Web page keeps former Ohioans close to home

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 13

STEUBENVILLE, O. — Calling all Toledoans in Tulsa, Clevelanders in California, and Akronites in Atlanta.

Rick Platt wants you to come back to Ohio.

“This is a great place to live,” he said. “Too many people have left over the years.”

He’s getting his message out to thousands of people, via the Internet.

Mr. Platt runs a web page called Homesick Ohio, designed especially for people who have left the Buckeye State but want to come home.

“Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing, but people from Ohio care a lot about their roots and their hometowns,” he said.

Mr. Platt’s day job is heading Alliance 2000, the lead economic development agency in Steubenville, on the Ohio River. The web site he runs, called RickOhio.Com, is a hobby for him and his two broth ers. It includes information on Ohio politics, sports, and entertainment.

In the “Homesick Ohio” section of the site (located at www. rickohio.com/homesick), Mr. Platt has accumulated web sites of Ohio ans living in all 50 states, and e-mail addresses for 74 former residents who want to talk about their old home state.

He’s also assembled information on various Ohio traditions, from county fairs to high school football, and places on the web to get information about Ohio events, including The Blade’s web site.

It’s all aimed at people who can’t be in Ohio to get that information firsthand. And the numbers seem to indicate that at least some of those former Buckeyes are starting to make the move back. Mr. Platt said he gets about 15 or 20 e-mail messages a week from former Ohioans about how much they want to return.

“In the 1980s, our economy was hurting. People left,” Mr. Platt writes in an open letter on his web site. “My college and high school friends moved all over the country to find work.

“Now, I’m happy to say, they’re moving back. And I encourage them whenever I can.”

More than 5,000 people visit Rick Ohio.Com in an average week. In August, they came from more than 40 countries – indicating how widespread the 1980s Ohio diaspora was.

In interviews via e-mail, many of the site’s visitors said they are doing everything they can to get back.

Bob Wellington left Youngstown in the early 1980s and eventually settled in Florida. But he’s looking to return home, and is using the Internet to do a job search in northeast Ohio.

“We wish to come back to be with family,” he wrote. “When I move back to Ohio, I wonder if someone in Florida will put out a site for homesick Floridians.”

In the meantime, he uses the Internet to keep in touch with family and friends back in Youngstown.

“I look at the small-town Ohio life-style, and realize that is what I want,” wrote Neona McDaniel, a Canton native who lives in Tennessee. “I want my son to grow up knowing his relatives. I want the slow-paced life that comes with small-town living.”

And for anyone who thinks that computers and the Internet are cold and impersonal, there are the words of Susan Kent.

“Boy, did it make me cry!” Ms. Kent wrote of the first time she saw RickOhio.Com. “I’m a big softy at heart, and have been missing home so much lately.”

Ms. Kent, originally from Massillon, O., has lived in Orlando for about 10 years. She said the Homesick Ohio page has been a godsend, letting her keep in touch with her old hometown.

“All the landmarks of my past, I can revisit through him,” she wrote. “If anyone takes Rick’s site away from me, I will really cry!”

Even those who don’t plan on moving back have found the site useful. Jerry Kellison of Santa Ana, Calif., was looking at Rick Ohio.Com one day to see if there were any names familiar from his youth in Cincinnati. To his surprise, listed there was his aunt, who he had not spoken to in years.

“We have `re-met,’ so to speak,” he wrote.

Thanks to the growing ubiquity of the Internet, Mr. Platt’s site reaches across the continent and around the world.

“We do not plan on returning to Ohio, but we are always Bucks at heart,” wrote Jennifer McKinnon, who surfs the Web from her home in Alaska, on a computer with an Ohio screensaver. Homesick Ohio includes links to Ohioans in Germany, Japan, New Zealand, and Guam.

Mr. Platt knows Ohio’s charms well. He’s lived in the state his entire life, and has visited each of its 88 counties at least five times.

And he said he’s very happy he’s been able to reach so many people with the rudimentary tools he uses: a 5-year-old, $800 computer in a spare bedroom.

He hopes his site can help persuade more people to come back home to Ohio. Just as economics played a big part in many ex-Ohioans leaving, the good job market today is encouraging many to return. RickOhio.Com is ready to help them; the most popular section of the site is called Jobs In Ohio, and it points visitors to classified ads and other career resources.

“Getting a job here is the one thing people need most to move back,” Mr. Platt said.

Legislators vent anger over break at prison; Warden tells of errors that permitted escape firm’s official is ‘very, very sorry’

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — The men and women who run Youngstown’s private prison said they are “very, very sorry” about last month’s escape of five murderers, but they still got quite a talking-to by Ohio legislators yesterday.

“You are very fortunate that none of these men killed anybody, because they’ve shown they will,” said Sen. Jeffrey Johnson (D., Cleveland).

The apology and anger occurred at a hearing of the General Assembly’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, which is investigating the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center. That private prison, Ohio’s first, has been rocked by two inmate murders, several stabbings, and the July 25 escape of six convicted felons, five of them killers.

“This has created a great deal of trauma in the state, and we are very, very sorry for that,” said J. Michael Quinlan, director of planning for by Corrections Corp. of America, the company that owns and operates the center.

Throughout their testimony, Mr. Quinlan and other corporation officials were repeatedly advised by a company attorney not to reveal too much about what happened on the day of the escape. But the center’s warden, Jimmy Turner, did reveal several staff errors that he said contributed to the escape’s success.

Staff members patrolling the prison perimeter did not immediately respond when alarms at the fence line started going off around 2:30 p.m. that day, when the prisoners were allegedly cutting through the wire, he said. And an officer in charge of watching over a prison recreation yard left his post to use the bathroom just before the escape, leaving a large area of the yard unsupervised, he said.

Human errors like those were responsible for the escape, Mr. Turner said. “The policies and procedures were in place. The decisions made were wrong.”

The warden said that one of the upgrades being made in the prison’s security system involves the fence alarms, which in the past have gone off even when an escape was not being attempted. He did not say if those previous false alarms had anything to do with the lack of a staff response on July 25.

Four of the men who escaped were in the center on murder convictions; a fifth was in for assault, but he has been convicted of murder. Those five men have all been captured and are in the custody of U.S. marshals. The sixth remains at large, and officials believe he may have fled to Canada.

The prison gets all of its inmates from the Washington, D.C., court system.

Members of the legislative committee, which is bipartisan and includes House and Senate members, spent much of the afternoon debating what options the state has to tighten security or shut the center.

After negotiations with the city of Youngstown, the corporation has agreed to remove all maximum and high-medium-security prisoners from the center, leaving only medium and minimum-security inmates. But the six escapees, including the killers, were all medium-security, several members pointed out.

Mr. Johnson said the lack of oversight the state has over the center and the fact that the company is not revealing some information about the escape show the flaw in converting a public prison to private business.

“The difference in a public prison is that if a manager lets six felons out in broad daylight, we can do something to get that person out,” Mr. Johnson said. “We can’t do that with [CCA].”

The corporation’s attorney, Timothy Bojanowski, responded by saying the company’s silence comes at the request of federal officials, who are investigating if a prison staff member helped in the escape.

“We don’t want to do anything to impede this investigation at all,” he said. Mr. Quinlan said the possibility of inside help at the prison “is not an excuse,” although he and other corporation employees mentioned it several times throughout their testimony as a mitigating factor.

The committee is to meet in Youngstown sometime later this month to hold a public hearing on the prison.

State can’t shut prison, report says; Youngstown wants site to stay open

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 1

COLUMBUS — The state of Ohio has no easy way to shut the violence-riddled private prison in Youngstown, and local officials want to see it stay open, state officials said yesterday.

“It is apparent that there is no legal action the state could pursue to immediately close the prison,” Governor Voinovich said after receiving a report from Attorney General Betty Montgomery saying the state is powerless, at least in the short term, to shut down the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center.

A hearing on the facility’s problems is scheduled for today by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, the state legislature’s nonpartisan prison research arm.

The corrections center, a private prison owned by Nashville-based Correction Corp. of America, has faced steady controversy since opening last year. Two inmates have been murdered, a number of prisoners have been stabbed, and at least three prison staff members have been assaulted.

The most recent debacle occurred July 25, when six prisoners, four of them convicted murderers, escaped by cutting through wire fencing. Five of the six have been recaptured. The prison takes prisoners from out-of-state.

Candidates in this fall’s elections, not wanting to seem insufficiently opposed to murderers running loose, have latched onto the issue, some calling for the facility to be shut down.

But the report, put together by the attorney general’s staff, said the state has “no simple approaches or clear remedies” to close the center.

State officials said such remedies were not necessary, however, because Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey doesn’t want to see the center shut down, as long as the city’s security concerns are met.

“Mayor McKelvey told me today personally that he’d prefer the prison stay open with proper negotiated safeguards,” Ms. Montgomery wrote in her report.

The city of Youngstown, having faced economic collapse in the 1980s with the demise of its steel industry, had attracted the center to northeast Ohio in 1995 for its 350 permanent jobs.

Mr. McKelvey could not be reached for comment last night.

Richard Cordray, the Democrat who is running against Ms. Montgomery for attorney general in the fall, said he was “outraged” at her report, saying it was incorrect in saying the state has no power to shut the prison.

“Betty Montgomery and I fundamentally disagree about the need for the attorney general to act aggressively to protect the public safety,” Mr. Cordray said. “The attorney general has broad power to use the nuisance law to protect the state welfare. She has a million excuses on how not to protect Ohioans.”

Mr. Cordray last week called for the state to close the center by suing it for a breach of contract, declaring it a public nuisance, and turning it into a state-owned facility.

But Ms. Montgomery’s report said that is unrealistic, as any breach of contract suit would have to be brought by the city of Youngstown, not the state. The report said that declaring the prison a nuisance would likely not stand up in court as a way to take control of the facility.

“She is wriggling to find every excuse not to do what I’ve outlined,” Mr. Cordray said.

Among the most serious complaints leveled against the corporation is that it has housed maximum-security prisoners – including murderers – after promising authorities that it would house only medium-security ones. They are brought in through a contract the corporation has with Washington to house its worst prisoners.

“What the governor needs to do is call CCA and say, `I want you to remove the murderers and rapists from Youngstown,”‘ said Steve Fought, spokesman for Democrat Mary Boyle. Ms. Boyle is running for a U.S. Senate seat this fall against Mr. Voinovich.

The campaign for Republican Bob Taft, who is running to succeed Mr. Voinovich as governor this fall, supports the incumbent’s actions, a spokesman said. “We want to see what’s best for the safety and economic viability of the community,” Brett Buerck said.

Mr. Taft’s opponent, Democrat Lee Fisher, was at a fund-raiser with Vice President Gore last night and could not be reached for comment.

In a prepared statement, corporation officials said they will review Ms. Montgomery’s report and cooperate with state and local officials.

Corrections union wants Ohio to ban private prisons

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — The union that represents Ohio’s corrections workers is asking the state to ban new private prisons because of a Youngstown facility’s problems with violent and escaping inmates.

Calling them “wasteful, dangerous experiments,” Ernie Conner of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association said private prisons lag behind public penal institutions in safety and efficiency.

“We believe, and we think the public strongly believes, that the experiment is over,” said Mr. Conner, president of the association’s Corrections Assembly.

His comments were included in a letter to leaders of the General Assembly’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. On Tuesday, that body is scheduled to hold a hearing on problems at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a privately owned prison in Youngstown that takes prisoners from outside Ohio.

On July 25, six inmates – four of them murderers – escaped from the prison. One man remained at large yesterday.

Two violent deaths and at least 20 stabbings have occurred at the prison since it opened 15 months ago. In this election year, state officials and candidates have been busy calling for new controls.

The union’s letter, signed by Mr. Conner and the Ohio association President Ronald Alexander, calls for public hearings on the Youngstown prison, as well as an end to plans for privately managed prisons in Grafton and Conneaut.

Employees at private prisons are not state employees or members of the state association.

As the manhunt for the remaining escapee continued, center officials announced they will be tightening security measures at the facility. Among the changes: construction of a gun tower outside perimeter fences; more supervision over a recreational yard, and added fencing and razor wire to keep inmates away from the perimeter.

“As warden of this facility, it is my goal to move forward, correct our mistakes, and get us back on the positive and progressive track that we had been on in recent months,” said prison warden Jimmy Turner.

Attorney General Betty Mont gomery said yesterday she is nearing completion of a legal report on what the state can do to control or shut down private prisons. That report is to be given to Governor Voinovich on Monday, she said.

The campaign of Democrat Richard Cordray, who is running against Ms. Montgomery, issued a statement criticizing the delay of the report, which was expected to be released yesterday.

“The lives of Ohioans are at stake,” said Ian James, the campaign’s state director. “We can no longer delay this process.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Cordray call ed for shutting down the Youngs town prison through a combination of nuisance laws, breach-of-contract proceedings, and eminent domain powers.

Senate passes bill revamping port authorities

By Joshua Benton and Jack Baessler
Blade Staff Writers

Page 1

COLUMBUS — By a 31-2 vote, the state Senate approved a bill supporters say will modernize and reform the way port authorities in Ohio are set up.

One provision, potentially affecting the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, will allow port board members to live and work outside the authority’s area of jurisdiction. At least twice in the last six years, Toledo’s mayor has tried to appoint a non-Lucas County resident to the board, only to withdraw the nomination under advice the move would be illegal.

One of the two “no” votes on the broad Senate bill came from Sen. Linda Furney (D., Toledo), who said it gives port authorities more power unnecessarily.

“I think this is a very, very bad piece of public policy,” she said.

She said port authorities have too many powers, including the ability to enter into no-bid contracts and use eminent domain power to acquire land. “We need to be certain their powers are closely watched,” she said.

The bill, which will head to the House next week, includes a provision allowing port authorities to use eminent domain in areas outside their boundaries for public purposes, such as expanding airport runways or for economic development.

“I suspect the day will come when your county commissioners, your township trustees, your municipal representatives will be in complaining about an adjacent county taking their property,” she said.

However, sponsoring Sen. Scott Oelslager (R., Canton) said law covering port authorities gives eminent domain powers to them.

“This law is not changing that whatsoever,” he said.

But Senator Furney said the authorities have too much power and sometimes abuse it.

“I recognize port authorities as a necessary evil,” she said. “They border on being private businesses, with all the perks of private businesses, on the public dollar.”

The bill would:

* Enable port authorities to exempt financial records provided by companies, including “trade secrets,” from Ohio’s open records law.

* Allow a port board to oust a member if he or she misses at least three consecutive meetings. A board member now can be removed only for wrongdoing.

* Preserve the port authority’s eminent domain power. Originally, the bill would have removed its use in cities from port boards.

* Require only a majority of a port board’s members to live or work within the boundaries of the authority for at least three years before being appointed. Currently, the residency requirement covers all board members.

That requirement has been a bugaboo for area leaders before. The 13 members of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board are appointed by the county commissioners and the mayor of Toledo: six by the county, six by the city, and one joint appointment.

In 1992, then-Mayor John McHugh tried to appoint Mary Lou Fox, a Perrysburg businesswoman, to the board, but withdrew the nomination after the city’s law department ruled she could not be legally appointed.

In 1995, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner nominated Gerald Huber, a Jeep plant manager, to the port board, only to withdraw the nomination after learning Mr. Huber, a Lambertville resident, faced the same situation.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he would not decide his opinion of the bill before the House takes action next week, but said it “probably provides a little additional flexibility, and that’s probably good.” He pointed out that several Wood County residents have served on the board in the past and were allowed to do so because they maintained businesses in Lucas County.

Sandy Isenberg, president of the county commissioners, could not be reached for comment last night.

Jim Hartung, the president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said he would welcome outside board members, if Mr. Finkbeiner or the commissioners chose to appoint them.

“Certainly, the port authority is regional in its scope, its responsibility, and its impact,” he said. “A broader profile of representation may give people a sense of its regional nature.”

Jim Poure, the president of the port board, said he was not familiar with the bill, but said he did not oppose the residency change.

“We’ve been trying to expand our vision of northwest Ohio,” he said. “I don’t have any problem in the expanding participation of people or the wider base of talent.”

Ms. Furney said she opposed the provision, advocating local control of the state’s 22 port boards.

“We are taking one more creep away from local elected officials’ accountability,” she said.

Mr. Oelslager said the bill is needed to revamp existing laws covering port authorities in Ohio. Those laws have seen significant change since 1955, when the state first passed legislation enabling the creation of port authorities, after decades of debate. Support from The Blade was a key factor in its passage. The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority was the first authority created under that law.

Revised legislation, passed in 1982, broadened the definition of what entity could create a port authority to include areas without an actual seaport, among other changes. But those changes only applied to port authorities created after 1982, not those created under the original law.

The Senate bill will put authorities founded before and after 1982 under the same rules.

“What we are trying to do is make the transition from a time when port authorities were simply maritime operations into the new world of aviation and the other issues of economic development that port authorities have begun to get into…to help people prosper in this state,” Mr. Oelslager said.

The bill helps port authorities and other political subdivisions to cooperate with one another on economic objectives and more clearly spells out the duties of port authority police, he said.

Mr. Hartung said he did not know all the details of the legislation, but said he liked what he knew. “Essentially, it’s designed to clean up and bring the rules up to date, to create greater effectiveness,” Mr. Hartung said.

Issue 2 attracts serious money; Supporters winning race for donations

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — With a statewide referendum on workers’ compensation law going before the voters in only 11 days, supporters of Issue 2 have far outraised and outspent their opponents.

Through Oct. 15, Keep Ohio Working – a business-backed committee that supports the issue’s passage – had raised more than $4.8 million and spent $3.2 million.

The Committee to Stop Corporate Attacks on Injured Workers – the name of the labor-lawyer coalition that fueled the petition drive to put Issue 2 on the ballot and is the issue’s major opponent – had raised only $2.3 million and spent $1.2 million.

Campaign finance reports, filed by yesterday’s deadline, show that fund-raising for Issue 2 has been a battle between highly funded special interest groups – large corporations and insurers supporting the issue, trial lawyers and labor unions opposing it.

If passed, Issue 2 would limit employees’ eligibility for certain types of compensation for workplace injuries.

A bill enacting those changes was passed by the General Assembly this summer, but labor groups gathered enough signatures on petitions to force a referendum on the measure, the first in Ohio since 1939.

Corporations giving to Keep Ohio Working are a “who’s who” of the state’s businesses.

Chrysler, Goodyear, Nationwide Insurance, B.F. Goodrich, and The Limited each gave $100,000 to the campaign.

Kroger, Rubbermaid, Mead, AEP, and Honda each gave more than $25,000.

The two largest donations came from pro-business groups.

The largest single donation, by far, was made by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, which gave $500,000.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, in two donations, gave a total of $350,000.

From the Toledo area, the biggest donor supporting Issue 2 was Dana Corp., which gave $50,000. Cooper Tire & Rubber, of Findlay, gave $10,000 and The Andersons, Inc., of Maumee, gave $5,000.

Nearly all of the largest givers to the issue’s opposition were labor unions or trial lawyers.

The largest contributor was the Ohio AFL-CIO, which gave a total of almost $688,000 in 13 separate donations.

The Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers gave $97,500, and individual lawyers from as far away as Seattle and Rhode Island gave thousands more.

Among Toledo donors, United Auto Workers Local 12 gave $33,720.

The law firm of Fell, Marcus, and Koder gave $12,000.

More binding marriage sought; Ohio proposal tries to put damper on many divorces

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 1

COLUMBUS — For now, it’s still “I do.”

But lovestruck Ohioans soon may have the option of saying, “I really, really do.”

That’s the hope of state Rep. Ron Young (R., Painesville), co-sponsor of a bill to create a more binding kind of marriage – a “covenant marriage” that would make it much more difficult for a couple to divorce.

The Ohio House held its first hearing yesterday on the measure supported by many Christian conservatives and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Mr. Young said the new level of marriage is needed to strengthen the institution of the family, which he said has been ripped apart by rampant divorce.

“I feel very strongly that it’s simply wrong that marriage, the most important of contracts, is the easiest for us to enter and exit,” Mr. Young told the House Civil and Commercial Law committee. “We can’t build a society on shifting sands.”

The bill is modeled after a law that took effect Aug. 15 in Louisiana, the only state with such a statute.

A couple entering into a covenant marriage would be required to undergo premarital counseling emphasizing that the decision to marry is a lifelong commitment. And if trouble began to brew in their relationship, many of the grounds for divorce acceptable in a normal marriage would not apply.

For example, under law, a husband or wife wanting a divorce can receive one after a year’s separation. And if both want their marriage to end, they can apply for a divorce on the grounds of incompatibility and receive one within months.

If someone in a covenant marriage would want a divorce, however, and could not prove the spouse is a bigamist, an adulterer, or cruel and abusive, the couple would have to separate for two years while receiving mandatory marital counseling before being able to apply for a divorce.

The proposed legislation would remove incompatibility, habitual drunkenness, and “gross neglect of duty” as acceptable grounds for divorce in covenant marriages.

A covenant couple would not even be able to use a spouse’s imprisonment as a justification for divorce, even for murder convictions, unless the imprisoned party would be serving 10 or more years. Currently, imprisonment of any length can be grounds for a divorce.

Mr. Young said these rules are a reaction to the soaring divorce rate, which rose 35 per cent in Ohio between 1971 and 1990. Young people in divorced households are much more likely to be poor and commit crimes than those in two-parent families, he said.

“Families are where we raise the next generation of good, solid, healthy citizens,” Mr. Young said. “We can’t do that without good, solid, healthy families.”

Rep. Peter Jones (D., Shaker Heights), while saying he did not mind the idea of “super-sizing” marriages, questioned whether removing alcoholism or prison terms under 10 years from the list of acceptable grounds might be going too far.

Mr. Young said that habitual drunkenness or five-year prison terms are obstacles a dedicated couple can overcome. “I feel that those are the types of things we would want to work out in counseling,” he said.

Forcing couples to choose between the two levels of marriage might cause some disagreements between prospective mates, Mr. Young conceded. But any arguments the law might cause between boyfriends and girlfriends are healthier than those it might prevent between husbands and wives, he said.

“Many, because of the premarital counseling, might decide not to marry,” he said. “That would be a good thing.”

Several other representatives had reservations about the bill, even while saying they support the motivation behind it. Rep. David Hartley (D., Springfield) said limiting grounds for divorce might encourage divorce-seeking spouses to fabricate charges of child abuse or adultery against their husbands or wives. And Rep. Betty Sutton (D., Barberton) said the bill could trap wives in oppressive relationships.

“Unfortunately, bad marriages happen to people, people with the highest hopes at the start,” she said to Mr. Young. “This bill has the potential to lock people in. Even though your intentions are good, there will be some very bad results if this passes.”

Yvette Davis, a Columbus attorney and self-described evangelical Christian, was one of a number of citizens who testified in favor of the bill. She said the way her own marriage ended was far too easy, and that laws like Mr. Young’s would make it tougher.

“Dissolution was so easy, the process itself almost lacked trauma,” she said.

Rick Turner of Toledo testified about his own ongoing divorce, which he said might have been avoided if he had received premarital counseling that made him think about his concept of marriage.

“I think things might have been different had someone required me to sit down and talk to someone about marriage,” said Mr. Turner, who has been married for 12 years. “We need to raise the standard.”

The most emotional testimony yesterday was given by Jeanette Weigel, who is going through what she believes is a preventable divorce.

“I believe our marriage could have been saved if proper counseling would have been encouraged and enforced by the court,” she said haltingly, choking back tears.

She then introduced her 11-year-old son Chris, who, reading a handwritten statement from notebook paper, told the committee that “my future, and other kids’ future, is in your hands.”

If the bill passes, currently married couples would have a one-year window after the bill’s enactment to convert their own unions to covenants, and Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin (R., Aurora) said that might cause some intermarriage strife in otherwise healthy relationships.

“Can you imagine it might cause trouble if one spouse wanted to convert and the other didn’t?” she asked.

Mr. Young has 11 co-sponsors in the House, including four from the Toledo area: Jack Ford (D., Toledo), John Garcia (R., Toledo), Richard Hodges (R., Swanton), and Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon).

If Ohio proves to be anything like Louisiana, prospective mates might not be lining up to choose a covenant marriage, even if Mr. Young’s bill passes.

In the two months that they’ve been available in Louisiana, covenant marriages haven’t proven very popular. In Lafayette Parish [County], an urban center in south Louisiana, the clerk of court’s office has issued only six covenant marriage licenses, deputy clerk Jane Benoit said. During that same period, she estimates the parish has issued about 250 standard licenses.

And in neighboring rural Acadia Parish, not one of about 100 licenses issued in the last two months has been for a covenant marriage, deputy clerk Angie Reed said.

“If the marriage doesn’t work out, it just doesn’t work out,” said Pamela Kibodeaux of Rayne, La., who was married for the first time in August and chose not to have a covenant marriage. “If you’re not happy, it’s not up to the government to say when it’s over. It’s up to us.”

Limits on teen drivers pass state committee

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 1

COLUMBUS — Ohio is one step closer to keeping inexperienced teen drivers off the road.

A conference committee yesterday reached a compromise on Senate Bill 35, which would make teenagers wait until age 18 to get a full-fledged driver’s license, while allowing them limited access to wheels at 15 1/2.

Ohio law states that any 16-year-old who can pass the state test can get a license.

“We’ve done something today that will save lives in Ohio,” said state Sen. Bruce Johnson (R., Columbus), the bill’s sponsor. He is running for city attorney here.

The bill had been approved earlier this year in different forms by the House and Senate. The conference committee ironed out the chambers’ differences.

The measure must be approved by both chambers in its new form. The Senate will consider it Tuesday.

Under the proposal, teens would be able to receive a temporary driving permit when they are 15 1/2. They would have to log 50 hours of driving time with an adult, at least 10 of those at night, and wait six months before applying for a probationary driver’s license.

The probationary license would be good until age 18, but would be more easily revoked or suspended than an adult’s license. For example, three moving violations within the two-year probationary period would result in a one-year suspension.

The bill has been supported by auto safety groups like AAA, who say that inexperienced teenagers are among the biggest threats on the road.

Last year, 293 teenagers were killed in Ohio in traffic accidents. Car crashes are the leading cause of death nationwide for people in the 15 to 24 age range.

The major sticking point in negotiations was a restriction on nighttime driving for teens. The Senate version of the bill banned drivers under age 18 from being on the roads between midnight and 5 a.m. A House committee removed that language before passing the bill in June.

The conference committee’s compromise allows temporary permit holders to drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. if a parent or legal guardian is in the vehicle.

It allows exceptions for work or school functions and for emergencies.

Mike Dawson, spokesman for Governor Voinovich, said the governor supports the concepts behind the bill but will wait for the General Assembly to vote on the final version to decide whether to sign it.

Issue expanding judges’ power to deny bail defended, attacked

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 1

Some say it would protect Ohio’s citizens from the state’s worst criminals. Others say it would take away their most basic rights.

On Nov. 4, voters will pass judgment on Issue 1, which would amend the state Constitution and give judges the power to hold accused felons without bail if they believe they likely are guilty and could pose a danger to others.

Under the Ohio Constitution, only those accused of death-penalty offenses can be held without bail. The issue’s supporters say it would protect the public by keeping violent criminals off the streets.

“There are judges who want to deny bail to a dangerous criminal, but can’t,” state Sen. Robert Latta (R., Bowling Green) said. “Issue 1 would give those judges another tool to protect the public.”

But opponents say the proposed amendment would violate an individual’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It asks a judge to determine if an individual probably committed a crime before the trial even begins, they say.

“We have a basic constitutional right to be presumed innocent,” state Sen. Linda Furney (D., Toledo) said. “This bill panders to people’s fears about crime, but doesn’t get us anything.”

Proponents argue that the few citizens affected by Issue 1 would be dangerous criminals who should be locked up.

“There are people who have stepped out of municipal court here who should be be hind bars,” said John Weglian, chief of the special units division of the Lucas County prosecutor’s office.

Harland Britz, northwest Ohio general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, disagreed. “I don’t think judges are letting dangerous criminals out on the streets now,” he said. “This is a political move to appease certain politicians who believe the country is soft on crime.

“Meanwhile jails are bursting at the seams. We’re not soft on crime. It’s astonishing.”

If judges are worried about letting dangerous criminals loose, they can simply set a high bail.

“For a lot of people who commit crimes,” Mr. Britz said, “setting $100,000 for bail is the same thing as no bail at all.”

Federal courts are already allowed to consider whether suspects are a threat to the public when determining bail, and Mr. Latta said he wanted Ohio judges to have the same authority their federal counterparts do.

The constitutional provision that guarantees bail in all but capital cases dates back to 1851. Mr. Weglian said the nature of criminal activity has changed substantially since then.

“Now, at least a third of the cases we handle now involve attempts to intimidate witnesses or victims,” he said. “Even 10, 15 years ago, I’d be surprised if that happened in one of 20 cases.”

But Chris Link, the ACLU’s executive director in Ohio, said instances of witness tampering or intimidation are crimes in and of themselves and should be prosecuted separately.

Giving judges the power to elim inate bail puts too much authority in their hands, Ms. Link said. She pointed to a case in 1990 when an Ohio woman burned a flag and was charged with inciting a riot, a felony. Ms. Link said the judge in the case wanted to withhold bail in that case because of her own political opposition to flag burning.

The judge was unable to do so because of the state’s Constitution’s guarantee of bail, but if Issue 1 is passed, withholding bail in such a case would be legal, Ms. Link said.

Federal courts can keep felony defendants without bail, but Mr. Britz said that, under federal law, all nondrug-related defendants are automatically presumed not to be dangerous. Prosecutors must prove them to be a threat before bail can be withheld.

Under Ohio’s proposed amendment, he said, the rules are much looser.

“The language is extremely vague,” Mr. Britz said. “That gives the judge almost unlimited discretion to deny bail in these cases.”

But Mr. Latta said he had enough faith in Ohio’s judiciary to give judges that power.

“Our judges are responsible to the electorate and are going to have enough common sense to interpret this language in the way it was written,” he said.

Culpability of site owners argued in crack-house cases

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 22

COLUMBUS –The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a Toledo case that could expand a prosecutor’s power to shut down crack houses.

But attorneys for the buildings’ owners said the state is trying to violate their clients’ property rights.

The case involves three Toledo buildings – located at 1137 1/2 North Erie St., 1315 Ironwood Ave., and 953 Butler St. – police have said were used by drug dealers in 1994 and 1995 to sell crack cocaine.

The state sought injunctions against the landlords of the three buildings that could have meant that the buildings would be padlocked shut or forfeited entirely.

But the buildings’ three landlords said they had no idea their properties were being used for that purpose. State law requires that, in order for an injunction to be placed on a building in cases like these, a landlord must know about the criminal activity and let it go on without alerting authorities.

As a result, trial courts and appeal courts in the three cases found that, since the landlords had no knowledge of the drug activity, an injunction against them could not be issued. The state appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

Bert Puligandla, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, said the government should not be required to prove a landlord knew about drug activity before an injunction can be filed.

While he called his proposal “admittedly harsh,” Mr. Puligandla said it was needed to fight the problem of crack cocaine in Ohio’s central cities.

“So the ends justify the means?” Justice Andy Douglas asked. “So because we have that problem, we should eliminate the Fourth Amendment, eliminate trial by jury?”

Justice Evelyn Stratton noted that several of the individuals involved in drug activity had been arrested and at least one landowner had begun eviction proceedings against the tenants. “Why, then, do landowners have to suffer additional penalty?” she asked.

“An injunction gives landowners incentive to monitor their properties more closely,” Mr. Puligandla responded.

“But she’s a little old lady!” Justice Stratton replied, referring to Mary Rezcallah, one of the property owners.

Mr. Puligandla said landlords must be responsible for knowing about the illegal actions of their tenants. “We have to expect more than collecting the rent once a month,” he said.

Wesley Miller, attorney for one of the defendants, Teresa Boardman, said expecting landlords to know the everyday dealings of tenants is excessive.

“We cannot put our homeowners and landowners in a position where they’re doing surveillance on the streets, or trying to do criminal background checks on prospective tenants,” Mr. Miller said. “Law enforcement should do that.”

In 1994, Mrs. Boardman’s property on Butler Street was padlocked by the county prosecutor’s office as a crack house. Ten months later, the house was returned to her after Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge William Skow found there was not a “sliver of evidence” that Mrs. Boardman had knowledge of drug activity in the house.

The Supreme Court gave no indication when it would rule.