At a non-partisan informational forum Thursday evening at the Portsmouth Public Library, Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Todd Book, D-McDermott, said the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that not enough signatures were obtained to have the issue dealing with the Bureau of Worker's Compensation law on the ballot.
So, Ohio voters will be voting for Issues 2-5.
Book began the session by explaining the two ways a piece of legislation can get on the ballot through “direct democracy.”
He said one way is if the legislature does the necessary work to put something on the ballot, and normally 60 percent of those voting must pass it to have it on the ballot. Another is when a group of individuals or entities collect enough signatures to have an issue put on the ballot. All four of the ballot issues are there because of individual groups getting signatures.
Book explained each of the issues, beginning with Issue 2, which adjusts the minimum wage and adds a stipulation that the minimum wage would be tied to inflation.
“Right now, the minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, and up until a year ago, the minimum wage in the state of Ohio was $4.25, but at the last minute an amendment was added that changed it to $5.15, and actually what it did was tie the state minimum wage to the federal minimum wage, and the federal minimum wage was $5.15. It has been $5.15 since 1997,” said Book. “And there were a lot of folks not too happy about that change, and felt like there needed to be an increase in the minimum wage.”
Book said several organizations, including labor unions and church groups, got together to assemble the ballot language to make the minimum wage $6.85 an hour, and that rate would go up each year.
“There was also some language in there that said folks could get access to employment records to assure that people were actually being paid the minimum wage,” he said.
Book said the two sides have totally different arguments. The side in favor of the amendment is accusing the federal government of being stuck on the same minimum wage for 10 years, while voting themselves $30,000 in raises. The opponents, such as the chamber of commerce, say the passage would hurt jobs in Ohio, because business owners say they are paying all they can afford now.
Book said Issue 2 is doing so well that the pollsters have stopped polling voters on that issue and have begun concentrating on Issues 3-5. Book indicated the last information he had showed a more than 70 percent approval.
“Issue 3 is about gambling, and if you've seen the billboards and commercials, the talk is ‘Learn and Earn,' Book said. “What Issue 3 would do, if it passes, would create or allow in the state of Ohio 31,000 slot machines around the state.”
Each horse track facility in the state of Ohio would get slot machines, there are seven of those around Ohio, and there are two free-standing casinos in the Cuyahoga County area in Cleveland, and a large percentage of the money from the slot machines and casinos would provide scholarship money for students to go to college,” Book said.
He said the Learn and Earn group compares this bill with the Hope Scholarship in Georgia that pays full tuition for the students there, funded by the Georgia Lottery.
“This ballot issue was put on by the owners of the race tracks. The two folks who would benefit are the folks at the free-standing casinos in the Cleveland area,” he said.
The groups opposed to the initiative include religious groups, because he said they see it as an expansion of gambling in Ohio.
“There's also opposition from folks who are pro-gambling, because they think this amendment would hurt their chances to get gambling in other parts of the state including our area,” Book said. “If this amendment were to become a law, I think the chances of a casino boat ever being in our area would be nil.”
In the polling, Issue 3 is the only issue polling negative numbers, with 43 percent in favor, 48 percent against and 9 percent undecided.
Book said Issue 4 and Issue 5 are tied together. Issue 5 would be a piece of legislation that says there would be no smoking in public in the state of Ohio, and the amendment is supported by The American Cancer Society and The American Heart Association among others.
Book said the restaurateurs in Ohio became concerned, and created their own ballot initiative, but it would be a constitutional amendment instead of a law change. Issue 4 would leave the smoking decision up to business owners, and instead of just “no smoking” signs, in places like restaurants and bars, smoking areas would be closed off from the nonsmoking areas.
If both issues pass, Issue 5 would be nullified because a constitutional amendment trumps a piece of legislation, he said.
Book said the reason he conducts the informational forums is so voters can be better informed when they vote.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.