HB 6: Referendum backers planning a rewrite

Larry Limpf

The Ohio Attorney General’s office has rejected the summary language for a proposed referendum that sought to repeal House Bill 6, which was passed by the legislature last month and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine.
The bill has drawn criticism from environmentalists and others who see it as little more than a bailout of coal and nuclear power plants in the state.
But backers of the referendum aren’t giving up.
A rewrite of the referendum will be prepared and presented to the attorney general, a consultant to the group, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, said Wednesday.
“We intend to draft new language that addresses the attorney general's concerns and submit it to the attorney general as soon as possible,” Gene Pierce, president of Pierce Communications, said by email.
The goal is to have the referendum on the November 2020 ballot.
A letter from David Yost, attorney general, to the petitioners last week identifies 21 inaccuracies or omissions of statutory language.
“For these reasons, I am unable to certify the summary as a fair and truthful statement of the measure to be referred,” Yost writes. “However, I must caution that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all defects in the submitted summary.”
The letter was sent via email to Brandon Lynaugh, president of Battleground Strategies, a consulting firm also retained by Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts.
The OACB, a political action committee, was formed to organize the referendum effort to repeal HB 6, which is set to go into effect in October.
Once law, the bill would subsidize the state’s nuclear and coal power plants by having
electricity customers pay a new monthly surcharge. But a current charge that goes to a renewable-energy and energy-efficiency program would be phased out, resulting in a net savings for residential ratepayers.
A wide range of organizations offered opponent testimony while the bill was still in committee, including environmental groups, municipalities and the Ohio Manufacturing Association. Proponents of the bill include local governments, trade unions, school systems and others.
FirstEnergy Solutions announced in 2018 it planned to deactivate the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station by May 2020. The Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry O. is scheduled to be deactivated by May 2021 and units 1 and 2 of the Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, Pa. are to be deactivated by
May 2021 and October 2021 respectively.
The company said the closings would be necessary if there wasn’t financial relief from the state.
Obtaining the attorney general's "fair and truthful" certification is the first step in the process of getting an initiative or referendum on the statewide ballot.
The OACB faces another challenge if the increase in rates set in the bill is considered a tax because tax issues are not subject to the referendum process.
Pierce dismisses the contention the increase is a tax.
“We think the ‘this is a tax’ argument is a bogus, desperate effort to protect controversial legislation that gives an undeserved billion dollar bailout to FirstEnergy Solutions. These charges are fees for service, not taxes added to the cost of a service or transaction,” he said.
However, John Zeiger, a Columbus attorney, in an Aug. 1 letter to the Ohio Secretary of State office contends HB 6 is a “law providing for a tax levy” that is exempted from a referendum under the state constitution.
“The Secretary of State therefore has a clear legal duty pursuant to …..reject the referendum petition on HB 6,” the letter says.


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