House GOP unveils plan to avert government shutdown

Published: Saturday, December 02, 2017 @ 10:09 AM
Updated: Saturday, December 02, 2017 @ 10:08 AM

House GOP leaders unveiled a plan Saturday to avert a government shutdown next weekend and keep the government open through Dec. 22.

The measure would buy time for bipartisan talks on a bigger budget agreement that would give the Pentagon and government agencies significant relief from a pending budget freeze.

A temporary spending bill enacted in September expires at midnight on Friday.

The move comes despite opposition from some GOP conservatives who think they're being set up for a pre-Christmas deal they won't like.

House Democrats say they won't vote for the legislation without protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. GOP leaders oppose the idea.

Talks on a budget agreement are likely to restart next week after a setback on Tuesday when top Democrats pulled out of a meeting with President Donald Trump after he attacked them on Twitter.

The measure also contains a short-term fix to prevent several states from running out of money to operate a popular program that provides health care to children from low-income families. The Children's Health Insurance Program's authorization ran out Oct. 1 and states have been limping along using carry over funding since then.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said the new stopgap funding measure "will allow for additional time for a deal to be reached on top-line spending levels for this fiscal year. Once this agreement is made, my committee will rapidly go to work with the Senate to complete the final legislation."

"I am eager to know what Republican leadership believes they can accomplish in the next two weeks that they haven't been able to accomplish in the last two months," countered top House Appropriation Democrat Nita Lowey of New York.

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Local students, families take part in D.C. march against gun violence

Published: Saturday, March 24, 2018 @ 3:34 PM
Updated: Saturday, March 24, 2018 @ 3:34 PM

Students from Centerville High School and a family from Yellow Springs attended the March for our Lives rally in D.C.

Stephanie Cooper, 18, of Yellow Springs still remembers the first school shooting she ever heard about.

It was at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Twenty–six people died. Twenty of them were first–graders.

It was 2012. She was in middle school.

“To me it seems like it started happening more frequently after that,” Cooper said.

Lili Eiswas, a senior from Centerville, was at the D.C. march against gun violence on Saturday.

On Saturday, she and hundreds of thousands of fellow students descended on Washington, D.C. in hopes of reversing that trend, as a march organized by the students of Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, packed D.C. streets with protesters of all ages — but dominated by the young.

“If you listen real close you can hear the people in power shaking,” said David Hogg, a student at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., who took video as he and his fellow students hid from the gunman who opened fire on the school last month, killing 17. “Inaction is no longer safe.”

“Fight for your lives,” said fellow student Emma Gonzalez, who stood silent for much of her time on the stage to depict the just over six minutes the shooter killed 17 in her high school. “Before it’s someone else’s job.”

The march was organized by Hogg and other students from Marjory Stoneman High School. But speakers — all young — represented students from Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. The oldest speaker was 19; the youngest, 11. Only the entertainment — which included Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson and Lin–Manuel Miranda — were older.

Preliminary estimates put the crowd at about 500,000 people, making it the largest gathering to descend on Washington, D.C., since the January 2017 women’s march, which drew roughly the same number.

Megan Rose, a senior at Centerville High School, went to the march in D.C. Saturday. Says a flat tire on the bus couldn't keep her away.

While that march was billed as the women’s march, however, speakers at that march also talked about gay rights, Muslim rights and featured an amalgamation of causes. Saturday’s protest, however, was clearly and acutely focused on one issue: Stopping the mass shootings that have occurred around the nation, and ousting lawmakers who were unwilling to help stop those shootings by passing gun control legislation. But the protesters themselves didn’t look like a well-heeled special interest group; instead, it appeared as if a massive high school tour bus had suddenly dropped off thousands of passengers on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

“I am here to represent the African–American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” said Naomi Wadler, 11, of Alexandria, Va., who organized a walk–out and die–in on February 14 at her elementary school. “I represent African-American women who are victims of gun violence who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls who are full of potential.”

Wall–to–wall people crushed against one another inside police barricades, while outside, the streets were thick with young students, the elderly and parents pushing strollers. Similar rallies occurred in Columbus, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Parkland, Florida, as well as in other cities. Crowds also gathered in London, England; Frankfurt, Germany; and Sydney, Australia.

Among those in the crowd were Zach Dudzik, 19, an Ohio State freshman from Lakewood, Ohio, who decided to go after hearing the Parkland students characterized as “crisis actors.” He said he was outraged that people would not believe that students impacted by the issue could organize. “We deserve to have a voice and an impact on issues,” he said.

He said it feels like the shootings occur every week. “It’s really easy to be desensitized to it,” he said. “The fact that it happens so much shouldn’t make it less. It makes it worse.”

He traveled with Abi Norman, 19, an OSU sophomore also from Lakewood. She is studying to be a music teacher.

“I don’t want a gun,” she said. “I don’t want my coworkers to have guns.”

She said she has always felt safe at school, but the burden of the spate of mass shootings has taken a toll all the same.

“Every time I got to a movie theater, I’m checking every face. I’m always trying to be aware,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the way it should be.”

Megan Rose, 18, a senior at Centerville High School, said she participated in a walkout a couple of weeks ago.

“I was like, well what else can I do as a student?” she said. “And I thought why not come to Washington, D.C.”

Counter-protesters were present but rare. Two men standing in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue held signs. “When seconds count, police are minutes away,” one said. “I carry on campus,” the other sign read. “Teachers should too.”

“I respect you, but I think you’re wrong,” said a man as he walked by.

Among those navigating the crowd was Kris Knight of Gahanna, who brought his son Owen.

“It felt like it was the right time to get involved,” Knight said.

He brought his nine–year–old son so “he could see what young people were capable of doing when they really believed in something.”

“It was something he wanted to do,” he said. “It was something he felt strongly about.”

Elaine Zamonski of Kettering brought her daughters Mira, 8, Katherine, 11, Veronica, 14 and Veronica’s friend Alice, 14.

“I brought them because I wanted them to see that people’s voices have power,” she said. “In a conservative district like Kettering, they sometimes feel lonely in their views and rallies are inspiring.”

Before coming to the March for our Lives in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Barbara Carr of Buffalo, N.Y., sat down with a pink apron and painstakingly wrote out the names of every person who had died in a school shooting since the Columbine shootings in 1999.

Stephanie Cooper, 18, her mother Christina, father Robert and brother Peter, 15, at the march for our lives in Washington. They are from yellow springs(Washington Bureau)

A Sharpie pressed to the fabric, she wrote down more than 300 names. She wore those names on her back. She had to do her research, she said, in order to feel that she deserved to be there.

“It was hard,” she said, her eyes welling up as throngs of people crushed around her on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. “It was hard.”

Cooper, meanwhile, said she and her mother have had conversations. If there’s a mass shooting, her mother warns her, play dead if she can’t run.

“She gets really worried every time one happens,” she said, of the school shootings that have become a routine occurrence in her childhood.

On Saturday, she hoped those worries would translate to action.

“I just hope they realize that we’re the ones who are going to be voting them in the next couple of years,” she said of lawmakers. “So if they want to stay in power, they have to do what we ask them to do.”

(Jack Torry, Washington bureau chief, contributed to this report.)

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Area students join push to end school gun violence, but division remains

Published: Saturday, March 24, 2018 @ 11:21 AM

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24:  People protest during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: People protest during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The debate over how to stop the ceaseless and senseless taking of lives by mass shooters is louder than it has been in years — and nowhere louder than in and around American schools.

Spurred last month by young survivors of a high school shooting that killed 17 of their classmates, teachers and coaches in Parkland, Fla., a movement this month spilled out of school doors across the country and in southwest Ohio, where students called for action.

“Teenagers from high schools all across the nation have risen up to demand change,” said Suhavi Salmon, a junior at Springboro High School, who joined thousands more students across southwest Ohio in March 14 walkouts to remember the Marjory Stonemen Douglas High School dead.

RELATED: Thousands of Ohio students walk out: ‘Community should be very proud’

On Saturday, marchers of all ages called on legislators to do more to prevent gun violence and mass shootings at a massive youth-led demonstration in Washington, D.C., and at more than 800 other rallies across the world and in cities including Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton.

Ohioans of all ages — from students, to parents, to cops, to legislators — say the gunfire must stop.

Many agree that more resource officers, counselors in schools and earlier detection of mental illness and better treatment are wise steps. But the nation remains divided — even among the young — on other proposals to prevent killings: universal background checks, increased restrictions on assault-style rifles or arming teachers with guns – a controversial practice already implemented on a limited basis in some area schools.

RELATED: Teachers with guns? Some Ohio districts arm staff but don’t tell public

About 400 Centerville High School students participated in the March 14 walkout, but another 20 students demonstrated with signs in support of the National Rifle Association.

A group of young demonstrators made coordinated signs for the rally in Washington, D.C.(People Magazine)

Logan Cole was hit twice inside West Liberty-Salem High School by shotgun blasts allegedly fired by fellow student Ely Serna on Jan. 20, 2017. While many are calling for more restrictions on guns, the local survivor of a school shooting declined to join a walkout there he thought politicized a heated Second Amendment issue.

“I feel like violence in our schools and our societies is a much deeper issue,” Cole said. “And I feel like it’s a little bit simplistic to look at this and point out gun control as the problem.”

RELATED: Local student shot at school urges classmates not to walk out

But unending school shootings — from Columbine, to Sandy Hook, to Marjory Stonemen Douglas — have left the nation’s students in a perpetual state of fear and stifle learning, say kids and educators.

J.J. Miller, 17, of Baltimore, Md., blows bubbles as crowds arrive for the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Even unfounded threats such as one March 7 at Dayton’s Belmont High School put students on edge and disrupt schooling.

“I literally started crying and ran out the door,” said Jasmyne Scott, a Belmont freshman, when the report of a student with a gun spread through the building and shaken students spilled out of the doors.

“Everyone just started running,” she said.

RELATED: Belmont High School students believing gun threat hide, flee classes

This month at a Schools, Guns, and Safety Town Hall organized by WHIO and the Dayton Daily News, state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said legislators have been rendered near mute on the issues, singling out fellow statehouse Republicans.

“One place I don’t feel there’s a real robust conversation going on is frankly in the legislature,” she said. “There are one-on-one discussions but nowhere near the active, vibrant conversation I think needs to take place.”

Part of the difficulty in finding consensus is a fear that any action will lead to encroachment of Second Amendment rights, Lehner said.

MORE: School safety panel agrees on counselors, splits on armed officers

“I believe it’s very possible to take some steps that will not in any way interfere with an individual’s right to own arms,” she said.

J.J. Miller, 17, of Baltimore, Md., blows bubbles as crowds arrive for the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“There’s nobody in this room or in this community or in this state who wants to ever see another gun shooting take place — another school shooting — and yet the solutions seem to be so elusive,” Lehner said.

Last week, Democrats in the Ohio Senate introduced legislation that would allow police to seize firearms from people who seem to be at risk of harming themselves or others. Also supported by Republican Gov. John Kasich, the “Red Flag Law” could be used to remove guns from people with mental illness who failed to take prescribed medications.

RELATED: Gun control advocates push for ‘red flag’ law in Ohio

The proposal drew immediate opposition by Second Amendment advocates.

“Taking someone’s property without due process is wrong. It’s completely un-American,” said Jim Irvine, board president of the Buckeye Firearms Association. “Gun control is a failed idea. Continuing to push it is refusing to accept reality.”

The burden placed on teachers and administrators to keep students safe is enormous, say some educators. Active shooter drills and armed resource officers in schools only heighten the angst of young people, some already struggling in chaotic environments, some say.

MORE: Local superintendent after mass shooting: ‘The kids are scared’

Other districts locally and in Ohio have allowed trained staff access to weapons in schools.

VIDEO: Scenes from March for Our Lives Rallies

Mad River Local Schools implemented an armed response team two years ago, said Jerry Ellender, the district’s treasurer. Sidney City Schools has a nearly identical program adopted in 2013. The guns aren’t carried by staff members, but remain in safes that can be unlocked by volunteers with firearms training.

“We don’t want a gun floating around that’s accessible to a student or taken away from a teacher and used by a student,” Ellender said.

Some districts have gone so far as to allow staff members to carry concealed weapons. Edgewood City Schools in Butler County adopted a concealed carry policy in 2013, and last year Georgetown Exempted Village Schools east of Cincinnati turned to directly arming teachers.

“It’s ultimately about putting people in place to protect the house,” said Georgetown Superintendent Chris Burrow. “We hope and pray it would never be us, but at the end of the day, we have to be ready in seconds and not minutes.”

RELATED: Guns in school: ‘We have to be ready in seconds and not minutes’

David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association, told Dayton Board of Education members last week that guns are the last tool educators need to battle school shooters.

“Arming teachers and bringing more potential violence to the schoolhouse is not the answer,” Romick said. “Instead, arm all educators with counselors, mental health services and other wraparound services to serve the children and families who need them most.”

Charlie Ross, a junior at Oakwood High School who participated in the safety town hall, voiced similar concerns.

“I think I can say overwhelmingly we find the idea of arming our own teachers to be a very daunting and scary idea. It will ruin our learning environment,” Ross said. “I personally believe — and especially from talking to my fellow students — that a good way to prevent these unfortunate shootings from happening is again to focus on counselors and identifying such troubled students before we even get to an active shooter situation.”

MORE: ACLU warns Ohio schools: We’re watching how you handle student protests

More school resource officers and better mental health care — two steps believed most politically achievable — suffer from a lack of funding, advocates of both say.

“We have to find the money, eliminate the excuses and get this done,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer, calling for more law enforcement officers to work directly with schools.

Joni Watson, a teacher at Horace Mann School in Dayton and vice president of the Dayton Education Association, said more resources can help turn troubled lives around and prevent future tragedies.

“We need money for mental health services, that’s the bottom line,” Watson said. “Every single time there’s a school shooting, you hear that the child was isolated, the child felt bullied, the child felt like he or she didn’t belong — every single time.”

Staff writers Laura Bischoff, Will Garbe and Jeremy P. Kelley contributed to this report.

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Democrats hope marches can sway Congress on guns

Published: Saturday, March 24, 2018 @ 12:00 AM

After watching lawmakers agree to two bills this week dealing with guns and school safety in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Democrats say the gun violence marches around the nation on Saturday have the chance to change the political dynamic on gun control in the Congress.

“Their hope gives me hope,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and others who have joined in calling for action on gun violence.

“Their determination gives me determination,” Nelson said at a U.S. Capitol news conference, even as he and other Democrats again acknowledged that they are far from having the votes to press ahead with gun control plans.

Among the plans that Democrats have focused on in recent weeks include:

+ The Manchin-Toomey ‘universal background checks’ bill, which would require checks for almost all private gun sales.

+ A federal law raising the minimum age to purchase a weapon to 21, mirrored on a law just passed by the state of Florida.

+ A ban on the sale of weapons like the AR-15.

+ Limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“We have an important role to play in insuring that no students should ever be afraid to walk down the hallway of their school,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), whose district includes Parkland, Florida.

“It is our job, and everyone working in that building behind us, to pass laws, to keep our communities safe,” Deutch said at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol.

But the last five weeks were also a reminder of the difficulty of acting on any gun-related legislation – no matter how minor it might be.

The “Fix NICS” bill approved this week as part of a giant spending bill was bipartisan, yet it also had some sharp opposition from Republicans in the House.

And that makes the idea of the ‘Buy 21’ bill, or any ban on assault weapons, difficult to see getting through the Congress, unless there is major change in the makeup of the U.S. House and Senate.

“You know the politics, but you got to start somewhere,” said Nelson. “This is the first step at the federal level.”

“There is no better example of the youth of our country becoming engaged, than in this march,” said Deutch.

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Defense gets major increase, pay raise for troops in budget plan

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM

            Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Congress has passed a massive spending bill which includes $700 billion for defense, spends billions more on aircraft, ships and tanks and provides a 2.4 percent pay hike for troops.

The $60 billion increase in military spending is the biggest in 15 years.

The budget plan also includes $300 million to continue cleaning the Great Lakes, $400 million for cleanup at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, and millions of dollars for Ohio to combat opioid addiction.

The $1.3 trillion measure, which was passed by the House on Thursday and the Senate on Friday, keeps the federal government open until the end of September. But Friday morning, President Donald Trump signed the bill Friday after he threatened to veto it because it did not include money for a resolution for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and failed to fully fund a wall across the country’s southern border.

The Air Force share of defense spending is $183.6 billion, which also aims to add 4,000 airmen by 2020, Air Force officials have said. It includes nearly $25 billion for procurement of aircraft, space vehicles, missiles, and ammunition and more than $49 billion for operations and maintenance, budget documents show.

RELATED: Top AF leader: ‘You have to say, that’s not good enough’

“For the Air Force, the higher level of spending in the budget bill offers an opportunity to fix nagging readiness problems while moving forward with long delayed plans to replace Cold War aircraft,” Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said in an email. “It also provides seed money for a transformation in how the Air Force will assure U.S. air and space superiority in the future.”

The spending bill includes $1.08 billion to upgrade the Abrams M-1 tank. Most of that money will be spent at the JSMC plant in Lima.

Across all research, testing and technology accounts, it adds $25.6 billion, documents show.

Impact at Wright-Patterson

The influx of dollars is a particular windfall for research spending at the Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson, observers said.

“For Wright Patterson, the impending budget increase signals a surge in research spending to unprecedented peace time levels,” Thompson said. “This could be the beginning of a golden age for the Air Force’s premier research and modernization site if Washington can find a way of keeping spending levels high in the years ahead.”

AFRL’s budget could exceed last year’s level of $4.8 billion, which was nearly split between government appropriations and sponsored research.

EXCLUSIVE: AF leader: total dominance not a ‘birthright’

This time, about $1.2 billion of that in government appropriations is headed to Wright-Patterson, according to spokespersons in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.

A breakdown of other budgets at Wright-Patterson was not yet available, spokeswoman Marie Vanover said Thursday.

But in some research accounts, such as materials and aerospace vehicles, spending could rise as much as 20 percent, said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.

The budget boost bodes well for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, also headquartered at Wright-Patterson, with money beyond the president’s request to procure more aircraft and will jump start new contracts that had been on hold without a permanent budget, Gessel said.

“The larger, overall funding level provided by this bill, which is accompanied by additional flexibility on spending authority, will relieve many budgetary pressures as the funding makes its way from Washington to field operations, including Wright-Patterson,” Gessel said in an email.

“There are provisions which give more flexibility in personnel management of civilian defense workers. This is important to Wright-Patterson because of the large percentage of civilians who work on the base.”

RELATED: Rep. Turner: Committee report won’t dispute Putin tried to help Trump

Non-defense spending

The bill provides $3 billion to reduce opioid addiction, of which $1 billion is set aside for grants that will go directly to the states. Fifteen percent of the state grant money has been earmarked for states which have been hardest by opioids, such as Ohio.

“This is good news for Ohio and good news for the millions of Americans who continue to struggle with addiction,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I’m particularly pleased that the bill includes $60 million for states to develop an infant plan of safe care to help newborns exposed to opioids and their families.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “while we know there is more work to be done,” the money in the bill “is a meaningful step forward for Ohio.”

The money for the Great Lakes was inserted into the bill after the White House did not include any money for the program, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program has strong bipartisan backing from lawmakers from both parties, such as Portman and Brown.

Both Brown and Portman pushed for more money to continue the cleanup at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, about 65 miles south of Columbus. The $400 million, Brown said, should guarantee no additional layoffs at the facility.

RELATED: Memphis Belle towed into Air Force museum for first time

How Ohio lawmakers voted

The House passed the measure by a vote of 256-to-167 with local Republicans Mike Turner of Dayton and Steve Chabot of Cincinnati voting yes.

Republicans Jim Jordan of Urbana and Warren Davidson of Troy voted no.

In an interview on Fox News, Jordan complained that the 2,200-page bill “grows the government at a $1.3 trillion price tag which will lead to a trillion dollar deficit,” adding “this may be the worst bill I have seen in my time in Congress.”

By contrast, Columbus-area Congressman Steve Stivers said the measure “provides critical funding for our military and veterans, resources for opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, and resources for our schools to keep our kids safe.”

The Senate must approve the bill because lawmakers from both parties were unable to agree on a budget for the 2018 spending year which began on October 1 and ends on September 30. By passing the bill, the Senate guarantees the government will remain open for next seven months.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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