A federal court denied a request from Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts for an extension for gathering petition signatures for a ballot initiative, instead referring the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The coalition is seeking to overturn House Bill 6, which provides about $1 billion in subsidies to two Ohio nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions. Ohio law permits a group 90 days to gather signatures for a ballot initiative, but also requires state approval of the petition’s summary language during that time period. While awaiting approval, a group is not allowed to collect signatures, which Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has dubbed a “blackout period.”
Receiving approval for the language took up 38 days of the group’s 90, which it claims has curtailed its right to petition the government. The federal court referred the case to the state Supreme Court because the question relates to the state’s Constitution.
“We look forward to making our case to the Ohio Supreme Court that the petitioning ‘blackout’ period is an unfair infringement on our constitutional right to referendum,” Gene Pierce, a spokesperson for the coalition, said in a news release. “Ohioans deserve the opportunity to vote on House Bill 6, and the despicable campaign by supporters of the bill to prevent that should not be rewarded.”
Ohioans For Energy Security, which is a group opposing the petition, filed an amicus brief in the case that argues that the Constitution does not provide a 90-day window and that it also gives the state legislature the power to facilitate the rules surrounding the referendum as long as it does not limit or restrict it.
Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is fighting another lawsuit about the referendum over whether it is Constitutional. Because the bill increases fees for consumers to pay for the subsidy, opponents of the referendum argue that the bill constitutes a tax, which would not be subject to a referendum. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts are arguing that the fee does not constitute a tax.