Ohio’s Constitution and the Divisions Within the House Republican Caucus

May 1, 2023Advocacy

Jeffry D. Harris
Bricker Graydon

Republican legislators circulated a discharge petition, a procedural mechanism that brings legislation or a resolution straight to the chamber floor and bypasses the traditional committee structure, to force a House floor vote on House Joint Resolution 1. Fifty legislators must sign a discharge petition to move something from committee to the floor.

H.J.R. 1 places a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would require any future constitutional amendments to receive 60% of the vote of the electorate. Currently a simple majority is needed for a ballot measure to pass. The Senate has their own version of the proposed amendment, S.J.R. 2. Supporters of H.J.R. 1 argue the measure is needed to protect Ohio’s Constitution from special interests. Opponents claim the measure is really designed to thwart a proposed constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion rights in Ohio’s Constitution. A measure to increase Ohio’s constitutional minimum wage just received approval to collect signatures as well.

Legislation is also pending that would place H.J.R. 1 on the ballot in August (H.B. 144 and S.B. 92), so that ballot measures on the November General Election ballot would be subject to the new higher threshold, if H.J.R. 1 is approved by voters. In that scenario, H.J.R. 1 would only need a simple majority of votes cast in the August Special Election.

In response to the discharge petition, Speaker of the House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) removed the Committee Chair Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) after the latter signed the petition. The Speaker cited Rep. Wiggam’s signing the petition as evidence that he was unfit to serve as Chair and criticized him for not holding a hearing until March 22, five weeks after the joint resolution was referred to the committee. The Speaker appointed Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) as chair of the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee, who, like Rep. Wiggam, supported Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Maumee) for Speaker instead of Speaker Stephens.

Wiggam responded in a letter, questioning the Speaker’s commitment to passing H.J.R. 1 and also noted that under the House rules, if H.J.R. 1 was reported out of committee the measure next goes to the House Rules and Reference Committee, which is chaired by the Speaker. The rules require HJR 1 to sit in the Rules and Reference Committee for 30 days before a discharge petition could be used. Therefore, he argued, to ensure H.J.R. 1 reached a potential August Special Election in time, the discharge petition was necessary.

Who’s for and against?  Speaker Stephens has publicly supported H.J.R. 1, but also reservations with holding an August Special Election after the General Assembly eliminated August special elections in legislation that only just passed last General Assembly.  Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who supports H.J.R. 1 and S.J.R. 2, advised lawmakers that an August 8 Special Election must be formalized by May 10 to give County Boards of Election enough time to prepare.

Both the House and Senate Committees advanced their respective resolutions and bills on April 19. The Senate also passed S.J.R. 2 and S.B. 92 during floor session on April 19.

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