Overdose deaths up in Hamilton County; Ohio lawmakers propose total ban on abortions; more news

Hamilton County saw 529 overdose deaths last year, mostly from opioids, said Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco during a news conference this morning

Happy first day of spring, Cincinnati. Let’s celebrate with… a couple inches of snow. Real cool.

Let's move on to news so I don't cry about that. Is Harry Black still Cincinnati’s city manager? Why yes, and he’ll probably continue to be until at least Wednesday and quite possibly beyond that, despite efforts by Mayor John Cranley to oust him and his own admission that he’s ready to leave. A severance package Black agreed to worth more than $423,000 passed through council committee yesterday and will get a full vote on council tomorrow. But don’t hold your breath. Five Democrats on council don’t support the settlement, in part due to its cost.

If Black were to get his settlement, the city will have spent roughly $1.2 million over the past four years on severance packages for high-ranking city officials.

The council majority, all Democrats, have been scathing when it comes to the situation between Black and Cranley, and don’t show a whole lot of willingness to bend. Still, it would only take one council member to flip so that the package can pass and City Hall can move past its current impasse. Stay tuned.

• Speaking of money the city is spending, city administration told a council committee yesterday that the city’s budget deficit for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, looks to be at least $23 million and could go as high as $25 million. That’s a bigger number than previously expected. Some of that shortfall comes from big chunks of money Ohio lawmakers have removed in recent years from the state’s local government fund — the state doled out roughly $160 million less last year than it has in past years for municipalities. Critics of Mayor Cranley also blamed raises the mayor has given to some city employees beyond the standard collective bargaining practices usually overseen by the city manager (see above).

• Transit activists yesterday unveiled their pick for a Hamilton County sales tax levy supporting Greater Cincinnati’s Metro bus system. The Better Bus Coalition (BBC) is going full-bore and endorsing a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for big improvements for the region’s under-funded transit system. If the BBC got its wish, Metro could pay for bus rapid transit lines, increased service hours and new routes. It’s up to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to decide how much of a sales tax increase it will ask voters for. BBC’s preferred one-cent ask is the most SORTA can put on a ballot without the permission of the Hamilton County Commission, and leadership there has expressed opposition to the levy.

• Boosters say the coming downtown Kroger at Central Parkway and Walnut Street will bring life back to a stretch of nearby Court Street that has looked a little empty in recent years. But it also means some long-time businesses will have to move. King’s Court Barber Shop, for instance, has been on the strip between Walnut and Vine streets since the 1920s. Due to plans for redevelopment by the Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation, the shop will need to pick up and move to Race Street soon. Meanwhile, there are plans to bring a Great Clips to the currently vacant former Servatti bakery location across the street. Other businesses, including the Avril-Bleh sandwich shop, will close due to rent hikes or because their leases are not being renewed. Others, however, are applauding the coming redevelopment. Avril-Bleh butchers, which is run independently of the sandwich shop next door, says they are staying put and may even expand with increased demand.

• Overdose deaths in Hamilton County increased last year, Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco announced in a news conference this morning. Overdoses claimed 529 lives in the county in 2017 — a big increase from the 403 people who died in 2016 from drug overdoses. Most of those deaths last year — 373 — were due to opioids.

• During that news conference, officials took a moment to comment on statements from President Donald Trump saying that his administration would seek the death penalty for drug traffickers who are eligible for that punishment under current law, presumably because they’ve committed murder while trafficking. Sammarco and other county officials called that idea “a distraction” that won’t make an impact on addiction rates, addict recovery or other key parts of the opioid epidemic. That’s similar to what other local officials have said recently about Trump’s proposal.

• Conservative Ohio lawmakers have proposed a ban on all abortions in the state, the Associated Press reports. The bill, sponsored by Republican Reps. Ron Hood and Nino Vitale is almost certainly unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade. In the past, Republican lawmakers have sought to introduce such sweeping restrictions to challenge that landmark Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion. Under the proposed law, both pregnant women seeking to terminate a pregnancy and doctors performing abortions could face criminal charges — possibly very steep ones.

• A group of Ohio nuns are on tour across the region protesting U.S. immigration policies under President Donald Trump. The Nuns on the Bus, who you may remember from a couple years back when they rallied to protest voter roll purges in Ohio, are at it again, this time hoping to raise awareness around the toll Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions take on local families. Yesterday, they were in Boone County at an immigration detention center, leading roughly 40 protesters decrying the Trump administration’s efforts to deport undocumented immigrants who haven’t been convicted of other crimes. Those deportations have often split families and, in some cases, led to allegations of brutality against ICE officers, as CityBeat has recently reported. Today, the nuns will be in Butler County, where Sheriff Richard K. Jones has been a vocal proponent of the Trump administration’s approach. The Butler County Detention Center in Hamilton often holds immigrants who face deportation. Tomorrow, the group will visit the Morrow County Holding Center in Mt. Gilead for similar protests. The nuns are also making presentations at the University of Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky University, Xavier University and Mount Saint Joseph University.

• Social media is a scary place, y’all. You’ve probably already heard about Cambridge Analytica, the firm that worked for Donald Trump’s election campaign and reportedly misused the personal information of more than 50 million Facebook users during the election cycle. Dang. Oh, yeah, and those Twitter users blasting your mentions with #MAGA hashtags during the election? A lot of them were Russian bots targeting Ohio and other battleground states, according to data recently released by NBC news. This is pretty crazy stuff. And don’t expect it to get any better any time soon, a University of Cincinnati researcher says. Political Science professor Richard Harknett has told Congress that the U.S. is at considerable risk for election meddling in the upcoming midterm contests.

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