Central Ohio municipalities appeared to earn their first win in their case against Ohio Senate Bill 331 when a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge ruled earlier this month against multiple portions of the bill.
Judge Richard A. Frye determined June 2 that the bill violates the “single-subject” rule in the Ohio Constitution.
The ruling agreed with a lawsuit filed by the Ice Miller law firm in Columbus on behalf of 50 Ohio cities, including many central Ohio communities in the Central Ohio Mayors and Managers Association, that criticized SB 331 as an omnibus bill that takes power away from local governments by giving utility companies the ability to install small-cell wireless nodes almost anywhere within public rights of way.
Meanwhile, state leaders plan to appeal, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. He didn’t specify a timeline for filing the appeal, but it would be heard by the 10th District Court of Appeals.
SB 331, which took effect March 21, was introduced in May 2016 and originally received support from Chillicothe-based Petland because it would overrule city-level laws attempting to specify where pet stores could purchase puppies. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina), was written largely in response to an ordinance Grove City had adopted in March 2016, requiring retailers to acquire the pets they sell from animal shelters, rescues and humane societies.
But by the time the bill was signed into law in December by Gov. John Kasich, it included components that criminalize bestiality, prohibit cities from raising local minimum wage above the state minimum wage of $8.15 and limit municipalities’ ability to regulate work schedules and benefits.
It also included an amendment added during the Senate’s lame-duck session that gave utility companies the ability to install small-cell wireless nodes to such structures as street signs and traffic lights within cities’ public rights of way.
Westerville City Manager David Collinsworth was among the central Ohio leaders who spearheaded COMMA’s efforts, including the legal action filed March 20 in Franklin County.
Collinsworth said Westerville leaders were “pleased” with Frye’s decision.
In an email, he wrote that leaders of the plaintiff cities are “very interested in developing a regulatory scheme that works to the mutual benefit of our residents and the industry” regarding small-cell technology.
“The city does not oppose small-cell technology, and the suit was not filed to stop the deployment of it,” Collinsworth wrote. “Rather, we simply want to retain some level of regulatory control over where and how these facilities are (located) in our community.”
Worthington City Council President Bonnie Michael said the decision “has restored the municipal oversight on the placement of this needed equipment,” and she believes the ruling could result in better results for communities and utility providers.
“I think what’s happening now is that the cities and the cellular providers are beginning to work together to try to come up with new legislation that’s going to be a win-win for both sides,” she said. “We’re excited to know that we can come up with something that’s going to be good both for the business community and the municipalities.”