Ohio constitutional rule plan could get vote in August ahead of fall abortion issue
In August, Ohio voters may decide whether the state should increase the number of votes needed to amend the constitution if Republicans in the Senate get their way.
Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, said Tuesday his group is considering whether to put the issue to a vote in a special election in August. The discussions come as supporters begin gathering signatures for a proposed November vote amendment that would expand access to abortion in Ohio.
“We could do it in November if we wanted to,” Huffman said. “But I think we have a lot of early elections at various times other than May and November. Of course, we ruled out the August election as a recurring election, but we will definitely look into it.”
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The proposal, first introduced last year by Rep. Brian Stewart of R-Asheville, would require 60% of voters to pass constitutional amendments instead of a simple majority. The resolution itself is an amendment, meaning that it must be approved by a simple majority of voters before it can take effect.
Stewart and Secretary of State Frank LaRose tried to speed up the resolution during last year’s lame duck so it could get a vote in May, but it didn’t get enough support in the House of Representatives. Supporters called the move a power grab by the Republicans, who control the three branches of government.
Stewart resubmitted the resolution this year with some changes, including one that would have required petitioners to collect signatures from voters in all 88 districts instead of 44. R-Monclova was allegedly part of a deal between Speaker Jason Stevens, R-Kitts Hill and the Democrats.
The measure is scheduled for the committee’s first hearing on Wednesday.
“Ohioans have had the sacred right to amend the Constitution by voting since 1912, and we urge legislators to remove HJR 1, which would make citizen-led voting initiatives nearly impossible,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the Women’s League. Ohio voters. “HJR 1 is undemocratic and unnecessary, but if the General Assembly rushes the proposal it will most likely fail in a vote because it is also incredibly unpopular.”
What’s happening from here?
The future of the resolution is far from certain.
A new voting law passed last year canceled most snap local elections in August after supporters, including LaRose, said they were too expensive. For voters to consider Stewart’s resolution in August, lawmakers will need to pass it by May and call a statewide snap election to that end.
A spokesperson for LaRose declined to comment.
Stewart’s resolution also needs to be amended as it reflects plans to put the issue to a vote in May, which is no longer possible. He did not elaborate on when the changes might occur and did not respond to questions about any plans for August.
Meanwhile, opponents of the pro-abortion vote initiative are seeking to change the amendment process. Aaron Baer, president of the Christian Virtue Center, said they are urging lawmakers to act quickly, though he didn’t say if they’re pushing for August specifically.
“It’s easy for the General Assembly,” Baer said. They were elected to make laws. The constitution is something that should not be so easily agreed to.
Huffman agrees. He said the Republican Party’s Senate talk is partly about the abortion initiative, but he believes the resolution will prevent other “bad things” like recreational marijuana from entering the Constitution. (The only active attempt to legalize marijuana is through an initiated legislative process, not a constitutional amendment.)
“Frankly, if I knew the House of Representatives wasn’t going to pass this by the end of the year or in January, the Senate would just go ahead and do it,” Huffman said.
Hayley Bemiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network’s Ohio bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliated news organizations in Ohio.
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