Ohio GOP Moves to Stop Cleveland From Making Its Own Laws

A Walmart in Cleveland.

Nicholas Eckhart/Flickr

Time for some disempowerment in Ohio.

At a gangbusters lame-duck legislative session, Ohio Republicans have passed an anti-local omnibus bill to strip power from the state’s cities and towns.

And to make it harder to oppose, according to the Columbus Dispatch, they’ve folded an anti-bestiality law into it too. The law, which awaits a signature from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, would also strengthen a ban on cockfighting and bearbaiting.

But the bill’s most important provision would prohibit the state’s cities and towns from regulating the minimum wage, paid-sick leave, and employee scheduling—a prohibition that seems aimed squarely at Cleveland, which was set to vote on a minimum wage increase in May.

So, to recap: A vote for local autonomy on labor laws is a vote for pigschtupping.

Safe to say that few Ohioans engage in cockfighting, bearbaiting, or bestiality. But about 430,000 people in the state work in the food and restaurant industries, where wage theft is rampant. The state minimum hourly wage is just $8.10, and is rising a nickel in 2017. If it passes, the bill would make Ohio one of more than 20 states where Republicans have used their newfound power in government to override pro-worker movements at the municipal level—sometimes, as is the case here, before any local law has even been passed.

It’s a twist on the usual GOP taste for small government: limited government not by choice but by force.

State Rep. Jim Buchy, a Greenville Republican, said in support of the bill that letting cities set their own minimum wage would “help destroy the economy” of the state. But most evidence suggests, on the contrary, that big cities have suffered no job loss for improving working conditions and pay.

The bill, SB331, is now a behemoth that includes amendments on local utility policy and escaped chickens. But it all began with puppies.

Back in May, Ohio legislators took aim at pre-empting local puppy mill laws, a popular piece of animal rights legislation that prevents pet stores from selling dogs from commercial breeders. Local prohibitions have passed in Toledo and Grove City, Ohio, in addition to big cities nationwide like Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, and Austin, Texas. All but one of the nation’s top pet store chains, according to the Humane Society, have stopped selling dogs from puppy mills.

Now, the puppy mill-bestiality-cockfighting law could prevent cities like Cleveland from passing employment regulations. “The House took an interesting bill and made it even more exciting,” said Ohio Sen. Bob Peterson, the primary sponsor of the bill.

All told, it’s been a busy week for the Ohio GOP. The session has also included the approval of what is essentially an abortion ban, which is awaiting Gov. Kasich’s signature or veto, and a bill allowing concealed weapons in public buildings like libraries, day care centers, and universities, which has been approved by the state Senate and is expected to pass in the House.

There’s only one other state that has passed a pro-puppy mill law: Arizona. And the state offers interesting, hopeful precedent for Ohio progressives.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, had threatened to withhold state funding from any city that passed a minimum wage law. So, in November, advocates got a referendum passed for the whole state instead. For fast food workers in Ohio, that may be the path forward.