HB 463 – corporate state legislation to block citizen initiative – struck by Court
BOWLING GREEN, OHIO: Today, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the right of Bowling Green residents to vote, ordering their first-in-the-state Right to Climate charter amendment on the November ballot.
The Wood County Board of Elections (BOE) approved the measure for the ballot last month. One resident challenged the decision, arguing in part that the substance of the initiative was unconstitutional and, under HB 463 should be kept off the ballot. HB 463 was adopted by the people’s legislators last December. The legislators granted BOEs broad authority to keep measures off the ballot based on content, making it difficult for residents to propose legislation that challenges unjust law.
The Ohio Supreme Court would have none of it, striking HB 463 down as a violation of the separation of powers, and ordering the charter amendment on the ballot. The Court stated, “To the extent that [HB 463] authorizes and requires boards of elections to make substantive, preenactment legal evaluations, it violates the separation-of-powers doctrine and is unconstitutional.”
The charter amendment emerged out of Bowling Green residents’ growing alarm when they learned of the proposed Nexus pipeline threatening their City’s water supply. Students and residents joined together to work with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to draft their charter amendment, which asserts the community’s right to a healthy climate, and bans the pipeline as a violation of that right.
Brad Holmes, a Bowling Green University student, celebrated the decision. “When the people rise up and take action to stop climate change, state actors and their corporate allies invent laws such as HB 463 to stop us. The corporate state has one aim: resource extraction and profits, regardless of the cost to people, communities, and nature. We, in Bowling Green, are challenging them, and today the Ohio Supreme Court called out HB 463 for what it is: unconstitutional. The Court upheld our rights. We, the People, will vote on our own measure.”
As environmental threats and social injustices grow across Ohio, communities are advancing Community Rights initiatives to protect themselves and challenge efforts to force harms into their communities. In response, the state of Ohio has been attempting to crack down on democratic rights, including in Athens and Medina Counties. There, residents have advanced county charter proposals that included bans on fracking infrastructure and waste disposal. Both County BOEs blocked the measures this summer. Last month, in Youngstown, the Mahoning County BOE blocked two charter amendments from the ballot.
Lisa Kochheiser, member of the local community group in Bowling Green, stated, “Our neighbors in Youngstown, and in Medina and Athens Counties, were denied their right to vote this fall. We have not forgotten them. And in the days ahead we are campaigning not just for Bowling Green, but for all of Ohio. We are a part of a growing Community Rights movement, asserting our rights to clean air, water, and our right to govern the places where we live!”
Bowling Green petitioners’ attorney Terry Lodge added, “We have political operatives appointed to Boards of Elections by Secretary of State Jon Husted. Those operatives act as ‘goalies’ to thwart the right of the people to decide at the ballot box. We will continue to argue that BOEs have no authority to shut down citizen initiatives based on the content of those initiatives.”