Subject restrictions (ballot measures)

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Subject restrictions are laws that limit the scope or content of ballot measures. Typically these restrictions prevent laws from addressing certain subjects, like religious institutions, or having certain effects, like making an appropriation. Occasionally, these laws create a supermajority requirement for measures addressing particular subjects, like hunting.

In four states--Alaska, Massachusetts, Montana, and Wyoming--initiatives may not dedicate revenues or make appropriations. Four other states--Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, and Nevada--employ a weaker requirement, permitting appropriations, but requiring such measures to specify a funding source.

Of the 24 initiative and referendum states, 12 state have subject restrictions. Two other states--Michigan and Missouri--prohibit unconstitutional ballot measures.

See also

Subject restrictions by state

Alaska

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Alaska

Petitioners in Alaska may not propose legislation on certain subjects. Initiated laws may not:

  • Dedicate revenues
  • Make or repeal appropriations
  • Create courts
  • Define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules
  • Enact local or special legislation

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Alaska Constitution, Article XI, Section 7; Alaska statutes, Sec. 15.45.040

California

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in California

In California, an initiated measure may not apply differently to different political subdivisions (cities, counties, etc...) based on the approval/disapproval of the measure in those subdivisions. Similarly, a measure may not treat subdivisions differently based on the percentage of voters approving or disapproving of the measure.

More generally, a measure may not make any of its provisions dependent on a certain percentage of voters approving or disapproving of the measure.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: California Constitution, Article II, Section 8 (d, f)

Illinois

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Illinois

Initiated measures in Illinois may only amend Article IV of the Illinois Constitution. In addition, they may only address "structural and procedural subjects contained in Article IV." In Coalition for Political Honesty v. State Board of Elections (1976), the Illinois Supreme Court clarified this provision:

As commonly understood, the word "and" would thus limit initiatives to amendments whose subjects would be both structural and procedural, such as a proposal for the conversion from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature or for the conversion from multiple- to single-member legislative districts. Giving effect to the language of section 3 would produce no absurdity or unreasonable result. This court is without authority to substitute "or" for the "and" the constitutional convention used in stating "structural and procedural" unless a contrary intention is clearly manifested. We judge a contrary intention is not clearly manifested.

At least two subsequent decisions have relied on the interpretation in Coalition to block proposed amendments-- Lousin v. State Board of Elections (1982) and Chicago Bar Association v. Illinois State Board of Elections (1994).

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Illinois Constitution, Article XIV, Section 3 ; Coalition for Political Honesty v. State Board of Elections (1976) ; Lousin v. State Board of Elections (1982) & Chicago Bar Association v. Illinois State Board of Elections (1994)

Massachusetts

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Massachusetts

Massachusetts does restrict the subject of initiated measures. Measures may not propose laws regarding the following subjects:

  • Religion or religious institutions
  • Judges, judicial decisions, or courts
  • Laws that apply to particular cities/towns
  • Laws that make specific appropriations
  • The 18th Amendment (prohibition of alcohol)
  • Restricting rights found in the Declaration of Rights
  • Subject restriction or the modification of existing restrictions

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Massachusetts Constitution, Article XLVIII, Part II, Section 2

Michigan

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Michigan

In Michigan, residents can only initiate statutes which the legislature could also enact under the Michigan Constitution.

"Appropriations for state institutions or to meet deficiencies in state funds" are not subject to referendum.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Michigan Constitution, Article II, Section 9

Mississippi

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Mississippi

Petitioners in Mississippi may not propose legislation on certain subjects. Initiated laws may not:

  • Propose, modify, or repeal of any part of the State Bill of Rights
  • Amend or repeal any law or any provision of Mississippi Constitution relating to the Public Employees' Retirement System
  • Amend or repeal the Mississippi Constitution's right-to-work provisions
  • Modify the initiative process itself

In addition, each measure must specify a funding source sufficient to cover any expenditures mandated by the amendment. In addition, amendments that require a reduction in revenue or a reallocation of funds must specify which programs will have their budgets cut.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Mississippi Constitution, Article XV, Section 273 (4-5)

Montana

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Montana

Petitioners in Montana may not propose legislation on certain subjects. Initiated laws may not make appropriations or create local/special laws.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Montana Constitution, Article III, Section 4(1)

Nebraska

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Nebraska

Nebraska ballot measures may not enact any law which the legislature may not enact. In addition, ballot measures may not interfere with the legislature's constitutional right to raise necessary revenues via taxation.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Nebraska Constitution, Article III, Section 2 & Nebraska Revised Statutes, Chapter 32, Section 1408

Ohio

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Ohio

In Ohio, an initiated measure may not authorize "any classification of property for the purpose of levying different rates of taxation" or "any single tax on land or land values or land sites at a higher rate or by a different rule than is or may be applied to improvements thereon or to personal property."

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Ohio Constitution, Article II, Section 1e

South Dakota

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in South Dakota

In South Dakota, initiated measures and amendments may not create private or special laws. Also, they are not required to specify a funding source for mandated expenditures.[1]

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: South Dakota Constitution, Article III, Section 23

Utah

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Utah

Any initiated measure that would "allow, limit, or prohibit the taking of wildlife or the season for or method of taking wildlife" requires a two-thirds supermajority in Utah.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Utah Constitution, Article VI, Section 1(2)

Washington

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Washington

Any initiated measure that would authorize gambling or a lottery requires a 60% supermajority in Washington.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Washington Constitution, Article II, Section 24

Wyoming

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Wyoming

In Wyoming, an initiated measure may not, "dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, enact local or special legislation, or enact that prohibited by the constitution for enactment by the legislature."

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Wyoming Constitution, Article 3, Section 52(g)


References