Last week, we wrote about a Colorado ballot Proposition that will be considered by voters on November 6, 2018. In this article, we will discuss a ballot initiative that was proposed in the state of Ohio, but was ultimately not placed on the ballot. In our next Shale Law in the Spotlight article, we plan to address the results of oil and gas-related November ballot initiatives across the United States.
On June 26, 2018, the Columbus Bill of Rights – a group of volunteers comprised of Columbus residents – submitted to the Franklin County Board of Elections an initiative to establish a “Community Bill of Rights for Water, Soil, and Air Protection” for the City of Columbus, Ohio. This proposed initiative sought to amend the Columbus Bill of Rights Charter and would have resulted in the prohibition of any new oil and gas extraction activity or technology within the City of Columbus. It also sought to revoke any existing permit or license granted for the extraction of oil and gas within the city limits. The proposed initiative stated that anyone violating the prohibitions of the Columbus Community Bill of Rights committed a first-degree misdemeanor criminal offense and was subject to a fine and imprisonment to the extent allowed by applicable law.
On July 9, 2018, the Franklin County Board of Elections (BOE) approved and certified 12,134 signatures to the initiative petition from Columbus voters, which qualified the initiative for the ballot. Consequently, the Columbus City Council voted unanimously on July 30, 2018, to place the proposed initiative on the ballot for the November 6, 2018, general election. Subsequently, however, Columbus citizens Loretta A. Settlemeyer and Robert J. Wall filed a protest with the BOE challenging the proposed initiative. On August 24, 2018, after hearing their arguments, the BOE chose to withdraw the initiative from the November 6 ballot concluding that “the Proposed Ordinance contains provisions that are purportedly beyond the power of the City of Columbus to legislate, per O.R.C. § 3501.38(M)(1) and that the Proposed Ordinance appeared to impose local regulations on drilling for oil and gas.”
As a result, on August 28, 2018, supporters of the proposed initiative filed a verified complaint for writ of mandamus before the Ohio Supreme Court challenging the BOE decision to withdraw the Columbus Community Bill of Rights initiative from the ballot. These Columbus residents requested the Supreme Court to order that the initiative be “immediately” put back on the November 6 general election ballot. Among their arguments, the initiative’s proponents argued that the BOE exceeded its powers in deciding whether the initiative should appear on the November 6 ballot. By doing so, the BOE violated the City of Columbus’s home rule powers under Article XVIII of the Ohio Constitution, Section 3 and 7. The Columbus residents also alleged that the City was well within its rights to enact the Community Bill of Rights initiative stating that the Columbus Charter should be interpreted as allowing the consideration of any initiative that is presented in the proper format with an adequate number of signatures.
On September 14, 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion denying the request of the Columbus residents for a writ of mandamus and held that “the board members did not abuse their discretion in finding that the proposed ballot measure is beyond the scope of Columbus’s legislative power.” Supporter of the proposed initiative filed a motion of reconsideration in the Supreme Court of Ohio on September 17, 2018. These Columbus residents requested a review because the Supreme Court, in rendering their opinion, had relied on case law that predated legislation (House Bill 463) addressing the authority of the BOE to decide when a citizen initiative should be place on the ballot.
On October 5, 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected this request for reconsideration and upheld its prior decision not to place the Community Bill of Rights initiative on the November 6 ballot.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.