Ohio Cities Oppose Wireless Equipment Law

CLEVELAND (CN) – Joining dozens of other cities across the state, Cleveland claims in court that an Ohio law taking effect Tuesday, originally meant to regulate dog sales, will violate its home-rule rights to decide where wireless equipment can be installed.

Ohio Senate Bill 331 was originally introduced to regulate the retail sale of dogs, but it was later amended to add unrelated regulations during the lame-duck session that followed November’s general election.

The first version of the bill was proposed in May 2016 as a way to eliminate municipal ordinances that limited where pet stores could buy their dogs.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that the measure was supported by Petland, a franchisor of pet stores based in Chillicothe, Ohio, but was opposed by animal welfare groups that want to prevent pet stores from getting animals from high-volume breeders, known colloquially as puppy mills.

The bill passed the Ohio Senate in its original form in a little over a week, but then sat in the Ohio House of Representatives until Nov. 10, shortly after Ohio’s Republican-controlled Legislature began its lame-duck session.

According to a lawsuit Cleveland filed Monday in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, it was then that the Ohio House Finance Committee “logrolled” several unrelated amendments into the Senate’s original bill. Logrolling is the political practice of exchanging support or favors for mutual gain, often by trading votes.

The new amendments adopted by the House Finance Committee criminalized bestiality and increased the penalties for cockfighting and other animal fighting; precluded cities from imposing minimum wages higher than the rate set by the state; prohibited cities from placing requirements on private employers with respect to work location, schedules and benefits; and prevented cities from regulating the commercial installation of wireless cellular equipment in public spaces.

The amended bill, renamed Substitute Senate Bill 331, was then passed by the Ohio House, confirmed by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich on Dec. 19. It takes effect Tuesday.

Cleveland’s lawsuit argues first and foremost that the unrelated amendments added onto SB 331 are a blatant violation of Section 15, Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which expressly provides that, “No bill shall contain more than one subject.”

Cleveland’s complaint also takes particular issue with the provisions on the installation of wireless cellular equipment, claiming the law could allow any number of commercial wireless companies to place wireless cell equipment on city sidewalks, streets, traffic signals, light poles and street signs.

“The effect of the Micro Wireless Facility Provisions in Substitute S.B. No. 331 is to unconstitutionally preempt, eliminate or severely restrict the ability of the City and other municipalities to effectively govern, manage, and control both the use of municipally owned property and the access to public rights of way by public utilities,” the lawsuit states. “It is imperative that municipalities be able to manage, regulate, and administer the use of municipally owned property and otherwise determine when and where utility providers install their small cell and wireless facilities.”

The city also says SB 331 violates Ohio’s home-rule provision, which gives municipalities more power and flexibility to create laws where no state law applies.

“The City’s exercise of its local self-government authority in this regard is necessary to minimize street closures, disruptions to the rights of way, and the potential damage to streets and other municipal property, while also enabling the City to effectively keep track of wireless companies that have installed and maintain wireless facilities equipment, and ensuring control of the public right of way where such installation has taken place,” the complaint says.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said in a press release that more than 80 Ohio municipalities will file separate suits to challenge the constitutionality of SB 331. Indeed, 20 northeast Ohio cities and municipalities jointly filed a similar lawsuit against the state Friday in Summit County.

“Mayor Jackson strongly opposes this amendment as it raises serious questions concerning local government rights, constitutional authority, and control of City property,” Cleveland says.

Anthony Togliatti, mayor of the Cleveland suburb Independence, joined Jackson at a press conference Monday.

“There are numerous reasons we are opposing this bill,” Mayor Togliatti said. “[We are opposing] the unconstitutionality of it, the complete loss of home rule and loss of control of structures erected in our city’s rights of way.”

Cleveland is seeking a declaration that the law violates the single-subject rule and the home-rule powers established in the Ohio Constitution. It also seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining the state from enforcing the law’s amendments.

The city is represented by in-house counsel Gary Singletary and Christopher Heltzel.

A spokesperson for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said his office is “reviewing the pleadings and will respond accordingly.”

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