Although State Representative Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) said that there was ample time to have the “Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment” on the May ballot, it did not pass in the Ohio House and Senate prior to the February 1st deadline.
Stewart introduced House Joint Resolution (HJR) 6 in November; however, the legislation did not pass before the end of the session. Stewart indicated at the end of the year that he intended to resurrect the legislation in the 135th General Assembly which he did along with 30-plus GOP cosponsors last month.
“I reintroduced the Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment, along with 35 cosponsors, to require a 60 percent vote margin to amend Ohio’s governing document. It’s good policy and it’s time to get it done,” Stewart said.
The proposed constitutional amendment aims to alter the process of how constitutional amendments can be proposed by initiative petitions. Currently, issues proposed by initiative petitions need to meet a 50 percent voting threshold to amend the Constitution. Under this proposal, these issues would need to meet a 60 percent threshold.
The amendment has two substantive changes from the prior version. Instead of just 44 counties, the revised version would require signatures from all 88 as well as they eliminated the cure period for constitutional amendments, which allows citizen-led organizations to gather additional signatures if their initial batch doesn’t meet the requirements to make the ballot.
“Our Founding Fathers ensured that the United States Constitution would be protected against outside influence and special interests by requiring a super-majority vote for amendments. We can and should protect the Ohio Constitution in a similar way,” Stewart said.
Newly elected Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) hasn’t scheduled the legislation for a vote yet. In addition to having the support of Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, several members of the House Republican caucus including State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) have indicated this resolution is a top priority.
“Ohio elected a Republican super-majority in the House to protect our Constitution. Failure is not an option,” Merrin said.
According to Stephens, although the legislation will not be on the May ballot, he does not believe the measure is dead but said that he did oppose putting it before voters in an election where not all counties participate. He indicated that it would be assigned to a House committee for review.
“I don’t think it’s dead by any means. I think the idea of protecting our constitution is extremely important, regardless of which side of the aisle we’re on,” Stephens said.
Lawmakers selected Stephens as the new Speaker of the Ohio House to succeed State Representative Bob Cupp (R-Lima). The choice came despite the Republican Caucus‘ previous selection in November of Merrin as the new speaker.
Although the GOP caucus voted for Merrin as Speaker of the House in December, Stephens fought in collaboration with the Democrats to collect votes and garner a win.
According to State Representative Marilyn John (R-Shelby), in order to obtain the Democratic votes necessary to win the Speakers seat, Stephens made a deal with the Democrats and is not to be trusted.
She said that “killing” HJR 6 was part of that deal.
“He is going to say he didn’t but he did. It’s been verified by Allison Russo the minority leader,” John said.
Democrat House Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) has also acknowledged that in speaking with both Merrin and Stephens, the proposed amendment threshold change was something she was concerned about.
She has avoided however specifically addressing whether she did indeed strike an agreement with Stephens to kill any upcoming proposals.
Lawmakers now face an August 9th deadline to get the proposal before voters in November.
In order for Stewart to get his resolution on the November ballot, three-fifths of the members in both chambers have to approve the resolution first. In the House, that’s 60 votes.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Ohio State House of Representatives Chamber” by Bestbudbrian. CC BY-SA 3.0.