The Republican-dominated Ohio General Assembly appears to be out of control, or more likely they’re under the control… of corporate, business and right-wing lobbyists and special interests.
Whatever the case, several of the votes and legislative proposals since the Nov. 6 election confirm that Ohio’s Republican legislators are no longer making any effort to take moderate or reasonable positions. They’re overreaching, and it’s a pity Ohio voters won’t have an opportunity to check this aggressively ideological GOP majority until 2020.
Examples include the extreme and inhumane six-week abortion ban and the slop-to-the-gun-lobby stand-your-ground bill; a probably unconstitutional legislative proposal to penalize environmental protesters; and another to make it more difficult for citizens to mount voter initiatives.
One of the worst is House Bill 625, a law passed by the House on Nov. 28 that would prohibit local governments in Ohio from taking action to tax or ban single-use plastic shopping bags and other plastic products. As of Wednesday, the law hadn’t been voted on yet by the state Senate or signed by Gov. John Kasich.
Ohio Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, voted in favor of H.B. 625, along with 58 other House members, mostly Republicans. With this vote, and his recent votes in favor of the hyper-extreme anti-abortion and gun laws, Edwards is making it difficult to justify The Athens NEWS’ (our) endorsement for his re-election to the 94th House District seat. While we based that endorsement on Edwards’ contacts, experience and accomplishments on poverty and community issues important to the 94th District, with each of his successive votes on bad or extreme legislative proposals, the foundation for that endorsement is weakening.
H.B. 625 not only usurps the authority of local communities to pass laws that reflect their citizens’ values; it swims against the swelling tide across the country and world in favor of reducing the proliferation of plastics in our oceans, rivers and landscapes. (The European Union Parliament this fall voted to ban 10 types of plastic products by 2021.)
The “plastic bag bill” got a heavy push from multiple business-friendly groups including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Council of Retails Merchants, as well as the trade organization for plastic bag and recycling workers, the American Progressive Bag Alliance. The Cleveland Plain Dealer in an article on Tuesday reported, “Groups and lobbyists supporting H.B. 625 gave a total of nearly $591,000 to Ohio House members in 2017 and 2018, according to a cleveland.com analysis of campaign-finance records.”
In The Athens NEWS’ article on the legislation in Monday’s issue, Edwards explained his reasoning for backing the bills, as did representatives of both the Ohio Chamber and the APBA.
Their reasoning contained misdirection, irrelevant talking points, and a total absence of any acknowledgement that banning or taxing single-use plastics serves an important and beneficial purpose.
In explaining his vote, Edwards cited the negative effect on poor people being asked to pay a dime (or whatever) for each plastic shopping bag they take at the local grocery. A so-called bag-tax (as was considered but discarded two years ago in Athens) is one possible local regulation that H.B. 625 would prohibit. However, it’s not the only kind. Edwards ignores the fact that creative local government officials could design regulations to discourage the use of single-use plastic products, without enacting a tax that disproportionately hits poor people, or (another cited complaint) creates compliance problems for local retailers.
Local government bodies can design laws that fit their communities. Of course, this is why in most cases local control over issues not constitutionally reserved to the state is preferable to state control.
Edwards also trotted out the reasoning advanced by the business and trade groups – that having a patchwork of inconsistent laws from town to town, county to county, would create a regulatory burden on business. These groups also argue that plastic-product regulations or taxes could hurt employment in the industries that manufacture plastic containers and bags.
Those sound more like convenient excuses for not acting to reduce single-use plastic products than anything sincere or persuasive. The “tell” is that the opponents not only don’t acknowledge that single-use plastics are a problem; they don’t even seem aware of the issue.
But this is a global crisis, and increasingly people and governments across the country and world are taking action to address problems arising from the mountains of plastics polluting waterways and oceans, highways, forests and fields, and clogging local landfills. They choose to take steps to solve a problem proactively rather than scurrying around looking for excuses to avoid doing what’s right for people and the environment.
A proper debate over the costs and benefits of local laws that tax or regulate plastic products would mention the benefits as well as the costs, and then allow citizen-elected local officials to make a reasoned decision on that basis.
But Rep. Edwards and his Republican cohorts in the Ohio House (along with a few wrongheaded Democrats) don’t want that debate to occur at the local level, or really at all. They want to disenfranchise local voters on this issue, as they already have done with gerrymandering and continue to do with voter suppression.
In the old days, one of the Republican Party’s core principles was a preference for local solutions to perceived community problems and concerns.
That hasn’t been the case in a long time. Republicans have come to value the desires of their corporate donors – and the ideological directives of thought leaders on the right – over inconvenient foundational principles such as local control.
Another term for local control is “freedom.” A local community that has the liberty to take protective actions supported by its voters – whether to tax plastic bags or restrict the location of oil and gas wells – is a hell of a lot more free than one that doesn’t.
BACK IN 2016, I WROTE a column criticizing the bag-tax ordinance that had been proposed for Athens. It didn’t seem well thought out. At the time, just about everybody including yours truly had an opinion on how to “fix” the proposed law so it would work.
Yet at the time, I can’t remember anybody arguing that citizens and officials in cities and towns shouldn’t have the option of addressing this issue. Or that local people aren’t better positioned to assess their own needs and create solutions that fit their community’s expectations and standards, than statewide organizations or political parties.
If somebody had suggested at the time that the state of Ohio alone should own the right to deal with this issue (or not, which is more likely), they would have been laughed out of town.
In the case of Athens, after substantial debate in 2016 City Council decided against the plastic-bag-tax ordinance. But it was their right to make that decision on behalf of the citizens of Athens, and they made it. Perhaps a better, more workable local proposal to fight the scourge of single-use plastic bags is just around the corner.
But that won’t matter if the Senate passes and the governor signs H.B. 625, legislation that’s fundamentally anti-democratic, that’s an insult to the people and communities of Ohio.