Corporate Rule Preempting Ohio's Home Rule

Dean Sieck
Cleveland East Move to Amend
September 2019

The citizens of Ohio are gradually losing their right to self-government.  This development is due to the collapse of Home Rule authority. Home Rule is Ohio law that permits citizens to make laws for their own cities and towns as granted by the Ohio Constitution, which states:  “Municipal Corporations have authority to exercise all powers of local self government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary, and other similar regulations as are not in conflict with general laws.” 

But since 2013, the Ohio General Assembly has prohibited local governments from enacting gun control measures, establishing a $15 an hour minimum wage, regulating oil and gas operators, using red-light traffic cameras, and banning trans-fats.  Although the legislature’s preemption of a trans-fat ban was overruled by an Ohio Appeals court, all other efforts of the General Assembly to preempt Home Rule have held sway. Now, the General Assembly threatens to violate Home Rule once again by preempting Cuyahoga and other counties’ ability to ban plastic bags.  

This situation is increasingly important because the Ohio General Assembly is more and more the tool of corporate interests.  Take the matter of the plastic bag ban. The originator of the law, last year, HB 625, this year HB 242, is George Lang, a man who has stated, “My priority serving as a member of the Ohio House is to put business first.”  He has done that by introducing legislation for the entire state requested by a business in his district that manufactures plastic bags, which is in turn a part of a giant South Carolina corporation called Novolex.  This company is a member of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an offshoot of the Plastics Industry Association, which has spent millions of dollars to defeat local bans and support preemption legislation across the country, often employing model legislative language provided by the American City County Exchange, an offshoot of the corporate advocacy group the American Legislative Exchange Council — better known as ALEC.  Clearly, the battle over HB242 will not take place on a level playing field.

Ohio Municipal League Executive Director Kent Scarrett voiced opposition to HB 242, stating “When the state Legislature passes bills preempting municipal local control authority, the ‘will’ of a majority of 132 legislators essentially trumps the ‘will’ of the 8.5 million Ohioans that call an Ohio city or village home.”  Keary McCarthy, executive director of the Ohio Mayors’ Alliance, noted that when there’s a disagreement on policy, the first place the legislature turns to is to undermine the home rule rights of municipalities instead of discussing why this policy represents an important overriding state interest.

Increasingly, the philosophy of Keith Faber, former President of the Ohio Senate, seems to be the norm.  He bragged, “When we talk about local control, we mean state control.”

Last year, the bag ban passed the Ohio house by 59-30 with contributions from supporters of HB625 totaling nearly $600,000 to Ohio House members in 2017 and ’18 and groups who opposed HB625 at less than $5000 to House members, even though more of them spoke against the measure. 

The Ohio House website proudly states:  “In the Ohio General Assembly, each citizen is represented by a state representative and a state senator.”  It might as well go on to say, “oh, and we also represent cities and towns.”

Volunteer Sign the Motion to Amend Donate