GOP-Controlled Legislature and Court Trampling Home Rule
There is an important article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today that connects the dots in recent Ohio legislation and high court rulings to reach the conclusion that the so-called "home rule" provision of the Ohio constitution (article 18, section 3), which empowers local governments to enforce laws specific to their territory so long as such laws "are not in conflict with general laws," is in danger of extinction. "I think that when we look back on this 126th General Assembly," said State Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D-Shaker Heights) in the story, "the epitaph has to be the death of home rule."
The legislature saps home rule by passing statewide laws that explicitly or implicitly preempt local laws. Prominent recent and current examples are:
- The state law signed by Gov. Taft in January that wiped out residency requirements for municipal workers in certain cities. Several big cities have filed lawsuits against the statute.
- The state predatory lending law signed in May and effective January 1st, which negates local regulations against the abusive practice. The Ohio Supreme Court recently confirmed that an existing mortgage fraud law, to be supplanted by the new law, preempts local ordinances.
- The General Assembly just approved an amendment to the concealed carry gun law that will wipe out local gun regulations in over 80 localities. Taft has threatened to veto this bill, although Republican legislative leaders say they have the votes to override his veto.
- A bill to regulate the use of red light and speeding cameras has been approved by the House and is expected to get through the Senate soon.
"At the Statehouse, Democrats tend to support "home rule" while Republicans do not. But that is not always the case. The residency bill passed with bipartisan support."I think the partisan underpinnings are much stronger than that. Democrats control the big cities and nine out of ten of the most populous counties. Those are the local governments that are most active in passing and enforcing local laws, and they have interests that diverge from less populated areas. For example, many bigger cities and towns have gun regulations such as laws against assault weapons and against bringing guns into public parks, all of which will be erased if the current amendment to concealed carry gun law passes. I see the flood of statewide laws that intrude into areas previously legislated by local governments, and court decisions that uphold such statewide laws, as shifting the balance of power from Democratic to Republican control. Along with that shift comes a fundamental change in the underlying policy bases of the law, from more urban/inner-surburb and liberal to more rural/outer-suburb and conservative.
In this way, this development is analogous on the political level to pending HB 685, discussed here, which seeks to limit the rule-making authority of administrative agencies (which Democrats will control starting in January) by increasing the power of a supervisory legislative committee controlled by Republicans. As Ohio enters a period of divided government, these are the faultlines in the struggle to control policy and political power.