AP: No sea change on gun laws in wake of mass shootings
By RYAN J. FOLEY
Wednesday, September 26
Shortly after last year’s shooting massacre on the Las Vegas strip, Ohio Gov. John Kasich convened a working group to explore possible reforms to state gun laws.
A Republican, Kasich wanted to be sure the panel’s members clearly supported the Second Amendment. Yet it also was to be bipartisan, with members from across the political spectrum.
The panel’s work accelerated after the Valentine’s Day slaughter at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and it eventually produced a legislative package of what Kasich labeled “sensible changes that should keep people safer.” The legislation was introduced by a Republican lawmaker in the GOP-dominated Legislature.
It went nowhere.
Among other objections, the Republican leadership raised constitutional concerns about a provision allowing courts to order that weapons be seized from people showing signs of violence.
“The way we put it together, the fact that you had people on both sides of the issue — I would have thought something would have happened,” said Kasich, who watched the bill package languish in legislative chambers run by his own party. “But the negative voices come in unison and they come strongly.”
The Ohio experience is not unusual.
An Associated Press review of all firearms-related legislation passed this year, encompassing the first full state legislative sessions since the Las Vegas attack, shows a decidedly mixed record. Gun control bills did pass in a number of states, but the year was not the national game-changer that gun-control advocates had hoped it could be.
Even in a year that included yet another mass school shooting and an unprecedented level of gun-control activism, state legislatures across the country fell back to largely predictable and partisan patterns.
“It’s exactly what happened after Newtown: The anti-gun states became more anti-gun and the pro-gun states became more pro-gun,” said Michael Hammond, the legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, referring to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six educators.
The major exceptions were Florida and Vermont.
Both states have Republican governors and long traditions of gun ownership. Lawmakers passed sweeping legislation after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 14 students and three staff members and after a foiled school shooting plot in Vermont days later.
The law signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott banned bump stocks, raised the gun buying age to 21, imposed a three-day waiting period for purchases and authorized police to seek court orders seizing guns from individuals who are deemed threats to themselves and others. The latter provision has already been used hundreds of times, court data show.
Florida is a rare case in which gun laws approved by a Republican legislature and governor are being challenged in court by the NRA.
No other Republican-dominated state followed Florida’s lead, the AP review found.
The Parkland shooting did slow momentum for additional gun rights bills in some Republican-led states, but others pushed forward with a pro-gun policy agenda. They widened the definition of who can legally carry a weapon in public, allowed more concealed weapons in schools, churches and government buildings, and strengthened legal protections for people who claim they shot someone in self-defense.
In Tennessee, county commissioners were granted the ability to carry concealed handguns in their workplaces. Oklahoma approved a bill allowing permit holders to carry handguns while scouting. Nebraska lawmakers enacted a long-sought bill shielding all documents related to gun permits from the state’s open records law.
In South Carolina, where a state senator was killed in the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, lawmakers rejected a simple bill requiring court clerks to enter convictions and restraining orders in a timely fashion to strip gun rights from people who have been disqualified from possessing firearms.
The most significant policy development, the review found, was the enactment of so-called “red flag laws” in eight states. Those laws allow police or relatives to seek court orders to seize guns from people who are showing signs of violence.
Five Republican governors signed those laws, which have been used to seize guns from hundreds of individuals already this year.
Supporters say the laws are proven to save lives, and they were a rallying cry amid reports that the suspected Parkland high school gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was deeply troubled yet allowed to own guns. Nine states also approved laws to ban bump stocks, the rapid-fire devices that a gunman used as he shot hundreds of people at the music festival in Las Vegas, including 58 who were killed.
But often, the debate over public safety and the reach of the Second Amendment played out in statehouses with familiar results.
In Colorado, a state rocked by the 1999 Columbine High School and 2012 Aurora theater mass shootings, lawmakers in the divided Legislature refused to compromise.
The Democratic-controlled House passed bills to ban bump stocks and enact a red flag law that had the support of many police officers and prosecutors. But the Republican-controlled Senate quickly assigned those to a “kill” committee and defeated them.
“To me, the Second Amendment and individual rights demand the highest respect. That’s the basis of where I come from,” said Republican Sen. Tim Neville, a member of the committee and one of the capitol’s most ardent gun rights activists.
The Colorado House returned the favor by rejecting Republican plans to allow concealed guns on school grounds and repeal the state ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, a law passed after the Aurora shooting.
Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed by James Holmes as he celebrated his 27th birthday in the Aurora theater, said he is encouraged that the state has maintained the post-Aurora ammunition limits and is calling for further gun control as he runs for a Colorado state House seat. Sullivan sees long-term promise in gun-control efforts by Parkland students and survivors of other mass shootings.
“It’s like any major change. It can take 20, 30, 40 years,” Sullivan said. “I tell the Parkland kids that this is the natural progression of things.”
In North Carolina, where Republicans hold majorities in the legislature, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper asked lawmakers a few weeks after the Florida school shooting to pass new gun regulations, including more background checks and permit requirements.
But Republicans never took up gun-related proposals from him or legislative Democrats, whose efforts to force floor debate on them failed.
“We are really missing an opportunity for something serious for school safety,” said Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison.
Republicans instead approved money to hire more campus police officers, school nurses, psychologists and social workers, as well as to create a statewide phone app for students to report tips to deter school violence.
Democratic-controlled legislatures in states with already strict gun control laws, such as Illinois and New Jersey, made them tighter in the wake of the tragedies.
New Jersey expanded background check requirements to nearly all private sales and transfers of firearms and put into a law a strict definition requiring a “justifiable need to carry a handgun” for citizens to qualify for a permit. The Illinois Legislature extended an existing three-day waiting period to buy a handgun to rifles and other firearms, a measure signed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Advocates for stricter gun laws pointed to the changes in Florida and Vermont, the new red flag laws, the bump stock bans and laws meant to disarm accused domestic abusers as major victories in 2018. They say many of the laws passed with bipartisan support and could mark the beginning of a slow turn in their favor.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do, but I do think we’re seeing progress and the pace of progress is increasing,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, who said at least 55 bills backed by her group became law.
One policy change many thought would be non-controversial turned out to be a harder sell: banning bump stocks.
Lobbying by gun rights activists succeeded in blocking many states from enacting proposed bans, which they had feared would quickly spread nationwide after the Las Vegas shooting. Congress hasn’t acted on them, either.
Hammond, the lawyer for Gun Owners of America, said that after early defeats his group also is beginning to succeed in thwarting red flag bills. He argues that they can allow authorities to unfairly seize guns from owners who are not dangerous.
In Texas, for example, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott had said the state should consider adopting some type of red flag bill. Supporters of the legislation were hoping for a breakthrough in the most populous of the GOP-dominated states, which has seen mass shootings at a high school and a church over the past year.
Instead, the Legislature’s Republican leaders have already declared Abbott’s idea dead, and the governor has backed away from it.
Vermont was a rare case of a Republican governor signing into law far-reaching gun control measures passed by a Democratic legislature.
The action by Gov. Phil Scott was out of step with his previous position on guns and angered his political base. The Vermont law is similar to Florida’s but also requires background checks on most private firearms sales and bans high-capacity magazines.
Scott told a reporter the day after the Parkland shooting that he thought Vermont’s loose gun laws were adequate. But later the same day, he learned of what police called a near-miss high school shooting in a town along the state’s border with New York. Police have said a former student threatened to shoot up the school, hoping for more dead than the 32 killed during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.
The next day, a visibly shaken Scott, a life-long gun-owner and hunter, called on lawmakers to consider “gun safety” legislation. The resulting restrictions were the first significant gun ownership limits in Vermont history and came after weeks of intense debate.
Ohio’s Republican governor never got the same chance as Scott.
A coalition of groups representing students, teachers, school counselors, police chiefs, pediatricians and Catholic clergy joined in a letter to state legislative leaders urging them to pass the changes recommended by Kasich’s panel.
State Rep. Nickie Antonio, a Cleveland-area Democrat, said she could have told the governor it would fail. She said Republican lawmakers sound to her “like automatons” when the topic of gun control arises.
“They go to these automatic catchphrases that come right out of a pamphlet from either Buckeye Firearms or the NRA,” she said. “That’s what I think it’s about. I do believe it’s a case of follow the money.”
To express his frustration, Kasich refused to sign the next gun bill that crossed his desk, which waived certain concealed carry license fees and training requirements for current and former military members. It became law without his signature.
Asked months later about the defeat of his legislation, the governor said gun-control groups are simply not as unified as the pro-gun lobby.
“And so you,” he said, “you have disparate groups going against a force that totally knows what it wants.”
Associated Press writers Jim Anderson in Denver, Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed.
Follow Ryan Foley at https://twitter.com/rjfoley
Special Lottery Hunt Available for Logan County
COLUMBUS, OH – Transportation Research Center, Inc. (TRC) will hold a lottery drawing for special deer hunt opportunities on Wednesday, Oct. 17, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The hunts take place on TRC managed property located in Logan County.
The drawing will take place at the West Mansfield Conservation Club, located at 700 South Main Street, West Mansfield, Ohio 43358. Registration begins at 5 p.m. and the drawing will be held at 6 p.m. To participate in the drawing, hunters must appear in person, be at least 18 years old and present a valid 2018-2019 Ohio hunting license and deer permit. Youth hunters may participate in the hunt but are not eligible for the drawing.
Hunting dates will be scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays from December 1 – February 3, 2019, and approximately 14 hunters (and partners) will be drawn.
Hunters must attend a mandatory orientation prior to their hunting dates, which will be announced after the drawing. Permits are transferable up to the date of the orientation session, but not after. Hunters must follow all rules and regulations that apply to the Ohio’s deer-archery hunting season, as well as rules that are assigned to this special controlled deer hunt.
Visit wildohio.gov for more information about hunting seasons and regulations.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.
CUFFS & COLLARS
Field reports from ODNR Division of Wildlife Officers
Central Ohio – Wildlife District One
This past spring, State Wildlife Officer Brad Kiger, assigned to Franklin County, responded to a call from the Turn In a Poacher (TIP) hotline that indicated a man had shot two goslings off a small pond behind a house in Knox County. Officer Kiger responded to the residence and could not find anyone home. Officer Kiger checked the pond and found two goslings that appeared to have been shot and thrown into the weeds next to the pond. The next day, Officer Kiger returned to the area and contacted a man in the barn. When asked about the geese, the man began complaining about the geese and their waste. The man stated that he had shot his shotgun toward the geese to harass them and ended up hitting them. Officer Kiger explained shotgun patterns and how those geese were goslings and unable to fly away from the area. A summons was issued to the man for taking geese out of season. He was ordered to pay $175 in fines and court costs.
While on patrol at Indian Lake during the early migratory bird season, State Wildlife Officer Jeff Tipton, assigned to Champaign County, was checking dove hunters for licenses, bag limit compliance, and other migratory bird hunting regulations. As Officer Tipton checked one hunter, he found the hunter had his license, but when Officer Tipton checked his shotgun, he found that it was capable of holding more than three shotgun shells. The hunter was embarrassed and said that he had been hunting snow geese in Louisiana when he last used the shotgun and had apparently forgotten to check the gun for a plug. The hunter received a citation for the violation, appeared in the Bellefontaine Municipal Court, and paid a $50 fine plus court costs.
Northwest Ohio – Wildlife District Two
In early May, State Wildlife Officer Nathan Kaufmann, assigned to Huron County, was at the Willard Marsh Wildlife Area and located a discarded couch in one of the parking areas. After searching the couch for evidence, a suspect was identified. Later, the suspect was interviewed and admitted to owning the couch but stated the couch had been given to someone else who must have dumped it on the wildlife area. After asking the suspect for the name of the other individual, the suspect refused to provide any information. One citation was issued for littering on state property. The suspect was found guilty and ordered to pay $425 in court costs, fines, and fees; conduct 20 hours of community service; and remove the couch from the wildlife area.
During September, State Wildlife Officer Mike Ohlrich, assigned to Lucas County, was checking teal hunters. As Officer Ohlrich watched one hunter, the individual shot a wood duck. Apparently knowing the season was closed for wood ducks, the individual left the duck in the marsh near the place where he was hunting. Officer Ohlrich recovered the wood duck and collected it as evidence. The individual was issued a summons for taking a wood duck during the closed season.
Northeast Ohio – Wildlife District Three
State Wildlife Officer Aaron Brown, assigned to Wayne County, and State Wildlife Officer Jeremy Carter, assigned to Holmes County, were working an evening project to deter off-road activity at Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area when they observed a pick-up truck driving through one of the fields that had previously been severely damaged. Officers Brown and Carter made a stop on the vehicle. It was discovered that the license plates on the vehicle belonged to another vehicle. The driver was charged with fictitious plates and operating a vehicle in a non-designated area. The operator was found guilty in the Wayne County Municipal Court and ordered to pay $998 in fines, court costs, and restitution.
Southeast Ohio – Wildlife District Four
While on patrol in August, State Wildlife Officer Darin Abbott, assigned to Lawrence County, observed individuals who appeared to be digging ginseng on Wayne National Forest. Officer Abbott contacted the individuals. Although they were not in possession of ginseng, he did seize cohosh that they had dug on Wayne National Forest property without a permit from the U.S. Forest Service. In addition, he seized drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine from two different suspects. Charges are pending in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.
In February, State Wildlife Officer Jerrod Allison, assigned to Coshocton County, received a call about scrap tires that had been dumped along the Wills Creek Reservoir in Muskingum County. Officer Allison visited the site and found nearly 100 tires that had been dumped in the area. He also found a second location where an additional 80 tires had been dumped. With assistance from the Muskingum and Coshocton County Sheriffs’ Offices and citizen reports, three suspects were identified that had been involved in the dumping of these tires. Eventually, a third location with scrape tires was also discovered in a storage unit in Muskingum County. In June, all three suspects were indicted in Muskingum County Court on 11 felony charges that included transportation of scrap tires, open dumping, intimidation, and two misdemeanor charges for attempted dumping. In September, all three suspects pleaded guilty to all charges and are currently awaiting sentencing.
Southwest Ohio – Wildlife District Five
Last November, State Wildlife Officer Matt Roberts, assigned to Clinton County, received a call from Warren County regarding a landowner who had heard a gunshot and saw a deer die on his property. Officer Roberts responded to the area and found a dead 8-point buck which appeared to have been shot with a rifle during bow season. State Wildlife Officers Brad Turner, assigned to Preble County, Eric Lamb, assigned to Brown County, and Matt Hunt, assigned to Greene County, also responded to help with the case. The officers interviewed the adjoining property owner, who eventually admitted to shooting the deer with a rifle, hunting without permission, and not having a hunting license or deer permit. Officer Roberts charged the man, and the deer and the rifle were seized as evidence. The subject pleaded guilty in court and was ordered to pay $481 in fines and court costs. The deer and rifle were forfeited to the state.
PUCO adopts settlement in DP&L distribution rate case
COLUMBUS, OHIO (Sept. 26, 2018) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio today adopted a settlement agreement that will allow Dayton Power & Light Company (DP&L) to increase its distribution rates by $29.78 million annually, and establish a rate of return of 7.27 percent.
DP&L’s distribution rates will reflect the corporate tax rate adjustments enacted with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and include a method to return excess rates collected by the utility since January 2018 under the previous rate structure.
“Today’s decision is notable due to the settlement’s wide range of support, including environmental and customer advocates,” stated PUCO Chairman Asim Z. Haque. “Going forward, DP&L’s rates will reflect what it now costs to provide distribution service to its customers, which includes a reconciliation of rates to reflect the utility’s reduced tax obligation to the federal government.”
The Commission directed the utility to file tariffs implementing the new rates as soon as possible. An average residential customer using 1,000 kWh a month will see a bill increase of approximately $2.64.
DP&L will explore, with Commission oversight, opportunities in grid modernization areas such as non-wires alternatives, battery storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The company will also implement a revenue decoupling rate structure that reduces its incentive to sell increasing amounts of energy.
On Nov. 30, 2015, DP&L filed its application to increase its revenues for electric distribution service by $65.7 million annually. The utility’s application includes a proposal to increase the fixed residential customer charge from $4.25 to $13.76 per month, along with a corresponding reduction in usage-based charges. Under the terms of its initial application, an average residential would have seen a $4.07 increase.
On June 18, 2018, a settlement agreement signed by 13 parties agreed to an annual revenue increase of $29.78 million. Additionally, the residential fixed customer charge would increase to $7.00 a month. The settlement agreement was filed by DP&L, PUCO staff, Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, Ohio Energy Group, Kroger, Walmart, Ohio Hospital Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Environmental Council and Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition, and Ohio Partner’s For Affordable Energy. Additionally, Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, Ohio Manufacturers’ Association Energy Group, Buckeye Power and One Energy agreed not to oppose the stipulation.
The PUCO held public hearings in Dayton in May 2018. An evidentiary hearing was held in Columbus Ohio during July 2018.
A copy of today’s opinion and order is available on the PUCO website by searching case number 15-1830-EL-AIR in the search box.
PUCO accepts results of Duke Energy Ohio’s auction
COLUMBUS, OHIO (Sept. 26, 2018) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) today accepted the results of Duke Energy Ohio’s wholesale auction that will determine its default retail generation rates from June 2019 through May 2022.
The auction held Sept. 25, 2018 secured a three-year product to supply electricity to Duke’s Ohio utility customers, resulting in three winning bidders and an average clearing price of $47.66 per megawatt hour for the delivery period of June 1, 2019 through May 31, 2022.
The results from this auction will be blended with previous and future auctions to help determine Duke’s price-to-compare for the delivery period of June 1, 2019 through May 31, 2022.
CRA International served as the independent auction manager. Bates White, LLC, a consultant retained by the PUCO, monitored the auction process. The names of the winning bidders will remain confidential for 21 days.
Customers continue to have the opportunity to consider competitive options to meet their electricity needs, including shopping for an alternate supplier or joining a local government aggregation. More information about how to choose a supplier is available at www.energychoice.ohio.gov. The PUCO’s Apples to Apples rate comparison charts provide customers with a snapshot comparison of current electric supplier price options and contract terms. The charts are updated on a daily basis.
Additional information regarding the auction format is available at bidding manager’s website www.duke-energyohiocbp.com.
A copy of today’s Commission finding and order and redacted version of the report issued by the auction manager are available at www.PUCO.ohio.gov. Click on the link to Docketing Information System and enter the case number 18-6000-EL-UNC.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is the sole agency charged with regulating public utility service. The role of the PUCO is to assure all residential, business and industrial consumers have access to adequate, safe and reliable utility services at fair prices while facilitating an environment that provides competitive choices. Consumers with utility-related questions or concerns can call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) and speak with a representative.