Outgoing Senate President, Tom Niehaus, has introduced legislation that would overhaul the laws governing the ethical behavior of public officials. The law has not seen major changes since the mid-1990s. In sponsor testimony, Niehaus explained that his bill would make the state’s ethics laws “simpler” and “more transparent.” While the bill takes a few positive steps toward transparency, in many important ways, it actually reduces transparency. In its favor, the bill proposes to put all required disclosure forms online. This will make it easier for the public and news media to research sources of income, gifts and other benefits received by those who hold — or seek to hold — public office. But the bill actually limits transparency about the many perks showered on state legislators by lobbyists. Currently, legislators are prohibited from accepting gifts worth more than $75 from lobbyists and must report anything over $25. Niehaus’ proposal would permit legislators to take up to $250 in meals or gifts from lobbyists, with the first $100 of that undisclosed. Increasing the amount of free stuff a legislator can take from a lobbyist isn’t transparency. Not long ago, former Governor Bob Taft and members of his staff were charged with failing to report $90 golf games and $150 dinners paid for by people with business before the state. Under these new rules, the reporting requirement would go away. We fail to see a compelling public policy reason to increase the amount of undisclosed gifts and meals a lawmaker can accept from lobbyists. If there is one, it certainly isn’t about simplicity or transparency.
A common throw away line from conservatives in the fiscal cliff debate is that progressives or Democrats are “waging class warfare.” The trash is truly where that line belongs. The fact is that aside from a few years during the Clinton era in Washington, the economic game has been more than rigged for special interests and corporations at the expense of working Americans. There are many facts to illustrate this, here are just two:
- Corporate profits in the U.S. have recently hit an all-time high. This comes just after the worst recession since the Great Depression and in the midst of several years’ worth of sluggish growth for the overall economy. Even with the last three U.S. recessions, corporate profit margins have been in a fantastic uptrend since the early 1980s.
- Wages in the U.S. are at a historic low as a percentage of the overall economy. Wages in the U.S. have been on a downtrend since 1970. Compared to the parabolic rise in corporate profits since the end of the Great Recession, wages have continued to slide.
Yesterday, I told you about SB 323 a bill that is a solution in search of a problem. Today, let’s talk about why it isn’t even a very good solution. To recap: The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz a Cincinnati-area Republican. It would prohibit undocumented workers from receiving worker’s compensation benefits. There are two huge problems with this aside from what was discussed earlier. First, the bill imposes a huge new regulatory burden on the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, by requiring BWC to make a determination on each applicant’s immigration status. BWC would have to make the kinds of immigration status determinations that are often aggressively litigated up and down the federal court system for months or years. It will have to do so without any additional funding or training because the bill provides no additional resources to BWC. Second, the bill makes it harder for workers to get compensation when they are injured on the job. Under the bill, as part of the process of proving their eligibility for workers’ compensation, all injured workers will have to include what is essentially an affidavit that they are authorized to work in the United States. This new burden will be imposed on all applicants, but the administrator of the BWC can also request additional proof from some of them if he or she believes that the affidavit is not valid. Now, let’s be honest about who this is going to impact – after all, how many white, English-speaking applicants with European-sounding names are likely to have their legal right to work in the U.S. questioned? One man who was actually testifying in favor of the bill inadvertently illustrated the problem with the proposed system when he admitted that it would “open up the [BWC] administrator to charges of racism.” Yesterday we documented that Seitz himself can’t even show that there is a need for this legislation. That fact along with these two (perhaps) unintended consequences ought to be enough evidence that this lame duck bill needs to be put out of its misery.
Ohio Action to deploy people, resources to support tax fairness in fiscal cliff debateA new progressive organization called “The Ohio Action Coalition” was launched at a Columbus news conference today. Coalition members are a diverse group of organizations and individuals who believe that tax fairness must be the starting point for any deficit reduction deal that is struck between Congress and the President for the purpose of avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming at the end of this year. The Coalition is comprised of former Obama for America campaign workers, grass roots activists, organized labor, and a host of progressive organizations, including Innovation Ohio, America Votes-Ohio, Protect Your Care and the Small Business Majority. Joanne Pickrell will serve as State Director, and Innovation Ohio’s Dale Butland will be Communications Director. Specifically, the Coalition will urge Ohio’s Congressional delegation to raise revenue by ending the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans, while extending those cuts to the 98% who earn $250,000 per year or less. To make their case, Coalition members plan to hold public events around the state, write letters to the editor and newspaper opinion columns, and use television, radio, and social media. The goal is both to influence members of Congress and to educate the public on what is at stake. Activities will commence tomorrow with three public events in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Other events will follow in every corner of Ohio until an acceptable agreement is reached in Washington. Said State Director Joanne Pickrell: “President Obama has made it clear that he wants a balanced approach to deficit reduction and will not accept any deal that places a disproportionate share of the burden on middle class families and lower income individuals. First and foremost, that means more revenue must be raised from increasing tax rates on millionaires, billionaires, and other wealthy Americans. We fully agree with the President, and will do everything we can to convince our congressional delegation that Ohioans want, need and expect a fair deal.” Added Communications Director Dale Butland: “In the November election, no issue was more defining than taxes. President Obama explicitly campaigned on raising tax rates for the wealthiest 2% of taxpayers —while Mitt Romney clearly opposed the idea. Not only did a majority of voters side with the President by re-electing him, but exit polls on Election Day – as well as every major poll over the past two years – have shown that nearly 60% of Ohioans favor higher tax rates for the wealthy as part of a deficit reduction deal. We expect our congressional representatives to hear and heed the will of the people.”
Tuesday, the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee heard supporter and opponent testimony during the third hearing on SB 323, a workers’ compensation bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz (R – Cincinnati). The bill would “prohibit illegal and unauthorized aliens from receiving compensation” under Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation Law. While it might sound like a good idea to make sure the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation (BWC) isn’t issuing payments to people who aren’t supposed to be here anyway, the devil, as they say, is in the details. In this case, SB 323 would make it more difficult for injured workers to collect the state-administered benefits that their employers are required to pay for. The bill would require injured workers to prove that they are authorized to work in the United States before they can receive benefits. Given that this bill has received three hearings in the Ohio Senate, this must be a big problem for Ohio, right? Nope. Seitz said at an earlier hearing that the state does not collect data on the immigration status of injured workers receiving compensation, so there is no way to know whether even a single cent of state BWC funds has ever benefited an undocumented worker. Tomorrow, I’ll share another couple of big problems with this bill.
Check out IO Communications Director Dale Butland talking Ohio public policy and politics from this weekend’s Capitol Square (WBNS 10TV):
Fresh from an election that saw them win a majority of seats – despite winning fewer total votes than their Democratic peers, Ohio Republicans wasted no time in getting back to an agenda that bolsters Ohio’s economy and encourages job creation. Oh wait – that’s not what happened at all. Yesterday, the same day that another Ohio House Committee passed a bill to block funding to Planned Parenthood, the Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security Committee heard sponsor testimony on a new bill (HB 580) that would require Ohio’s police officers to check the immigration status of persons suspected of being in the country illegally. The bill would require police officers doing even routine traffic stops to make a complicated set of determinations about whether it’s “reasonable” to suspect that someone is in the county illegally, whether it’s “practicable” to try to figure out if they actually are, and whether trying to make that determination would “hinder or obstruct” an investigation. It also requires the officer to make all of these decisions without relying on race, color or national origin. Testifying in support of their bill, Reps. Courtney Combs (R-Fairfield) and Matt Lynch (R-Chagrin Falls) managed to pack enough racially insensitive asides and offensively misinformed assertions into their few minutes of testimony to provoke expressions of outrage and even derisive laughter on several occasions from those attending the hearing. At one point, attendees laughed openly at Rep. Combs’ assertion that “[Racial] profiling is not what it was many years ago.” Combs was eloquently corrected later on by Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) who assured him, to murmurs of approval from the gallery, that profiling is indeed a continuing problem for racial minorities. [Read more…]