The Tuesday Count: Lawsuit knocks measure from ballot for the time being

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December 20, 2011

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Edited by Al Ortiz

Much like the temperatures across the country, the ballot measure count for 2012 has decreased. The total number of ballot-certified questions has slightly sunk from 59 to 58 measures - for now.

On December 14, Florida's Amendment 7 was removed from the ballot following a court ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. The amendment, sent to the ballot by state legislature, would prevent individuals from being barred from participating in public programs if they choose to use public funds at a religious provider. Essentially, the measure moves to repeal the state's ban of public dollars for religious funding, also known as the "Blaine Amendment."

Specifically, Lewis ruled that the ballot language's phrase "consistent with the U.S. Constitution" was ambiguous and misleading. The phrase, Lewis said, implies that it would make the Florida Constitution conform with the U.S. Constitution's 1st Amendment.

The lawsuit also challenged 2011 legislation that allows for the Florida Attorney General's office to rewrite ballot summaries or titles when the Florida Supreme Court removes a certified measure from the statewide ballot. Lewis rejected that challenge. "The law under review does not, after all, give the Attorney General authority to re-write the amendment itself -- only the description of it," Lewis said. Because the 2011 state law was not overturned, the Florida Attorney General still maintains the authority to rewrite the proposal. This must be done within 10 days. The measure may return to the ballot shortly.

A more detailed account of the lawsuit, along with lawsuit filers, arguments, and law texts can be found toward the bottom of this article under the "Ballot Law Update" section. Further updates will be reported this week as developments continue.

While Florida deals with the subject of religion in the state, proposals in Arkansas and Kentucky have residents possibly considering the issue of gambling.

Texas businessman Michael Wasserman submitted his proposal to the Arkansas Attorney General recently, hoping to get a question on the 2012 ballot that would ask state voters to allow 24-hour casinos in seven state counties. His company, Arkansas Hotels and Entertainment Inc., would both own and operate the casinos, which would be located in the counties of Sebastian, Pulaski, Garland, Miller, Crittenden, Boone and Jefferson.

Supporters of the measure have until the July 6, 2012 petition drive deadline to collect the required 78,133 signatures needed to place the initiated constitutional amendment on the ballot in the state.

In contrast, a Kentucky gambling measure is being proposed by the highest political official in the state. Governor Steve Beshear announced this past week that he would introduce a potential constitutional amendment in legislative session that would make expanded gambling legal, if enacted by voters in 2012.

If 60% of the membership of each chamber of the Kentucky General Assembly approves, a proposed amendment goes on the ballot at the next general election during which members of the state legislature are up for election.

Staying on legislative referrals, Washington state lawmakers have introduced a measure that would require citizen initiatives to identify a source of funds to cover any new costs. The measure was developed after various citizen initiatives were approved and added state costs that the state hasn't always been able to fund, according to reports. Measures include two education initiatives - Initiative 728 and Initiative 732 - approved in 2000. Also, in 2010, voters approved Initiative 1107 which repealed taxes on candy, gum, soda pop, bottled water and some processed foods. According to news reports, that left an estimated $218 million hole in the state's budget.

Most recently, in 2011, voters approved Initiative 1163 by 65%. The measure re-enacted background checks, training, and certain other requirements for long-term care workers and providers. According to state officials, 1163 requires about $18 million in new state spending. The 2011 initiative was approved amid a $1.4 billion shortfall in the state.

Proposals with recent activity

Quick hits

  • Marijuana effort gets high amount of signatures: An initiative effort in Colorado to legalize marijuana has claimed to have surpassed the 85,853 signature requirement to get the measure on the 2012 ballot. Updates will be reported as more details on the story are given.[1]



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SPOTLIGHT:2011 ballot measure statistics show large percentage of measures approved
With Ohio election results finally complete, November results show a total of 1,685 measures listed, with 1,291 of those being approved by voters.

Overall on Ballotpedia, there were a total of 3,778 measures covered throughout the year in the eleven states followed closely on the site. Of those measures, 2,707 were approved, or 71.7%.

  • The most prevalent type of measure to be asked of residents was city property tax-related. A total of 1,014 property tax measures were asked in 2011 and 832 were approved, or 82.1%.
  • The second most popular measure type related to charter amendments with a total of 404 measures, with 325 approved by voter, 80.4% overall.

For the full report see: Local ballot measure statistics, 2011. The ballot summary table does include school issues, but the breakdown of the different school issues and their approval ratings will be covered in a later report. So stay tuned!


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Two citizen initiatives were certified this past week in which two states?
Click to find out!


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BALLOT LAW UPDATE

Florida "Blaine Amendment" lawsuit (Update): Many state constitutions feature so-called "Blaine Amendments," which ban any transfer of public funds to religious institutions. In April 2011, the Florida Legislature placed a legislatively-referred amendment on the ballot replacing the clause in the Florida Constitution with a clause that only prohibits discrimination in funding based on religious/secular status. The amendment was given the title "Religious Freedom" and a ballot summary explaining the changes to the constitution in terms of religious liberty.[2]

However, on December 14, a judge from Florida's Second Circuit Court removed the measure from the ballot, following a lawsuit by the Florida Education Association and an inter-faith clergy group. The groups contend that the measure is an attempt to legalize school vouchers in Florida under the guise of religious freedom. Ultimately, the court found that the ballot language could mislead voters into believing that Florida's Blaine Amendment was at odds with the US Constitution.[3]

As stated above, the ballot measure now moves to the Florida Attorney General for new ballot language. A previously mentioned new election law permits this kind of revision--in the past, the successful challenge of a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment based on its title or summary meant the amendment's removal from the ballot. The lawsuit also challenged this new provision, HB1355, lines 2042-2059, arguing that it was an unconstitutional abdiction of the legislature's prerogative. However, the court did not agree and the measure (with revised ballot language) may still be sent to the voters.[4]


Wisconsin Recall Battle: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has challenged a law allowing him only ten days to challenge signatures submitted in a recall petition against him. The state does not plan to eliminate duplicate signature, leaving the task of identifying and challenging the signatures to opponents of the recall. This task, argues Walker, is too difficult to complete in ten days and violates his right to due process.[5]

  • Walker's full petition (filed in state circuit court) can be found here.
A new update will be released on December 28 and include a year end review of developments in ballot measure law.
Click here for past Ballot Law Update reports!

References