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Major changes to how Ohio draws congressional districts heads to voters

Published: Tuesday, February 06, 2018 @ 2:19 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 06, 2018 @ 2:19 PM

Major changes to how Ohio draws congressional districts heads tovoters
Major changes to how Ohio draws congressional districts heads tovoters

After decades of fighting and months of intense negotiations, Democrats, Republicans and non-partisan watchdog groups are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in favor of a new way of drawing congressional districts.

The Ohio House on Tuesday voted 83-10 in favor of a resolution that passed the Senate on a unanimous vote on Monday night. The proposed constitutional amendment will be placed on the May primary ballot for Ohio voters to consider.

Related: Ohio Senate passes major changes to congressional redistricting

Congressional district maps, which are drawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census, play a huge role in who represents Ohio.

The proposal sets up a three-step process:

— The General Assembly may approve a 10-year map if it three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate agree, along with at least half of the members of the minority and majority parties. It would require the governor’s signature.

— If the Legislature fails to adopt a map, the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission would be take over. It may pass a 10-year map if it has at least four votes, including two from the minority party.

— If the commission fails to act, the responsibility returns to the Legislature, which can pass a 10-year map with three-fifths majority vote, including one-third of the minority party members. It would require the governor’s signature.

If the three steps don’t result in a 10-year map, the majority party controlling the Legislature may adopt a four-year map, providing it follows guardrails to protect against unduly favoring a political party or incumbents and against splitting up counties into multiple congressional districts.

“I believe that the way district lines are draw has a big impact on the way our chambers function here at the state level and on the way that the chambers function at the federal level,” said state Sen. Frank LaRose, a Republican who is running for Secretary of State and who has pushed for redistricting changes.

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat running for Secretary of State, credited citizen groups for pushing lawmakers to act saying that Ohio’s current gerrymandered map is the worst in state history. “One party is walking away with three-quarters of the districts when they get roughly half of the votes,” Clyde said.

State Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Cincinnati, voted against the plan, saying it failed to include a line that voting is an essential right for all Ohioans. State Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, opposed the plan because he said his local counties could still be split into multiple districts and there are no additional protections for racial minorities.

State Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, a primary negotiator on the new plan, said while he supports the deal, he has concerns because of the current political environment and the powerful urge to gerrymander maps. “Just think about it, we have to write bipartisanship into our constitution,” he said.

The proposed constitutional amendment won support from Fair Districts = Fair Elections, a coalition of some 30 groups seeking redistricting reform. Fair Districts had been collecting the required 306,000 valid voter signatures to place a congressional redistricting plan on the November ballot.

Fair Districts said it is now supporting the legislative plan that will go on the May ballot.

Related: Issue 1 would change the way legislative district lines are drawn

Related: Issue 1 cruises to victory

Congressional redistricting reform has been an elusive goal for decades in Ohio.

Currently, the political party that controls the General Assembly is in charge of drawing the congressional district maps every 10 years. Minority party approval is not required. The result is maps with odd-shaped districts that are drawn to maximize the majority-party’s chances of winning the most congressional districts. The GOP holds 12 of Ohio’s 16 seats in Congress.

Gerrymandered maps in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are being challenged in federal courts.

Related: A brief history of gerrymandering in Ohio

House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, said citizens don’t feel like members of Congress are listening to them and it has led to dysfunction and partisanship in Washington. The reform plan isn’t perfect but represents a big improvement, he said.

“This is about responsive government,” he said. “At the end of the day, voters deserve to be heard and they deserve to know that their votes count.”

House members opposing the resolution: John Becker, John Bocceri, Tom Brinkman, Bill Dean, Candice Keller, Adam Miller, Dan Ramos, Nino Vitale and Paul Zeltwanger.

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Big money, political muscle on display in payday lending clash

Published: Sunday, May 20, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Ohio House Bill 123 calls for closing loopholes to reform payday lending laws. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Ohio House Bill 123 calls for closing loopholes to reform payday lending laws. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Payday lending stores dot the landscape of Ohio’s small towns, suburban strip malls and inner-city thoroughfares.

To hear one side tell it, they give their customers — many with bad credit — much-needed access to quick money for emergencies and everyday expenses.

To hear the other side tell it, they take advantage of the poor by charging the highest interest rates in the country.

One side employs a small army of well-connected lobbyists and gives heavily to political campaigns.

The other side, the one pushing reforms, has fewer financial resources but refuses to back down.

“David didn’t stand a chance against Goliath but we know who won that battle,” said the Rev. Carl Ruby of Springfield, who is leading a coalition in favor of House Bill 123, which calls for major reforms of the payday lending industry. “We know that we are up against a Goliath, but we believe that this is a case where right will triumph over might. We are going to do everything in our power to expose those who are cashing in on the situation by standing in the way of HB 123.”

Related: Payday lender made 3 international trips with Rosenberger

Big money

The David versus Goliath reference may be exaggerated, but behind the payday loan storefronts are big money and political muscle. Consider:

  • Payday lenders helped underwrite former House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s trips to China, Normandy and London and accompanied him on the trips. On his watch, HB123 stalled in the House for more than a year. Sources say the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into at least one of the trips Rosenberger took — news that prompted Rosenberger to resign last month.
  • While payday loan borrowers are typically low- to middle-income Americans, the top brass at the companies are paid handsomely, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ted Saunders, chief executive of Columbus-based Community Choice Financial, which has 489 stores in 12 states, was paid $3.16 million in 2017. Saunders also had use of the corporate aircraft and received an $11,875 auto allowance. Three other executives made a combined $4.5 million last year.
  • Some of the lenders are generous political donors. Lee Schear, owner of Schear Financial based in the Dayton area, has donated $540,219 to Ohio candidates and political parties since 2012, During that same span, Rod Aycox, head of Select Management Resources, a Georgia-based auto-title lender, gave $300,000. Schear sent $25,000 to the Ohio GOP on April 4.
  • FirstCash, Inc., owner of 2,200 pawn shops and payday lending stores in North and Central America, disclosed in SEC filings that its top shareholders include financial world heavyweights such as BlackRock Fund Advisors, Vanguard Group, Fiduciary Management, Dimensional Fund Advisors, and William Blair & Co.

Related: Ohio failed to limit payday loans before. Will this time be different?

Pitched battle

Typically with payday loans, consumers borrow between $100 and $1,500 that must be repaid within 30 days, either through a post-dated check or automatic withdrawal. Interest and fees can boost the annual percentage rate above 400 percent. Often, borrowers can’t make the full payment when it comes due, so the loan is extended, accruing more interest and fees.

Nationwide, some 12 million Americans take out high-cost, small-dollar loans each year, spending $9 billion on fees alone, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Ohio law banned payday loans for more than 50 years but in 1995 the Legislature approved the Pay Day Loan Act, which requires state licensing and exempts payday lenders from the state’s usury laws.

Ohio governor candidate Richard Cordray, a Democrat, vows to campaign againt payday lending abuses this year. Cordray frequently butted heads with lenders during his stint as director of the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF(Columbus Bureau)

By 2008, with complaints piling up, lawmakers passed bipartisan legislation to curb payday loan rates and cap them at 28 percent APR. The industry put the legislation up for a referendum and 63.6 percent of voters decided to keep the new limits.

At the time, the referendum was thought to be a win for consumers. Except, no lenders are licensed under that law. Instead, lenders sidestepped the law by getting licenses to operate as credit service organizations, which don’t face fee limits. Those organizations can issue loans under the Ohio Mortgage Lending Act and the Ohio Small Loan Act.

HB 123 calls for closing loopholes, limiting monthly payments to no more than 5 percent of the borrower’s monthly income, limiting fees to $20 per month or no more than 5 percent of the principal up to $400, requiring clear disclosures for consumers and caps on fees and interest at 50 percent of the original loan amount.

The bill, introduced in March 2017, has faced a pitched battle.

After stalling for more than a year, it gained new life with news of Rosenberger’s trips with payday lenders, his resignation and an FBI probe into his activities. Talks of drastic amendments to the bill died off and Koehler’s original version received a 9-1 committee vote in April.

But last week, another roadblock surfaced. The floor vote on HB 123 and a host of other bills was cancelled because of Republican infighting over who will be speaker for the seven months remaining in Rosenberger’s term. The House cannot hold a session until a new speaker is elected.

Related: Has campaign cash stalled reform bill? This group thinks so

‘Bad for consumers’

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, opposes HB 123, saying he’s concerned the bill hurts the very people it is trying to protect.

“I support reforms to short-term lending to protect consumers, but House Bill 123 in its current form would completely take away access to credit for Ohioans who need access to loans in a medical or automobile emergency,” Antani said. “We should take our time to form good public policy, not rush to something that will result in hurting people who need access to credit.”

Lenders call the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, unworkable and predict it’ll put them out of business.

“HB 123 is bad for consumers because it will cut access to credit for hundreds of thousands of responsible Ohioans who rely on and use short-term loans to manage their finances,” said Patrick Crowley, spokesman for the Ohio Consumer Lenders Association. “The OCLA favors reforms that strike a balance between consumer protection and access to credit. We welcome the opportunity to continue working on responsible reform. But in its current form HB123 does nothing for consumers but take away their options.”

Some lenders say they are already struggling. Citing its level of corporate debt, Community Choice Financial in recent SEC filings said “substantial doubt may arise about our ability to continue as a ‘going concern.’”

Community Choice Financial has 94 stores in Ohio that operate under the name CheckSmart.

Koehler said his bill would put an end to exorbitant fees and protect people from falling into cycles of debt where they can’t pay off the principle. A woman from Lima told him she’s been paying $429 a month in interest and fees for 17 months because she couldn’t come up with the $2,300 she owes in principle. The interest and fees alone are more than three times what she originally borrowed. 

“I’m fighting to reform payday lending in Ohio,” Koehler said. “I’m not shutting it down. I’m not shutting down payday lending. I’m trying to create a set of guide rails so that people can operate, they can make money and people are protected.”

‘They rule the roost’

Hovering over HB 123 is the election for governor in Ohio, which will pit Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine against Democratic former Attorney General Richard Cordray. DeWine beat Cordray in the 2010 race for attorney general.

Although DeWine has said Ohio should enact payday lending reforms, Cordray has spent years fighting lenders as the former director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Before leaving the consumer post to run for governor, Cordray championed a rule that requires payday lenders to determine a borrower’s financial capacity to repay a loan before completing the transaction. Lenders continue to fight the rule, which is scheduled to take effect next year.

Cordray said payday lenders hold clout across the nation.

“They rule the roost in many state legislatures,” he said. “They give extensive campaign contributions. They spread money around lavishly. They tend to buy up all the top lobbyists.

“They are crafty, they are cunning and they are absolutely well-financed.”

Payday Lending in Ohio

1995: Ohio adopts the Pay Day Loan Act, which requires state licensure but exempts payday lenders from the state usury laws

2008: Ohioans by nearly a 2:1 margin vote to keep new payday lending reforms in place. Lenders, however, start issuing high-cost loans through other state laws — sidestepping the reforms.

2010: The FBI begins investigating state lawmaker Carlton Weddington after news reports indicate he solicited a donation in exchange for discussing payday lending practices.

2012: After an FBI sting operation, Weddington is sentenced to three years in prison for bribery.

2013: State lawmaker Clayton Luckie, a Dayton Democrat, is sentenced to three years in prison for diverting some $130,000 from his campaign account. The FBI investigation was prompted by a payday lender reporting a donation that didn’t show up on Luckie’s reports.

2016: Then Ohio House speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, travels to China on a trip partially underwritten by a payday lender.

March 2017: State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, introduces House Bill 123, which calls for closing loopholes, limiting fees, requiring clear disclosures and limiting loan amounts.

August/September 2017: Rosenberger takes trips to London and Normandy, underwritten in part by payday lenders.

January 2018: Consumer advocates announce they’re preparing to put the issue on the November ballot.

April 2018: Rosenberger discloses he hired a defense attorney to deal with FBI inquiries. He resigns five days later, saying his actions have been legal and ethical.

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Brown takes shot at Renacci in negative ad

Published: Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 2:36 PM

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)(Susan Walsh)

THE AD: A 30-second television commercial for Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

WHERE TO SEE IT: State broadcast television and here 

VIDEO: Unflattering images of Renacci. Then it concludes with Sherrod Brown chatting with industrial workers.

SCRIPT: Voice of a narrator: The U.S. Congress. There’s 68 teachers, 15 farmers, four pilots, but only one lobbyist. That’s right. Jim Renacci’s been a lobbyist even while in Congress. And what’s he done? He voted to make it easier for lobbyists to hold key government positions and harder to investigate conflicts of interest. And now he’s running for Senate? Jim Renacci. He’s always looked out for himself.”

VOICE OF SHERROD BROWN: “I’m Sherrod Brown and I approved this message.”

RELATED: Brown launches multi-city TV ad campaign

ANALYSIS: The commercial is technically accurate, but the implication that Renacci lobbied Congress is not accurate. After first being elected to the House in the 2010, Renacci filed to terminate his status as a registered lobbyist for Smokerise International Group Limited, an Ohio company Renacci controlled. According to an Associated Press story on March 28 of this year, Renacci’s attorney did not file the de-activation papers until May of 2011, four months into Renacci’s first term. AP also reported “Renacci continued to file and digitally sign lobbyist disclosure reports … through mid-2011, as an active lobbyist would. His campaign refused to specify why he filed the reports if, as it contended, they were not required or to address the inaccurate reporting of his contributions.” But Renacci’s staff has consistently asserted the congressman never lobbied anyone at any time during his career in Congress although anyone viewing the commercial would assume Renacci has been a registered lobbyist through his congressional career.

RELATED: Trump backs two successful Senate candidates in primary

Brown’s commercial is an effort to define Renacci as an untrustworthy lobbyist. But it is something of surprise for a two-term incumbent senator to open his campaign with such a negative commercial against his opponent. The commercial does not mention any of Brown’s accomplishments during his two terms. And it is a sign that the Brown/Renacci race will be unusually negative.

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Ohio drivers will licenses will get a new look, and come in the mail starting this summer

Published: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 @ 9:47 AM
Updated: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 @ 9:47 AM

Ohio drivers will get license by mail starting July 2

Ohio is ending the same-day issuing of Ohio driver's licenses and will mail them instead to save money and increase security.

Licenses will arrive about 10 days after they're issued once the change takes effect July 2, the Department of Public Safety said. Drivers will be issued temporary licenses and ID cards in the meantime.

RELATED: Driver’s license suspensions soaring

The agency says the temporary cards will be valid for proof of identity and residence when voting.

Drivers can also request driver's licenses or ID cards that meet federal regulations for travel. Travel restrictions taking effect in October 2020 will require federally compliant driver's licenses to pass through airport security. There's no extra cost for these licenses.

Road trippin’? 12 Ohio roadside attractions for your bucket list

A star in the upper right-hand corner of licenses will designate those compliant with federal regulations. Obtaining that credential will require documents such as birth certificates or passports, copies of social security cards and utility bills showing people's address.

Ohio joins 41 other states that provide licenses and ID cards through the mail.
The change announced Wednesday will prevent loss and theft of secure material from motor vehicle bureaus, provide a centralized and more secure printing facility and save money in the form of the cost of upgrading security measures at individual bureaus, the Public Safety department said.

RELATED: Driving while distracted to cost you more 

New restrictions may be coming for some drivers

Ohio lawmakers seem ready to relax some restrictions on the driving privileges of those who have lost their licenses and have little means to pay the reinstatement fees.  

At least three bills related to license suspensions are pending in the Ohio legislature.  In one, co-sponsored by Jim Butler, R-Ohio, limited driving privileges would be restored for those whose driver’s licenses were suspended for issues unrelated to driving or using a vehicle for criminal purposes.  

In Ohio, there are at least 32 ways people can lose their driver’s license, including dropping out of high school.  

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In another measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, judges would be allowed to impose community service in lieu of paying reinstatement fees.

The proposed reforms come as license suspensions soar in Ohio. Last year, 1.1 million Ohioans had their driver’s license suspended for one or more reasons — nearly 12 percent of those old enough to drive in the state.

“There’s this permanent underclass that we’ve created,” Huffman said. “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.”

License plate fees could go up $5 to pay for transportation projects

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Should people work for Medicaid? Here’s how to weigh in.

Published: Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 9:16 AM


            FILE
FILE

The clock has started for the next round of public comment on Ohio’s proposal to create the state’s first ever work requirements associated with Medicaid.

The new rules would add requirements to work or go to school at least 20 hours per week to remain eligible for benefits under the health insurance program for low-income Ohioans, which is jointly funded by the state and federal government.

The request needs to be approved by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which opened a 30-day public comment period on May 15.

RELATED: What CareSource’s leadership change means for Dayton

On May 1 the Ohio Department of Medicaid officially submitted the request to create the work requirements.

The Republican-majority Ohio General Assembly put the language into the budget last year that required the Ohio Department of Medicaid to seek permission to add the job requirements for those covered through Medicaid expansion.

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, has said the work requirements exempt the neediest while driving those with the ability to work toward self sufficiency.

But opponents, including dozens of health care lobbying groups, have pushed back against the proposed rules, saying the changes will make health outcomes worse and the state will waste money on the administration costs of the new program rules.

RELATED: Kasich vs. lawmakers in Medicaid fight: ‘If you break it, you own it’

The state’s request for work requirements states that the majority of Ohioans covered by Medicaid expansion will be exempted. The proposal estimates about 36,000 will not meet the work requirements and won’t be exempt, and out of those enrollees about 18,000 will ultimately lose their Medicaid eligibility.

But some opponents to the proposal, including Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions, have questioned that math because the state also underestimated how many people would lose SNAP benefits when Ohio added work requirements for the food assistance program.

Public comment on the work requirement can be submitted online.

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