Ballot Law Update: The year starts off with a bang as legislatures across the country look to shorten ballots

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January 30, 2013

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By Eric Veram

Since the beginning of the year, we have tracked 77 proposed laws in 22 states affecting the initiative and referendum process. The Ballot Law Update is released on the last Wednesday of each month. Stay tuned to the Tuesday Count for weekly ballot law news.

Recent news

Measure circulating in Nebraska could affect signature requirements: Currently, a measure is gathering signatures in Nebraska for an attempt at the 2014 ballot. The Petition Signature Requirement Amendment is a carryover from a failed 2012 measure that would reverse a 1994 Nebraska Supreme Court decision which changed the number of signatures required to qualify a petition from a percentage of votes cast for governor in the last election to a percentage of registered voters.

Florida lawmaker looks to limit future legislative referrals: Senator Jeff Clemens has introduced a constitutional amendment to the legislature which would limit the number of legislative referrals to three per ballot. The proposal is part of a response to long voting times in 2012 which many feel was due to both the high number (eleven in total) of referrals on last year's ballot and the long and complicated language used to describe them. Some, however, believe the proposed amendment doesn't go far enough and should be expanded by limiting the number of words in a ballot question to seventy-five - the same number that citizen initiatives are limited to, and should require that legislators follow the single-subject rule so as not to turn one amendment into a multiple part question.[1]

Maryland joins others in considering ways to shorten the ballot: The 2012 general election marked the first time in twenty years that a Maryland law has been subject to voter referendum. The three that did make it to the ballot in 2012 got there largely as the result of online petitioning, a fact which has some elected officials concerned about the process. Senate President Thomas Mike Miller, Jr. (Maryland) has pointed out possibilities to reforming the process, including raising the number of signatures required to send measures to the ballot. The threshold, he says, was determined at a time when petitioners had to go door-to-door. Many Republican legislators, however, oppose attempts to make it harder to place initiatives and referendums on the ballot, believing that the process is an important way for the minority to challenge the majority that Democrats currently hold.[2]

Idaho joins growing list of states in seeking to make the initiative process more difficult: Senator Curt McKenzie introduced a bill to the Idaho Legislature on January 21 that would make it more difficult to place citizen initiatives on the ballot. The bill would alter signature benchmarks by requiring that names come from six percent of the registered voters of twenty-two of Idaho’s thirty-five legislative districts. The bill is similar to a court overturned law that required signatures from six percent of the voters in at least twenty-two counties. In that instance the court ruled that the law gave more power to the rural counties over the urban ones and was therefore unconstitutional. According to supporters of the new bill, the new requirements would treat urban and rural residents equally. Russ Hendrick, a lobbyist for the Idaho Farm Bureau and is the individual responsible for requesting the new bill, says, "The bottom line is just to ensure that there’s broad support across the state for an issue before it qualifies on the ballot."[3]

Court actions

Arizona Supreme Court answers question on Proposition 121: Though voters rejected Proposition 121, which would have implemented a top-two primary system in the state, questions remained about why the state supreme court allowed the measure to reach the ballot. In August 2012 the Maricopa County Superior Court ordered that the measure be kept off the ballot because it violated the state's single-subject law. The supreme court overturned the ruling during an appeal but gave no comment on its decision. In a statement made Monday, January 7, 2013, the court said that the proposal's provisions were related and were therefore legal under the single-subject law.[4]

Arizona Proposition 203 goes to the state Supreme Court: Officials in Maricopa County have brought a case before the Arizona Supreme Court asking them to weigh in on the state's voter approved medical marijuana laws. The measure was approved in 2010 as an initiated state statute that allows state residents with prescriptions for medical marijuana to purchase the drug from state regulated dispensaries. Maricopa County officials are fighting the request for a zoning permit for a dispensary in Sun City. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has already ruled that federal drug laws do not prevent the implementation of Arizona's law.[5]

Bills to watch

See also: Changes in 2013 to laws governing ballot measures

Arizona may see new ballot measures laws in 2013: State Representative Michelle Ugenti has proposed a bill that would require every ballot measure to contain a warning that it cannot be repealed by the state legislature once approved. Rep. Ugenti claims that the bill, called HB 2007, will alert voters to a 1998 constitutional amendment that prevented lawmakers from repealing or altering citizen-approved initiatives unless they are furthering the purpose of the original measure. According to reports, the current restriction on the legislature's power come from an episode were lawmakers overrode a 1996 voter-approved measure allowing medical marijuana in the state.[6]

Proposal in Minnesota targets legislative referral process: Representative Kim Norton is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would make it more difficult for the state legislature to place referrals before voters. The proposal essentially changes the voting requirements necessary to pass a referral on to the ballot from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority. If the proposal clears the legislature it will go before voters in 2014.[7]

Michigan lawmakers consider changes to petition process: On January 16, Senator Tory Rocca introduced a bill which would create more transparency in the initiative process. The bill, SB 10, would require that the names of paid petition circulators be listed on the front page of the petition of any ballot initiative. The bill goes further still and requires that the organization paying the petition circulators also be prominently displayed.[8]

Influx of local referendums possible in North Dakota if new bill passes: Currently, the House Finance and Taxation Committee is discussing House Bill 1199, a bill which would allow voters to pursue a referendum on city, county or school district’s annual budget. According to Representative Jeff Delzer, the bill's sponsor, "[Residents] would have 30 days to refer it, the local political subdivision (and) have 60 days to hold an election." If the referendum on the budget failed, the county treasurer would be required to send out refunds to taxpayers. Bev Nielson, of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, has announced her opposition to the legislation, stating her concern for school districts whose fiscal year is July 1 through June 30, rather than, January 1 through December 31. Opponents also criticized the fact that the proposal does not limit the number of times a budget can be referred, which could lead to a stall in the budget process.[9]

Approved legislation

So far, no initiative and referendum related legislation has been approved this year. This section will be updated as the year progresses.

See also