State’s top court rejects challenge to referendum issue on mandated health care


COLUMBUS — A lawsuit attempting to block a proposed challenge to President Obama’s health care law from Ohio’s ballot was blocked itself Friday by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The high court unanimously found that Brian Rothenberg, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Ohio, failed in his challenge of petitions filed by backers of the proposed constitutional amendment to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot.

“Part-petitions of compensated circulators are not improperly verified and subject to invalidation simply because the circulators, who might actually be independent contractors, listed the entity or individual engaging or paying them to circulate the petitions as ‘the person employing’ them,’’ the court ruled.

The court noted that it is obligated to liberally interpret the citizens’ right of ballot initiatives in favor of the citizens.

Secretary of State Jon Husted late last month certified the proposed constitutional amendment for the ballot, determining that 426,998 of roughly 546,000 signatures originally filed were valid. That’s more than the 385,245 needed to qualify.

The amendment would allow Ohioans to reject mandates under Mr. Obama’s signature health care reform law that will require all Americans to acquire health insurance through their employers, the open insurance market, government programs like Medicaid and Medicare, or state-run pools in which insurers compete for customers.

The proposed Ohio Health Care Freedom Amendment, either before or after the Nov. 8 vote, is likely to face a court challenge over whether a state can use its own constitution to overwrite a federal law.

Ohio and other states already are involved in separate litigation over whether the federal government overstepped its own constitutional authority by imposing health care mandates on individuals and employers. That issue is expected to eventually work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Quinnipiac Poll in late July suggests a tight contest over the question with 48 percent of registered voters saying they support it and 45 percent saying they don’t. With a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, that’s a statistical tie.

But when the question was phrased as to whether they agree with a mandate requiring them to acquire insurance or face fines, disapproval jumped to 67 percent.

The issue, which has the backing of the Ohio Republican Party, has been framed as a referendum on the policies of the Democratic president a year out from when he stands for re-election in a key battleground state.

Meanwhile, the referendum on Ohio’s new law restricting the collective bargaining of government employees, pushed largely by Democrats and unions, has been framed as a referendum on the policies of Republican Gov. John Kasich.