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Group takes action after Ohio Ballot Board divides its initiative

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A political action committee filed a suit Wednesday to compel Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to reverse the Ohio Ballot Board’s decision to split a proposed constitutional amendment into three separate initiatives.

According to group spokesman Jack Boyle, the initiative, if passed, would make four changes to the Ohio Constitution. Although Boyle said the media has largely focused on one of the aspects of the proposed amendment, the provision that would bring the salary of General Assembly members to that of the average income in Ohio and require they pay Columbus city income tax, there are three other elements to the proposal.

One of these changes is the provision that would not allow members of the General Assembly to exempt themselves from laws they pass, which he said happens too frequently in Ohio.

“One glaring example of that in the General Assembly is when they passed municipal income tax, they exempted themselves from having to pay it in Columbus,” Boyle said. “So, if you work for the Department of Natural Resources or the Bureau of Workmans Comp., you have to pay municipal income tax in Columbus. But if you get elected into the General Assembly or go to work for the General Assembly, you don’t, which is just outrageous.”

One of the remaining two main elements of the initiative would forbid retired members of the General Assembly from returning to the assembly as a lobbyist for at least two years post-retirement. The other element would ensure that all records, including communication records, are kept and maintained by the General Assembly for at least four years.

The initiative was split up at a hearing for the amendment held by the Ohio Ballot Board on March 23. While the board ultimately certified the proposal, it was unable to have its questions answered by anyone from Ethics First — You Decide Ohio, the group that proposed the initiative, because no one from the PAC was present to defend it.

“So we’re amending the constitution and nobody’s here to even offer a comment on it. That’s a first,” said Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who is chairman of the board.

Boyle said he is unsure why one of the Ethics First’s attorneys was not present at the hearing. However, he was unable to offer insight as to whether the group had planned to send an attorney to the hearing to defend the measure in front of the board in the first place.

Additionally, Ethics First does not have a website or public forum for the public to openly contact the group. Boyle said the PAC is still in its early stages and will have those channels set up soon.

Boyle argued the Ballot Board went beyond its legal jurisdiction and violated the Ohio Constitution when it split the measure from one initiative into three. That’s why he said the organization he represents has filed suit to compel DeWine to put the three initiatives back together as one.

“The right of initiative is enshrined in the Ohio Constitution, and the Ohio Constitution describes the responsibility of the ballot board as having the responsibility to draft the description of the measure for placement on the ballot. In no way does it give the ballot board any authority to split anything up,” Boyle said.

In a letter sent from Carrie Kuruc, secretary of the Ohio Ballot Board, to DeWine certifying the proposed initiative and breaking it up into three separate initiatives, Kuruc justified the separation under Ohio Revised Code 3505.062. That code gives the board the legal power to make the separation, but Boyle and other members of Ethics First argue that it is unconstitutional.

“If the board determines that the initiative petition contains more than one proposed law or constitutional amendment, the board shall divide the initiative petition into individual petitions containing only one proposed law or constitutional amendment so as to enable the voters to vote on each proposal separately and certify its approval to the attorney general,” the code says.

In a press release announcing the suit brought forth in the Ohio Supreme Court, Ethics First argued the change made to allow the ballot board to split the initiative goes against how the ballot board is defined in the Ohio constitution.

“Article II, Section 1g of the Ohio Constitution reads in part: ‘Laws may be passed to facilitate their operation but in no way limiting or restricting either such provisions or the powers herein reserved.’ Yet in 2006, legislators passed House Bill 3, a statute, which the lawsuit charges ‘unconstitutionally limits or restricts the right of initiative by imposing an extra-constitutional requirement that a proposed law or constitutional amendment be subjected to approval by the Ohio Ballot Board,’” the press release said.

Because the initiative has been split into three separate measures, the members of the PAC will need to obtain triple the amount of signatures to ensure each of the three measures is on the ballot come November unless DeWine grants the organization’s request. The group has asked the Ohio Supreme Court for an expedited review of the case.

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