JEFF ORTEGA State-cities relationship is being tested
COLUMBUS -- Ohio's Constitution grants so-called "home rule" powers to cities and villages that allow them to control their own affairs on some issues as long as they don't conflict with the state's general laws. But two issues floating around the Statehouse in recent months are testing that relationship. The Ohio House of Representatives recently passed changes to a state law that allows law-abiding Ohioans to carry concealed handguns, a proposal that would pre-empt local handgun regulations.
But one critic of the bill, which now heads to the Ohio Senate, says the measure "blatantly" infringes on municipalities' rights of self-government and he predicts the measure will be tested in court if it's adopted. Also, in January, Gov. Bob Taft signed into law a bill that generally prohibits cities from requiring their full-time employees to live within city limits. The new law becomes effective in the coming months. Shortly after the measure was signed into law, Cleveland firefighters sued that city's mayor trying to force the city to accept the new rules.
In the case of the concealed-carry bill, John Gilchrist, legislative counsel for the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, said he believes the measure's provisions to pre-empt local gun ordinances will ultimately wind up in court if it becomes law.
"I think it's blatantly unconstitutional," Gilchrist said. But backers of the measure, sponsored by state Rep. James Aslanides, a Coshocton Republican, said they believe the bill will pass constitutional muster.
Aslanides said there should be uniform state law on the concealed-carry issue so that permit holders wouldn't have to be knowledgeable about local gun-related ordinances as they travel around Ohio.
"We live in a highly mobile society," the lawmaker said recently.
The concealed-carry proposal, if enacted, would also remove the current requirement that a gun be kept in "plain sight" if a permit holder in a vehicle is pulled over by law enforcers.
Permit holders can also have a gun locked up in a vehicle, under current law.
A controversial provision in the bill that would have changed whether journalists could get the names of all concealed-carry permit holders in a county was stripped from the measure under threat of a veto from Taft, a Republican.
The governor says he still has concerns with the bill, especially the proposed removal of the "plain sight" language as well as provisions that would pre-empt local gun-related ordinances.
On the new law covering residency rules for local-government workers, political observers say they expect more litigation to come.
The new law, sponsored by state Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, a Chesterland Republican, generally bans cities from requiring their full-time employees to live in any specific area of the state.
Under the new law, communities still could require some workers to live in the same county or a neighboring county.
Supporters of the measure say there's no need for residency requirements for government workers such as police officers and firefighters with the modern freeway system that's available and with the prevalence of mobile telephones and pagers.
"We're going through a particularly bad period right now," John Mahoney, a lobbyist for the Ohio Municipal League, said of measures that he said infringe on cities' "home-rule" authority.
And, Mahoney said he believes there could be more to come, citing a proposal in the Legislature that would require police officers to be stationed at intersections where there are cameras installed to nab motorists who run red lights.
Some say the presence of police officers at the intersections defeats the purpose of the cameras. The measure is pending in the Ohio Senate.
X Jeff Ortega is The Vindicator's correspondent in Columbus.