Strategy that killed constitutional amendment on Ohio ballot years ago likely won't be used now
Ohio's legislative leaders are split over whether to put a proposal to make it harder to pass constitutional amendments before voters in an August primary. So it's unclear what the next move is for Republicans who are hoping to stop a reproductive rights amendment that voters may see in November from being successful.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he supports a bill introduced by two Republican senators that could allow an August special election on a resolution to require 60% voter approval to amend the constitution. But House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said he doesn't want to hold one less than a year after a law was passed to eliminate most August elections.
While there are several possibilities for what’s ahead, one situation that’s happened before won’t repeat itself.
In 2015, Ohio lawmakers faced a quandary when an issue to legalize marijuana was on the ballot. Many legislators opposed the idea, some because they thought passage would allow a monopoly, since the proposal would name 10 specific growing sites. Democratic former Ohio lawmaker Mike Curtin said something needed to be done.
“Some of us in the legislature thought we not only needed to defeat this plan but we needed to put up some barriers," Curtin said.
So, Curtin and Republican former House Speaker Ryan Smith sponsored an amendment that went to the ballot that fall – alongside the marijuana legalization amendment. If it passed, monopolies would not be allowed in Ohio’s constitution. It did pass, and the marijuana amendment failed. If both had passed, the amendment with the higher number of votes would have won.
But Huffman said there isn't a plan to do something similar this year, to put the 60% voter approval amendment on the ballot alongside the abortion access amendment in November.
"I'm not sure that that kind of scheme makes any sense comparing this particular thing with that. We're not doing this just for the abortion amendment. This is something that has been percolating for a long time. Certainly it's part of the conversation, especially when the timing is coming," Huffman said.
Steven Steinglass, Dean Emeritus at the Cleveland State University College of Law, said Ohio lawmakers likely couldn’t do now what they did back in 2015 even if they wanted to.
“The reason it won’t work in 2023 is it isn’t fair. It really would be a fairly obvious example of moving the goal post,” Steinglass said.
Steinglass said the abortion amendment's relationship to the resolution that would require a 60% vote is fundamentally different than the competing amendments in 2015. Steinglass said this time, the two amendments wouldn’t be in direct conflict with one another.
Curtin said lawmakers who claim they want to put the 60% amendment before voters to protect Ohio's constitution from big money outside groups are touting an empty threat, because he said Ohio voters "closed the door and locked that door" when they passed the anti-monopoly amendment years ago.
"In my estimation, their arguments about the 60% thing needed to keep special interests from buying their way into the constitution is a complete straw man. It's a falsehood," Curtin said.
Curtin predicted that if lawmakers decide to put the 60% amendment before voters this year, it would fail, saying more than a hundred groups have come out against it and will work to defeat it.