Kasich challenger says Ohioans can protest budget


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Opponents of abortion-related limits inserted into Ohio's state budget are exploring legal challenges and the possibility of forcing lawmakers to vote again on the provisions, the Democratic challenger to Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Thursday.

Funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and abortion-related restrictions placed on publicly funded hospitals and counselors at taxpayer-funded rape crisis centers are out of step with mainstream Ohio voters, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said.

He said that challenging the entire two-year, $62 billion state budget isn't an option — but these elements of the bill could be forced before the Republican-dominated Legislature in January through what's called an initiated statute.

"How about having the debate that was denied?" FitzGerald said at a news conference. "If Gov. Kasich and his Republican allies really believe that these extreme measures when it comes to women's health were something that the state agreed on, and that (Ohioans) believed in their position, they wouldn't have done it in the dead of night and inserted it in the 11th hour the way they did."

If the initiated statute were successful, lawmakers would have four months to act on the bill put before them. If they fail to do so, opponents could put the same legislation to voters in November 2014. That's when FitzGerald will face off against Kasich. Both steps in the process would require collecting 118,000 signatures.

The Ohio General Assembly is in the midst of its two-year session, with strong Republican majorities in the Senate and House in place until the legislative elections of 2014.

FitzGerald said opponents of the abortion limits are frustrated that they were inserted into the budget bill, which is shielded from referendum under Ohio's Constitution. He contrasted the situation to the fight in 2011 over a law limiting collective bargaining by unionized public workers that was overturned at the ballot box.

"It's going to give people an outlet to make sure that they know that our democratic process, although it fails us sometimes — as it did in this case, there are options that we have," FitzGerald said.

He stopped short of committing his campaign or the Ohio Democratic Party as leaders of the effort, saying it will be important to have a broad coalition of interests for the effort to be successful.

Spokesmen for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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