YOUNGSTOWN — Empowering and educating a greater number of registered voters in Mahoning County is a top priority the League of Women Voters of Greater Youngstown has adopted for 2021.
“Progress arises because people like the League of Women Voters fight for that progress,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, said in a video clip played during the nonpartisan organization’s annual legislative brunch Saturday afternoon.
More than 40 elected officials, community leaders, activists and others participated in the one-hour virtual session in which key priorities for this year were discussed.
Those also include registering additional voters, hosting drive-up canvassing events and tackling unfair gerrymandering practices, noted Leah Sakacs, president.
The guest speaker was state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, who detailed a variety of her legislative goals for 2021 and praised the LWV for being aligned with and working toward fulfilling many of them.
Lepore-Hagan said her priorities include seeing passage of the Universal Vote by Mail Act of 2019, written to amend the Help Americans Vote Act of 2002. The legislation would prevent states from imposing additional arbitrary conditions or requirements on a person’s eligibility to cast a vote in a federal election by mail, which she said would increase voter security and turnout.
Lepore-Hagan said she also intends to reintroduce the Ohio Prevention First Act and the U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, which Brown introduced in 2019.
The Prevention First legislation is aimed toward preventing unintentional pregnancies and abortions via increased education and greater access to contraception and other resources. Also included are abstinence-and-inclusion sex education efforts for teens as well as emergency contraception for sexual-assault survivors.
“We have to fight for our own bodies and our rights,” Lepore-Hagan said.
The other piece of legislation would prevent offshoring call-center positions and create a public list of companies that ship jobs overseas. Specifically, the bill would, in part, make entities that send jobs offshore ineligible for federal grants and guaranteed loans and require call center work for federal contracts to be done in the U.S.
Lepore-Hagan also called for the repeal of House Bill 70, known as the Youngstown Plan, the constitutionality of which the Ohio Supreme Court upheld in a 5-2 decision last May.
HB70’s opponents contend it unconstitutionally usurped local control of school boards via allowing the Ohio Department of Education to take control of certain districts — specifically, Youngstown, East Cleveland and Lorain — after three consecutive years of failing grades on state report cards. HB70, which many contend has not worked as intended, also created academic distress commissions to appoint chief executive officers to take control of nearly every aspect of the districts’ finances and operations.
Lepore-Hagan said she also hopes to see House Bill 6 struck down. Many environmentalists and other opponents say the legislation crafted to rewrite the state’s energy laws is really a large scheme intended to bail out Ohio’s two financially struggling nuclear power plants.
Last July, the FBI arrested former House Speaker Larry Householder and several others in a $60 million bribery scheme linked to the controversial law.
Lepore-Hagan said she also wants to see the federal and state minimum wage levels raised to $15 per hour and added she supports efforts to tackle predatory land contracts and address so-called food deserts.
Participants also saw a video from U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, who supports President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. It’s vital that state and local governments receive funds to help businesses hit hard by the pandemic, such as restaurants and the entertainment sector, Ryan said.
He also noted that about 2,600 good-paying jobs will be created in the Valley by year’s end — 1,500 at Lordstown Motors Corp. to produce Endurance battery-powered pickup trucks and at least 1,100 at the nearby Ultium Cells electric-vehicle battery plant.
“These will be good, middle-class jobs in our community,” he added.
Ryan also said more needs to be done to tackle high infant mortality locally and nationally.
“An African-American baby born in Youngstown, Ohio, has a higher infant-mortality rate than a baby born in Iran. This is an epic failure on all our parts,” he continued.
Also at the session, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, noted that the pandemic also has exacerbated the opioid epidemic, and mentioned extended funding for Narcan kits to revive those who overdose, as well as drug-treatment courts and other efforts to help victims rebuild their lives.
The spokesman added that Portman also supports efforts to tackle human trafficking and having victims’ criminal records expunged, along with stopping drugs from entering the country via the U.S. Postal Service.
All of the speakers also condemned the attack Jan. 6 on the U.S. Capitol.
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