Opinion poll: ‘Heartbeat’ bill divides Ohio evenly

The Columbus Dispatch – March 31, 2013

We should be able to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, refuse union membership regardless of our workplace and cast our ballot on a weekend before an election.

But we don’t think pot should be legalized outright, are OK with having guns in locked vehicles parked under the Statehouse or Riffe Center and are deadlocked on whether abortions should be banned once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

All of these issues that were part of a Saperstein Associates poll of more than 1,000 Ohioans for The Dispatch might be voted on by the legislature or voters statewide at some point.

The questions about marijuana bring almost opposite responses. Legalizing it for medical use wins favor, 63 percent to 35 percent, while making pot legal for any reason is opposed 59 percent to37 percent, the poll found.

“If someone’s in pain or suffering from the effects of chemo, then I don’t feel that that’s a problem,” said poll respondent Lydia Ritz, 61, who lives in the Cleveland suburb of Brooklyn. “The medical need for it would far outweigh the risks.”

But as a kindergarten teacher in Catholic schools, Ritz said supporting recreational use of marijuana would go against everything she’s teaching her students.

“I would just feel I was going against my own conscience.”

Michael Kray II takes an opposing view. The 66-year-old, who is now a lay leader at his Dublin church, opposes legalization even for medical uses “because it would be abused.” However, the North Side resident acknowledges that “it’s a tough call.”

But it’s not a tough call for Karla Sheneman, 53, a marketing specialist from London.

“I think it’s pretty innocuous,” she said of marijuana use. “I relate it to Prohibition, and maybe there would be a lot less crime if this were legal. Plus, they could tax it then. I think alcohol is worse than pot.”

Martin D. Saperstein, head of the Columbus polling firm, noted that surveys in other states are finding growing acceptance of legalizing marijuana, especially if respondents are told the substance would be both regulated and taxed. And public approval for medical use is even higher;65 percent in a Minnesota poll approved of marijuana for those with serious or terminal illnesses, if a doctor recommends it, Saperstein said.

Two organizations were circulating petitions to legalize marijuana in Ohio, but the proposals are unlikely to make this year’s ballot.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those younger than 35 are most likely to favor both medical and total legalization in Ohio. But younger Ohioans also are taking the lead on two other issues: banning abortions once a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, and transforming Ohio into a “right to work” state.

Right to work
Noting the decline of organized labor in Ohio and elsewhere, Saperstein said “it wouldn’t be surprising that a whole generation of folks is growing up in households that are not union households.”

He pointed out that the 65 percent who support a possible November ballot issue to make Ohio a right-to-work state contrasts with the 62 percent who backed the 2011 referendum to overturn Senate Bill 5, which would have gutted public-employee collective-bargaining rights.

Under the prospective ballot issue, workers in Ohio no longer would be required to join a union — or pay dues or fees to a union — as a condition of employment. The proposed amendment would not prevent workers from voluntarily joining a union and would not apply to current agreements between workers and companies.

“I would prefer that nobody be forced to join a union,” Kray said.

He described going from working in a union shop to a nonunion employer.

“In the union place, you kind of knew what was expected and that’s all you ever put out,” Kray said. “And you went to a nonunion place, and people tried to set a record for that day or that shift. I saw a completely different attitude.”

But airplane mechanic Mark Stewart, plant committeeman for United Auto Workers Local 880 in Akron, said, “You need to make a fair wage. When you get the ‘right to work,’ you got the right to give up the right to make a fair wage.”

He said union members are well aware the issue might be on the ballot.

“I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “We shot down Senate Bill 5, and we’ll kill right to work in Ohio.”

The “Heartbeat Bill” passed the House last year but never got to a vote in the Senate. Supporters promise it will be reintroduced. A similar measure was signed into law last week in North Dakota.

The proposal ties in the poll at 47 percent. Females, blacks and those 55 or older oppose it.

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be in the Bill of Rights,” said Sheneman of London. “I pretty much stand by Roe v. Wade. I haven’t heard a reasonable argument to change it.”

Ritz said she believed in abortion rights when she was younger, before she “became educated in what a fetus looks like.”

Ritz, who now has two children and four grandchildren, said even museum depictions of life in the womb show the formation of details such as fingers and toes very early in pregnancy.

“To me, that’s a life, even though the baby can’t live outside the womb.”

Polling hours
Less controversy exists on whether Ohio polling places should remain open on evenings and weekends before an election for early in-person voting — the subject of court battles only last year. Nearly two-thirds favor the additional hours.

“I think they should be as open as often as possible and as long as possible to make it as easy as possible,” said David Wells, 61, of Union Township in Clermont County east of Cincinnati.

“We ought to be doing everything we can to make it easy to vote,” said Wells, an adjunct journalism professor at Miami University who also runs a communication consulting business.

Stewart takes the other side, saying, “Unless you’re in the military, you’ve got to get your butt down there on Election Day. It’s your civic duty.”

Guns in cars
A small majority of Ohioans agrees with legislation approved late last year to allow guns in cars parked and locked in the Statehouse or Riffe Center garages.

“I think it’s kind of a nonissue,” Wells said. “If a gun is locked in a car, who cares where the car is?”