Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tomorrow in Akron Legal News

My column for tomorrow will answer the question so many of you have been asking (OK, it was one Facebook Friend responding to a Tweet, work with me): what do I think about last week's case about residency requirements for city workers?

The case, Lima v. Ohio, upholds a state law passed a couple of years ago that bans residency requirements. Both Lima and Akron sued to challenge the law under the Ohio Constitution. And lost.

My focus in the article is about the implications of the case for home rule in Ohio. Under the home rule provision in the Constitution, municipalities are afforded some protection against state laws that exist only to limit municipal power (there are other aspects to home rule, but that is the one that generates the most -- and most interesting -- litigation).

At first blush the case looks like it should be an easy one for the cities. But the anti-residency requirement law was passed under a section of the Constitution that grants the General Assembly broad authority to regulate employment for the benefit of workers, and says specifically that no other constitutional provisions can supersede it. The Court broadened the reading of that section, but as precedent it only applies to employment cases, not to other aspects of home rule. It certainly isn't a ruling friendly to home rule, but it's also not a dire as the urban papers made it out to be.

I quote three editorials singing dirges to lament the death of home rule. If you are keeping score at home, 's the PD, here's the LMJ and here's the Blade.

As for what I think of the residency requirements themselves, I think Akron should have gotten rid of ours some time ago. I think we lose more in damage to morale than gain in keeping the employees here. In a time when Ohio cities are shrinking, I understand the impulse, but the best way to keep people in the city is to make the city an attractive place to live.

All that said, I thought the legislature overstepped its bounds banning the practice. It's not the worst insult to home rule of late (that would go to a state law forbidding cities from banning assault weapons.) But whatever the bounds of home rule, local autonomy should be respected.