(Posted by Trent Dougherty, Ohio Environmental Council)
On Friday, in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, the Ohio Association for Justice (formerly the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers) filed suit against the State of Ohio for violation of the state’s constitutional “single subject” rule regarding legislation.
The OAJ lawsuit cites the recent passage of Ohio House Bill 487 (HB487), the mid-biennium budget review bill, and specifically the bill’s section (4123.57) that eliminates the right of Ohio workers who have suffered catastrophic injury (i.e. injuries in which someone loses their hand, arm, leg or worse) to receive their intended benefit in a lump-sum without reduction.
However, the stated purpose of HB 487 was “to make operating and other appropriations and to provide authorization and conditions for the operation of state programs,” and not necessarily to alter the rights of seriously injured workers (or for that matter a list of other non-budgetary issues listed in the compliant ). According to OAJ, that’s unconstitutional violation of Ohio’s “single subject rule”:
No bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title. No law shall be revived or amended unless the new act contains the entire act revived, or the section or sections amended, and the section or sections amended shall be repealed. OH Constitution Art. II, Sec. 15(D)
The single subject rule is a check on the legislature not to “hide the ball” – to make sure that legislators don’t tack on unpopular provisions onto more popular bills without public discussion in the committee process. This rule, which dates back to the state’s second constitution in 1851, works to stop any attempt to sneak last minute amendments into bills outside of full public knowledge and debate.
While this case focuses on a singularly important concern with protecting the rights of seriously injured workers and not necessarily an environmental law, the “single subject” violation claim will have important practical ramifications for environmental and conservation legislation.
The most recent example in the environmental context, was this past Spring’s last minute amendment in SB315 (the governor’s energy bill). In that 200-plus page bill, on the final day of hearing, with no testimony nor full discussion of the merits, the House of Representatives added an amendment that put unnecessary barriers to challenging non-disclosure of fracking chemicals. While not a violation of the single subject rule, it was the type of unaccountable legislating that the Constitutional provision means to stop.
This litigation, hopefully will end in the reinstitution of basic injured workers’ rights, but perhaps just as important, give notice to the state legislators that sneaking provisions into unrelated or even related legislation without full public notice and debate, shall not stand.
OELC will keep you up to date on the status of this litigation, and its impact (if any) on the debate on the next biennial budget bill that will begin in early 2013.