COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A contingent of Statehouse Republicans in Ohio pressed forward Wednesday with their plan to make it harder to amend the state’s constitution, an effort aimed most immediately at thwarting an abortion rights amendment in the works for this fall.
After months of consternation over the issue, identical resolutions cleared both Senate and House committees within hours of each other — each calling for raising the 50%-plus-one threshold in place for passing Ohio constitutional amendments since 1912 to 60%. When the committee vote was called in the House, shouts of “Shame!” reverberated in the halls, where dozens of opponents still had been lined up to testify.
About 59% of Ohio voters believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of over 90,000 midterm voters across the U.S. Only 7% said abortion should be illegal in all cases.
The Senate version of the 60% proposal went straight to a floor vote, where it passed 26-7 along party lines. The chamber also passed separate legislation setting an Aug. 8 special election to take up the question and allotting $20 million to pay for it.
A floor vote in the politically fractured Ohio House was not immediately scheduled on its version of the plan.
Republican Speaker Jason Stephens expressed earlier concerns about the rush, stymying backers’ efforts to get the measure on the ballot in May. He then called it bad form to resurrect August special elections only months after passing a bill to mostly eliminate them.
His critics have accused Stephens of intentionally stalling as part of a deal they say he cut with Democrats to secure the speakership; both he and Democratic Leader Allison Russo have denied that there was any deal.
The star witness on behalf of eliminating most August special elections was Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who blasted them as low-turnout drains on election board budgets that are bad for the state and for democracy. But LaRose now says he favors this particular August election, which he calls an exceptional circumstance.
Democratic state Sen. Kent Smith used LaRose’s own testimony against him during Wednesday’s floor debate, accusing him and fellow Republicans of putting Ohioans through “legislative whiplash” in pursuit of their own interests.
“This is an assault on democracy designed to harm citizens by limiting their right to self-governance,” Smith said.
GOP state Sen. Theresa Gavarone said Republicans “are not reinventing the wheel,” but simply adding one more exception to the types of items that Ohioans can vote on in August.
Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will have the ultimate say on whether an August election is called, if the legislation eventually clears the House. His office said Wednesday that he is still reviewing the bill and could not comment on whether he might veto it.
But the governor plays no part in placing the 60% resolution on the ballot. Legislators do that directly.
More than 250 groups are lined up to fight the measure if it materializes, including many who testified against it Wednesday. They include the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and an array of labor, faith, civil rights, good government and community organizations.