Court asked to block referendum

Larry Limpf
FirstEnergy Solutions is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to rule that House Bill 6, passed by the legislature this summer and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, isn’t subject to the referendum process.
FirstEnergy filed for a writ of mandamus last Wednesday, asking the court to stop a petition drive that, if enough valid signatures are collected, would put the bill before voters in November 2020.
The utility company is arguing the referendum effort is illegal because the bill enacts a tax levy and the state constitution exempts tax issues from a referendum.
The bill sets energy policy for the state but opponents see it as a bailout for financially-strapped nuclear power plants.
Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has begun circulating petitions to put the issue before voters. The lawsuit names three individuals affiliated with the organization who are directing the referendum effort, and Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State, as respondents.
LaRose certified the OACB paperwork that commences the collection of signatures. The lawsuit asks the court to direct him to reject the petition.
“The substance of HB 6 is that it provides for a tax levy because its ‘charges’ are mandated by the legislature, upon a broad class of parties, and for a public purpose…to facilitate and continue the development, production and use of electricity from nuclear, coal and renewable energy sources in this state,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also quotes an economics professor from The Ohio State University who testified against the bill while it was in committee. He said the charges imposed by HB 6 are “de facto taxes because the power of the state is used to extract payments from electricity users.”
Gene Pierce, a spokesman for OACB, said the utility was using a specious claim.
“This frivolous lawsuit is another desperate attempt by FirstEnergy Solutions to protect their ill-gotten billion dollar bailout," said Pierce. "In addition to having no legal basis, their own proponents in the legislature repeatedly stated that HB 6 was not a tax increase in their efforts to secure enough votes for passage of the bill."
FirstEnergy Solutions issued the following statement regarding the lawsuit: “The charges levied by House Bill 6 are a tax, and laws providing for the levy of a tax are exempt from a referendum under the Ohio Constitution. If it is not stopped, the referendum would increase Ohioans’ monthly electric bills, eliminate ninety percent of Ohio’s carbon-free, zero-emissions electricity and cost Ohio 4,300 jobs. The referendum is inherently misleading confusing to Ohio voters. Ohioans and the State of Ohio should be spared the costs associated with this futile attempt to place this unconstitutional referendum on the ballot.”


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