Ohio Legislature sneaks through block to local initiatives

Wed, Jan 11 2017 by Paul Jacob

A new Ohio law gives local election boards and the Secretary of State the power to block petitions for local ordinances and charter amendments from going to the ballot to be decided by voters.

Passed in December and signed into law earlier this month by Gov. John Kasich, House Bill 463 actually “requires a board of elections or the Secretary of State to invalidate a local initiative petition if the board or Secretary determines that the petition or any portion of it does not fall within the scope of the local government’s constitutional authority to enact ordinances or does not satisfy the statutory prerequisites to place the issue on the ballot.”

State law takes precedence over local ordinances and charter provisions, of course, but neither the Secretary of State nor local BOEs are constitutionally empowered to make judicial determinations. In a summary of the legislation, even the non-partisan Ohio Legislative Services Commission offered that, “The bill’s provision concerning local initiative petitions might be vulnerable to a challenge under the Ohio constitution on two grounds: 1) that the bill infringes on the people’s right of initiative; and 2) that the bill violates the separation of powers.”

In fact, according to the Athens News, a legal challenge to the new statute is already being discussed.

There was no public debate about the bill’s impact on local ballot initiatives, as that was added late in the process – during the lame-duck session after the election, when public attention on the legislature tends to be much reduced.

“The provision in question was inserted by the state Senate into a grab-bag House Bill (463) that also included provisions involving autism services, property foreclosures and recall of municipal officials,” reported the Athens News. “These types of bills – containing many unrelated provisions – are common at the end of legislative sessions when lawmakers are trying to wrap up the two-year term.”

Another problem with HB 463 – though, a less promising legal angle – is that the new statute flagrantly violates Ohio’s constitutional single-subject requirement. Unfortunately, neither the legislature nor the state’s judges seem to pay that constitutional mandate any mind.


Athens News: State law adds another obstacle to local charter efforts



Columbus Dispatch (Thomas Suddes commentary): Legislature put the squeeze on local control