Fracking foes say Ohio elections chief exceeds his authority

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2014, file photo, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted speaks to supporters at the Ohio Republican Party election night celebration in Columbus, Ohio. Residents in three Ohio counties contend in a lawsuit that the Secretary of State violated their rights when he invalidated ballot proposals they offered that would have restricted development projects related to the gas-drilling technique known as fracking. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
In this Nov. 4, 2014 photo, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted speaks to supporters at the Ohio Republican Party election night celebration in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Residents in three Ohio counties where Secretary of State Jon Husted invalidated anti-fracking ballot issues this fall argued in a court filing Tuesday that voters, not the elections chief, should decide the substance of such issues.

Residents in Fulton, Medina and Athens counties told the Ohio Supreme Court that Husted was supposed to decide the validity of their petitions, not the merits of the “community rights county charters” they proposed.

“The rule is that there can be no substantive review of an initiative pre-election,” the filing said. “This court recognizes this rule for the important policy reasons of separation of powers, of judicial restraint, against issuing advisory opinions, and against infringing on the people’s democratic political rights to initiative. The secretary blatantly broke this rule.”

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund helped the residents craft the ballot proposals and filed the suit.

Husted’s office says his action was “fully rooted in Ohio law.”

The proposed county charters call for restricting development projects related to the gas-drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, such as pipelines and injection wells for disposing of fracking wastewater. County commissioners and others filed protests saying the charters would leave counties without an authorized form of government.

Husted ruled in the protesters’ favor, saying the charter proposals improperly sought to circumvent state law in a way that courts have ruled violates the Ohio constitution. He said state law on fracking already has been litigated.

Ohio’s high court ruled 4-3 in February that the home rule clause of Ohio’s constitution doesn’t allow a municipality to block drilling activities otherwise permitted by the state. The decision came in a case brought by the Akron suburb of Munroe Falls against Beck Energy Corp. over a 2004 state law that gives Ohio “sole and exclusive authority” to regulate the location of wells.

The plaintiffs told justices that adopting a county charter is one legal means available for changing county government, while establishing a legal alternative government form like that referenced by commissioners is another.

They asked the court to expedite the decision with the fall election approaching.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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