Pre-emption of local control
5G wireless technology is coming. Municipalities throughout the country have been suing state governments to try to retain some local control over the placement of small cell antennas and associated equipment. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, the telecommunications industry wants to install 100,000 antennas a year nationally over the next five years. Wireless companies, however, have been unhappy about the labyrinthine task of securing permits from tens of thousands of local governments.
Enter ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the corporate-funded, self-described think tank is only too happy to supply model state legislation pre-empting local ordinances to regulate the permits, fees and aesthetics of wireless equipment. And the Ohio General Assembly appears only too delighted to have had ALEC’s help.
In 2017 the state of Ohio passed a law overriding local governments’ home rule rights to regulate telecommunications equipment in public rights of way. In response, the Ohio Municipal League (OML) and cities around the state swung into action, launching multiple lawsuits. Both Cleveland Heights and University Heights joined a suit initiated by the city of Hudson. The law ultimately was found unconstitutional because it was tacked onto a bill regulating pet shops, thereby violating the Ohio Constitution’s single-subject rule for legislation.
Months of negotiations followed, as—at the legislature’s behest—attorneys for the cities and the OML conferred with the telecommunications industry to achieve a solution: House Bill 478, which Gov. Kasich signed into law. It is better than the ALEC version, but the “telcos” still hold almost all the cards.
Before its August recess, Cleveland Heights City Council passed legislation adding Chapter 943 to the city’s Codified Ordinances. Entitled “Use of Public Ways for Small Cell Wireless Facilities and Wireless Support,” it regulates, to the extent permitted by HB 478, the installation and operation of wireless small cell technology within the city. In July, University Heights passed its own version of legislation conforming to HB 478.
Increasingly, as this issue exemplifies, state legislation reflects corporate, not public interests. Accordingly, state laws pre-empt the ability of cities to make even the most basic local decisions.
As fish do not analyze the nature of water, for the past century few Americans have questioned the power that private corporations have come to exert over many aspects of our daily lives. That began to change with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision in 2010.
Early Ohio settlers knew the dangers posed by corporate power. The English monarchy’s imperial ambitions had been pursued largely through corporations chartered for that purpose. Ohioans fought in the American War of Independence to seize sovereignty from the monarchy and entrust it, not to governments or corporations, but to the people.
Early Ohio legislation stipulated that corporations be created one at a time through petitioning the General Assembly, under rigid conditions. Corporate privileges, not rights, included limits on duration of charters (or certificates of incorporation), extent of land ownership, and amount of capitalization or total investment by owners, plus restriction of each corporate charter to a specific purpose. What did the Ohio General Assembly do to a corporation that violated these terms? It revoked its charter.
How dismayed the founders of our state would be if they dropped in on the Ohio Statehouse today, and witnessed proposed laws actually being written by private, corporate-funded entities, such as ALEC. Citizens must reclaim Ohio’s proud history of reining in corporate abuse.
To learn more about the history of corporate vs. people’s power in Ohio, e-mail us. We’ll send you Cleveland Heights resident Greg Coleridge’s Ohio Democracy vs. Corporations History Quiz.
Carla Rautenberg and Deborah Van Kleef
Carla Rautenberg is a writer, activist and lifelong Cleveland Heights resident. Deborah Van Kleef is a musician and writer, and has lived in Cleveland Heights for most of her life. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.