By Josh Altic
The first half of 2014 has seen a wide range of changes and attempted changes to ballot law across the nation, with some proposed laws seeking to expand the initiative and referendum process and others attempting to restrict it. For example, legislators in Georgia and eight other states proposed laws that sought to establish the power and process of initiative and referendum in state constitutions. Meanwhile, in Arizona, a controversial law proposed mandating that voters periodically reapprove any initiative or referendum that directs public expenditures or appropriations.
So far this year, state lawmakers have seen at least 113 laws concerning ballot measures during 2014's legislative sessions, of which 67 were carried over from 2013.
As of June 27, 2014, seven laws were approved and 33 were defeated.
This edition of the Ballot Law Update features a half-year roundup of laws, resolutions and bills concerning ballot measure and recall law. It highlights the laws that have been approved and defeated, as well as laws that could entirely change the dynamic of direct democracy on a statewide level.
The Ballot Law Update is released at the end of each month.
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Edited by Brittany Clingen
Marijuana activists think Maine is ripe to become the first Northeastern state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and are hoping to put a measure before voters in 2016. Meanwhile, down South, Texas legislators pre-filed 33 legislatively-referred constitutional amendments to be considered during the 2015 legislative session. At the local level, activists are once again attempting to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour in three different cities.
Marijuana in Maine:
After successfully passing recreational marijuana measures in several Western states, activists are taking their fight to the Northeast in the hopes that Maine will become the first state in that region to approve a ballot measure legalizing and regulating recreational use of the drug. Many Northeastern states have limited direct democracy available, making it harder or, in some cases, impossible for citizens to land measures on the ballot. However, Maine allows citizens to refer measures via indirect initiative, whereby citizens can send a measure to the state legislature if they collect enough signatures. If no action is taken by the legislature, the measure is automatically put before voters. Furthermore, activists view Maine's marijuana-friendly history as an advantage that could help further their cause. Maine decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana almost forty years ago and became the first state in New England to legalize the medical use of the drug 15 years ago. In order to put the measure before the legislature, supporters must collect approximately 61,000 valid signatures by the state's prescribed deadline. So far, a total of eight state ballots have the potential to feature marijuana legalization measures in 2016.
Texas legislators pre-file 2015 legislative referrals:
With just over a month left in 2014, Texas legislators got a jump start on 2015 by pre-filing 33 legislatively referred constitutional amendments that will be considered during next year's session. Topics featured among the batch of bills include term limits, taxes, the minimum wage and marriage. One potential measure that has received media attention is the Protect Religious Freedom Amendment. If it ultimately is sent to the ballot and is approved by voters, the measure would prohibit the government from burdening an individual’s or organization’s freedom to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by "a sincerely held religious belief," unless the government can prove that the burden is to further compelling government interests and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. Opponents of the measure, including some LGBT equality advocates, are concerned the amendment will become a "license to discriminate." Jorge Rodriguez-Jimenez, in an op-ed in The Advocate, said the measure "would allow business owners and services to refuse to serve LGBT customers if doing so would violate their religious beliefs." A two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Texas State Legislature is required to refer this, and all the other proposed amendments, to the ballot. Texas is one of sixteen states that requires a two-thirds supermajority.
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