Ohio drug law reform effort hits milestone; more news

If even half of the 700,000 signatures garnered on a ballot initiative aiming to reduce state drug penalties are valid, voters will get to decide on Ohio drug law reform in November

Hello all. Here’s a quick news rundown to take you into the weekend.

Months after a lawsuit against five Democrats on Cincinnati City Council alleged that the group illegally engaged in non-public discussions about council business via text messages, a similar suit is targeting other council members. Mark Miller, a Cincinnati resident outspoken on conservative issues, filled the initial lawsuit against council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach, Tamaya Dennard and Greg Landsman around a text message exchange regarding the rift between Mayor John Cranley and then-City Manager Harry Black. Miller says that violates Ohio open meetings law. But a lawsuit filed yesterday by Derek Bauman, a former Democrat Cincinnati City Council candidate, says that others, including conservative councilman Christopher Smitherman, engaged in similar behavior on other occasions. Smitherman was part of a group text that included all council members and then-City Manager Black back in March about the coming departure of then-Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey. The outcome of both lawsuits could have future political implications — Sittenfeld and Smitherman are both rumored to be weighing bids for mayor in 2021.

• Many Cincinnatians have been having a pretty tough time getting to their jobs via public transit, but that could be changing, a new study says. Though research by University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory shows the Queen City still lagging behind almost everyone in terms of ability to get to work via public transit, the city did make some strides last year, ranking 10th on a list of cities improving access to jobs via transit.

• Two judges currently presiding in Cincinnati are on President Donald Trump’s shortlist for appointments to fill the seat of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who recently announced his retirement. Both Judges Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar, who sit on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown Cincinnati, are in the running for the appointment and skew conservative, sources say. Kethledge would be the more traditional choice, having clerked for Kennedy before serving on the Sixth Circuit for more than 10 years. Thapar, meanwhile, a Trump appointment to the appeals court, has served just a year there. But he’s close with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and like Kethledge, is regarded as very qualified and competent as a judge.

• Speaking of local ties to federal-level jobs, a former Fairfield resident is now the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Senate approved Andrew Wheeler’s appointment to the No. 2 spot at the agency in April. Former head Scott Pruitt’s dramatic resignation this week after a number of scandals puts the Fairfield High School graduate at the helm — something many environmental activists are up in arms about. Before his time at the EPA, Wheeler served as a lobbyist for the coal industry.

• Attorneys for the Ohio State University investigating complaints about sexual abuse by a team doctor reached out to U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan about those complaints via an invalid email address, according to this story. It’s the latest revelation in the ongoing drama around the sexual abuse scandal that allegedly happened when Jordan was a wrestling coach at the university. The Republican, who is rumored to be a contender for U.S. House Speaker, says he had no knowledge of the accusations against Dr. Richard Strauss, but several former OSU wrestlers have disputed that claim. Attorneys with the university say they reached out to Jordan via email and telephone to ask him about the allegations, but records show they used the wrong email address. Jordan’s office still has not explained the attorneys’ attempts to contact him by phone.

• Those looking to reform drug sentencing in Ohio submitted signatures to get an initiative on the November ballot this week. The amendment, called the “Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation” amendment, would reduce legal penalties for nonviolent drug crimes and has the support of a number of faith groups, law enforcement officials, community activists and business organizations. Roughly 305,000 valid signatures are required to get the amendment on the ballot; supporters of the measure have submitted more than 730,000. Among other measures, the amendment would reduce drug or drug paraphernalia possession to a misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Those charged with first or second offenses would receive probation.

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