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Constitutional law center warns voters about Ohio Issue 2

By   /   November 2, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

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NOT SOLD: Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is skeptical of “anti-monopoly” language in Ohio Issue 2

Ohio Issue 2 isn’t the simple “anti-monopoly” measure supporters make it out to be, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law warned voters Wednesday.

In a news release, 1851 Center executive director Maurice Thompson said the proposed constitutional amendment “would prohibit tax reform without stopping monopolies or marijuana legalization as promised.”

Thompson noted Issue 2 would make citizen-driven ballot initiatives jump extra hurdles but wouldn’t deter the Ohio General Assembly from creating public monopolies or putting private-sector monopoly proposals on the ballot.

“Issue 2 simply proposes that legislators should have a monopoly on the power to create monopolies,” he wrote in an 1851 Center policy brief.

While the General Assembly was crafting a resolution to add anti-monopoly language to the Ohio Constitution, Thompson testified against the original draft of the amendment.

“The language was made worse, intentionally, after I pointed out the potential impact of the first draft,” Thompson said in an email to Ohio Watchdog.

The General Assembly, Thompson said, “wants Ohioans to fund their campaigns, not initiatives, and is intent on getting rid of the initiative” through Issue 2 and the separate Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission.

Issue 2 has been advertised as the antidote to the marijuana legalization campaign by ResponsibleOhio, a political action committee angling for exclusive rights over bulk production and commercial sale of marijuana in the state.

ResponsibleOhio’s proposed amendment, appearing on the Tuesday ballot as Issue 3, would grant special privileges to ResponsibleOhio backers in the Ohio Constitution — similar to the casino amendment voters approved in 2009.

Instead of blocking Issue 3, Thompson fears Issue 2 would restrict voters’ ability to pass a Taxpayer Bill of Rights or other limits on state taxes in the future, further empowering the Ohio Ballot Board and the General Assembly.

Ohio State University law professor Dan Tokaji, recognized in the press as one of the state’s leading election law experts, has voiced similar skepticism about giving the Ballot Board more power.

But Ohio Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Doehrel, an Issue 2 supporter, told Ohio Watchdog the 1851 Center’s concerns are “way off center.”

“These issues were actually discussed extensively by the legislature before passing the measure and were thoroughly vetted by the constitution review commission as well,” Doehrel said in an email.

“The language was drafted by the sponsors to avoid impacting things like a taxpayer bill of rights,” Doehrel added, “And to think the current legislature would be trying to take such rights away is unfathomable to me!”

Thompson told Ohio Watchdog the proposed amendment “was completely overhauled within 24 hours of passage,” with little public discussion or explanation.

“I know; I was there,” Thompson said.

Issue 2 supporters — including the Chamber of Commerce and Ohio Farm Bureau — are promoting a “Yes” vote as necessary to stop Issue 3. For Issue 2 to block ResponsibleOhio’s amendment from taking effect, Issue 2 would have to pass with more votes than Issue 3.

Even then, one or more lawsuits over the conflicting amendments would be likely.

RELATED: Lawsuit expected if voters approve marijuana, anti-monopoly issues

On Ohioans’ general election ballots, Issue 2 is summarized as an “anti-monopoly amendment,” which “protects the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit.”

“Issue 2 does not weaken or eliminate the citizen initiative process,” State Rep. Michael Curtin and State Rep. Ryan Smith assured Cincinnati Enquirer readers in an Oct. 25 op-ed.

Under current law, groups can gather signatures to put statewide initiatives before voters as ballot issues. The passage of Issue 2 would let the Ohio Ballot Board require “Yes” votes on two separate ballot issues for approval of any initiative deemed monopolistic.

Issue 2 would apply only to “nonpublic” monopolies and would not affect issues put on the ballot by the General Assembly through the same resolution process used to create Issue 2.

Democrat Rep. Curtin and Republican Rep. Smith were the primary sponsors of the resolution putting Issue 2 on the ballot.

Smith, who serves as chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, did not respond to a request for comment from Ohio Watchdog.

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Jason is an Ohio-based reporter covering labor issues for Watchdog.org, with a focus on right-to-work, public employee unions and Obamacare. Before joining Watchdog, Jason was communications director for Media Trackers Ohio. His work has been featured at FoxNews.com, Hot Air, The Daily Signal, RedState, Townhall and elsewhere. His investigations into labor union spending and Obamacare's Medicaid expansion have been cited by national commentators including Jim Geraghty, Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch and Mark Levin. Jason can be reached on Twitter at @jasonahart and by email at jhart@watchdog.org