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Ohio Budget Axes Commission Aimed At Updating State Constitution

Ohio History Connection
Constitution of the state of Ohio was approved and went into effect on September 1, 1851.

Among the cuts made in the Ohio two-year budget? An updated state constitution.

In last week's budget, which was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich, the Ohio House and Senate moved to eliminate the Constitutional Modernization Committee, a group of lawmakers and private citizens created in 2011 to thoroughly review the state constitution and make suggestions for improvement.

The commission was mandated to cease operations by July 1. Dennis Mulvihill, a Cleveland attorney and commission member, says that the group's mission ended up being a far cry from what the group actually accomplished.

"The Constitution needs to be updated like everything else does," Mulvihill says. "There are a lot of archaic provisions in there. There are some provisions in the Constitution that have simply expired and no longer have any applicability."

Mulvihill also says some aspects of the Constitution just need to be updated to reflect life in 2017.

The group divided up the Constitution among several committees to research and analyze the text, collaborating with experts from around the country.

When the group agreed upon a constitutional update, it would recommend the change to the Ohio General Assembly, which would then send the proposal to the public for approval. Theoretically.

"The last time this happened was more than 40 years ago, in the 1970s," Mulvihill says.

The reason for this gridlock?

"Ultimately we didn't accomplish a whole lot because it was terminated prematurely, and it fell prey to partisan politics," he says.

Mulvihill says the commission didn't get far before finding out it would be shut down, in part because of inaction on the part of the legislature.

"We stumbled out of the gate," he says. "We had no staff, and very little direction other than the fact that the General Assembly put the commission together."

It wasn't until 2014 that Mulvilhill says the commission actually started running, and only worked for three years despite plans to run through 2021. But he says it wasn't a total loss.

"The benefit to what we did is that we recorded everything," Mulvihill says. "There are literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages of all the work that we've done, so if the General Assembly wants to put another commission together down the road it will have the benefit of the work - even though we weren't able to get most of it to the voters."

Voters hopefully won't have to wait another 40 years to get a shot at an updated Constitution. Mulvilhill says that Article 16 of the Constitution states that every 20 years voters most be given an opportunity to vote for a Constitutional Convention.

That hasn't happened since 1912 - but Mulvihill says it's always an option.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.