By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: Opponents of abortion-related limits inserted into Ohio’s state budget are exploring legal challenges and the possibility of forcing lawmakers to vote again on the provisions, the Democratic challenger to Gov. John Kasich said Thursday.
Funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and abortion-related restrictions placed on publicly funded hospitals and counselors at taxpayer-funded rape crisis centers are out of step with mainstream Ohio voters, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said.
He said that challenging the entire two-year, $62 billion state budget isn’t an option, but these elements of the bill could be forced before the Republican-dominated legislature in January through what’s called an initiated statute.
“How about having the debate that was denied?” FitzGerald said at a news conference. “If Gov. Kasich and his Republican allies really believe that these extreme measures when it comes to women’s health were something that the state agreed on, and that [Ohioans] believed in their position, they wouldn’t have done it in the dead of night and inserted it in the 11th hour the way they did.”
If the initiated statute were successful, lawmakers would have four months to approve the bill put before them without changes. If they fail to do so, opponents could put the same legislation to voters in November 2014. That’s when FitzGerald will face off against Kasich. Both steps in the process would require collecting about 118,000 signatures.
The Ohio General Assembly is in the midst of its two-year session, with strong Republican majorities in the Senate and House in place until the legislative elections of 2014. Messages were left Thursday with spokesmen in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate seeking comment.
During floor debate on the budget bill, Republican House Finance Chairman Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, said there’s nothing inappropriate about putting abortion protections into a budget bill — a policy document described by some as Ohio’s best attempt to help the least among us.
“Who would ‘the least of these’ be but an unborn child?” he said. “Why is it that they have to be the victims?”
FitzGerald said opponents of the abortion limits are frustrated the measures were inserted into the budget bill, which is shielded from referendum under Ohio’s Constitution. He contrasted the situation to the fight in 2011 over a law limiting collective bargaining by unionized public workers that was overturned at the ballot box.
He hoped that opening a dialogue on potential ballot and legal responses might ease some anger he said he’s encountered around the state.
“It’s going to give people an outlet to make sure that they know that our democratic process, although it fails us sometimes — as it did in this case, there are options that we have,” FitzGerald said.
He stopped short of committing his campaign or the Ohio Democratic Party as leaders of the effort, saying it will be important to have a broad coalition of interests — probably including Planned Parenthood, NARAL-Ohio and others already voicing opposition to the budget provisions — for the effort to be successful.
FitzGerald continued to criticize tax changes in the budget that he and other Democrats say will deliver most of their benefits to wealthier Ohioans. Republicans who backed the changes said they reduce overall taxes for the vast majority of Ohio residents, with special emphasis on small-business owners.
The Kasich administration continued to focus its message Thursday on the economic positives of the budget.
Budget surpluses in recent years have allowed state officials to sock away millions of dollars. The latest deposit of almost $996 million Tuesday put Ohio’s rainy day fund at a record-high $1.48 billion.
Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.