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Headline News for Friday, April 22, 2011
Reps may sue Kasich for ignoring records request; Spill in Pennsylvania causes fracking suspension; Unemployment rates drop statewide

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Amanda Rabinowitz
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State representatives threaten to sue Governor Kasich for withholding school funding information

Pennsylvania energy company suspends fracking process after drilling fluid spill

State unemployment rate hits two-year low with a drop in every county for the month of March

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Headline News 04/22/11...

The natural gas drilling technique known as fracking has taken center stage in Ohio and the rest of the Marcellus shale region this week. Chesapeake Energy has suspended the process that blasts chemical-laced water into the ground to release natural gas after a major spill in northern Pennsylvania this week. Chesapeake says the cause of the breach is unknown but it's located in a wellhead connection.   Thousands of gallons of drilling fluids spilled, entering farm fields and a stream.    
Ohio’s environmental groups are using the lawmaker’s spring break to try to fight back the governor’s plan to open Ohio’s state parks to oil and gas drilling. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports that it’s a topic likely to be high on the Legislative agenda when the Statehouse resumes business May 2. 
Governor John Kasich has signed the “Common Sense Initiative” into law. Lt. Governor Mary Taylor says it’s designed to cut through burdensome red tape so businesses can better compete with companies in other states. One example she cited is an Avon-based food company that was prohibited from purchasing alcohol products in bulk.   Instead, Custom Culinary was required to purchase alcohol at higher, retail prices and add it bottle-by-bottle to certain recipes – at one time uncorking 140,000 pounds of merlot wine for just one sauce. Taylor says Ohio’s restrictive liquor laws were causing the company to re-think expansion plans in Lorain County. Kasich added that he’s also revised truck weight limits to help businesses legally transport their products on Ohio roads.
Ohio’s Supreme Court Chief Justice used a talk in Akron Thursday to unveil proposed changes to how the state elects judges. Maureen O'Connor told the Akron Roundtable crowd that she wants to remove the political party affiliation for judicial candidates running in the state’s primary elections.
Other parts of O’Conner’s plan include setting up an objective system for filling judicial court vacancies. She wants the community to be involved in the process and to amend Ohio’s Constitution to require Senate approval in filling high court positions.
Political action committees have reported raising nearly $1 million in the labor-based fight to repeal Senate Bill – the strict new limits on collective bargaining for public workers. Campaign finance reports filed Thursday show roughly 125 PACS and political committees representing public and private unions have raised $800,000 and have $2-million on hand. A petition drive is getting underway to get the referendum on the November ballot. 
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has joined his counterparts from other states in demanding changes to a new fruit-flavored energy drink that's 12 percent alcohol.   DeWine says that drinking a standard can of "Blast by Colt 45" is like drinking four regular, 12-ounce bottles of beer. Attorneys general from 17 states have written Pabst Brewing Company asking that the alcohol content be lowered.
A lawsuit has been filed in Cleveland against Urban Active Fitness by a law firm that says the Kentucky-based health club chain violates consumer protection law and uses unfair and deceptive business practices.   Phillip Robins of Bedford accuses the chain of breaking membership promises. The suit comes after the Better Business Bureau's central Ohio branch recently gave the chain an "F" rating.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he is exploring whether to give minority businesses a larger share of state work. Kasich says he asked his Cabinet on Thursday to review operations and to report back to him on their agencies' ability to increase the 15 percent set-aside for state contracts that go to minority and economically distressed businesses. He says Ohio has not been aggressive enough at promoting minority business growth, calling it beneficial to individual communities and the economy. His announcement follows one earlier this month that the U.S. Department of Commerce was partnering with Cleveland nonprofits for the first federal minority business center in the state since 2006.
Two Democratic state representatives are threatening to sue Governor Kasich’s office for withholding information about cuts in funding to local school districts. Matt Lundy of Elyria and Debbie Phillips of Athens say they want to know how the state determined how much each of more than 600 local school districts will get. But the governor says the proposed two-year budget numbers are available, if Democrats knew how to look. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.
Former U.S. Senator George Voinovich has joined the staff at Cleveland State University and Ohio University. Voinovich is acting as a consultant and advisor on major research projects at both universities – he’ll be associated with Cleveland State’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs. Voinovich received an honorary doctorate degree from Cleveland State in 2004. 
Monthly unemployment rates in every county in Ohio dropped in March, and the state overall hit a two-year low of 8.9 percent. But several Northeast Ohio counties are still struggling with double-digit unemployment. Huron County’s rate was 13.5 percent. That’s down from 14.4 percent in February and nearly 17 percent a year ago. But employment in the county is still among the worst in the state. Teresa Alt is director of Huron County Job and Family Services. She says county unemployment rates historically go up during winter in the Lake Erie tourist area, and recover in the summer. But Huron County has been suffering for more than three years beginning when Norwalk Furniture closed. In 2010, another major employer, Commercial Vehicle Group, shut down. Another northern Ohio county, Ottawa, had the highest unemployment rate in the state last month. But Cuyahoga County’s unemployment rate of 8.4 percent was the third lowest for metropolitan areas in the state.
A labor-backed group seeking to capitalize on a verbal gaffe by Gov. John Kasich says it will push Bob Evans Farms to improve benefits for employees.    Ohioans Against Shabby Benefits got its name from a remark Kasich made this week, saying a woman working at Bob Evans probably had no pension and health care benefits that were "shabby at best."
Indians closer Chris Perez gave up two runs in the ninth inning last night as the Tribe lost to the Royals 3-2 in the series finale. It was Perez’s first misstep this season, after not giving up a run in racking up six saves. Perez says he still likes how his team is doing. The Indians maintain a one game lead over the Royals in the AL Central and head to Minnesota to play the Twins tonight.
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