Ohio Facing New Threat to Citizen Initiatives

Last week, the Ohio House followed through on a threat to propose changes to the Ohio Constitution that would make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution via citizen initiative.

House Joint Resolution 19 (HJR19) would change the amendment process by shortening the time during which signatures could be collected to 180 days ending on April 1, and would need to get 60 percent of the vote to pass. The measure would also increase the up-front signature requirement for initiated statutes and add a one-year moratorium on legislative changes to any laws enacted as the result of a citizen initiative.

Overview of the Changes

Initiated Constitutional Amendments

  • Signatures must be submitted by April 1 and are only valid for 180 days, meaning all signatures must be collected in the winter
  • Must get 60 percent of the vote to pass

Initiated Statutes

  • Initial signature requirement increases from 3 to 5 percent of the vote for Governor in the prior midterm election
  • Secondary signature-gathering requirement (if the legislature fails to act in 4 months) is eliminated
  • Cannot be modified by lawmakers for 12 months after passage

How easy is it to amend the constitution anyway?

Even without these changes, constitutional amendments are already set to become much harder to enact in Ohio. Thanks to low turnout in the 2014 midterms, the signature threshhold for constitutional amendments (10 percent of those who voted for Governor in the last election) was just 305,000. Thanks to increased turnout in the 2018 election, it will now take valid 438,000 signatures. Because up to half of signatures can be found to be invalid, it’s standard to collect as many as twice the legal requirement. That means, with no changes to the initiative process, those wishing to amend Ohio’s constition will already need to collect nearly 1 million signatures to get a proposal to the ballot.

And while it is true that Ohio may have seen a higher than usual number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in recent years, that’s largely been thanks to the relatively low number of signatures required thanks to that low 2014 midterm turnout. Adding new barriers such as limiting the time to gather signatures to six of the coldest months of the year is unnecessary and will make it all but impossible for grassroots initiative without millions for paid signature-collectors. It’s ironic that those calling for reform suggested monied special interests had too much influence over our Constitutional amendment process, as this proposal will mean that only those with deep pockets have a chance to get on the ballot.

Voters are already highly discriminating when it comes to passing ballot measures. The vast majority of them fail.

And moving the goalpost to require 60 percent of the vote — rathern than a majority of voters — would mean millions more will need to be spent on education campaigns to overcome voters’ natural and understandable reluctance to vote for amendments they don’t fully understand. Voter education and outreach will become more essential and, as a result, more costly.

HJR19 Also Changes The Process For Initiated Statutes

HRJ19 would also modify the process to change Ohio law via the citizen initiative process by increasing the number of signatures from 3 to 5 percent of the votes for Governor in the prior midterm, while eliminating a requirement to gather additional signatures to get the measure to the ballot if the legislature fails to act.

Currently, just under 92,000 signatures are required to put a change to Ohio law before the Ohio General Assembly for their consideration and approval. (Another 92,000 are required to put the proposal on the ballot if lawmakers fail to act). Thanks to 2018 election turnout, the up front signature requirement will now grow to over 131,000 signatures. And if the legislature fails to act within four months, signature-gatherers are required to collect another 131,000 signatures to put it before voters. The changes proposed in HJR19 would increase the up-front number of valid signatures to be submitted to 219,000 – over twice what it is today.

What’s Next

HRJ19 is itself a resolution that needs to be approved by 3/5 of the legislature to then go before voters on the November, 2019 ballot. Ironically, it would need to be approved by a majority (50 percent) of voters to take effect.

The bill was introduced last Wednesday and was scheduled for a rare same-day hearing. This week, three more hearings are scheduled with the potential for amendments and a committee vote as early as Wednesday. That would put the proposal on the House floor as soon as Thursday.

Hearing schedule:

  • Tuesday, 1 pm, Statehouse Room 122 – opponent testimony
  • Wednesday, 9:30 am, Statehouse Room 114 – all testimony, possible amendments, possible vote
  • Thursday, 9:30 am (if needed), Statehouse Room 114 – all testimony, possible amendments, possible vote

If passed by the committee, HJR19 could be on the House floor for a vote as early as Thursday at the 1:30 pm session.

To testify in committee, contact the office of Chairman Blessing to submit your written testimony 24 hours in advance.

More Information

Read the text of HJR19

Read the analysis of HJR19 from the Legislative Services Commission

View the hearing schedule and contact information for members of the House Government Accountability committee

TAKE ACTION: Sign a petition to House and Senate leaders asking them to oppose HJR19