COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio Republicans broadened the scope of a measure Thursday that would make it more difficult for citizen-initiated petitions to be embedded within the state constitution.
Two weeks after Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) presented a proposal requiring 60% of the vote, as opposed to a simple majority, to pass constitutional amendments crafted by citizens and outside groups, House lawmakers expanded the measure to also apply the supermajority threshold to lawmaker-led initiatives.
“Good ideas will pass with more than 60%,” Stewart said on Thursday. The impetus behind House Joint Resolution 6, he and LaRose have contended, is to prevent “special interests and out-of-state activists” from abusing the Ohio Constitution.
“Have you ever tried to sit down and read the Ohio Constitution? I have – it’s a mess,” Stewart said. “It’s been constantly used to plop things in through initiative petitions, that, in a lot of cases, haven’t been necessarily vetted.”
In an 8-5 vote split down party lines, members of the House Government Oversight Committee gave their stamp of approval – at the request of Stewart – to the substitute bill including Ohio General Assembly-initiative petitions within the supermajority threshold.
The vote comes two days after 140 organizations wrote a letter in opposition to HJR 6, calling it a power grab designed to curtail citizens’ ability to amend the state constitution.
“We are proud to live in a state that gives voters the right to direct democracy and the ability to have a real say in politics,” the letter, signed by the League of Women Voters, Ohio Voter Rights Coalition and others, reads. “We see no justifiable reason, after over 100 years, to suddenly make this already challenging process harder.”
In a letter addressed to House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, the 140 groups argued the process to amend the Ohio Constitution is not overused. Nineteen of the 71 citizen-led initiatives brought to Ohio voters since 2012 have passed, amounting to a 27% success rate, according to the ACLU of Ohio.
Ohioans, the letter read, are “well aware” of the challenge in doing so, “requiring hundreds of thousands of verified signatures and a strict geographical distribution across at least half of Ohio’s 88 counties.”
“The people of Ohio take their responsibility as voters seriously and know the significance of reforming the Ohio Constitution,” the ACLU of Ohio said.
Since 2000 alone, Ohio has seen 16 citizen-led petitions for constitutional amendments. Of the five petitions that passed, voters approved three with more than 60% of the vote, according to LaRose.
State legislators, on the other hand, passed 15 of the 17 proposals they brought forward to amend the Ohio Constitution during that same time period, LaRose’s office said. Of the 15 proposals that passed, 12 received 60% or more of the vote.
“Requiring a 60 percent supermajority for the passage of a constitutional amendment is a win for good government because it resorts the power of popular majorities in deciding the enormous importance of amending the state Constitution,” LaRose said in a Nov. 17 statement.
Nine other states have supermajorities for petition-based constitutional amendments: Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Nebraska, Mississippi, Wyoming and Florida, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. LaRose said he hopes the state legislature approves the amendment during its lame-duck session.