March 6, 2013
Contact: Carrie Davis
Phone: 614.469.1505

Ohio League Urges Senate to Allow More Time, Input on Petition Changes
Limits on Initiative and Referendum Should Not be Cloaked in Routine Election Updates

The Senate is expected to pass Senate Bill 47 (SB 47) this week, a bill that primarily addresses routine election administration updates. The League of Women Voters of Ohio urges the Senate to pull out sections of the bill pertaining to changes in the petition process to give this major electoral change the careful scrutiny it deserves.

In testimony presented to the Senate State Government Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday, the League expressed serious concerns about the provisions in the bill affecting initiative and referendum petitions.

“Unlike the rest of the bill, which focuses on fairly routine administrative matters, these provisions relate to a fundamental right enshrined in the Ohio Constitution,” said Peg Rosenfield, Elections Specialist for the League. “Therefore, we recommend that the petition language be considered in a separate bill, so it can be given the careful consideration it deserves.”

“In order to appreciate the importance of these petition provisions,” Rosenfield continued, “it is helpful to put them in historical context. One hundred years ago, voters in Ohio and other states became increasingly distrustful of state legislatures, which they felt were controlled by the railroads and corporations. Voters responded by amending the state constitution in 1912, reserving to themselves the right to initiate laws they wanted and to repeal laws they didn’t like – both by circulating petitions to put those laws on the ballot for all voters to approve or disapprove.”

SB 47 proposes to limit the time for collecting petition signatures and impose bureaucratic hoops to jump through to file those signatures. Both would make it more difficult to get issues on the ballot, thereby making it much more difficult to fulfill the constitutional purpose of holding the legislature accountable.

The League is concerned that the restrictions on petitions in SB 47 will have the effect of weakening the right to the initiative and referendum – in direct contradiction of the intent of the 1912 amendment.

“Ohioans have benefited for over 100 years by the availability of the initiative and referendum process,” Rosenfield concluded. “A change of this nature should not be rushed through the legislature as if it were a minor procedural correction. We urge the Senate to separate out all the petition provisions for a different bill for full, careful consideration.”

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