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Federal court denies petition extension sought in Ohio nuclear subsidy repeal

A federal judge denied a petition extension sought by a group looking to repeal Ohio's controversial nuclear subsidy law.

Instead, the U.S. District Court ruled that it is up to the Supreme Court of Ohio to determine whether the group should be given more time to gather signatures for its proposed referendum.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has spent several weeks gathering signatures in favor of its effort to block House Bill 6, which provides $150 million in annual financial support for the 908-MW Davis-Besse and 1,268-MW Perry nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions Corp.

The group was required to collect 265,774 signatures of registered voters in the state by Oct. 21 to place a referendum to repeal the law on the November 2020 ballot.

However, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts announced Oct. 21 that it "will not file" the required signatures with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and instead will await a decision on its request for a preliminary injunction filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

The group said a "blackout period" in Ohio state law that mandates preapproval of the referendum petition before "obtaining a single signature" is unconstitutional.

"Because of the ban on core political speech resulting from the Summary Statute, the committee seeks to be afforded an additional 38 days in which to continue engaging in core political speech with the voters of Ohio in order to obtain signatures on the petition to subject H.B. 6 to referendum," Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts wrote in its petition for preliminary and permanent injunction.

U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. in an Oct. 23 order denied the request for preliminary injunction and certified questions related to state law to the Ohio Supreme Court.

"The alleged unconstitutional diminution of the time to circulate petitions does not state a colorable claim under the federal constitution," the judge wrote. "The 90-day window to circulate petitions is only prescribed in the Ohio, not federal, constitution."