Supporters, opponents testify on amending Ohio Constitution, pre-empting abortion vote

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

Proponents and opponents gathered in the Statehouse Tuesday to testify on contentious legislation that could curtail a statewide ballot initiative to enshrine abortion access in the Ohio Constitution this November.

The Republican-backed effort consists of two interdependent prongs:

  • House Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 2 both propose to amend the state constitution to require a 60% vote to pass any and all future constitutional amendments — a measure that would itself need to be approved by Ohioans in a statewide ballot initiative.
    • After amendments to SJR2 Tuesday, both resolutions also propose new rules that would make it harder for citizen initiatives proposing constitutional amendments to appear on the ballot.
  • Senate Bill 92 would create a special election this August for Ohioans to vote to raise the voter threshold, but the legislation excludes the abortion-rights proposal from appearing on that same ballot.
    • SB92 also appropriates $20 million for a special election, a diversion from also Republican-backed election reform passed in December that effectively eliminated special elections.

Without those measures, the abortion-rights initiative could pass in November with support from a simple majority of Ohioans.

Proponents of raising the threshold

Nine proponents of HJR1 testified in Tuesday’s hearing, including End Abortion Ohio, Ohio Restaurant Association, Center for Christian Virtue and Cincinnati Right to Life.

Opportunity Solution Project’s Beau Euton, who testified in support of the resolution, characterized HJR1 as common sense reform that has strong roots in American constitutionalism. Euton told members of the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee that any policy enshrined in the state constitution ought to have broad support, and reasoned that the Ohio Constitution should therefore be more difficult to change, akin to the federal constitution.

Euton said special interest groups have preyed on the 18 states like Ohio that have a process for citizens to bypass the legislative process and amend the constitution directly.

“Across the country, special interests have hijacked these processes and used them as their own business development tools,” Euton said. “When an initiative can be bought by billionaires from California or anywhere else, and passed by a slim majority here in Ohio, it isn’t about the will of the voter, it’s about the wallet of the funder.”

Nicholas Kallis of End Abortion Ohio said it is now more necessary than ever to raise the voter threshold on constitutional amendments ahead of the abortion-rights initiative.

“There are those whom would so malign and destroy the moral integrity of our constitution by perverting our constitution to enshrine in it the right to murder a child in the womb,” Kasill said. “With only a simple majority if their proposed initiative gets on the ballot then there is a reasonable chance their wicked schemes may prevail.”

On Wednesday, opponents of HJR1 will testify. At the time of reporting, 96 individuals and groups have submitted written versions of their testimony to the committee.

Opponents of raising the threshold

Many of those same individuals and groups testified Tuesday afternoon in opposition of SJR2, which was amended during the hearing to be exactly the same as HJR1.

ACLU of Ohio’s Collin Marozzi told the Senate General Government Committee that it’s a “a false equivalency to think that the Ohio constitution should be equally as difficult to amend as the US constitution,” arguing that, the more local the government is, the more responsive its laws should be. “This is why township ordinances are easier to change than the Ohio Revised Code, and the Ohio Revised Code is easier to change than federal law. So why should the Ohio Constitution, which governs 11 million people, be as difficult to amend as the US Constitution, a document that governs 330 million people?”

Marozzi also questioned what raising the voter threshold would do to stifle out-of-state special interests from participating in the citizen’s initiative process, and argued that it would instead make amendments functionally out of reach for initiatives that are not backed by special interests.

“Nothing in this proposed amendment will stop big money, out of state special interests from bankrolling multi-million dollar campaigns,” Marozzi said.

Marozzi was among 61 individuals and groups to testify against SJR2 so far; 14 others testified in support.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose testified as an interested party to remind the committee that the joint resolution must pass with a ⅗ support from the entire Ohio General Assembly by May 10 if it is to appear on the ballot in August.

Senate Bill 92

Five testimonies were also submitted opposing Senate Bill 92. Among those was Emily Cole, the executive director for Ohio Families Unite for Political Action and Change, who characterized the bill as a “a dishonest and bad-faith effort to change the rules, again, in order to make it harder for Ohioans to protect our freedoms.”

Cole highlighted the $20 million price tag attached to an August election and suggested that there were better uses of that money.

“There are a lot of things Ohioans would love for you to allocate $20 million towards, including fully funding our schools, providing mental healthcare, enhancing opportunities for Ohio’s children, caring for Ohioans aging in place, and so on and so forth,” Cole said.

There has not yet been a hearing for proponents of SB92.

What’s next

Another hearing for SJR2 and SB92 are scheduled for Wednesday. Columbus Sen. Bill DeMora, the sole Democrat on the Senate General Government Committee, told the Dayton Daily News that he expects both measures to be approved by the committee Wednesday morning and approved by the Senate in a party line vote soon thereafter. As for HJR1, Wednesday will be spent hearing opponent testimony. No further hearings have been scheduled.

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