At a glance, it seems nothing is stopping a state’s traffic control bill from making its way into the revised Ohio code.
On closer inspection, however, Bill 206, which would give township police the green light to patrol and issue tickets on interstate highways, can and should slow to a screeching halt.
The well-meaning bill, sponsored by State Representative Michael O’Brien D-Warren, is similar to a series of other bills that have been introduced to the Ohio General Assembly since 2015, to languish unsuccessfully in both chambers of the legislature. That alone should make the yellow light flash.
And despite the swift two-month journey of his last incarnation through the legislative process to his overwhelming, bipartisan 83-11 passage through the state House of Representatives this month, caution remains essential on the draft. House Law 206.
Specifically, HB 206 would grant a police department in a township of 5,000 to 50,000 people the power to make an arrest for specific traffic offenses such as speeding, texting while driving, and illegal U-turns. on interstate highways under its jurisdiction if certain criteria are met.
Supporters tout the legislation as an additional safety valve to ensure smooth navigation for motorists along popular and busy roads. Township police could partner with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which currently has exclusive freeway traffic control powers.
These same supporters also quickly point out that it is not intended as a speed trap to fatten the revenue base of township governments. This is because the law requires that all fines resulting from the township police ticket office be paid directly to the county public treasury for the maintenance and repairs of county highways.
Nonetheless, the legislation has caught our skeptical attention as it could have a serious impact on the Mahoning Valley, through which several interstate highways such as I-80, I-76, and I-680 cross. We are also home to several major townships that HB 206 addresses including Austintown, Beaver, Boardman, Canfield, Poland and Springfield in Mahoning County and Weathersfield, Liberty and Hubbard in Trumbull County.
Beneath its veneer of improving public safety, however, lie difficult points that deserve serious attention from the public and state legislators.
To begin with, some people reasonably wonder about the advisability of using municipal resources for the benefit of a state agency. By encouraging township officers to take over some of the responsibilities of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the bill is another example of the state overwhelming local governments with unfunded mandates, he said. arguing former state representative John Boccieri, D-Poland, before similar legislation in 2017.
In addition, given the recent trend of shrinking local security forces budgets, not all municipal police departments are eager to expand their patrol coverage. Austintown Police Chief Robert Gavalier logically said this: “We have our hands full trying to catch speeders on township roads.”
In addition, the time spent trolling highways would deprive township police of valuable time to monitor non-traffic criminal activity in large commercial towns such as Boardman and Liberty.
In this regard, we tend to agree with the view of attorney Mark Finamore, who has served as general counsel for several Valley communities in recent years, including Liberty. According to him, “You must be wondering that these (townships) that have small police forces, shouldn’t they be patrolling the neighborhoods for burglaries and vandalism?” It just confuses me. I cannot see the township police cars on the highways adding important safety factors. I think it would be marginal at best. “
Given other pressing issues in Columbus, this bill is likely to be buried without a hearing this spring. If and when it is placed on the agenda of the Senate, we recommend its defeat.
If passed and got Governor Mike DeWine’s signature, we would insist on the wording of the bill that would not require the expansion of jurisdiction to all police departments in the township to remain solidly intact. In its current form, the legislation requires township administrators to pass a resolution to authorize interstate patrols before they are legal in a given community. We hope that administrators, like those in Austintown, will follow the recommendations of their respective chiefs, even if those chiefs oppose the expansion.
In doing so, they will go a long way in serving and protecting the priorities of the cantons and local control.