Ballot Law Update: I&R supporters take the offensive in North Dakota

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August 28, 2013

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By Eric Veram

Since the beginning of the year, we have tracked 171 proposed laws in 35 states affecting the initiative and referendum process. Please note that some of these are constitutional amendments requiring voter approval before going into effect. 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

Effort underway protect North Dakota initiative and referendum processes: Dustin Gawrylow and a supporting campaign group called "Protect ND" are preparing for an initiative effort largely in response to recent state efforts to toughen I&R laws, such as tighter signature requirements and outlawing petitioning at the state fair. The measure is an initiated constitutional amendment that takes away the legislature's power to refer to the ballot constitutional questions that would amend Article III of the North Dakota Constitution. Since the state's constitution may only be amended by a vote of the people, the initiative would essentially strip the legislature of any power to change the state's fundamental I&R provisions.[1] For example, Measure 1, which is set to go before voters in June 2014, would be forbidden if Gawrylow's proposal was to pass.

Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative submitted for supreme court review: Supporters of a measure that would legalize medical marijuana in Florida announced they are suspending petitioning efforts while the Florida Supreme Court reviews the proposed amendment. According to reports, supporters have gathered over 100,000 signatures so far, though only 68,314 are need to trigger a review by the state's highest court. Ben Pollara, People United for Medical Marijuana's treasurer and director, said that signature gathering was being put on hold because collecting names was costing about $150,000 a week. If the court approves the measure, supporters will still need to collect a minimum of 683,149 valid signatures by the petition drive deadline on February 1, 2014. The measure would then require a 60% vote of approval by voters in order to take effect.[2]

Wealthy Missouri campaign contributor files lawsuit: Rex Sinquefield, a retired investment executive, and Travis Brown, a lobbyist for Sinquefield, have filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Jason Kander in an attempt to block the Missouri Campaign Contributions Cap Amendment form appearing on the November 2014 ballot. The measure was filed by anti-abortion group Missouri Roundtable for Life and would cap campaign contributions to those running for statewide office or a legislative seat at $2,600. There are currently no such campaign spending restrictions in Missuori. Brown and Sinquefiel assert that the measure would infringe on their right to free speech and would "inhibit effective advocacy by those who seek election."[3]

You can read more on this story here.

Colorado school funding initiative hits delay: Despite the fact that supporters submitted 160,000 signatures, nearly twice the required 86,105, to the Colorado secretary of state's office on August 5, it is not yet clear whether the measure will be on this year's ballot. Upon review of the five percent random sample required by state law, the secretary of state determined that 4,645 were valid and the remaining 3,641 were invalid. In order for the initiative to be immediately placed on the ballot, a verification rate of 110 percent would be needed. The secretary of state announced the sample rate at 107.88 percent. Though this means the measure will likely qualify for the ballot, state law requires that a line-by-line review of the submitted signatures be performed. The state has until September 4 to complete its review.[4]

Court actions

Santa Clara Measure M thrown out: On July 16, Judge Socrates "Pete" Manoukian, of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, declared Measure M unconstitutional and ruled that El Camino Hospital had the right to pay its executives without regard to the ballot measure. Measure M was approved by Santa Clara County voters in November 2012 and sought to place limits on the amount of compensation provided to El Camino Hospital District and El Camino Hospital executives, administrators and managers. Specifically, the measure capped their salaries at $350,000. Neal Cohen, M.D., chairman of the El Camino Hospital Board of Directors, responded to the ruling saying, "We are pleased with the court’s decision, which will enable El Camino Hospital to continue to deliver high-quality and compassionate care by recruiting and retaining a strong leadership team."[5]

Anti-light rail initiative in Vancouver declared invalid: Judge John F. Nichols, of the Clark Superior Court, ruled against supporters of an initiative that would prohibit the city of Vancouver from using any resources to promote light rail. Judge Nichols ruled that the proposed measure exceeded the scope of local initiative power. In his opinion, he quoted a 1997 ruling that said, "Stated another way, the people cannot deprive the city legislative authority of the power to do what the constitution and/or a state statute specifically permit it to do." Judge Nichols also said that the initiative was unlawful because it interferes with the city's ability to comply with the mandates of a state project.[6]

Federal judge rules on Oklahoma's "Sharia law" ban: On August 15, 2013, Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, issued a decision permanently enjoining the state from certifying the results of State Question 755. That ballot measure, passed by 70% of voters in 2010, required that courts rely on federal or state laws when issuing decisions and prohibited them from using international law or Sharia law when making rulings. Judge Miles-LaGrange originally issued a temporary injunction against the measure in November 2010, a decision that was appealed by the state on grounds that the district court abused its discretion. The Tenth Circuit then ruled that Judge Miles-LaGrange acted appropriately on January 10, 2012. Her ruling from last Thursday is merely an extension of the previous temporary injunction, into a permanent one. Judge Miles-LaGrange handed down the ruling saying, "Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, and for the same reasons set forth by the Tenth Circuit, the Court finds that defendants have failed to assert a compelling state interest and have, therefore, failed to satisfy strict scrutiny."[7]

The ruling can be found here.

Legislative action

Bills affecting California I&R laws see movement in legislature: On August 12, Assembly Bill 857 was heard and amended by the California Senate, and is expected to be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 19. This bill would require that twenty percent of signatures gathered for an initiative would have to be collected by volunteer circulators, meaning petitioners not receive compensation for the specific purpose of collecting signatures. The bill would also require paid petition firms to register with the California secretary of state and to use petitions of a different color than those being circulated by volunteers.[8]

See also