Morning News: Should streetcar accident reports be public?; city manager: spike in shootings requires police overtime funding; Boehner says Congress won't repeal Obamacare

Former House Speaker John Boehner spent years chasing after his own personal white whale — a repeal of President Obama's signature health care law. Boehner now says he doesn't think Congress can do it and will instead "fix" the Affordable Care Act.

Feb 24, 2017 at 11:21 am

click to enlarge Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio
Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio

Hello all. It’s Friday, the weather is an improbable 65 degrees, the sun is shining and I’ve got some news to tell you about. It just doesn’t get any better.

Should the public have access to reports about streetcar accidents? A state lawmaker thinks so. Currently, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority and the Ohio Department of Transportation must conduct safety audits of the transit system, but those reviews and crash reports aren’t available to the public unless ODOT officials specifically release them. State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican from Mount Lookout who has opposed the streetcar, wants to change that and make the reports public by overturning a law passed 20 years ago that keeps them from public view. Since the streetcar started operating in September, SORTA has released some information about the 14 safety incidents involving the streetcar. But determinations about the causes of those incidents wasn’t disclosed, per state law. Police incident reports may contain some of that information, but not from SORTA’s internal investigations. ODOT says security information may be part of the safety reports, but otherwise it’s unclear why they aren’t public. Brinkman’s proposal was included in the state’s transportation budget, which passed out of committee yesterday.

• Cincinnati has seen a spike in shootings in 2017 and that’s made it necessary to allocate more overtime pay for officers, City Manager Harry Black said in a memo to City Council yesterday. The city has seen 62 shootings since the beginning of 2017, compared to just 33 at this time last year. In order to address the rise in gun violence, Black is putting aside $300,000 to pay overtime costs for officers, he said in the memo.

Violence prevention activists like Pastor Ennis Tate says that’s a good move, but that he like to see the city match the funding boost for police with an equal amount of funding for community efforts to end violence. “We’re putting more into police and not into the community,” Tate said. “We all agree we can’t police our way out of this.”

The pattern in the level of shootings in the city over the past five years has been somewhat befuddling and doesn’t point to much of a trendline. The 426 shootings in 2016 were just below the 427 seen in 2011. But some years, like 2015, saw alarming spikes — 479 people were shot in Cincinnati that year — while others, like 2014, saw far fewer. That year, 375 people were shot in the city. Further, spikes at the beginning of a year don’t necessarily meant the entire year will continue to be violent. All those totals are well down from violent crime levels experienced in the 1990s,

• The city’s Charter Committee, a group dedicated to local government transparency, has had something of a rebuilding year after deep divisions sidelined it from local politics of late. However, the party is now back up to full speed, officials say, and ready to endorse in the 2017 elections. Eight of the party’s 34 board members resigned following the 2015 election, when disagreements about a park tax levy created by a city charter amendment proposed by Mayor John Cranley split the party. Who will Charterites tap for Council and mayoral endorsements? Stay tuned.

• Should Ohioans face penalties for not having front license plates? State Rep. Alicia Reece doesn’t think so. She’s proposed legislation that would end citations for lacking a front plate when a car is parked, and is considering supporting other legislation that would keep drivers from being cited for lacking a plate unless they were also pulled over for another reason. Reece’s interest in the license plate laws comes after the July, 2015 shooting death of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose by then-University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing. Tensing pulled DuBose over for not having a front plate. Reece says she’s willing to start small, putting her bill in the upcoming budget, but wants to “see some movement” on the issue.

• Republican state lawmakers want to pass legislation that would more or less end the state’s prevailing wage for contractors working for cities, townships and counties. The bill, sponsored by Republican State Sen. Matt Huffman of Lima, would allow local governments to opt out of paying contractors on taxpayer-funded projects the state prevailing wage and let the market decide how much workers make, Huffman says. Union leaders have decried the bill, saying it would hurt the very working class Ohioans that Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have promised to help.

• Yesterday we told you about protests outside an appearance by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot at a meeting of the Greater Harrison Chamber of Commerce. At that meeting, Chabot also said some interesting things regarding his concerns about fellow Republican Donald Trump and his ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Chabot is on the House Judiciary Committee, one of five committees investigating the relationship between Putin, who Chabot calls “a thug,” and the president. Chabot says he supports those investigations, which have centered on Trump’s awareness of his aides’ contacts with Russia before the inauguration and how Trump handled the knowledge that his then-advisor Michael Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions with Russian officials before he took office as Trump’s national security advisor. Following revelations about those discussions, which were illegal under federal law, Flynn stepped down from his post, but questions remain about what Trump knew about those conversations and when he knew it

.• Will congressional Republicans be able to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act? It doesn’t look promising, says one prominent GOPer who spent years trying to do so. Ohio’s own, former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, was once one of the most dogged opponents of President Obama’s signature health care law. While he probably hasn’t warmed up to it much since a hard-right insurgency against him in the House triggered his resignation, Boehner is now saying that the mission of ridding the country of Obamacare outright will be very difficult.

 "They'll fix Obamacare," the former Ohio congressman said of Congress at a health care conference in Florida yesterday. "I shouldn't have called it repeal and replace because that's not what's going to happen. They're basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it."