Local ballot issues try to stop pipeline blocked by court

Toledo Blade

Jim Provance

September 16, 2015


COLUMBUS — Voters in Fulton, Medina, and Athens counties will not get the chance to vote on changes in local law designed to block the path of a natural gas pipeline across northern Ohio and more heavily regulate “fracking” operations in southern Ohio.

The state Supreme Court ruled 6-1 today to deny the request from citizen groups to overturn Secretary of State Jon Husted’s refusal to put the questions on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Mr. Husted had argued that that regulation of the oil and gas industry is the responsibility of the state, not counties, and, therefore, the citizen-initiated ballot issues were unconstitutional from the state. He dismissed the argument that he was barred from considering the substance of the ballot issues at this stage.

His position was backed in his decision by the oil and gas industry, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and Affiliated Construction Trades of Ohio.

But on that question, the court sided with the backers of the ballot issues, saying that agreeing that Mr. Husted has the power to “prejudge” the legality of ballot issues before voters have their say would lead to “absurd” results.

Still, the court agreed with Mr. Husted’s other argument that the questions did not spell out the kind of charter government they sought to create.

All three counties proposed the creation of charter forms of government but primarily so that they could achieve their goals. In the case of Fulton and Medina counties, that would have been blocking the path within their borders of a 250-mile NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline across northern Ohio.

The question in Athens sought was aimed at preventing disposal of waste from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and more heavily regulating the industry in the county.

All three questions had been certified for their ballots by local boards of election before Mr. Husted invalidated them. Supporters of the charter question in Fulton County submitted 1,483 valid signatures of registered voters, 399 more than required to qualify for the ballot.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Lanzinger, Sharon Kennedy, Judith French, and Paul Pfeifer voted to dismiss the case. The sole dissent came from the sole Democrat on the bench, Justice William O’Neill.

This ruling resolves one dispute related to the Nov. 3 ballot, even as the first military and overseas votes can be cast beginning Saturday. Other voters may begin casting absentee ballots as of Oct. 6.

The other major question relates to the ballot language for statewide Issue 3, the proposed constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical uses and building a new wholesale and retail business structure around the newly legal industry.

ResponsibleOhio, the investor-fueled organization behind the proposed amendment, argues that the Ohio Ballot Board and Mr. Husted intentionally mischaracterized what the amendment would do in the ballot language and issue title, respectively, that would greet voters.

Among other things, the ballot language and title play up the idea that a “yes” vote would write a monopoly on pot growth and sales in the state. The amendment would write into the constitution the specific parcel numbers of 10 investor-run growing facilities, one of which would be on a North Toledo farm.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2015/09/16/Local-ballot-issues-to-try-to-stop-pipeline-blocked-by-court-1.html#S3gZ40fZqoHXywiG.99