Cincinnati voters will decide in November whether to double the length of their council members' terms.
City Council voted 6-3 on Wednesday to put the ballot initiative before voters. The measure would have all nine members run at the same time, instead of a competing ballot initiative that would have staggered their terms.
“We are the only major city in Ohio that still has two-year terms for its leaders, and the cities that we compete with are also moving to four-year terms, including Louisville and as far as St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver and Atlanta,” said Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who spearheaded the effort.
If approved by voters, the change wouldn’t affect council members serving currently and would go into effect in 2013.
Not every council member was thrilled with the idea.
“I think accountability is paramount, and I don’t see going from two-year terms to four-year terms as increasing the accountability citizens want,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who was one of three new faces to join council in last year's election, which saw four Republican incumbents booted from City Hall.
“I’m sure it’s not lost on my colleagues that last November the electorate was craving change and wanted change, and if we had been in the middle of a four-year cycle they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make that change and a substantial portion of this council … wouldn’t be sitting up here today.”
Sittenfeld equated an election to a job evaluation. He, along with councilmembers Chris Smitherman and Charles Winburn, voted against the ordinance.
Quinlivan has said her rationale for pushing four-year terms would be to eliminate the cycle that currently has sitting council members spending half of their terms campaigning.
Councilman Cecil Thomas said four-year terms would allow council members to focus on longer-term projects as well.
“Four years gives us plenty of time to gel together, to work together,” Thomas said.
Councilman Chris Seelbach attended all four public hearings council held throughout the city and called the number of people who support four-year terms “unbelievable.” Seelbach said he himself was “semi-conflicted” over the proposed changes, but was not conflicted over whether voters should have that choice: He voted in favor.
Mayor Mark Mallory was sure to remind councilmembers before their vote that they are forbidden from using city resources to campaign for a ballot initiative.
The good news first: Most of HB 194 is being repealed. It’s good to see Republicans follow the advice of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a moderate Republican who called or the repeal of HB 194 earlier this year.The bad news: Some new limits on voting rights are going to remain in place, and the entire repeal process, which involves the passing of SB 295, might be unconstitutional.
While it’s good to see HB 194 repealed, it’s not the only voting law Republicans enacted last year. The Ohio legislature also passed HB 224, which prohibited voting the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before election day.For Democrats, this poses a bit of a problem. Democrats are happy to see most of the restrictions on voting repealed, but they want to see all of the restrictions repealed. If SB 295 passes, Democrats worry that the rest of the restrictions won’t be repealed because Republicans will think they have done enough.
Even the Obama team spoke on this issue. In an email to Obama supporters Tuesday, Greg Schultz, the Ohio State Director on the Obama team, urged voters to speak up: “This bill could mean an end to our last three days of early voting this November — and would change the rules, right in the middle of an election year. It's an unambiguous attack on our voting rights.”The other problem is the repeal could be unconstitutional. After HB 194 passed, voters were quick to speak out against the new law and put it up for referendum in the November 2012 ballot. So Republicans are repealing a law that is already up for referendum. This is the first time that’s happened in the Ohio legislature, and Democrats claim it might be unconstitutional.
The lawsuit claims that Hebert was complying with instructions given by an investigating officer when he was shot and killed by Mitchell. The suit claims excessive force was used and that Mitchell “acted intentionally, recklessly, wantonly, and with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Mr. Hebert.”
Hebert was shot and killed by Mitchell after officers responded to a 911 call around 3 a.m. during which an intoxicated man alleged to have been robbed by Hebert and assaulted with a pirate sword. Hebert was located sitting on a sidewalk on Chase Avenue in Northside about 10 minutes later. During subsequent questioning, officers say Hebert drew a knife and moved toward an investigating officer, causing Mitchell to believe the officer’s life was in danger. Mitchell shot Hebert twice, killing him. Toxicology reports found Hebert to have a blood alcohol content of 0.33 at the time of his death, along with marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms in his system.
Three investigations cleared police of any wrongdoing, but Friends of Bones says the facts from the investigations show Hebert complied with police orders during the encounter.
The lawsuit demands a trial by jury and compensatory and punitive damages, along with attorney’s fees, costs, disbursements and additional relief as the court deems proper. The suit, which is embedded below, was published on the “Friends of Bones” website (www.friendsofbones.org).
The incident has drawn considerable media attention, especially this week in conjunction with the anniversary of the shooting.
The Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday published a story titled “Reports: Cops came too close in killing of David 'Bones' Hebert” comparing accounts of the incident in public records to standard Cincinnati Police Department guidelines, which concluded that “police officers got dangerously close and failed to have a plan before approaching Hebert, who police thought was carrying a sword or large knife.”
Cincinnati Magazine’s May issue will feature a story, “Salvaging Bones,” which is subtitled: “David Hebert was a lot of things: the dreadlocked maker of burritos; a punk rocker; a womanizing, tatted-up former Jesus freak with a kind heart and a wild streak. What he wasn’t was a guy you’d expect to find dead at the end of a police standoff.”
CityBeat on Sept. 14, 2011 published a story titled “Digging Up Answers for Bones” in which friends and family of Hebert alleged that Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ closing of the investigation was politically motivated.
CityBeat on May
4, 2011 published a story titled “A Shot in the Dark,” detailing
the early questions that surrounded the incident.
Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what Republican House Speaker John Boehner said would be priority No. 1 for Republicans after sweeping the House of Representatives and many state legislatures in 2010. This, Republicans said, was why they were elected: People wanted to see changes in the economy fast.
But, apparently, there was one other priority.
Almost immediately after coming into office in 2011, Virginia Republicans set the national stage for vital women’s health issues. House Bill 1 — the first bill Virginia Republicans chose to take on — was a personhood bill, a bill that define life beginning at conception. Not only would the bill have banned abortion, it would also have banned the birth control pill, which sometimes prevents birth by stopping the implantation of a fertilized egg.
An impartial observer might wonder why a personhood bill would be a top Republican priority. After all, the same election that put all these Republicans in power also had a personhood bill overwhelmingly rejected in Mississippi — a state so socially conservative that 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans want to make interracial marriage illegal, according to a recent poll from Public Policy Polling.
Nonetheless, this was the issue Virginia Republicans decided to give serious attention. In an economy with a 9 percent unemployment rate at the time, this was the most important issue to Virginia Republicans.
Ohio wasn’t much luckier with its crop of Republicans. Five months after inauguration, the Ohio House passed its “heartbeat” bill, or H.B. 125. To this day, it’s the most radical anti-abortion bill in the country. Not only would it ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, but the bill makes no exceptions for rape, incest or life-threatening circumstances.
Ohio and Virginia were not alone. Republicans were pushing anti-abortion, anti-contraception bills all around the nation. Pennsylvania, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas all made national headlines with their own bills. In more than 20 states, bills have been introduced to restrict insurance coverage of abortions, according to ABC News. At the federal level, Republicans have made funding for Planned Parenthood a top issue time and time again, and insurance companies covering contraception recently became such a big issue that the White House had to step in.
So much for keeping the government out of health care. The same political party that clamored for small government now couldn’t wait to regulate women’s health care. Apparently, the economy is too much for the government to handle, but every woman’s uterus is fair game.
There has been some backlash. After Virginia tried to pass a bill that would force doctors to give patients seeking abortion a transvaginal ultrasound, women’s health advocates in states across the nation organized protests, leading to governors and state legislatures beginning to back down in their rhetoric. Even Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who originally supported the transvaginal ultrasound bill, has been downplaying his involvement in Virginia’s anti-abortion, anti-contraception bills.
Now, Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee for president, is facing some of the backlash. In a recent Gallup poll, women came out severely against Romney. In the category of women under 50, Obama held 60 percent of voters, while Romney held only 30 percent. That’s right, Obama now leads with women under 50 by a two-to-one margin.
But while that may stop some rhetoric, the bills and laws are still coming forward. The Ohio heartbeat bill is still being pushed by some Republicans in the Ohio Senate, and a personhood initiative could show up in Ohio’s 2012 ballot after a stamp of approval from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. Mississippi also plans to reintroduce its personhood initiative in the 2012 ballot, and other states are beginning to pass around petitions for their own initiatives as well.
In the end, one is left to wonder what could stop social conservatives. Public backlash and poor polling don’t seem to be enough to stop the Republican war on women, and in some cases it might have actually emboldened them.
An analysis of U.S. crime data by a British newspaper has found there’s been a 25 percent increase in civilian justifiable homicides since the controversial “stand your ground” (SYG) laws started being introduced in 2005.
London’s Guardian newspaper analyzed data from FBI and state sources. It concludes that the spike in civilian justifiable homicides is related not only to SYG laws, but also weak gun control laws in certain states.
Florida was the first state to introduce an SYG law in 2005 and similar measures have now been adopted in some form by more than 20 states. Most were passed in 2006. Ohio doesn’t yet have such a law, but it’s believed that gun advocates might be planning a campaign for one here soon.
Florida’s SYG law is expected to be part of the defense made for George Zimmerman, if he is charged with a crime. Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin, Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. The incident has triggered widespread public outrage.
The Guardian’s analysis shows that SYG laws alone cannot be statistically linked with the rise in justifiable homicides. But in states with both SYG laws and the weakest gun control laws — as defined by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — it found a statistical correlation with an increase in justifiable homicides.
Across the United States, such killings have risen sharply over the past five years, according to the data provided by the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. From 2001-05, there were 1,225 homicides classified as justifiable, compared to 1,528 in the period 2006-10. By contrast, violent crime overall has been falling.
"The police are shooting more people and citizens are shooting more people. We're evolving into an increasingly coarse society with no obligation to diffuse a situation and rapidly turn to force,” said Professor Dennis Kenney, of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and an ex-police sergeant in Florida. "People are literally getting away with murder."
SYG laws allow a potential crime victim who is in fear of “grave harm” to use deadly force in public places, not just inside their own homes. They eliminate the legal requirement to retreat before a person may claim he or she acted in self-defense.
SYG laws have been pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model legislation for state lawmakers to use.
State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) is among ALEC's leaders, as CityBeat has previously reported here and here. The group, which held its annual meeting in Cincinnati last spring, has a membership of nearly 2,000 state legislators and around 300 private-sector members.
Funded by the Koch brothers, the National Rifle Association, oil companies and others, ALEC’s model bills have served as the template for "voter ID" laws that swept the nation in 2011, for the voucher programs that privatize public education, for anti-immigrant legislation, and for the wave of anti-labor union legislation pushed during the past two years in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona, New Hampshire and elsewhere.
This week Coca-Cola and PepsiCo dropped their memberships in ALEC, amid the threat of boycotts.
In 2010 National Public Radio reported that Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), a private-sector ALEC board member, participated in the drafting of Arizona Senate Bill No. 1070. The report documented the behind-the-scenes effort to draft and pass the law and how the CCA stood to benefit from people incarcerated under it.
Marvin Meadors, a Huffington Post contributor, has described ALEC as “a bill-churning mill which uses corporate money to draft model legislation that advances the agenda of the Far Right and encourages crony capitalism.”
"It is inherently wrong to allow private businesses to make a profit off
the incarceration of others," said Brickner in an ACLU press release. “Our state’s
prison system is bloated, and private corporations have a vested financial
interest to ensure our prisons remain full. If state officials have any hope of
shrinking our prison population, we must implement transformative criminal
justice reform policies and reject interests that grow our prison system.”
Brickner suggests that concerned citizens contact their elected representatives to express their opposition to privatizing prisons. Read the ACLU's full report on privatizing prisons here.
A ruling that resulted in a temporary halt in Ohio executions last week means there are 148 inmates on Ohio's death row with uncertain futures. Ohio's death penalty is currently under scrutiny, largely due to opposition that's been raised from documented failures to follow protocol in state executions.
In January, Federal District Court Judge Gregory Frost of Newark, Ohio halted condemned murderer Charles Lorraine's Ohio execution because Ohio has allegedly demonstrated problems over the last several months upholding the execution protocol the state put in place itself in 1981. On Feb. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Frost's decision, saying that because Ohio had been proven to stray from its own execution policies, it couldn't be trusted to carry out Lorraine's execution or any other death sentences. The next execution in Ohio is scheduled for April.
Frost is one of several advocating for the abandonment on Ohio's death penalty. "For close to eight years, the Court has dealt with inmate challenges to the constitutionality of Ohio’s execution protocol. During that time, the litigation has morphed from focusing primarily on allegations of cruel and unusual punishment to allegations of equal protection violations. Ohio has been in a dubious cycle of defending often indefensible conduct, subsequently reforming its protocol when called on that conduct, and then failing to follow through on its own reforms," said Frost in his written opinion.
He goes on to describe instances in which state agents lied to the Court concerning state executions, expressing frustration about the state's lack of commitment to constitutional execution. "No judge is a micro-manager of executions and no judge wants to find himself mired in the ongoing litigation in which he must continually babysit the parties," said Frost.
That's just a piece of it; there are other judicial bigwigs hoping to have Ohio's death penalty overturned, including Senior Associate Justice for the Ohio Supreme Court Paul Pfiefer, who helped write Ohio's death penalty law when he was a state senator more than 30 years ago. According to Pfeifer, he's changed his mind because he sees the option of life without the possibility of parole more moral and socially beneficial.
Evidently, most of the deviations from the execution regulations were minor paperwork technicalities. Huffington Post reports the errors included switching the official whose job it was to announce the start and finish times of the lethal injection and not properly documenting that the inmate's medical records were reviewed.
Those in support of the hold, however, make another point. Controlling life and death is the most important power the state of Ohio holds; if it can't follow minor rules that it set for itself, who's to say there won't be larger, more detrimental errors in the future?
It's difficult to tell whether or not Ohio will just get a slap on the wrist for its slip-ups or if reform will be seriously considered. The death penalty has almost always been a part of Ohio's history, since it became a state in 1803. Ohio ranked third in the U.S. for executions among the 34 states that have the death penalty in 2011.
Listen to Paul Pfeifer and hear more about the controversy on The Sound of Ideas radio program below.