Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Columbus Dispatch. Oct. 8, 2021.

Editorial: Sex trafficking is an evil beast that steals freedom, wrecks lives, destroys families

A councilman running for re-election in the Cleveland suburb of Elyria told a Dispatch reporter that he felt the urge to vomit when he realized he was entangled in a statewide police web that recently saw 161 would-be johns arrested.

We hope Mark N. Jessie, who pleaded not guilty to solicitation charges, and many others learn from this experience.

The truly nauseating thing about what was believed to be the largest sting operation of its kind in Ohio is that the arrests likely will only momentarily slow this mammoth, evil beast wrecks lives, sink marriages and destroys families.

Also disturbing is that three of the perpetrators were willing to pay to have sex with who they thought were minors. At the same time, 10 minors previously reported missing were recovered.

Operation Ohio Knows was a stark reminder that hundreds of people — mostly women and children — are preyed upon in Ohio each year due to human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that Polaris, a nonprofit that operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, says steals freedom from 24.9 million people worldwide.

It is a big problem globally and right here at home.

The Buckeye State ranked fifth in the nation in 2019 when it comes to human trafficking.

In recent years, Ohio has taken giant leaps in the way it thinks of sex workers.

Human trafficking courses are offered by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.

House Bill 143, which became effective in April, eliminated the two-tiered system in Ohio’s child sex trafficking laws, bringing the state into compliance with federal law.

Prosecutors had been required to demonstrate fraud, force, or coercion for 16- or 17-year-old trafficking victims to qualify for protections available to other minors.

Sex buyers now also face tougher penalties than those who sell sex.

The offense is now a first-degree misdemeanor. Offenders are required to attend a so-called “john school” or treatment programs and face a fine of up to $1,500 and/or 180 days in jail.

Soliciting, a misdemeanor of the third degree previously used to both buyers and sellers, now only applies to those who sell sex.

It carries up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Attorney General Dave Yost has also pushed for the creation of a john’s registry with House Bill 431, but that portion did not become law.

Language he supports that would make it a crime to knowingly receive the proceeds from a prostitution is in House Bill 276. It would carry escalating penalties for each subsequent offense up to three years in prison.

More work has to be done to save lives.

As the pandemic raged on in 2020, Ohio law enforcement reported 216 human trafficking investigations leading to 76 arrests and 18 successful criminal convictions, according to the attorney general’s office.

There were 148 potential victims of human trafficking identified that year. Three were labor-trafficking victims; the rest were suspected victims of sex trafficking.

That was a decrease from 2019, when Ohio law enforcement reported 251 human trafficking investigations leading to 166 arrests and 56 successful criminal convictions.

That year, there were 307 potential victims identified, including 305 victims of sex trafficking.

Human trafficking is widely considered to be underreported, but information from Polaris provides a glimpse of the sad and frightening reality.

In 2019, it identified 890 human trafficking victims in Ohio, more than half of them sex-trafficking victims.

This is not a problem happening somewhere else. It is in our backyard.

A recent Human Trafficking Institute report found that in 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, which includes Columbus, charged 15 defendants in three federal human-trafficking cases.

It was the second highest number of federal human-trafficking defendants in the nation behind the Northern District of Texas, which charged charged 18 defendants in 2020.

The Southern District’s cases included charges against Columbus resident Crystal Porter and eight others in relation to an alleged sex trafficking ring in Scioto County involving the exchange of drugs for access to children.

Federal prosecutors just added sex trafficking to the growing criminal case against Ricco Lamonte Maye, 39, of the Northeast Side.

A 10-count indictment unsealed in March included a scheme to illegally obtain unemployment benefits as a result of COVID-19 and allegations of drug trafficking.

We urge Ohioans to watch for signs of sex trafficking and watch out for vulnerable people, such as those who have an unstable living situation, are addicted to drugs or alcohol are undocumented immigrants.

Human traffickers operate in the shadows, and yet, their victims, those being trafficked, are visible on the streets and in ads for escort services, illicit massage businesses or brothels loosely described with some euphemism.

Sex traffickers in nearly 87% of criminal sex trafficking cases used the internet to sell their victim for sex services in 2018, according to the 2018 Federal Human Trafficking Report.

Jessie, the Elyria councilman, said he thought he was seeking sex from someone selling it on the “Skip the games” website.

As Yost says, human traffickers have no place in Ohio.

“We want to send a message to everybody in the country: Don’t buy sex in Ohio,” he said recently.

It is up to all of us to help drive all sex traffickers into the light – and prison.

___

Akron Beacon Journal. Oct. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Worried about school library books? Social media is the real threat to kids

The nation’s love-hate relationship with social media and the internet has taken many turns over the last 15 years or so.

We love various apps and sites when we’re building relationships with friends and family or finding life-saving medical information. We hate them when they seem overrun with bullies and wacky conspiracy theorists.

Instagram, for example, can harm teen’s mental health, according to a former Facebook manager turned whistleblower who cited Facebook’s own research. Schools are now on alert because of “challenges” on the video-sharing app TikTok that lead students to vandalize restrooms and more.

In Summit County, officials are forced to remind kids that stealing or smashing school property as part of the “devious licks” challenge is a crime. Copley High School officials told parents they might shut down some restrooms so that it would be easier to monitor any vandalism inspired by the trend.

And then there’s cyberbullying — a 2019 federal study says almost 16% of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months before the survey.

Lastly, let’s not forget misinformation. Online lies about the 2020 election and COVID-19 have killed — note the loss of life at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and the continuing spread of the deadly virus.

Social media sites sometimes are like the wild West, a dangerous place.

So, it’s a good thing local students can relax with a good book in the school library.

Oh, wait, that’s not safe either. At least not according to some parents and “concerned citizens.”

Having no way to tackle the real monster in kids’ lives — social media — they bark at school boards about books.

Never mind that the “devious licks” videos get hundreds of millions of views. Tempers are rising about the printed word, something people tell us all the time is a dying form.

In Hudson, three books came under fire, and in response, they have been removed from high school library shelves.

Although we normally would oppose removing any books, the steps taken in Hudson seem reasonable for now. The district is looking at how books are added to the library collection.

Librarians commend ‘Lawn Boy’

The prize-winning “Lawn Boy” was among the books criticized at the Hudson school board meeting Sept. 27.

The Young Adult Library Services Association, in giving “Lawn Boy” an Alex Award, says the struggle of the main character “is familiar and heartbreaking, and it’s impossible not to root for him as he chases the elusive American Dream.”

We’re not sure the average teen has heard of by Jonathan Evison’s acclaimed book.

The Hudson woman complaining about “Lawn Boy” said she was moved to have her son look for it in the school library after hearing news reports that parents elsewhere were objecting to it. At the school board meeting, she read aloud passages about sexual contact between two males and a crude joke about gay men.

We wonder about context in the 320-page book, and also question whether many young students are going to paw through the book in the hope of finding lewd content.

More obviously out-of-line with old-fashioned community values are the graphic novels “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe, and “A Girl on the Shore,” by Inio Asano. These were also removed from Hudson school shelves.

Anyone interested in pornography can readily find it on the internet, not one or two drawings or a few paragraphs, but billions of images.

We agree with the idea that libraries must take risks and introduce new books to help turn kids into lifelong readers.

The presence of these three books doesn’t mean Hudson is failing its children. Everyone, we’re sure, has survived walking past the shelves that held these books.

The larger issue so many children will face is social media — and here there is no easy fix.

Even those parents who try to limit their children’s time on electronic devices or monitor what they see can’t be 100% effective. Other students can still pass around their phones to share sleazy music videos.

Urging Congress and federal regulators to pressure giant tech companies, is the usual advice. With the testimony of Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, there is renewed urgency.

Will our local lawmakers state their support for meaningful changes and get the community behind them? We need more debate about real issues, rather than more outrage about masks, vaccines and books.

Now here’s a challenge worth undertaking.

___

Toledo Blade. Oct. 7, 2021.

Editorial: Protect Ohio’s wetlands

In recent years Ohio has done great work at restoring the Lake Erie shore’s wetland areas. And the region has reaped environmental, economic, and quality-of-life benefits from these efforts.

Now, that progress is in jeopardy thanks to yet another backward idea floated in the General Assembly.

House Bill 175, sponsored by Ohio Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer (R., Uhrichsville), would eliminate Clean Water Act protections for certain ephemeral features of wetlands and waterways. In this case, ephemeral refers to the features that are only water-filled during some portions of the year, such as after spring rains.

The measure echoes a Trump administration rewrite of the controversial Waters of the United States rule, which eliminated these impermanent features from Clean Water Act protection.

In northwest Ohio in particular, this would be disastrous and opponents include everyone from environmental groups to Gov. Mike DeWine’s own Ohio Environmental Protection Agency director.

As Director Laurie Stevenson wrote in testimony about the proposal, removing environmental protections from these ephemeral streams would significantly degrade the state’s waterways, potentially affecting drinking water.

Ms. Stevenson noted that almost one-third of Ohio’s headwater streams are ephemeral streams.

Watershed restoration and protection has been a cornerstone of environmental efforts along Lake Erie’s shoreland, and it is a key element of Governor DeWine’s own H2Ohio program. While much attention has been paid to incentives for more responsible agricultural practices, most of the H2Ohio money so far has gone into western Lake Erie wetland construction and expansion.

And that comes on the heels of decades of other wetland restoration projects that have, among other things, returned many coastal acres to their original function — helping to filter harmful materials out of water before it reaches Lake Erie.

Along with improving the quality of Lake Erie water, which is the source of drinking water for 500,000 Toledo-area water customers among others, wetlands provide essential habitat for migratory birds and other creatures.

And restoring them, notably at sites such as Magee Marsh, has contributed to northwest Ohio’s tourism industry with events such as the Biggest Week in American Birding.

Now is not the time to backslide on the environmental protections that help preserve these fragile habitats. Ohio has seen the benefits — environmental, economic, and otherwise — of protecting wetlands and we should not jeopardize these gains.

Lawmakers in Columbus must reject any measure that threatens these protections.

___

Youngstown Vindicator. Oct. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Have renewed faith in future of ‘Voltage Valley’

It was two years ago this month when our Mahoning Valley and thousands of dedicated auto workers here received numbing confirmation that General Motors would not return the manufacture of vehicles to its Lordstown complex.

The finality of the plant’s closure, at that time, was described appropriately by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman as a “punch in the gut.” During those dark days, few could have argued against those words.

We used this space, however, to light a small candle for a flicker of hope.

Since then, we have seen quite a few ups and downs with news of plans to convert the sprawling former GM plant into the corporate headquarters and manufacturing hub for a new all-electric pickup truck, the Endurance, by fledgling automaker Lordstown Motors Corp.

That company, of course, experienced early highs in which the truck prototype was unveiled with the help of then-Vice President Mike Pence. Based on reports of growing pre-orders, it appeared the truck was in high demand, setting off a successful initial public offering of company stock bearing the appropriate ticker symbol, RIDE.

Then the bottom fell out.

Earlier this year, a published investment research report provided evidence of a history of fraud in the company, and stated that investors had been misled by exaggerated demand and truck orders. Shareholders began questioning the company’s ability to build the trucks, stock prices tumbled, and the face of the company, CEO and founder Steve Burns, soon stepped away.

But just as our area was about to write off LMC as yet another pie-in-the-sky dream for a blimp factory or indoor racetrack, a new glimmer of hope was renewed in recent days.

Now, Taiwanese tech firm, Foxconn, and Lordstown Motors are negotiating a definitive agreement that would have Lordstown Motors sell the plant for $230 million and have Foxconn become the contract manufacturer of LMC’s Endurance.

If the Foxconn deal is finalized, it also likely will bring with it the manufacture of another, smaller electric vehicle, the PEAR, for Personal Electric Automotive Revolution, being designed by a California-based manufacturer, Fisker.

That’s because Foxconn had finalized an agreement in May with Fisker to assemble that vehicle.

Last week, Fisker CEO Henrik Fisker told our Business Editor Ron Selak Jr., “If Foxconn ends up acquiring Lordstown and if the deal closes, it’s our intent to make the PEAR with Foxconn in Lordstown.”

The Foxconn / Lordstown Motors deal could close within the next six months. Assuming it does, production of the PEAR could begin as soon as early 2024.

In the meantime, Lordstown Motors will continue limited production of the Endurance for testing, validation and regulatory approvals for the rest of 2021 and the first part of 2022.

Working together, LMC and Fisker could share certain areas of the plant, such as inbound logistics and the paint booth, for example, for increased efficiency.

As we see it, that partnership would only further cement our role as “Voltage Valley.”

It also would bring significant further local investment, possibly in the hundreds of millions of dollars, to retool the plant to add a distinct, second assembly line that would accommodate the smaller passenger vehicle.

While no one could have predicted this turn of events, one thing is becoming increasingly more clear: The former GM plant, coveted by startup automakers, remains a huge asset to our Valley.

Of course, we would be remiss if we failed to mention that during the past two years, new construction of a $2.3 billion, nearly 3 million-square-foot battery cell plant also has been taking place not far from the former GM assembly complex. The new construction, a joint venture between General Motors and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution, is on target for completion by the end of this year. Eventually, it will employ upwards of 1,100 people at full capacity.

The new operation, known as Ultium Cells, LLC, will bring new growth to our Valley in the auto industry that GM CEO Mary Barra said she envisions as an “all-electric, zero-emissions future.”

Indeed, it’s easy to dwell on what has been lost. But we must work to move past that, turning our focus instead to opportunities in our future.

Ultium Cells, combined with renewed hope for the LMC plant, means lots of hope for our Voltage Valley future.

___

Marietta Times. Oct. 5, 2021.

Editorial: Companies must keep right to decide

Ohio House Republicans bound and determined to ensure state government controls the decision-making for private companies pulled a dirty trick last week with a fast-tracked bill that would limit employers’ ability to require the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.

These so-called conservatives worked so hard to get their way before anyone realized what they were doing that the bill was approved by the Republican-controlled House Health Committee on the same day it was introduced. Meanwhile, Ohio’s major business groups, universities, doctor and nurse professional organizations, health care associations and hospitals ALL said they were opposed to the bill. It is bad for Ohio employers and workers.

By the middle of last week, members of the state Senate were concerned enough to announce if the House bill reached them, they would put on the brakes.

“I think the Senate will give it a little more due process than it received in the House,” said Senate Health Chairman Steve Huffman, R-Tripp City. “When it comes over, we’ll take our time in whatever committee it goes to and look deeply into it.”

His cousin, state Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, agrees, but also understands the dangers of the state seeking more power to tell private businesses what to do.

“I don’t think our caucus wants to mandate anywhere in the private sector, or get involved in preventing them from mandating,” he said, earlier in September.

It is absurd to have to remind those who call themselves Republicans of the importance of leaving up to employers decisions about what is best for their workers and companies.

“Protection of an employer’s rights to make decisions in the best interest of their employees and those we serve cannot be over stated,” read a letter from business, health care and hospital coalition.

Indeed. It is good to know that at least those serving in Ohio’s state Senate understand that.

END