Ohio GOP's 60% voter approval for amendments plan and August election to vote on it move closer
Republican lawmakers are moving closer to putting a measure to make it harder to amend Ohio’s constitution on an August special election ballot - three months before a reproductive rights amendment is likely to be before voters.
The measures are moving quickly with a deadline for that August vote less than three weeks away.
On this Wednesday morning, the hallways were packed with people focused on two controversial Republican-backed House bills. One would prohibit trans athletes from playing girls sports and the other would ban gender transition treatment for minors, which is rare but endorsed by major medical associations.
Around the same time, a Senate committee was hearing a resolution to require 60% voter approval to amend the constitution and a bill to allow a statewide vote on that in a special election in August, to be in place before voters decide an amendment on reproductive rights and abortion access expected in November.
Both measures passed in the committee meeting, which was quiet and quick, lasting a minute and 47 seconds.
But things weren’t so quiet in the House committee hearing HJR 1, its version of the 60% voter approval for amendments plan.
With dozens of people still lined up to testify, Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville), the resolution’s sponsor, moved to vote on it. Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) objected.
But chair Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) called for a vote, and the hearing room erupted.
One opponent was escorted out by security, and Democratic committee members walked out after voting against the resolution.
Jen Miller from the League of Women Voters was among those who testified. After the meeting, she said. “This is an absolute affront to our history here in Ohio. It is undemocratic, it's unnecessary, and we will prove that it's unpopular if this ends on the ballot box.”
But Catherine Turcer from Common Cause Ohio was in that group that didn’t.
“Why even hold hearings if you don't want to actually hear from us?” Turcer asked.
There was no comment from Plummer or Stewart.
Then the two measures that had passed the Senate committee two hours before went to the floor in that chamber. The Senate’s 60% voter approval resolution, SJR 2, passed on a party line vote 26-7. But Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) joined Democrats in voting against putting the resolution before voters in August. He and all other Republican Senators and all but one House Republican had voted in December to eliminate most August special elections.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said after the vote this had been coming for weeks.
“We decided in basically in February that we needed a process that the Senate needed to initiate the process. We did that," Huffman said. "And so I don't think these are are terribly complex issues. One is simply, is there going to be a 60%? The second is we have to have an election in order to do that.”
That resolution would have to get a three-fifths majority in the House but no signature from Gov. Mike DeWine to go to the ballot, and then a simple majority of voters statewide could decide that future constitutional amendments would need 60% of voters. But DeWine would need to sign the August election bill.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who supports making it harder to amend the constitution, says this needs to happen by May 10 for an August special election.
(NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that Democratic members did vote on the resolution before they left the committee room.)