly popular Tiger King has sparked renewed interest in the tragic tale of a Zanesville man and the wild animal escape of 2011.

Before Joe Exotic and Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness hit the airwaves, Ohio had its own Tiger King, the late Terry Thompson. Like Joe Exotic, Thompson had an affinity for fast cars, guns and collecting wild exotic animals.

After purchasing two Bengal cubs in 1977, Thompson was hooked. The Vietnam veteran started a 73-acre wild animal sanctuary in Zanesville where he housed a wide array of creatures, from macaws to bears.

Ohio’s Tiger King, sadly, had a much more tragic fate than Joe Exotic. What happened on Thompson’s sanctuary would lead to the state adopting some of the strictest wild animal laws in the nation.

Police say that on Oct. 18, 2011, in an act of anger and revenge, Thompson set loose dozens of dangerous wild animals into the city of Zanesville, population 25,000, before committing suicide by shooting himself in the head.

In the hours that followed, law enforcement and an army of volunteers carrying high-powered weapons massacred numerous wild animals, including 18 tigers, 17 lions, 8 bears 3 cougars, 2 wolves and a baboon.

Terry Thompson

Thompson had recently been released from federal prison, where he served a year on gun charges, and his wife of 40 years left him, setting the stage for a mental breakdown that led to the release of the animals, said authorities.

Several of the animals were shot dead in their cages, including some young tiger cubs, according to sanctuary caretaker John Moore, who told his story to author Teresa Headley in the book, Eighteen Days to the Massacre. 

Thompson’s body was discovered on a horse trail in the sanctuary. It was reportedly was being eaten by a Siberian tiger. According to the sanctuary caretaker, police said Thompson used his left hand to fire the weapon, even though he was right-handed and his left arm had a fresh injury where he had been clawed.

Another interesting detail is that Thompson used a Muskingum County deputy’s pistol to shoot himself, said Moore.

There was no crime scene investigation and police did not follow up on other details, like who purchased the bullets for the pistol,  even though a receipt was found near the crime scene, according to Moore.

Other little-known details of Thompson’s death also are revealed in the book.

Many have disputed law enforcement’s claims that Thompson would jeopardize the lives of his beloved animals and commit suicide.

One of the people who spoke out on behalf of Thompson was Joe Exotic, himself.

Not long after the Zanesville massacre, Joe Exotic produced a video for Joe Exotic TV entitled The Lion Sleeps Tonight. In the video, he explained why he did not believe Thompson released the animals and committed suicide.

“There are so many questions people have that were never brought to light by the police department …” said Joe Exotic, including the timeline of the events, which he said do not add up.

Joe Exotic pointed out that Thompson’s leopards were the only cats that were not released that day. “Leopards are the most dangerous of the big cats,” said Exotic. “He would have let the most aggressive animals out if he wanted to cause mayhem for the town and community.”

Also, the valuable animals, like Celebes apes, which he said are worth about $10,000 each,  were not released from their cages.

Joe Exotic pointed out that authorities chose not to use tranquilizing or paralyzing agents, even though two Ohio zoos were called to help and that these would have been available. These and other questions have not been answered.

He said there also were no crime scene pictures taken.

Several years before Thompson died, he began selling firearms as a way to finance the feeding, housing and care of his animals. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives eventually caught on and charged Thompson with possession of 133 unregistered firearms.

While at the property, ATF agents said they noticed animals being kept in horrible conditions. However no charges were brought against Thompson for animal neglect or abuse. Thompson attempted to fight the firearms charges, but he eventually pled guilty as money ran out to defend himself in court.

Shortly after the Zanesville tragedy, Senate Bill 310 which contained new, stricter Exotic Rules and Regulations was enacted. Ohio went from having some of the nation’s loosest laws on private exotic animal ownership to having some of the toughest.

Owners had to register and micro-chip their animals, and meet strict standards on housing, training, transportation, insurance and enclosures. The law also prohibited the acquisition of more animals — except for certain species — and the state could seize animals from owners who failed to meet the standards. Animals that did not meet the new criteria were surrendered by owners or were seized by the state and taken to a facility in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

In 2013, the ODOA disclosed that the new $2.9 million, 17,920-square-foot Dangerous Wild Animal Temporary Holding Facility had been built to accommodate the animals.

People of Faith Deserve Better from the NYT

An op-ed piece in the New York Times recently did not blame the Chinese government for the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill.

The post did not blame Republicans, Democrats or Independents. Of course not.

Katherine Stewart instead tossed the responsibility and blame on people of faith.

After all, the religious right is anti-science, as she claimed, and they support President Donald Trump, who the “newspaper of record” clashes with at press conferences on a regular basis.

Stewart’s opinion article was published on March 27, 2020. It is titled “The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response,” and Stewart makes her opinion clear that people of faith are the reason we are all might die.

She blathers that Trump came into power with the determined assistance that denies science and bashes government. She opines that loyalty is stronger than expertise.

If Trump had not chosen to align himself with anti-science Bible-thumpers, then we would not be in this mess, she suggests.

This is straight out of the leftist playbook. Blame the deplorables and the gun-toting Bible thumpers.

When all else fails and you are void of an intelligent argument, toss the blame and call names.

The editorial writer then made an appearance on MSNBC to further point the finger at Christians.

This is a prime example why many Americans do not trust the mainstream media. Journalism used to be a proud profession–one that held esteem and honor.

A Gallup poll recently released a piece, and the title said it all: “Most Americans say they have lost trust in the media.” A CBS poll in March said that President Trump is trusted more than the media.

Stewart’s unwarranted attack on people of faith is just another reason why Americans do not trust the outlets and the people who are supposed to be fair and neutral.

I would have expected the blame to be directed at Communist China for the release of the virus. After all, that is where it came from.

Instead, journalists and left-leaning members of Congress chastise the President as being a racist for calling the disease the “Chinese Coronavirus.”

I see nothing wrong with that characterization. I go to “Chinese” restaurants and “Italian” restaurants to dine. I speak the “English” language, and one of my pets was a “German” Shepherd. These assumptions of racism are ridiculous.

Stewart is fine with offending American people who are Christians but will not dare put the responsibility of this pandemic where it belongs out of fear of being labeled a racist or frustrating a country that has a documented history of population control – China.

Instead, she attacks Christians.

I remember when journalists were brave and sought to tell the truth no matter the consequence.

Stewart is neither. She puts a target on those she assumes have been taught to “turn the other cheek.”

Christians are not anti-science. I have many friends who are doctors, and I have put my trust in them. Just because I am a person of faith does not mean I don’t appreciate doctors and hospitals.

If I am sick or need attention from a healthcare provider, I go. I never ask about their religious background because that’s not really important to me when I am in an emergency room.

The fact that I rely on the “ultimate healer” is not a slap in their face. If an atheist is put in the position to save my loved one and has the skills needed to save lives, then I am ready to receive his help.

But Stewart’s attack on people of faith is deeper than what she claims. She must possess a deep hatred for Christians in order to blame them for this pandemic. Many in the media mock Vice President Pence for his Christian beliefs. But he handles it with class.

I believe there is more to this pandemic. Many high-profile people warned two years that this could happen.

Tragic events usually bring the country together, and citizens are more lenient and loving toward each other.

But in this case, this writer expressed disdain and blame for a certain population which only works to divide the country even more.

President Trump has been working hard to fight this pandemic and to encourage private and public entities to partner together to fight this enemy. Inconvenience is a way of life for now. He is criticized by the media for holding too many press briefings. If he didn’t make daily appearances, they would bang on him for that. The mainstream media cannot be satisfied or trusted.

But to scapegoat Christians because of this pandemic is a low blow, even for the New York Times.

Del Duduit is an award-winning writer and author who lives in Lucasville, Ohio with his wife, Angie. They attend Rubyville Community Church. Follow his blog at delduduit.com/blog/ and his Twitter @delduduit. He is represented by Cyle Young of Hartli

When Love is in the Air… but so is the Coronavirus

No one will ever know just how many weddings were cancelled, postponed or were never planned this year due COVID-19.

Few people realize the preparation, time and expense that goes into planning a wedding, not to mention the hopes and dreams of a young couple in love.

There’s the venue, the guest list and invitations, the cake, catering, music, flowers … and the list goes on.

But this is 2020 and there’s more than just love in the air. Enter the coronavirus.

With so many couples struggling to decide what to do, a website has been set up by a wedding planning service called The Knot to help couples navigate the crisis.

Here are the stories of two brides-to-be whose wedding plans were altered due to an uninvited and unwelcome guest: COVID-19. These young ladies are first cousins and both happen to be in the nursing profession.

“When all this started in February, we never thought our May wedding would be affected,” said Casie Contos, who works at the Cleveland Clinic. Casie and is engaged to medical student Tyler Karras. Tyler is about to start a residency at Mercy Health in Youngstown.

“Slowly, the realization came that this MIGHT cause us some problems,” said Casie.

The couple came up with a Plan B, to have an intimate backyard wedding ceremony. “We still didn’t take this plan B too seriously. This coronavirus thing would all blow over soon, right?”

Casie said there were so many things to consider when deciding if they should postpone the wedding.

“Will we be able to confidently hug our guests? Am I going to make someone feel uncomfortable if I get too close? Do I have to pay hundreds of dollars for new invitations? Will there be a different date available that works for us and our vendors?”

“How do you make a decision for an event in May when information on this virus changes daily?” the future bride questioned.

The fact that the couple works in health care added another dimension to the problem.

First, Casie decided that it would be best to cancel her March bridal shower. Then Tyler cancelled a bachelor party cruise. Then Casie called off her bachelorette party.

The couple continued to hang onto the hope that the wedding could still happen.

“Finally, today, we gave in to the inevitable and made the heartbreaking decision that it was no longer safe to move forward with our May 30, 2020 wedding,” said Casie. “This decision came after many sleepless nights, emails, long conversations, etc.”

The couple had already paid for or made deposits on a photographer, a DJ, a minister, a florist, a hair stylist and a chair rental company, each under a separate contract.

“Do you think every one of these vendors will have the same date open to reschedule for us? Probably not,” said Casie. And having their payments returned if they decided to cancel was also unlikely.

Then there was the venue that the couple had already paid several thousand dollars to reserve. “They said if we cancel our wedding, we will only get back 50 percent of what we have paid,” said Casie.

“There have been moments where we hope our venue just cancels on us. At least then we would get our money back. Isn’t that crazy? The biggest day of our lives. We planned for this day for two years. And we hope our venue cancels.”

In addition to this, some counties in Ohio are not issuing marriage licenses, so getting legally married may not even be possible anytime soon.

“We aren’t sad – we haven’t cried,” said Casie. “We’re just completely speechless and utterly dumbfounded.”

Planning a wedding around the coronavirus poses a challenge to these two Ohio couples and many others like them. Top: Casie Contos and Tyler Karras; Bottom: Brandy Contos and Nathan Nichols

Brandy Contos, who is Casie’s cousin, said she and her fiancé have not decided yet if they will postpone their July wedding in Nashville, TN.

Brandy  is employed at an outpatient surgical center that has temporarily closed. “I have applied to every site, willing to be on the front lines with my fellow nurses but have not been contacted,’ said Brandy.

“Obviously, we will have to make sure our bills are paid and food is on the table, over the costs of a wedding,” she added.

Brandy’s fiancé Nathan Nichols is from San Diego and works in the hotel industry.  Though Nathan’s line of work has been impacted by the coronavirus, Nathan is still working.

The couple resides in Chicago.

“I didn’t go through the extent of planning like Casie, so I really feel for her,” said Brandy. “We still have a number of months yet and the direction of this virus isn’t clear. For now, we are just staying informed regarding the virus and mandates/legislation and stay-at-home orders” said Brandy.

The future bride said the unknown course of the virus has prevented them from committing to floral arrangements, a bakery for the wedding cake and a justice of the peace, among other things.

“I can only imagine the economic stress this must put on those small businesses,” she added.

Another uncertainty is their venue, which is a hotel. Many hotels have now closed or have limited staff.

Brandy recently cancelled her May bachelorette party.

“And, of course, our honeymoon is booked so we will have to see what to do with that,” she said.

“I’m currently thinking that if we have to postpone or cancel the wedding, that we just won’t have a wedding,” Brandy said.

“I don’t want to start over. I just want to marry my best friend.”

The CDC also offered some advice for couples who choose to go through with their celebration on the original date.

“Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene and social distancing,” the new CDC guidelines said. “When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.”

Ohio Small Businesses Can Get up to a $10,000 Advance on Federal Disaster Loans

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), “small businesses can obtain up to a $10,000 advance on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan even if a previous application was denied.”

This loan advance will provide relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a loss of revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SBA has stated that the funds will be made available within 3 days of a successful application. This advance does not have to be repaid.

The application for this advance is online and Ohio small businesses can apply by clicking here. There is no word yet on how long these reviews will take or when these advances will take place.

Distance Learning Means Digital Disadvantage for Some

All online classrooms are not created equal.

Distance learning has been extended to May 1st by Governor Mike DeWine but thousands of Ohio students lack the high-speed internet access necessary to participate.

This has long been a problem in Ohio, where about 300,000 homes lack adequate internet.

The so-called Honework Gap has taken on new dimensions now that closed school districts have been trying to maintain a semblance of instruction by putting teachers or course materials online.

Complicating matters is that the free wi-fi spots students once depended on like public libraries, McDonald’s and Starbucks have closed their doors.

Regina Hennen and her family have been dealing with poor internet access for years at their home near Steubenville. They pay $120 a month for satellite internet but still have inferior connection speeds.

The school system shifted to online learning after closing in early March.

“We live in the country and our service is horrible,” said Hennen. “It takes three to four times as long to watch videos and to get things to upload even from their phones,” she said. “We have to drive somewhere till it sends then head back home.”

Hennen, who is a teacher, said she doesn’t blame the schools. “I do think it’s unbelievable that I can go on a mission trip to Guatemala -be in a cornfield in a tiny village and my phone works – come here to the U.S. and nobody can get me good Wi-Fi and internet and they charge a ton for nothing.”

Ohio House Bill 13 is legislation that would expand residential broadband throughout the state, most importantly to unserved areas that cable providers currently don’t go. Unfortunately, it won’t come soon enough help during this current crisis.

Representative Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said HB 13 is one of the priority bills in the Ohio House.

Rep. Rick Carfagna is the bill’s primary sponsor and numerous others are working behind the scenes to develop a strategic plan to address affordability issues and necessary incentives to bring private internet providers on board.

“This is a longtime priority bill in the house,” said Edwards, who serves the 94th House District and is the Majority Whip.

Edwards said that the objective is to obtain top of the line technical service that is affordable.

“We can learn from other states that have taken on this problem and spent large amounts of money, and still ended up with slow internet speeds and spotty service,” said Edwards. “Every effort is being made to do this right.”

As millions of students nationwide are left at a disadvantage for an indefinite period of time in their education, some say that the Federal Communications Commission should take action and allocate funding for schools to loan Wi-Fi hotspots to students lacking home broadband.

The FCC should dedicate a special allocation of USF funds to reimburse schools and libraries that purchase and loan out Wi-Fi hotspots to students who live in homes that lack adequate broadband access, as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworce and 16 U.S. Senators recently recommended.

Schools, libraries, and other community efforts can also use other strategies to extend broadband to the homes of unconnected students. For example, two school districts in southern Virginia use  TV Whitespace technology  – longrange Wi-Fi that uses the vacant television channels available in rural and small town areas—to extend the school’s internet connection with students at home.

Another option would be supporting and funding the use of school buses as Wi-Fi hotspots, as one district in Illinois has already adopted for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Opinion: The Good Outweighs the Bad

By Del Duduit

Anyone who follows me knows that 95 percent of my posts are inspirational and encouraging.

On occasion, I let my opinions be known about how I feel about current events. Most see my point of view and a few others don’t, and that’s okay.

But today, I want to focus on what’s going on in the world that’s positive.

In the midst of the pandemic that has affected all of us, stories of hope always emerge.

We hear many accounts of scared people hoarding toilet paper, and there is panic every time a truck pulls into Walmart with a delivery. But I like to hear about the good in people.

There are some supermarkets and department stores that have stepped up and reserved slots in the morning for elderly people to come in buy what they need.

Bravo.

Some banks are taking similar steps to make sure those who are at most risk are able to attend to their daily needs.

That’s teamwork.

The images of young people partying with no regard for anyone’s safety bothered me, and I hope it disturbs all who observed these selfish acts.

But when I heard about a McDonald’s franchise in Florida giving free combo meals to hospital workers, it restored my faith in people.

Any employee who shows a hospital badge will be fed for free.

That’s much like what happened during 9/11 when many businesses helped out our first responders.

A portion of a press release from the Florida McDonalds stated it wanted to “honor and give special thanks to all the men and women who dedicate their lives to work in the medical professions to serve those affected by this global pandemic.”

I have gained a new respect for those who work in the healthcare industry and who are now on the front lines.

When you think of the front line in wartime, I envision a battlefield, or in recent years, New York City or even New Orleans.

But I never considered emergency rooms as the front line in a fight. I do now. The “invisible enemy,” as President Trump calls it, will be defeated in a hospital.

There is hope.

I have read reports from chains like Applebee’s, Burger King, and others that are doing acts of kindness. Keep in mind, some of these owners might be risking their financial future to ensure that those putting their lives on the line are fed.

Bravo.

In a little town in Maryland, I was encouraged to read about a person who did the right thing.

A woman’s debit card was denied, and she had a buggy full of groceries. A woman named Dana was behind the lady, and instead of turning her head and ignoring the embarrassing situation, she chose to let her know that she would cover the expenses the lady needed in this time of crisis.

That’s awesome. Good people still exist.

In Baltimore, the organization Weekend Backpacks for Homeless Kids stepped up to the plate and made sure children and their families are still supplied with bags of food while schools are closed.

In Scioto County, Ohio, Steven’s Power Packs (backpacks full of food) are doing the same thing. Times are tough, but this brings out the best in some.

That’s tremendous.

In a time of crisis, the good deeds always outweigh the looting and negative news you read about and see.

But rest assured, there are good people doing the right thing.

I believe the United States will survive this crisis. I have the utmost confidence in our leaders and will respect those in authority as they work tirelessly to lead us to safety. And we should be ready to assist a neighbor in need. A helping hand outweighs selfishness.

The good that will come out of this might not be seen for weeks, but it will make each person stronger every day.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to do so. (Proverbs 3: 27)

Keep the faith and do good.

Del Duduit is an award-winning writer and author who lives in Lucasville, Ohio with his wife, Angie. They attend Rubyville Community Church. Follow his blog at delduduit.com/blog and his Twitter @delduduit. He is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.

Porch Concerts are Music to the Ears

How do some musically inclined Belmont County band students pass the time during Ohio’s Stay-at-Home order? By holding Porch Concerts, of course.

These porch musicians have brought great joy and entertainment to folks residing in St. Clairsville, a small city located in East Ohio.

The concerts are a win-win. St. Clairsville High School band students keep their musical instruments in tune while entertaining the town. At the same time, everyone is keeping within the boundaries of social distancing.

Parents say it also gives the kids something to do that doesn’t involve electronics.

Even some band alumni have gotten in on it, playing instruments on the streets for people out exercising their legs or their dogs… and for passing motorists, of which there are very few these days.

The idea of holding porch concerts was put out online by St. Clairsville band director Justin Schwertfeger and his wife Becca, who leads the high school band’s color guard corps. The couple filmed their own routine and put on social media. This got the ball rolling and the music playing, as more and more people join in the fun.

“As a parent, I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Jill Caprita, whose son and daughter play in the high school band, Matthew and Andrea Horton. (pictured below)

The concerts officially perform on Thursday evenings at 7 pm, but with spring in the air, band students and alumni can be often be heard practicing outdoors.

Even some out of town residents say they can hear the music playing.

Videos and pictures are posted on the Facebook page #STCporchconcert

 

#STCporchconcert

Posted by Matthew Wood on Thursday, March 26, 2020

 

Alyssa playing the ukulele
This brother and sister trumpeting duo, a senior and a freshman at St. Clairsville High School, are Matthew Horton and Andrea Horton.
This husband and wife team posted the first online video to get students on board with the Porch Concerts idea. Band director Justin Schwertfeger and his wife Becca.
Concert on Main Street, St. Clairsville, Ohio
Mason Morgan, a junior at St. Clairsville High School, huffs out a tune on the tuba.
Jacob Thornton on the banjo. Jacob’s twin sister Sophie is in the school’s color guard.
Chloe on the sax
Juliana Turachak on the bass clarinet
Kimber plays out a tune from her front porch

Legislative Profile: Reggie Stoltzfus

State Representative Reggie Stoltzfus is currently serving his first term in the Ohio House. He represents the 50th House District, which includes the eastern portion of Stark County. Stoltzfus was born and raised in Hartville, a community of Stark County. He owns and operates several local businesses, employing around 40 people.
Stoltzfus is actively involved in various community organizations and attends Minerva First Christian Church. He is a member of the Minerva Rotary Club, Stark County Township Association, National Rifle Association, Stark County Farm Bureau and Right to Life (Stark County).
Stoltzfus attended Malone University where he studied Political Science. He resides in Paris Township with his wife and four children.

What are your legislative policy priorities or goals for the upcoming session?   My goals are to strengthen families by promoting policies that help families thrive. I am working on foster care/adoption reform so more children can transition into adoptive families.

What surprises/unexpected challenges did you encounter when you started? I am a get it done kind of person. This not the case with government. To be successful at making any policy changes it takes a lot of time and effort. It requires a great deal of collaboration with other members and interested parties to get anything done. This is something I am learning to be more patient with. It’s how our founders set things up so that legislation can be properly vetted. It’s a good thing.

If you could change one thing with the state system, what would it be?                    I would change adoption/foster care policy to make it more affordable and make it easier for solid families to participate.

How do you stay in touch with your district?  I have quarterly office hours in my district where I connect with my constituents. Also, anyone that emails or calls my office with an issue or problem I do my best to reach out to them on a personal level such as a phone call or meeting over coffee.

I also make an effort to attend and participate in events around the community so I know what’s happening around the district.

Early on I was told by a veteran legislator from my county to be responsive and accessible. I have taken that advice to heart and engage with my constituents.

What is the most interesting/unusual request from a constituent?   I had a constituent ask me what I was going to do about Goat milk law in Ohio. Evidently Goat milk is not allowed to be used for human consumption, except in certain cases, and this upset my constituent.

What are some of the attractions or hot spots in your district?  Hartville Marketplace, Hartville Hardware, and Hartville Kitchen is visited by more people annually than the NFL Hall of Fame so I consider it a big deal in the district. We have the Hart Mansion Restaurant in Minerva; People come from miles away to dine there. Maize Valley Winery attracts a lot of folks interested in tasting various beverages and fare.

Ohio is so diverse, what are the primary challenges you’re facing?  Economic development in the gas and oil corridor. Right now, we have an excellent opportunity to build infrastructure to bring industry to the 50th district by expanding Rt. 30 from a 2-lane road to a 4-lane highway. This would be a massive game changer for my district economically.

What have you done to help your district?  I helped Plain Twp. by placing an amendment in the operating budget that allows more than one fire district to serve a municipality. I have worked with the Ohio Department of Transportation District 4 on making our state routes safer through better signage. I also worked with ODOT to resolve drainage issues in the district.

How has your district benefitted from the budget?  In HB 166 we appropriated $675 million over the biennium for enhanced wrap around services which is designed to fund services that address non-academic barriers to student success. This includes mental health, family engagement and support services, and mentoring.

Increased funding for foster care in the budget is something my constituents will benefit from as they look to help our youth in need.

The budget provides $15 million per year for the new TechCred program and $2.5 million per year for regional industry sector partnerships grants. It also increases capital funding for workforce based training and equipment by $8 million.

 

Road Trip Offers Glimpse Into How Other States are Handling COVID-19

Police are having limited interactions with motorists and some trucking regulations have been lifted. Warning signs flash along highways and each state seems to have its own version of restrictions. Welcome to COVID-19.

An unexpected road trip from East Ohio to Atlanta last weekend gave me an opportunity to see first-hand how other states are handling the COVID-19 threat.

The 680-mile excursion took me through six states: Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia on some of the nation’s most-traveled highways.

There didn’t appear to be any shortage of motorists out, despite health officials’ recommendations to stay home.

… But there was something missing  – state troopers.

Ten hours on the road through six states and not a highway patrol in sight.

Police officers are reducing the number of traffic stops they make in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to a recent Car and Driver article.

Officially, though, police departments say that they will continue to enforce traffic laws.

“The patrol is encouraging everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” stated Sgt. Nathan E. Dennis of the Public Affairs Unit of the Ohio Highway Patrol.

“Ohio troopers are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines,” said Dennis. “This includes maintaining proper distance and proper hygiene.”

It’s not just law enforcement that has changed how things are done. The laws themselves have changed.

Replenishing stores and hospitals is on the shoulders of our nation’s trucking industry.

To facilitate trucks in delivering medical supplies, food and essentials where they are needed, the Trump administration lifted Hours-of-Service Regulations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released an Emergency Declaration so that truck drivers who are moving goods “in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks” can temporarily work longer hours.

COVID-19 public service messages on lighted flashing signs was another apparent change on interstate highways. A sign in North Carolina on I-85 displayed a web address for COVID-19 news.

Highway sign on a North Carolina interstate

Similar signs in South Carolina stated “Stay Home, Limit Travel, Save Lives, COVID-19,” while other signs reminded the traveling public to avoid gatherings.

Photo Credit: Dailysabah.com

In addition to signs, coronavirus warnings somehow flashed on my display console between songs on the radio, “Be Safe! Wash Your Hands…”

Making it to Atlanta required three fill-ups along the way. I wore gloves when using gas pumps, but I was the only one.

Maybe others were using hand sanitizer afterward because there was none to be found.  I finally broke down and purchased a small container of bleach for $6.99 at a fuel stop. That would have to do.

Incidentally, gasoline was going for $1.69 a gallon through most states, the lowest it’s been in over a decade.

As I drove, I wondered how many of my fellow travelers were on the road because of the coronavirus.

With the possibility of future travel restrictions, I needed to get my college-age son home to Ohio. He was in Atlanta at a flight school and had no way of renting a car because of his age and I didn’t particularly want him traveling through crowded international airports.

How many motorists were on similar missions, rushing to beat upcoming COVID-19 restrictions?

Georgia has multiple times the number of deaths attributed to the virus than Ohio does but that state had no restrictions in place. Making important decisions with so many unknowns seemed like a guessing game.

On the drive back to Ohio with my son, a news station announced that airline departures from several cities were halted. JFK, LGA and EWR cancelled future flights due to a positive COVID-19 test. Other regional airspace sectors halted  key “gates” through NY air traffic areas.

After hearing this, I felt we had done the right thing.

There wasn’t as much road construction as one might expect to see on the interstates, which meant fewer delays.

According to Construction Dive  some have states have shut down all nonessential roadway and bridge construction. In areas, some contractors have voluntarily suspended work out of concern for their workers.