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Recent Issues Revive Debate Over Ohio's "Home Rule" Authority

A  home rule provision was added to the Ohio constitution by voters in 1912, and the struggles between local officials and state lawmakers have raged almost since the beginning. Recent issues have fanned the flames of the debate. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler looks into claims that home rule is “under attack”.  

In recent years, state laws colliding with local ordinances on guns, fracking, traffic cameras, residency and construction projects have come for resolution to the Ohio Supreme Court. In 2009, assistant attorney general Benjamin Mizer argued before the court about a 2006 state law overturning more than a hundred local residency laws for public employees.


“This court has always looked at the statewide concerns side of the ledger, and if there are significant statewide concerns, then the General Assembly can act,” Mizer said.


But cities have pushed back. In 2015, now-state Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, who was then the Democratic mayor of Toledo, led the fight against state laws to control the use of local red light and speed cameras.


“It’s about this assault on the separation of government and our need for the cities to be able to exercise their due process rights,” said Hicks-Hudson.


In nearly all recent cases where home rule is at issue, the Ohio Supreme Court has sided with state lawmakers.


“Some critics of that have said that the Home Rule doctrine has been watered down over the years by the Supreme Court,” said Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist and the former deputy attorney general, and has taught law at Ohio State and the University of Akron. “I would suggest to you it's much more case of local governments pushing the boundaries of the what a general law is and being reined back in by the state Supreme Court.”


But Kent Scarrett with the Ohio Municipal League, which represents 740 communities across Ohio, said it’s more than that, especially when the state is restricting local lawmaking – like on traffic cameras – while cutting local government funding.


“It always gets to our budgets. It always it always impacts the taxpayers locally, because when you're taking away revenue from a community, you're taking away the ability of communities to fund services. It really is self-defeating at the end when the legislature you know jeopardizes our funding sources,” Scarrett said.


The conflict between lawmakers who want to ensure uniformity across the state on gun laws and business practices runs straight up against local officials who say they have the right to make rules that improve life in their communities.  

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