COLUMBUS - The Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly yesterday followed through with its threat to sue over Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland's apparently unprecedented veto of a bill his predecessor had intended to become law.
The suit asks the Ohio Supreme Court to order Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to change her office records to reflect Jan. 5 as the date the office received the business-backed bill from Gov. Bob Taft. House and Senate leaders maintain this would have put the measure out of Mr. Strickland's reach when he took office three days later, retrieved the bill from Ms. Brunner, and vetoed it.
Mr. Taft had intended for the controversial measure to become law without his signature after he praised part of it and criticized another.
"[Ms.] Brunner failed to carry out the secretary of state's constitutional and statutory duties to maintain, preserve, and keep safe Amended Substitute Bill No. 117 as filed by Gov. Taft on Jan. 5, 2007," reads the suit.
The suit does not name Mr. Strickland as a defendant, avoiding a direct constitutional showdown between the new governor and the Republican legislature.
The lawmakers have taken advantage of an offer for the appointment of special counsel by Attorney General Marc Dann, a Democrat who is defending Ms. Brunner and who had unsuccessfully urged Mr. Taft to veto the bill.
"We still maintain that the secretary of state acted appropriately," Dann spokesman Jennifer Brindisi said. "We recommended that Governor Strickland veto that bill, and we will vigorously defend the veto in front of the Ohio Supreme Court."
Ultimately, the taxpayer is footing the bill for the fight on both sides. The House and the Senate are splitting $150,000 in special-counsel fees. The suit was filed in the name of the entire General Assembly, although many Democratic lawmakers had cheered the veto.
Mr. Taft had said he liked a portion of the bill that would have prevented broad-based, public-nuisance suits against an entire industry without naming specific manufacturers of products. It was aimed at lawsuits similar to those filed by Toledo and Columbus against the lead-based paint industry.
Mr. Taft, however, disliked another section to limit noneconomic damages at $5,000 for predatory lending and other actions brought under the Ohio Consumer Sales Protection Act.
The lawsuit was immediately applauded by manufacturers, retailers, and other businesses.
"We cannot have a court that promotes lawsuit abuse," said Ty Pine, Ohio director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "We cannot have a jury system that gives out-of-whack jury awards. This bill has protections for consumers and businesses that are critical if Ohio is going to attract jobs and convince companies to locate here in the future."
Mr. Taft opted to allow the bill to become law without his signature and filed the measure with then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a fellow Republican.
But three days later, the new secretary of state, Ms. Brunner, determined nothing prevented her from returning the bill to the new governor as long as 10 days had not passed since the legislature had delivered the bill to Mr. Taft's office. She determined that Jan. 8, not Jan. 5, was the 10th day.
"This bill was poorly drafted legislation that weakened consumer protection," Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said. "We remain fully confident that the constitution is clear and that the governor's decisive action to protect consumers will ultimately be upheld."
Contact Jim Provance at:
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