Hello Cincy. Let’s get straight to the news.
The weather is beautiful and perfect for honoring a hero, even if the occasion is incredibly sad. Today is the funeral for firefighter Daryl Gordon, who died last week after falling down an elevator shaft while fighting a fire at an apartment building in Madisonville. Large crowds of fire officials and civilians gathered downtown this morning to pay their respects to Gordon, whose funeral service began at 10 a.m. at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral on West Eighth Street. Support has come from across the state and, really, from across the world. Firefighters from Columbus (which is sending nearly 200), Anderson Township, Covington, Deerfield Township, Delhi Township, Springfield Township and Sycamore Township will be manning Cincinnati’s fire stations so firefighters here can attend the ceremony. Firefighters from as far away as London and Montreal have traveled here to attend the service. Flags are flying at half-mast across the state in Gordon’s honor on the order of Gov. John Kasich. Gordon was a 26-year veteran of Cincinnati’s Fire Department.
• So I’m getting a serious aversion to the word “streetcar.” Not because I’m opposed to the controversial transit project, necessarily (though my personal feelings about it are admittedly complicated) but because it’s becoming Exhibit A when it comes to how our city struggles ludicrously with big decisions. Yesterday’s Cincinnati City Council Transportation Committee meeting is a good, or really, bad, example of this.
The two-and-a-half-hour meeting was the stuff of migraine sufferers’ nightmares, with back and forth arguments about whether or not to ask SORTA to use union employees to staff the streetcar (more on this in our print edition), a motion demanding that SORTA hand over bids it has received from companies interested in operating the streetcar, whether or not to study possible ways to pay for the project’s next phase, whether or not cost estimates for moving utilities for the project’s next potential phase were hidden from council for a year and more.
Having a number of tough decisions to make in a meeting is one thing. Not making any of them is another all together. The committee made no progress on any of those questions and has tabled a number of the motions it discussed until later this month. Awesome. When I was out of town, I watched the initial drama unfold over the streetcar project with a mix of jealousy that I didn’t get to cover it and gratefulness that I didn’t have to. Now I’m just tired of hearing about it. Like it or hate it, the tracks are in the ground. Stop politicking, both sides, and just get it done already.
• Elsewhere, part of council did decide one thing yesterday: The Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee would like to see Pete Rose reinstated into Major League Baseball so he can be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. The league’s new commissioner Rob Manfred has signaled that he’s willing to talk with Rose about reinstatement, though he’s not making any promises. Council made a similar resolution nearly two decades ago, but members now see a new opportunity for Rose in Manfred’s statements. While it was passing a resolution about baseball, the committee also asked MLB to recognize black baseball players from the Negro League in the days before baseball was integrated, allowing them to be eligible for the Hall of Fame as well.
• Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Gov. Mike Pence March 26, has been making scorching national headlines because it seems to allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community. Could a similar bill come to Ohio? It doesn’t seem likely. Interestingly, Ohio lawmakers tried briefly to pass a similar law last year. The bill was killed early over concerns that it would allow discrimination, and lawmakers say they won’t be trying to pass similar legislation anytime soon.
But Gov. John Kasich has indicated in recent statements that he’s interested in something of a compromise bill — one that offers language both guaranteeing protection of religious freedom and prohibiting discrimination against gays. Ohio does not currently have a law prohibiting hiring or housing discrimination against LGBT people. Meanwhile, following the intense criticism Indiana has received, Gov. Pence has walked back a bit on the law and is now calling on the Indiana State House to clarify it with language making it clear businesses are not allowed to discriminate against gays in the name of religious freedom.
• Meanwhile, Arkansas has also jumped into the “discrimination in the name of religious freedom game,” passing its own RFRA law yesterday. That’s drawn a sharp rebuke from an unexpected source — corporations in the state. Walmart has asked Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill, and Hutchinson has in turn asked lawmakers to make changes to it. Congress passed a federal RFRA law in 1993, and now 21 states now have some form of RFRA law. Importantly, these vary in whether they stipulate that businesses are included in the protection of religious freedoms and whether they can use the law as a defense in lawsuit proceedings. Texas, Indiana and Arkansas are among the few states with this language in their laws. Many legal experts believe these bills are popping up lately in response to the continued march of pro-marriage equality rulings in federal courts as well as the legalization of gay marriage in many states. Thirty-seven states now allow gay marriage. Ohio is arguing before the Supreme Court next month in defense of its 2004 gay marriage ban.
• Finally, here’s a crazy-alarming but really well-executed infographic showing the rise of incarceration rates, by state, throughout the United States from 1978 to 2012. Prepare to be highly depressed. Ohio is well up there in terms of prison population percentage, with 440 inmates per 100,000 people in the state. That’s not as high as some states — Louisiana has almost 900 per 100,000. Still. Yikes. The rise comes from a number of factors, including America’s war on drugs, the advent of the private for-profit prison and other factors. Great.