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Published: Tuesday, 9/20/2011

Senate Republicans, seeking to avoid referendum, to add appropriation to redistricting bill

Proposal of congressional redistricting for northwest Ohio. Orange = Bob Latta; Green = Marcy Kaptur; Purple = Jim Jordan. Proposal of congressional redistricting for northwest Ohio. Orange = Bob Latta; Green = Marcy Kaptur; Purple = Jim Jordan.

COLUMBUS — Senate Republicans intend to add an appropriation to their bill redrawing Ohio’s congressional districts, a move that would allow the districts to take effect immediately and possibly sidestep a potential voter referendum by Democrats.

The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee is holding hearings Tuesday and Wednesday with a full chamber vote possible Wednesday afternoon.

Because of its sluggish population growth over the last decade, Ohio will lose two of its current 18 congressional districts. The GOP-drawn map expected to be on the Senate floor Wednesday would create four solidly Democratic districts and 12 districts that are either heavily Republican or lean that way.

It splits Toledo three ways between districts now represented by U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat; U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, a Bowling Green Republican, and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, an Urbana Republican.

Ms. Kaptur’s 9th District would be stretched thinly along the Lake Erie shoreline to Cleveland, encompassing slivers of five counties without containing a single entire county. It sets up a likely primary election showdown between Ms. Kaptur and another veteran Democrat, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, of Cleveland.

As a general rule, appropriation bills, such as the state budget, take effective immediately and are not subject to a petition effort to put the law directly to voters. That, however, has become less clear. The Ohio Supreme Court last year derailed then Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s plan to install slot machines at racetracks by inserting the language into the budget, ruling that that language could be separately subjected to referendum.

“That’s a question for lawyers and legal authority, but I think the law is clear, if the appropriation is relevant to the issue at hand, the appropriation generally makes those portions effective immediately,’’ said Sen. Keith Fabor (R., Celina), the committee’s chairman and a lawyer.

Democrats have accused the Republican majority of “gerrymandering’’ the state to its political advantage, pointing in particular to the 9th District whose land is connected only by the Sandusky Bay Bridge, water, and islands.

They have threatened to take the map to referendum just as they have Senate Bill 5, the state’s controversial new collective bargaining law, and are attempting to do with House Bill 194, a recently passed election overhaul.

A successful referendum petition effort would place the congressional map on hold until at least the November, 2012 election, threatening the filing deadline schedule for congressional candidates as well as presidential candidates whose petitions are circulated via congressional district.

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