State legislatures considering 124 bills governing ballot measures

Ballotpedia's Daily Brew

Here’s an updated look at this year’s proposed legislation regarding ballot measures

We regularly provide updates in the Brew regarding individual ballot measures from across the country. Today, let’s take a look at how states are considering changes to the direct democracy process. Ballotpedia tracks legislative proposals regarding the ballot measure process—that is, state action regarding how initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recalls can appear before voters. 

At least 124 proposals have been introduced this year in the legislative sessions of 34 states. We have tracked eight bills approved so far. The chart below displays the number of legislative proposals relating to ballot measures and recalls by year. The number of legislative proposals in 2021 is not final, as more bills may still be filed in current legislative sessions.

I asked Josh Altic, our ballot measures expert, for his opinion on the most interesting bills so far. Here are six of the most notable changes to laws regarding ballot measures that were either passed or proposed in 2021:

  • Utah enacted a proposal to ban pay-per-signature as a method of compensating signature gatherers who collect signatures for ballot initiatives and veto referendums. Utah’s legislation also made other changes to the initiative process.
  • The South Dakota Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would require a 60% supermajority vote for future ballot measures that increase taxes or fees or that require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years.
  • Legislation to enact or increase supermajority requirements for ballot measures was introduced this year in seven states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. These proposed requirements range from 60% to two-thirds (66.67%) of voters in favor for approval. Some of these proposals apply only to citizen-initiated measures but not referrals, some to constitutional amendments—both citizen-initiated and legislatively referred, and some to measures proposing tax increases or certain levels of funding allocation.
  • The Idaho Legislature passed a bill to change the state’s distribution requirement to require signatures from 6% of voters from all 35 legislative districts for ballot initiatives and veto referendums instead of the existing requirement of 6% of voters from 18 of the state’s legislative districts. In 2019, the Idaho Legislature passed but the governor vetoed a pair of bills that were designed to increase the state’s initiative signature requirement and its distribution requirement, among other changes. 
  • Bills to increase initiative and referendum signature requirements or signature distribution requirements were introduced in Idaho, Missouri, Montana, and Oklahoma.
  • Proposals to establish statewide initiative, referendum, or recall processes were introduced in Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The last state to establish a statewide process for initiatives that didn’t have one previously was Mississippi, which adopted its process in 1992.

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Eight states have enacted laws that limit governors’ emergency power authority since 2020

There’s another area where we’re tracking activity in state legislatures this year—those relating to laws limiting governors’ emergency powers. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, governors and state agencies in all 50 states relied on emergency power authority to enact lockdown and stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and other restrictions on businesses and individuals.

Since March 2020, legislators across the country have sponsored bills to give the legislative branch more oversight of governors’ emergency powers. Out of the hundreds of bills sponsored in 2020 and 2021 aimed at increasing legislative oversight of governors’ emergency powers, 10 bills in eight states have been enacted into law: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah. Additionally, voters in Pennsylvania will decide a statewide measure on May 18 that would limit the governor’s emergency powers.

State laws generally allow legislators to terminate emergency declarations and orders or restrict a governor’s authority to regulate city- and county-level public health decisions. 

The political control breakdown of these states is as follows. (A trifecta is when one political party holds the governorship, and majorities in both chambers of a state’s legislature.)

  • Republican trifectas: Arkansas, Ohio, Utah
  • Democratic trifectas: Colorado, New York
  • Divided governments (Democratic governor, Republican majorities in House and Senate): Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania

Here’s a rundown of three newly enacted laws.

  • In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly (D) signed Senate Bill 50 into law on March 24. Under the law, anyone burdened by an executive order, school board policy, or county health directive can file a lawsuit, and courts must respond to the lawsuit within 72 hours to determine if the order or policy is narrowly tailored to the emergency. 
  • In Ohio, Republican majorities in the General Assembly voted on March 24 to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R) veto of Senate Bill 22, which placed a 90-day limit on states of emergency and authorized lawmakers to pass resolutions to terminate a state of emergency after 30 days.
  • In Kentucky, Republican majorities in the General Assembly voted to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s (D) vetoes of Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2. The bills limit the governor’s emergency orders to 30 days unless extended by the legislature and grant legislative committees more oversight of the governor’s emergency administrative regulations. 
    • Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily blocked parts of both bills from taking effect on March 3, after Beshear filed a lawsuit arguing the bills would undermine public health measures meant to protect people in Kentucky from the coronavirus pandemic. Those injunctions remain in effect.

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It’s Tax Day—in some states

Today, April 15, is Tax Day…in some states. Last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury Department extended payment and filing deadlines to July 15 for 2019 taxes. This year, the deadline is extended to May 17.

Forty states have followed suit, extending both payment and filing deadlines to May 17. Seven states do not have an income tax. Iowa extended its deadline to June 1, and Maryland extended its deadline to July 15. 

Three of the states which have state income tax did not extend either the filing or payment deadlines. In Alabama, the filing deadline was postponed but the payment deadline was not; interest has not been waived and will accrue between April 15 and May 17. In Hawaii and New Hampshire (NH has no state income tax but does have interest and dividends taxes), neither the filing nor the payment deadlines were postponed. This means that state residents have different due dates for their federal and state taxes.

Just for fun, here are a few facts about the history of Tax Day.

  • The first Tax Day was on March 1, 1914. Congress instituted it following the ratification of the 16th Amendment, which gave Congress the power to collect income tax.
  • The initial income tax exemption was $3,000 for single filers and $4,000 for married couples
  • The Revenue Act of 1918 moved Tax Day to March 15 to give taxpayers more time to file
  • In 1954, the yearly income tax filing date was changed from March 15 to April 15

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About the author

Dave Beaudoin

Dave Beaudoin is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.