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Analysis: LaRose's 60% constitutional amendment plan could be in trouble

In November, Ohio secretary of state Frank LaRose announced a plan to raise the threshold for voters to approve a constitutional amendment to 60%.
Andy Chow
Ohio Public Radio
In November, Ohio secretary of state Frank LaRose announced a plan to raise the threshold for voters to approve a constitutional amendment to 60%.

Elections have consequences. So, too, does blatant, partisan gerrymandering.

So it is little wonder that the Republican super-majority in the Ohio House and Senate felt a sense of entitlement in the lame duck session and had significant and incredibly controversial pieces of legislation barreling through both houses and becoming law like they were on a bullet train.

Well, sometimes, even the most streamlined and efficient train runs off the tracks and ends up in a ditch.

It happened this week to House Joint Resolution 6, a bill introduced by State Rep. Brian Stewart and touted by the would-be Republican U.S. Senate candidate Frank LaRose, Ohio's secretary of state.

The idea behind HJR 6 was to require any ballot issue to amend Ohio's constitution pass with at least 60% of the vote.

The standard in Ohio has been 50% plus one since 1912; and no Republican did much to try to change that until now, when abortion rights groups are exploring the possibility of a constitutional amendment to codify Roe v. Wade in Ohio law.

And others are in the early stages of planning other constitutional amendments to do other things Republican lawmakers don't approve of, such as coming up with a redistricting plan that cuts elected officials out of the process of drawing legislative district maps or raising the minimum wage.

Stewart, the sponsor of the resolution, made it very clear in a letter to GOP legislators this week, this whole "60%" thing is about stopping abortion rights advocates.

"After decades of Republicans' work to make Ohio a pro-life state, the Left intends to write abortion on-demand into Ohio's constitution," Stewart wrote in a letter first reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Andrew Tobias. "If they succeed, all the work accomplished by multiple Republican majorities will be undone and will return to 19,000+ babies being aborted each and every year."

Well, the political party which controls nearly every aspect of Ohio government must snuff out any spark of thought which is not their own. Or try to anyway.

Nearly 200 organizations in Ohio have come out against HJR 6; it seems nearly everyone except Republican legislators and statewide officeholders thinks it is a cockeyed, undemocratic idea that appears to be a solution in search of a problem.

It even seems there are some Republican legislators in the Ohio House who have their reservations about HJR 6 themselves.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Bob Cupp told Statehouse reporters that it is "doubtful" the resolution will be voted on in the House by the end of the year.

"Members have a lot of different opinions about it and some are trying to figure it out," Cupp said. "I don't see any need for it."

RELATED: Why is Frank LaRose pushing a ballot issue not many seem to like?

This was not exactly music to the ears of Senate President Matt Huffman, who very much wants to see this passed and placed on the May ballot. Huffman has the votes in his chamber to pass it, but he needs the House to act.

And that's not going to happen in 2022.

It could, theoretically, happen in January. Nearly all legislative bodies, including the Ohio General Assembly, have "sunset" provisions in their rules, which mean that if HJR 6 isn't passed in the 134th Ohio General Assembly it could be reintroduced when the 135th convenes in January.

But a statewide ballot issue for the May primary would have to be filed by Feb. 1; and that's a pretty fast track, even for the Ohio GOP's bullet train.

Rob Nichols, LaRose's press secretary, issued a statement for the secretary of state, who has spent some valuable political capital on this 60% idea.

"Good policy starts with a conversation, and, like any good leader, Secretary LaRose did just that," Nichols said. "What’s important now is keeping that conversation moving forward so Ohioans can decide what changes we can make to better protect our constitution from special interests."

Critics of the proposed change don’t see any need to protect the constitution from "special interests." And they don't see why a ballot issuethat gets 59% of the vote should fail.

RELATED: Should earning 59% of Ohioans' votes be considered a loss? Frank LaRose thinks so

The groups who filled the Statehouse rotunda Tuesday to protest HJR 6 believe it is a sham, a way to stifle dissent and take power away from the voters.

"HJR 6 is not based on the sacred ideas of integrity and fairness," said Rev. Jack Sullivan, Jr., executive director of the Ohio Council of Churches.

"It is based on a political ideology of power and domination of one party over another."

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.