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Ohio joins multiple lawsuits against federal government

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Ohio has recently joined a collection of other states in two separate lawsuits against the U.S. government regarding transgender rights and overtime pay.

The federal government issued guidance through a joint letter in May from the Departments of Education and Justice. The letter focused on allowing transgender students more rights in public schools, including allowing students to identify with their preferred gender in school records, as well as giving them the same general educational and privacy rights that are typically offered to non-transgender students.

While the guidance is not an official law, the letter noted states that do not follow the guidance can be subject to loss of federal funding.

Litigation was filed against the federal government by Nebraska after the guidance was originally issued. Ohio did not officially join the lawsuit at that point, but Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine expressed his opposition with the federal guidance in a May letter to President Barack Obama’s administration.

“The federal government does not need and is not empowered to make every decision for every social institution in our country: There are many, many questions that, consistent with constitutional guarantees, are best left to the decent, commonsense judgment of individuals and communities at the state and local level,” DeWine said. “Under the laws of the United States, how schools work to handle locker room questions involving students’ gender identities is one such matter.”

The state of Ohio officially joined the lawsuit after the Highland Local School District filed a lawsuit claiming it was at risk of losing over $1 million in federal funding for not allowing a transgender student to use the bathroom of her choice. After the attorney general’s office was made aware of the lawsuit and failed to receive a response from the Obama administration, it decided to join the suit.

Highland School District lost its case in the federal district court of Ohio and is currently appealing to have the case reheard in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a separate case, the federal government recently announced legislation that would change the maximum salary employees are paid for overtime hours. The current laws dictate that only employees who earn a maximum of $23,660 per year are qualified for overtime pay, while the new legislation lowers the requirement to an annual salary of up to $47,476 to be paid for overtime hours. The law will go into effect on Dec. 1 of this year.

Texas, joined by 21 other states, filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, claiming the legislation was too great an overreach by the federal government. There were also complaints that state budgets had to be shifted, and money was taken away from other government programs to compensate for the increased pay. Ohio was one of the original 21 states to join the lawsuit but has not released official reasons since becoming involved..

While the exact reasons for Ohio’s involvement in these lawsuits continues to be debated, both sets of federal regulation involve education and labor policies, which have historically been controlled by state and local governments.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt was quick to point this out in a statement regarding the overtime pay lawsuit. 

“This rule, pushed by distant bureaucrats in D.C., tramples on state and local government budgets, forcing states to shift money from other important programs to balance their budgets, including programs intended to protect the very families that purportedly benefit from such federal overreach,” Laxalt said.

DeWine voiced similar concerns in his original letter opposing the transgender student guidance.

“Our State and our communities are much better equipped on these matters than even the most well intentioned federal ‘Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General’ or ‘Assistant Secretary’ to advance the important dignity and privacy interests of every student — of all students — at a school in our State,” DeWine wrote in a statement.

However, there is also some disagreement over who at the state level should be qualified to make these decisions.

“As a legal matter, it’s not for our attorney general to say,” said Elizabeth Bonham of Ohio’s ACLU. “It’s for the Department of Education and Department of Justice to interpret.”

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