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LaRose proposes requirement for citizen-led constitutional amendments to pass with 60% of the vote

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Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R-Ohio), proposes new rule for constitutional amendments.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, is leading an effort to change the rules for ballot issues that amend the state constitution by requiring those issues to receive 60% of the vote in order to pass.

Ohio citizens are able to bypass the legislature in order to create policy through a ballot issue in two different ways: an initiated statute or a constitutional amendment.

LaRose says he wants to raise the threshold of how much support should be required from voters in order to amend the state constitution, from a simple majority to a three-fifths majority, or 60%.

“Something as serious as amending our constitution should really demand the kind of consensus necessary to get to 60%,” LaRose said.

Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) is sponsoring the resolution, which would need to pass the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate by the end of this year in order to be placed on the May primary ballot.

The resolution would only apply to citizen-led constitutional amendments.

A constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Ohio General Assembly through a resolution, like Stewart's, would only need a simple majority — or 50% plus 1 — in order to pass.

With a Republican supermajority in the House and Senate, community activists are criticizing the move as a way to weaken the voice of people who disagree with the party in control.

Dennis Willard, communications director of We Are Ohio, has a long history of working on ballot issue campaigns. The We Are Ohio campaign successfully repealed SB5 in 2011.

Willard also worked on campaigns for constitutional amendments to reduce drug prices, reform criminal drug offenses, and to legalize marijuana — all of which did not pass the simple majority that’s currently required.

Willard said ballot issues gives citizens a right to “direct democracy” and that the proposal from LaRose weakens that right.

“I absolutely believe it’s a power grab. They want to take the power away from the voters and they want to control everything,” said Willard.

LaRose said this would only apply to constitutional amendments and that, if citizens are worried about their ability to enact change in policy, they can still propose an initiated statute with a simple majority.

An initiated statute is a longer process that gives legislators a chance to pass a law drawn up in a citizen petition, if they don’t pass it, then it can go to the ballot. If it passes, that becomes a part of the Ohio Revised Code and not the state constitution.

The proposal comes at a time when several issues could possibly be put on the ballot, including an amendment to protect abortion rights and another to legalize recreational marijuana.

Contact Andy at achow@statehousenews.org.