by J.D. Davidson
The U.S. Census Bureau and the COVID-19 pandemic have created a constitutional issue for Ohio, and a possible change has members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus concerned the public will be excluded.
Senate President Matt Huffman (pictured above), R-Lima, proposed asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment that gives the state options with critical Census Bureau information not expected until September and Ohio facing a constitutional deadline of Sept. 30 to redraw state House, state Senate and congressional district maps.
That has Black Caucus leaders worried public input could be reduced or eliminated.
“Voters spoke loudly and clearly when they approved redistricting reform a few years ago; they expect their voices to be heard,” said OLBC President Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton. “With that in mind, we must ensure that any proposed constitutional amendment or other changes to the process allows ample time for public testimony. Ohioans deserve nothing less.”
Ohio voters created the Ohio Redistricting Commission in 2018 for districting for the General Assembly. The commission consists of the governor, auditor, secretary of state and appointments from Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.
It also required a Sept. 30 deadline for drawing lines and a first vote on state maps 29 days after the Census Bureau releases redistricting information. That data, the Census Bureau said, is not expected until September.
Huffman is considering a constitutional amendment that gives the state some flexibility with dates in certain circumstances. He discussed the idea with House and Senate leaders last week, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The OLBC would rather the Legislature focus on passing a public submission bill, rather than an amendment, saying Huffman’s idea lacks protection for the public and could create unfair districts.
The caucus also wants all election deadlines extended if redistricting deadlines are extended and suggested asking the Ohio Supreme Court for relief.
“I’m very skeptical that a Constitutional amendment is appropriate,” Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, said. “I don’t believe we have adequate time to give the proposal proper consideration. It would be contrary to the spirit of the reforms passed by Ohio voters to give future legislative majorities the power to shorten the deadlines without support from the minority in both chambers.”
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. He is regional editor for The Center Square.
Photo “Senator Matt Huffman” by The Ohio Senate.