Saturday, October 4, 2003

House member's term too long?

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A term-limits glitch could force Democratic state Rep. Dale Miller to leave the Legislature two years earlier than he had planned.

Miller, of Cleveland, was appointed to the House on Jan. 7, 1997, after then-Rep. Patrick Sweeney quit to take an appointment to the Ohio Senate. Miller then was elected to three two-year terms beginning in 1998.

However, the House Democratic caucus approved a resolution that states Miller "is hereby elected ... for the full term of said Patrick A. Sweeney, commencing January 1, 1997."

Sweeney, who was ousted as the House minority leader after the 1996 election, never took his oath in the House, so Miller was the only representative from the district for the two-year session.

Miller, 53, said he learned about his quandary on Wednesday when the Republican-controlled House clerk's office indicated he was ineligible for another term.

In 1992, voters amended the Ohio Constitution to limit senators to two consecutive four-year terms and representatives to four two-year terms. However, members appointed to an unexpired term do not count that as a full term.

Because Miller joined the Legislature on the second day of the session, Democrats assumed he was filling Sweeney's unexpired term.

Lawyers for the Democrats are trying to determine what options are available, said Minority Leader Chris Redfern. Should the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission determine that Miller is not eligible for another term, the Democrats could take the case to court, Redfern said.

"I really don't want to deal in assumptions and hypotheticals," Redfern said.

Don McTigue, a lawyer for the Democrats, said his team was still doing research and had not settled on a strategy.

Miller said he would not decide whether to pursue another term until the Democrats' lawyers determine his chances of prevailing.

"What we have here is a matter of trying to apply a constitutional provision that's pretty broad to a unique set of circumstances," Miller said. "If I'm entitled to an additional term, I'll run for it. If the consensus is that term where I filled in for Pat Sweeney counts against term limits, then I'll let it go."

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