Advocacy update December 6, 2022

Advocacy update December 6, 2022 150 150 Episcopalians in Connection
Hearings this week on Ohio bills curtailing citizen voice

Upcoming votes in Ohio’s Lame Duck session could significantly reduce the power of Ohio voters.  Here are the bills:

  • SB 178 removes most powers of the Ohio Board of Education, after voters elected enough new members to block policies restricting what can be taught about US race relations
  • Sub HB 294 creates more restrictive voting rules
  • HJR 6 raises the bar for voters to amend Ohio’s constitution as voters prepare initiatives to curtail partisanship in redistricting and to create a constitutional right to choose abortion.
How to weigh in

An outpouring of citizen concern last week caused the Ohio House Government Oversight Committee to delay a vote on Sub HB 294 last Thursday and to schedule an additional hearing allowing more testimony this week. On Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 3 p.m., the Government Oversight Committee of the Ohio House will consider:

  • HJR 6 to require approval by 60% of voters (instead of the current simple majority) for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to pass
  • Sub HB 294 to add new rules on voter registration, drop boxes, and early and absentee voting.  

Since the deadline for written testimony is Tuesday at 3 p.m., the best strategy is to call your Ohio reps and the Committee Chair, Rep. Shane Wilkin, at 614-466-3506 to register your views. Both bills are expected to be fast-tracked in the Ohio Legislature. You can find your Ohio representative and senator through this link (fill in your address under “Who Represents Me?”) and email or phone them.

Innovation Ohio writes this about HJR 6: “all parties are invited to testify at the bill’s second hearing – an unusual step signifying lawmakers are in a rush to move the bill. No agenda has been released for Thursday’s hearing of the same committee, but it’s not out of the question for HJR6 to be voted out of committee after just three hearings and one opportunity for public testimony. “In order to be placed before voters in a May special election, HJR6 needs to pick up 60 votes in support. With 63 sitting Republican House members and one vacant seat, bill supporters can’t afford to lose more than 4 members to the “no” side.”

An outpouring of calls this week from constituents could pass or defeat this bill.

A Statehouse rally by over 140 Ohio organizations against HJR6 begins Dec. 13 at 11:30 a.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, Capitol Square.  Register here.

Also on the agenda this week are two hearings and a scheduled vote in the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee on SB178. This legislation would remove nearly all power, including setting curriculum policy, from the State Board of Education, giving it to the Governor. This comes in the wake of a year of battles between School Board members and legislators over how to teach about the history of race relations and about racial bias.

Additional background on the issues

Since 1912, changes to the Ohio Constitution have needed a simple majority (50% +1) of voters to pass. House Joint Resolution 6 requires a supermajority (60%) of statewide voters, taking power away from Ohio voters by making the passage of citizen-initiatives even harder. This resolution arises as Ohio voters are organizing initiative campaigns, including amending the redistricting process to make it non-partisan after this year’s titanic battle over gerrymandering.

In addition to contacting Chair Wilkins of the House Government Oversight Committee, use this link, provided by Common Cause Ohio to contact your Ohio representative, House Speaker Bob Cupp, and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose about HJR6.  You can use the letter provided or edit it any way you choose.

Sub HB 294 eliminates the original bill’s proposal making voter registration and updates automatic when the voter does a transaction at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Automatic registration at the BMV would reduce the number of voters being purged for not having voted in recent elections, or having to vote provisionally if they have changed address but not updated their registration.

Sub HB 294 also eliminates the original bill’s more generous definition of acceptable forms of voter ID including electronic copies of bank statements and utility bills. Many Ohioans do not have printers at home.

In another provision that sends a chilling message to legal residents in the US, the sub bill would require their state ID to explicitly record that they are non-citizens.

The sub bill makes voting less accessible, affordable, safe, and convenient by:

  • eliminating early voting hours on the Monday before Election Day
  • shortening the time period for receiving absentee ballots
  • Limiting drop boxes to no more than three per county, and all of them must be at a single Board of Elections office, even if the county BOE has more than one.
  • prohibiting the Secretary of State from mailing voters unsolicited application forms for absentee ballots at any time.
Two webinars Dec. 7 on critical public policy issues
  • 9:45 a.m.:  Fair Districts listening party, Moore v. Harper oral arguments at US Supreme Court. A ruling favoring the Independent State Legislature Theory could kill the Ohio Supreme Court’s ability to uphold Ohio’s voter-adopted constitutional rules to prevent partisan gerrymandering. Register here.
  • 4 p.m.:  Interfaith Power and Light webinar on new federal funding to help congregations fund energy efficiency. Register here.

U.S. Supreme Court Moore v. Harper Listening Party

State legislators from North Carolina are arguing the State Supreme Court doesn’t have a role in addressing federal election law, including redistricting. This case turns on the so-called Independent State Legislature Theory which threatens the oversight Ohio voters gave to our state Supreme Court to evaluate the fairness of Congressional districts. Register here to hear live oral arguments and expert opinion on this major voting rights case. Local legal experts from Ohio Voice and ACLU of Ohio will join an attorney close to this case: Jonah Knobler of Patterson Belknap served as co-counsel to the plaintiffs in Rucho v. Common Cause, the 2019 lawsuit that challenged North Carolina’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Webinar on federal funding resources for congregations and nonprofits

Interfaith Power and Light and other faith-based organizations are teaming up to brief us on how congregations and non-profits can use new funding, for which policies are being developed under the Inflation Reduction Act, to make their facilities more energy efficient. Register here. If you can’t attend, register anyway and you will receive a link to the recording.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a longtime community advocate and member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming. Connect with her at arielmillerwriter@gmail.com