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Ballot issue money proposal takes center stage during Ohio special session

Laura Irvin testifies against House Bill 1 in May 2024.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
Laura Irvin testifies against House Bill 1 in May 2024.

State lawmakers descended on Columbus for a relatively rare special session earlier in the week, but by Wednesday, one of its two purposes was on the backburner.

The legislature reconvened Tuesday at Gov. Mike DeWine’s behest. DeWine officially ordered them to pass bills putting current U.S. President Joe Biden on the November ballot and banning foreign nationals from contributing to ballot initiatives.

The Democratic National Committee said Tuesday, however, it had its own fix on the first issue—to hold a virtual roll call and officially nominate Biden ahead of its nominating convention. That came nearly two months after Secretary of State Frank LaRose notified the Ohio Democratic Party that the DNC convention was scheduled later than Ohio's 90-day deadline to certify candidates.

With that announcement, GOP-backed foreign contributions proposals have become the focus of lawmakers in both chambers.

But it’s unclear if they will come to consensus, with leaders in each chamber even divided on the proper way to facilitate a special session.

Senate Republicans have already amended and sent the House versions of the proposed ban four different times, including on Tuesday. In every iteration, including the original House Bill 215, the fast-tracked dark money proposal bans foreign contributions to campaigns for and against ballot initiatives in the state.

Opponents generally say it has unintended consequences—some calling it a poison pill in exchange for Biden's name on the ballot, or a swing at looming citizen-initiated efforts.

“This is unnecessary. Trying to pass a bill or a law that already exists is a waste of time and a waste of taxpayer money,” said Laura Irvin, a gun control advocate who on Wednesday donned an anti-gerrymandering shirt.

Irvin was one of several opponents who testified in the House Government Oversight committee against House Bill 1, one of its recently introduced versions of the money measures. Rep. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina), the committee's chair, said he wants to boil the final version down.

“We have a 20-page bill, and if we can find a way to do it in a four-page bill, I think that's a great thing,” Peterson said after the committee hearing.

Peterson said he'd consider an amendment to House Bill 2, prescribing a permanent fix to the deadline that threatened Biden's ballot access.

The House is scheduled for a floor session Thursday morning.

Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau