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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 7/5/2014

COMMENTARY

Ohio senator makes another profit-over-principle play

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Johanek Johanek
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He’s at it again. Keep your eye on state Sen. Bill Seitz. He’s a sly one. The Cincinnati Republican is chipping away at hard-won progressive policies in Ohio.

The public is largely oblivious to the craziness that passes for lawmaking in Columbus. Senator Seitz knows it.

Add the fact that the GOP has a lock on political power in Ohio, controlling both houses of the General Assembly and every major statewide office, and you’ve got the conditions for radical change.

The political climate for regression, in the name of reform, couldn’t be better for opportunists who carry water for the American Legislative Exchange Council. Mr. Seitz is a board member of the conservative group that pushes a nationwide pro-corporate agenda.

State by state, obliging lawmakers such as Mr. Seitz advance ALEC priorities with model legislation supplied by the group. Republican-led state legislatures enact ALEC-inspired laws that aim to deregulate big business, downsize government, and diminish individual rights.

With Mr. Seitz’s dependable help, Ohio has gained national prominence for its campaign to change election law to make it tougher to vote or initiate grass-roots reform through referendum. Led by Mr. Seitz, Ohio has gained notoriety as the first state to roll back its mandates for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Now, Mr. Seitz proposes legislation that would undermine fair housing efforts by easing penalties for discrimination.

His bill ostensibly addresses illegal housing practices. But in reality, it would sheild landlords who discriminate. It would cap punitive damages against landlords, and in some instances allow them to recover attorneys’ fees.

It would prohibit actual or punitive damages from being awarded to a fair housing agency that helps enforce the law. It would exempt some landlords from housing provisions of the Ohio Civil Rights Law. It targets activists who uncover discriminatory practices by posing as potential tenants.

Mr. Seitz cites the travails of a landlady who had the bad luck to make discriminatory remarks to undercover testers in 2009. Even though the testers’ complaint against Helen Grybosky was upheld in court, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission went easy on her.

The panel decided to impose no punitive damages. It cited Ms. Grybosky’s lack of previous discrimination and, because this case involved only testers, a lack of actual victims.

But she didn’t know they weren’t real tenants when she outlined discriminatory rental conditions. She was ordered to pay attorney fees and costs to the state.

She also had to cover fees incurred by the Fair Housing Resource Center, a Painesville, Ohio-based group that investigated Ms. Grybosky. Ohio law allows organizations that sponsor testers to collect punitive damages.

Undercover testers who investigate housing discrimination perform a public service. Senator Seitz doesn’t see it that way.

Just because Ms. Grybosky made discriminatory comments to testers who posed as a single mother and a disabled person, and got caught, the senator thinks she shouldn’t have to pay through the nose for her mistakes.

Fair housing advocates say his bill would render the civil rights commission toothless in combating housing discrimination with effective punishment. Victims would be on their own to pursue justice.

Mr. Seitz seeks to protect housing providers who discriminate. Profit over principle. He’s at it again.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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