CONTINUING COVERAGE


More than $20 million in ads to hit Ohio airwaves on drug prices ballot issue

Published: Thursday, September 14, 2017 @ 2:03 PM

Pill bottles sit on the shelf of Waynesville Pharmacy. If approved, Issue 2, an initiated statute, would limit state expenditures on prescription drugs for about 4 million Ohioans. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Pill bottles sit on the shelf of Waynesville Pharmacy. If approved, Issue 2, an initiated statute, would limit state expenditures on prescription drugs for about 4 million Ohioans. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Get ready to see more ads from both the supporters and opponents of state Issue 2, the prescription drug price ballot initiative.

The campaigns have already been saturating Ohio airwaves with ads urging voters to adopt or reject the measure, and spending on media is expanding starting this week.

The “Ohio Drug Price Relief Act,” which voters will see on the Nov. 7 ballot, would require that state agencies like the Department of Medicaid pay the same or lower prices for prescription drugs as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

RELATED: Ohio’s drug price ballot issue: What’s really going on?

Proponents say the measure will save the state between $350 million and $400 million annually that could be used for other state programs, like fighting the opioid epidemic. The opposition — financially backed by big pharma, but made up of dozens of organizations representing veterans, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and business — says the measure is unworkable and won’t produce the promised results. They say it could actually lead to higher drug prices for the majority of Ohioans who get prescriptions through private or employer insurance.

So far, the ad war has been lopsided in favor of the opposition, Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue, which has outspent supporters by about 5 to 1. That trend is expected to continue as the No campaign is funded by the deep-pocketed Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade organization that represents dozens of major drug companies.

RELATED: Issue 2 supporters say opposition is hiding donor info

Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, the proponents, is mostly funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a California non-profit that serves AIDS patients around the globe, including through several pharmacy locations in Ohio.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Issue 2 opponents have purchased about $19.5 million in airtime, including about $1.7 million for the current week beginning Wednesday. Those numbers include ads on both broadcast and a variety of cable channels in 11 cities, including three in West Virginia, according to the Dispatch.

The anti-issue spending for the week is highest in the three Cs: Cleveland ($380,261), Cincinnati ($354,119), and Columbus ($284,147), records show.

Issue 2 proponents have spent or purchased about $4 million on television advertising, including roughly $1 million in the current week, according to the Dispatch reporting.

Matt Borges, former GOP state party chair and a supporter of the ballot issue, said the ads are ramping up because this is the time when voters start really paying attention. 

“We’re up against an onslaught of spending by the drug companies who are trying to confuse voters,” he said.

RELATED: Battle over drug pricing comes to Ohio with costly campaign, TV ads

Dale Butland, spokesman for the opposition, said the campaign is fighting an uphill battle to educate voters.

“Their whole pitch is, ‘You want lower drug prices?… Vote yes,’” he said. “That’s a very attractive proposition to people, because so many people are struggling to pay their drug costs. So what we have to do is explain to people that something that sounds really good, is not in fact a good idea, will not do what it promises, and in fact will only make things worse. That’s a much more expensive proposition than the other side.”

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, which were filed June 30, PhRMA gave $15.8 million to the opposition campaign. AHF contributed nearly all of the $3.6 million that `Issue 2 proponents reported receiving. The next filing deadline in not until late October, a couple of weeks before the election.

The campaign could end up being the most expensive in Ohio history. A similar measure in California, with backing from the same two sides was defeated last year 53 percent to 47 percent. For that campaign, supporters spent $19 million and opponents nearly $110 million.

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Husted wants new voting machines in Ohio by 2020 presidential election

Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 4:22 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 4:24 PM

Husted wants new voting machines in Ohio by 2020 presidential election Getty Image
Husted wants new voting machines in Ohio by 2020 presidential election Getty Image

Ohio’s elections chief wants counties to modernize their voting machines before the 2020 presidential election, and he’s urging the governor and state lawmakers to foot much of the bill.

RELATED: Husted says replacing voting machines will be costly

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted sent a letter to Gov. John Kasich, his budget director and state legislative leaders on Thursday seeking $118 million in state capital funds for the project.

“While I am confident that the storage, maintenance and operating procedures used by the boards of elections will ensure that these systems remain secure and accurate through the 2018 election cycle, Ohio’s leaders must act soon to ensure an orderly transition to newer equipment well before the 2020 presidential general election,” he wrote.

Ohio is a bellwether political state with about 7.9 million registered voters. Donald Trump, a Republican, won the state’s 2016 presidential contest against Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, by 447,000 votes, more than 8 percentage points.

Husted said the $118 million would cover 100 percent of the “lowest estimated cost” for new equipment: optical scan machines his office’s review found to cost least among state and federally certified machines.

Counties that wanted to buy more expensive equipment — say, with the most digital bells and whistles — would need to cover the difference with local funds. Those few counties that have already upgraded could be reimbursed for those expenses up to the lowest estimated cost figure, Husted said.

Husted, a candidate for lieutenant governor, called the plan forward-looking, cost-effective and fair to counties that need help funding the improved technology.

Husted said he’s been calling for years for the aging equipment to be modernized and the situation has become urgent. He wants counties to begin buying equipment by 2018 so it can be in place for use as a sort of test run in the less hectic 2019 election.

Ohio counties all use either touchscreen or optical machines, which feature optical scanners that read paper ballots and tally results, but voting officials say technological advances are needed to bring their inner workings up to date. They say using the current machines is like having an old flip phone in an age of smartphones.

“The last time Ohio replaced its voting machines, the iPhone hadn’t been released, people still rented movies from Blockbuster and social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist,” Husted said. “It’s time to make updating our voting equipment a priority.”

RELATED: Hacking the ballot: How safe is your vote this November?

Husted’s recommendation comes as legislators and the Republican Kasich administration are exploring their own ideas for the best path forward to newer machines before the next big election. Ohio’s capital budget process begins in January.

Aaron Ockerman, a lobbyist for the Ohio Association of Election Officials, said the organization supports Husted’s effort.

“It’s a viable plan, it’s a thoughtful plan and the thing I’m most pleased about is it does preserve the counties’ ability to choose their own voting machines,” he said.

Ockerman said new optical scan machines, unlike older ones, save a digital image of each ballot that can be useful when confirming vote tallies. He said the modernization would also allow counties to replace mechanical equipment that’s gotten old and worn out.

He said about a dozen of Ohio’s 88 counties have gotten new machines within the past three or four years, but even those machines could probably stand to be upgraded by 2020.

- By Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press

Ohioans who lose driver’s license get help from lawmakers

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 6:09 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 14, 2017 @ 11:27 AM

Ohioans who lose driver’s license get help from Ohio lawmakers. Getty Image
Staff Writer
Ohioans who lose driver’s license get help from Ohio lawmakers. Getty Image(Staff Writer)

A bill that would temporarily allow some Ohioans who have lost their driver’s license to regain it without paying a reinstatement fee passed the Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday.

“The way that the system would change under this bill would eliminate kind of a debtors’ prison,” said State Rep. John E. Barnes, Jr., D-Cleveland, the bill’s co-sponsor. 

“This bill will hopefully provide people with an opportunity to have a fresh start.”

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, was the only member to vote no on the House Bill 336.

“Amnesty is a bad idea, especially for those convicted of street racing or theft of gasoline,” Antani said. “While I understand there are some people who fall into an insurmountable debt due to minor traffic violations, street racing and theft of gasoline should not have been included as eligible offenses for this relief program.”

The bill, which passed 78-1, would provide a six-month “amnesty” period and eligibility requirements for people to get a fee reduction or waiver of driver license reinstatement fees. It now heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

It is one of at least three bills pending in the state legislature that attempt to address the problem of driver license suspensions that leave some people unable to get to work and so unable to pay the reinstatement fees required to get their licenses back.

RELATED: Changes sought as driver suspensions pile up

Drivers in Ohio can lose their license for a variety of driving offenses, such as driving under the influence and driving without insurance, as well as actions that have nothing to do with driving, including non-payment of child support, dropping out of high school, and skipping a court date.

“It defies logic that you would take away their means of getting to work so they can earn money to pay their child support or their court fines, said Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, who is co-sponsoring a separate bill that would would automatically allow limited driving privileges to necessary places like work and school for those whose driver’s license is suspended for issues unrelated to driving or using a vehicle for criminal purposes.

Butler said he supported the bill that passed Wednesday because it begins a needed process of looking at the state’s charges for license reinstatement, which he said are taxes disguised as a fee.

“Whenever you have a fee that is more than the cost to run the service, it’s a tax. It’s generating money. And in this case it has a disproportionate impact on certain individuals,” Butler said.

Under the bill passed Wednesday eligibility for license reinstatement fee reduction or waiver would be limited to those who have had their license suspended for at least 18 months, can demonstrate proof of indigence, have paid all other fees and penalties and completed court sanctions, said Carly McCain, legislative aide to Barnes.

Those eligible cannot have lost their license due to non-payment of child support, or offenses involving drugs, alcohol, violence or crimes of a sexual nature, she said.

RELATED: Butler County child support offering amnesty program

“It is our goal to create a reasonable, practical, and measured attempt to make sure that Ohioans are legal to drive with a valid driver’s license and insurance while driving through our neighborhoods and on our interstates,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, State Rep. Dave Greenspan, R-Westlake, in a news release issued after the vote.

Last year 1.1 million Ohioans had their driver’s license suspended for one or more reasons. That total is nearly 12 percent of those old enough to drive in the state.

Ohio law allows for multiple suspensions of a license and the average number of suspensions per driver was 2.96 in 2016, according to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. All but three types of suspension come with a reinstatement fee, ranging from $40 to $650, and people who get multiple suspensions can wind up with reinstatement fees in the thousands of dollars.

In the Senate a bill introduced by State Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, would permit judges to impose community service in lieu of paying reinstatement fees. The only Republican co-sponsor of that bill is State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima.

“There’s this permanent underclass we’ve created,” Huffman said in an earlier interview. “If you’re $4,000 or $5,000 down and that’s what it takes to get your driver’s license, you just don’t do it.”

Other stories by Lynn Hulsey

Ohio’s Kasich, Brown react to Alabama election

GOP governor candidate Jim Renacci picks Cincinnati councilwoman as his running mate

Controversial Ohio Justice O’Neill to step down from bench on Jan. 26 and run for governor

Ohio congresswoman says some women’s clothes are ‘invitation’ for sexual harassment

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 4:03 PM
Updated: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 4:03 PM

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur

Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur said that some members of Congress and aides invite sexual harassment because of the way they dress, according to a report in Politico.

Kaptur, D-Toledo,  made the comments during a caucus meeting with Democrats where the subject came up.

“I saw a member yesterday with her cleavage so deep it was down to the floor,” Kaptur said, according to the sources present. “And what I’ve seen … it’s really an invitation.” The comments left many others in the room stunned, the sources said.

Here is Kaptur’s response to Politico:

“When I was first elected to Congress my office and I became a refuge for female staffers who had been mistreated by their bosses. Some of them in tears many days. It is something I carry with me to this day and something I brought up during our Caucus meeting," she said. "Under no circumstances is it the victim's fault if they are harassed in any way. I shared the stories from my time here in the context of the ‘Me Too’ legislation and how we can elevate the decorum 

Here is a statement from Kaptur to this news organization:

“When I was first elected to Congress my office and I became a refuge for female staffers who had been mistreated by their bosses. Some of them in tears many days. It is something I carry with me to this day and something I brought up during our Caucus meeting," she said. "Under no circumstances is it the victim's fault if they are harassed in any way. I shared the stories from my time here in the context of the ‘Me Too’ legislation and how we can elevate the decorum and the dress code to protect women from what is a pervasive problem here and in society at large.”

Ohio’s Kasich, Brown react to Alabama election

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 9:31 AM

Ohio Governor John Kasich. Getty Images
Ohio Governor John Kasich. Getty Images

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says Republicans in Alabama “chose country over party,” in Tuesday’s Senate election.

Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in a narrow win to become the first Democrat in more than 20 years to hold a Senate seat there.

Sexual assault allegations against Moore caused many Republicans, including Kasich, to distance themselves from the GOP candidate.

“Tomorrow we must redouble our efforts to support candidates worthy of the office they seek.” Kasich tweeted.

RELATED: Latest on the Alabama race

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown tweeted that “I am grateful to the women who had the courage to come forward. Because of them and so many others like them, we are seeing meaningful change. I look forward to finding opportunities to work with Doug Jones in the Senate to support middle-class families.”

As we get more reaction, we will update this story.

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Doug Jones wins Alabama Senate race