Saturday, June 29, 2013

Phillips: budget prioritizes millionaires, leaves middle- class families behind

State Rep. Debbie Phillips
COLUMBUS- Assistant House Minority Leader Debbie Phillips (D-Albany) slammed Thursday’s vote in the Ohio House of Representatives approving the state’s two year operating budget bill, Sub. House Bill 59.

Phillips represents the 94th Ohio House District, which includes Athens, Meigs, and parts of Vinton and Washington counties.

According to Phillips, the budget puts millionaires first, while raising taxes on the middle class and continuing to hurt our school and communities. The final budget fails to address Medicaid expansion for hundreds of thousands of working poor throughout Ohio

“This budget sets the wrong priorities for Ohio and demonstrates a profound failure of leadership by both Gov. Kasich and the legislative majority, favoring millionaires at the expense of the middle class,” Phillips said. “It forces government into the most private and difficult decisions a woman can face and provides more funding to the failed charter school and school voucher experiment at the expense of good public schools and innocent children across Ohio.”

Phillips said the budget takes funding cut from local communities two years ago and uses it to pay for a tax giveaway to the wealthiest Ohioans and fails abjectly in a simple, humane and business-backed effort to improve healthcare access.

Medicaid provides for well-baby check-ups and for basic healthcare for children. It provides care in nursing homes, and in the homes of our seniors and disabled Ohioans through waiver programs,” Phillips said.

Calling on Kasich to help get the Republican signatures, House Democrats pulled a discharge petition before the session in an effort to move Medicaid expansion House Bill 176, directly to the floor for a vote.

Phillips said the expansion would cover 275,000 Ohioans, including 26,000 veterans and control costs by moving healthcare out of emergency rooms and into primary care doctor’s offices.

“Expanding Medicare would help small businesses control their costs and hire more people. The Governor says he wants the expansion and Democrats brought a discharge petition to force a vote on Medicaid. If Gov. Kasich really wants to get this done he should order us into session, and get it done. We should take the vote, not a vacation,” Phillips said.
Twitter @cleverpeasant

Vinton County Sheriff implements courthouse security measures

Vinton County
Sheriff Shawn Justice

MCARTHUR – Vinton County Sheriff Shawn Justice announced that, beginning July 1, new security measures will be in force at the Vinton County Courthouse.

As Sheriff of Vinton County and charged with the security of every person entering the courthouse, I believe it is essential to have these measures put in place,” Justice said.

According to Justice, entry to the courthouse will be restricted to the main entrance on Main Street. Other entrances will be locked. All bags and briefcases will be screened and visitors will be required to pass through a metal detector. Armed courthouse personnel will conduct the screenings.

The county recently purchased an X-ray scanner as an addition a metal detector. The metal detector had been used during high profile trials and was located on the building’s second floor.
Justice said anything considered a weapon will not be allowed in the building and encouraged visitors to wear as little metal as possible.

Justice said the new security measures are necessary to protect courthouse workers and visitors.

“This is being done for the security of every person that enters into the courthouse and is not meant to be a burden to anyone. We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may cause,” Justice said.
Twitter @cleverpeasant

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gentile votes against tax increases on middle class, property owners & seniors

COLUMBUS – Ohio State Sen. Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville) voted against Amended House Bill 59, the final version of Ohio’s two year budget plan.

Gentile represents Ohio’s 30th Senate district which includes portions of Athens and Vinton counties, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Meigs, Monroe, Noble and Washington counties.

House Bill 59 passed out of the Senate chambers by a party line vote of 21-11.

Gentile said the Budget Conference Committee made several unprecedented changes that were not properly vetted and majority Republicans failed to make a priority of communities, public education and job creation and will raise taxes on seniors, homeowners and small businesses.
“The House and Senate Republicans new tax plan gives the wealthiest in Ohio tax cuts at the expense of everyone else,” Gentile said. “The burden is being shifted to Ohio’s most vulnerable populations and the majority failed to provide the resources our schools and communities desperately need. Instead of fixing the problem, this plan hurts senior citizens, small business owners, and is unfair to the working families in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio.”
The conference committee made last minute changes concerning a broad tax restructuring package and a handful of education issues.
“There are complex issues that will have dramatic effects on our state’s economy,” he said. “To make such sweeping changes, in less than a week, with little input from stakeholders is dangerous and undemocratic,” Gentile said.
According to Gentile, the Republican tax plan will award Ohio’s most affluent with average annual tax cuts of more than $6,000 a year, while low- and moderate-income Ohioans will pay slightly more. the Republican tax plan will also hurt local communities by making it harder to pass future levies because of the elimination of the property tax rollback.
“I offered an alternative to this tax plan multiple times during this budget process which would have stimulated the economy and created and saved jobs,” Gentile said. “During the Senate budget debate I presented amendments several times to restore $396 million to the Local Government Fund to alleviate the funding challenges our struggling communities are facing. There is already a burden on property owners for funding education and basic public services and I fear that it will be made even more disproportionate by this budget.”
Currently, seniors age 65 or older qualify for the homestead exemption, shielding $25,000 of the market value of their home from property taxation. Under the new tax plan, those who are not yet 65 and who earn more than $30,000 annually, will no longer qualify for the homestead exemption. This was the threshold before eligibility was expanded in 2007.
“I’m deeply concerned about how this will impact struggling seniors in my district who are already on a fixed income,” Gentile stated. “As the cost of living increases, the homestead exemption would have provided valuable property tax relief. However, many seniors in my district will no longer be eligible for this exemption.”
“Budgets are about priorities and rather than invest in education, strong communities, and health care, this General Assembly chose to cut taxes for very few at the expense of all Ohioans,” Gentile said. “It is unconscionable that Ohio is sitting on a $2 billion dollar surplus while communities are forced to make lay-offs and are struggling to provide basic public services.”
Gentile also expressed concern about the lack of input citizens had in the final budget bill. Republicans pushed several high-profile topics into the budget that merited individual attention in the legislative process.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In landmark decisions, Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, Prop 8


WASHINGTON, DC – As thousands of Americans gathered outside, the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday issued two landmark decisions expanding the rights of same-sex couples, adding to the growing momentum for marriage equality nationwide.

At issue were the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.

DOMA defined the term marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife".

IN a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that DOMA, enacted in 1996, violated the equal protection of the Constitution. Provisions of DOMA barred the federal government from extending hundreds of benefits to same-sex partners and spouses of federal employees.

In striking down Section 3 of DOMA, the Court opened the door for thousands of federal employees in same-sex relationships, to access federal benefits and protections accorded heterosexual couples.

Under DOMA, same-sex couples were denied access to federal benefits even if those couples were legally joined in states allowing same-sex marriage or so-called civil unions.

In the Prop 8 case, the Court ruled 5-4 the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue, effectively gutting the controversial proposition. Supporters of a ballot initiative Prop 8, which banned same-sex unions in California, filed suit after the state government refused to enforce the ballot initiative.

It is expected that Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature will move swiftly to reinstate same-sex marriage.

Reaction to the Court’s decision was swift from both sides of the issues.

DOMA plaintiff Edith Windsor sued after being forced to pay over $300,000 in inheritance taxes after the death of her long-time spouse Thea Spyer. Windsor said her first reaction was to cry which gave way to a feeling to elation.

“Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA and those same children who happen to be gay will be free to love and get married as Thea and I did but with the same federal protections, benefits and dignity as everyone else,” Windsor said.

The ruling will force the federal government to reimburse Windsor.

In a media release, Equality Ohio, the only statewide LGBT-rights advocacy organization, praised the Courts DOMA decision while stressing that Ohio’s own constitutional ban against same-sex unions remains in effect.

“DOMA has been struck down. The Supreme Court affirmed that the federal government cannot discriminate against committed couples of the same sex. Same-sex couples in Ohio legally married in other jurisdictions should now be eligible for more than 1000 federal benefits and programs. The State of Ohio will not be compelled to recognize marriages performed in other jurisdictions.”

Elyzabeth Holford, Executive Director of Equality Ohio, outlined what affect the ruling will have in Ohio, citing the need for marriage equality advocates to stay engaged.

“We are celebrating today. For same-sex couples legally married and living in Ohio, this is a real game changer. For the first time they can file their federal taxes jointly – of course, they’ll have to file their state taxes individually,” Holford said. “This is a huge step in the right direction. It is recognition of loving, partnered families. It allows for the dignity of recognized relationships. We’ve still got work to do for full equality here in Ohio, but today we joyously celebrate”

Though it is unclear when California will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Wolford said California will likely begin issuing marriage certificates any minute. This decision has no immediate legal impact on Ohio though Wolford feels the emotional impact is great.

“We are excited for California LGBTQ couples whose right to marry has been restored. We know we have much work to do in Ohio to achieve full equality but today we are celebrating the decisions that promote the recognition and dignity of our relationships and our families," Wolford said.

In a media release, vocal opponent of marriage equality and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, was less enthusiastic about Wednesday’s rulings.

"While we are disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the court today did not impose the sweeping nationwide redefinition of natural marriage that was sought,” Perkins said, "We are disturbed that the court refused to acknowledge that the proponents of Proposition 8 have standing to defend Proposition 8. This distorts the balance of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.”