Judge rejects extension to put energy bill on ballot, refers case to Ohio Supreme Court


U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus ruled late Wednesday against a request by the House Bill 6 referendum campaign for more time to collect signatures.

In a 29-page ruling Sargus rejected a motion for a preliminary injunction and instead said it is a matter for the Ohio Supreme Court to handle.

Sargus described the bitter fight over HB6 “one of the most expensive and divisive campaigns in Ohio history.”

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, the campaign seeking to put a controversial new energy law up for a referendum vote in November 2020, argued for a time extension to collect the required 265,744 valid voter signatures.

Since 1912, Ohio voters have had the right of referendum — an extraordinary power to embrace or reject laws passed by the Ohio General Assembly. The Ohio Constitution gives citizens 90 days from when a law passes to petition for a referendum but under state law they must first get government approval of petition language.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, a coalition of environmental and business groups opposed to House Bill 6, said that 38 days of its 90 days were eaten up awaiting state approvals — a delay infringed upon constitutional rights.

Sargus noted that these are matters of state law and the Ohio Constitution, not federal issues.

The HB6 referendum campaign did not turn in its petitions by the Oct. 21 deadline and reported that it had gathered 221,092 signatures. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts said it is disappointed but is exploring options with the Ohio Supreme Court.

Related: With millions at stake, fight over Ohio energy bill takes ugly turn

Related: Referendum campaign challenges Ohio law, wants more time for petitions

The new law applies surcharges to monthly electric bills for 4.8 million Ohioans and rolls back renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. The charges are earmarked to help bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions keep open its two nuclear energy plants along Lake Erie and assist Ohio Valley Electric Corporation continue operating two coal-fired electricity plants, including one in Indiana.

Fighting against the new law — and for the referendum — are a slew of competing energy interests, environmental groups, manufacturers and others.

Fighting for the new law are Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions, utilities with ownership stakes in OVEC and political groups such as Generation Now and Ohioans for Energy Security.

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