Morning News: Cincinnati Water Works going solar; should LLC owners be able to give twice to campaigns?; Kentucky secretary of state declines to release voter info to Trump administration

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison L. Grimes says she will not comply with an order by the Trump administration requiring states to release voter information. The administration says the order is part of an investigation into voter fraud.

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click to enlarge Donald Trump at a campaign rally in West Chester in March, 2016. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in West Chester in March, 2016.

Good morning all. It’s Friday. I have a huge cover story due in a few hours. There’s a big news pileup because we skipped morning news yesterday. So let’s get right to it with some brief catch-up stories to take you into the weekend.

Cincinnati Water Works is going solar, Mayor John Cranley announced Wednesday. The city’s water treatment facilities will be powered by 100 percent solar energy in five years, allowing the city to save $7 million a year in coal-fueled energy costs paid to Duke Energy when the plan is completed. The plan begins with a 100-acre, 25 mega-watt solar array installed on city land, possibly at Lunken Airport, a treatment plant on Kellogg Road and a landfill near Spring Grove Village. That array would eliminate 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, the city says. But Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who is challenging Cranley in the Nov. 7 mayoral election, says that the announcement masks a less-than-stellar record on environmental issues for Cranley. Simpson’s campaign pointed out in a statement Cranley’s opposition to expanding the city’s bike lane infrastructure and funding for new bus shelters, as well as his votes as a Councilmember in 2001 and 2002 to cut and then eliminate the city’s Office of Environmental Management. That office was later replaced with the Office of Environment and Sustainability. Simpson’s campaign also highlighted several initiatives she’s supported, including a green energy aggregation plan for Cincinnati residents, as well as others she’d like to work on as mayor, including a green manufacturing campus in the city. Cranley’s campaign fired back, of course, taking it all the way back to Cranley’s role co-founding his high school’s environmental club before pointing to his work finding funding for Cincinnati Red Bike and helping to write the city’s clean air act going after small-scale polluters. Hey, if you have to have politicians fighting about something, I suppose this is a worthy cause.

• Should owners of limited liability corporations be able to give money to city candidates under their company’s names above and beyond individual donor limits set by the Cincinnati Election Commission? In a 2005 advisory, the CEC said that move was legal, but Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young and Council candidate Kelli Prather are challenging the practice via Mayor John Cranley. In a news release sent out Wednesday, their attorney Don Mooney outlined a lawsuit seeking to make Cranley’s mayoral campaign repay more than $260,000 received from LLC owners who also donated the individual limit to his campaign. The list is a who’s who of Cincinnati developers and business leaders — 75 people in all — something Mooney blasted in the news release. Cranley’s campaign defended the practice, citing the CEC’s ruling and pointing out that opponent Simpson’s campaign, as well as many others, receive donations from LLCs. An earlier complaint against Cranley’s campaign compelled the mayor’s election effort to disclose the owners of LLC donors.

• Speaking of water treatment, the region’s metropolitan sewer district is going to need $30 billion to respond to future storms and prevent sewage backups. Yikes. The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati is already undergoing a $3 billion court-ordered upgrade, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The district estimates that a single, very severe storm last August caused about 2,000 backups throughout its service area. It would take 200 years to pay for the necessary upgrades at the current rate sewer users pay. Again, yikes.

• As we previewed in morning news earlier this week, Cincinnati City Council Wednesday unanimously approved an ordinance allowing medicinal marijuana in manufacturing zones within the city. Ohio legalized medicinal weed last year, and the founders of Rhinegeist Brewing are interested in starting a marijuana cultivation center at the former Kahn’s meeting processing plant in Camp Washington. The state will still have to approve anyone who wants to grow medicinal weed in Cincinnati, but the city is definitely not standing in the way.

• A local nonprofit funded by the U.S. Department of State to resettle refugees is “deeply disappointed” in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling allowing President Donald Trump’s administration to temporarily ban travel from several Muslim-majority countries and halt refugee resettlement here. Catholic Charities of Greater Cincinnati says that decision means that thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people won’t receive the help they need to escape danger, violence and extreme poverty. 

• Another health insurance company is pulling out of Ohio’s Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace, citing uncertainty around health care legislation as the reason it’s leaving. Dayton-based the Premier Health Plan says lack of clarity from Washington as federal lawmakers wrangle over a replacement for the ACA means it can’t effectively underwrite plans for the nine counties it covers under President Obama’s health care law. The announcement follows national insurer Anthem’s decision to withdraw from Ohio, leaving 20 counties without an insurer in the exchanges next year.

• Finally, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says she will not comply with an order by the Trump administration requiring states to release their voter rolls to the federal government. The request is part of an investigation by the president’s administration into what it calls widespread voter fraud. Experts, including Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, say there’s little evidence to support Trump’s claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, but Trump has pushed ahead with a White House panel to investigate voter fraud. Grimes is refusing to turn over the names, social security numbers, birthdays and voting records of the state’s 3.2 million voters because the request is “at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.” Other states, including California, have also refused to release the information.

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