Thirty-six years ago, when the last effort to revise the Ohio Constitution ended eight years after the General Assembly set it in motion but two years ahead of schedule, the public was given the chance to vote on sixteen constitutional amendments and accepted thirteen, thereby updating the state’s operating guide into a “living document capable of dealing with twentieth century problems,” a 1977 resolution commending the 32-members for their work said.
In the Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center Thursday, Co-Chairs of the 32-Member Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, House Speaker William G. Batchelder and 34th House District Representative Vernon Sykes, listened to reports from standing committees that included suggestions for standardizing procedures across committees and coordination going forward.
The charge of OCMC, created in House Bill 188 and modeled after the 1970s Ohio Constitutional Revision Commission, is to study the Constitution of Ohio, promote an exchange of experiences and suggestions respecting desired changes in the Constitution, consider the problems pertaining to the amendment of the Constitution and make recommendations from time to time to the general assembly for the amendment of the Constitution, according to Ohio Revised Section 103.61. A commission recommendation is void unless it receives a two-thirds vote of the membership of the commission.
Included in the recommendations from staffing and budgeting is the recognition that OCMH hearings should be held around the state of Ohio to give Ohioans access to the Commission. At today’s meeting, former two-term Republican Governor Robert H. Taft [1999-2005] said told commission members that it should “make an effort to reach out to the public,” which he said will take time and won’t be easy but should be must be done. In the meantime, Gov. Taft said the COMC should continue to gather information.
Echoing Gov. Taft’s remarks, Charles F. Kurfess, a former member of the Ohio House of Representatives, said the public needs to know that “We’re here, we’re awake and we’re listening.”
In the event of a call for a constitutional convention, the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission shall report to the general assembly its recommendations with respect to the organization of a convention, and report to the convention its recommendations with respect to amendment of the Constitution.
But when Buckeye voters had a chance last fall to convene a Constitutional Convention, as they do every 20 years since the idea was hatched in 1919, they said no by more than a 2-1 margin. State Issue One, on the statewide ballot with State Issue two, which gave voters a chance to reconsider the redistricting of legislative seats passed and approved by a Republican-led legislature and governor, was soundly defeated when 70 percent of registered voters turned out to say no thanks by a 68-32 margin. Business groups and legacy print newspaper in Ohio argued that a constitutional convention is not the most efficient or effective process for constitutional review.
The Ohio Constitution, adopted in 1912, calls for a statewide vote, every 20 years, on the question of holding a full-fledged constitutional convention, with elected delegates. The last time a constitutional convention question was on the Ohio statewide ballot was 1992, when it was defeated. Of the four constitutional convention questions on the ballot in Ohio, none have ever been approved.
Discussion among members at one point focused on staffing and budgeting. Lizz Eisaman, Majority Policy Advisor to Speaker Batchelder, said the commission was allocated $50,000 for this fiscal year but could not offer the exact dollar amount left. Going forward, the House passed version of the next biennial budget allocates $1.5million for the biennium for the OCMC. Eisaman was unable to speak to what would be reasonable costs to fund the OCMC’s operations.
Senate President Keith Faber, a late arrival Thursday, was heard to say when the topic of COMC funding surfaced, “I’m for free labor.”
Chad A. Readler, one of the 20 public members, offered his viewpoint on progress made to date. “We are making process,” the Jones Day attorney told CGE in an email. “Potential amendments to the Constitution shouldn’t be rushed, ” he said, noting that the OCMC is putting in place a framework for “thoughtfully considering and modernizing our cherished Constitution.”
How has Ohio done from 1980 to 2012 with constitutional amendments? Of the 59 that came before voters, 26 failed while 33 were approved, according to information found at the OCMC Website.
OCMC has until July 1, 2021 to complete its work before it ceases to exist.
The OCMC welcomes and encourages ongoing feedback from the public, its Web site says. “If you have an idea or request to submit to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission regarding changes to the Ohio Constitution,” a form is provided to fill out one topic at a time. Submissions to the OCMC are subject to public records disclosure pursuant to Ohio RC 149.43.
As chairman of the Constitutional Revision Commission in the 1970s, Richard H. Carter wrote, “This entire effort has been an outstanding example of how citizen involvement can make the democratic process truly meaningful and effective.”
Last Sunday, President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at spring graduation ceremonies at The Ohio State University. The president’s theme was civic engagement, urging students to develop a passion to participate in their democracy.
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