The Tuesday Count: Legislative referrals expanding statewide ballots

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March 25, 2014

Edited by Brittany Clingen

2 certifications
66 measures for 2014



Legislative referrals (News)
Abortion (Quick hits)
Minimum wage (Spotlight)

2014 ballot measures
With legislative sessions in full swing, legislatively-referred constitutional amendments are expanding 2014 ballots across the states. On March 20, 2014, two additional measures were certified, bringing the total number of 2014 ballot measures to 66. In Idaho, lawmakers approved the Legislative Delegation of Rulemaking Amendment for the November ballot. If approved by voters, the measure would empower the state legislature to delegate rulemaking authorities to executive agencies and to approve or reject the administrative rules devised by those agencies by adding Section 29 to Article III of the Idaho Constitution.[1]

Sen. Curt McKenzie (R-13) and Rep. Tom Loertscher (R-32B) explained the amendment’s rationale, saying that when executive agencies create "rules," the legislature should have the ability to reject those rules. McKenzie pointed out that since 1990, 4.5% of rules created by agencies have been rejected by the legislature. He argued, "We need to make sure that we don't have the executive or the judicial branch making law." The legislature’s ability to challenge, approve and reject "rules" has been law since 1969. However, the law is not constitutionalized, and a court could remove the legislature’s ability, as the Supreme Court almost did in 1989. McKenzie stated, "There are no states that I'm aware of that have a tighter rein on the rule-making process than we do."[2]

In Georgia, the legislature approved an Income Tax Rate Cap Amendment for the 2014 ballot. If approved by voters, the measure would prohibit the state from increasing the maximum state income tax rate above that in effect on January 1, 2015.[1] As of February 2014, the state's maximum income tax rate for those with an income of more than $7,000 was 6.0%.[3] The proposed amendment would add a Paragraph IV to Section 3 of Article VII of the Constitution of Georgia:[1] Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer (R-48) argued in favor of the measure's passage, saying, "It’s make [sic] it clear that our income tax rate is not going up. It helps increase our competitiveness by pointing out to businesses making expansion decisions that while other states could increase their rates tomorrow our rates our constitutionally capped." However, other lawmakers have expressed disapproval of the measure. Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson (D-41) said the income tax rate hasn't increased since the 1980s. He argued that the amendment is a campaign tool for Republicans, saying, "Know that as legislators and as government we need to have different tools and different options available and voting for that restricts it. The only reason we’re doing it is so that we will have a campaign tool during the election."[3]

In California, an initiative sponsored by Ron Unz, a "conservative" entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, failed to make the ballot. The proposed Minimum Wage Increase Initiative would have increased the state's hourly minimum wage to $12 by 2016, a move that, according to Unz, would reduce welfare needs, illegal immigration and corporate subsidies and save the state money. He expected to develop a coalition across the political spectrum, but, in the end, didn't receive much financial backing from either the right or the left and chose to end the initiative campaign on March 17, 2014.[4] He said, "Several weeks ago it seemed reasonably likely that one of the largest California unions might be partnering with me on the campaign, while also serving as an anchor-donor. If this happened, I felt confident of being able to qualify my initiative for the ballot and also win a victory at the polls in November. Unfortunately, after careful consideration the union decided that its pre-existing political commitments were too large to allow it to take on an additional one on short notice. Other unions had roughly similar reactions." Unz also said that his “conservative case for a higher minimum wage” attracted a “very wealthy individual” who proposed a large donation. However, the proposal fell through. He blamed the media as well, who he believes made him look like he could finance the campaign on his own and out-of-pocket. Unz expressed hope that the legislature would take up the issue and increase the hourly minimum wage to $12 or even $13.[5]

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2014 Count
Number: 66 measures
States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming

Quick hits

An initiative campaign submits signatures in California: Consumer Watchdog submitted an estimated 830,000 signatures for their Increase in Cap on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits on March 24, 2014.[6] They need to meet the requirement of 504,760 valid signatures to get their measure on the November ballot. The measure would increase the state's cap on damages that can be assessed in medical negligence lawsuits to over $1 million from the current cap of $250,000. It would also require drug and alcohol testing of doctors and reporting of positive tests to the California Medical Board.[7] President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-6) of the California Senate said he was wary about the ballot initiative, particularly how expensive the campaign will be, and called for a compromise. He stated, "An initiative battle is costly and uncertain, and will damage the reputation of two fine professions. This issue cries out for a legislative solution, and what I'm offering is a conservative increase that's fair to injured patients as well as the medical and legal communities."[8]

Anti-abortion group seeking a round two on ballot initiative in Mississippi: In 2011, the Mississippi "Personhood" Amendment, also known as Initiative 26, was defeated by voters. Proponents blamed the initiative's defeat on the ballot text, which they claimed was unclear. Personhood Mississippi, the organization that sponsored Initiative 26, is calling for another initiative campaign, this time with a "clearer" ballot text.[9] The new text would emphasize that all human beings "[are] created in the image of God" and define life as beginning at conception.[10] The measure was approved for circulation on May 14, 2013. In Mississippi, an initiative can be circulated for one year before becoming invalid. Therefore, proponents have until May 14, 2014 to collect the required 107,216 valid signatures. If signatures are submitted by this date and verified, then the initiative will appear on the 2015 ballot.

Spotlight

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New study shows that the push for $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle may increase the wages of nearly a third of all Seattle workers:

As the issue of a $15 per hour minimum wage takes the city by storm, Seattle officials commissioned the University of Washington to conduct a report on the low wage workers in the city.[11] The report shows that about 102,000 Seattle workers - which amounts to 24 percent of all employees - earn less than $15 per hour. The report predicted that the approval of a $15 per hour minimum wage initiative or council ordinance would not only raise the wage of these workers, but would also trickle up to increase the wage of employees earning in the next higher tier. If, as the report suggests, those making between $15 an $18 per hour also see wage increases, the number of affected residents will rise to 136,000 - roughly a third of all city workers.[12]

A council decision or ballot measure concerning the issue of a $15 minimum wage is looking increasingly inevitable. Last year Kshama Sawant, a self-proclaimed socialist and backer of a $15 per hour minimum wage, won an upset election against incumbent Richard Conlin to earn a spot on the Seattle City Council. This fueled the movement 15 Now, an effort to put pressure on the city council to enact a higher minimum wage. The uncompromising group, encouraged by the recent approval of a $15 per hour minimum wage in SeaTac and the nationwide movement to increase minimum wages at the local and statewide levels, has threatened to initiate a ballot measure if the city council fails to approve no less than a $15 per hour wage by July. In order to be prepared, the group made plans to begin collecting signatures in May of 2014.[13][14]

Meanwhile, last week Chicago voters in a sampling of 103 city precincts overwhelmingly approved an advisory question asking for the city to require large corporations to pay employees at least $15 per hour. The referendum question was approved in every precinct in which votes were cast and the sum of all the precinct results showed approval of $15 per hour by nearly 86% of electors.[15]

California frack-free activists stay busy: Santa Barbara Water Guardians launch initiative to ban fracking:

As a record number of voters turned out last week in Johnson County, Illinois, to reject a proposed ballot measure seeking to ban fracking, activists in Santa Barbara County, California, were planning the kick-off of a petition drive to put their own initiative on the November ballot.[16]

A group called the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians filed its initiative and a notice of intent to circulate with the Santa Barbara County Registrar on March 23, 2014, and made plans to officially kick off the petition drive at an event on April 5, 2014. They need to collect 13,200 valid signatures before May 7, 2014, to qualify the initiative for the November ballot.[17] If approved, this measure would prohibit what are called "high intensity" oil and gas operations such as fracking, acid well stimulation treatments and cyclic steam injection. The measure would not impede conventional drilling or "low intensity" operations. The San Francisco-based Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP law firm drafted the initiative language. This firm was also responsible for the text of the initiative currently being circulated in San Benito County.[16]

Rebecca Claassen, a member of the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians, said, “Using these technologies, the petroleum industry would gain increased access to oil resources lying below our homes, farms and natural areas. The impacts and risks associated with high-intensity petroleum operations are too great for Santa Barbara County residents to accept. In order to protect local resources and interests, we want to prohibit this land use before it further endangers human health and the environment in Santa Barbara County.”[16][17]

Bob Poole, a spokesperson for Santa Maria Energy, claimed that the initiative proposed by the Water Guardians is just an attempt to curtail oil production and is not actually about fracking. He pointed towards California Senate Bill 4, state-wide legislation on oil extraction practices, as the best way to address the contentious issue.[18] Poole said, “Good decision making should be based on objective facts and science. They need to follow the science-based approach the governor and the state of California are taking on this issue, there is a scientific study underway … why don’t they get behind that instead of trying to jump ahead of science?”[19]

Similar initiative efforts were announced shortly before this Santa Barbara measure in San Benito County and Butte County.

See also

2014 ballot measures
Tuesday Count2014 Scorecard

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Idaho Legislature, "House Joint Resolution No. 2," accessed February 25, 2014
  2. KBTV, "Lawmakers pass resolution to amend Idaho Constitution," March 19, 2014
  3. 3.0 3.1 WABE, "Senate Approves Ballot Question to Cap Georgia's Income Tax Rate," February 25, 2014
  4. The Nation, "Ron Unz: Why I Dropped My Ballot Initiative to Raise California’s Minimum Wage," March 18, 2014
  5. Slate, "That Conservative-Backed Campaign to Hike California’s Minimum Wage Probably Won’t Happen," March 17, 2014
  6. Larkspur-CorteMadera Patch, "Would You Support California Measure Raising Damages in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?," March 24, 2014
  7. Los Angeles Times, "Special interest groups look to shape 2014 California ballot," December 7, 2013
  8. The Sacramento Bee, "Big California ballot battle looms over malpractice limit," March 24, 2014
  9. Jackson Free Press, "‘Personhood’ May Be Back," March 19, 2014
  10. Mississippi Secretary of State, "Right to Life Initiative Filing," accessed March 20, 2014
  11. Note: This report was written largely using 2007 census data.
  12. The Seattle Times, "Study: $15 wage floor would lift pay for 24% of Seattle workers," March 24, 2014
  13. Archived Fellow Ship of the Minds, "Pass $15 wage in Seattle or we’ll put it on ballot," March 12, 2014
  14. 15 now website, accessed March 13, 2014
  15. Ballotpedia.org, "City of Chicago $15 Per Hour Minimum Wage Referendum (March 2014)," accessed March 25, 2014
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Santa Barbara Independent, "Santa Barbara County Water Guardians Files Initiative to Ban Fracking in Santa Barbara County," March 23, 2014
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lompoc Record, "Group kicks off petition for fracking ban initiative," March 20, 2014
  18. California Legislature website, California Senate Bill 4 information, accessed March 24, 2014
  19. Archived Santa Maria Sun, "Local group files a voter initiative to ban fracking in Santa Barbara County," March 24, 2014