House Bill 6 referendum signatures not filed as court fight continues – The Columbus Dispatch

thumbnail

The fate of a petition effort to repeal the House Bill 6 bailout of a pair of nuclear power plants will rest with a federal judge.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts announced this afternoon it will not file the referendum petition signatures it has been gathering for weeks amid a hard-fought, multi-million-dollar campaign replete with allegations of dirty tricks.

The group, which faced a midnight deadline to submit signatures, is arguing it should be granted more time for its petition drive in a lawsuit filed before U.S. District Court Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr.

The lawsuit contends a state law requiring the attorney general to certify summary language for the petition unconstitutionally consumed 38 of the 90 days it had to gather signatures following the passage of House Bill 6 by the Republican-dominated legislature and its signing by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

A hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled before Sargus on Tuesday afternoon.

“Nuclear bailout supporters of House Bill 6 have stooped to unprecedented and deceitful depths to stop Ohioans from exercising their Constitutional rights to put a bailout question on the ballot for voters to decide,” said Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts spokesman Gene Pierce.

“The fight to put House Bill 6 on the ballot in 2020 isn’t over yet though,” said Pierce. “Our lawsuit challenging the ‘blackout period’ on petitioning, which consumed 38 of the 90 days we had to collect signatures, remains under review in U.S. District Court.”

The group needed to gather the valid signatures of 265,774 voters from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties by midnight Monday to place a referendum to repeal House Bill 6 on the November 2020 ballot. If a referendum is later certified to the ballot, it would delay implementation of the law until after the vote.

Pierce declined comment on the number of signatures the group gathered, but said the petition drive would resume if Sargus grants more time.

House Bill 6 would charge most electricity ratepayers 85 cents a month to generate nearly $1 billion over seven years to subsidize a pair of Lake Erie nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions. The bill also continues collection of a fee to benefit a pair of coal-fired plants owned by a consortium of Ohio utilities and downsizes green energy standards.

The ballot clash principally involves allies of FirstEnergy Solutions, which is nearing bankruptcy court approval of its spin off from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., and the operators of natural gas-fired power plants who contend the nuclear subsidy makes it difficult for them to compete in the electricity marketplace. Supporters say preserving nuclear power play keeps the state’s largest source of carbon-free energy.

Experts involved in prior Ohio petition campaigns say that to succeed, the referendum effort likely will need to have gathered well in excess of 400,000 signatures to account for those that will be thrown out as invalid because they did not come from registered voters.

FirstEnergy Solutions warned last week that if the referendum makes the ballot or it receives “additional negative news” from the courts, it would force the company to “move back on a path of deactivation” of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants.

It’s been a campaign unlike any other in recent memory.

The pro-House Bill 6 groups have spent $16.6 million on TV and radio advertising while opponents have spent $4.9 million, according to Medium Buying, which tracks media buys in political campaigns.

Ohioans for Energy Security, a dark-money group funded by House Bill 6 supporters, has plowed millions into TV commercials making the unsupported contention that China is behind the referendum as part of its attempt to take over Ohio’s power grid and its anti-referendum campaign.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has cried “dirty tricks,” for example, in what it contends was an effort targeting its circulators with offers of $2,500 and a plane ticket to quit working.

The group also has mounted an unbinding “petition” campaign calling for legislative efforts to prevent foreign ownership of the state’s electrical grid. The petition officially counts for nothing, a move critics say was designed to confuse voters and hire people away from the pool of available petition circulators.

The petition, which Ohioans for Energy Security said contained 846,000 signatures, was submitted Monday to Rep. Jamie Callender, a Lake County Republican and chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee. With the group paying its circulators $8 to $9 per signatures, the effort could cost nearly $7 million.

And, Generation Now, another pro-House Bill 6 group, has hired “blockers” to confront petition circulators while attempting to dissuade voters from signing petitions.

At least two “blockers” face criminal charges while Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has filed court documents from circulators contending they have been offered $2,500 bribes and a plane ticket home to quit working.

The office of Attorney General Dave Yost, who warned “blockers” to not harass referendum workers has received nearly 30 complaints about “blockers,” including allegations of following and harassing circulators.

FirstEnergy Solutions has filed a pending lawsuit before the Ohio Supreme Court that contends the House Bill 6 fees on ratepayers constitutes a tax that is not subject to referendum.

rludlow@dispatch.com

@RandyLudlow

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top