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Headline News for Thursday, March 31, 2011
Ohio's collective bargaining bill ready to be signed into law; House approves ban on texting while driving; New study shows urban areas struggle with health issues

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Amanda Rabinowitz
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  • Ohio's collective bargaining bill is ready to be signed into law
  • The Ohio House has approved a ban on texting while driving
  • A new study shows that urban areas in the state still struggle with health issues
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    The Republican plan to scale back union power in collective bargaining for Ohio’s public employees is ready for the governor to sign into law. Wednesday evening, the Ohio House okayed the measure, and four hours later, the Senate okayed changes the House made to the bill. Statehouse correspondent Bill Cohen has more. 

    Governor Kasich signed the new two-year, $7 billion state transportation budget into law Wednesday afternoon. He says the new budget, which was unanimously approved in the Ohio Senate, will mean the state can maximize its dollars because it allows more public-private partnerships. Kasich says the transportation projects in this budget will also help provide jobs for Ohioans.
    The future of funding for Northeast Ohio public schools remains unclear and is causing confusion in most districts. Governor Kasich has broken down his two-year education spending plan by county.
    The numbers show a nearly 80 percent cut for Rocky River City School District. Treasurer Greg Markus says he’s having trouble understanding the disparity in cuts among districts throughout the region. Pymatuning Valley in Ashtabula County is scheduled to get that 16 percent increase. Another district that would see an increase, though far more moderate, is Painesville City. It’s scheduled to get a 2 percent hike over the two years, but Treasurer Richard Taylor says that his district will still be struggling. Painesville and all other Ohio school districts will be hit with the loss of federal stimulus money and the governor’s redirecting other funds from local schools to the state. According to the Plain Dealer, northeast Ohio schools in the aggregates will lose nearly $170 million in 2013.
    Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora now faces charges of racketeering and tax fraud.
    A superseding indictment accuses him of running a criminal enterprise out of county offices. The new charges could allow the feds to seize just about everything Dimora owns if they can show they grew from his criminal acts.  But Dean Carro of the University of Akron law school says the racketeering charge is as important for prosecution strategy as it is for potential penalty. The new indictment also repeats the 26 counts Dimora was charged with in mid-September.  Dimora insists he’s innocent.
    Cleveland-based KeyCorp bank has repaid its $2.5 billion federal bailout loan. Key raised the money in part through a $625 million dollar stock offering and a one billion dollar debt offering. Key was one of about 700 US banks to participate in the bailout program and is one of the last to repay its loan. The Treasury Department says KeyCorp’s payment has helped the program break even.
    As the Ohio legislature approved the collective bargaining bill Wednesday, an Ohio House health committee took verbal vote for support of a bill outlawing abortions at the first detectable heartbeat. The restrictive bill would still need to be approved by the House. Democrats, including Lakewood Representative Nickie Antonio, spoke out passionately against the measure. She anticipates a fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
    A House committee on Wednesday also approved a ban on texting while driving, in a rare show of bipartisanship on an issue that has been divisive in the past. A violation would carry a fine of up to $150. Similar legislation last year died in the GOP-controlled Senate.
    Ohio’s Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown is working to increase federal regulation of charter bus safety. Brown testified Wednesday before a Senate Committee. Brown and Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison first introduced the bill in December in response to the tour bus crash that killed five Bluffton University baseball players in 2007. The bill includes requirements for seatbelts, fire extinguishers, stronger windows and more driver training.
    It stalled in the Senate last year after an Oklahoma Senator put a hold on the bill because of its expense. But Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety say the changes would cost about a nickel per passenger.  Brown says the regulations are reasonable. The father of one of the players killed in the Bluffton crash, John Betts, also testified for the bill. And proponents also are focusing on other crashes, including a University of Mount Union bus crash that killed an athletic trainer in January. 
    For the first time in more than a decade, one northeast Ohio inner-city neighborhood is getting a new grocery store. Quality of life basics, like having a place to show for food reasonably nearby, have been rapidly disappearing from urban America. So, WKSU’s Tim Rudell reports that even though the store itself will be relatively small, plans for a new market are making big news in Akron.
    Honda plants in Ohio started their first day Wednesday of slowed production caused by the shrinking supply of parts from Japan. Honda’s Marysville plant will be updating employees about the length of their shifts on a day-by-day basis. Honda now says it plans to resume limited vehicle assembly in Japan April 11th after four weeks of shutdowns caused by the earthquake and tsunami. Meanwhile, American automakers also may be affected. Bill Visnic is an analyst for online source Edmunds. He says a long recovery for Japanese suppliers will affect GM and Ford. That’s because with global supply chains, U.S. automakers rely on overseas products such as a microchip produced almost exclusively in Japan. But for now, the hardest impact is on the Japanese brands in America. Toyota advised its dealerships to order only parts for quote “emergency need.”
    Cleveland has one less outdoor concert venue. Time Warner Cable Amphitheater in the Flats has closed to make way for a new casino. Most scheduled concerts will be moved to the Nautica Pavilion on the other side of the Cuyahoga River. Nautica owner, Jacobs Investments will make about 1-million dollars in improvements during the next couple months and rename the venue Jacobs Pavilion.
    The latest county-by-county breakdown on how healthy people are in Ohio shows urban areas continue to struggle, with problems ranging from obesity to sexually transmitted diseases. Cuyahoga County ranks 69th among the 88 counties and Mahoning comes in 79th on the measure of overall health. The national study from the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also looks at factors such as excessive drinking and teen births.   Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan says most inner city residents have limited access to healthy foods and exercise so the county has been working on prevention efforts such as building more urban playgrounds and community gardens, and focusing on tobacco and alcohol awareness. Allan says policy changes such as raising the price of cigarettes and increasing taxes on sugar drinks are also important. Geauga County ranked the second healthiest county in the state, behind Delaware.
    A top executive of the company buying Northeast Ohio’s Lubrizol has suddenly resigned. Berkshire Hathaway owner Warren Buffett says he learned earlier this month that executive David Sokol bought nearly 100,000 shares of Wickliffe-based Lubrizol stock before recommending that Berkshire buy the chemical company. Buffett says he doesn't believe those stock purchases were illegal, and didn't ask Sokol to resign.
    The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency is leaving it up to states to figure out how to cut down on massive fish kills at electric power plants, including FirstEnergy’s Bay Shore plant on Lake Erie in northwestern Ohio. First Energy spokesman Mark Durbin says that his company began working with the Ohio EPA about two years ago to cut down on the estimated 60 million fish killed when billions of gallons of water are sucked into Bay Shore each year. A pilot program tested a barrier last summer and FirstEnergy is now working to make it permanent. The Bay Shore plant has been pegged as one of the biggest fish killers in the Great Lakes region. Besides the adult and juvenile fish, environmental officials say billions of eggs and larvae are also drawn through the intakes and destroyed. Durbin says those numbers may seem large, but Lake Erie and the Maumee River are very fertile fishing grounds. But environmental organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council are unhappy with the EPA’s proposal. They argue that states lack resources and expertise to handle the problem on an individual basis.
    Wayne National Forest reports finding the first case of white-nose syndrome in Ohio. White-nose is a fungus that infects and effectively wipes out bat populations. The discovery in an abandoned mine at Wayne, marks the fungus’ first jump west of the Appalachian Mountains, which were thought to be a substantial barrier. U.S. Fish and Wildlife coordinator Jeremy Coleman says treating the bats is complicated. Treatments run the risk of wiping out beneficial fungi along with the bad. But Coleman says researchers are still in early stages, and don’t know enough about the new form of the fungus to develop an effective treatment.
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