June 20, 2014
Time and again, we have seen laws and regulations put in place with a laser focus on restricting access to the ballot box for certain voters but not others. A court ruling in the past week just upended one such unjust law. Federal District Judge Peter Economus ordered that early in-person voting on the last three days before an election must be restored. That means the polls will be open on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before an election for all eligible Ohio voters. A bit of history: In 2012, the Ohio Legislature and Ohio Secretary of State Husted did all they could to keep minorities and students from going to the polls in that busy weekend before the presidential election. The law kept that period of early voting open for military personnel but prohibited it for all other voters. Several organizations including the Obama Campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party filed suit and a temporary injunction was granted. After passing a new wave of restrictive voting laws this year, the Republican controlled state legislature kept that ban on voting during the last three days before an election on the books. Again - and this is key – the restriction applied to some but not all voters. African-Americans in particular have disproportionately been affected by curtailment of early in-person voting. The parties that sued went back to court and the court issued a final ruling, declaring the law violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. In his ruling, Judge Economus rightly noted, “the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104-05 (2000). Here, that is precisely what the State has done.” I am elated the court was definitive in its decision that neither Secretary of State Husted, nor the Ohio Legislature can continue to be impediments to the right to vote, nor can they continue their assault on our democracy. Having lost for a second time, state officials have now agreed to follow uphold the Constitution and bring back voting hours in the last three days before an election. On another topic, President Obama has taken a much needed step towards making college more affordable. On Monday, June 9, the President signed an executive order that caps loan payments at 10 percent of monthly incomes. Considering that the average student owes $29,400 in student loan debt, the action will bring relief for millions of Americans. The President expects that his order will help up to 5 million borrowers and I am proud to support him in this initiative. As this issue continues to greatly affect my constituents and fellow Ohioans, I have also taken action by co-sponsoring the “Bank on Students Emergency Refinancing Act” (H.R. 4582). The bill allows borrowers to refinance student loans at lower interest rates and will save American families at least $70 billion. Despite the much needed help this legislation would give to Americans, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have refused to let it advance. Republicans in both the House and the Senate oppose the bill because of the “Fair Share Tax” that will help to fund the lower interest rates. The tax closes the loopholes that exist for millionaires in not having to pay taxes on their investments; helping many Americans while barely affecting a few. Unfortunately, the effort made by Democrats in the Senate could not break a Republican led filibuster. A companion bill in the Senate failed by only 6 votes. The failure of student loan relief in the Senate means that it is now up to the House of Representatives to push this bill through and influence the Senate to try again. Support for H.R. 4582 means support for economic development as well as for our future leaders as they receive their higher education. If we do not deal with the problem of overwhelming student loan debt, there will be negative consequences for the economy as well as for our families, friends and neighbors. Assisting young Americans with their student loan debt burden would free up more of their income, allowing them to purchase goods and services that stimulate the economy. Right now the burden of college loans is interfering with young people moving forward with their lives; studies have shown the Millennial generation is putting off purchasing cars and homes, in part due to the crippling debt they face following graduation. The unreasonable costs of attending colleges are harming our young generations as well as our economy, and it is time that something is done about it. I will continue to advocate for our government to be part of the solution. Have a good week everyone.