Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Monday, December 4

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.
Republicans control the General Assembly and the Ohio Supreme Court. The reporter nevertheless sees only a limited partisan slant to this situation:
"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.


At 12:58 PM, Blogger Jill said...

The best thing that could happen would be for the mayors to step up - there are plenty of GOP mayors who will suffer because of the majority party's approach at the state level, my mayor being one of them. I think he needs to sit for an MTB session.

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous OhioCentric said...

As deliciously ironic as it is that Republicans -- remember them, the local control advocates who proselytized against the evils of big government until they got in control of it -- will continue to use the voting power of their General Assembly (GA) numbers to thwart the power of Ohio's long-standing Home Rule provision.

With no reason for a reversal in a demographic shift that has been underway for years now, statehouse watchers should come to grips with the political realities of Ohio's shifting population and make appropriate shifts in their strategy going forward.

During the 126th GA, Larry Wolpert, a multi-term Republican from Hilliard, a growing middle-class suburb immediately west of Columbus, held a series of hearings on land use policy and smart growth as a subcommittee of the House's Local and Municipal Government and Urban Revitalization, which he chairs.

The committee held meetings in Columbus and around the state, from urban digs to rural retreats. Wolpert said one of the facts he was not aware of before his hearings took place but one he found quite stunning afterwards is that, while Ohio's population overall may actually be shrinking ever so slighty from year to year -- an observation that will be born out when the next redistricting process shows that we will have have fewer Confressional districts than before -- the shift within the Buckeye State is away from central cities, the traditional stronghold of Democrats, to suburbs and townships, where political and social conservatives abound.

Wolpert said he was surprised to learn that more poeple now live in townships outside cities than live in Ohio cities. This reality was played to its max by the Bush/Cheney ticket in 2004, when Rove turned out exurban and rural voters -- many of them social value voters -- enough to tip the electon to Bush.

Blackwell thought he held the same winning hand, but the degree of dissatisfaction with the status quo from Democrats, Independents and the Republican-turned-sane block was too much for a beleaguered Blackwell, whose strident in-your-face campaign strategy drove would-be supporters to Strickland.

Staunch fiscal and social conservative Republicans like Sen.-elect Buherer and want-to-be Senator Rep. Keith Faber, are giddy at the prospect of "thumpin" big city Democratic mayors like Mallory, Jackson and Coleman, among others, who they want to put in their box by passing general laws that effective trump their Home Rule powers, which date back to the early decades of last century.

The message going forward is that cities will continue to be under the Republican gun (and they will be concealed no less)and will need to find a legislative strategy that casts Republicans as insidious big-government backers whose new-found love for big government is an attack on individual rights and local control, such as Home Rule.


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