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Commission to review possible changes to Ohio Constitution

Published Mar. 21, 2012 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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Reps. Bill Batchelder, left, and Vernon Sykes discuss plans to modernize the state's constitution.

Buckeye Farm News

Every 20 years Ohio residents vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention to review if changes need to be made to the state’s constitution. Since 1912 Ohio voters have always turned down having a convention and the same is expected this year.

But that doesn’t mean the Ohio Constitution isn’t reviewed. Instead of a convention, voters have opted to have a bipartisan commission make recommendations for changes to the constitution. The last full review took place in 1972 with the commission making 47 recommendations, of which 44 were approved.

This election year is starting the process again with the establishment of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, a 32-member bipartisan group. Twelve legislators—six from each party—are currently determining who else should be on the commission, which is co-chaired by House Speaker William Batchelder, a Republican, and state Rep. Vernon Sykes, a Democrat.

Having a constitutional convention is not a popular idea because there is too much risk that special interest groups will dominate the discussion and not be bipartisan, Sykes said recently on Ohio Farm Bureau's Town Hall Ohio. Any action taken by the committee requires a two-thirds vote by its members, leading to “cooperation and collaboration,” he said. Listen to the show.

The constitutional review process typically lasts several years. While the topics have not been determined yet, both the co-chairs believe the commission will address redistricting, term limits, home rule, judicial elections, taxes and citizen initiated changes to the constitution.

Taxes will probably be at the top of the list for review, Batchelder said.

“We were for a number of years not doing a good job of taxing industry and business. We were not encouraging people to come to Ohio and invest in Ohio,” he said. “I think we still have to review that because after all without businesses paying taxes and providing employment, the state is vastly weakened.”

Redistricting is also expected to be a hot topic because several groups already have made proposals on how to change the process, Sykes said.

Both lawmakers said they were confident term limits would be brought up, noting that they personally have noticed the problems term limits can cause in Ohio. Both of their political careers date back to before term limits were enacted: 1968 for Batchelder and 1983 for Sykes.

“We have the ability to go to each other on very hot issues and discuss them and walk away friends,” Batchelder said of Sykes. “With the newer members, I think it’s fair to say that a number of them … the approach to the legislative openness is limited and that is not a good thing. We are at a position that we really want to look at this.”

“I think it’s so important to have the commission so we can carefully think through these issues to make sure we take the right path,” Sykes said.Photo by Seth Teter

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