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Ohio high court invalidates petitions for dialysis ballot issue

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COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court on Monday unanimously struck petitions designed to ask voters in November to write regulation of kidney dialysis centers into the state constitution.

The court threw out the petitions, which were initially filed by the July 4 deadline in hopes of qualifying for the Nov. 6 ballot. Faced with a challenge filed by the industry’s Ohio Renal Association, the court found that four of those paid to circulate the petitions, as well as two managers paying them, failed to file required statements to that effect before the petitions were circulated.

The proposed Kidney Dialysis Patient Protection Amendment, like one expected to be on California’s ballot this year, would restrict the centers’ profits and increase state regulation. Backers argue that it provides necessary regulations to what is a highly profitable industry while opponents contend the centers are already heavily regulated.

After a review of signatures by county boards of elections, it was determined that the dialysis amendment submitted just 296,080 valid signatures of registered voters, short of the roughly 306,000 needed to qualify for the ballot.

The effort was given 10 additional days to patch the hole and claimed to have filed more than 41,000 additional signatures. But Monday’s court ruling makes that a moot point.

Four justices joined in the opinion while the three others agreed with the final result only. In doing so they disagreed with arguments offered by the proposed issue’s committee as well as Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s top elections official whose office was reviewing the legitimacy of the petitions.

“The committee’s own evidence shows that the managers oversaw circulators who collected signatures and that the managers would ‘receive compensation for supervising, managing, or otherwise organizing any effort to obtain signatures,” the court said. “Thus, contrary to the committee’s argument, sufficient evidence supports that the managers were required to file disclosures…”

Anthony Caldwell, spokesman for Service Employees International Union District 1199 and the ballot issue’s backers, said the high court relied on a technicality to prevent a vote on an issue affecting tens of thousands of Ohioans. He said another attempt will be made to qualify for next year’s ballot.

“Those patients will now be denied this chance for improved conditions and better, more sanitary care in the clinics, which this initiative would have produced,” he said. “Dialysis patients and workers will not be stopped in our effort to ensure that the dialysis corporations make safety and quality care, not profits, their top priority.”

Mr. Husted, currently a candidate for lieutenant governor, had yet to see the decision on Monday.

“We thought we were following what the previous court guidance had been on issues, and now the court gives us new guidance, so we do new things,” he said after a campaign event.

The California version of the amendment survived a court challenge in that state and is slated to appear on the fall ballot.

The ruling means one statewide issue will appear on the fall ballot in Ohio. Issue 1 will ask voters to overhaul sentencing law to divert non-violent drug offenders away from prison and to put any savings seen in the prison system as a result into treatment options for offenders.

The backers of the amendment argued that for-profit kidney dialysis centers drive up costs by billing an average of $150,000 a year for patients with private insurance coverage. They claim that’s 350 percent of the actual cost.

“This reckless proposal was written by California outsiders who know nothing about dialysis care in Ohio,” reads a statement from Ohioans Against the Reckless Dialysis Amendment, a coalition of 25 organizations, including the Ohio Renal Association, Ohio State Medical Association, and the Kidney Foundation of Ohio.

“The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the petitioners didn’t follow the law in their $4 million paid petition drive,”  the statement reads. “The court challenge filed by the Ohio Renal Association was a prudent course of action given the potential harm this proposal could bring to Ohio’s 18,000 dialysis patients.”

 

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.
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