Editorial roundup


Barberton school district is doing the right thing

Akron Beacon Journal, Jan. 18

The Barberton City School District is doing the prudent thing by allowing some members of the Magics boys basketball team to engage in silent protest by kneeling or sitting during the pregame playing of the national anthem.

The district is also doing the right thing.

Although it has yet to be confirmed, the protests are believed to be an effort to draw attention to police brutality against minority members of the community and seem to be inspired by the near-identical 2016 protests of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick against systematic oppression and racial injustice.

They also follow directly in the tradition of nonviolent activism as practiced by slain civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birth our nation will commemorate on Monday.

Certainly, the Barberton students have a legal right to protest guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court made that clear with its 1943 decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in which it ruled that public schools — unlike private entities such as the NFL, which are legally entitled to enforce their own work requirements — can not compel students to participate in rituals based upon the premise of national unity.

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote in a 6-3 majority opinion, “it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

The school district acknowledges that disciplining the students or attempting to prevent them from protesting would break the law and, undoubtedly, would be challenged in court — where the district surely would lose.

“The Barberton City School District supports every student’s right to free speech, as protected by the United States Constitution and supported by Ohio Revised Code (state law),” the school district said in a statement. “Ohio Revised Code 3313.602 states that a school district cannot compel an act of patriotism on the part of a student.”

The district instead chose the wiser course, allowing the protest, rather than waste taxpayer dollars on legal fees.

But we applaud the district for not simply stopping there, saying it could do no more.

Instead, in the face of some public opposition, the district has defended the students for exercising their rights and has used the controversy as a real-life teaching tool.

“While many people may not share this student’s point of view, as a public school district we are proud of all of our students who are learning important lessons about life that public schools are uniquely suited to teach — that people can hold different beliefs and can still coexist, get along, and even work together toward common goals,” the district said in its statement.

Although we understand the raw emotions evoked when patriotism, the military or the U.S. flag are involved, that’s all the more reason for such speech to be fiercely protected. As the Founding Fathers knew, popular speech does not require protection.

Justice Jackson said as much in his 1943 decision: ”(F)reedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

We are being tested again.

The Barberton City School District gives us reason to believe our answer will be the right one.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Rbcl6p

Security deposit options remove affordable housing barriers

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 15

Shelling out $600 to $1,200 for a security deposit in addition to the first month’s rent can be a real barrier to affordable housing for lower-income renters in Cincinnati. That’s why City Council should get behind an ordinance proposed by Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld that would remove that upfront barrier and give hundreds of renters in the Queen City a better shot at landing in housing they feel good about.

Sittenfeld’s “Renter’s Choice” proposal, which council is expected to vote on Wednesday, would provide landlords and renters with a three alternatives to the traditional upfront security deposit, which is usually equivalent to 100% of the first month’s rent. Those options are:

Rental security insurance. Tenants could pay a nonrefundable monthly fee (as little as $3 a month) to a certified, licensed insurance provider instead of a security deposit. The insurance provider covers the apartment, paying the landlord for any damages.

An installment plan. Tenants would pay the security deposit over a period of no less than six months. For example, instead of paying $900 upfront, a tenant can pay $150 per month for the first six months, making it significantly more manageable.

Pay a reduced security deposit. If a landlord stills desires to get money upfront, it can be no more than the equivalent of 50% of the first month’s rent. So instead of paying $900 upfront, a tenant would pay no more than $450 upfront.

Tenants would get their money back at the end of the lease under every option except rental security insurance. Each option dramatically reduces the upfront costs for renters, which some might not have on hand. The legislation also allows landlords to choose the option they prefer once a tenant indicates they want to forgo the traditional security deposit instead of mandating a specific alternative.

We also like the fact that Sittenfeld’s proposal exempts landlords who own 25 units or less from the regulations. The city shouldn’t overburden landlords with one or two units who don’t have the financial or administrative capacity to meet the requirements of the new law.

Still, many landlords might chafe under this proposal. Some will say the legislation is a solution in search of a problem, and that there’s no real outcry for such a remedy. The Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Apartment Association argued that Cincinnati is not New York or California, where security deposits can range thousands of dollars compared with $250 to $500 here. Besides, many conscientious landlords are already working with tenants by utilizing installment plans for deposits.

But this editorial board also got to hear firsthand from local renters who talked about what it’s like living paycheck to paycheck and how challenging it can be to come up with an upfront security deposit, even one as low as $200. They shared how the cost of rent and security deposits can limit their housing options to certain parts of the city (namely the West Side), and can create challenges for them with access to transportation, employment and education for their children.

We credit the councilman for the thoughtful and collaborative process in which he engaged landlords and tenants to get to this point. The legislation, which Sittenfeld calls “the first of its-kind in the nation,” has gone through several revisions, addressing several of the concerns landlords had with the initial proposal. The latest version has gotten the endorsement of the Real Estate Investors Association of Greater Cincinnati, according to Sittenfeld.

It is our hope that Sittenfeld, council, landlords and tenants will continue to collaborate and tweak the legislation, even once it’s passed, in order to perfect it. In a city heavily populated by renters, City Council must remain focused on putting forth legislation that insures people have access to affordable housing and affordable housing options across our city.

Sittenfeld’s “Renter’s Choice” proposal does just that by removing what can be a steep financial barrier for some.

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