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Ohio Appellate Court Orders Review of State Budget Over Private Prison Sale

Ohio Appellate Court Orders Review of State Budget Over Private Prison Sale

by Gary Hunter

Ohio Governor John Kasich joined legislators in protesting an order by Ohio’s Tenth District Court of Appeals that instructed a trial court to edit the state’s biennial budget bill. The appellate court held that lawmakers had violated the “one subject/one bill” rule of Ohio’s Constitution when they inserted a prison privatization proviso in the budget.

In October 2013, the Ohio Court of Appeals unanimously found that lawmakers had improperly enacted a law that allowed for the sale and privatization of up to five state prisons. The Court overturned a trial court’s dismissal of the complaint, filed by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OSCEA) and Progress Ohio, and ruled that the private prison language had “no rational reason” for being included in the budget.

As a result of the provision in the budget bill, state officials sold one prison, the Lake Erie Correctional Facility, to Corrections Corporation of America in 2011 for $72 million. The state pays CCA to house Ohio prisoners at the facility, at a cost of $29 million per year plus an annual ownership fee of almost $4 million. [See: PLN, Nov. 2012, p.16].

On appeal, the state tacitly argued that the “one subject” provision of the Ohio Constitution has long been irrelevant to lawmakers, noting that past court opinions have allowed budget-makers to include a wide variety of fiscal-related matters in the budget.

However, the Court of Appeals favored the plaintiffs’ contention that the “Ohio Const. art. II. §15(D) provides that no bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title. The one-subject rule exists to prevent legislators from ... combin[ing] disharmonious proposals in a single bill ... [to] pass provisions that may not have been acceptable to the majority on their own merits.”

The state complained that the appellate ruling “casts a cloud over vital legislation and leaves the General Assembly in the dark on what it may include in future bills including appropriations.” It also argued that ordering the trial court to remove certain sections from the more-than 3,000-page budget bill was akin to a line-item veto and contrary to the separation of powers doctrine. See: State ex rel. Ohio Civil Service Employees Association v. State of Ohio, 2 N.E.3d 304, 2013-Ohio-4505 (Ohio Ct. App. 2013).

The state appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, which heard arguments in May 2015. A decision has not yet been released. In July 2015, lawmakers approved a bill to allow the sale of another state prison – the North Central Correctional Institution, which is currently operated by Management & Training Corp.

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Related legal case

State ex rel. Ohio Civil Service Employees Association v. State of Ohio