Legislatures can refer measures, including constitutional amendments, state statutes, and bond issues, to the ballot for voter consideration. Amendments do not require a governor’s signature, but referred statutes and bond issues do, with exceptions in some states. Changes in the membership of state legislatures and governor’s offices, as a result of elections on November 6, 2018, could have an effect on how many and what measures are referred to the ballot by state legislatures in 2019. There are three states, in particular, that often feature legislative referrals on their odd-numbered year ballots and had partisan shifts in 2018 that could have an effect on the referral process.
Colorado: Democrats won the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in Colorado, making the state one of six to flip from a divided government to trifecta control in 2018. The change in partisan control wasn’t large enough to give Democrats the power to refer constitutional amendments without the support of some Republicans since constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber. The change in partisan control could, however, affect proposals for revenue increases as set forth in Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). TABOR, passed as a ballot initiative in 1992, requires a simple majority vote in the state legislature and voter approval of tax increases that generate revenue in excess of a formula based on inflation and population growth. With Democrats in control of both chambers in 2019, measures to override the cap on revenue will be easier to refer to the ballot without the support of Republicans.
Maine: In 2019, Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, as well as the governor’s office, making Maine a Democratic trifecta. Prior to 2019, Maine was a divided government. As Democrats have trifecta control in 2019, no legislative Republicans are needed to put statutes or bond issues before voters. Amendments to the Maine Constitution, however, still require support from some Republicans as Democrats do not control two-thirds of the seats in either legislative chamber.
Texas: Republicans kept trifecta control of Texas. However, Republicans lost seats in both chambers of the Texas State Legislature. Changes in the state Senate could have an effect on the prospects of constitutional amendments making the ballot since referral of a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the legislature. Republicans held 21 seats in the state Senate in 2018, which was enough to pass an amendment without support from Democrats. In 2019, Republicans hold 19 seats, meaning at least two Democrats are needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the state Senate.