By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A state lawmaker has made a procedural move that could force a vote in the Ohio House on a proposal to make it more difficult to amend the Ohio Constitution, a measure that could impact the fate of a measure protecting abortion rights that’s moving toward fall ballots.
Republican state Rep. Susan Manchester pulled a discharge petition Wednesday that, if successful, would allow the resolution raising the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments in Ohio to bypass the normal committee process — and GOP House Speaker Jason Stephens. To do so would require the signatures of 50 of 99 members of the fractured Ohio House.
“We have gone through all the regular steps necessary in committee to pass this, and we are being blocked at every turn,” Manchester said. “Time is of the essence. We need to ensure that we have a vote on this issue.”
Stephens rejected Manchester’s characterization.
“HJR1 has been in the Constitutional Resolutions Committee for a month and a half, and it has only had one hearing,” he said. “This is a question for the chairman.”
The committee’s chair, Republican Rep. Scott Wiggam, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The proposal in question would ask voters to change the state constitution to require a 60% supermajority of Ohio voters to approve future amendments, rather than the current simple majority of 50% plus one.
Manchester and the issue’s other backers say that the higher threshold would keep monied, out-of-state special interests from manipulating Ohio’s founding document. Internal communications also have shown they are hoping to use the higher bar to thwart efforts to pass constitutional protections for abortion rights and to reform the state’s failed political map-making system.
About 200 labor, faith, voting rights and civil rights organizations have banded together pledging to fight the 60% threshold measure, as have Democrats who supported Stephens in his surprise victory for speaker.
House Democratic Leader Allison Russo criticized the maneuver.
“Ohioans deserve to know the truth that there are some out-of-touch, extremist politicians who are beholden to special interest groups behind this petition,” she said in a statement. “They will do whatever it takes, including rewriting the rules, so they can get what they want instead of what the people of Ohio want.”
The discharge petition comes after two earlier attempts by a group of Republicans to push the amendment to the 2023 ballot have been stymied. It first arose during last year’s lame duck session, but fizzled for lack of time. Then, earlier this year and amid GOP infighting, Stephens rejected fast-tracking the issue, causing it to miss a deadline for the May ballot.
Republican Senate President Matt Huffman has expressed his support for the issue, and recently suggested a strategy for reviving August special elections — eliminated in legislation passed last year — just long enough to do so. Stephens has said he is opposed to turning back such a recently passed law, particularly one backed by so many county officials around the state.
“Unfortunately, he has shown no interest in moving this issue forward, and that’s why I think it’s important that we, as majority Republicans, show him how important we think this is with this petition,” Manchester said.
She said she had 24 signatures at the end of the day Wednesday, and was confident she would reach her goal.