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Group proposes limiting state supreme court justice terms

By MARC KOVAC Dix Cap i tal Bureau Published: November 4, 2016 10:00 AM

COLUMBUS -- A group has submitted the initial paperwork to the attorney general's office as part of an effort to amend the state constitution to institute term limits on Ohio Supreme Court justices.

The Committee to Impose Term Limits on the Ohio Supreme Court and to Preclude Special Legal Status for Members and Employees of the Ohio General Assembly also wants to require lawmakers and legislative employees to abide by the same state laws that other residents have to follow.

And there's one more hitch: Backers of the amendment have filed suit, hoping to block the state Ballot Board's initial review and potential splitting of such filings into separate issues.

"We feel that is a violation of our core political speech, which is protected by the First Amendment," said Ron Alban, a Kettering man who is one of the petitioners. He added, "It's unnecessary and unconstitutional and places an undo burden on the people."

Alban and other members of the amendment committee filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, arguing that the Ohio Constitution "guarantees the citizens of the state of Ohio the right to propose laws or amendments to the Ohio constitution by initiative" with "no requirement for the submission of a preliminary initiative petition to the secretary of state, the attorney general or the Ohio Ballot Board for review, assessment or approval."

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Alban and the other plaintiffs are taking issue, in particular, with a 2006 state law that enabled the Ballot Board to split initiatives into separate issues, requiring the circulation of multiple petitions and the collection of additional signatures in the process.

Alban said the Ballot Board formerly could split proposed amendments into separate issues on the ballot, once petition requirements were met. He doesn't take issue with the process, only the preemptive splitting of issues, which he said makes it harder for citizens to place issues before the electorate.

Alban and other committee members are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to block the Ballot Board from splitting their proposed amendment.

The latter includes two sections. The first would implement nine-year term limits on Ohio Supreme Court justices. (Current justices are barred from running for the bench after they are 70 years old, but there are no other term limits on how long they serve.)

The second part of the proposed constitutional amendment would require state legislators and General Assembly employees to abide by the same laws as other residents.

Alban said that provision would prevent lawmakers from OK'ing statutes that benefit themselves or their employees.

"We're just saying, if you pass a law that applies to everybody, a general law, then it's good enough for the people, it's good enough for you."

Alban said the group would not begin collecting signatures toward the amendment effort until after the federal court rules on the Ballot Board issue.

"We want to get our First Amendment rights upheld, and we think we will," he said. "After that happens, we'll then assess the best way to collect as many signatures as we can in the fastest way possible."

The attorney general is reviewing the group's submission and will make a decision on the initial certification of the petition paperwork by Nov. 7.


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