Law and Disorder

How to change a law: Well, maybe …

By A.J. Wagner

I don’t like some laws. You probably don’t either. Take, for instance, the City of Dayton’s red light and speed cameras. I don’t like them. I don’t like the laws that authorized the cameras, authorized the requirement to pay money to appeal, limit the reasons for appeal, take the courts out of the process, allow for your car to be towed to a $20-a-day gravel parking lot when no commercial lot in the city charges that much for parking or the taking of a $5,000, $10,000 or $40,000 car for failure to pay a couple hundred dollars in tickets without proper due process.

I don’t like it. I don’t like that we say “Welcome Dayton” while setting traps for new visitors who drive our streets unaware of the cameras. And no, a warning a few hundred feet before the intersection doesn’t make it their fault if they don’t see the sign while keeping their eyes on the road. I don’t like that outsiders who have received a ticket elect to avoid travel into Dayton because they are angry, because they fear another trap or because they fear their car will be towed.

One method to change these laws is to go to court. But who has the tens of thousands of dollars it would take to fight this thing all the way to the Supreme Court of Ohio? It would be a noble gesture, but it would be smarter to pay the $85 fine.

Another method is to convince those that passed the law to reconsider. But that is most unlikely, since elected officials fear changing their minds on most anything (as do the rest of us) without an uproar of proper proportions. Commissioner Joey Williams expressed some discomfort after the city started towing cars and the standards for a tow were relaxed a bit, but the law remains.

Yet another way to get laws changed is to vote in those who are willing to change laws. But it is hard to oust an incumbent and few people vote for someone based on only one issue.

That leaves a referendum. A referendum is a citizen-led amendment to the law by petition. Citizens gather the needed signatures to put an amendment or a new law onto the election ballot for a vote by fellow citizens. In Dayton, the process for doing this is contained in Article III of the Dayton Charter which states: “Any proposed ordinance may be submitted to the Commission by petition signed by at least ten percent of the total number of registered voters in the municipality.” Sounds easy enough. But wait, there’s more.

“The Commission shall at once proceed to consider it and shall take final action thereon within 30 days from the date of submission. If the Commission rejects the proposed ordinance, or passes it in a form different from that set forth in the petition, the committee of the petitioners may require that it be submitted to a vote of the electors in its original form, or that it be submitted to a vote of the electors with any proposed change, addition, or amendment, if a petition for such election is presented bearing additional signatures of 15 percent of the electors of the city.”

So, if the Commission rejects the original petition, you only need find another 15 percent of the voters, for a total of 25 percent, to get the issue onto the ballot for a public referendum. 25 percent of Dayton voters is about 23,000. We don’t get that many voters to vote in a primary election in Dayton.

Truth is, to get 23,000 signatures is nearly impossible since a large percentage of registered voters have moved without changing their registration. So, although they are registered, they aren’t really available to sign a petition or to vote in Dayton any longer.

Every level of government tends to have a system for advancing changes in law by citizen participation. But, frankly, none are easy. Article V of the United States Constitution outlines the method for change, though it involves Congress and state legislatures and not citizens. Ohio’s Constitution, pursuant to Article XVI, can be changed by referendum of the citizens, as was done recently when gambling was added to the document. Because of the number of constitutional amendments we have recently seen in Ohio, some are even saying it’s too easy to change our fundamental laws.

Which brings me to this suggestion: If we cannot get our laws changed through courts, reconsideration, elections or referendum under the Dayton City Charter, perhaps a statewide referendum could end the practice of big brother cameras monitoring our driving habits.

I don’t know anyone who will do this. But it’s worth the thought, yes?

Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein. 

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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