Advocacy update February 28, 2023

Advocacy update February 28, 2023 150 150 Episcopalians in Connection
Teachers, Parents, Students: Help shape education policy

Debates over the state’s next education budget, authority over Ohio’s curriculum, making every student eligible for vouchers, and improving children’s literacy are front-burner for the next few months. (Read more) If you are passionate about public education and ready to help shape and advocate for policies to benefit all Ohio children, please email me, as we’re organizing an education team across the diocese. First-hand news from voters and students in rural, suburban, and urban districts could bend the arc towards justice.  Here’s an overview of issues already on the table:

  • Funding for K-12 schools: how fast and how fully will the Legislature fund the equitable plan developed by educators and parents and adopted after a harrowing policy struggle in the past biennial budget?  The key bill to watch is HB 33.
  • Governor DeWine’s proposal to allocate $174 million to improve children’s literacy. Literacy expert Kelly Butler, CEO of the Barksdale Reading Institute in Mississippi, was called in as part of a panel addressing state legislators last week about how to do it. BRI helped Mississippi raise its 4th grade reading proficiency from worst in the nation to above the national average. Kelly is a lifelong Episcopalian who attended Church of the Redeemer when she lived in Ohio, and founded Parents for Public Schools.
  • The Backpack Bill (HB 11) would make every Ohio student eligible for vouchers for private education or home schooling.
  • HB 1 would cut income and property taxes and $1.2 billion in funding to local schools.
  • Senate Bill 1 to take away the authority of the elected Ohio School Board over curriculum and most other policy
Improve Food Security in Ohio:  March 28 Budget Advocacy Day at the Statehouse

The Ohio Council of Churches and the Hunger Network in Ohio are sponsoring a day of advocacy March 28, including a briefing at Trinity Episcopal Church and visits with legislators.  Register here.  Please email me if your church has a hunger ministry: just as with the request for education advocates, we will be organizing a diocesan advocacy network for food security.

The Advocacy Day participants will ask legislators to use the state budget to expand school meals (which have been cut), increase funding for Ohio’s food banks (which supply thousands of grassroots programs including many of our churches’ food ministries), and to increase SNAP benefits for senior citizens. who are really suffering in the current inflation.

“Our state budget is a moral document,” says the Rev. Nick Bates of Hunger Network, who asks people of faith to join him in advocating for funding to ensure food security for all Ohioans. He reports that his meetings with many legislators over the past few weeks: “it looks like we have some energy around an expansion of school meals, increased funding for food banks, and increased SNAP benefits.”

Steps to stop Statehouse corruption

The federal racketeering trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder may lead to the conviction of two defendants, but the lack of oversight which enabled their crimes continues. Please write your Ohio Senator and Representative to call for laws to stop corruption. Put in your address at “Who represents me” at this link to get their contact information. Here are the guard rails recommended by Common Cause Ohio:

  • Repeal the law exempting Ohio Legislative Services Commission records from open records rules, so citizens can see what groups are writing legislation for Ohio.
  • Pass a law requiring disclosure of the funders of political ads.
  • Prevent conflicts of interest in the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio by requiring disclosures from candidates and commissioners.
  • Require lobbyists to report their spending and who’s paying them, and make this information public.
  • Require legislators to disclose sources and amounts of outside income and clients. 

Because PUCO and the Legislature have forced ratepayers – including Ohio’s poor, worst hurt by inflation – to pay millions to utilities that don’t need the money, Melissa English of Ohio Citizen Action adds these points:

  • Create a new state Office of Energy Justice to ensure PUCO decisions are guided by principles of energy justice
  • Require PUCO to periodically develop energy justice principles for rates, provision of energy service, operation of existing energy facilities, and impending retirements of energy plants.
  • Strengthen the ability of state regulators to audit and investigate any utility engaging in possible malfeasance.

Graphic courtesy of Common Cause Ohio

The abuses being powerfully documented during the Householder trial include FirstEnergy’s payments of $4.3 million to a corporation run by Sam Randazzo, who was later appointed chair of the Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) and testified in favor of HB 6. ”Ohio’s top utility regulator helped write a law [HB 6] that gave a billion dollar bailout to a company that he was supposed to be regulating on the ratepayers’ behalf,” wrote Marty Schladen of the Ohio Capital Journal on Feb. 27. “And he was heading an agency that over the previous decade had awarded electric utilities more than $1 billion in illegal, non-refundable rate hikes.”

The Ohio Legislature passed the law exempting the Legislative Services Commission from open records requirements after the 1998 revelation that Senator Roy Ray had introduced legislation written by, and benefiting a utility that was paying him. Instead of preventing this kind of conflict of interest, the Legislature voted to cover it up. “Now, when groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) write legislation for Ohio. the public remains in the dark,” writes Common Cause Ohio.

FirstEnergy also funded “Generation Now,” a 501c4 nonprofit which spent over $33 million on two ad campaigns, the first to pass the bill and the second, in the name of “Ohioans for Energy Security,” to frighten voters into opposing the referendum to repeal it, using slogans like “Don’t give the Chinese government your personal information… or sign your name on their petition.  China is quietly invading our energy grid and coming for our Ohio jobs.”  There were no public disclosures on the donors whose money paid for these ads. The money was also used to intimidate petition circulators or bribe them to quit. The referendum drive failed to collect enough signatures and HB 6 survived.  You can read a timeline of the giant HB 6 corruption scandal on the website of Common Cause Ohio and detailed reporting on the public corruption tab of the Ohio Capital Journal.

Rep. Derick Merrin (R-Monclova Township) has introduced HB 16, which includes some measures to prevent conflicts of interest at PUCO and to require disclosures by lobbyists, but it does not address the other factors facilitating dark money in Ohio.

Merrin is the conservative Republican who was voted Speaker-Elect last November by  the majority of his party, but Rep. Jason Stephens – also conservative – took the Speakership in an astounding upset victory by persuading all the House Democrats to support him in combination with a minority of the Republicans. I wrote last week about their wrangle over how fast to advance the Republican resolution to require a yes vote by 60% of the electorate to amend the Ohio constitution.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a longtime community advocate and member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming. Connect with her at arielmillerwriter@gmail.com 

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