Voters to decide fate of many ballot issues

Published 11:09 am Wednesday, September 17, 2008

From a historic race for the presidency to a number of state legislative campaigns to important contests at the local level, Ohio voters will face a packed ballot on Election Day this November.

Included on this list will be five statewide ballot issues that could impact the future of Ohio’s economy, the health of our environment and the quality of life in our communities.

Issue 1, which my colleagues and I approved for the ballot through passage of House Joint Resolution 3 in June, is a constitutional amendment designed to build confidence in Ohio’s elections process, streamline elections administration and save taxpayer dollars. The proposal would require all petitions for statewide ballot initiatives to be filed at least 125 days before an election. The current deadline is 90 days.

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During past elections, state issues appeared on the ballot that were ultimately not counted, because legal challenges had not been resolved at the time ballots had to be printed.

In 2000, Ohio voters approved a measure to create the Clean Ohio Fund, a $400 million bond program designed to preserve and protect the state’s natural resources, while helping clean up polluted, abandoned industrial sites to spur economic development and bring jobs to our local communities. To date, the program has worked to protect 26,000 acres of natural areas, 20,000 acres of farmland and more than 200 miles of recreational trails.

As part of a two-pronged, $1.57 billion economic stimulus package passed by the General Assembly in June, legislators approved House Joint Resolution 5, a constitutional amendment which would renew the Clean Ohio Fund. The proposal will appear on Ohioans’ ballots in November as Issue 2, and I urge its passage.

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved House Bill 416, the Great Lakes Compact, a multi-state effort to protect the waters of the Great Lakes from being diverted to drier parts of the world. During debate on the bill in the Senate, concerns were raised by some legal experts that the Compact language could impact the water rights of private property owners living throughout the 35 Ohio counties that are part of the Great Lakes Basin. As a result, members of the House and Senate came to an agreement on Senate Joint Resolution 8, a constitutional amendment, which would ensure that Ohioans’ private water rights are protected once the Great Lakes Compact is ratified by Congress. This proposal will show up on Ohioans’ ballots as Issue 3.

Issue 5 would give voters the opportunity to decide the future of the payday lending industry in Ohio. In May, the House and Senate passed House Bill 545, legislation which would place tougher regulations on payday lenders in the state. Among other things, the bill caps the interest rate on payday loans at 28 percent, restricts the amount a consumer can borrow to no more than $500 and gives borrowers at least 30 days to repay a loan.

A “yes” vote for Issue 5 would make the provisions in HB 545 a permanent part of Ohio law. A “no” vote would allow payday lenders to continue offering short-term loans under the current guidelines.

Just as they were in 1990, 1996 and 2006, Ohio voters will once again be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment—Issue 6—that would bring casino gambling to the state. And just as Ohio voters have repeatedly said “no” to expanded gambling in the past, I urge defeat of the most current proposal.

Issue 6 would amend the Ohio Constitution to allow a group of private, out-of-state investors to build a multi-million dollar casino in Clinton County near Wilmington, with a portion of the facility’s revenue to be divided among Ohio’s 88 counties. Supporters are selling the idea as a way to bolster the state’s economy and create jobs in the region.

Finally, Issue 4.

The proposal, known as the Healthy Families Act, would have made Ohio the only state in the country to require all businesses with 25 or more employees to give their employees at least 7 paid sick days off per year. Fortunately, on September 4th, the governor announced that he had reached a compromise with supporters of Issue 4 to take it off the ballot.