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Proposed resolution to raise threshold for passing constitutional amendments remains in committee

Brian Stewart with Ohio House Government Oversight 1222.jpg
Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) provides testimony for HJR6 during Ohio House Government Oversight Committee hearing.

An Ohio House committee heard testimony on a controversial resolution that would make it harder to pass constitutional amendments. The proposal was scheduled for a committee vote Thursday but that didn’t happen.

Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro), the chair of the House Government Oversight Committee, said there’s a simple reason why the committee didn’t vote on the proposal that would require 60% of voters to approve a constitutional amendment.

“We had some members who were going to be absent," Wilkin told reporters after the meeting, adding that some were out with illnesses.

The resolution would set in motion a process that could change the threshold for passing a constitutional amendment.

Currently, a change to the state's constitution can be made if voters pass it with a simple majority of 50% plus one. But this new resolution would up that to 60%.

Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, told the committee Thursday it's already hard for groups to put issues to change the constitution before voters.

Further, she said Ohio voters, by a 51% majority, approved an anti-monopoly measure in 2015 that keeps big money, special interests from injecting their issues into the constitution. She told the committee this proposed legislation would actually make sure certain special interests would have an easier opportunity to pass constitutional amendments than ordinary citizens.

"It would be very hard to actually do this. It will take significantly more money and more money means out of state money because we haven't created greater transparency, dark money, in fact I'm worried that instead of addressing concerns about dark money and special interests working their dark, wealthy magic that, in fact, they are more likely to be successful," Turcer said.

Backers of the amendment, including Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, have said this change is necessary to prevent the constitution from being affected by "special interests."

“Something as serious as amending our constitution should really demand the kind of consensus necessary to get to 60%,” LaRose said.

Turcer said volunteers who work with groups like hers will find it more difficult to make constitutional changes. Turcer is not alone. More than 140 groups recently signed onto a letter to legislative leaders, asking them to thwart this resolution.

There are several possible constitutional amendments that have been proposed recently that could involve reproductive rights and abortion, redistricting and legalization of marijuana.

Wilkin said the bill could be voted out of committee Monday. If the Ohio Legislature approves the resolution during lame duck next week, the issue would go on the primary ballot where Ohio voters could be asked in May to approve the higher threshold for passing constitutional amendments.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.
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