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Bill for updating constitution: $1.1M

Comprehensive review of 50,000-page state constitution would be first since 1970s.

The state’s first comprehensive review of the state constitution since the 1970s could have a hefty price tag: $1.1 million.

A budget plan approved by the Ohio House last month includes $1.1 million over two years in extra funding for the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission. The initial bill that created the commission in 2011 allocated only $100,000 over two years to get the fledgling commission off the ground.

The extra money would allow the commission to hire four new staffers.

The commission was created under a bill sponsored by Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina — and passed with nearly unanimous support — in advance of a state issue that in November 2011 asked voters whether state legislators should hold a constitutional convention.

Voters answered no, as they have every 20 years dating back to 1912. Even so, a comprehensive review of the 50,000-word state constitution is due, said Steven Steinglass, dean emeritus at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University.

The constitutional modernization commission is modeled after a similar commission that operated during the 1970s.

“There has been no systematic review of Ohio’s constitution in 40 years … and many would say it’s about time, and we should do it,” said Steinglass, a consultant to the commission.

The new commission is comprised of 32 members — 20 of whom are non-legislators, including former Republican Gov. Bob Taft and Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith L. French — and is split among Democrats and Republicans.

The commission could technically tackle hot-button issues like abortion or gun rights. But any issue would need bipartisan, two-thirds support from the commission before it could be presented to the Ohio legislature and then voters.

That makes it likely the commission will take on less controversial issues, such as redistricting reform, judicial election reform and changing legislator term limits.

There is no set time frame for the commission, which has 10 years to complete its task, though Batchelder said he hopes the redistricting reform would be ready for the ballot by 2014.

“It’s taken a long time to get ready. The whole setting up process has taken longer than I’d hoped,” said Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio, a left-leaning government watchdog group. “But at this point, I think they’re actually ready to get moving.”

The commission’s predecessor met between 1973 and 1978 presented 20 issues to voters. Sixteen of them were passed. Most were more tweaks than seismic changes, but a highlight was reducing the voting age in Ohio from 21 to 18.

Other changes included combining the governor and lieutenant governor elections on a joint ticket and creating the Ohio Ballot Board, a bipartisan group that approves ballot language.

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