Ohio House lawmakers aren't moving fast on constitutional change. Time is running out to act on it
The clock is ticking for Ohio lawmakers to pass a resolution to make it harder to amend the constitution and to create an August election for voters to vote on it.
And while the Ohio Senate’s resolution to require 60% voter approval for constitutional amendments, SJR 2, has passed a House committee, what happens next is unclear.
House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) had told reporters after a noon meeting that the bill to create an August special election, Senate Bill 92, and SJR 2 would not go to the House floor for a vote this week. A few hours later, the House committee hearing the resolution resumed a hearing to vote on it.
Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville) was the only Republican to vote against SJR 2 in the committee. He had voted against a House version of the resolution two weeks ago. He's said he wants changes, such as a "safe harbor" provision on voter-initiated laws to ensure that legislators can't immediately undo them. And he doesn’t think it has the supermajority of votes needed to pass the House.
“I don't think so today that they are. And if they were, I think you'd see a little bit larger groundswell of support," Hillyer said after the vote.
But one of the chief backers of the 60% voter approval plan, Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville), said 60 House Republicans have said they’ll vote for it or have signed a letter circulated by Ohio Right to Life promising a "yes" vote.
“It's one thing to break your word. It's another thing to break your word when you also gave it in writing. And I hope some people aren't so flippant about their commitments," Stewart said.
When reporters asked the House speaker if there are enough votes for SJR 2 or Senate Bill 92, Stephens didn't answer. But some lawmakers are saying they are hesitant to create an August special election just months after passing a law that did away with most of those because of high costs and low turnout.
"This is a very important issue. This is dealing with our constitution. So, it’s the most important issue before the House right now and until we have a bill to vote on, we are going to continue the discussions," Stephens said.
After Stephens told reporters the measures would not be voted on in the House on Wednesday, the scheduled House session was canceled. But a march to the Statehouse by some of the hundreds of groups opposed to the resolution is still planned for Wednesday.
Both the August special election bill and the resolution to change the constitution would have to pass by May 10 in order to get the resolution before voters in August, ahead of a planned vote in November that could enshrine abortion into the Ohio constitution.
Stewart said SJR 2 and Senate Bill 92, the bill to create the August special election, "has kind of been pitched as a package deal" and he thinks the votes are there for both. But he said if the resolution passes but the August special election bill doesn’t, putting the resolution on the same November ballot as the reproductive rights amendment is a "legal possibility".