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Hundreds protest 60% voter approval plan before vote on August special election bill is canceled

Hundreds of people marched around the Ohio Statehouse to protest the Republican-backed resolution to require 60% voter approval to amend the Ohio constitution and a bill to vote on it in an August special election, three months before a reproductive rights amendment will likely be before voters.

Some were hoping to stay for a committee hearing where the August special election bill, Senate Bill 92, was expected to be voted out. But the committee meeting was canceled 20 minutes after it was set to start, suggesting that there may not be consensus among the Republican members about moving the bill forward. All House and Senate Democrats are against both the special election bill and the 60% voter approval resolution.

The group of opponents, most from some of the hundreds of organizations that have publicly come out against the House and Senate versions of the resolution and the August special election bill.

Martha Bolling of Columbus came wearing a red, white and blue hat and carrying an orange sign that read "Vote No on HJR 1", referring to the House version of the resolution.

“We are making it perfectly clear what we need and what we want. And they are making it perfectly clear that they're not going to do that. So that is going to influence my voting henceforth," Bolling said.

Justin Beeson of Canton was warding off the wind in a Cleveland Guardians wool cap - also red, white and blue.

“HJR 1 is an attack on our democracy. And it is a thinly veiled attack on a woman's right to choose," Beeson said. "It's ridiculous that 40% of Ohioans can dictate what goes on for the rest of Ohio, and I'm not going to stand for it.”

Bundled up in a navy blue coat and a University of North Carolina wool cap, Anthony Burgess of Columbus said elected officials "should hear what the people are saying and that's what they should stand on."

“I truly feel that if they if they didn't have anything to hide or they thought the legislation was good, they would run it during a regular election cycle," Burgess said.

Also at the demonstration was former Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper, who's been tweeting extensively about the resolution and the special election bill.

"Maybe even better than just loud voices today is [former Republican governors] Bob Taft and John Kasich, the Libertarian Party, [former Republican attorneys general] Betty Montgomery, Jim Petro. You've got across the spectrum all these groups saying this is just a terrible idea. It's a power grab. It's not Ohio," Pepper said.

The pressure is on from both opponents and supporters

Supporters of the resolution and special election say the plan would protect Ohio's constitution from big money special interests. A political action committee has been set up to push for the August vote on the plan, with nearly all of its funding coming from Richard Uihlein, a billionaire Republican megadonor from Illinois.

The sponsor of the House resolution, Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) said when asked about that: "I think frankly, this is kind of an example of what we're trying to address for the long term. I would like to change this process so that we don't have this level of money being spent on constitutional amendments over and over and over again."

The Senate version of the resolution, SJR 2, has passed the Senate and passed a House committee Tuesday. Its next step is the House floor. Senate Bill 92, which would create the August special election, was expected to be voted out of a House committee Wednesday. Earlier in the day an amendment had been proposed to take the $20 million to pay for that election out of the bill. Twenty minutes after the committee hearing was scheduled to start, it was abruptly canceled.

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), who's under pressure from a political action committee set up to push the resolution forward in August, had said Tuesday the two measures would not be on the House floor this week. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who supports the resolution and the August special election though he testified for a bill to get rid of most August special elections last year, has said both measures have to pass by May 10 for that August vote to happen.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.