Plan to restrict constitutional access in Ohio delayed again


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Efforts Tuesday by Republican state lawmakers moving to ask Ohio voters this August to raise the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments — with the idea of thwarting a November abortion rights question — were again plagued by delays.

The contingent championing the idea had continued to press forward even as former attorneys general of both parties joined a growing chorus in opposing their plan.

But two Ohio House committees that had separate possible votes scheduled Tuesday failed to act before Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens’ deadline to set the next day’s House calendar. Once it was missed, Stephens canceled the session. The final deadline for making the August ballot is May 10.

One of the committees appeared to stalemate over legislation establishing a $20 million special election this summer, with some lawmakers balking at the fact that it would reverse a bill that eliminated such elections only a few months ago. The other committee saw its business extend into the afternoon, as lawmakers heard hours of opposition testimony on a joint resolution that would place an issue on that ballot asking to raise the threshold for passing constitutional amendments from 50%-plus-one to 60%.

Five former attorneys general wrote a letter to every state senator and representative Monday opposing the plan, a move that follows opposition from former Republican Govs. Bob Taft and John Kasich and former Democratic Govs. Ted Strickland and Richard Celeste.

Republicans Betty Montgomery and Jim Petro and Democrats Richard Cordray, Lee Fisher and Nancy Rogers all told lawmakers they are uniquely positioned to comment on the proposal, given the state attorney general’s key roles in reviewing citizen-led initiatives and litigating on the state’s behalf.

“Constitutions are designed to endure, and major changes in fundamental constitutional arrangements should not be made unless the changes are supported by a careful understanding of the policies being changed and the consequences of the proposed changes,” they wrote. “Such changes should not be made without the opportunity for participation of those most intimately affected by the constitution — the people. Clearly, that has not happened in this rush to revise our constitution.”

The former top lawyers said Ohio’s existing initiative process has “worked well” as a vehicle over more than a century for a host of policy changes impacting Ohioans — including creation of county home rule, a 10-mill limit on unvoted property taxes, legislative term limits and setting a minimum wage.

State Rep. Brian Stewart, the House resolution’s Republican sponsor, defended the resolution at a meeting of the House Constitutional Amendments Committee. He and GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose introduced the 60% proposal during last year’s lame duck session, with LaRose arguing it would be “a win for good government” that would protect the state’s founding document from deep-pocketed special interests.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who is also a former state attorney general, has said he would sign the August special election bill, should the politically fractured Ohio House get it through a floor vote. Asked last week how that squares with his signing of a bill in January that eliminated August special elections, which were held up as expensive, low-turnout assaults on democracy, DeWine said “it’s inconsistent.”

He noted that the legislation also contained a long list of other election law changes that he supported, including a strict new photo ID requirement.

The Senate passed its versions of both measures last month.

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