Residents in three Ohio counties have sued the state after Secretary of State Jon Husted invalidated three ballot proposals to ban hydraulic fracturing projects in Fulton, Medina, and Athens counties. The bans, if passed, would become part of the respective county charters.
Husted based his decision on the Ohio Supreme Court’s February ruling in State ex rel. Morrison v. Beck Energy Corp. In Beck, the court held that local governments lack the authority to block drilling activities otherwise permitted by state oil and gas law, thus invalidating five local ordinances that placed additional restrictions on drilling operations.
According to Husted, the new ballot proposals are merely attempts to circumvent the legal rules established by the Ohio Supreme Court in Beck.
Opponents, however, characterize Husted’s decision as “censorship,” and have asked the court to declare it a violation of citizens’ constitutional right to change laws through ballot initiatives. Specifically, the plaintiffs have invoked Article X, Section 3 of the Ohio Constitution, which states, “The people of any county may . . . amend a charter” by “initiative or referendum.”
The plaintiffs further claim that Ohio forbids “substantive review” of a ballot initiative prior to an election “for the important policy reasons of separation of powers, of judicial restraint, against issuing advisory opinions, and against infringing on the people’s democratic political rights to initiative.”
In the wake of Husted’s decision, a similar ballot measure was rejected by the Mahoning County Board of Elections, which voted 4-0 to keep the hydraulic fracturing ban off the November 3rd ballot. Like Secretary Husted, the board based its decision largely on the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling in Beck.
FrackFree Mahoning Valley—the group that supported the ballot proposal after voters rejected similar bans in 2013 and 2014—intends to challenge that ruling as well, likewise claiming that the Ohio Constitution guarantees the right to ballot initiatives.
Rulings are expected in both cases before the November 3rd elections.