What voters had to say 65 years ago today

Welcome to the Wednesday, September 8th, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Today in ballot measure history: North Carolina voters approve four constitutional amendments, North Dakota voters consider seven
  2. Texas Legislature refers constitutional amendment to May 2022 ballot 
  3. August 2021 breakdown of state legislative party membership

Today in ballot measure history: North Carolina voters approve four constitutional amendments, North Dakota voters consider seven

Sixty-five years ago today, on Sept. 8, 1956, voters in North Carolina approved four amendments to the state constitution. The General Assembly referred each measure to the ballot. Here’s a quick look at what voters approved.

  • Amendment 1 guaranteed state legislators compensation of $15 for each day the legislature was in session up to 120 days, the equivalent of $149.45 in 2021 dollars. Floor leaders were guaranteed compensation of $20. The amendment was approved 71.3% to 28.7%, the narrowest of any of the four. Today, North Carolina state legislators receive a per diem of $104 in addition to a $13,951 annual salary.
  • Amendment 2 required the biennial legislative session to begin on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in February. The amendment was approved 81.9% to 18.1%.
  • Amendment 3 was approved 85.4% to 14.6%. It allowed married women to execute any powers of attorney their husbands specified. 
  • The Special Session Amendment was approved 82.3% to 17.8%. This amendment gave the state government authority to provide funds to help cover the cost of private education and provided a system for residents to call a local election to forbid local private schools from participating in the funding program. The amendment was part of a series of measures known as the Pearsall Plan that shared the objective of limiting court-mandated racial integration of North Carolina schools.

Nearly 20 years later, on Sept. 7, 1976, voters in North Dakota would consider seven constitutional amendments. The state legislature referred all but one of the amendments to the ballot.

Voters approved five of those amendments, including a district residency requirement for state senators, an amendment specifying a time when the state’s legislative session should meet, and an amendment allowing for limited forms of gambling.

Amendment 5, which voters rejected 62.1% to 37.9%, would have abolished the office of superintendent of public instruction and created a board of public education and a board of higher education. The other rejected amendment would have set a hard cap on the legislature’s spending between 1975 and 1979. Today, all 50 states have a statewide superintendent of public instruction, and the position is elected in 12.

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Texas Legislature refers constitutional amendment to May 2022 ballot 

Speaking of ballot measures, here’s an interesting development from this year’s landscape.

Texas voters will decide on whether to amend the state constitution to reduce property tax rates for elderly and disabled residents in a May 2022 referendum. The state legislature voted to approve the amendment for the ballot on Aug. 26.

This is the first ballot measure to appear on an even-numbered year’s ballot in Texas since 2014. Between 1985 and 2020, there were 10 measures on the Texas ballot in even-numbered years and 251 in odd-numbered years.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R), the author of the amendment, said there had not been enough funding to pass the bill during the regular session and the walkout House Democrats carried out earlier in the summer had delayed the special session’s consideration of the bill. Bettencourt said had the walkout not occurred, the amendment could have been on the November 2021 ballot.

Under Texas law, school property taxes are frozen for property owners when they turn 65 and for disabled owners when they acquired the property. However, because the state approved a reduction in property tax rates in 2019, many elderly and disabled Texans now pay school property tax at higher rates. The amendment on the ballot would reduce those rates to match the statewide cuts.

In the state Senate, all 18 Republicans and 11 of the 13 Democrats voted to approve the measure. In the state House, 80 of the 82 Republicans and 36 of the 66 Democrats voted in favor. No state legislators voted against the measure.

Legislators from both parties criticized the process involved in getting the amendment to the ballot. State Rep. Donna Howard (D) said she had proposed a similar amendment during the regular session and that the Republican majority had defeated it.

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August 2021 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 54.26% Republicans, 44.72% Democrats

54.26% of all state legislators are Republicans, and 44.72% are Democrats, according to Ballotpedia’s August partisan count of the nation’s 7,383 state legislators.

Ballotpedia tallies the partisan balance of state legislatures at the end of every month. Partisan balance refers to which political party holds a majority in each chamber. Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats hold 37. The Alaska House of Representatives is the nation’s only chamber with a multipartisan power-sharing coalition.

Nationally, state legislatures have 1,957 state senators and 5,363 state representatives. Democrats hold 863 state Senate seats and 2,439 state House seats, a loss of four seats in each chamber since the end of July. Republicans hold 4,006 of the 7,383 total state legislative seats—1,091 state Senate seats (a gain of one since July) and 2,915 state House seats (a decrease of five).

Independent or third-party legislators hold 39 seats, of which 32 are state House seats, and seven are state Senate seats. There are 36 vacancies.

During August, Democrats saw a net decrease of eight seats, and Republicans saw a net decrease of four seats. Compared to August 2020, state legislatures are 2.06% less Democratic (46.78% to 44.72%) and 2.26% more Republican (52.00% to 54.26%).  

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