Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost rejected a petition which aims to amend the state constitution by ending qualified immunity for state workers claiming that the language is vague, confusing, and contradictory.

The proposal called “Protecting Ohioans’ Constitutional Rights” aims to add a Section 22 to Article I of the Ohio Constitution in order to end qualified immunity being used to protect state employees, including but not limited to law enforcement officers, against civil lawsuits.

Executive Director of The Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity Kyle Pierce heads the Committee to Represent the Petitioners which includes Marcella Bailey, Cynthia Brown, Carlos Buford, Hamza Khabir, and Jenny Sue Rowe.

The Legal Defense Fund says that the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity shields state and municipal politicians, members of law enforcement, educators, and other public servants from civil liability lawsuits unless they infringed on a clearly recognized constitutional right.

According to Pierce, it’s important to hold government officials accountable for their actions.

“Ending qualified immunity would help ensure that victims of misconduct have the ability to seek justice and would promote transparency and accountability within law enforcement,” Pierce said.

In 2021, House Democrats introduced House Bill (HB) 332, a package of bills addressing police reform that included legislation to eliminate qualified immunity. The legislation stalled in the House.

This is the third time that the petitioners have submitted this petition. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office rejected the original version of the petition, “Civil Action for Deprivation of Constitutional Rights,” submitted on May 3rd, 2021, and again on August 23rd, 2021 claiming that the language was misleading. The petitioners modified and resubmitted the petition as the “The Ohio Civil Liberties Restoration Act” on November 22nd, 2022 which Yost rejected for material omissions. The petitioners also submitted the petition as “Protecting Ohioans’ Constitutional Rights” on February 27th, 2023 which the Attorney General again rejected as containing language omissions and misstatements. Yost received the most recent petition on May 24th, 2023.

According to Yost, his role in the petition process is to “determine whether the summary is a fair and truthful representation of the proposed statute.” Yost says that he has determined that this most recent version of the petition contains “vague, confusing, and contradictory language.”

A response letter sent to the petitioners says, “We identified omissions and misstatements that, as a whole, would mislead a potential signer as to the actual scope and effect of the proposed amendment.”

Republican lawmakers hope to have voters pass Ohio State Issue 1 which aims to alter the process of how initiative petitions such as this one can propose constitutional amendments in August.

State Issue 1 would mandate a 60 percent approval percentage for any future constitutional amendments, call for signatures from all 88 counties, and do away with the opportunity to “cure” petitions by collecting additional signatures if necessary.

Republicans argue that “Issue 1 protects our Constitution from deep-pocketed, out-of-state interests. By passing Issue 1, the people will ensure constitutional changes are widely accepted and declare that Ohio’s Constitution is not for sale.”

Voters will decide whether to approve Ohio State Issue 1 during a statewide special election on August 8th.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Dave Yost” by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. Background Photo “Ohio Capitol” by 12019.