Proposed term limit amendment clears another hurdle

By: - March 3, 2020 12:45 am

This voting sticker, designed by student Emily Legg, was chosen in May to be the new sticker in Ohio. Photo courtesy the Secretary of State’s Office.

A proposed constitutional amendment that would institute new term limits on Ohio legislators has cleared another hurdle toward getting it on this year’s General Election ballot. 

The latest victory for term limit advocates came Monday morning despite opposition from Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof. 

What the term limit amendment does

The proposed “Lifetime General Assembly Term Limits Amendment” would limit a legislator to 16 total years served in the Ohio Statehouse. 

Supporters believe it would close a perceived loophole by altering Ohio’s existing term limit rules, which went into effect two decades ago.

Those in the Ohio House of Representatives can serve up to four consecutive two-year terms, or eight total years. Those in the Ohio Senate can serve up to two consecutive four-year terms, also eight total years. 

The operative word is consecutive. A legislator’s term limit clock resets once they leave office. This often leads to a politician jumping back and forth between the two chambers. 

As an example: a politician could serve their eight years in the Ohio House, then serve eight years in the Ohio Senate, then serve again in the Ohio House if they are so elected. 

The constitutional amendment would institute a 16-year combined term limit when adding service time together between the two chambers.

If passed by voters this November, the constitutional amendment would take effect at the start of 2021. It would grandfather in politicians who are currently serving; their 16-year countdown would not start until the amendment takes effect, meaning they could theoretically serve all the way through 2037. 

The latest victory

It takes numerous steps for a proposed constitutional amendment to get on a ballot for voters to decide.

The Lifetime General Assembly Term Limits Amendment was under consideration Monday morning by the Ohio Ballot Board. This five-member group reviews constitutional amendments to determine if their language adheres to the “single-subject rule.” 

On Monday, the group voted 4-1 that this proposed amendment does follow the rule. The lone vote against came from Obhof, the Ohio Senate president. 

He argued that there are “three distinct things happening” within the amendment: setting a 16-year term limit; altering the term limit rule to include both chambers combined; and setting an effective start date. In his view, these constitute separate subjects and thus should be considered by Ohio voters separately. 

Obhof went on to speculate how successful those individual items might be at the ballot box.

The other members of the Ohio Ballot Board were not convinced. One of them, Pavan Parikh, said the three things outlined by Obhof all share a general subject: legislative term limits. Parikh also noted it is not the role of the Ohio Ballot Board to consider an amendment’s chances of passing when determining if it has standing to be on the ballot. 

Board members did vote that a different amendment regarding voter registration reform was in violation of the single-subject rule. Read more about that ruling here

What comes next

The amendment now heads to the Ohio Attorney General, who is tasked with verifying it to the Ohio Secretary of State. Once that is done, advocates can begin collecting signed petitions from Ohioans. The required number of eligible petitions needed to get the amendment on the 2020 General Election ballot is 442,958. 

The deadline to submit all of those petitions to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office is July 1.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.