Amendment change propsed

Ohio lawmakers are floating some ideas Buckeye State residents may want to watch.

House Joint Resolution 19, introduced a few days ago, would make it more difficult to approve proposed constitutional amendments on the statewide ballot. Rather than a simple majority needed for an amendment to take effect, HJR19 would require 60 percent approval. It would also move up the deadline for submitting petition signatures to get a measure on the ballot and place an expiration date on those signatures – they would be good for only 180 days.

HJR19 also would require signatures from 5 percent of the previous gubernatorial vote count, up from the current 3 percent.

Some critics insist such changes would eliminate some of the control Ohioans have over their government. To an extent, they are right to be concerned.

Some states permit a wild West sort of process regarding constitutional amendments. Since California’s constitution was adopted in 1874, it has been amended 514 times. That does not count the number of attempts to change it.

Many proposed amendments in California involve subjects – such as whether a specific vehicle fuel tax ought to be rescinded – more properly handled by a legislature.

Ohio has not sunk to that depth yet. HJR19 may be aimed at heading off such a movement. Reports indicate state lawmakers backing the measure are reacting to recent, costly statewide ballot initiatives that were defeated. For example, a 2015 proposal to allow 10 growing sites in the state for medical marijuana was soundly defeated despite backers’ investment of $21.5 million to promote it.

Still, new restrictions on Buckeye State residents’ access to the constitutional amendment process should raise eyebrows. Perhaps requiring petitions containing signatures equal to 5 percent of the last gubernatorial vote count is appropriate. Moving up deadlines and canceling signatures after 180 days is not.

Requiring amendments be approved by 60 percent of voters rather than the current simple majority may be a good idea. Surely Ohio’s basic rule of government should not be altered unless three-fifths of voters think that is a good idea.

Fortunately, legislators cannot make any changes on their own. Adding requirements to the process of amending the constitution requires – you guessed it – convincing voters to approve an amendment.