Feminine hygiene products could be tax exempt if new Ohio bill passes

Ohio lawmakers proposed a bill that would eliminate sales tax from feminine hygiene products. According to State Representative Brigid Kelly the state would miss out on approximately $4 million per year in tax revenue if the “pink tax” was cut. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by Laila Riaz)

The “tampon tax” is under attack after two Ohio state representatives proposed a bill slashing sales tax on feminine hygiene products in Ohio.

Ohio House Bill 61 was proposed by state Reps. Greta Johnson, D-Akron, and Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati. The bill would make pads and tampons, which are currently considered “luxury” items in Ohio, exempt from sales tax. Other hygiene products, such as soap and toothpaste are tax-exempt because they are deemed a “necessity.”

“It’s an unconstitutional tax,” Johnson said. “Some people look at this and laugh it off. It’s near pennies. … Those pennies add up over our lifetime.”

Ohio is among 38 states that imposes sales tax on tampons and pads. A year’s supply could cost more than $70, according to the 2014 Shriver Report, an annual report that deals with women’s issues. Advocates estimated the bill could save a woman up to $1,700 throughout her lifetime. The state would miss out on approximately $4 million a year if the tax was cut, Kelly said.

“Just to put it bluntly, sales taxes of all kinds on basic things people need are regressive because it hits poor people harder,” Patty Stokes, an assistant professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said. “It seems like it is overtly discriminatory.”

Similar bills have been introduced in past years, but they did not have enough support to pass.

H.B. 61 has 20 co-sponsors, including three Republicans. Johnson said she is glad some Republicans signed onto the bill because they hold a majority in the Ohio House.

“I’d love to see the bill pass,” Johnson said. “We did have a couple Republicans sign on as co-sponsors, so I’m hopeful. The fact that Democrats introduced the bill does not bode well.”

The bill was referred to the Ways and Means committee on Feb. 21.

Maddie Sloat, a sophomore studying communication, said her student organization, The Period Project, is rooting for the bill to pass through the Ohio House and Senate. The Period Project is an organization that raises money to purchase feminine products for schools, prisons and homeless shelters.

“We are going to be writing and calling and giving as much support as we can for this bill,” Sloat said. “It would make it easier for us to donate to local charities and homeless shelters and schools because we wouldn’t have to pay the tax.”

Sloat said female representation in government is important and she is glad two female representatives introduced the bill. Johnson said approximately 52 percent of the Ohio population is female, but less than 25 percent of people in office are women.

“Intersectionality is everything,” Sloat said. “Our country is a diverse country. If you’re claiming to represent those people, who better to represent them than people who share their values and experiences?”

Stokes said the next step should be providing public institutions with free feminine hygiene products, following suit with New York. The New York City Council approved a free tampon program last June. The measure provides feminine hygiene products to public schools, homeless shelters and prisons free of charge.

“We have toilet paper available,” Stokes said. “Anything you might need to do in the bathroom, it ought to be provided. … I would love to see that happen here. … This needs to be recognized as a public responsibility.”



 Originally published for The Post on Feb. 28, 2017.

Iranian students hold rally, protest Trump’s travel ban

Students, faculty and community members gather on a snowy College Green near Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium during an Academics United – No Visa and Immigration Ban rally on Feb. 9. Rallies took place on more than 50 campuses across the U.S., according to the Facebook event. (Photo by Patrick Connolly)

Iranian students at Ohio University joined students from more than 50 other campuses nationwide to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The Iranian Student Society organized the rally at OU, and similar demonstrations took place Thursday at noon at schools across the country. Multiple speakers addressed a crowd of approximately 100 students, faculty and Athens residents in below-freezing temperatures and snow outside Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.

The purpose of the rally was to raise awareness of how the executive order affects people not just outside of the United States, but within, Ali Asghari Adib, a member of the Iranian Student Society and an organizer of the rally, said.

“This is a concurrent movement across the country,” Asghari Adib, a graduate student studying biomedical engineering, said. “We are one of the universities supporting the rally. We want to raise awareness of the executive order on our lives.”

Organizers asked for attendees to wear white to the rally and they passed out white balloons. The color is meant as an outward sign of peace, Ali Khaledi, a Ph.D. student studying physics, said.

“It was really good to see all these people in terms of support,” Asghari Adib said. “I’m glad we could share our stories, and maybe they’ll tell their friends. This way we can get our voice to the public.”

One of the speakers was Joe McLaughlin, the chair of Faculty Senate. Faculty Senate passed two resolutions Monday regarding Trump’s immigration executive order. One resolution called on OU officials to drop the criminal charges against students arrested in during a sit-in at Baker on Feb. 1, and the second urged OU’s administration to condemn the ban.

“This is something we had to do,” McLaughlin said. “People in our community are hurting. … We want them to know we’ve got their back. This affects all of us.”

The Iranian Student Society will hold fundraisers to support the legal costs of students arrested during the sit-in last week. Students were arrested while calling for a sanctuary campus, which limits university cooperation with federal immigration services. Khaledi thanked the students who stood up and got arrested on behalf of him and his friends.

Asghari Adib said he wants a strong response from the university and requests the declaration of OU as a sanctuary campus.

“We are hoping to receive a stronger statement from President McDavis in support of us,” he said. “The previous statement just said not to leave the country, which we know. We want to know the university supports us.”



 Originally published for The Post on Feb. 9, 2017.

Iranian students protest Trump’s immigration ban

Mohammad Hatami, left, and Ali Rafiei, right, chain themselves together outside Baker Center Monday in protest of President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration. (Photo by Hannah Ruhoff)

Ali Khaledi has not seen his family in three years.

His family was going to travel from Iran to visit him, but President Donald Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries bars them from doing so. Khaledi does not know when he will see his family again.

Students gather outside of Baker Center on Monday to protest President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration.

Khaledi and seven other Ohio University students from Iran gathered at the top of Baker Center at 11 a.m. to protest Trump’s decision. They held signs with sayings, such as “No hate, no fear,” and “My family is banned from visiting me.”

“We are here to show that we are unhappy about what’s going on,” Khaledi, a Ph.D. student studying physics, said. “It’s discrimination to ban people based on their religion or country of origin.”

Chains were wrapped around demonstrators’ wrists as they held up signs.

“The chains represent the fact that we cannot go outside the country and come back,” Ali Rafiei, a Ph.D. student studying chemistry, said. “We are limited and our families are limited. The chains represent the fact that we are prisoners. We cannot go outside and come back. We could go out, but what happens to our studies?”

Passersby stopped to observe, offering words of support and taking photos of the demonstrators, including Morgyn Freeland, an undecided freshman.

“It’s terrible that Trump is doing this,” he said. “These people have done nothing wrong. … It completely goes against everything our country stands for. It makes me emotional that I’m seeing this right now.”

Kay Tousley, an Athens resident, was walking by when she saw the group and gave them two cookies she purchased for herself.

“I love to see this kind of very quick pushback,” she said. “We’ve got to stop it as hard and fast as we can, you know, all the abominations that the Trump administration is trying to push through. … I wanted to show support.”

Another group of observers bought coffee for each one of the demonstrators to show their support.

Ari Blumer, a junior studying HTC engineering and physics, gives coffee to Mohsen Ghasemi and other students standing in the cold outside Baker Center on Monday who were protesting President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration.

Throughout the protest, some students joined. Maxwell Zelman, a senior studying animation, quickly jotted “Jews for Muslims! Solidarity” on a sheet of paper and stood next to the Iranian students.

“Muslims are under persecution and I’m not about to let a second Holocaust happen to a different group of people,” Zelman said.

Not all passersby were so agreeable. A man in a car drove by, honking his horn and shouting, “Vote for Trump,” with a thumbs up. The demonstrators did not respond.

“We are just trying to increase awareness in our community in order to let everyone know that we as students, we are like them, but we are limited,” Rafiei said. “This is discrimination against certain regions and certain nations.”

Rafiei questioned Trump’s selection of the seven countries, as they are not the major sources of terrorist attacks in the United States.

“It’s not going to solve anything,” he said. “It’s just going to put a burden on people: students and their family. It’s going to separate families.”

Khaledi said he is disheartened by the actions of Trump and wants to be treated like any other American.

“We’d like to see different treatment from the U.S.,” he said. “We came to this country because we thought it was the land of freedom.”



Originally published for The Post on Jan. 30, 2017.

Wayne National Forest auctioned off to oil and gas companies, netted more than $1 million

The Bureau of Land Management has auctioned off areas of the Wayne National Forest, viewed here from the Snake Ridge Lookout Tower at the Wayne National Forest Headquarters & Athens Ranger Station (FILE by Emma Howells).

719 acres of Wayne National Forest, the only national forest in Ohio, were auctioned off for oil and gas purposes on Tuesday. The sale could lead to hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — on public land.

Fracking is a process in which pressurized liquid is used to fracture rock and release gas. The Bureau of Land Management released a notice about the auction schedule to take place on Dec. 13, allowing for a 30-day formal protest period which ended on Nov. 14.

Many Athens activists, including members of the Athens County Fracking Action Network, banded together to fight the motion, two of whom delivered a petition to the BLM in Washington D.C. on Nov. 14. The petition has more than 99,000 signatures as of press time. Andrea Reik and Roxanne Groff, among other Athens activists, have been protesting the auction since the announcement of the sale. More than 50 community members rallied at the Wayne National Forest Saturday afternoon.

“My experience of this process was disappointing,” Reik, a member of ACFAN, said. “We did not get support from either (Ohio) senator. … It’s very disturbing to me that we had almost 100,000 signatures on a petition, daily phone calls, postcards, there was no action taken … As a citizen that is frightening to me. Our voices need to be heard.”

The petition was denied by the BLM, though the report indicates that some of proposed parcels would not be included in the auction for reasons besides her petition.

“That’s not surprising,” Groff, a member of ACFAN, said. “It makes sense they would deny the formal protest that were based on issues like health risks and also the fact that we don’t feel they followed the National Environmental Act. … We’re not surprised, but nevertheless disappointed.”

The summary of the sales and parcels sold are posted at the conclusion of the business associated with the sales, Davida Carnahan, a BLM spokesperson said. 15 of the 33 proposed parcels were not included in the sale because the BLM was “not able” to resolve questions regarding mineral ownership. A news release from the sales confirmed the sales netted more than $1 million.

Carnahan said it would be incorrect to assume that fracking will definitely take place on the parcels purchased. Developers must file an Application to Drill Permit which includes a map, drilling plan and other means of acquiring oil or gas, including whether the developer has plans to frack. From there, further assessment will take place and the company will have 10 years to develop minerals.

“The leasing action makes federal minerals available for development, but it does not authorize ground disturbing activity,” Carnahan said in an email. “When the BLM receives the APD, we begin a more site-specific environmental analysis of the operations proposed by the application to drill. … Additionally, developers must submit a permit request to the State of Ohio before their lease may be developed in order to put protections in place required by the state to mitigate risks to groundwater.”

Both Reik and Groff feel the BLM’s environmental assessment was not thorough about the immediate impacts and long-term effects of fracking. ACFAN members attempted to include additional information, but Reik said they were denied.

“They wanted science peer review, so we gave many, many reports and studies and they were never addressed in any way in the environmental assessment,” Reik said. “There were 200 comments on the environmental assessment by the BLM and these were written by environmental attorneys and scientists and every single comment was denied.”

Groff said she is hoping a lawsuit will soon be heard in court contesting the decision made by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.

“(The lawsuit) won’t come from us citizens,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to raise the funds ourselves. We were hope lawyers from bigger state agencies or national groups might choose to file legal action against their decision.”

The fight for the Wayne will not end anytime soon, Reik said.

“More and more citizens and groups are forming,” she said. “We are not backing down. We are not stopping. We will continue to raise this as an issue. … This is where I’ve lived and I will not walk away from it.”



Originally published for The Post on December 14, 2016.

Incumbent Rob Portman reclaims Ohio seat in Senate, defeats Ted Strickland

Sen. Rob Portman calls constituents with Athens volunteers on October 25. (FILE photo by Nora Jaara)


Sen. Rob Portman, the Republican incumbent, reclaimed his seat in the U.S. Senate after dominating the election Tuesday against former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

Portman took 82 counties out of the 88 counties in Ohio to win his spot in the Senate for the second time as of 9:20 p.m. The Republican candidate from Cincinnati held a comfortable lead in the polls months before the election. Portman edged out Strickland with 58.30 percent of the popular vote as of 9:20 p.m.

The race was called minutes after Ohio polls closed at 7:30 p.m.

“He’s done a good job, especially in this area and at least throughout the state of Ohio,” Ryan Evans, the vice president of Ohio University College Republicans, said. “Senator Portman has really resonated and I think that’s why he was re-elected.”

Portman, who won his first Senate race against Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in 2010 by an 18-point margin, has been vocal on his stances to repeal the Affordable Care Act, reduce taxes and protect the Second Amendment.

Despite partisan differences, Portman has worked closely with Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is up for re-election in 2018. The two have teamed up on issues such as attempting to penalize foreign steelmakers accused of dumping waste illegally in the United States.

“In different ways, and clearly in both parties, so many people feel that things have gone wrong for our great country,” Portman said in his victory speech at The Vault in Columbus. “And whatever else might divide them, we can be absolutely certain of this: With a new president and a new Congress, Americans don’t want to just rewind the tape and live through more years of the same tired and self-defeating routine.”

In Athens County, a spot that Strickland was favored to win, Portman received 35.21 percent of the vote as of 9:20 p.m. He made several stops in the county while campaigning this year and during his first term. Strickland, on the other hand, won 59.24 percent of votes in Athens County.

“Tonight’s results are not what I hoped for, but I am so grateful to those who have worked so hard to support our efforts,” Ted Strickland said in a news release. “I called Senator Portman to congratulate him and I wish him well in representing the people of Ohio in the Senate.”





Originally published for The Post on November 8, 2016. Appeared in print on November 9, 2016.

Wayne National Forest to be leased to oil and gas companies

The Bureau of Land Management will be auctioning off areas of the Wayne National Forest, viewed here from the Snake Ridge Lookout Tower at the Wayne National Forest Headquarters & Athens Ranger Station on Monday. (Photo by Emma Howells)

Parcels of land in the Wayne National Forest will be auctioned off Dec. 13.

The Bureau of Land Management released a noticeabout its plan to lease 1,600 acres of land in the Wayne National Forest for oil and gas purposes, an action that could potentially lead to fracking on public land.

Hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is a process in which pressurized liquid is used to fracture rock and release gas.

Conversations to lease public land on the only Ohio National Forest began in 2015, Chris Rose, a spokesperson for BLM in Washington D.C., said.

After industries and individuals expressed interest, the BLM had to determine if the land was under federal ownership and analyze the land to see if it was suitable for oil and gas leasing. The BLM collaborated with the Forest Service to come to that decision.

The government benefits economically if the land is leased, Rose said.

“When parcels are leased, there are fees and loyalties that get paid to the government and they get returned to the treasury,” he said. “Some of that takes place when the initial lease is issued and if the parcel is ever put into development, payments go to the treasury.”

Rose said if development does take place on the parcels, that motion could provide jobs for people in surrounding areas.

There are significant environmental risks, Nathan Johnson, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, said. Although shale operations do not exist in Athens County, Johnson said one of the highest volumes of wastewater is coming into the county.

“Ecosystem services, clean air, clean water, ecotourism: all of those are going to suffer if we have heavy industry coming in,” Johnson said. “A lot of people are concerned about that.”

A formal 30-day protest period is underway and ends Nov. 14. That time period allows citizens and organizations to submit comments or protests on the parcels that are being offered.

Rose said the BLM is expecting “a lot” of protests. Johnson said the OEC is filing a formal protest. From there, the BLM will decide whether to lease the land. Johnson said if the BLM proceeds, OEC will appeal and eventually take the matter to court.

“(OEC) feels very strongly that leasing out the Wayne would be a bad decision for a number of reasons,” Johnson said. “Legally, (the BLM) will be in a bad position because they’ve failed to look at the environmental impacts. … That’s an egregious legal error.”

Rose said he did not have enough information to comment on Johnson’s accusation.

The potential of industry in the forest concerns local activists such as Mathew Roberts, the co-chair of the Appalachian Ohio Sierra Club.

“The reason I’m upset is I get the sense that there is still too many people out there that don’t see the urgency of climate change and the effect oil, gas and coal has on accelerating those negative effects,” he said.

Roberts said fracking could also have a detrimental impact for the surrounding area.

“People that depend on water resources and the health of the forest will be affected by fracking operations,” he said. “People are afraid their water could get contaminated.”

Rose noted the difference between the process of leasing and developing. Just because the parcels are going to be leased, does not mean they will be developed on anytime soon, he said.

“Once somebody leases a parcel, they have up until 10 years to submit an application to drill,” Rose said. “It’s not until that is filed and approved that they can begin any kind of work to extract those minerals. Those will require additional environmental assessment or public input.”



Originally published for The Post on November 1, 2016.

Hormonal birth control could be linked to depression in some women

Reproductive-aged women use hormonal birth control methods for reasons that extend far beyond preventing pregnancy — from regulating menstruation to reducing the pain and flow associated with periods — but new research shows those methods can also have an effect on a person’s emotional well-being.

There is a 40 percent increased risk of developing depression after using hormonal contraceptives for six months, according to a study published in the American Medical Association’s psychiatric journal.The study took place from 2000 to 2013, analyzing more than a million women ages 15 to 34, excluding women with psychiatric diagnoses prior to 2000.

Sue Campbell, a certified nurse midwife at the Holzer Health System on East State Street, said that the age group is already at risk for depression.

“The one thing to keep in mind is that the group of people that utilize hormonal birth control is at a point where there’s a lot of angst in their lives, so they’re prime for having depression symptoms,” Campbell said.

Depo-Provera, a hormonal birth control shot administered once every three months, can provoke more depression symptoms because it comes in larger doses, Campbell said.

Niara Stitt, a senior studying political science pre-law, experienced that firsthand after being on Depo-Provera for about two years in an attempt to combat painful cramps. In addition to physical symptoms, such as dizziness and an irregular menstruation cycle that caused low iron levels, Stitt fell into depression.

“I don’t know for a fact if that’s the reason, but the year that I struggled with depression was the year I was on Depo-Provera,” Stitt said. “That might’ve been an added element that made it a little worse.”

Stitt later switched to the pill, which has a lower hormonal dose, and said she is significantly happier.

Abbie Zehentbauer, a freshman studying political science pre-law, first noticed depression symptoms in sixth grade, the same year she began taking the pill to regulate her heavy flow.

“I’m very moody and angry a lot of the times,” Zehentbauer said. “It’s all I’ve ever known at this point.”

Though there are negative effects of hormonal birth control, Campbell said a lot of good can come from it.

“(The Holzer Health System) uses birth control methods for treating irregular cycles, treating polycystic ovarian syndrome and preventing pregnancy,” Campbell said. “Every medication has a side effect.”

Sometimes, however, Zehentbauer said the side effects can be crippling in everyday life.

Still, she said she is not likely to wane off of birth control anytime soon.

“I don’t want to worry about getting pregnant and it being the end of the world for me,” she said. “I’d rather live the way that I’ve lived for the past seven years than worry about having to raise a child.”

For women who are sexually active and want to explore other birth control methods, there are other options such as an Intrauterine Device, commonly known as an IUD, Campbell said, although some IUDs still release hormones.

“I would definitely consider (having an IUD) because there’s flexibility,” Stitt said. “You can choose how long you want the IUD to last, which is really great for some women.”

After hearing about the study linking depression and birth control, Zehentbauer said she will consider possible non-hormonal alternatives.

“I would consider going off the pill,” Zehentbauer said. “I’m going to start thinking about it more after hearing about the research.”



Originally published for The Post on October 19, 2016. Appeared in print on October 20, 2016.