As Ohio’s Aug. 8 special election approaches, Ohio agriculture and environmental groups are weighing in on Issue 1, which would make it more difficult to amend the state’s constitution through ballot initiatives.
Farm groups supporting the issue’s passage say it would protect Ohio agriculture and rural communities from special interest groups trying to make changes to Ohio’s constitution, and would help rural communities be more involved in creating policy.
“There are so many uncertainties in agriculture,” said Whittney Bowers, director of state policy and grassroots engagement for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, in an interview with Farm and Dairy. “It’s a matter of being proactive vs. playing catch up, having to defend yourself.”
Those in opposition say ending majority rule goes against the principles of democracy.
“Ultimately if this passes, and Ohioans broadly feel like the legislature is being unresponsive to these issues, it becomes significantly more difficult for Ohioans to take that issue to the ballot,” Chris Tavenor, managing director of democracy policy for the Ohio Environmental Council, told Farm and Dairy.
The ballot initiative would require proposed amendments to Ohio’s constitution to get at least 60% of the vote to pass. Currently, amendments just need a simple majority.
The special election will be Aug. 8. Early voting is in progress through Aug. 6.
To find an early voting location, look up your voter registration or find your polling location, visit voteohio.gov.
Issue 1 would also require initiative petitions to have signatures from at least 5% of the eligible voters in each county. Currently, initiative petitions only have to have signatures from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Finally, Issue 1 would take away a 10-day grace period for more signatures to be added to petitions that have been filed if they don’t have enough valid signatures. All in all, it would make it more challenging for ballot initiatives aimed at changing Ohio’s constitution to make it onto ballots, and to pass.
Several farm groups say changes to regulations around agriculture are often proposed through ballot initiatives. An Ohio Dairy Producers Association release supporting Issue 1 references California’s Prop 12, which requires pork sold in California to come from farms that adhere to its standards on housing for breeding pigs.
“Now that the courts have upheld Prop 12, special interest groups have incentive to work state by state to create new anti-agriculture and anti-business regulations. Ohio is one of 19 states that allow for these direct citizen initiatives,” the release reads.
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association also supports the issue, saying it would keep Ohio a more “stable and predictable business environment,” in a release.
In an interview with Farm and Dairy, Chris Henney, OABA president and chief executive officer, referenced a 2009 attempt by the Humane Society of the United States to develop livestock care standards. In response, Ohio ag leaders helped develop the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
“That’s a great example of why we’re concerned about [Ohio’s constitution] being too easy to amend,” Henney said, later adding, “If Issue 1 does not pass, then we maintain the status quo which means that we will continue to be vulnerable … particularly to radical animal groups or radical environmental groups.”
Groups opposed to the issue, however, say it undermines the principle of “one person, one vote.”
“The passage of Issue 1 would be a slap in the face of Ohioans who believe in democracy,” Joe Logan, president of the Ohio Farmers Union, said in a statement. The Ohio Farmers Union’s executive committee recently voted unanimously to oppose Issue 1.
Those opposing the issue also argue it gives the Ohio legislature more leeway to disregard the will of Ohio citizens, considering that it isn’t common for any issue to get a 60% supermajority.
Tavenor noted the Clean Ohio Fund, which was originally established in 2000, passed with 57% of the vote and would have failed under the rules that Issue 1 would set. Ending majority rule would mean 40% of voters “can veto the will of the majority on these issues,” they said.
Requiring signatures from all 88 counties to put an issue on the ballot is another major selling point for supporters of the issue.
“A lot of our members felt like the current 44-county process ignores rural communities and those corners of the state that aren’t heavily populated,” Bowers said. She added that Ohio Farm Bureau has had policies that support raising the standards for ballot initiatives for a while. “The signature collection process [in Issue 1] is just the epitome of a grassroots process.”
Those opposing the issue, however, say it’s already challenging to get enough signatures to put an issue on the ballot.
“88 counties essentially makes it impossible … because it’s such a high bar,” Tavenor said.
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