Campaign fails to file to put controversial energy issue on Ohio ballot

With millions at stake, the campaign is placing its bets on a legal challenge.

The campaign to hold a referendum on a controversial energy law decided not to file its petitions by today’s deadline and instead is placing its bets on a legal challenge pending in federal court.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts needed 265,744 valid voter signatures by today, the expiration of its 90-day petition collection period.

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But the group filed suit against the state of Ohio in U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of a state law that requires petition language be approved by the state attorney general. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts argues that 38 days of its 90-day collection window were eaten up awaiting government approvals.

U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday on that claim.

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Opposing House Bill 6 and favoring a referendum: Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, a coalition of business, consumer and environmental groups, opposes the new law and is seeking to put it up for a referendum.

Since 1912, Ohio voters have had the right of referendum — an extraordinary power to embrace or reject laws passed by the Ohio General Assembly.

Favoring House Bill 6 and opposing a referendum: Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions, Generation Now, Ohioans for Energy Security and owners of the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. plants.

At stake is more than $1 billion slated to go to FirstEnergy Solutions and OVEC if the new law is preserved. The new surcharges authorized by the law would be applied to monthly utility bills of 4.8 million customers across Ohio.

Supporters of HB6 have spent $16.56 million so far on advertising to get the bill passed and stop the referendum, according to Medium Buying, a firm that tracks ad buys. Opponents of HB6 have spent $4.46 million so far, according to the firm.

Those figures do not include money spent on lobbyists, political strategists or petition circulators.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts spokesman Gene Pierce estimated that the opponents of the referendum have spent more than $50 million on advertising, efforts to block HB6 petition circulators and circulating another petition to urge the state to prohibit foreign ownership of electricity infrastructure.

Ohioans for Energy Security, which supports the bill, turned in petitions to state lawmakers, urging they pass legislation restricting foreign ownership of energy plants. The group says its petitions were signed by more than 846,000 people.

House Public Utilities Committee Chairman Jamie Callender, R-Concord, said he would introduce a resolution to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would prohibit majority foreign ownership of critical infrastructure in Ohio.

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