Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted confirmed Friday that anti-Senate Bill 5 group We Are Ohio can start collecting the signatures required to put a referendum on the November ballot.
Senate Bill 5, signed into law last month by Gov. John Kasich, bans public employee strikes and restricts bargaining for more than 350,000 state workers, teachers, police officers and others. The issue has drawn droves of protesters to the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus and locally to the streets of Marietta.
Lydia Hunter, president of the Warren Education Association, said she's pleased petitions will soon be circulated.
"This is a perfect opportunity to put this on the ballot and find out what the actual populous believes - that's the whole democratic process," she said. "I think that the state government has seized this opportunity with the budget crisis and used that as an excuse to (implement) this legislation, which has nothing to do with budget issues."
Judy Wray, a member of the Ohio Education Association and former Marietta teacher, is one of those heading up a local effort to collect signatures for the petitions. She said it's hard to say at this point exactly when the petitions will be ready or when and where folks will be able to sign them. She did say signature collectors will likely be going door to door in the near future.
Wray said additional details will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, she'll be training union members, from teachers to prison employees, on how to properly collect signatures.
Senate Bill 5 petitions:
A total of 231,147 signatures must be collected by June 30 in order for a referendum to be placed on the November ballot.
A SB5 referendum petition training will be held at 6 p.m. April 25 at the IBEW Local Union 972 hall at 50 Sandhill Road, Reno. Contact Kathleen Green at (614) 570-8834 for more information.
"Our group is like a coordinated effort for Washington, Morgan and Noble Counties," she said. "We want to make sure every signature counts - there are certain things that can be done incorrectly that can cause the signature to not count."
Wray noted that anyone who is registered to vote in the state of Ohio will be able to sign the petitions.
Already, the We Are Ohio group has submitted at least 1,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State's office for certification, as required by the Ohio constitution. In order for the measure to be placed on the November ballot, 231,147 signatures must be collected by June 30.
Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, said she's "amazed" at how enthusiastic residents have been about repealing SB5.
"I think it's a wonderful exercise in democracy to directly engage that way," she said. "There are a lot of people ready to get out there and work hard to put the issue on the ballot."
"Senate Bill 5 does not fix our budget problem, it does not create any jobs and I view it as an unfair attack on Ohio's middle class," Phillips added.
Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, argued that SB5 does, in fact, help the state budget.
"Pulling health care out of collective bargaining will allow the state to have substantial savings," he said. "We were on a trajectory that was unsustainable and you see that reflected in our budget deficit."
Thompson added that he has learned through town hall meetings that in some cases, union leaders have been providing inaccurate information about SB5 to their members, some saying that their salaries will be cut in half, which is not the case.
The Associated Press contributed.