The Tuesday Count: California pension reform initiative a no-go for 2014
Edited by Brittany ClingenMarch 14, 2014, San Jose, California Mayor Chuck Reed (D) and allies abandoned their campaign to place a pension reform initiative on the upcoming general election ballot in November. The initiated constitutional amendment would have allowed city government employers to reduce pension payments, increase employee contributions, decrease cost of living adjustments and increase the retirement age of employees when the city's pension and healthcare retirement funds are determined to be substantially underfunded and are impeding the government from providing essential government services. Reed cited a lawsuit, which did not result in his campaign's favor, as the primary reason for ending the campaign. He said that he will attempt a similar measure in 2016.
The conflict leading to the lawsuit began when the initiative was approved for circulation by Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) on January 6, 2014. The attorney general is tasked with writing the ballot title and ballot summary for statewide ballot initiatives prior to their circulation. Her written title for the initiative was, "Public Employees. Pension and Retiree Healthcare Benefits. Initiative Constitutional Amendment." The summary, which is what stirred the controversy, read as:
|“||Eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for current public employees, including teachers, nurses, and peace officers, for future work performed. Permits government employers to reduce employee benefits and increase employee contributions for future work if retirement plans are substantially underfunded or government employer declares fiscal emergency. Requires government employers whose pension or retiree healthcare plans are less than 80 percent funded to prepare a stabilization report specifying non-binding actions designed to achieve 100 percent funding within 15 years.||”|
Reed saw this summary, especially the first sentence, as inaccurate and biased against the measure. He stated, "You read this and you don’t know what we’re trying to do." He also noted that the summary focused on “pension takeaways,” as opposed to the probable positive effects of the proposition. A labor union coalition also disapproved of the summary, but for the opposite reason. They argued that the text didn’t emphasize the potential risk to the retirement security of current and future public employees. In 2012, Harris was scrutinized by some media editorial boards for writing a seemingly biased title and summary for a different public employee pension reform initiative.
Following the issuance of the measure title and summary, Mayor Reed announced that he would initiate a lawsuit to challenge the ballot summary, specifically the first line, as inaccurate and misleading in the Sacramento Superior Court. Reed argued, “Most people reading [the ballot summary] would believe that we're eliminating vested rights protections and benefits that workers have accrued, and the measure clearly doesn't do that. But using the word 'eliminate,' according to the union polling, apparently is a nice negative term to have in there. It shows a clear bias.” He also argued that using "nurses, teachers and peace workers" to describe public employees as "loaded and unfair." A statement from the Attorney General’s office disagreed, noting, “The Attorney General has issued an accurate title and summary, and we stand by it.” On March 13, 2014, Judge Allen H. Sumner ruled that Reed failed to provide sufficient evidence that Harris' ballot title and summary were false or misleading. Reed viewed the ruling as a fatal blow to his campaign and called off the initiative on the following day.
|States:||Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming|
Rev. calls for appealing "Stand Your Ground" in Michigan: Rev. Charles Williams II, of the National Action Network, has called for a "Stand Your Ground" Referendum. The veto referendum would overturn Public Act 309 of 2006, also known as "Stand Your Ground" and the "Self-Defense Act." PA 309 provided for the use of deadly force by the defending individual when he or she "honestly and reasonably believes" that deadly force is necessary to prevent "imminent death or imminent great bodily harm" to oneself or another or to prevent imminent sexual assault to oneself or another. Rev. Charles Williams II said, "We're going to go to every community across the state of Michigan and we're going to get 'stand your ground' repealed right here in Michigan. Michigan will be the first state that will get rid of this ugly law that allows people to go around shooting each other. This is not the wild wild west." He cited the death of Renisha McBride on November 2, 2013 as evidence for supporting the repeal. Sen. Rick Jones (R-24) said the law should not be confused with the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida, which drew media attention following the death of Trayvon Martin in February 2012. He argued, "You really have to prove, in Michigan, that you're about to die or be raped. I understand why they're very upset with what happened to Trayvon Martin. I don't believe that was appropriate, but it doesn't have anything to do with Michigan law."
New poll shows support for $10.10 minimum wage in Michigan: The first poll related to the Michigan Minimum Wage Initiative was released on March 16, 2014. Sixty-five percent of those interviewed said that they supported increasing the hourly minimum wage to $10.10. Thirty-two percent opposed the initiative and three percent said they were undecided. Initiative supporters are currently collecting signatures to get the measure on the ballot. They must gather 258,087 valid signatures and submit them by July 7, 2014 to the Office of the Secretary of State.
Constitutional language changes may be on Alabama ballot: On Thursday, March 13, 2014, a proposed legislatively-referred constitutional amendment was introduced to the House committee on Constitution, Campaigns and Elections. The amendment, which is being sponsored in the legislature by Rep. Paul Beckman (R-88), Rep. Patricia Todd (D-54) and Rep. Randy Davis (R-96) as House Bill 608, would repeal Article X of the original 1901 Alabama Constitution and readopt this article in order to make technical changes. Such changes would include, "Capitalization and gender neutral references, to authorize the Legislature to provide by general law for the exemption of homesteads and personal property and other property and the waiver of the exemption and to delete specific provisions relating to the homesteads, laborer's and mechanic liens, and property rights of females." In order to land this measure on the November 2014 ballot, both houses of the legislature must approve the amendment by a margin of at least 60 percent.
This evening, the Johnson County elections office will count the votes cast today on the first local measure in Illinois seeking to prohibit hydraulic fracturing or fracking. During the process of fracking, large amounts of water and sand, mixed with certain chemicals, are pumped into oil wells to break up shale rock and allow the trapped oil and natural gas to be released. Fracking has surfaced as a hot button issue in 2014, and this Johnson County measure is the first of many that will be seen this year, on both local and statewide ballots.
A committee of residents assisted by the group Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking Our Environment were responsible for collecting the signatures to get the proposed measure on the Johnson County ballot. The Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) also supported the referendum effort.
Supporters argued that a "yes" vote on the referendum is essential to prevent critically dangerous environmental and economic effects of drilling. Natalie Long, a downstate Illinois resident who works for the Pennsylvania-based CELDF, said, “The goal of our group is to protect rights wherever they are being violated. The goal before us whether we are in the southeast, northwest, wherever is to protect the role of citizens putting their foot down and saying this industry is not welcome here.”
Critics of the measure, including Johnson County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw, have implied that Pennsylvania-based CELDF is using local anti-fracking activists as puppets to push its larger anti-corporate and anti-fossil fuel agenda. Henshaw said, “I don’t want to be a test case for this group, and I think that’s what they’re looking for." In February 2014, measure opponents announced the formation of Citizens Opposed to Johnson County Fracking Proposition.
The coalition has argued that the ban would result in expensive litigation. Henshaw said, “I don’t think we have the legal authority to override the state of Illinois. I think we’re going to end up in a lawsuit. They may get an injunction while this lawsuit is going on, but I think we’re in an undefendable position.” The coalition of opponents has also argued that allowing oil and gas extraction through fracking would provide an essential economic stimulus. Mitch Garrent, a member of the Citizens Opposed to Johnson County Fracking Proposition went so far as to say that the future of his company, engineering consulting firm Shawnee Professional Services, would be endangered if the measure passes. Moreover, opponents have stated that statewide regulations of the industry are enough to protect residents.
Seven fracking initiatives announced in four states so far in 2014, with activist groups in two California counties most recently joining the movement:
Video, publicized by Protect Youngstown, of gas flaring and concerned residents near fracking operation in Trumbull County
Johnson County is just the first of many measures looking to ban hydraulic fracturing that have been announced already in 2014, with more likely to follow. Last week, two anti-fracking committees in California - Frack-Free Butte County and San Benito Rising - began campaigns to put initiatives prohibiting the contentious practice of fracking on ballots in Butte County and San Benito County. This brings the tally of 2014 fracking initiatives to seven, across four states. Activists are seeking to put the following measures on the ballot in 2014:
- City of Athens Fracking Ban Proposal Initiative (May 2014)
- Youngstown "Community Bill of Rights" Fracking Ban Charter Amendment (May 2014)
- City of Niles "Community Bill of Rights" Fracking Ban Initiative (November 2014)
- Butte County Fracking Ban Initiative (November 2016)
- San Benito County Fracking Ban Initiative, Measure J (November 2014)
Most of these measures are in the signature collection phase, but on March 11, 2014, activists in Youngstown announced that their initiative was certified for the ballot and will be decided during the May 6, 2014, election. There is also a potential statewide initiative in Colorado concerning fracking.
| 2014 ballot measures|
|Tuesday Count • 2014 Scorecard|
- Ballotpedia's Tuesday Count for 2014
- 2014 ballot measures
- Local ballot measure elections in 2014
- Potential 2014 ballot measures
- Office of the Attorney General, "The Pension Reform Act of 2014," accessed March 18, 2014
- The Sacramento Bee, "California pension ballot measure dead for now, proponents aim for 2016," March 14, 2014
- California Secretary of State, "Initiatives and Referenda Cleared for Circulation," accessed March 18, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- The Sacramento Bee, "California attorney general clears pension-change ballot measure for signature-gathering," January 6, 2014
- Orange County Register, "Steven Greenhut: Harris distorts democracy to aid unions," February 17, 2012
- Fresno Bee, "It's up to Brown to get pension-reform results," February 15, 2012
- San Diego Union Tribune, "Kamala Harris’ dirty trick on California," February 12, 2012
- Contra Costa Times, "Ballot measures summaries should be written by neutral party," February 25, 2012
- The Sacramento Bee, “Public pension measure likely off the 2014 ballot,” January 30, 2014
- San Jose Mercury News, “California pensions: San Jose mayor's initiative may not make November ballot,” January 30, 2014
- Reuters, "Democrats feud over California pension reform measure," February 3, 2014
- San Jose Mercury, "San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed loses statewide pension reform ballot challenge," March 14, 2014
- Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento, "Charles R. "Chuck" Reed, et al. v. Debra Brown, et al.," accessed March 18, 2014
- Michigan Legislature, "Act 309 of 2006," accessed March 12, 2014
- MLive, "'Stand your ground' protest: Michigan activists look to repeal law through possible ballot proposal," March 11, 2014
- MLive, "'Stand your ground' protest: Michigan activists look to repeal law through possible ballot proposal," March 11, 2014
- Detroit Free Press, "Raising Michigan's minimum wage to $10.10 finds strong support in poll," March 16, 2014
- OpenStates.org, "Alabama HB 608: Bill Text," accessed March 18, 2014
- Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking Our Environment (SAFE) website," accessed January 17, 2014
- CELDF website," accessed January 17, 2014
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- Midwest Energy News, "Rural county to take Illinois fracking debate to the ballot box," January 16, 2014
- wsiltv.com, "Johnson County Commissioners Oppose Fracking Proposition," February 19, 2014 (dead link)
- The Southern Illinoisan, "Johnson County fracking fight continues," February 20, 2014