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Published: Thursday, 10/12/2006

Appeals court deals blow to State Issue 1

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A state appeals court yesterday appeared to strike a fatal blow to a ballot issue asking voters to reject parts of a new law reducing benefits for some injured workers.

The decision lifts a stay that prevented Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's office from advising county election boards that votes won't be counted on the question, despite the fact that it already had been printed on many ballots because of time constraints.

Supporters of the repeal effort, primarily autoworkers and trial lawyers, will scramble today to convince the Ohio Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the decision that determined the secretary of state's office did not overstep its authority a month ago when it set a 10-day clock ticking for supporters to fix a signature shortfall in their petitions.

The supporting coalition, calling itself the Committee for Injured Workers, Widows, and Orphans, filed more signatures by the deadline but was told it had still come up short. The Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals disagreed with the coalition's contention that no such letter should have been sent while challenges were still pending before county election boards.

"My suspicion is that we'll be asking the secretary of state, based on this decision, to advise election boards that State Issue 1 will not be on the ballot come Nov. 7," said Ty Pine, Ohio director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Don McTigue, the committee's attorney, said the secretary of state's office will be asked not to take such a step while an appeal is pending and to advise county boards to conduct a more thorough review of signatures. He said the issue should remain on the ballot and that vote results could be sealed if the litigation isn't resolved by Election Day.

Blackwell spokesman James Lee said no decision has been made as to which route will be followed. "Our attorneys are still reviewing the opinion," he said.

Among the bill's provisions targeted for repeal were a cut by nearly three-quarters in the time an injured worker could collect two-thirds of his paycheck while looking for a new job he is physically capable of doing and a tougher standard for collecting benefits when an old injury is aggravated.

The Bureau of Workers' Compensation was banking on saving $100 million a year from these and other provisions in the bill.

The effort also sought to restore campaign contribution limits put in place by the bureau's oversight commission after pay-to-play questions were raised after a $50 million investment in rare-coin funds operated by former local resident Tom Noe.

Mr. McTigue said a subsequent review of the signatures rejected by election boards in Cuyahoga, Montgomery, Franklin, and Hamilton counties has revealed a substantial number of board errors that, if extrapolated across the entire state, could mean the committee did indeed file a sufficient number of signatures.

Even if officially removed from the ballot, many voters may still see Issue 1 on their absentee ballots and their voting machines on Election Day. Voters would likely be advised by county boards that the issue had been removed and that votes would not be counted.

- Jim Provance



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