The Tuesday Count: A battle is blazing over minimum wage; voters could have last say

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January 29, 2013

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The Tuesday Count reports on ballot measure news and tracks all measures that make statewide ballots across the country (ballot certifications).

Edited by Al Ortiz

The ballot measure well has stayed dry once again this week. For the fourth week in a row in 2013, there are no certified measures to report on.

0 certifications
0 measures for 2013

Minimum wage(News)
Term limits(2014 watch)
Marijuana(Ballot law)

That may change soon with recent developments in New Jersey. As the legislative session in the Garden State gains momentum, so does a proposal that could affect the state's minimum wage. Not only has the proposal stirred up quite a show this session, but a feud between the state governor and the state legislature over the potential law has taken center stage.

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Minimum wage has been a subject of debate in this year's state legislative session in New Jersey. That debate might be brought to the ballot this November after action taken by the governor this week.

A current proposed constitutional amendment would increase minimum wage in the state by $1. According to reports, the proposal was introduced in the New Jersey Legislature to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 within a few weeks of the potential law's enactment. However, on January 28, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed the proposal, instead requesting that the minimum wage be increased to $8.50, but over the span of two years. The current minimum wage in the state is $7.50.[1]

However, legislators in support of the measure did not agree with Christie's proposal, and instead turned their efforts to placing the measure on the ballot instead of trying to enact the law immediately through Christie.

In New Jersey, the state legislature must approve a proposed amendment by a supermajority vote of 60%, but the same amendment can also qualify for the ballot if successive sessions of the New Jersey State Legislature approve it by a simple majority.

According to Sheila Oliver, who sponsored the vetoed bill, the governor's proposed alternative was not good enough, stating, "Any proposal that lacks annual adjustments to ensure wages keep pace with the economy is not a real solution. Gov. Christie's callous action leaves us no choice but to send this matter to the voters."

However, reports say that the Christie's concern with the proposal is that a minimum-wage increase would hurt the state's economy. The New Jersey Business and Industry Association backed Christie's action and his counter-proposal with the group's cice president, Stefanie Riehl, saying, "Small businesses are struggling in this economy and facing the daunting task of rebuilding after Sandy, and are not in a position to absorb a 17 percent wage increase all at once."

2014 watch

In Rhode Island, term limits for state legislators may be a topic of discussion for voters when November 2014 rolls around.

A constitutional amendment has been proposed for the 2014 general election, allowing voters the choice of implementing a three-term limit on Rhode Island General Assembly members and lengthen those terms from two to four years. The measure was recently introduced in the 2013 state legislative session by State Representative John Lombardi.[2]

According to Lombardi, when discussing the impacts of his proposal, “There’s much to be said about changing the guard (and) reviewing things through different eyes."

2014 Count
Number: Four measures
States: California and Tennessee

However, Richard Niemi, professor of political science at the University of Rochester, had this to say about term limits: “It takes some time to build up expertise on various topics. Legislatures are well served by having people who actually know what they’re talking about.”

Section 1 of Article 14 of the Rhode Island Constitution says that the Rhode Island General Assembly can initiate the process of amendment "by a roll call vote of a majority of the members elected to each house."

Meanwhile, the Arizona Legislature currently has the subject of term limits on its plate as well. Only this proposal would define term limits for the Arizona Governor in the state constitution. The proposal was introduced by State Senator Steve Gallardo. The proposed amendment stems from the controversy surrounding current Governor Jan Brewer. Brewer is seeking another term, claiming her eligibility to run again since her first term as governor was not a full one. However, opposition has claimed that because she has served two terms in some capacity, she is not eligible to run again.[3]

A majority vote is required in the Arizona State Legislature to send an amendment to the ballot. Ten states allow a referred amendment to go on the ballot after a majority vote in one session of the state's legislature.

Quick hits

  • New immigration law in Illinois may see efforts to repeal: After Governor Pat Quinn signed SB 957, a bill which allows illegal state residents to obtain driver's licenses, into law on Sunday, January 13, activist William J. Kelly announced his plans at a statewide petition drive to put a referendum on the ballot. Kelly, who is Chairman of Safer Families Coalition, opposes the new law saying, "This bill has been fast-tracked from the beginning. The citizens of Illinois did not want this bill. Law enforcement did not want this bill. Politicians wanted this bill for political reasons, not public policy. It’s just more pay-to-play politics in Illinois." However, it is unclear what form his organized opposition will take, because Illinois does not allow binding citizen initiated referendums on its state ballot. The likely outcome will be what is known as an advisory question, a type of non-binding measure for the purpose of demonstrating public opinion to elected officials. Though Kelly claims Illinois will become the seventeenth state to repeal such legislation, the Illinois legislature has a history of disregarding such advisory questions.[4]
  • Voters in Michigan could get a chance to vote on adopting a part-time legislature: Senator John Proos has introduced a bill that would reduce the state legislature from full-time to part-time if voters approve it. The bill would reduce the number of days legislators spend in session to ninety. It has been reported that the legislature only spent eighty-one days in session in 2012. According to Proos, "Michigan is one of only 10 states that has some sort of full-time legislative session, and we're really only one of four states that are truly in a full-time session. If the other 40 states can do it in a part-time fashion, there's no reason why we can't." The proposal, so far, has little support in the legislature and Governor Rick Snyder opposes it.[5]

SPOTLIGHT: Despite a Washington Supreme Court order, the State Legislature has been slow to increase education funding

Is the state providing adequate funding to schools in Washington? Some say no as they see schools requesting a lot of local funding from district property tax levies and bond propositions in the February 12, 2013 special election.

According to Thomas Ahearne, a Seattle attorney, Washington State has failed in its response to the State Supreme Court ruling in the McCleary v. State decision (dead link), which established K-12 education as the paramount duty of the state and that ample funding of early education must be the state's number one priority.[6][7]

The court required the state to provide an annual report showing what progress they have made in bringing state funding of education up to the expected level. In response to the first report given by the state in September of 2012, Ahearne, who successfully argued the McCleary case last year, said, "They're stealing from kids. I don't think they'll actually comply until the Supreme Court forces them to because kids don't vote."[7] The report released by the state task force admitted that not a lot of progress had been made, but requested credit for the fact that the state had avoided any further cuts to education funding.

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The report finished up by saying, “Although progress toward implementation of the ESHB 2261 reforms in the 2011-13 biennium was slow, it was not non-existent, and the incremental funding of these reforms represented a good-faith legislative effort to progress toward these goals in the second consecutive biennium of substantial budget cuts.”[8]

Despite the state legislature's guarantee that funding will come to schools in the future, paying for education is still left largely up to local taxpayers . According to reports, a prevailing objective of the McCleary Decision was to alleviate the local education tax burden. But as the state reportedly remains slow in its response to the ruling, measures requesting local funding for schools have dominated the February special election in Washington.[9] There are over 50 local measures on February 12 ballots in Washington that request school property tax levies and at least 8 more proposed school bond measures requesting nearly a billion dollars in bond money to be used for renovations, construction and improvements to school facilities.[10]

For more information about these measures and the February election see Ballotpedia's February 12, 2013 ballot measures in Washington page and return here after the election to find out about the results for each proposition.

The Tuesday Count Spotlight highlights notable developments from local ballot measures across the country as well as international ballot measures.

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Ballot Law Update

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.[11]

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.[12]

A new update will be released later this week. Click here for past Ballot Law Update reports!

See also

2013 ballot measures
Tuesday Count2013 Scorecard