Battle within Ohio House GOP could prevent supermajority from exercising unique power
The rift among Ohio House Republicans could prevent GOP lawmakers from exercising a unique power that only a supermajority has. That power is in passing "emergency legislation."
There are 67 Republicans in the House, compared to 32 Democrats. There are 26 Republican Senators and 7 Democrats in the Senate.
There’s no real definition of "emergency legislation in state law," according to Steven Steinglass, professor emeritus with the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University and an expert on the Ohio Constitution.
Steinglass said that could mean a party with a supermajority in the statehouse can approve legislation on any issue that would go into effect immediately.
“There really isn't any definition of what an emergency is because, like impeachment — it's in the eye of the beholder," Steinglass said. "'Emergency’ has really come to mean simply a shortcut for saying, 'we want this to go into effect immediately.'"
And there's another element of this power, noted Steinglass — it shuts off the ability for voters to decide to keep or reject the law.
“If by a two-thirds vote of all the members an emergency clause is approved, then the legislation goes into effect right away. That shuts off the referendum," said Steinglass. "Under the referendum, Ohio voters have 90 days from the time the bill is signed to submit a petition for a referendum. If they do that within the 90-day period, that suspends the law — it doesn't go into effect. And at the next fall election, the voters have a chance to vote up or down as to whether they approve the legislation."
And that means if a supermajority passes emergency legislation, opponents can’t gather signatures to temporarily halt the law to take it to the ballot. That’s what happened in 2011 with the collective bargaining law known as Senate Bill 5, which progressive and union groups brought to voters, who overwhelmingly repealed it.
Steinglass said the referendum is a powerful tool. Since 1912, only 13 times have state laws been put before voters to be upheld or rejected and 11 times, they were repealed.