Effort to make it harder to amend Ohio Constitution ‘doubtful’ to pass this year

Credit: Jim Gaines

Credit: Jim Gaines

COLUMBUS — The push led by Secretary of State Frank LaRose to raise the bar for amending the Ohio Constitution looks unlikely to get through Ohio’s General Assembly in this year’s lame-duck legislative session.

LaRose had said legislators sought to pass the resolution before the legislative session ends, getting it on the ballot in May, an off-year election with traditionally low voter turnout.

House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, told the Associated Press Tuesday that it was “doubtful” the measure would pass in the lame-duck session.

The effort, now dubbed House Joint Resolution 6, would then have to be refiled when the 135th General Assembly starts in January — meaning it’s unlikely to appear on the May 2 statewide ballot. That would push it until at least Aug. 8 and perhaps to Nov. 7.

“We are pleased that this attack on Ohio’s longstanding tradition of citizen-led ballot initiatives appears to have hit a dead end,” Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said Wednesday. “But our diverse coalition of over 175 organizations will be ready once again to launch an opposition campaign if any similar proposals come back next year.”

The Rev. Jack Sullivan, executive director of the Ohio Council of Churches, noted that the current standards for citizen-initiated amendments have been in place for more than a century. Raising the bar would give 40% of the electorate the power to block the will of the majority, he said.

LaRose and state Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, announced the fast-track effort Nov. 17. The resolution’s original version only called for raising the threshold for passing voter-initiated state constitutional amendments from 50%-plus-one to 60% of the statewide vote.

“Good policy starts with a conversation, and, like any good leader, Secretary LaRose did just that,” LaRose’s spokesperson Rob Nichols said Wednesday. “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.”

The resolution received expedited hearings in the House Government Oversight Committee. At its first hearing, state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, replaced it with a substitute that would also raise the threshold to 60% for amendments initiated by the General Assembly.

Backers of the resolution describe it as defending against unnamed “outside interest groups” or “out-of-state billionaires” pouring money into campaigns to change the Ohio constitution.

Opponents have replied that raising the threshold for approval would have the opposite effect, meaning only big-money donors could afford the campaigns needed to get 60% support.

Of the 20 amendments made to the Ohio Constitution since the turn of the century, three-quarters were proposed by state lawmakers. No citizen-initiated amendment has appeared on the state ballot since 2018.

At noon Tuesday representatives of voting rights, religious and labor groups rallied against HJR6 in the Ladies Gallery of the Statehouse.

“Hundreds of Ohioans showed up to oppose this attack on our freedoms,” said Desiree Tims, president and CEO of Innovation Ohio. “The people’s activism stopped this undemocratic, unpopular resolution. I hope Ohio politicians have learned their lesson. But if they try to bring this issue back next year, we’ll be ready.”

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