A bill that would ban local hiring quotas became “Senate Bill 5 light,” opponents said, after lawmakers added a provision Tuesday targeting cities’ use of project labor agreements.

Democrats warned Senate Bill 152 could trigger a court battle and a worker-led referendum akin to the 2011 fight over Senate Bill 5, which would have curtailed collective bargaining for public employees.

The bill wouldn’t outright ban project labor agreements, which are collective bargaining agreements negotiated between cities, unions, and contractors before the project begins. But it bans cities from requiring or prohibiting use of the agreements as a condition for bidding on a project using state funding.

Supporters say the provision levels the playing field between union and non-union contractors. Opponents say the language is yet another way lawmakers are hurting cities’ ability to do what’s best for their residents and would likely be found unconstitutional.

The Ohio House and Senate have passed companion bills designed to wipe out rules in Cleveland, Akron and elsewhere requiring that a certain amount of local workers be hired for large, publicly funded construction projects.

Supporters say

Local hiring: Senate Bill 152 would ban local laws requiring a portion of construction workers be hired locally.

The bill’s supporters, including the Ohio Contractors Association, say the quotes make it harder for contractors to hire the best workers and disadvantage Ohio companies. Out-of-state companies don’t have to meet residency quotas, which has become an issue in Southwest Ohio where companies can hire workers from Kentucky.

Project labor agreements: Project labor agreements are pre-hire agreements that set the terms for hiring, time line for completion, method for resolving disputes, and other factors that might delay or damage a project for all contractors on the project.

Project labor agreements are optional, but language added to the bill Tuesday would prevent cities from requiring them for state-funded projects. Rep. Ron Hood, the Ashville Republican who sponsored the amendment, said the change will ensure projects go to the lowest, most responsible bid.

Opponents say

Local hiring: Cleveland, Akron, and other cities already opposed the bill. Cleveland’s “Fannie Lewis” law, named after the late Cleveland city councilwoman, requires local residents perform 20 percent of work on all city construction projects that cost $100,000 or more. Akron requires contractors bidding on its $1.4 billion sewer project to hire half of their workers locally by 2018.

Cleveland officials have said the quotas ensure there is work for people in job training or apprenticeship programs.

Project labor agreements: Rep. Nick Celebrezze, a Parma Democrat, said the agreements protect skilled workers and ensure projects are completed on time. Celebrezze said Goodyear, Honda, and other companies use private sector project labor agreements because they are beneficial to the developer.

“We hear from the majority all the time that government should be run more like a business,” Celebrezze said. “Well, here’s our chance.”

The Ohio Supreme Court in 2002 struck down a law banning project labor agreements. House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, a Dayton Democrat, said Senate Bill 152 would likely be unconstitutional and violate cities’ home rule authority.

Strahorn said cities should be allowed to factor in other attributes while bidding out projects and might not always want to go with the “lowest common denominator.”

“We are doing thing after thing in Columbus to make it harder for cities and make it harder for people to get ahead and now we want to interfere with local folks handling their own local issue that we’ve exacerbated,” Strahorn said.

Next steps

Senate Bill 152 cleared a House committee Tuesday and could receive a full House vote as early as Wednesday. If passed by the House, the Senate will need to agree to the changes before it can go to Gov. John Kasich.