Ohio’s Line-Item Veto: A Primer

Ohio Governors exercise their power to veto legislation thanks to Article II, Section 16 of the Ohio Constitution. With the line-item veto, a Governor may disapprove of a specific item or items in a bill without vetoing the entire legislation. The line-item authority is limited to spending bills, and is solely a “negative” power vested in the Governor, in that it only allows a Governor to disapprove, or essentially remove items from a bill, but not to add any items or language to a bill.

Neither the Ohio Constitution nor Ohio case law have clearly defined either the limits of the line-item veto power or what constitutes an “item.”  However, some general rules and guidelines have evolved over time.

First, the veto extends to “any item or items in any bill making an appropriation of money,” meaning that the power extends not merely to the spending of money, but also includes policy provisions contained in the bill.

Next, the Ohio Supreme Court has held that the General Assembly “cannot by any device deny the chief executive the power of veto over whatever they do.”  In other words, the term “item” has been interpreted broadly to keep the legislature from attempting to structure or connect the language of a bill in a manner that could effective deny the veto power.

In fact, an “item” subject to veto need not necessarily be a complete paragraph or even a complete sentence;  under proper circumstances, a single clause, a single phrase, or even a single word may be vetoed.  In practice, this allows the striking of single words and phrases so long as the veto does not affect other language in the bill. However, some sources stress that a veto may be subject to heightened scrutiny if it strikes one of the following restrictions on spending: (1) a condition precedent; (2) a qualification; (3) a formula; or (4) a specific direction of a method of spending.

In the end, the determination of what is a proper exercise of the line-item veto is at the discretion of the Governor.  If a legal challenge is made to the veto, Ohio courts are reluctant to second-guess the Governor, only interfering to declare a line-item veto invalid where there has been a clear abuse of the Governor’s discretion.