Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sen. Bill 117 & the Ohio Constitution's Impairment of Contracts Clause

One of the bills being talked about in the General Assembly is Sen. Bill 117 which would apparently wipe out local franchise agreements between cable tv providers and local governments. Apparently members of the General Assembly are taking some heat from mayors and other local government officials. You can read about their pressuring the Ohio Senate by clicking on the link in this entry's title.

What Sen. Bill 117 supposedly does is wipe out local franchise agreements and replace them with one state-wide franchise agreement. What is interesting about this proposal is that it would seem to violate the Ohio Constitution. The Ohio Constitution contains a provision that prohibits the impairment of contracts. The clause is found in Art. II, Sec. 28, which reads as follows:

§ 28. Retroactive laws The general assembly shall have no power to pass retroactive laws, or laws impairing the obligation of contracts; but may, by general laws, authorize courts to carry into effect, upon such terms as shall be just and equitable, the manifest intention of parties, and officers, by curing omissions, defects, and errors, in instruments and proceedings, arising out of their want of conformity with the laws of this state.

If Sen. Bill 117 would "wipe out" local franchise agreements, then how could it not be a law impairing the obligation of contracts? It would seem that such a law would violate the Ohio Constitution. Of course what is interesting about this debate is how it would seem to go against three supposed "conservative" values. They are respect for local governments, respect for the sanctity of contracts freely entered into between contracting parties, and respect for the property right that is, according to many conservative writers, implicit in such contracts.

So why is the supposedly "conservative" GOP that controls the General Assembly pushing such a bill? Because in the final analysis the GOP has become the corporate party of American politics. Conservative values are fine as long as they don't interfere with what private corporations want, but if such a conflict happens, then corporate interests will win out almost everytime.

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