Morning News: SORTA will wait for 2018 for county sales tax ask; prosecution witness: Tensing wasn't dragged; protesters dressed in 'Handmaid's Tale' garb protest Ohio anti-abortion bill

The women, garbed in red robes and white bonnets like those depicted in the online TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s landmark 1985 novel, came to protest SB 145, a new bill that would more or less outlaw abortion after 13 weeks of pregnancy.

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click to enlarge Women dressed as characters from the Handmaid's Tale at an Ohio Senate committee meeting on SB145 - NARAL Pro Choice Ohio Twitter account
NARAL Pro Choice Ohio Twitter account
Women dressed as characters from the Handmaid's Tale at an Ohio Senate committee meeting on SB145

It’s news time again. Let’s get right to it.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority will not ask Hamilton County voters in November to approve a sales tax that would fund its Metro bus service, the agency announced yesterday. Instead, SORTA is eyeing 2018 for its ask, citing a need to spend more time reaching out to voters about the need for a countywide transit funding mechanism. A city of Cincinnati earnings tax currently funds much of Metro’s budget, even though the bus service runs throughout the county. Metro is facing a $3 million deficit next year and an aging fleet. A half-cent sales tax increase proposal was floated earlier this year, but some transit advocates want double that amount. A January study by AECOM Consultants, which was hired by SORTA, found that the system needs between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in improvements over the next decade to be effective. 

A Greater Cincinnati man has returned home after being released from detention in North Korea, where he’s been in a coma. Otto Warmbier of Wyoming was on a tour group when he was detained in the country for allegedly stealing a government banner. In March last year, he was tried and incarcerated. Afterward, he slipped into a coma for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. North Korea released Warmbier recently, and he was flown into Lunken Airport last night. After landing, he was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Your daily Ray Tensing trial update: Five more prosecution witnesses will testify today, including the deputy Hamilton County coroner who examined the body of unarmed motorist Sam DuBose after Tensing shot him,  a firearm expert who testified last trial that Tensing probably didn’t accidentally shoot DuBose, a trace evidence expert who previously testified Tensing’s uniform and other personal effects didn’t show any signs that he had been dragged and forensic officer Martin Odom, who photographed Tensing immediately after the incident.

That testimony will come after a rough day in court for the defense yesterday. In those proceedings, prosecution witness Grant Frederick gave a frame-by-frame analysis of former University of Cincinnati police officer Tensing’s body camera footage showing him shooting DuBose. Frederick testified that the footage doesn’t match Tensing’s account of events the day of the shooting. Tensing claimed his arm was tangled in DuBose’s steering wheel and was dragged by his car. But Frederick, using the video, seemed to show that wasn’t true. After his testimony, defense attorney Stew Mathews spent 80 minutes cross-examining Frederick, but couldn’t get him to amend his assertion that Tensing’s version of events wasn’t true. One area of contention: when Tensing fell after shooting DuBose, and how far away from the place DuBose’s car was parked Tensing was when he got back on his feet. Frederick says that the video shows Tensing drew his gun before the car started moving and fired a bullet 9/10ths of a second after it began lurching forward, meaning that he was in no danger of being run over or dragged at the time. Mathews challenged that assertion.

A group of Ohio lawmakers didn’t inadvertently sign up for a subscription to some new live-action Hulu channel yesterday when women appeared in a State Senate committee meeting in Columbus dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale. The women, garbed in red robes and white bonnets like those depicted in the online TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s landmark 1985 novel, came to protest SB 145, a new bill that would make it more or less impossible to get an abortion after 13 weeks of pregnancy by banning a particular abortion procedure. In the dystopian novel, “handmaids” are women forced to carry children against their will.

Speaking of the Ohio Senate, a new budget plan there would add to the money the state is throwing at the heroin crisis — by diverting $35 million from the already-contentious local governments fund. Money from that fund comes from taxes paid to the state government, more of which come from large municipalities than rural areas and small towns. That money is supposed to go back into city coffers — but the Republican-dominated State House has been funneling more and more of the money to the state itself, restricting funds to cities like Cincinnati. That even more of the money is being siphoned off to fight addiction is counter-productive, cities say. Instead, conservative lawmakers should tap the state’s $2 billion reserve fund.

“Cities are on the front lines of the opioid crisis, and the impact it’s having on municipal budgets is significant,” said Keary McCarthy, executive director of the Ohio Mayor’s Alliance, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “Any further erosion of revenue to our cities at this time is going to be deeply concerning.”

• Finally, the national story I’m sure you’ve already heard about — a gunman opened fire on a GOP practice session this morning for a congressional baseball game, wounding Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others, including a congressional aide for U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Texas and two law enforcement officials. No fatalities have been reported yet, and police say the gunman is in custody. The gunman fired at least 50 shots, according to witnesses. U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who represents eastern Hamilton County and other rural counties outside Cincinnati, was at the scene of the incident but was not injured.

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