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Ohio Attorney General Defends Anti-Speed Camera Law
Ohio attorney general battles Toledo over whether the legislature can cut state funding from cities that refuse to limit speed camera use.

Nicole M. Koppitch
Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine has sent a team to a Lucas County courthouse to defend the legislature's attempt to impose some limits on the use of speed cameras. The General Assembly enacted House Bill 64 in 2015 (view law), which cut funding to municipalities in an amount equal to the revenue generated from photo tickets, but only if those cities refused to implement a handful of minor reforms. In court filings Tuesday, the city of Toledo insisted it had the right to whatever it pleases when it comes to speed cameras. Not so, DeWine's office countered.

"Toledo's complaint turns on whether the city is being 'penalized' by the set off law, which directs how local governmnet fund monies are to be distributed to municipalities," assistant attorney general Nicole M. Koppitch wrote. "But Toledo's argument ignores the reality that Toledo has no vested right to a particular distribution of state funds. The General Assembly's enactment of the set off law is well within its legislative spending authority."

The city attorney insisted that Toledo has home rule powers that shield the photo radar program from legislative interference, a view partially bolstered by an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in 2017 that rejected some of the limits that the legislature attempted to impose (view ruling). The state countered that the high court could only object to the way in which the limits were imposed, and lawmakers learned their lesson this time.

"The set off law does not and cannot violate Ohio's home rule amendment because it does not conflict with any local ordinance," Koppitch wrote. "The Assembly decided that it would not subsidize -- through the discretionary funding in the local government fund -- municipalities that use traffic cameras in a manner inconsistent with the Assembly's preferences."

The law requires that cities file a report of compliance or non-compliance with the new provisions, but Dayton, East Cleveland and Toledo are defying lawmakers by outright refusing to comply (view Toledo's letter). Toledo then moved for an injunction against the funding law, but the state Supreme Court struck down the injunction filed by a local judge sympathetic to Toledo (view ruling) on the grounds that a court has no authority to block the legislature from doing its constitutional duty of legislating.

State lawyers pointed out that the federal government has been using funding limitation amendments to coerce policy changes among the states for decades. These "incentives" were the basis for policies such as the national 55 MPH speed limit. The US Supreme Court upheld the practice in a number of cases.

"Toledo is free to operate its traffic camera program without abiding the enjoined traffic camera provisions, but that choice is not free of the General Assembly's lawful authority to withhold discretionary funds commensurate with local revenue raised by operating cameras in ways that the General Assembly disapproves," Koppitch wrote.

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