Editorial roundup

Why Ohio should keep front license plates

Akron Beacon Journal, Jan. 4

With no shortage of significant challenges facing Ohio, one would think state lawmakers would be focused on real issues impacting the daily lives of its residents.

Instead, they’re once again debating the foolish concept of no longer requiring front license plates on vehicles.

Even worse, lawmakers voted last year to remove the front-plate requirement effective July 1. They’re now — thankfully — debating whether to fix their mistake.

Talk about a waste of valuable time when our state likely saw a net loss in jobs in 2019 and still needs real solutions to school funding and other challenges.

The case for dropping front plates involves unimportant aesthetics, the increasing use of sensors in front bumpers and unspecified desires of auto dealers. Some House Republicans “insisted on eliminating the plate as part of a conference committee deal to pass the transportation budget last spring,” The Columbus Dispatch reported. Nationwide, 31 states require front license plates.

Those opposed include police, prosecutors, school bus drivers and just about everyone opposed to making life easier for criminals and those who ignore school bus warning lights.

Col. Richard Fambro, superintendent of the State Highway Patrol, told lawmakers the lack of a front plate will make it “virtually impossible” to track down drivers who illegally pass school buses. The patrol alone cites about 600 dangerous drivers for bus violations a year.

Bus cameras capture the front of oncoming vehicles, a tactic police also use with automatic plate readers to find wanted vehicles.

“By removing one plate, you remove 50 percent of law enforcement’s ability to apprehend criminals,” said Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio lobbyist Mike Weinman.

Why do smart people who become lawmakers suddenly feel empowered to ignore the advice of professionals who are experts in their fields? Why would Republicans, who like to talk tough on crime, support helping criminals?

Sadly, Republican House Speaker Larry Householder seems unwilling to reconsider last year’s vote, calling the matter settled. That ignores the fact that dropping the front plates was attached to a larger measure many lawmakers felt compelled to approve for other reasons.

We’re encouraged that some Republican lawmakers and Gov. Mike DeWine are fighting to stop this threat to public safety.

There’s no reason to not hold a straight-up, one-issue vote on this matter.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ZZ9z6O

Time to rethink how, or even whether, we elect judges in Ohio?

Columbus Dispatch, Jan. 7

Should candidates for judge in Ohio be listed on ballots by political party? Should they be on ballots at all?

Both questions arise from time to time when Ohioans ponder the best way to ensure that judges are competent and impartial and that people feel they have a stake in the judicial system.

It’s the latter challenge — making Ohioans more involved and informed — that leads some to say that Ohioans voting for judges should know candidates’ party affiliations. House Bill 460, recently introduced by Republican Rep. Stephen Hambley of Brunswick and Democratic Rep. Michael Skindell of Lakewood, would let judicial candidates choose whether or not to have a party label.

The sponsors say it would help voters be less clueless when faced with a judicial ballot. Indeed, half of all Ohio voters in a 2014 poll said they don’t vote for judges as regularly as other offices because they don’t know much about the candidates.

Knowing the candidate’s political party would at least give a clue to his or her philosophy, the argument goes.

Currently, judge candidates in Ohio run in partisan primaries and are nominated as Republicans or Democrats. But once they’re nominated, on the general election ballot they’re listed without party label. Ohio is the only state to do it that way.

The argument for keeping party labels off of the judicial ballot is, of course, that judges are supposed to be above political interests, guided only by the law.

Identifying judge candidates as Ds or Rs might induce more voters to choose one or the other, but would it also be an unhealthy incentive for would-be judges to try to distinguish themselves with partisan-sounding statements?

Judicial campaigning typically is uninspiring at best, precisely because judicial canons prohibit candidates from saying anything to indicate how they would rule on any matter. That can make substantive discussion of issues difficult.

We welcome a Statehouse debate on this question. Making judicial campaigns more meaningful is a good goal, even if we aren’t certain partisan labels are the answer.

And while lawmakers are at it, the other perennial question — whether judges should be appointed instead of elected — likely will come up again, too. Many experts make a good argument that having judges appointed, then requiring them to run periodically to earn the right to stay on the bench, would draw high-quality adjudicators who aren’t willing to run as first-time candidates.

Whatever the merits, one shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ohio voters have had the chance several times to have certain judges appointed instead of elected and they’ve voted strongly against it each time.

Yet another worthy question is whether, as long as judges are elected, they should continue to be allowed to solicit and accept campaign donations. This one seems an easier call: A judge has far more power than any other elected official to directly benefit or disadvantage people. If any elected officials should be insulated from fundraising pressure, it should be judges.

Perhaps Hambley and Skindell should consider amending their bill to add a prohibition on judicial candidates accepting campaign contributions and provide an alternative way to fund their campaigns.

If judgeships in Ohio are going to remain elected positions, voters need to know more about the candidates. Partisan labels may or may not help. Freeing judges from fundraising certainly would increase public confidence in their impartiality.

Online: https://bit.ly/39LrP8l