This week, Ohio Representative Kyle Koehler sent a letter to fellow lawmakers seeking cosponsors for a bill he’s introducing to change how constitutional amendments go to the ballot. And like the proposal that was considered during this winter’s lame duck session, it certainly looks as though it will primarily work by making it harder for grassroots citizens groups to put measures on the ballot.
According to Koehler, his bill has several key distinctions from HJR19, namely:
In sum, the Koehler plan would require signatures from more parts of the state, requiring signature gatherers to fan out into 60 of Ohio’s 99 House districts, compared to today’s requirement that signatures be collected in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Additionally, the proposal reduces the number of signatures that could be gathered in Ohio’s biggest population centers by increasing the percentage of the electorate needed in each district, further spreading the work out across the state.
The full text of the Koehler proposal has not been made public yet, so we don’t yet know whether signature gathering could be carried out over several years as needed to reach the 10 percent requirement, or if signatures would expire after six months as HJR19 required. That distinction could make or break citizen initiatives.
Like HJR19, the Koehler proposal would not stop deep-pocketed special interests from hiring all the signature gatherers they need to meet the 60-district requirement. So, while getting big money out of the game of amending Ohio’s constitution was the rationale behind the lame duck attack on ballot measures, this proposal seems to abandon that argument completely. It simply makes it harder for grassroots groups to succeed.
And while committee members hearing HJR19 seemed to recognize that the best way to keep people from attempting to amend Ohio’s constitution was to make the process of a citizen-initiated statutory change more appealing, this proposal does nothing on that front either.
Koehler is currently seeking House consponsors with a deadline of Wednesday, February 6. If you are concerned about the outlines of this proposal, consider reaching out to your State Representative today before they add their name as a cosponsor.