Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey clears 17 ballot initiatives for signature gathering

On September 1, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) announced that 17 ballot initiatives of the 30 filed were cleared for signature gathering. The 17 initiatives included 16 initiated state statutes aiming for the 2022 ballot and one initiated constitutional amendment that would appear on the 2024 ballot.

The initiatives cleared for signature gathering address:

  1. Changes to alcohol retail licensing,
  2. Compensation of chief executive officers of hospitals,
  3. Hospital operating margin limits,
  4. App-based drivers’ employment classification,
  5. Voter identification,
  6. Hate crimes against first responders,
  7. Commercial retail of fireworks,
  8. Whale and sea turtle safe fishing gear,
  9. Gasoline supply,
  10. Sale of discounted alcoholic beverages,
  11. Corporate tax disclosures,
  12. Right to counsel in eviction proceedings, 
  13. Tax credits for individuals who buy zero-emission vehicles, home heating systems, and home solar-powered electricity, and
  14. No-excuse absentee voting.

Proponents of the initiatives that were not cleared for signature gathering can appeal the attorney general’s decision to the Supreme Judicial Court. In determining which initiatives to clear for circulation, the attorney general considers whether the initiative meets the requirements in the constitution, such as a single-subject rule, subject restrictions, format requirements, and a ban on repeating of a measure voters decided at either of the two preceding statewide elections.

In Massachusetts, the number of signatures required to qualify an indirect initiated state statute for the ballot is equal to 3.5 percent of the votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. No more than one-quarter of the verified signatures on any petition can come from a single county. The process for initiated state statutes in Massachusetts is indirect, which means the legislature has a chance to approve initiatives for which enough signatures are collected without the measure going to the voters. In Massachusetts, signatures for initiated state statutes are collected in two rounds.

For the 2022 ballot, the first round is 80,239 signatures (3 percent of the votes cast for governor). If petitioners meet the first-round requirement, the initiative goes before the legislature. The second round is equal to 13,374 signatures (0.5 percent of the votes cast for governor. It is required to put the measure on the ballot if the legislature rejects or declines to act on a proposed initiated statute. 

The deadline to submit the first round of signatures to the secretary of state is December 1, 2021. Prior to submitting signatures to the secretary of state, the signatures need to be submitted to local registrars by November 17, 2021. If the legislature does not adopt the proposed law by May 4, 2022, petitioners then have until July 6, 2022 (eight weeks) to request additional petition forms and submit the second round of signatures.

Proposed constitutional amendments have just one round of signature gathering with the same requirement and deadline as the first round for statutes. If enough signatures are submitted by the deadline, the initiative goes to the legislature, where 25 percent of all legislators, with senators and representatives voting jointly, must approve the amendment in two successive sessions. If this requirement is met, the initiative goes on the ballot at the next general election. Because of this unique requirement, the earliest an initiated constitutional amendment can reach the ballot is two years following signature submission.

Between 1996 and 2020, an average of three measures appeared on the ballot in Massachusetts during even-numbered election years. About 54% (22 of 41) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots were approved, and about 46% (19 of 41) were defeated.

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