It’s official, the 126th session of the Ohio General Assembly is over, and the 127th has begun. Obviously, with the change in the Governorship, there’s a lot of speculation over what the 127th session will bring, but only time will tell. In the meantime, we hope for the best and we rely on the Ohio Municipal League (OML) to keep us informed of issues that affect us. Some cities actually hire their own professional lobbyists to track and advocate legislative positions. We don’t have that luxury here in Kent, so instead, we try to take full advantage of the services offered by the OML and Ohio City Manager’s Association (OCMA).
Without the benefit of our lobbyist, OML fills that role for us. Here’s a summary of who the OML is and what they do for us:
THE OHIO MUNICIPAL LEAGUE AND IT’S SERVICES
The Ohio Municipal League was incorporated as an Ohio non-profit corporation in 1952 by city and village officials who saw the need for a statewide association to serve the interests of Ohio municipal government.
The Ohio Municipal League is governed by a Board of Trustees, elected by the membership. The Board consists of all past presidents of the League, as long as they are municipal officials, and 28 Trustees elected for two-year terms. Of the 28 Trustees, at least one must be: the mayor of a city or village; a city manager; a fiscal officer or finance director; a solicitor or director of law; a member of a municipal legislative body, other than the mayor. The Board is the policy-making body and appoints an Executive Director to manage the League under their general direction.
Any city or village, by proper action of its legislative body and payment of the annual membership fee, may become a member. When an Ohio municipality becomes an active League member, all of the elected and key appointed officials are eligible to use the available services.
The OML represents the collective interest of Ohio cities and villages before the Ohio General Assembly and the state elected and administrative offices. An official legislative policy is developed every other year by a process that begins with the legislative committee and ends with the approval of the League’s legislative policy statement by the membership at the annual conference.
Numerous bills affecting cities and villages are introduced each session. While the Ohio General Assembly is in session, weekly legislative bulletins are sent to municipal officials by regular mail and e-mail. These are supplemented by “fax bulletins” usually outlining some specific or fast action required. Legislative directories with Senators and Representatives addresses, phone numbers and committee assignments are provided to our members. And the first of each year, the League conducts a legislative conference where Senate and House leadership speak and the Senators and Representatives attend as invited guests.
OML staff testifies before legislative committees, coordinates testimony of municipal officials, prepares amendments, and meets and confers with legislators and their staff regularly.
Through its membership in the National League of Cities, the OML is able to keep Ohio’s municipalities alerted to activities in Washington. Cities that are members of the OML are eligible to become direct member cities of NLC; only direct member city officials may serve on NLC Committees. FIELD REPRESENTATIVE
SPECIAL PROGRAMS AND SERVICES
Legal Advocacy Program Workers’ Comp. Group Rating Pool – Ohio Municipal Joint Self Insurance Pool – OML Long Distance Phone Plan GAP Program –
Regular Training Activities:
Regional Seminars for Veteran and Newly Elected Municipal Officials
Municipal Leadership Training Academy
Mayors Court Training (year round)
Income Tax Seminar (Annual)
OML Annual Conference
Annual Conferences of Cooperating Associations. RESEARCH/INQUIRIES
Sample ordinances from other Ohio cities and villages
Sample municipal policies
Elected and appointed officials salaries
Ohio Revised Code
Ohio Administrative Code
Ohio Attorney General Opinions
Ohio Court Decisions
U.S. Code Service
Department of Taxation Reports
Publications from other State Municipal Leagues
National League of Cities Reports
Publications of National Organizations representing municipal officials
The City staff also track important bills using the state’s database system, which is accessed at the link listed below:
Here’s a sample of the legislative bulletin provided by OML:
Final actions of the 126th General Assembly:
RED LIGHT CAMERA BILL VETOED
As you probably know, in one of final actions of his administration, Governor Taft vetoed HB 56, a bill that would have effectively blocked the use of photo-technology to increase public safety around busy intersections, school zones and high speed areas. This support for Home Rule by the Governor is greatly appreciated. We do not expect discussions over the use of this technology to dissipate in the 127th Session of the General Assembly. We, in fact, look forward to that discussion. We vowed from the early days of consideration of that bill to work with supporters to fashion a bill that ensured the fair usage of those devices, as long as such a bill showed respect for local law enforcement, public safety and Home Rule.
Unfortunately, HB 56, as drafted in its many veils by the General Assembly this session, attempted to practically bar the use of such cameras. Should the General Assembly attempt in the 127th to create more uniform fairness than already exists, we will look forward to that effort and hope that such an effort is more successful at being constitutional and more straightforward than this last attempt. Or we will, once again, oppose the bill.
Once again, we appreciate Governor Taft’s decisive action on this matter.
TAFT WALKS AWAY FROM SB 117; STRICKLAND VETOES IT
Governor Taft would have let a bill that would bar municipalities from suing manufacturers on a nuisance basis for the damage caused by their products. The bill also contained provisions to change the Consumer Sales Practices Act to limit potential awards to consumers for non-economic damages. It is this latter provision to which the Governor had concerns. No problem. Governor Taft’s taking no action, evidently, left open the door for newly-elected Governor Strickland to veto the bill within the ten day window allowed for such action.
With the General Assembly’s 126th Session over, the veto by Governor Strickland cannot be overridden. Since the House is no longer veto-proof with 53 Republican seats, as opposed to 60 such seats, and the changes in the CSPA and opposition to lead paint-municipal suits dividing on partisan lines, both issues will have a hard time rearing their heads in the 127th General Assembly.
We will have to see if there is some legal challenge to this action. In the recent past, the switch between governors has led to some anomalies. Governors have simply left office without picking up or receiving bills from the General Assembly at the end of a term. Without that reception, the “ten day clock” never started running and therefore such bills just died. During the “Six-Day War” following the 1974 elections, bills desired by Democrats could not be sent to the Governor, because a Lt. Governor, still President of the Senate and a Republican, refused to sign them and send them along to a Democrat Governor for signature. However, the big difference between the General Assembly and the Governor is that the General Assembly lives and dies by the parameters of a session, which must end December 31. The Governor is simply the Governor for four years, beginning at 12:01 a.m. January 8 of this year. The validity of the veto will turn on the question of when the Governor’s office received the bill and started the ten day clock ticking.
HB 690, ENABLING LEGISLATION FOR THE MINIMUM WAGE, IS SIGNED
Governor Taft signed the legislation that will serve as a starting point for the minimum wage increase passed by voters last November as Issue 2. It is clear that the minimum wage in Ohio is $6.85 as of Janaury1, 2007. It is also clear that the new minimum wage includes all public employers in Ohio, including municipalities.
However, there is come confusion and contentiousness that will still have to play out on some of the details of this constitutional amendment. By signing HB 690, Governor Taft put in place a law that allows some exemptions from the wage (primarily home-health care workers and some recreation workers, the latter of which may affect some municipalities) and record-keeping, that supporters of the amendment say the people of Ohio did not vote for. This may lead to legal action by the supporters of the amendment. Additionally, since the amendment takes effect January 1 and HB 690, without an emergency clause, takes effect around April 1, Ohio employers, both public and private, will be a bit in the dark as to the exact details of the amendment for the next three months.
As to employees who are not subject to the overtime rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act, HB 690 relaxes some of the record-keeping requirements not completely spelled out in the amendment. We do not expect these provisions to be the key concerns of the amendment’s sponsors. The provisions related to exemptions seem more the focus of their concerns. We will keep you informed on this matter as the issue becomes clearer.
HB 9, THE OPEN RECORDS BILL, SIGNED BY THE GOVERNOR
HB 9 was signed by the Governor. Under provisions of the bill all public officials or their designee’s must take a three-hour Open Records course each term of office, provided by the Attorney General or his designee. Redaction or denial of public records must include the reasons or such redactions or denials. Redactions are considered a denial of access to the records in question. Public offices may ask a records requester for their name and that their request be in written form. However, it should be made clear by the office that such information is not an obligation. All local records commissions plans for retention, disposition or destruction of public records must be submitted the Ohio Historical Society for review. After review, OHS is to submit such plans to the State Auditor for approval or disapproval.
The bill allows for a mandamus action, as does current law. However, the bill provides for “statutory damages” at the rate of $100 a day, up to $1000, from the day the mandamus action is filed. Those damages are to be awarded by the court on all successful actions, unless the judge finds, essentially, that “reasonable” or “well informed” public officials would not clearly know that the records in question were meant to be open. The bill also allows journalists to still have access to information regarding concealed-carry gun licenses, but journalists are only permitted to see that information, not write down the information they see.
Except for a provision changing the timetable for a study committee on public advertising methods and obligations, the provisions of HB 9 have an effective date of nine months after passage, which makes it around October 1, by our calculation.
Established in 1991 as the result of a state law change, this program offers members of the League who qualify for and join the pool an opportunity to reduce their annual workers comp premiums. In addition the members receive assistance with claims administration from GatesMcDonald and Company, the plan administrator.- In 1984 the OML established a Legal Advocacy Program funded by voluntary contributions of the members. This program allows the League to serve as the voice of cities and villages before the Ohio Supreme Court and the US Appeals and Supreme Court by filing briefs amicus curiae on cases of special concern to municipal governments.As part of the outreach to members initiative, the OML has instituted a field representative program. A part-time employee of the League schedules visits to assist local officials in understanding how to better utilize the services of the OML. Our field representative will answer inquiries, provide minor technical assistance and inform members of important League sponsored and endorsed programs, training opportunities or pending and passed legislation.