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COLUMBUS — Opponents of Ohio’s new law restricting the collective-bargaining power of public employees Wednesday filed nearly 1.3 million signatures to put the law before the ultimate judge — the voter.
The number of raw, unverified signatures filed with the secretary of state’s office, a record for an Ohio ballot issue, is more than five times the number that must withstand scrutiny to qualify the referendum for the Nov. 8 ballot.
The number exceeds the previous record of 812,978 signatures filed in 2008 for a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing a single casino resort in Clinton County that was ultimately rejected by voters.
Mike Haynes, a member of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, was among the thousands who protested at the Statehouse when lawmakers were considering Senate Bill 5 last spring. Unable to stop the bill then, he was among an estimated 6,000 who paraded through downtown Columbus to file boxes containing 51,000 petitions.
“Politics are politics, and [lawmakers are] going to do what they want to do,’’ he said. “Fortunately, there’s a checks-and-balances system to make sure that they do hear our voices. We still have an avenue to come out against it.’’
Just the filing of the petitions Wednesday will keep Senate Bill 5 from taking effect Friday as scheduled. If at least 231,149 of the signatures are determined to be valid in a review process that must be completed by July 26, the law will remain on hold until the results of the election are known. If voters reject the law, it will never take effect.
The referendum on Senate Bill 5, backed chiefly by labor groups and Democrats, may not be the only statewide issue that voters will face this fall.
A largely Republican-backed coalition plans to file signatures next week for a ballot issue to give Ohioans the right to reject mandates that Americans acquire health coverage under President Obama’s signature health-care law. As a proposed constitutional amendment, that effort faces a higher signature threshold at roughly 386,000.
Republican Gov. John Kasich, while announcing a second round of grants to schools under the Race to the Top program, equated the federal program with at least the teacher merit-pay portions of Senate Bill 5. Roughly half of Ohio’s 613 school districts are participating in the program, which comes with its own performance-pay requirements.
“Three hundred school districts in Ohio have spoken against [those opposing Senate Bill 5],’’ Mr. Kasich said. “I don’t need to say anything. Maybe they ought to look at themselves.’’
He questioned why the other 300 or so districts chose not to participate.
“Parents ought to ask those people that run those extra schools why they’re not interested,’’ he said. “Half the schools have already embraced change in order to receive these Race to the Top funds, but, as I say, the other half have not. Senate Bill 5 brings along the other 300-plus districts.’’
Toledo Public Schools is among the districts that are participating in the $400 million federal grant program. The district had already been awarded $10 million. Wednesday, it was given an additional $61,000.
Kristina Schwarzkopf, political coordinator for the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said the fact that the union local accepted a 2.5 percent pay cut and agreed to pay more of their health insurance costs among other concessions proves that Senate Bill 5 is unnecessary.
“We’ve proven we can bargain,’’ she said as protesters gathered across the Scioto River from the Statehouse. “Collective bargaining works. We gave and were willing to give. Without collective bargaining, we wouldn’t have had that option.’’
Mr. Kasich said Wednesday he was not concerned that another referendum effort could be launched to remove teacher merit pay requirements from the $55.8 billion, two-year budget he will sign Thursday. The language is a variation on requirements in Senate Bill 5.
Because of the election calendar, any referendum challenging policy portions of the budget could not appear on the ballot until November, 2012. That portion of the budget would be placed on hold in the meantime.
Among its numerous provisions, Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public employees from striking, limit what they can negotiate at the bargaining table, require them to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums, prohibit local governments from paying any portion of an employee’s share of his pension contributions, and prohibit unions from automatically collecting “fair share’’ fees from those in the workplace who refuse to join the union.
“Today is the day that John Kasich once and for all realizes that when he pushed through Senate Bill 5, he made a huge mistake. John Kasich refused to listen to the will of the people,’’ Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern wrote Wednesday in a fund-raising email.
Early polls have indicated that Ohio voters are inclined to reject Senate Bill 5 as a whole, but they do like some individual portions of that plan, including the requirement that public workers pay more toward their health care.
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