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Major Court Victory for Local Food Advocates


The Ohio Court of Appeals last week struck down state legislation preventing the city of Cleveland from banning trans fats. Experts tout the ruling as the first major court victory in the effort to prevent preemption of local food policies.

The court’s ruling overturns broad state legislation, engineered and supported by the restaurant industry and approved shortly after Cleveland enacted its trans fats ban, that preempted local authorities from regulating local food issues.

The decision comes at a time when a national discussion is heating up about the role of local governments in addressing public health issues, says attorney Samantha Graff. Graff filed an amicus brief supporting the city of Cleveland on behalf of ChangeLabs Solutions and the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network.

“The Ohio ruling strongly affirms the long-standing principle that local policymakers are uniquely positioned to identify and address threats to the health and safety of their communities,” says Graff, a Leader. “Time and again, local lawmakers have stuck their necks out to protect their constituencies from noxious commercial products and practices. If they are stripped of their authority to do so, the prospects are dim that their state counterparts will step in to fill the void.” 

Similar preemption bills have been implemented in a number of states, most recently in Mississippi, which approved legislation last month that was almost identical to the Ohio language and banned cities and counties from passing almost any potential regulation related to food or nutrition policy. Meanwhile, a judge struck down New York City’s effort to set size limits for sugary drinks.

In Ohio, the court ruled that the preemptive legislation implemented by the state violated the Ohio Constitution’s Home Rule Amendment and single-subject rule. In its ruling, the court also noted that the preemptive legislation was “drafted on behalf of a special interest group with the specific purpose of snuffing out [Cleveland’s] Ordinance.”

Shortly after Cleveland implemented the trans fats ban, the court wrote, the Ohio Restaurant Association sent an email to the Ohio Department of Agriculture with a legislative proposal, which had been given to a Senator to offer in the Senate Finance Committee. The court took issue with the process of approving the legislation, noting it was included as amendments in the state’s 3,000 page appropriations act, and thus not vetted by the usual committee process.

“The House did not vote on the amendments, because the House had already passed the appropriations bill before the amendments were inserted into the bill,” the court wrote. “There were no hearings… Although the amendments will impact the health of Ohioians, there was no testimony to any legislative committees from any nutritionist, dietician, or any kind of health care professional explaining the health effects of trans fats.”

The state is expected to appeal the court’s decision.

Click here to connect with Samantha Graff.