State sunshine headlines, August 2009

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Oregon tax hike referendum likely to be on January 2010 ballot

SALEM, Oregon: The signature deadline is less than a month away, but Oregon Tax Hike Referendum supporters said that they are well on their way to meeting the 55,000 signature requirement. If enough signatures are collected a special election will be held on January 26, 2010.[1] Most recently the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation joined Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes. According to agricultural businesses the tax hikes, if approved by voters in January, is essentially double taxation. According to business owners after paying a corporate tax earnings would be taxed again as personal income.[2] Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the group Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, said the group has raised about $750,000 from business organizations, timber companies to help pay for the signature-gathering effort.[1]

Maine may investigate alleged illegal fundraising

AUGUSTA, Maine: Maine officials may be conducting an investigation of the Maine Same-Sex Marriage People's Veto (2009) fundraising tactics, after receiving an official complaint last week. The complaint was filed by Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, on August 25, 2009. According to the allegations, supporters of the Maine Same-Sex Marriage Veto are hiding campaign contributions.[3] In the 9-page complaint Karger said groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, solicited contributions from individuals and in turn gave the money to Stand for Marriage - hiding the identity of the individual donors.[4] Maine election law states that every donation, regardless of how small, must be listed.

The Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices will review the allegations and decide on October 1 if they plan to pursue an investigation.[5]

Opponents lay out arguments against Ohio casino initiative

COLUMBUS, Ohio: Last week, Ohio Casino Initiative (2009) opponents laid out arguments for voting against the November measure. Below are some of the arguments made by TruthPAC against the measure:[6]

  • the initiative's proposed 33% tax is too "stingy"
  • "charitable gambling could be banned"
  • "a loophole allows non-taxable cash wagering"
  • there isn't any information on the construction of the casinos

Supporters of the anti-issue 3 campaign include: Parma Mayor Dean DePiero, Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, Cleveland pastor E.T. Caviness of Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, Rep. Lou Blessing, Rep. Tyrone Yates and Sen. Teresa Fedor.

Initiative supporters, however, call the arguments "half-truths" and "unsubstantiated attacks." The casino initiative, they said, will create more jobs and increase revenues for cities and schools.[7]

Maine implements absentee ballot service

AUGUSTA, Maine: On August 3, 2009, the Maine Secretary of State’s Office introduced the new 2009 Online Absentee Ballot Request Service. So far, 189 cities and towns have accepted electronic absentee ballot requests under the terms of the service. Voters can now fill out their requests for absentee ballots electronically through the internet.

Another option presented to voters under this system allows them to print out blank requests forms, fill them out and send them in. According to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap: “In 2008, the first year Maine law allowed municipalities the option to accept electronic absentee ballot requests, 52 towns and cities chose that option. The service was enthusiastically embraced by voters and election officials alike in those participating municipalities, and now this year, we’ve seen the number of participating towns more than triple.”[8]

Florida lawsuit calls for new petition forms


TALLAHASSEE, Florida: Late last month a lawsuit, Striving Towards a New Daytona v City of Daytona Beach, was filed calling for the use of colored-code carbon paper petition forms so that voters can simultaneously sign three petitions. The new proposed method, said advocates, would save time. The proposal would still leave room for voters to sign petitions separately. The suit, no. 2009-33119, was filed in Volusia County Circuit Court on July 30, 2009. According to the group, Striving Towards a New Daytona, the lawsuit was filed because they feared the rejection of their three-page carbon paper petitions, which they circulated earlier this year. A similar idea was proposed in 2008.[9]

Washington's "Top-Two" debate will go to court

OLYMPIA, Washington: Last week U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled that challenges by the state Democratic and Republican parties against the state's “top-two” system will go to trial. The suit, originally filed in 2005, was filed in reaction to a 2004 vote on Washington Top Two Primaries, Initiative 872 (2004), which created a new "top two" election system and ousted the "blanket primary system." The new system, first used in 2008, allow for whichever two candidates get the most votes advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. The previously used "blanket primary" allowed for voters to split their tickets.[10] In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the "top-two" system does not appear to violate the freedom of association for political parties but left open the possibility that it might be a violation in practice.[11]

Nevada Supreme Court reviews judge's legitimacy

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CARSON CITY, Nevada: This month the Nevada Supreme Court announced that they will begin proceedings to determine if Family Court Judge Robert Teuton has been violating the Nevada Constitution. Teuton, who was appointed in 2008 to fill the seat of retired Judge Gerald Hardcastle, is facing a dispute about the length of his term limit. Some argue that Teuton's term ended in January 2009, others say he has 17 months left in his term. The issue was brought to the Supreme Court's attention by Las Vegas attorney Robert Lueck, who ran against Teuton for the 2008 Family Court seat. According to Lueck, Teuton's term ended in January because he did not run in the November 2008 election, however, the state attorney general argues that Teuton was appointed too late to run in the November election and therefore his term ends in 2011.[12]

Virginia Gubernatorial debate centers around taxes

RICHMOND, Virginia: The Virginia gubernatorial election is less than 4 months away and with difficult financial times front-runners Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds and Republican former Attorney General Bob McDonnell are facing questions on taxes. This month McDonnell voiced his support for reducing government control from the business sector. McDonnell said,"As Republicans, we believe you create jobs by keeping taxes and regulation low, and litigation at a minimum. Americans succeed when government puts in place positive policies that encourage more freedom, and more opportunity."[13] On the other hand, Deeds said that he would support legislation boosting "revenues" for transportation, but never explicitly stated that he would support increasing/decreasing "taxes."[14] Some Virginia officials, however, said that in order to continue maintenance of streets and other state infrastructures, taxes will have to be raised.[15]

New York Governor signs law that could prove costly for villages

ALBANY, New York: Governor David Paterson signed into effect a law on June 25, 2009 that would eliminate local governments through petitions and referenda. In addition, county legislatures and county-wide referenda could also be used to eliminate local governments, particularly villages.

Under the new law, which is called the New York Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act, if a village or town submit’s a petition containing ten percent or 5,000 signatures from registered voters, that government could face public vote on whether or not to dissolve it.

According to Paterson:“Our system of local government is outdated and overly complicated, and today we are making it easier to consolidate or dissolve local government entities. This legislation represents real reform, and will result in bottom-line savings for taxpayers.”[16]

SEIU backs Florida fair district proposals for 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Florida: In the latest financial reports of two proposed 2010 ballot measures - Florida Congressional District Boundaries Amendment and Florida Legislative District Boundaries Amendment - the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) appears as the largest contributor. According to state campaign finance records SEIU has contributed a total of $225,000 to Fair Districts Florida, a group advocating for both district proposals. "Our goal is really just to establish some fairness standards when the Legislature begins drawing congressional and legislative boundaries. If you look at the state of Florida, there are some crazy districts out there," said Mark McCullough, a spokesman for SEIU.[17]

In order to place the measure on the ballot supporters must gather 676,811 signatures for each ballot measure.

Washington R-71 signature count 2/3 complete

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TACOMA, Washington: This week, Washington state officials announced that approximately two-thirds of the total submitted signatures to place Washington Referendum 71 (2009) on the November 3, 2009 ballot have been counted. Referendum 71 is an attempt to overturn Washington's new "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law.[18] According to the latest reports, of the 103,898 signatures checked 91,716 have been accepted and 12,182 have been rejected. In order to place the measure on the ballot R-71 supporters must have a total of 120,577 valid signatures. Brian Zylstra of the secretary of state's office reported on Monday, August 24 that the rate of error is currently 11.72%. In order to reach the 120,577 signature goal, it is estimated that the rate of error cannot exceed 12.4%. The count is expected to be completed by next week.[19]

Ohio livestock care bill officially on November ballot

SALEM, Ohio: This November Ohio voters will be deciding on what is already, a hot button issue, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Amendment. The measure, a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, proposes to create a 13-member board of farmers and veterinarians to oversee the rules, regulations and animal-care standards.[20] Governor Ted Strickland announced his support for it even before it was approved for the next Ohio statewide ballot, saying, "The board will ensure that Ohioans continue to have access to a safe and affordable local food supply and will make our state a national leader in the level of animal care and responsibility."[21] The ballot measure was allegedly developed in an effort to stifle efforts by the Humane Society of the United States, who is reportedly prepared to launch a statewide ballot initiative for November 2010 to call for restrictions on government agricultural agencies.[20]

HSUS officials said they are opposed to the measure because "while it’s designed to give the appearance of helping farm animals, Issue 2 is little more than a power grab by Ohio’s agribusiness lobby. The industry-dominated “animal care” council proposed by Issue 2 is really intended to thwart meaningful improvements in how the millions of farm animals in Ohio are treated on large factory farms." However, the Ohio Farm Bureau argues that the proposed 13-member group will help establish "a thoughtful process through which Ohioans consider animal care issues is better public policy than current efforts of national activist groups to illegalize specific farm practices without giving proper consideration to all sides of the debate."[20]

Deadline set for Oregon gas tax opponents

PORTLAND, Oregon:A September 25, 2009 deadline has been set for opponents of a law that would increase gasoline and vehicle tax. Opponents such as Don McIntire, a veteran tax critic, have until that date to submit 55,179 signatures to the secretary of state at 5 p.m. The signatures must be verified within 30 days of the deadline. If the signatures are verified, an election will coincide with the May 18, 2009 primary election.

If signatures are not submitted or there are not enough, the tax increases will be implemented on or before January 11, 2011.[22]

Ohio casino initiative will impact fundraisers, says governor


COLUMBUS, Ohio: According to the approved casino initiative language, Gov. Ted Strickland said that the Ohio Casino Initiative (2009), as currently written, may inadvertently shut down casino nights at churches and fundraisers.[23] "If the amendment passes, we believe that it would create a risk that a court might find that those charitable games of chance that are currently legal might be determined to be illegal," said Ted Hart, spokesperson for Attorney General Richard Cordray. But supporters of the measure argue that the ballot language specifically exempts bingo and horse racing from the term "casino gambling," however opponents argue that other casino-style games like roulette and blackjack are often used at "game night" fundraisers. On Thursday, August 20, 2009, the Ohio Ballot Board approved the argument as part of the official argument against the proposal.[24]

Platte County votes YES on hospital district mill levy

PLATTE COUNTY, Wyoming: Earlier this week Platte County residents voted 68% to 32% in favor of implementing a 3 mill levy.[25] Funds generated from the levy will be used towards continued operation and maintenance of the existing nursing home, Platte County Memorial Nursing Home. County officials estimate that the new levy will generate approximately $400,000 a year. The total mills for the district, since it was approved, will be 6 mills instead of the current 3 mills.[26]

Proposition 8 federal court case begins on January 11

SAN FRANCISCO, California: January 11, 2010 has been set as the date when federal judge Vaughn Walker will open a federal trial to decide whether or not Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution.[27]

David Boies and Theodore Olson are the attorneys leading the charge against Proposition 8. In 2000, Boies and Olson squared off against each other in the federal lawsuit over the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. This time, they're sitting on the same side of the table.

Although Walker green-lighted the case, he disappointed the hopes of Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. After opposing the federal lawsuit, these groups sought to intervene in the case. Judge Walker did allow the City of San Francisco to become a plaintiff; the city may provide evidence about the public health costs of denying same-sex marriages.

Montana county's residents accept and reject school tax levies

Gallatin, Montana: Residents in Gellatin County voted on trustees to local school boards, but also approved and disapproved of school tax levies in the same election. While some parts of the county approved of school tax levies, other areas failed to pass the proposed measures.

The taxes passed in LaMotte, Willow Creek and West Yellowstone, however in Ophir and Anderson, they were rejected.

In another part of the county, Monforton residets were split when they voted yes to raising taxes to improve and maintaing buildings, but no to raising taxes in order to operate the schools in the area.[28]

Ohio ballot board approves casino initiative language

COLUMBUS, Ohio: Yesterday, the Ohio Ballot Board approved the ballot language for the Ohio Casino Initiative (2009), which proposes placing casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.[29] The measure will be on the will be on the November 3, 2009 ballot in Ohio. If approved the measure would require an amendment to Article XV, Ohio Constitution.[30]

Below is a brief look at the ballot language, the full ballot language can be found here.[31]

  • Authorize only one casino facility within each of the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo.
  • Levy a fixed tax of 33% of gross casino revenue.
  • Distribute the casino tax.
  • Require each initial licensed casino operator to pay a single $50,000,000 fee to be used for state job training purposes and make a minimum initial investment of $250,000,000 in its facility.
  • Permit approved types of casino gaming authorized by Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania as of January 1, 2009.
  • Authorize the casinos to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the discretion of the casino operator.
  • Create the Ohio casino control commission.

Nader suit against state of Hawaii moving forward

HONOLULU, Hawaii: Ralph Nader's suit challenging Hawaii's ballot access laws will be heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Nader’s brief is due on October 13, 2009 and the state’s brief is due November 12, 2009. The case, Nader v Cronin, 08-16444, has been pending since 2004. Specifically, the case addresses whether the state should require six times as many signatures for an independent presidential candidate as it requires for an entire ballot-qualified party.[32]

Similar cases include:

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