The Ohio Senate — at least its Republican majority — evidently doesn’t care for mere citizens second-guessing its work. So senators have passed a bill that would make it harder for Ohioans to gather petition signatures to promote ballot issues aimed at repealing laws adopted by the legislature, as well as enacting new laws or changing the state constitution.
The House should give this anti-democratic nonsense a decent burial. If the measure reaches Gov. John Kasich, it would demand an emphatic veto. And if it becomes law, voters should exercise their right to throw it out.
Ohio law allows ballot campaigns to continue to collect signatures from registered voters even after the campaigns have submitted their petitions for election officials’ review. In this way, the campaigns can give themselves a cushion if officials rule they did not initially gather enough valid signatures.
Because the review process can take as long as two months, this practice enables ballot campaigns to remain active in the meantime. That’s especially important to grass-roots groups that often operate on small, tight budgets.
The bill the Senate passed along party lines would force ballot campaigns to stop gathering signatures once they file their petitions. They could resume if the Ohio Secretary of State says they lack adequate signatures, but only for 10 days.
The bill’s sponsors say they want to impose a uniform set of rules on all ballot campaigns. But critics note the measure is likely to obstruct campaigns that rely largely on volunteer petition circulators, without impeding well-funded interest groups that can spend freely to get their issues on the ballot.
The measure appears to reflect some residual pique among GOP lawmakers over voters’ repeal in 2011 of Senate Bill 5, a destructive law that would have gutted the collective-bargaining rights of Ohio public employees. That outcome was the product of a petition campaign.
Opposition to the new Senate bill comes from the left and the right, from members of both parties, and from nonideological good-government groups. Should the ballot bill become law, opponents plan to use the referendum process to ask voters to repeal it and keep it from taking effect. That’s appropriate.
If the General Assembly wants to discourage Ohioans from overturning the laws it enacts, there’s an easier solution: It can stop passing bad laws.
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