COLUMBUS, Ohio — The resolution to make it harder to amend the Ohio constitution continues to speed through the Statehouse, with overwhelming opposition coming in a hearing held late Wednesday afternoon.
Constitutional amendments are one of the only ways voters in Ohio can directly influence Ohio laws. This is a key to democracy, said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist of the ACLU of Ohio.
“A citizen-led ballot initiative is for the people of Ohio … when the Legislature is either uninterested or is a barrier to those changes,” Daniels said.
House Joint Resolution 6 would make it harder to amend the constitution. It would require all constitutional petitions to receive a 60% supermajority vote to pass instead of the simple 50%+1 — letting the 40%+1 of the population choose Ohio laws.
Originally just meant for citizen-led initiatives, after immense backlash, this same standard would apply to lawmakers as well. Resolution sponsor state Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) said he supports this change in a previous interview.
"This is what the committee process is all about," Stewart said. "You see what people like, you see what people have a little bit of angst about."
The bill, introduced less than one month ago, has zoomed to the front of the priority line for Statehouse leaders. Daniels said that isn’t an accident.
"Everyone involved in this issue knows that it is aimed squarely at abortion and gerrymandering future ballot initiatives, so that is why they are working so hard to get this passed as quickly as possible because they are afraid that Ohio citizens are going to support the ballot initiatives," he said.
The ACLU and more than 140 bipartisan groups have joined together to fight this bill. At the hearing, dozens begged lawmakers to stop the initiative.
No supporters gave public testimony, but in the interview with Stewart, he said that this resolution protects Ohioans from outside special interest groups.
"We have seen organized efforts across many states where, you know, certain... interest groups, raise money around the country to go fund ballot initiatives and try to see what they can get done in individual states," the lawmaker said. "I think that's not the best way to determine what's going to be in our Constitution."
Stewart has not provided evidence to show that outside groups are passing amendments through Ohio’s citizen-led ballot initiative process.
"We think it should ultimately be up to for Ohioans to decide the future of the state and how things are going to go without such unnecessary undemocratic roadblocks in their way that are meant specifically to target particular issues against abortion and gerrymandering," Daniels said.
Stewart argued that there is no connection between his legislation and the abortion and redistricting citizen initiatives that are currently in the works.
"We're not gonna be able to control conspiracy theory or folks that want to imply impure motives to everything that we do here," Stewart said.
Regardless of the actual motive, this resolution hurts all Ohioans, Daniels said.
"It isn't just liberal or progressive groups that try to get things on the ballot, it's people of all kinds of political persuasions — and sometimes it's not politics at all," he said.
The fight against this resolution is not partisan — it is a citizen versus lawmaker fight, Daniels said.