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Ohio lawmakers consider alternative options to place constitutional threshold amendment before voters

The Ohio House Rules and Reference Committee considered changes to language for the resolution that is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote Wednesday, May 10, 2023.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
The Ohio House Rules and Reference Committee considered changes to language for the resolution that is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote Wednesday, May 10, 2023.

Republican lawmakers tried a new tack Tuesday in order to bring a ballot measure to voters that would raise the bar for amending the state constitution.

To appease some House Republicans who oppose an August 8 special election, a committee will consider language in House Joint Resolution 1 that removes any reference to the August special election. Instead, the ballot proposal to require a 60% vote in order to change the constitution would appear “in the next general or special election scheduled to occur not earlier than 90 days after the resolution is submitted to the Secretary of State.”

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R- Kitts Hill) said the change will help more GOP lawmakers get on board, given the legislature’s passage of a bill last year eliminating most August special elections.

“We have a lot of our members in the Republican caucus who are concerned about the August election," Stephens said.

The language does not include funding to pay for a special election, but Stephens said that's not a problem.

“County elections are paid by county government, which usually in a special election like this, would be reimbursed. I imagine, you know, somewhere down the way there would be some reimbursement to the counties,” Stephens said.

Republican lawmakers are eager to put the measure to voters before Ohioans vote on a proposed amendment that could enshrine legal abortion into the constitution. That measure is likely to appear on the November ballot.

Some have suggested the proposal to increase the threshold for constitutional amendments could appear alongside the abortion issue in the fall. It's a notion that Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) doesn't like.

"I feel pretty confident that if it goes to the ballot in August, it will be defeated. The citizens have been loud and clear about the unpopularity of this vote. Or if it goes into November, it will defeat it, be defeated,” Russo said. “The problem is, you know, we are going to create confusion. We are going to create chaos that now we are going to push off to the counties and to our boards of elections in order to conduct that and all to cater to extremists.”

And there’s another problem with Tuesday’s proposed language change to HJR 1, according to the state’s leading expert on the Ohio constitution.

Steven Steinglass, dean emeritus of the Cleveland State University College of Law, said the resolution itself, and a vehicle to create an election in which to allow Ohioans to weigh in on it, are "two distinct legal instruments that cannot be combined.”

"This would expand what could be heard in August and that is, the way I learned it in seventh grade civics, that's a statutory action, not a joint resolution action and it can't be done," Steinglass said.

Russo suggested the language added Tuesday might not stick.

"Well, certainly they can get on the floor tomorrow and take that language right back out and amend it, which I wouldn't be surprised if that happens. So, you know, some of this is theatrics, I think," Russo said.

There could be other amendments proposed Wednesday when the issue is debated on the House floor, Stephens said, including a plan (again) to hold a special election on August 8.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who supports the resolution and the proposed August special election, has said lawmakers have until Wednesday to pass both measures.

Updated: May 10, 2023 at 2:21 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.