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Headline News for Thursday, May 5, 2011
GM recalls the Chevy Cruze; Ohio House to vote on two-year spending plan; Prison law reform moves on to the Senate

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Amanda Rabinowitz
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  • General Motors is recalling about 150,000 2011 Chevy Cruzes
  • Ohio House to vote on Gov. Kasich's state spending plan
  • Prison law reform legislation moves on to the state Senate for a vote
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    General Motors is recalling about 150,000 2011 Chevrolet Cruze cars built at its plant near Youngstown. GM says mistakes could cause steering and transmission problems in the vehicles built in Lordstown. GM will inspect the cars. Last month, the company recalled about 2000 Cruze’s after the steering wheel fell off one car.


    The Ohio House is set to vote today on the two-year state spending blueprint after making many changes. Gov. John Kasich's cuts to local government funding and his plans to sell off five state prisons remain mostly intact in the budget proposal. Legislators propose eliminating the state's estate tax and suggested a sixth prison facility be leased or sold, and changed oversight of charter schools. 


    They took out the Republican governor's proposed changes to the state's criminal sentencing laws. Though, the House passed sentencing changes in separate legislation Wednesday. Statehouse correspondent Bill Cohen has more on that. Three major parts of the bill let current inmates earn more time off their sentences for participating in rehab, earn five days off  more every month they participate in schooling, drug treatment, and job training. Second, give judges the power to free nonviolent, well-behaving inmates after they’ve served 85% of their sentence. And third raise the dollar threshold for felony theft, that way fewer low level criminals would be sent to state lockups. Prosecutors say the bill violates Ohio’s truth in sentencing principle, that if you’re sentenced to ten years behind bars, you serve ten years. Still, the measure has passed the House 95 – 2, next the bill moves to the Senate.


    Lawmakers are closer to addressing Ohio's prescription painkiller abuse epidemic through restrictions on how the drugs are prescribed and provided. The Senate Health Committee on Wednesday accepted changes to a bill that would require the State Board of Pharmacy for to license such clinics as distributors of dangerous drugs.  Accidental drug overdoses driven by prescription painkiller abuse have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental deaths in Ohio.


    The results of Tuesday’s election were not even 24 hours old when school districts across Ohio had to decide whether to go back to the voters in August. WKSU’s ML Schultze has more on the tricky calculations some districts were making. School districts had to think fast. Tuesday was primary election day. And Wednesday was the filing deadline for the special election in August. In fact, some school districts decided what to do about the August election even before Tuesday’s results were known. Strongsville in Cuyahoga County had a nearly 10 mills levy on Tuesday’s ballot.  But five days earlier, the school board voted to put a smaller levy – 6.5 mills – on the August ballot. The school board president said then that the district had a strong inkling the May levy was too high. And sure enough, 85% of the Strongsville voters said “no” Tuesday. Jerry Rampelt , executive director for Save Ohio Schools, characterizes it as the worst defeat he’s ever seen. But overall, he says passage rates school levies on Tuesday rose significantly over last November.  He says the results are more in line with historical averages.  Rampelt thinks Tuesday results will encourage other districts to put tax issues on the August and November ballots – in light of big cuts expected in school funding in the state budget. Statewide, nearly 60 percent of school issues passed.


    The Akron school district is making sweeping changes to three schools ranked among the lowest-performing in the state. Buchtel, along with alternative schools - Akron Opportunity Center and Bridges Learning Center – are in the lowest 5% of academic performance. Superintendent David James says half of the teachers will have to reapply for their jobs. The other half will be transferred to other buildings. Akron Education Association president Jeff Moats says plans are already underway to turn Buchtel into a new tech high school next year. The district had four options to choose from, which included closing the schools or turning them into charter schools.


    Gov. Kasich wants Ohio to have its own Holocaust memorial inside the Statehouse in Columbus.

    The governor said Wednesday at a ceremony remembering the victims of the Nazi horrors that having the Holocaust l Museum in Washington is "not good enough for Ohio."  The Ohio Jewish Communities organization says it will help put a Holocaust memorial together.


    The public will be able to visit a unique area of the Lake Erie shoreline beginning perhaps as early as this summer.  A Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority committee has taken the first step to open up the Dike 14 Nature Preserve. Nature lovers have been clamoring for years for access to the site about four miles east of downtown Cleveland.  The nearly 90-acre peninsula started as a place for the city to dump dredged silt.  For the last decade, it’s been fenced-off to the public, and   Port Authority President William Friedman says nature has transformed it. Friedman says the Port Authority’s full board is expected to approve opening Dike 14 at its May 18th meeting.  No specific opening date has been set, but Friedman says it will probably open for just a few days a week at first.  He hopes Cleveland Metroparks or the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will run the site.


    A proposal to repeal Ohio’s estate tax continues to divide Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. The idea could be a major flash point for debate Thursday…..when state representatives vote on a new $55 billion state budget. That’s because the tax repeal is tucked into the budget package. Statehouse correspondent Bill Cohen reports Democrats and Republicans are both accusing each other of waging class warfare. Majority republicans want to kill the estate tax which brings in about $300 million a year for state and local governments. The GOP says it is unfair to families who have worked hard and accumulated wealth. Minority Democrats say tax repeal would help mostly the rich because it applies only to the value of estates above $338,000. That’s why Democrats charge republicans are waging class warfare against the poor and middle class. Republicans respond saying Democrats want the tax to keep redistributing income and that amounts to class warfare against the wealthy and small business.


    Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Terry wants the federal charges against him dismissed. Terry is charged with five criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit mail fraud. His trial is to begin in a month. But in arguments to U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi, his lawyers said Wednesday that the trial shouldn’t start at all.  Prosecutors say former-County Auditor Frank Russo contacted Terry about a foreclosure case, and that Terry’s actions benefitted one side in that case. But his lawyer, says Terry showed no favoritism in the decisions he made.


    A new report card by a gun-control group gives Ohio a nine out of 100 points in its efforts to tackle handgun violence. But, WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports that gun advocates say the report ignores important factors – including education. The  Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says the Buckeye State’s low-ranking is long term and deserved. It cites, among other things, the lack of required background checks for purchases at gun shows. Toby Hoover of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence says common sense would dictate such checks, and other limits on guns in public places, just as it dictates that there be speed limits. But Jim Irvine of the Buckeye Firearms Association, gun education is a crucial requirement, and one he’d like to see Ohio law take further. Irvine and Hoover disagree over one central premise. He says guns make people safer. She says they increase risk. Irvine argues that guns – with proper training – help people avoid being victims. The Brady campaign’s Hoover says background checks would help keep guns out of the hands of the criminals who make others victims. She also criticized an effort in the state Legislature to allow people to carry guns into bars.


    An oversight panel says Cleveland is making progress to implement changes recommended after the remains of 11 women were found at a man's home. A report last year said the city needed to overhaul its handling of missing person and sex crime cases. The committee was particularly impressed with a new police missing persons website, saying the site with photos of the missing and enhanced search capabilities goes above and beyond expectations. The panel also praised improvements to the police sex crimes unit, including three new interview rooms.


    Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is introducing a bill to try to block one path for some Medicaid-recipients to feed their pain-killer addiction.  Brown’s bill is one of a growing number of state, local and national efforts to cut down on illegal trafficking of prescription pain pills.

    Brown’s bill requires states to identify and limit Medicaid patients at high risk of addiction to one doctor or one pharmacy. Many of those abusing pills will visit multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions. Brown says it’s up to the state to define the terms of who is at risk. Meanwhile, Gov. John Kasich has launched a $36 million campaign to fight the addiction. And state lawmakers are working on a bill that would limit how much medication doctors can dispense from their offices, and to establish new licensing requirements for pain management clinics. 

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