Lawmakers reintroduce bill the governor vetoed less than a month ago

The proposal would allow people to file regulatory challenges in the county where they live rather than in Franklin County

By: - January 23, 2023 4:50 am

The Oho Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Ohio state senators took up a bill last week to allow people challenging an agency order to do so in their home county. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a virtually identical measure earlier this month.

Haven’t we been here before?

In committee Tuesday, the arguments in favor of the idea sounded pretty familiar as well. Last year, state Rep. Bill Seitz argued it’s unfair that agencies are always defending their “home turf,” while challengers have to “play an away game.”

Although not quite as colorful as Seitz’s version, the explanation of state Sen. Michele Reynolds, R-Canal Winchester, mirrors his arguments.

“While it is true that current law is a convenience for state agencies who get to defend their decisions in Franklin County,” she argued, “It inconveniences citizens and businesses aggrieved by agency actions by requiring them to travel to Columbus.”

“Jurisdiction will remain in Franklin County,” she added, “for cases involving non-Ohio residents or businesses with no place of business in Ohio.”

Reynolds herself acknowledged the comparison to the previous measure as she described another aspect of the bill. In addition to altering the venue for agency challenges, the proposal grants the House Speaker, Senate President and Governor the right to retain counsel to represent their office or chamber in legal matters.

Reynolds’ co-sponsor Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, noted those provisions codify long-standing practice in House and Senate rules. The measure also makes explicit the parties’ right to intervene in court cases.

Consequences

Democratic members pressed the sponsors on what the measure would mean in practice. McColley contended the attorney general’s office, which typically defends challenges, is better equipped to travel than a potential challenger. He noted the AG already has satellite offices and hires private attorneys when necessary.

“And so the Attorney General’s office already has processes in place where it could comply with this much easier than any of these potential people who are feeling an agency ordered from any other part of the state,” McColley argued.

GOP lawmakers often justify preemptive legislation by arguing a patchwork of local laws is undesirable. McColley waved away the suggestion that 87 additional venues for appeal might do the same thing.

“This is part of the reason, in some cases, that appellate jurisdictions or the Supreme Court will accept a case, is because there are differing opinions,” McColley said. “But we shouldn’t necessarily remove somebody from their own jurisdiction because we’re worried about a case having to work its way through the court.”

As for simply allowing challengers to file cases and appear remotely, McColley argued that’s not good enough either. “There’s an awful lot that as an attorney, or as a party to the case, that you’re not going to see in that proceeding,” he argued, “that you would normally see if you were in the room.”

Why try again?

Speaking after the Judiciary Committee hearing, chairman Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, defended revisiting legislation so recently vetoed.

“You know, we kind of ran out of time there with lame duck,” Manning offered, “and maybe we weren’t aware of the governor’s concerns in that specific regard. So I think it’s something that we can try to work with the administration the AG’s office on and try to come to some sort of compromise here.”

He also noted the vote in favor of the earlier bill wasn’t close. The House and Senate had enough support to override the governor’s veto. They couldn’t do so because the session had ended. Lawmakers may cobble together the same level of support again. But with a budget showdown looming, the prospect of trying to override the governor may not be an attractive proposition.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.

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