Well, Ohio, there’s another fine mess brewing in Columbus. Republicans won big in spite of the precipitous drop-off of voters this Nov. 4, which produced one of the lowest turnout of voters in the Buckeye State and across the nation since the late 1940s. GOP candidates, from governor on down, including the House and Senate, won big and can now do anything they want without fear of any Democrat doing anything to stop them. In a word, Ohio Republicans are bulletproof.
In most lame duck sessions of the General Assembly, bad bills can appear without warning as lawmakers use this special, limited time before one legislature ends and another one begins to jam through all manner of ideologically-driven laws. And the 2014 lame duck session is no exception as bad bills, including an attempt by telecom giants to push through an amendment designed to wreck Provider of Last Resort Rules (POLR) and another being pushed by advocates of merit-based pay for teachers that would repeal the law that mandates a minimum salary schedule for teachers, brew.
Telecom companies are trying to do away with POLR requirements with an amendment to HB 490, an agriculture bill. One key group opposing the bill is the Communication Workers of America [CWA]. In 2010, CWA worked on a bi-partisan bill that protected Jobs and Consumers, particularly the rural and elderly customers, and nearly unanimously passed the Ohio House and Senate. According to CWA District 4 Administrative Director Frank Matthews, companies already have the option to apply to withdraw basic local exchange service through the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), but only if the company shows financial hardship and the request is “just, reasonable, and not contrary to the public interest.”
“If the new, risky amendment passes, basic telephone customers could also lose protections from lengthy outages, unreasonable bill payment timelines, customer credits, disconnection and reconnection requirements, and the legislation could jeopardize Lifeline service for low-income landline customers,” Matthews said in prepared remarks Tuesday. “Changes in telecom regulation are too important – impacting public safety, jobs, and the economy — to be wrecked or decided by a sneaky amendment to an Ag Bill in Lame Duck Session. Ohio’s rural and elderly customers deserve more respect than this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Matthews says the timing is wrong. “Ohio should not jump the gun on allowing a telephone provider to retire its services at the same time that the FCC is investigating the impact of this deregulation trend nationally,” he said, advising the state should wait to see what lessons emerge from the FCC investigation and make wise decisions about Ohioans’ communications needs.
Jane Taylor, state director for AARP Ohio, weighed-in on HB 490 today. “We must always be watching and assuring those in need so they do not become the innocent victims of changes proposed in the name of progress. AT&T is returning to the state legislature once again with legislative proposals designed to end the use of copper land lines for telephone service and replace it with fiber optic cable.”
Taylor notes that what is not highlighted in the proposal is this: Ohioans in rural areas will lose their land line service but will not get fiber optic service, and they will only have wireless telephone service with no price controls or guarantees for low-income Ohioans in these areas. Additionally, she said, there are areas of Ohio where wireless service is minimal, and to provide the speed needed for those receiving tele-health services in those areas will be even more expensive.
“Some members of the Ohio General Assembly want these provisions to pass during the upcoming lame duck session as part of House Bill 490. AARP Ohio is urging our members to call their legislators and tell them that they oppose moving this complex proposal during the lame duck session. More study is needed,” Taylor said.
Merit Pay For Teachers
The GOP continued its long assault on public schools and unionized teachers when it passed a bill out of the House Education Committee along strict party lines that addressed the minimum salary an Ohio teacher should get paid and the subsequent minimum salary schedule throughout that teacher’s career. If signed into law, and no one expects Gov. John Kasich, a big backer of privatized for-profit schools to veto it, the bill eliminates that specific schedule, and requires local school districts to come up with their own systems. GOP Education Chairman Rep. Gerald Stebelton of Lancaster told one news source, “Any salary schedule that a local district has—if they want to keep it they can keep it. If they wanna negotiate with their unions for a salary schedule they can do that. We’re not changing any contracts as they were written today.”
Based on Stebelton’s reasoning that there are teachers that are less qualified, not as well-trained or not as good in teaching as others yet earn the same salary, maybe lawmakers ought to be subject to the same criteria Rep. Stebelton thinks is good for educators. Rep. Stebelton did serve two terms on the Lancaster Board of Education, but teaching isn’t a profession he was trained for – that would be the law.
But other voices see it differently. “Ohio needs to focus on ways to pay committed educators more not make it easier to pay them less,” says Scott DiMauro, Vicee President of the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. For DiMauro, teachers being able to depend on each other and work together, a relationship he says doesn’t grow if teachers are pitted against each other for raises, is critical. “When you introduce merit-based systems into the equation what you’re doing is—you’re creating incentives for competition rather than cooperation between teachers and that doesn’t really seem to help students,” DiMauro said Tuesday in prepared remarks sent to media.
Typical of “Lame Duck” sessions, the change was added into an existing House bill last week after it had already received six hearings. The bill nonetheless passed out of committee along party lines and is expected to have a floor vote in the House yet this week.