A Cuyahoga County judge on Feb. 1  blocked a controversial measure banning local hiring quotas.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Russo granted the city of Cleveland’s request to permanently block the law from being enforced.

In blocking enforcement of the law, Judge Russo cited home rule authority.

“The court finds that HB180 was improperly enacted because it does not provide for the comfort, health, safety and welfare of employees; rather, HB180 seeks only to dictate the terms by which municipalities may contract for workers in construction projects within their realm,” he wrote in his ruling. “There are no protections afforded to employees under HB180, and no portion of the bill relates to the comfort, health, safety or general welfare of these contractors.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine‘s office declined to comment on the judge’s ruling, but did say an appeal is planned.

The city argued the law would override a 2003 ordinance, the Fannie Lewis law, which requires 20% of taxpayer-funded construction hours to go to city residents. The law also requires that 4% of those hours are worked by low-income residents.

Since 2013, according to the lawsuit, the law has allowed city residents to work 897,870 hours on taxpayer funded construction projects, generating more than $34 million in wages. More than 100,000 hours were worked by low-income city residents.

In pushing for the legislation, former Rep. Ron Maag, who sponsored the bill, argued that local hiring quotas build “walls against employment.” 

Mr. Maag also cited a 2009 Ohio Supreme Court Case – Lima v. State – that found cities cannot require their employees to reside in the city of employment as justification for the bill.

The state also cited that case in defending the constitutionality of the law, an argument that Judge Russo found unconvincing, saying that case centered on “residency requirements for municipal employees, mandatory collective-bargaining arbitration for employees and police pension funds for police employees.

“In contrast, the Fannie Lewis law does not contain any residency requirements for employees of the political subdivision, nor does the law require the city’s contractors to set any resident requirements for their employees; instead the Fannie Lewis law sets thresholds for those persons assigned to work on public projects,” he wrote. “These workers may or may not be employees of those businesses who contract with the city. There is no condition to employment or contract that the workers for the construction company reside in any specific area of the state.”

Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) applauded the court’s decision, calling it a “commonsense ruling.”

“Local hiring standards are an effective tool for communities to combat high unemployment rates, especially among minority communities in our state’s urban cores. The state should partner with local communities to expand economic opportunities for everyone, not attack home rule authority and restrict residents from participating in their own communities’ economic development,” she said in a statement.

“I sincerely hope the state will not contest this ruling and fight to uphold restrictions on local hiring, but instead allow communities to make local decisions to benefit working families.”