COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Ohio House passed a controversial measure Wednesday to ask voters in an August election whether to make it harder to amend the state constitution – but not before protesters chanting “one person, one vote” were ousted from the room.
In a 62-37 vote split largely down party lines, the House gave its last-minute stamp of approval to Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would — if passed by Ohio voters in an Aug. 8 special election — require 60% of voter support to enact a constitutional amendment, as opposed to the existing simple majority threshold of 50% plus one vote.
The resolution requires signatures to be gathered from all 88 counties in Ohio — as opposed to the existing 44-county rule — to place an initiative on the ballot. It also eliminates a 10-day cure period awarded to ballot initiative authors who initially fail to collect the required number of signatures.
The House’s approval came after hundreds of supporters and opponents of the measure gathered in the halls of the statehouse in preparation for the vote. After cries from protesters interrupted lawmakers’ consideration of the bill, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) ordered their removal.
Although lawmakers removed the measure’s language providing for an Aug. 8 election in a largely theatrical move on Tuesday, representatives narrowly approved in a 56-43 vote to place it back in. A handful of Republicans — who voted in December to eliminate most August elections — joined Democrats in voting against the amendment.
Placing the measure on an August ballot allows the legislature’s Republican supermajority to get ahead of the November election, where the Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom plan to ask voters whether to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution.
Proponents of the measure — whose original iteration was introduced by Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose last fall — say boosting the threshold will prevent out-of-state and special interests, like casinos and marijuana legalization groups, from permanently altering the state constitution.
“Attempting to amend Ohio’s Constitution is a lucrative business, and monied interests see Ohio as an easy mark,” Stewart said Wednesday. “Enough’s enough.”
Nearly 250 advocacy groups in the Buckeye State, including Ohio’s League of Women Voters, AFL-CIO and Fraternal Order of Police, have described the 60% initiative as an “unnecessary, unfair and undemocratic” power grab that will benefit only the wealthiest of interest groups.
“This body is seeking to nullify the one tool our predecessors gave to us to demand better from an unresponsive, unaccountable and uncontrollable legislature,” Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Westlake) said Wednesday.
Since the Ohio Senate already greenlighted the measure and its associated August election in mid-April, SJR2 will be forwarded to LaRose for approval. If LaRose signs off — a move that must happen before midnight on Wednesday — Ohio’s election officials must begin preparations to administer an August special election.