Ohio Republicans weigh response after losing at the ballot box on abortion, marijuana
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Groups opposed to mandated vaccinations protest on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse, inside the House Health Committee meets to discuss HB 248 which would prohibit mandatory vaccinations and vaccination status disclosures, Tuesday, August 24, 2021. Bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Gross met with the protestors outside the Statehouse. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)
Lawmakers are back to work this week, and Ohio Republicans are wrestling with the fallout of last week’s passage of Issue 1. In any other circumstance, a 13-point victory amounts to voters sending a clear message. But when it comes to the reproductive rights amendment, some right-wing lawmakers aren’t listening.
On the heels of Issue 1’s passage, 27 state representatives signed a letter promising to “do everything in our power to prevent our laws from being removed.” They argued Issue 1’s language was “vague” and “intentionally deceptive.”
It’s worth noting, however, that the amendment’s language was perhaps the most heavily contested territory of the campaign. Opponents of Issue 1 distributed a marked-up version of the proposal’s text with annotations warning — against the opinion of a wide variety of legal experts — about the loss of parental rights and expansion of gender affirming care. Nevertheless, voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment.
Following the letter, the conservative organization Ohio Values Voters sent out a press release with the anti-abortion group Faith2Action. Several current and former state lawmakers railed against Issue 1.
Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, argued without evidence that “foreign billionaires” bankrolled issue 1’s campaign. Her office did not respond to calls or emails requesting an explanation. Faith2Action president Janet Porter piled on, suggesting “what’s to stop the Chinese from funding a forced-abortion amendment next?”
Porter and attorney Andy Schlafly also tried out a version of the independent state legislature theory conservatives have floated in the context of redistricting. “The Supreme Court in Dobbs established that this is for elected representatives to decide,” Porter argued. They contend that ruling means lawmakers can — and should — disregard ballot measures and withdraw jurisdiction over Issue 1 from the courts.
Here's Gross's draft in full: pic.twitter.com/bG4Sy3HL2c
— Andrew Tobias (@AndrewJTobias) November 13, 2023
Gross promised to do just that, and Monday she followed through. Cleveland.com first reported the text of Gross’s proposal, sent to legislative drafters for preparation. The measure would attempt to grant the General Assembly “exclusive authority” to implement Issue 1. It goes on to explicitly withdraw jurisdiction from the courts — ordering any cases dismissed and any findings vacated.
Violating that proposed law would be an impeachable offense.
Meanwhile, since the results became clear, Gov. Mike DeWine has done his best to strike a balance. He has been candid about disagreeing personally with the outcome, but he has also repeatedly promised to “follow the will of the voters.”
“In this country, we accept the results of elections,” DeWine said last week. “And we certainly accept the results of Issue 1 in Ohio as well as Issue 2.”
Still, DeWine says lawmakers have a role to play in implementing or tweaking laws as necessary. And while he argues voters need time to see how the matter plays out in practice, “no issue is ever closed.”
Monday, he met with House Speaker Jason Stephens and Senate President Matt Huffman to discuss what’s next for the initiatives approved in November. On marijuana, the governor stressed the importance of landing on a policy framework with additional protections — and fast. The statute takes effect Dec. 7.
On reproductive rights, however, DeWine counseled patience.
“My 40 years of experience in politics tell me that in politics, timing is everything” DeWine said. “And, you know, I don’t think the timing is right to go back on the ballot for an issue like this.”
Previously, Huffman suggested Issue 1’s success would lead to a “revolving door” of repeal efforts.
As for Gross’s proposal, DeWine said he hadn’t looked at any particular bill, but seemed loathe to give the idea oxygen.
“(There are) 132 members of the General Assembly,” DeWine said. “On any one given day, any one member might think something, or say something, and might even introduce a bill. But that doesn’t mean anything’s gonna happen.”
The governor’s posture — ready for the nitty gritty on marijuana, but a bit reticent to restart the abortion debate — seems to align with lawmakers. A Gongwer/Werth poll released Monday showed a majority of responding lawmakers open to added restrictions for marijuana or changes to its tax rates.
The idea of launching an Issue 1 repeal effort, though, was murky. Democrats uniformly rejected the idea, but Republicans were split. Not quite half were ready to back a new amendment, and about a quarter each opposed the idea or were still undecided.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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