Republican leaders, lawmakers, Pro-Life groups and constitutional rights groups have aligned in support of legislation to protect the Ohio Constitution from citizen-initiated ballot amendments sponsored by wealthy special interest groups seeking to enshrine liberal-backed rights into the constitution bypassing elected representatives. The most recent groups to lend support are Ohio gun rights advocates – Buckeye Firearms Association and the Sportsmen Alliance.
Currently citizen-initiated ballot amendments can pass with a simple majority of the vote. Two resolutions have been proposed that would require voter approval of 60% to amend the constitution. Brain Stewart (R-Ashville), sponsor of House Joint Resolution 1(HJR1) explained, “Our Founding Fathers ensured that the United States Constitution would be protected against outside influence and special interests by requiring a super-majority vote for amendments. We can and should protect the Ohio Constitution in a similar way.”
On the campaign trail in October of 2022 Secretary of State Frank LaRose said: “…It takes a supermajority vote in the legislature to refer a question to the ballot, why not require a supermajority vote of the citizens in order to pass a constitutional amendment?”
Amendment process – most expedient path for Democrat agenda
Now that Republicans control both statehouses and the Supreme Court, the amendment process becomes the weakest link and the most expedient way for Democrats to pursue their agenda in Ohio. The “disastrous” Abortion Amendment is just the most recent example of how constitutional amendments can be used to enshrine rights into the constitution and bypass the legislative process altogether. Supporters are currently gathering the required number of signatures. If successful in obtaining 413,000 valid signatures by the July deadline (and the Ohio Supreme Court does not intervene), the measure would appear on the November 2023 ballot and could pass with a simple majority of the votes cast.
Amendments to raise minimum wage and reform redistricting in the works
The abortion amendment is just the latest. Ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage and reform the state’s redistricting process are already in the works. A petition to enshrine minimum wage increases in the constitution was just accepted by Attorney General Yost.
Gun Right Advocates Join the Coalition
Gun rights advocates are concerned that Democrats may attempt to enshrine gun control measures into the Ohio constitution in the same manner. “Now more than ever, our fundamental right to defend our own lives must be protected,” Rob Sexton said at a recent committee hearing, representing the Buckeye Firearms Association. “It’s this freedom that wealthy gun control advocates like New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg would most like to target,” he said. “Ballot issues have become increasingly utilized by wealthy interests in Ohio and across the country. With their ability to outspend virtually any grassroots coalition of Ohioans, people like Bloomberg and organizations he finances are able to rewrite our constitution, erasing freedoms that the people actually support.”
Simple majority can bypass the legislators in 15 states
Of the 18 states that permit citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, only 3 require more than simple majority of voter approval for an amendment to pass: Colorado 55%, Florida 60% and Illinois 60%. Arkansas and South Dakota have attempted to increase the vote requirement from 50% to 60% and 55%, respectively. Recently the Missouri House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment to require a 60% vote requirement for referred and citizen-initiated constitutional amendments. If the Missouri Senate approves the measure, it will go before voters in November of 2024.
If current efforts in the Ohio legislature are successful, Ohio may join the states that require a supermajority to further amend the state constitution.
Efforts underway to place super majority amendment on August ballot
Two resolutions have been proposed that would require 60% voter approval to amend the constitution. House Joint Resolution (HJR) 1, sponsored by state Representative Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) and Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 2, sponsored by State Senators Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green).
“I reintroduced the Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment, along with 35 cosponsors, to require a 60 percent vote margin to amend Ohio’s governing document. It’s good policy and it’s time to get it done,” Stewart said.
HJR1 has two substantive changes from the prior version. Instead of just 44 counties, the revised version would require signatures from all 88 as well as they eliminated the cure period for constitutional amendments, which allows citizen-led organizations to gather additional signatures if their initial batch doesn’t meet the requirements to make the ballot.
SJR 2 is similar to Stewart’s legislation in requiring 60 percent voter approval to amend the constitution. But unlike the version in the House, SJR 2 does not require signatures for a proposed amendment to be gathered from all 88 counties, and it doesn’t eliminate the cure period for constitutional amendments, which allows citizen-led organizations to gather additional signatures if their initial batch doesn’t meet the requirements to make the ballot.
McColley and Gavarone also introduced Senate Bill (SB) 92 which would allow Ohio to hold special elections in August for certain purposes. This measure is necessary after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill (HB) 458 into law earlier this year, which required a photo ID to vote and eliminated most August elections.
Time is of the essence for August ballot
To get HR1 on the ballot in August, lawmakers must pass it by May. If the measure passes in August, and the Abortion Amendment is placed on the ballot in November, it would have to gain 60% voter approval to become an amendment to the Ohio Constitution.
Slow progress attributed to Stephens’ deal with Democrats
Republican lawmakers including State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) said they have requested time and time again to strengthen Ohio’s Constitution without success and that it is a top priority for them. “We have repeatedly asked and pressed to strengthen our constitution and not allow it to be hijacked by left-wing socialists by requiring a 60 percent threshold, and we’ve been blocked for doing that,” Merrin said.
Protecting Ohio’s Constitution was at the top of Merrin’s legislative priority list. Interestingly HJR 1 was not even listed as a priority by House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill). Some have said it is a direct result of the “deal” he made with the Democrats to secure the Speakers seat.
According to State Representative Marilyn John (R-Shelby), to obtain the Democratic votes necessary to win the Speakers seat, Stephens made a deal with the Democrats and is not to be trusted. John claims that “killing” the Constitution Protection Amendment” was part of that deal.