Full Ohio House vote on proposal making harder to amend constitution delayed

Some House GOP members expressing concern

By: - May 3, 2023 4:45 am

Ohio House Speaker Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill). (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The resolution to make it harder to amend the Ohio constitution is not being voted on this week, apparently after some GOP House members started to get cold feet.

The battle between Ohio House Republicans is dragging on. Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) seems to not be a fan of Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would require a 60% supermajority for citizen-led constitutional amendments to pass instead of 50%.

He has also made comments against Senate Bill 92, which would reinstate August special elections. State lawmakers just eliminated those a few months ago.

This resolution is being streamlined to an August special election and is meant to stop abortion from becoming legal, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers say.

Bill supporters like Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) say Stephens is delaying the inevitable.

“There are at least 60 votes in the caucus, probably more,” Ferguson said.

Whether there actually are enough votes to pass the controversial piece of legislation depends on which lawmaker speaks about it.

As of right now, the House is trying to count who supports S.J.R. 2 and S.B. 92.

Ohio Right to Life asked every GOP lawmaker to sign a petition assuring they want a floor vote. All but six signed or gave some sense of approval.

No signature

The lawmakers who didn’t sign the Right to Life survey but did offer some level of commitment in a letter (or communicated) to Stephens, according to Right to Life, are Cindy Abrams, Andrea White, Jamie Callender, Sharon Ray, Gail Pavliga, Jeff LaRe and Haraz Ghanbari.

The lawmakers who have not signed are Reps. Tom Patton, Scott Oelslager, Brett Hillyer, Jay Edwards, Jason Stephens and Gayle Manning.

Northeast Ohio Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) explained her decision to OCJ/WEWS.

“I don’t sign pledges and I don’t sign anything that a lobbyist brings to me,” Manning said.

The moderate Republican goes and listens to her district, not the lobbyists, she added.

“I will support it if the speaker brings it to the floor because it gives the people of the state of Ohio an opportunity to vote on it and make that decision on their own,” she said.

However, the major sticking point is S.B. 92.

“I will not vote for an August election,” she said. “It is, number one, $20 million [and] we just voted last year to do away with it.”

Her sentiment is becoming more popular with fellow Republicans.

Cold feet

Even Republicans who did sign are signaling a no-vote on at least one portion of the S.J.R. 2 and S.B. 92 deal. Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) told OCJ/WEWS that now isn’t the time for the resolution.

“I think this issue needs to be addressed in 2024,” Cross said. “So my position would be if we want to handle a sensitive issue like the Constitution that we do this when voters are paying attention and they clearly understand what we’re trying to do or what we’re trying to accomplish.”

It doesn’t matter what the issue is; it could be voting on “state ice cream flavor,” he said, but he wants voters to understand why they are voting and for what.

Most importantly, he said, the lawmakers just decided to get rid of special elections in August.

“I’m not going to be flip-flopping on a vote to say, ‘yes, we can do August elections,'” he added. “So I’d say let’s just do this in 2024 if this is what we feel is important for the people.”

He isn’t the only one who feels that way, but he was the only one to go on record. There are whispers of concerns from other lawmakers who are realizing the gravity of this situation, one lawmaker said. Others told OCJ/WEWS privately about their concerns.

About 230 bipartisan groups are against the bills. Throughout the past week, bipartisan groups of former Ohio governors and attorneys general have also condemned the legislation.

Ferguson isn’t surprised by the sudden change of heart.

“A lot of these people have already proven they go back on their word,” he said, coldly. “Look at January 3.”

Jan. 3 was the day, in a surprise upset, Speaker Stephens won the House gavel by partnering and making a deal with the Democrats. According to Ferguson, several members of the GOP told Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) they would vote for him for speaker but voted for Stephens instead. Since then, several members aligned with Merrin have made their distaste for Stephens clear and public.

This divisiveness has been difficult to navigate for Manning, who is known to work across the aisle. She is now facing more than just one aisle to the Democrats — but also the Merrin and Stephens teams.

“We need to get back to having conversations where everybody feels a little bit more comfortable,” she said. “You can be at odds with each other, but you still respect each other and may be willing to make changes so that everybody feels a little bit more comfortable about something we are voting on.”

For a chronological look at Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau’s reporting of the House drama, CLICK HERE.

“I hope they don’t do it on H.J.R. 1 and S.J.R 2,” Ferguson said on people switching up their votes. “But if so, their voters can hold them accountable.”

The deadline for the legislation to pass is May 10, so the House only has one more session to get this through.

This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.



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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.