The Columbus Dispatch


What could be called the Backward Caucus in the Ohio House of Representatives is showing its regressive side again, with one bill that would outlaw progress and another that insists public schools pretend that decades of educational change haven’t happened.

Both bills represent interference in what should be the business of local governments, and both should be scrapped.

With House Bill 242, sponsor George F. Lang, a West Chester Republican, is trying again with a measure that passed last year’s House and died in the Senate in December. It would prohibit local governments from enacting bans or fees on certain types of bags or food containers and would overrule such laws in places, including Bexley, that already have passed them.

Never mind that plastic pollution already is a problem locally — think of all those bags fluttering from roadside vegetation and food containers littering the urban landscape — but also on the planetary scale, with mountains of plastic floating in oceans and tiny bits of the stuff turning up in fish and other wildlife.

Plastic grocery bags actually are a very small part of the worldwide plastic problem, but their impact at home is obnoxious and unnecessary. And the growing problem of plastic worldwide means that even the U.S. eventually will have to learn to use less of it.

Cities that want to make a start by requiring alternatives to plastic grocery bags shouldn’t be blocked by a legislature that can’t see beyond the short term. And, given that the Ohio Constitution grants cities and counties home rule powers, a state ban on bans probably wouldn’t hold up in court.

Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler, testifying against the bill, told lawmakers that his city worked with businesses to make the change easier to manage, and any community considering a ban or fee would be wise to do the same.

Kessler made another good point: Cities and counties that enact laws to reduce plastic waste can be test cases for others to learn from as the need becomes greater.

The other notable bit of legislative overreach moving through the House is a measure brought by Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, that would require all high schools to name a valedictorian and salutatorian.

Antani was displeased to learn that Mason High School in his district decided to stop naming a class first and second. If he is equating the change with some sort of everybody-gets-a-trophy lack of true competition, he’s showing that he doesn’t understand much about high schools today.

Once upon a time, when choices in high school courses were much narrower, students probably could be compared and the student body ranked top to bottom with more validity. Now, when students can choose significantly easier or harder courses than their classmates and weighted grades mean dozens of students can have grade point averages well above 4.0, comparing students numerically is less meaningful.

In excellent high schools with lots of high achievers, a student could be a superstar and still have a class ranking low enough to look less than impressive on a college application. Many universities, recognizing the problem, no longer even consider class rank in their admission decisions.

Antani’s House Bill 281 is based on a simplistic idea and it ignores the ways high school and college admissions have evolved in recent decades. Lawmakers should flunk it.

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