Hey hey all! Hope your week is going well as we speed toward what I’m sure is going to be an awesome July 4 weekend. Before we get to news, I wanted to welcome our new staff writer and news reporter Natalie Krebs, who starts today. Natalie comes to us after working in the Texas Senate. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Texas and also completed the prestigious News21 program at Arizona State University. She’s done work for great investigative magazine the Texas Observer and other publications, and we’re super-excited to have her here. You’ll be seeing her byline start popping up in the next couple weeks.
On to news. A new report in the Washington Post says that local law enforcement agencies seized more than $11,000 from a young black man at CVG airport last year under federal asset-forfeiture laws. Those laws allow agencies to seize money associated with drug trafficking or other major crimes. Drug Enforcement Agency task force members took the money from Charles Clarke despite the fact that they didn’t find any drugs, guns or other illegal substances on him. Clarke, who smokes marijuana occasionally, reportedly had the smell of the drug on his belongings at the time, which was enough along with his one-way ticket and inability to account for the money’s source for cops to stop him and seize his stuff.
The airport’s police force and the Covington Police Department were the two agencies involved in the seizure, but a total of 11 local agencies want a piece of the money, including the Cincinnati Police Department. That’s due to the way DEA task forces are set up and the way they disperse asset forfeiture money. The agency defends the practice, saying it helps fund vital local law enforcement efforts across the country. The Post’s story is a pretty incredible read and definitely something worth knowing about.
• In lighter-hearted news: Soon, the enormous, 20-story ghost of a 19th century man will visit downtown Cincinnati every night. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to alarm you. The giant specter will be the image of a vintage Cincinnati Red Stockings player, which will be projected onto Carew Tower in the evenings to celebrate the upcoming Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Festivities around the game will take place July 10-14. The haunting… err, I mean… celebration starts tonight with a ceremony at 9:30 p.m. After that, the display will be up every night at that time until 5 a.m. through July 15.
• On to state stuff. Gov. John Kasich used his line-item veto power to cut up the state Senate’s budget yesterday, nixing 44 provisions from the financial plan as he signed it into law. Among those provisions, he cut $78 million from public education funding by eliminating a pay-back for schools that once received money from what was called the tangible personal property tax. That tax has since been eliminated, but lawmakers have carved out the reimbursement to assure that schools continue to get adequate levels of funding. Local schools like Princeton and Mason received millions from the TPP funds and have protested their elimination. Kasich and the Ohio Board of Education say they haven’t nailed down which schools will see decreases in funding from the move. Kasich has argued that the TPP money mostly went to schools in high-income areas that could afford to provide more local support and that the money from the program could be better used to support low-income districts. Kasich tried to adjust the state-funding formula in his version of the budget, but that attempt was punted by state legislators.
• Among the things Kasich didn’t veto yesterday: new abortion restrictions slipped into the budget last-minute. You can read all about that situation in this week’s feature news story. Here’s a little preview: Those regulations could threaten Cincinnati’s last clinic that provides abortions.
• One thing the legislature and governor didn’t tackle in the flurry of legislative activity: charter school reform. As we’ve discussed in past articles, there are calls for the reform of Ohio’s charter school system on both sides of the aisle. But it won’t happen just yet. Lawmakers have tabled efforts at reform of the system until September. Lawmakers cite major changes to a controversial bill that would have adjusted the charter system, saying they need more time than the rapidly approaching summer break allows them. Critics of charters say lack of accountability and big issues with use of funds, testing and attendance records show that the charter system in the state needs to be reworked.
• It’s a big day for statewide news. Ahead of today’s deadline, marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio yesterday delivered nearly 700,000 signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted. If enough signatures are valid and the initiative makes it onto the ballot, voters will decide whether to green-light the group’s constitutional amendment creating 10 legalized marijuana grow sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio investors. Possession of marijuana would be legal for anyone over 21, and licenses would be issued for sale of the drug. No other commercial growers would be permitted, however, a detail that has created controversy. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced their own ballot proposal that would make it much tougher for such so-called constitutional monopolies to pass. That law would more than likely invalidate ResponsibleOhio’s amendment. Voters will have a strange and potentially confusing choice at the ballots come November.
• Here’s an interesting read on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman as he runs for re-election. Portman’s taking a shellacking in the polls right now against his presumed Democratic challenger, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Despite being the incumbent in a state with a Republican governor, Portman is down six points to Strickland in two recent polls. Strickland still has to make it through a Democratic primary, where he faces Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, but he’s opened up a comfortable lead against the young councilman. He’ll also have to contend with Portman’s formidable $8 million campaign war chest, the largest of any GOP Senate candidate seeking 2016 reelection. The above article explores the reasons why Portman is floundering right now in his race — reasons that may be beyond his campaign’s control.