Workers Challenge Ohio’s Sale of Prisons

     COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Seven state prison workers and ProgressOhio.org asked a state judge to stop Ohio from enforcing a law that “purports to authorize the sale of state-owned prisons to private contractors.”



     Lead plaintiff ProgressOhio claims Gov. John Kasich’s attempted sale of five state prisons is “a radical departure from the status quo” and the House Bill 153, which authorized it, is unconstitutional.
     In its complaint in Franklin County Court, ProgressOhio.org describes itself as a 501(c)(4) organization that “seeks to inform and educate the public about progressive ideals, values and politics in order to provide a more just and democratic society.”
     It claims HB 153 violates the Ohio Constitution’s single-subject rule, and will violate the section of the state constitution that prohibits “joining public and private property rights.”
     “H.B. No. 153 includes numerous provisions that attempt to create, embellish or accomplish an extraordinary number of unrelated substantive programs and new policy goals for the state,” the complaint states.
     Among these many goals is the sale of Ohio prisons to private businesses. “Defendants have publicized requests for proposals and, upon information and belief, has [sic] received bids/proposals from more than one bidder for [the five prisons]. The bids/proposals were opened on or about July 1, 2011, and defendants are currently in the process of evaluating the proposals and intend to make selections of the successful bidder/proposer and to contract for and/or sell the facilities unless restrained and enjoined by this court.”
     The plaintiffs say that “if its contracts and deeds are not enjoined as prayed for herein, the State of Ohio … will be a joint owner and/or have mixed its property rights with the rights of the contractor and/or grantee to such an extent that the result will violate the prohibition in Section 4, Article VIII of the Ohio Constitution against joining public and private property rights.”
     The plaintiff prison employees say they will be hurt by the new law, as “individuals such as plaintiffs … will not be public employees and thus the individual employee-plaintiffs and others will not be paid according to the wage scale applicable to state public employees and will not receive the applicable benefits.”
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that “H.B. No. 153 is unconstitutional in its entirety and may not be implemented, administered, enforced in any respect and no funds may be expended thereunder” and that the sales or prospective sales of the prisons be declared null and void.
     Following the lead of Wisconsin, Ohio has sought to clamp down on rights of public employees. Defendants include the State of Ohio, Gov, Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections and its director, and the Department of Administrative Services and its director.
     The plaintiffs are represented by James Melle.

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