Ballot Law Update: States propose 201 laws affecting initiative and referendum
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By Tyler Millhouse
Since January 1, 2011, 201 laws have been proposed in 35 states, affecting the initiative and referendum process. Of these 201 proposed laws, two have so far been approved.
The Citizens in Charge Foundation (CICF), a non-profit that promotes initiative and referendum rights, identifies potential laws which either ease or tighten restrictions on ballot initiatives. So far in 2011, CICF has identified 51 laws that make getting a measure on the ballot more difficult. They have identified 40 laws that would make the process easier. Of the two laws that have passed, one falls into each category.
Overall, 2011 is on track to top 2010 in terms of introduced legislation. Historically, odd years have seen more proposed laws due to the structure of legislative sessions. Currently, 2011 is only 57 proposals short of 2010's total of 258. However, it is possible that redistricting legislation and state budget battles may shift legislative attention away from the initiative process.
Bills to watch
- Colorado Senate Concurrent Resolution 1: SCR 1 is a constitutional amendment that would require proposed amendments to receive a 60% super-majority for passage. This requirement does not apply to amendments repealing, wholly or partially, amendments passed before 2013. In addition, the amendment would create a geographic requirement based on the state's congressional districts. While these provisions would make the initiative process more difficult, the bill would require lawmakers to earn a 2/3 majority to modify or repeal a ballot measure for three years following its passage. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
- Connecticut Senate Joint Resolution 9: SJ 9 proposes an amendment to the Connecticut constitution allowing for initiative and referendum. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Protects/expands initiative rights.
- Florida Senate Bill 1504: SB 1504 would reduce the petition circulation time from 4 years to 30 months. In addition, it would ban out-of-state petition circulators, per-signature payment, and petition circulators that have been convicted of fraud, forgery or identity theft in the past five years. If a petition sponsor is convicted of hiring circulators contrary to these provisions, the sponsor would be subject to criminal penalties. The bill's authors have included a severability clause since a legal challenge of the residency requirement is likely. Five circuit courts in other parts of the country have struck down residency requirements. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
- Hawaii Senate Bill 272 SB 272 would amend the Hawaii Constitution to allow for initiative, referendum, and recall elections. Currently, Hawaiians can only vote on legislatively-referred constitutional amendments. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Protects/expands initiative rights.
- Maryland House Bill 101: HB 101 would prohibit harassment and intimidation in collecting signatures or in preventing them from being collected. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Protects/expands initiative rights.
- Massachusetts House Bill 183: H 183 would more than double Massachusetts' signature requirements for initiatives, amendments, referenda. To refer an initiative or amendment to the legislature, the requirement would jump from signatures equaling 3% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to signatures equaling 7%. To override the legislature and place the measure on the ballot, the requirement would jump from .5% to 1.5%. In addition, the bill would double the current referendum requirement of 2%. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
- Oklahoma Senate Joint Resolution 37: SJR 37 would introduce a geographic distribution requirement for Oklahoma. Currently, petitioners must gather signatures equaling 8% of the vote cast for governor in the last election. Under SJR 37, petitioners would have to collect signatures equaling 8% of the vote cast for governor in each congressional district. Thus, while the total requirement would remain unchanged, petitioners would have to collect a portion of those of signature from each congressional district. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
- Utah Senate Bill 165 (2011): SB 165 changes the basis of Utah's signature requirements from the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to the number of votes cast in the last presidential election. This will raise the number of signatures required. In addition, the bill bans electronic signatures for ballot initiatives. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Reduces initiative rights.
- Virginia Senate Bill 889 (2011): SB 889 removes the requirement that voters include the last four digits of their social security number when signing a petition. Citizens in Charge Foundation rating: Protects/expands initiative rights.
- NCSLnet, "Initiative & Referendum Legislation," accessed April 11, 2011
- This report is based on the April 5, 2011 edition of a weekly email sent out by CICF called the "Afternoon I&R Legislation Update"
- Denverpost.com, "Bipartisan coalition proposes making it harder to change state constitution," February 9, 2011
- Florida Senate, SB 1504, Committee Substitute 1
- Ballot Access News, "Florida Bill to Prevent Out-of-State Circulators Advances," March 22, 2011
- Hawaii Senate Minority, "Senate Minority Package Bills Announced," January 26, 2011
- Citizens in Charge, "Petition Blocking: Should We Let Democracy Get Tackled?," February 4, 2011
- Ballot Access News, "Massachusetts Bill, More Than Doubling Number of Signatures for Initiatives, Has Hearing March 23," March 16, 2011
- The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, "Rosenberg leads drive to modify ballot initiative process," February 24, 2011
- Ballot Access News, "Oklahoma Senate Passes Distribution Requirement for Initiative Petitions," March 4, 2011
- Utah Senate Bill 165, as enrolled