Good morning y’all. I cannot wait for this weekend so let’s get to it.
Are you a businessperson in Indiana steamed about the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act? A lot of people are. In the wake of controversy around Indiana's law, which as written allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals on the basis of religious beliefs, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black is making a pitch to Indiana businesses: Come to Cincy. We’re more accepting, and that’s good for business, Black says. Black has already written to companies like Yelp who had planned to expand in Indiana but are now pulling back thanks to the new law signed by Gov. Mike Pence last week. Many businesses have balked at such RFRA laws, both in Indiana and elsewhere, saying they’re morally objectionable and bad for business. Pence and Indiana lawmakers announced a fix to the law earlier this week that they say would prohibit discrimination. But many of the law’s critics, including big business, say the fix isn’t enough. Now Cincinnati is looking poach some of that business expansion for its own.
• Another day, another embarrassing streetcar argument. At yesterday’s City Council meeting, Mayor John Cranley lashed out at the city’s streetcar team, saying it had “secretly” spent $200,000 on studies for the transit project’s potential second leg into uptown. It turns out that last February, the team, led by project executive John Deatrick, spent about $70,000 out of a fund set aside for streetcar studies in 2008. The team authorized the full $200,000 in contracts to two firms to do budget and cost benefit analyses but paused the work when it became clear focus on the current phase of the streetcar was the priority. Cranley says the 2008 City Council resolution creating the original $800,000 pot of money for studies didn’t specifically authorize the streetcar team to use the money and that the studies are an example of a “culture of secrecy” around the project. The team says it was unaware it had to ask for special permission to undertake the analyses for phase 1b. Phew. City Manager Harry Black, who has the power to discipline city personnel, says there appears to be no grounds to punish members of the streetcar team. Can we just stop the fussin’ and the feudin’, please?
• Parking rates are changing in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Tuesday. The shifts, which are tied to usage in the areas, have been planned for a year and were given final approval by Cincinnati City Council yesterday. Rates will go up or down by a quarter in various parts of the downtown/OTR area. In general, rates will go down or stay the same west of Vine Street, ranging from $2.00 an hour south of Sixth Street to $.75 an hour north of Central Parkway. East of Vine Street, rates will go up; it will now cost $2.25 an hour to park south of Central Parkway and $1.25 an hour north of it. The city has watched usage rates in various parts of downtown/OTR since January to come up with the new rates, a kind of makeshift “dynamic parking” effort. In other cities, sophisticated data crunching can change parking rates on meters according to demand on an hourly basis. That won’t happen here, but by shifting rates according to the parking market, city leaders hope to incentivize parking turnover in busy areas and encourage drivers to park in less-used locations. Some of the funds from the parking boost will go to the streetcar, and some to the general fund, City Manager Harry Black says.
• I grew up in Hamilton, where the grisly legacy of James Rupert is hard to escape. On Easter Sunday 40 years ago, Ruppert murdered 11 members of his family in a house on the corner of Minor Avenue in Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood. At the time, it was the largest mass-murder in U.S. history. Yesterday, Rupert had a parole hearing. The parole board’s decision hasn’t been announced yet, but the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office is strongly objecting to his release.
• Hey, here’s a weird one. Need some new nude photos in front of Music Hall? There’s a guy who may be able to hook you up on Opening Day, when he comes to Cincinnati to shoot nude photos of folks in front of local landmarks. He’s done it in a number of big U.S. cities, sometimes with getaway drivers nearby due to the illegal nature of being naked in public. I can’t avoid comment on this quote in the Enquirer, so here it comes:
“I am looking for Americana, the history of the United States,” Harvey Drouillard says. “I am looking for the crown jewels." Crown jewels indeed.
• A few days ago, I told you about how the Ohio General Assembly floated a proposal that required college students and other somewhat transitory voters to register their car in Ohio if they wanted to vote here. Many Democrats have likened that measure to a poll tax; it would cost most students $75 to re-register their cars and if they don’t and try to vote, their current registration would become invalid. Gov. John Kasich apparently agreed with the detractors, vetoing the measure Wednesday. The provision was tucked into Ohio’s transportation budget legislation, which moves forward without the voter registration law.
• Finally, U.S. negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program have made big headlines lately, with a lot of politicking going on around the fact that we’re negotiating with the country at all. But according to some sources, those negotiations have taken a fruitful and promising turn lately. Here’s the latest on where things stand with U.S. efforts to keep Iran from developing nukes. The whole process is fascinating and terrifying stuff.