Dann offers special counsel if Legislature fights veto

The lame-duck Legislature passed the bill in the last few days of its session.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Attorney General Marc Dann has offered to hire independent special counsel for the state Legislature as leaders there decide whether to fight Gov. Ted Strickland's first-day veto of a consumer protection bill.
Dann, a day into his term, said he is confident his office has given sound legal advice to Strickland, who on Monday vetoed a bill that would have placed a 5,000 limit on certain court damages and created new protections for companies that once sold lead-based paint.
"We think that, with good counsel, they will come to the same conclusion that we came to -- which is that this is within the rights of Gov. Strickland," Dann said.
But Dann conceded lawmakers may find gray areas in his interpretation of the Ohio Constitution -- which allowed Strickland to reverse the intentions of outgoing Gov. Bob Taft on the bill -- and seek to sue.
Such a suit could pit the Legislature against the governor in court, and the attorney general's office represents both parties, Dann said. As a result, he said he called both House Speaker Jon Husted and Senate President Bill Harris on Tuesday to offer them outside counsel if they want it.
Dann and Strickland are Democrats; Harris and Husted are Republicans.
What happened
Senate Chief of Staff Matt Schuler said lawyers there are still considering their legal options, and should have a decision by the end of the week. The Senate clerk's office declined Tuesday to accept Strickland's veto of the bill, because it was passed during the last legislative session, said spokeswoman Maggie Ostrowski.
The lead-paint bill passed during the lame duck session's final days in December, and a new legislative session opened Jan. 2.
"From our conversations with the governor's office, they believed that he [Taft] took an action," Schuler said. "It was a choice he made to allow it to become law without his signature, he sent the bill to the secretary of state, and [then-Secretary of State] Ken Blackwell signed it."
Taft disagreed with the provision in the bill that limits a consumer's noneconomic damages -- such as mental pain and suffering -- to 5,000. The bill would affect consumers who sue companies for unfair or deceptive sales practices.
The bill also said paint manufacturers can't be sued under public nuisance laws, which some U.S. cities have used to try to force companies to help pay for the removal of lead-based paint in older homes. The federal government banned lead paint in 1978 after studies showed that children who eat or breathe flaking paint or dust could suffer potentially severe health problems, including brain damage.
Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams Co., for example, has been sued by Canton and several other Ohio communities over lead paint. The company says it should not be held responsible for practices that were legal at the time.
Dann's office, Strickland legal counsel Kent Markus, and Blackwell's successor Jennifer Brunner, also a Democrat, all came down on the side that the veto was legal. They said the bill was still in play because it was unsigned by Taft, and a 10-day window before which it could become law had not yet passed. They counted that window as expiring Monday, the day Strickland vetoed it.

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