Ohio News Connection

Ohioans who want voters to decide the future of a new clean-energy law soon will know if their efforts are fruitful. Today is the deadline for opponents of House Bill 6 to submit the signatures needed to get a referendum on the November 2020 ballot.

The controversial bill was signed into law in July, and includes new fees on electric bills that would keep two First Energy nuclear plants open. Melissa English, director of the opposition group Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, said petitioners spent the weekend in an all-out blitz to reach as many voters as possible.

“Informed and engaged citizens are the best possible hedges against the abuses of government and corporate power. That’s what this is about,” English said. “This has been a long, ugly fight. Pro-bailout forces understand that if Ohioans get a chance to vote on this they’re going to vote it down.”

Opponents still are awaiting a federal court decision on their request for an additional 90 days to collect signatures. They contend it took too long for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to approve petition language, and a pre-registration requirement allowed pro-bailout groups to target petitioners. Meanwhile, FirstEnergy Solutions is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to block the referendum, claiming that because the bill concerns a tax, it cannot legally be overturned through a referendum.

The referendum campaign spurred a war between opposing sides. Pro-bailout groups ran TV ads claiming the Chinese government was behind the referendum, and allegedly circulated an alternative, informal petition. English said there’s even been physical intimidation.

“We saw blockers assaulting petitioners. And pro-bailout forces and the blockers were actually offering to bribe people to not turn in their petitions and to leave the state,” she said. “I’ve never seen the like in 30 years of organizing.”

Generation Now, a group that hired petition blockers, released a statement saying it would not tolerate illegal tactics, and noted one staffer was fired after documented misbehavior. Attorney General Dave Yost is investigating reports of intimidation around the campaign, and encourages citizens to report any such behavior.

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

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