SB 5: democracy in action

We live in a representative democracy. That means that officials are elected to act on our behalf. It needs to be this way so that laws can be passed in a timely manner so that society can function. When the people feel that government isn’t acting in their favor, the people have a few options available through which to ensure that the government will realize their wishes in the future. One of these measures, for instance, is the election cycle. Every four years a presidential election is held, every two years representatives of the House are up for election and every six years senators are up for re-election. This ensures that fresh blood stays in office and that elected officials will ultimately be held responsible for their actions. But for some matters, these terms are too long to do any good. And what happens to laws that have already been passed? Must the people sit by and watch as a law they feel is unjust passes?

That’s where referendum comes in. Through referendum, a law that has been passed can be put on the ballot for a direct up or down vote from voters. This gives the people a more direct role in the legislative process. And right now, referendum is the only hope for opponents of Senate Bill 5 to get rid of the law. According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, they’ll need 231,149 registered Ohio voters from a minimum of 44 counties to sign a petition in order for the referendum vote to appear on the November ballot.

Referendum has already had a big impact on how the bill was passed. Even though the referendum vote won’t take place for another six months, if it does at all, Republicans were pressured into signing the bill into law by April 6, or else the opposition would have the choice of waiting until the 2012 election to hold the vote. This would mean that the law would be suspended in limbo for more than a year, but since it was passed, opponents have until July to obtain the required petition signatures. And since mid-April, opponents have been working around the clock to gather the petition signatures.

Here’s how the process works. The group We Are Ohio was formed March 22 to act as a referendum committee. The referendum committee has already written a summary of the law that has been approved by the secretary of state and attorney general to be “fair and truthful.” This summary and the “fair and truthful” certification must be printed on the referendum petitions. A copy of the full text of the law must also be attached to the petitions. Then, the required signatures must be collected and verified by the secretary of state’s office, followed by a chance to collect additional signatures if any are deemed invalid. All in all, it could be Sept. 4 before the signatures are verified and it is clear whether referendum will appear on the ballot. And once the required number of signatures has been verified, referendum will be voted on in November.

Predicted by Larry Wicks, Ohio Education Association executive director, to cost up to $20 million, referendum is not a cheap process. As such, the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police have all considered charging members additional fees to fund referendum efforts. Even former Gov. Ted Strickland is in on fundraising, asking via email for funding from supporters.

The referendum committee still has two months to achieve the necessary number of petition signatures. With six months remaining until the election, during which referendum is not even a certainty, it remains unclear whether SB 5 will continue on or ultimately fall into nonexistence. And until its fate is decided, the law will remain ineffective.