Ballot initiatives can create big problems

Patient advocates this month submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures to Ohio election officials hoping to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot a proposed Ohio constitutional amendment that will add new regulations to Ohio’s kidney dialysis clinics. The group still has about 10,000 valid signatures to go to meet the necessary 305,591-signature threshold.

Supporters say the amendment will protect patients from the big corporations operating the dialysis centers. If passed, the amendment would require new annual dialysis clinic inspections and limit patient costs, penalizing clinics that overcharge.

It sounds like something voters probably would support, but the issue is much more complicated, says Gene Pierce of the Ohio Renal Association. He called the issue “an out-of-state cookie cutter plan” that special interest groups are using to test the waters without doing research on what Ohio needs. He says the issue could end up hurting dialysis patients.

If this very complicated issue ends up on the ballot, millions of dollars will be spent attempting to educate and sway voters — much like last November when voters cast ballots on the complicated prescription drug price standards initiative.

Did you ever wonder why it should take a constitutional amendment to establish these types of regulations? Isn’t this the exact type of legislation Ohio lawmakers should adopt without a ballot issue amending our state constitution?

Issues frequently appear on Ohio ballots because groups with money and manpower have the wherewithal to collect signatures to test ideas using Ohio as the bellwether for U.S. political policy. They also use ballot issues to drive typically slow-moving cogs of government to churn a bit faster.

Last month, legislation reining in abuses by high-volume dog breeders was passed to head off a ballot effort that would have placed new puppy mill restrictions in the state’s constitution. The legislation requires pet breeders to attest that they’ve complied with Ohio’s standards of animal care involving feeding, housing, veterinary care, exercise and human interaction.

Legislators adopted the law in part because the Humane Society, which was threatening to submit it as a ballot initiative, promised to keep puppy mill restrictions off Ohio’s ballots for at least 10 years if this bill passed, according to sponsor Rep. Brian Hill, R-Zanesville.

Now, anyone who personally knows me and my beagle, Max, knows I’m a dog lover. But does it really require an Ohio constitutional amendment to ensure dog breeding is done safely?

Even a lobbyist for one of the bill’s supporters, Petland, admitted no one really viewed a constitutional amendment as the right course.

And using ballot issues to force the hand of our legislators can drive such quick turnaround that it sometimes presents unachievable goals.

After Ohio voters in 2015 defeated a constitutional amendment to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, the state legislature picked up the pace in 2016 to legalize medical marijuana. Lawmakers hoped to head off repeat attempts at wider ranging ballot initiatives to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana.

But now, two years later, state officials say they won’t hit the September deadline spelled out in the legislation. Those delays and other missteps in implementing Ohio’s marijuana program are being watched closely by those still hoping to reinitiate attempts to pass ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana.

The ability to place these types of issues on the ballot to become law — sometimes bad law — is problematic.

“Voters oftentimes don’t have the time to research these issues,” said Dale Butland, a Democratic strategist and opponent of last year’s Issue 2, according to Cincinnati.com.

I agree. It’s time to make it more difficult to get issues on Ohio ballots.

We in Ohio and America operate with a representative form of government. We elect our leaders to research and debate issues, to listen to constituents and then to make law. If voters don’t like the outcome, then they may speak out at election time.

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