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Ohio's attorney general again rejects proposed amendment to end qualified immunity

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For the eighth time, Ohio’s Republican attorney general has rejected language to ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to eliminate qualified immunity for police officers and other government employees accused in shootings or other actions.

The idea was first proposed in May 2021 as the "Civil Action for Deprivation of Constitutional Rights Amendment." That was rejected by the Ohio Attorney General's office twice. In February 2023, the amendment ending qualified immunity was renamed "Protecting Ohioans' Constitutional Rights." Petitions with that title have been rejected six times.

In his latest rejection letter to the group that filed the petition, Attorney General Dave Yost said its authors have repeated some of the same mistakes that he said got previous petitions thrown out.

"I understand that I have rejected the Petitioners’ summaries on multiple previous occasions," Yost said in his letter. "Sometimes the language of the proposed amendment has changed and the summaries have failed the fair and truthful test, which I have always explained in detail. Regrettably, the Petitioners have submitted summaries that repeat the misstatements and/or omissions that I have specifically identified in previously rejected summaries. That is the case with my rejection today."

Yost said the summary language that would be used to gather signatures to put the amendment before voters and the amendment itself say different things, and he says there are confusing and misleading statements. And he took issue with the title of the amendment, “Protecting Ohioans’ Constitutional Rights."

"The use of the word 'protect' in the summary’s title is especially misleading because the amendment does not seek to proactively 'protect' Ohioans from violations of constitutional rights," Yost wrote. "Instead, the nature of the amendment is to abrogate: specifically, governmental immunity and similar defenses available to defined government actors."

The Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity said in a social media post that it had made several changes to the summary language, and suggests it might file a lawsuit over Yost’s decision with the Ohio Supreme Court. There's been no statement from the group following Yost's rejection on its definitive plans going forward.

Qualified immunity allows law enforcement and other government employees to have protection from civil lawsuits. Supporters of the concept say it's a necessary legal shield for police and others who have to make important decisions quickly when things can go wrong, and that lawsuits could carry significant costs for cities and governments. And they say officers and others can be held liable when they violate someone's constitutional rights.

But activists say ending qualified immunity would allow for bad actors to be held accountable while still allowing public officials to do their jobs, and that right now it's almost impossible for someone to win a case against law enforcement.

Only a handful of states have passed legislation limiting qualified immunity or have seen their highest courts rule on it.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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