House Joint Resolution 19 comes after Ohio legislative leaders lamented what they said was a “cottage industry” set up to put frivolous amendments on the statewide ballot. Under the resolution, 60 percent of Ohio voters would have to approve a proposed constitutional amendment for it to pass. Currently, any proposed constitutional amendment — including HJR 19 itself — needs a simple majority of “yes” votes to take effect.
It would also move up the deadline to submit the hundreds of thousands of petition signatures needed to put a proposed amendment on the ballot. That deadline is now in early July; the resolution would move it to April 1. In addition, each petition signature would only be valid for 180 days. Right now, there’s no expiration date for signatures. HJR 19 would also change the way Ohioans can force the state legislature to pass a law.
Right now, a group can force lawmakers to take action on a proposal if it gathers a number of petition signatures equal to 3 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election (that number is 129,553, based on this year’s gubernatorial vote). If lawmakers don’t pass the measure within four months, proponents can gather signatures from another 3 percent of voters to put the proposal on the statewide ballot.
And why all this foofaraw?
For the same reason it’s happening in Wisconsin, Michigan, and in the newly insane state of North Carolina: the voters are voting in ways Republican politicians find…inconvenient. Direct democracy of this sort renders ineffective things like gerrymandered legislative maps, and we can’t have that, can we?
Ohioans have voted on a number of ballot issues in recent years on topics ranging from legalizing recreational marijuana to (most recently) reducing penalties for non-violent drug offenses. Most of these measures have been opposed by legislative Republican leaders.
Interestingly, one of the more high-profile exercises of this initiative process came in 2011, when Governor John Kasich tried to enact the same kind of anti-public-sector-union measures that Scott Walker rammed through in Wisconsin. In Ohio, the unions and their supporters were able to fight back by forcing a referendum on the issue, on which Kasich and his supporters lost resoundingly. So far, in this lame-duck session, the legislature has been regularly overriding Kasich’s vetoes. Since, as we all suspect, Kasich has Plans For The Future, this could be an interesting few weeks for him.