Changes in 2008 to laws governing ballot measures

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In 2008, legislators in nine states have proposed or successfully enacted legislation that erodes or impairs initiative rights. Combined with four states whose lawmakers eroded initiative rights in 2007, the overall picture is of state legislators across the country moving decisively to eliminate lawmaking competition from citizens using initiative process. Although state legislators do not have the power to ban the initiative process outright, they are enacting legislation to make it more expensive, cumbersome, difficult and expensive for initiatives to make it onto the ballot.

In 2008, the states of Nebraska, Michigan and Missouri which do or did not have a residency requirement are proposing the adoption of such requirements. In 2007, state legislators in Montana and South Dakota made it illegal for non-residents to ask state voters for their signature on an initiative petition.

In 2008, the states of Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma are proposing to make it illegal to pay a person to collect signatures based on how many signatures they collect. In 2007, state legislators in Montana and South Dakota adopted similar bans.

A state legislator in Missouri is proposing to make it illegal for a circulator to circulate more than one initiative petition at a time, and also to make it illegal to ask for signatures via the internet.

A state legislator in Oklahoma, which already has a residency requirement, is proposing to make it illegal for residents to collect signatures unless they are registered voters.

A 2008 law in Washington to require people who plan to ask for signatures on initiative petitions to register with the state before doing so was defeated. However, in 2007, state legislators in Nevada and Oregon did successfully enact such legislation.

Nebraska clamps down

Nebraska Legislative Bill 39, proposed by Democratic state senator DiAnna Schimek, overrode a gubernatorial veto on February 18 and is now law.

LB 39:

  • Makes it illegal for someone who is not a resident of Nebraska to circulate petitions.
  • Bans compensation for petition circulators based on the number of signatures they collect.
  • Requires that petition circulators be at least 18.
  • Asserts that violating the new law is a Class III misdemeanor punishable with a $500 fine and three months in jail.

In 2009, Citizens in Charge filed a lawsuit, Citizens in Charge v. Gale, challenging the constitutionality of several provisions of LB 39.[1]

Proposed changes

Alaska

GOP state legislators have proposed Alaska House Bill 355 (2008). This bill would require individuals or groups who donate over $500 to ballot initiative campaigns to register with the state. One amendment to the bill proposes to make it illegal for a non-Alaskan resident to donate money to initiative campaigns in the state; another amendment proposes to cap the amount that a non-Alaskan resident can donate at a different level than the donation caps for Alaskan residents.

Arizona

The state legislature has proposed House Concurrent Resolution 2044 which would allow the state legislature to cut budgets and programs currently protected by initiative or federal, court or statutory mandates.

On May 27, 2008, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed Arizona House Bill 2288 (2008). HB 2288 includes a provision reading, "A person who is a circulator of an initiative or referendum petition and who induces any other person in the circulator’s presence to sign the … petition by knowingly falsely describing the general subject matter of the measure is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor." In Arizona, a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by a six-month jail term and up to $2,500 in fines.[2]

California

Democratic state rep Al Torrico is sponsoring AB 1914, a bill that would impose civil penalties on initiative sponsors who failed to notify the government of allegations of circulator misconduct.

Colorado

HB 1406:

House Bill 1406, a bill to restrict campaigns that hire petitioners to hiring only Colorado residents, passed the state legislature on May 6, 2008.[3] But Colorado Governor Bill Ritter vetoed the measure on May 30, 2008.[4]

He referred to several court challenges Colorado has lost on bills or constitutional amendments. "These cases teach us that the state bears a heavy burden when it comes to regulating petition circulators in a manner that will meet constitutional muster," Ritter wrote in explaining his veto. "In my view, the differential treatment of paid versus volunteer petition circulators contained in House Bill 08-1406 would not survive a constitutional challenge."[4]

The new law would also require initiative campaign organizations to report how much they paid to petition circulators, as well as requiring campaign organizers to pledge that all petitioners have been instructed not to lie or mislead signers.[3]

SCR 3:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is supporting a proposal to make it harder for citizens to place constitutional amendments on the Colorado ballot for voter approval, but easier to call a vote on state statutes.

The proposal, Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, would increase the signature requirement for constitutional amendments by more than 15,000, drop the signature requirement for placing a new state law on the ballot, add a distribution requirement, and establish an earlier deadline for filing initiatives.[5][6]

A Senate committee delayed a vote on the measure until April 9, 2008, after hearing from critics on April 7. Initiative activists and State Rep. Doug Bruce (R-Colorado Springs), the anti-tax activist who wrote the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), are fighting the change the rules. They say the distribution requirement could hurt grass roots groups that rely on volunteers to collect signatures. Currently, there are no requirements on where the signatures come from, as long as they are from registered Colorado voters.[7]

Pam Kiely, of Environment Colorado, said the geographic diversity requirement would make petitions too difficult for grassroots groups, while wealthy out-of-state campaigns could afford it. The bill originally required at least 10% of petition signatures to be gathered in each congressional district, but the committee lowered it to 5% before approving it.[8] However, an amendment on the Senate floor restored the orginal 10% requirement.[9]

"This measure fixes petitions the way a veterinarian would fix your pet," said Rep. Bruce.[8]

On Monday, April 21, 2008, the Senate passed the measure, sending it to the House. If the House votes with two-thirds approving the measure, it will go before the voters in November.[9]

Florida

Florida Senate Bill 2340 (2008)‎ has been introduced by Sen. Bill Posey (R-Rockledge), the same lawmaker who sponsored last year's bill that allows voters to revoke their signatures from initiative petitions. SB 2340 would require that all paid initiative petition signature gatherers pay a fee, register with the state, and be assigned a registration number to appear on petition forms. Paid petitioners would also have to be residents of Florida, not currently required. Any violations of rules by paid petitioners would automatically invalidate signatures they collected.[10]

Michigan

In February 2008, three bills were introduced in the Michigan State Senate that restrict Michigan's current initiative rights.

Missouri

Missouri House Bill 1763 (2008), sponsored by Rep. Michael Parson[11][12] would:

  • Require people who circulate petitions to be Missouri residents;
  • Prohibit them from being paid by the signature;
  • Restrict them to circulating one petition at a time.
  • Forbids people to ask for signatures "via the Internet" or "by mail".

The proposed penalty for violating the new restrictions is to be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, up to a year in jail, and a fine not to exceed $10,000, or both.

The proposed effective date of the bill, which passed in the Missouri House on February 28th, is August 28, 2008.[13][14]

Oklahoma

Proposed by Democratic state legislator Mike Shelton in February 2008, Oklahoma House Bill 2869 (2008) would:

  • Make it illegal for a resident of the state of Oklahoma to ask someone to sign an initiative petition, unless the resident is a registered voter prior to asking for the signature.
  • Make it illegal to pay a person based on how many signatures that person was able to collect.

Note: It is already illegal in Oklahoma for a person who is not a resident of the state to ask people to sign initiative petitions. An alleged failure to comply with this law is the basis for the ongoing and unresolved criminal indictment by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson of Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson and Rick Carpenter. The new law proposed by Shelton does not impose a residency requirement but, rather, a voter registration requirement.

Defeated changes

Washington House Bill 2601, a bill proposed by Democrat Sam Hunt, would have required paid circulators and companies that employ paid petitioners to register and be licensed by the government before gathering signatures. Although the bill made it out of a committee on a party-line vote (Democrats in favor, Republicans against) it was defeated on February 20, 2008.

See also

References