By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog
INCONSISTENCY: The Towing and Recovery Association of Ohio says the myriad regulations are why they went to the Supreme Court in the first place.
Ohio cities will again be able to regulate towing companies, but only if the rules don’t contradict state law.
The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned half of the state-only regulation of the towing industry, citing home-rule powers granted to municipalities under the state constitution.
The case started as a dispute between the state and the city of Cleveland, which argued it should be allowed to create its own tow company regulations because it’s a home-rule city.
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, who wrote the unanimous opinion, approved the first sentence of the state law giving the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio regulatory authority over the industry. But she disagreed with the second sentence that said tow truck companies did not have to follow laws, rules or resolutions created by municipalities.
“The General Assembly may not by statute prohibit the municipal home-rule authority granted by Article XVIII, Section 3 of the Ohio Constitution,” she wrote. “Although R.C. 4921.25 places towing entities under the PUCO’s regulation as ‘for-hire motor carriers,’ there may be areas in which the PUCO has not regulated, allowing municipalities to adopt and enforce regulations in those areas.”
Bob Lambert, a lobbyist for the Towing & Recovery Association of Ohio, said their attorney is reviewing the ruling.
“We believe the ruling leaves a lot of items open to interpretation, things which are likely to be back before the Supreme Court again,” he said.
“The myriad of regulations is the reason we went to the Supreme Court in the first place,” he said. “Everyone in the state of Ohio should operate under the same rules and regulations. The licensing regulations should be the same everywhere. In Cuyahoga County, there are 66 different jurisdictions, and if every one of them passed a different regulation on how towing companies can operate, it would be murder.
“We’re waiting for clarification from our attorney as to what we can and cannot do and then we will pursue changes,” Lambert continued. “We believe we can come up with a good common general law that will leave the towing industry regulated fairly throughout the state while leaving the ruling intact to allow local municipalities free to implement their own rules.”
Lambert said his group is watching another proposed towing law.
The House Commerce, Labor & Technology committee is scheduled Wednesday to hear a bill that would further regulate the towing industry. According to the sponsors, House Bill 382 will protect Ohioans from predatory towing abuse.
It would also forbid fees not authorized by state law, which may limit monetary costs cities can require, since home-rule authority only gives them the ability to pass their own ordinances if they do not conflict with state law.
Lambert thought it telling the majority of complaints about towing abuses are from college towns and from tows from private property.
“It gets down to the right of a merchant to determine who can and cannot park on their own property,” he said. “Some complaints are valid, especially ones about damage to vehicles during the tow, and there are some aspects of the predatory towing bill that make sense. But we believe the problem is not as rampant as it’s being presented.”
Lambert said he’s met with the sponsors of the bill to discuss potential changes.
“We may have a difference on how to approach the common concerns but we’re working on how to come to agreement on them,” he said.
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