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Ohio must allow in-person voting 3 days before Election Day, court rules

Published: Friday, October 05, 2012 @ 9:30 PM
Updated: Friday, October 05, 2012 @ 9:30 PM

Tuesday is the deadline to register to vote or to update your voter registration for the Nov. 6. Local board of elections offices and the Ohio Secretary of State will be open until 9 p.m. that day to accept new and updated registrations. Addresses can be updated online at www.MyOhioVote.com.

The U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated in-person early voting in Ohio on the three days before the Nov. 6 General Election, handing the Obama campaign, Democrats and voting rights advocates what they see as a major victory. Local county elections boards will decide what office hours to add.

The Sixth Circuit court rules that a 2011 Ohio law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment. That law allowed in-person early voting on the three days prior to the election for military and overseas voters only.

“As a result of this decision, every voters, including military, veterans and overseas voters alongside all Ohioans, will have the same opportunity to vote early through the weekend and Monday before the election,” said Bob Bauer, general counsel for the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama.

In July the Obama campaign and state and national Democratic parties sued Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to reinstate the in-person voting rules that had been in place since 2005 in response to long lines on Election Day. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“My office is reviewing today’s decision by the court as we determine the best course of action moving forward,” Husted said in a news release issued Friday. “On Monday we will make a determination on how to proceed legally and provide administrative guidance to Ohio’s boards of elections.”

Rob Scott, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said he supports Husted’s efforts to get uniformity across the state in voting hours.

“We still fully support that and support it going forward,” Scott said.

Husted’s directive that all counties have the same hours for early voting led to his firing in August of former Montgomery County Board of Elections members Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie Sr.

Lieberman and Ritchie’s lawsuit over the firing is pending before U.S. District Judge Walter H. Rice and could be impacted by Friday’s appeals court ruling because it raises similar constitutional issues, said Montgomery County Board of Elections Deputy Director Steve Harsman.

“I do think it doesn’t hurt our case in any way,” Lieberman said. “It is an exciting ruling and I think it is great for our community.”

The court granted local county boards of election discretion to determine what, if any, early voting hours they will have on the three days prior to the election — which is contrary to Husted’s directive that voting hours be uniform statewide.

“It’s a big victory and it certainly puts the matter back in the laps of the board of elections,” said Ellis Jacobs, of the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition, which is a member of the Ohio Fair Elections Network.

“All the members of boards should vote to extend voting hours for all voters on those last three days,” Jacobs said. “(The network) is calling on Husted not to appeal it and to announce that if called on to break any tiebreaker he will vote on expanding hours to all voters, military and non-military alike.”

Evidence showed that an estimated 105,000 Ohio voters cast ballots in person on the last three days before the presidential election in 2008, according to the court.

The court ruling said, “Plaintiffs introduced extensive evidence that a significant number of Ohio voters will in fact be precluded from voting without the additional three days of in-person early voting.”

“While we readily acknowledge the need to provide military voters more time to vote, we see no corresponding justification for giving others less time,” the court ruled.

The court ruled that the state did not prove the extra hours would be overly burdensome for boards.

It’s not clear what local boards will do as local officials said they will need to see what their board members decide. Harsman said he will recommend that the hours be expanded to that weekend to reduce long lines on Election Day.

“I think this is a good thing for the citizens of Montgomery County based on the popularity,” Harsman said.

Steve Quillen, director of the Miami County board said his employees are too busy getting ready for Election Day and he will recommend against weekend hours. He said voters have plenty of opportunities to vote in person or by mail, along with casting ballots on Election Day.

“They have 35 days to vote. It’s not like rocket science,” Quillen said.

Warren County board director Kim Antrican said she does not believe having voting on the three days prior to the Nov. 6 election will be a problem for her staff. “It’s just one more thing we have to do,” she said.

Clark County Board of Elections Director Matthew Tlachac said the issue will likely be discussed at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at the board of elections meeting and Butler County’s Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro said the board also will likely decide what to do next week.

Bob Hamilton, chairman of the Champaign County Democratic Party, said the board will likely vote on the issue during its meeting Oct. 18. The additional voting days might present an extra challenge due to the additional work and hectic schedule, but Hamilton said increasing access to the polls is usually a good idea.

“My thought is we want to be open as much as possible for the public if the rest of the board agrees to that,” he said.

Staff writers Tiffany Y. Latta, Matt Sanctis and Ed Richter contributed to this story.

Ohio considers ban on abortions when Down syndrome diagnosed

Published: Sunday, September 24, 2017 @ 1:01 PM
Updated: Sunday, September 24, 2017 @ 1:01 PM


            In this undated photo, Kelly Kuhns holds her son, Oliver, in Plain City, Ohio. Kuhns is advocating for an Ohio bill that would ban abortions based on the type of pre-natal Down syndrome diagnosis she received for her son, Oliver. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)
            Julie Carr Smyth
In this undated photo, Kelly Kuhns holds her son, Oliver, in Plain City, Ohio. Kuhns is advocating for an Ohio bill that would ban abortions based on the type of pre-natal Down syndrome diagnosis she received for her son, Oliver. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)(Julie Carr Smyth)

Kelly Kuhns rejected Down syndrome testing the first three times she got pregnant; the 36-year-old nurse from central Ohio always knew she’d never terminate a pregnancy. But after her third pregnancy ended in miscarriage, she decided with the fourth to take the test.

Her hope was to help doctors guide her to a healthy outcome. What she got was a positive result for Down syndrome — and a barrage of disheartening counseling.

RELATED: Ohio Supreme Court to decide on new abortion laws

“They tell you of these horrific things that can happen, the different anomalies, cardiac issues,” she said. “So you plan for the worst, and I really feel like you’re given a death sentence.”

Kuhns went to her home in Plain City, just northwest of Columbus that day and cried for hours. But Oliver, her 2-year-old son with Down syndrome, ultimately has led “a pretty normal life.”

That’s why Kuhns is fighting for an Ohio bill that would ban abortions in cases where a pregnant woman has had a positive test result or prenatal diagnosis indicating Down syndrome. Physicians convicted of performing an abortion under such circumstances could be charged with a fourth-degree felony, stripped of their medical license and held liable for legal damages. The pregnant woman would face no criminal liability.

RELATED: Kasich vetoes Heartbeat Bill, signs 20-week abortion ban

Several other states have considered similar measures, triggering emotional debate over women’s rights, parental love, and the trust between doctor and patient.

The Ohio bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Frank LaRose, said GOP lawmakers accelerated the measure after hearing a mid-August CBS News report on Iceland’s high rate of abortions in cases involving Down syndrome. The report asserted Iceland had come close to “eradicating” such births.

Iceland is one of several European countries where Down syndrome diagnoses lead to abortion at least 90 percent of time. Others include Denmark and Britain. The rate in the United States is lower — probably between 67 and 85 percent, according to one of the most recent studies, a 2012 analysis in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis.

LaRose acknowledged the bill raises difficult questions, and he wants to kindle challenging conversations.

“Some of the sweetest, kindest people I know have Down syndrome,” he said. “It’s just very unsettling for some of us that people in our society are going to make a decision that this life is worth something and this life is not worth something based on this genetic abnormality.”

Dennis Sullivan, a physician and bioethicist at Cedarville University, calls it “a modern-day form of eugenics.”

Kuhns, who opposes abortion in general, testified for the bill in the Legislature. She got her son’s Down syndrome diagnosis in December 2014, about 14 weeks into her pregnancy, and acknowledges a period of grieving over it. But after delivering and parenting Oliver, she sees abortions based on such a diagnosis as a product of societal perfectionism that targets Down syndrome now, but perhaps other conditions later.

“We were told of all the different therapies he would need and all the additional work that would be involved,” she testified. “But we were never told how amazing our lives would be with Oliver in it. Nobody told me my face would hurt from smiling at him.”

Doctors and medical students are fighting the measure.

Parvaneh Nouri, a third-year medical student at Wright State University, told lawmakers it will do little to stop abortions but could stop information-sharing between patients and their doctors.

“It destroys the trust of our patients, for which we have worked tirelessly over generations of physicians to cultivate,” she said.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has expressed concern about various measures seeking to ban abortions based on a woman’s motive for having one.

“These ‘reason bans’ represent gross interference in the patient-physician relationship, creating a system in which patients and physicians are forced to withhold information or outright lie in order to ensure access to care,” said Dr. Mark DeFrancesco while serving as president of the congress last year.

Such measures, he said, might compel some women to resort to “desperate, dangerous means to end unwanted pregnancies.”

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, about one in every 700 babies in the United States — or about 6,000 a year — is born with the condition, which results from a chromosomal irregularity.

People with Down syndrome have an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions. However, their life expectancy has increased markedly, from 25 to 60 over the past 35 years.

Issues raised by bills in Ohio and elsewhere are so thorny that the Down Syndrome Society hasn’t taken a formal position on them. Instead, the organization advocates on behalf of people with Down syndrome, seeking to empower them with greater opportunities.

“We lose sight of the gifts that these people offer our country,” said president Sara Hart Weir. “We need to make sure they are given every single right.”

Two states, Indiana and North Dakota, already have passed laws like the one pending in Ohio.

Silicon Valley fighting Portman’s efforts to end sex trafficking

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 4:12 PM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 4:12 PM

Portman For Digital

Sen. Rob Portman’s fight to keep websites from selling children and women online for sex is being met with resistance by Silicon Valley.

Portman, R–Ohio, who along with a small group of senators has waged a years-long battle against Backpage, a classified site infamous for being the leading online market to purchase children for sex, is trying to amend a 1996 law in order to make it harder to sell people for sex online.

The 1996 Communications Decency Act, meant to regulate pornography on the Internet, included a provision that aimed to protect website operators from third parties that might post harmful or illegal material on their site.

Backpage, Portman said, used that 26-word provision in the law to protect themselves from litigation, even as victim after victim tried to sue the site for selling them online. Portman’s bill would change that, allowing sex trafficking victims to sue websites that knowingly allow sex trafficking on their site. His bill would also allow state and local law enforcement to prosecute sites that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

But his effort is being fought by internet companies who fear the law would subject them to unnecessary litigation and would limit their freedom of speech. One organization has been posting online ads on Facebook and Twitter arguing against his bill, and the Internet Association, which represents Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have been among those to oppose the bill.

But at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday, Portman said his bill is crafted narrowly to protect sites that inadvertently publish illegal or harmful content and aim, instead, at those who are knowingly selling people for sex, as he said Backpage did. The site shut down its “adult” section in January, but still posts “dating” ads online.

He said three-fourths of sexual trafficking victims are exploited online. Many times, he said, predators make their first connection to the victim online. And sex trafficking, he said, is increasing.

He recently visited Youngstown, where he met with a girl whose father began selling her for sex at age nine, bringing her from city to city to sell her at sporting events. She was raped as often as 20 times a day.

The fact that this occurs, Portman said, is “an outrage. It’s a disgrace. And I believe history is going to judge us on how we respond to it.”

But on the other end of the spectrum is Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote the provision now being targeted in Portman’s bill.

He argues Portman’s bill would stifle free speech as well as the very innovation that has caused the Internet to thrive. While he opposes sex trafficking, “I just believe the legislation being considered…is the wrong answer to an important question. “

Eric Goldman, Professor, Santa Clara University School of Law, said the bill would inadvertently hurt the companies that try to moderate harmful or illegal content on their sites. The bill, he said, “doesn’t limit itself to bad actors; it applies to the entire Internet and force services doing moderation to comprehensively review all content they receive.”

RELATED: What’s really going on with Portman sex trafficking bill?

Supporters of the bill, however, found a powerful voice in Yvonne Ambrose, whose daughter, Desiree Robinson, died late last year at the age of 16.

Desiree, said Yvonne Ambrose, “was the light of my life, my firstborn, my only daughter, my heart, my world. And Desiree made me a better person, because she was a beautiful person. She had the brightest smile that could light up a room.”

Desiree had been smart, kind and loving, but searched for love and acceptance beyond her family and friends. An adult man found her on social media, preyed on her and pressured her to sell herself online. On Dec. 23, 2016, a 32-year-old man named Antonio Rosales looked her up through Backpage. The pimp drove her to meet Rosales. One day later, Rosales beat her, raped her, strangled her, and then slit her throat.

If she had not been sold on Backpage, her mother said, she might still be alive today.

“It could be your child,” she said, in tears, surveying the senators on the dais. “Your niece, your nephew, your cousins, your friend’s children next, if you don’t stop this…if you’re going fix this problem, fix it.”

Ohio Patrol cracking down on distracted driving; state considering higher fines

Published: Wednesday, June 21, 2017 @ 3:08 PM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 3:25 PM

Distracted driving

The Ohio State Highway Patrol is cracking down on distracting driving with a special effort through July 22.

This is part of a six-state project which includes all of the states that border Ohio. 

“Distracted driving is a reckless and dangerous behavior,” said Colonel Paul A. Pride in a statement. “If you’re behind the wheel, you need to be completely focused on driving. The Ohio State Highway Patrol and our law enforcement partners in our neighboring states know the devastating effects of distracted driving.”

RELATED: Ohio considering major changes for teen drivers

Driving while distracted could cost you an extra $100 if you are pulled over for speeding or another moving violation under a bill the Ohio House of Representatives approved last month.

The law goes beyond driving while texting and State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, says it goes too far because it also covers talking on the phone, switching radio stations and other distractions beyond texting.

“To me, its overly expansive. Its not just texting while driving. It’s everything,” Antani said.

“While cracking down on distracted driving is important, this bill will criminalize talking on the phone while driving which is terrible government overreach.”

The bill passed 71-10 but would not become law unless approved by the Ohio Senate and signed by the governor.

The bill is co-sponsored by State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, and State Rep. Jim Hughes, R-Upper Arlington. It covers moving violations such as speeding, running red lights, disobeying any traffic devices, driving too slowly, improper lane changes and other offenses.

RELATED: Teens involved in more crashes in summer months

“Inspired from previous efforts to bring attention to the dangers of distracted driving, Rep. Hughes worked in coordination with the Ohio Department of Public Safety to draft legislation to create this enhanced penalty, which would not add points to an individual’s driver’s license and would not go on their driving record,” according to a news release on Hughes’ website.

“The enhanced penalty for distracted driving as proposed in House Bill 95 will help provide a deterrent to this reckless and dangerous activity,” Hughes said. “Ultimately, the goal is to save lives by making our roadways safer.”

A person could only be cited for “distracted driving” if the law enforcement officer witnesses the offense while the moving violation is occurring, according to the bill.

In lieu of the fine an offender may instead attend distracted driving safety courses, according to a summary of the bill by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.

The bill defines “distracted” as:

- Using a handheld electronic wireless communications device - including phones, tablets and computers - except when it is on speakerphone or otherwise hands-free.

- Any activity “that is not necessary to the operation of a vehicle” and could or does impair the driver.

Ohio Supreme Court to decide on new abortion laws

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 10:38 AM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 10:38 AM

Demonstrators at the Right to Life Rally in Washington on Jan. 27, 2017.  
AL DRAGO/NYT
Demonstrators at the Right to Life Rally in Washington on Jan. 27, 2017. (AL DRAGO/NYT)

By all accounts, abortion opponents have been racking up win after win in the Ohio Statehouse over the last six years, making it more difficult for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Now the Ohio Supreme Court could cement or unravel those wins, depending on how it decides two pending legal challenges.

The high court heard arguments on Capital Care Network of Toledo versus the Ohio Department of Health on Sept. 12 and will hear Preterm-Cleveland, Inc. versus Gov. John Kasich on Sept. 26. Both cases challenge relatively recent restrictions placed on abortion providers.

Preterm is challenging the constitutionality of including abortion policy in a budget bill, saying the maneuver violates the Ohio Constitution’s single-subject rule.

The restrictions being challenged include: mandating abortion clinics to have written transfer agreements with local hospitals; barring public hospitals on providing transfer agreements; and requiring doctors to inform patients about a detectable heartbeat before performing an abortion.

Capital Care Network is challenging the Ohio Department of Health’s decision to revoke its license when the clinic failed to arrange a transfer agreement with a local hospital.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life and a member of the state Medical Board of Ohio, said the cases come down to whether abortion clinics have to follow health and safety regulations imposed on other outpatient surgical centers. Ohio Right to Life calls the Capital Care lawsuit “arguably the most significant abortion case in the history of Ohio.”

“If we lose, the abortion facilities are arguably free from any government oversight,” Gonidakis said.

Kellie Copeland of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said: “When clinics are forced to close, women must travel long distances and incur even greater out-of-pocket expenses to access care. Women of financial means will be able to go through those extra barriers to access abortion, but many others will not. Those women will be forced to continue pregnancies against their will, or to take matters into their own hands. Ohio is a medical destination state; women should not be denied access to needed health care, or be forced to flee our borders to access care.”

Capital Care Network, the only abortion clinic in the Toledo area, is at risk of closing because it doesn’t have a transfer agreement with a local hospital. The clinic lost its agreement with University of Toledo Hospital and arranged a new one with the University of Michigan 52 miles away. But the state health department determined that Ann Arbor isn’t local and revoked the clinic’s license.

Transfer agreements have been required by administrative rule since 1996 but in 2013, lawmakers embedded the mandate into state law, added the word “local,” and prohibited publicly owned hospitals from providing such agreements. A law adopted later specified 30-miles as the maximum distanced to qualify as local.

Related: Abortion case goes before Ohio Supreme Court

Stephen Carney, deputy solicitor for the Ohio Attorney General’s office, said if Capital Care Network were to close, women would have to drive to Detroit or Ann Arbor for abortion services.

That prompted Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill to say: “Counsel, surely you didn’t just say that the undue burden is met if we tell women you can’t have an abortion in Ohio but you can certainly go to Michigan.”

States may regulate abortion as long as the restrictions don’t place an undue burden on a woman’s access to abortion.

Related: Ohio key battleground in abortion fight

On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Roe v Wade that women have the constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies. The ruling came in a case that challenged a Texas law that outlawed abortion except when the life of the mother was in danger. It also gave the state the power to regulate abortion to protect the health of the mother and that authority increased as a pregnancy progressed. Once a fetus is viable outside the womb, the state has an interest in protecting that potential life with restrictions on abortions.

NARAL ProChoice Ohio lists 18 items signed by Kasich that restricts access to abortion or reproductive care, including: defunding Planned Parenthood, requiring abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with hospitals within a 30-mile radius, the new ban on abortions after 20 weeks gestation, a prohibition on public hospitals performing abortions or holding transfer agreements with clinics, stricter standards for juveniles seeking judicial bypass instead of parental consent to terminate their pregnancies, and requiring physicians to perform an ultrasound to detect a fetal heartbeat 24 hours before performing an abortion.

Since these new restrictions have been in place, half of the clinics in Ohio have closed.

“If the Supreme Court of Ohio overturns the lower court rulings, it could result in Toledo losing its only abortion provider, and it could jeopardize access across Ohio,” Copeland said. “If hospitals in Dayton, Cincinnati, Akron, Columbus and Cleveland turn their backs on women the way hospitals in Toledo turned their back on Capital Care, clinics could be forced to close in those cities as well.”

The Ohio Supreme Court typically decides cases within six months of oral arguments.

While current abortion restrictions face legal challenges, state lawmakers are considering more:

House Bill 149: Penalties for receiving payment for aborted fetal tissue would be stiffer.

House Bill 214 & Senate Bill 164: Abortions would be prohibited based on the diagnosis that the fetus may have Down Syndrome.

House Bill 258: Abortions would be prohibited once a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

Senate Bill 28: Fetal remains from surgical abortions would have to be cremated or buried.

Senate Bill 145: Performing a dialation and evacuation abortion would be a felony offense.