Morning News: City budget shortfall; Bible literacy classes in Ky. public schools?; Husted challenges Trump's voter fraud accusation

Kentucky State Reps. DJ Johnson and Wesley Morgan say that the lessons in the good book are 'prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture' and should be taught in public schools.

click to enlarge Open carry activist Jeffry Smith on UC's campus Jan. 20. Some students have asked that open carry advocates like Smith receive closer monitoring from the school. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Open carry activist Jeffry Smith on UC's campus Jan. 20. Some students have asked that open carry advocates like Smith receive closer monitoring from the school.

Hey hey. You know what time it is. News time.

The city of Cincinnati is bringing in less earnings tax revenue than expected, and it could cause a budget shortfall. The gap between expected revenue and actual revenue grew from $2.6 million in November to $4.3 million at the end of December, according to a city report released yesterday. That report says the gap is “worrisome” and, even though other revenues make up some of that shortfall, result in the city having about $1.7 million less to spend than expected. That’s going to have some political ramifications, given that we’re about to be knee-deep in mayoral and Cincinnati City Council elections, and that the shortfall will likely mean cuts to some city programs and departments. The report from the city says there’s a high likelihood that future earnings projections for next fiscal year will be revised downward, meaning the city is expecting less revenue. Complicating things still further are promised raises for city workers Mayor John Cranley pushed for last year.

• So what was up with the whole incident involving documents locked in the basement of City Hall from Charlie Winburn’s office, a mysterious FBI visit and a subsequent handover to the Ohio attorney general? Turns out it all had to do with the city’s Metropolitan Sewer District. Winburn isn’t under investigation, the agencies say, but five boxes with documents in them raised eyebrows because a Winburn aide was attempting to take them home in violation of public records rules. Winburn has said the boxes contained only old newspapers and similar material, but the Clerk of Council’s office determined they also held public records, including folders and handwritten notes about MSD. When janitorial staff at City Hall got wind of the plan to remove the boxes, they alerted the clerk’s office, who examined them and determined there were public records in the boxes. Then the Cincinnati Police Department got involved, passing the situation on to the FBI, which has an ongoing investigation into MSD. The FBI passed the boxes off to the AG, who examined them but will not open an investigation into Winburn or his associates. Winburn is holding a news conference today at 10 a.m. at City Hall during which attendees will be allowed to look through the boxes, which have been returned to the councilman.

• Students at the University of Cincinnati are circulating a petition asking the school’s administration to closely monitor open carry activists on campus and better respond to complaints about them. The letter calls out specifically open carry boosters Jeffry Smith, who tried to organize an open carry rally at the Cincinnati Pride March last year in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, and Tim Denton, another highly active open carry activist. Smith has been open carrying on campus often lately, including during an anti-Trump rally Jan. 20.

Despite multiple complaints from UC community members, UCPD has failed to take necessary steps to reassure students, staff, and faculty that they are closely monitoring Mr. Smith and his associates,” the letter says. “There are reports of UC police switchboard operators hanging up on calls complaining about Mr. Smith.”

UC has prohibited open carry in campus buildings, opting out of a recently-passed Ohio law that allows schools to choose whether or not to permit that practice. However, the school’s outdoor areas are public, meaning open carrying a weapon cannot be prohibited there.

• Well, this is less than neighborly. Residents in one Mason neighborhood have been getting a flyer in their mailboxes accusing a neighbor of being a terrorist. That has people angry at what they call hate speech. Several neighbors of the person in question have jumped to her defense, saying the flyers target her only because she is from the Middle East. Law enforcement has gotten involved in the matter, though they say simply distributing the flyers isn’t a crime. They’re trying to ascertain who is spreading the false information, however.

• A federal judge in Dayton today granted a motion for a preliminary injunction on Ohio’s use of Midazolam in executions, saying it violates the constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Southern Ohio District Court Judge Michael Merz’s order prevents, at least temporarily, the state from executing three prisoners scheduled to die in February, March and April by a three-drug cocktail containing Midazolam, which has caused painful and prolonged death in other inmates during executions.

• We're gonna jump across the river for a minute, where a new bill would promote Bible literacy classes in the state’s public high schools. Those classes would be electives, and would treat their subject matter with “religious neutrality,” according to the Republican lawmakers who have introduced the bill. Those lawmakers, State Reps. DJ Johnson and Wesley Morgan, say that the lessons in the good book are “prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.” The Kentucky Secular Society, which promotes separation of church and state, says that in theory there’s no harm in teaching religious texts from a neutral, academic point of view, but that the line between teaching and promoting gets blurry quickly and that a course that teaches comparative religion — where ideas from the Quran and other texts are also taught — would be much better. KSS President Jim Potash points out Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s proclamation that 2017 will be “the year of the Bible” as reason for concern that the proposed courses my swerve into religious promotion.

• Let’s stay in Kentucky for this next one, which is a Twilight Zone kinda situation. A big and strange fight is brewing between Gov. Bevin and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear over the state’s abortion regulations, one in which the governor apparently lied about the AG and bashed the state's major newspaper for reporting true information. During a Facebook live stream Wednesday, Bevin accused Beshear of refusing to uphold the state’s law requiring women receive an ultrasound before they get an abortion. He also lashed out at the Louisville Courier-Journal for correctly reporting that Beshear will actually defend that law. The AG quickly hit back at Bevin, blasting him for not telling the truth about his office’s activities. Beshear has worked to defend the ultrasound law, though he says he will not do the same for a recently-passed ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

• Speaking of high-profile elected officials who say things that aren’t true, President Donald Trump has cited millions of illegal voters as the reason he lost the popular vote in November, calling for a widespread federal investigation of voter fraud. The problem: all evidence shows this is blatantly untrue, and even steadfast members of Trump’s own party have contradicted him. Among them is Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, no stranger to appealing to fears of voter fraud himself.

“So, there’s no evidence to support any of those concerns, at least in Ohio,” Husted said on a Dayton news program Tuesday. “I will see my fellow secretaries of state from around the country soon, and to this point I’m not sure that the facts support that contention.”

That’s Ohio’s conservative secretary of state saying he thinks America’s conservative president is not telling the truth about voter fraud as the latter calls for major measures that could further restrict voting access for millions of Americans. Let that sink in.

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