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GENERAL ASSEMBLY HAPPENINGS

Several township related bills were heard in testimony this week.  To view the bills in their entirety, please visit www.legislature.state.oh.us.

 

House Aging & Disability Services

HB 246  OP&F DISEASE COVERAGE (Yuko) To provide that a firefighter, police officer, or public emergency medical services worker who is disabled as a result of specified types of cancer or certain contagious or infectious diseases is presumed for purposes of the laws governing workers' compensation and the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund to have incurred the disease while performing official duties as a firefighter, police officer, or public emergency medical services worker. (CONTINUED; 1st Hearing-Sponsor)

The OTA opposes this bill as it could result In higher costs for townships.  See letter attached that was sent to Senate sponsor of companion legislation.

House Commerce & Labor
HB 271  TOWNSHIP FIRE DEPARTMENTS (Patten, Stewart, D.) To modify coverage of the Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Law with respect to township fire departments. (REPORTED-AMENDED; 2nd Hearing-All testimony-Possible vote)
The committee reported the bill on a 6-4 party line vote, with Republicans in opposition, after hearing testimony from seven proponents and one opponent. Adopted without objection was an LSC technical amendment, and a clarifying amendment in response to a concern of the Ohio Township Association.
The Ohio Township Association opposed (see attached) the legislation. Michael Cochran, executive director, said the bill would require townships with less than 5,000 in population in the unincorporated area, but with a full-time fire department that serves a territory with a population greater than 5,000, be subject to collective bargaining laws. He said existing law permits such townships to enter collective bargaining agreements, but does not require them to do so.  Mr. Cochran said the association was neither pro-union nor anti-union. "For us it's a question of local control," he said. "I would rather have the local officials themselves deciding whether to enter into an agreement. That's something we hold near and dear, local control." [Click here for more testomony .pdf]

[More on HB94/Patton Letter click here]

      
House Transportation & Infrastructure
HB 166  TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITIES (Carney, McGregor) To authorize the creation of transportation innovation authorities (TIA) by specified governmental entities and to establish the powers and duties of such authorities.
The OTA is an interested party on this bill.  Townships may be a party to the TIA if they want to but no township land can be included in the TIA without support of the township.
Senate Environment & Natural Resources
SB 196   OIL & GAS (Grendell) To revise the Oil and Gas Law. (CONTINUED; 1st Hearing-Sponsor)
The OTA supports SB 196 as it restores some local control over oil & gas well placement that was removed five years ago.

Election Reform

HB 260, the House-version of election reform, passed the House along party lines on Wednesday.  While special elections were not eliminated, as originally proposed, there was a provision that was included that would allow county board of elections to charge political subdivisions even more money to conduct elections, including depreciation fees for all equipment necessary to prepare for or conduct elections.  This language is very broad and at the very least should be narrowed to include only the machinery upon which voters use at the election.   Additionally, language was added that would require at least 65% of the costs to hold a special election be paid up front.  The OTA will work with interested parties on these matter as the bill now goes to the Senate for hearings.

 

 

RECENTLY INTRODUCED LEGISLATION
HB 344  WATER/SEWAGE FEES (Goyal, Harris, M.) To limit recovery of rate-case expenses for certain water-works and sewage disposal system companies.

HB 345  PUBLIC NOTICES (Hagan) To allow political subdivisions to make internet website publications in lieu of newspaper of general circulation publication requirements if the political subdivision donates all funds that would otherwise be used to provide newspaper notices to a local food bank or food drive for charitable purposes.


AUDITOR'S BULLETINS
The Auditor of State has released two recent bulletins that impact townships.  The OTA encourages all townships to read both bulletins.  Both are attached for your reference.
[2009-011 - Allocating Audit Costs click here]
[2009-012 - New Policy - Agreed-Upon Procedures for Small Government Audit Clients click here] (beginning with audit periods ending December 31, 2009)


FEDERAL UPDATE
The OTA has had Mr. Wendell Cox at OTA conferences to speak about the push at the federal level for regionalism and how his research has shown that smaller governments are better governments.  We have received this information from Mr. Cox relative to some happenings at the federal level.  I encourage you to read this information and contact your federal congressman and senators to express your concerns.  You may get more information from Mr. Cox's website at www.demographia.com <
http://www.demographia.com/> .

Congress and the Administration Take Aim at Local Democracy
Local democracy has been a mainstay of the US political system. This is evident from the town hall governments in New England to the small towns that the majority of Americans choose to live in today.  In most states and metropolitan areas, substantial policy issues - such as zoning and land use decisions - are largely under the control of those who have a principal interest: local voters who actually live in the nation's cities, towns, villages, townships and unincorporated county areas. This may be about to change. Two congressional initiatives - the Boxer-Kerry Cap and Trade Bill and the Oberstar Transportation Reauthorization Bill - and the Administration's "Livability Partnership" take direct aim at local democracy as we know it.

The Boxer-Kerry Bill: The first threat is the proposed Senate version of the "cap and trade" bill authored by Senator Barbara Boxer-Kerry (D-California). This bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733), would require metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to develop greenhouse gas emission reduction plans. In these plans, the legislation would require consideration of issues such as increasing transit service, improvements to intercity rail service and "implementation of zoning and other land use regulations and plans to support infill, transit-oriented development or mixed use development."  This represents a significant step toward federal adoption of much of the "smart growth" or "compact development" agenda.

At first glance, it may seem that merely requiring MPOs to consider such zoning and land use regulations seems innocent enough. However, the incentives that are created by this language could well spell the end of local control over zoning and land use decisions in the local area.  True enough, the bill includes language to indicate that the bill does not intend to infringe "on the existing authority of local governments to plan or control land use." Experience suggests, however, that this would provide precious little comfort in the behind-the-scenes negotiations that occur when a metropolitan area runs afoul of Washington bureaucrats.

The federal housing, transportation and environmental bureaucracies have also been supportive of compact development policies. As these agencies develop regulations to implement the legislation, they could well be emboldened to make it far more difficult for local voters to retain control over land use decisions. There could be multiple repeats of the heavy-handedness exercised by the EPA when it singled out Atlanta for punishment over air quality issues. In response, the Georgia legislature was, in effect, coerced into enacting planning and oversight legislation more consistent with the planning theology endorsed by EPA's bureaucrats. No federal legislation granted EPA the authority to seek such legislative changes, yet they were sought and obtained.

There is also considerable support for the compact development agenda at the metropolitan area level. The proclivity of metropolitan and urban planners toward compact development is so strong as to require no encouragement by federal law. The emerging clear intent of federal policy to move land use development to the regional level and to densify existing communities could embolden MPOs to propose plans that pressure local governments to conform their zoning to central plans (or overarching "visions") developed at the regional level. Along the way, smaller local jurisdictions could well be influenced, if not coerced into actions by over-zealous MPO staff claiming that federal law and regulation require more than the reality. It would not be the first time. Further, MPOs and organizations with similar views will lobby state legislatures to impose compact development policies that strip effective control of zoning and land use decisions from local governments.

Surface Transportation Reauthorization: The second threat is the Surface Transportation Authorization Act (STAA or reauthorization) draft that has been released by Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minnesota) of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This bill is riddled with requirements regarding consideration of land use restrictions by MPOs and states. Unlike the Boxer-Kerry bill, the proposed STAA includes no language denying any intention to interfere with local land use regulation authority.

Like the Boxer-Kerry Bill, the Oberstar bill significantly empowers the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency and poses similar longer term risks.  These legislative initiatives are reinforced by the Administration's "Livability Agenda," which is a partnership between the EPA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation. Among other things, this program is principally composed of compact development strategies, including directing development to certain areas, which would materially reduce the choices available to local government. Elements such as these could be included in an eventual STAA bill by the Obama Administration.

The Livability Agenda: Threatening Livability: Regrettably, the Boxer-Kerry bill, the Oberstar bill and the "Livability Agenda" will make virtually nothing more livable. If they are successful in materially densifying the nation's urban areas, communities will be faced with greater traffic congestion, higher congestion costs and greater air pollution. Despite the ideology to the contrary, higher densities increase traffic volumes within areas and produce more health hazards or more intense local air pollution. As EPA models indicate, slower, more congested traffic congestion produces more pollution than more freely flowing traffic, and the resulting higher traffic volumes make this intensification even greater.

There are also devastating impacts on housing affordability that occur when "development is directed." This tends to increase land prices, which makes houses more expensive. This hurts all future home buyers and renters, particularly low income and minority households, since rent increases tend to follow housing prices. It is particularly injurious to low income households, which are disproportionately minority. The large gap between majority and minority home ownership rates likely widen further. So much for the American Dream for many who have not attained it already.

The Marginal Returns of Compact Development Policies: These compact development initiatives continue to be pursued even in the face of research requested by Congress indicating that such policies have precious little potential. The congressionally mandated Driving the Built Environment report indicates that driving and greenhouse gas emissions could be higher in 2050 than in 2000 even under the maximum deployment of compact development strategies.

Local Governments at the Table? The nation's local governments should "weigh in" on these issues now, while the legislation is being developed. If they wait, they could find themselves too late to the table when the EPA comes to bully them to follow not what the local voters want, but what the planners prefer. Local democracy will be largely dead, a product of a system that concentrates authority - and perceived wisdom - in the hands of the central governments, at the regional and national level.

Even more, local citizens and voters need to be aware of the risk. Again, it will be too late when MPOs or other organizations, whether at their own behest or that of a federal agency, force the character of neighborhoods to be radically changed, as Tony Recsei pointed out is already occurring in Australia.