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'Clean energy' proposal in Ohio split into 2 separate 2016 ballot questions, with 3 possible


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's ballot board on Tuesday split a clean-energy initiative headed toward the 2016 ballot into two separate questions, but the state's elections chief said it was too soon to say whether the measure will be affected by protections against constitutional monopolies that voters approved last week.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, the ballot board's chair, said it won't be determined until later whether energy-related portions of the Ohio Clean Energy Initiative create a monopoly or convey personal economic benefit to backers in such a way that requires the special voter permission listed in Issue 2. If so, the voter permission and the issue itself would appear on the same ballot, he said.

The board voted along party lines to split the initiative into two for now.

One issue will contain the energy proposal's key elements. It requires $1.3 billion in annual investments over 10 years in infrastructure, research and development related to solar, wind and other alternative energy sources. A Delaware-based private corporation would pick the projects and receive $65 million annually to operate.

The separate question contains a process for fixing portions of the initiative that are voided or invalidated, most likely through legal or administrative challenges. It requires only 1,000 signatures — compared to the approximately 305,000 required normally — to place any required amendments to the energy provisions on future provisions.

Husted said the provision gives the energy campaign "access to the ballot that nobody else has."

"We've prescribed over a very long period of time what standard it takes to get to the ballot to amend the Constitution, and essentially what they want to do is prescribe themselves a provision that says, 'Hey, I can put a new thing on the ballot to amend the Constitution with 1,000 signatures,'" Husted said.

Don McTigue, an attorney for the Yes for Ohio's Energy Future PAC, Pro Energy Ohio LLC and five committee members, said his clients may go to the Ohio Supreme Court to challenge the board's decision that their initiative is two separate issues.

He said they also will explore whether signatures gathered for the energy issue when it was proposed previously can be re-used, since the board's action Tuesday spun off the only new provision in this year's proposal into a separate question.

Democratic state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, who cast the day's sole no, said she felt the energy proposal and the proposal for amending it down the road were interrelated and splitting them up will make things more confusing and difficult for voters.

She also said the board "kind of didn't address the elephant in the room" of the impact of the anti-monopoly provisions.

"It now appears we're going to make groups that try to petition to get on the ballot wait until they gather all their signatures to know whether they're struck by this Issue 2 provision," she said. "I think that's unfair to the citizens of Ohio who are seeking to amend the Constitution."

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