Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell is a state ballot measures staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at

Washington legislature sends constitutional amendment relating to succession of powers during catastrophic incidents to 2019 ballot

The Washington State Legislature gave final approval for Senate Joint Resolution 8200 on April 17, 2019, sending it to the 2019 ballot. The constitutional amendment would authorize the legislature, during periods of catastrophic incidents that are considered emergencies, to pass bills that address the succession of powers and duties of public offices when the offices’ incumbents and legal successors are unavailable for carrying out the office. In other words, the amendment would allow the legislature to pass laws temporarily filling certain vacant public offices in the event of a catastrophic incident.
It would allow the legislature to pass laws it determines are necessary to provide for “continuity of state and local governmental operations” even if those laws are at odds with the state constitution. As of 2019, the state legislature can pass bills that addressed the succession of powers and duties of public offices (such as filling vacancies) during periods of warfare against the United States causing substantial damage and injury in Washington.
On March 7, 2019, the Washington State Senate approved SJR 8200, with 37 senators supporting the amendment, 11 senators opposing the amendment, and one senator not voting. On April 17, 2019, the House approved the amendment in a vote of 91 to seven. Vote totals by party were not available as of April 19, 2019.
This is the first measure to qualify for the 2019 ballot in Washington. Two initiatives— I-976 concerning $30 car tabs and I-1000 concerning affirmative action— were certified to the legislature and are pending legislative action. The legislature can either approve them, reject them and send them to the ballot, or send them to the ballot alongside an alternative.
As of April 18, 2019, two other measures were certified to appear on state ballots in 2019. One measure in Colorado would authorize the state to issue transportation revenue anticipation notes (TRANs)—a specific type of bond debt—in the amount of $2.337 billion with no increase to any taxes. The other measure in Kansas would end the state’s practice of adjusting the U.S. Census population regarding military personnel and students when redistricting the Kansas State Legislature.
Around this time (mid-April) in 2017, six measures were certified for the 2017 ballot. In 2017, a seven-decade record for the lowest number of statewide ballot measure certifications was set—in total, 27 measures were certified to appear on state ballots in nine states. This continued a general trend toward fewer statewide measures. The last year in which there were fewer than 27 statewide measures was 1947. From 1987 through 2017, the average number of measures on the ballot in odd-numbered years was 50, with an average of 11 states in which measures appeared on the ballot. In odd-numbered years from 2007 to 2017, an average of between 32 and 33 measures appeared on the ballot in an average of eight states.

North Dakota voters will decide in 2020 whether the state legislature should get a second look at voter-approved constitutional amendments

The North Dakota state legislature referred a 2020 constitutional amendment to voters that would require future citizen-initiated constitutional amendments approved by voters to be submitted to the legislature at the next legislative session for the their approval or rejection. If the legislature approves an initiated constitutional amendment by a simple majority vote, it would be enacted. If the legislature rejects the constitutional amendment, it would be placed on the ballot again at the next statewide election and would become effective if approved by voters a second time. Currently, citizen-initiated constitutional amendments become effective in North Dakota once they are approved by voters at a statewide election.
The amendment was sponsored by Senators David Hogue (R-38), Dick Dever (R-32), and Gary Lee (R-22); and Representatives Ben Koppelman (R-16), Mike Nathe (R-30), and Scott Louser (R-5). Chief sponsor David Hogue said, “This is an opportunity to let the people decide how they wish to govern themselves.” Democratic Senator Tim Mathern, who opposed the measure, said lawmakers shouldn’t “impede the rights of the people.”
The measure passed in the legislature with all Democrats voting in opposition. In the House, 63 Republicans voted yes and 15 Republicans joined all 15 Democrats in voting no. In the Senate, 31 Republicans voted yes and five Republicans joined all 10 Democrats in voting no.
Currently, Nevada is the only state requiring voter approval of initiated constitutional amendments at two statewide elections before it they are enacted. In Nevada, however, there is no legislative involvement in between the elections.
Also on North Dakota’s 2020 ballot is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that would increase the membership of the State Board of Higher Education from eight to 15; increase members’ term length from four years to six; and prohibit state employees, officials, legislators, from being members. Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years. Between 1996 and 2018, about 56 percent (40 of 71) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots were approved, and about 44 percent (31 of 71) were defeated.
North Dakota allows citizen initiatives in the form of initiated state statutes, initiated constitutional amendments, and veto referendums. In North Dakota, petitioners may only circulate a petition for one year following the secretary of state’s initial approval. The completed petition must be submitted at least 120 days prior to the election. Supporters must submit 26,904 valid signatures by July 6, 2020, in order to qualify initiated constitutional amendments for the 2020 ballot, and 13,452 signatures are required to qualify initiated state statutes and veto referendums.
As of April 16, 2019, 22 statewide ballot measures had been certified for the 2020 ballot in 11 states.

North Dakotans will vote on a constitutional amendment to change the State Board of Higher Education in 2020

The North Dakota legislature voted on April 8 to send the North Dakota Board of Higher Education Membership Amendment to the 2020 ballot.
The measure would amend the state constitution to do the following:
  • increase the number of members on the state’s board of higher education from eight to 15;
  • increase the length of board member terms from four years to six years;
  • require the board to have at minimum of one meeting per year with the directors of each of the education institutions overseen by the board;
  • restrict the membership of the board to exclude any state officials, legislators, and employees of the state; and
  • prohibit employees of an institution under control of the board from being members of the board for two years following the termination of such employment.
The amendment was introduced as Senate Concurrent Resolution 4016 on February 15, 2019. The state Senate approved the amendment by a vote of 29-14, with four absent or not voting, on March 7, 2019. The state House passed the measure with amendments on April 2, 2019, by a vote of 50-41. On April 8, 2019, the Senate concurred with the House’s amendments, by a vote of 27-17.
As of April 11, 2019, six constitutional amendments that would go on the 2020 ballot were approved in one chamber of the legislature and are pending approval in the other. Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years. Citizen initiatives can also be put on the North Dakota ballot in 2020. To qualify an initiative for the ballot, proponents must submit 26,904 valid signatures by July 6, 2020.
So far in 2019, 21 statewide ballot measures have been certified for the 2020 ballot in 11 states.
Aditional reading:

Arkansas legislature refers third and final constitutional amendment to 2020 ballot

The Arkansas State Legislature is allowed to refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot for each general election. On Monday, it sent its third and final amendment to the 2020 ballot. The amendment would change the requirements for ballot initiatives and legislatively referred constitutional amendments.
This amendment, HJR 1008, was designed to do the following:
  • increase the state’s distribution requirement by requiring that a petition must contain valid signatures equaling at least half of the percentage required for the total petition from each of 45 counties instead of the current requirement of 15 counties;
  • require a three-fifths supermajority vote of both chambers of the legislature to refer a proposed constitutional amendment to voters;
  • eliminate the option for petitioners to collect extra signatures for 30 days if the petition fails to meet the signature requirement if the petition meets a 75 percent threshold;
  • require challenges to the sufficiency of any ballot measure or ballot measure petition to be filed no later than April 15 of the election year; and
  • require signatures for citizen initiative petitions to be submitted to the secretary of state by January 15 of the election year rather than the current deadline of four months before the election.
The amendment passed in the House on April 4, 2019, in a vote of 68-20. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 25-10 on April 8, 2019. In the House, the amendment passed largely along party lines with 64 of 68 voting Republicans in favor and 16 of 20 voting Democrats opposed.
The two other measures referred to the 2020 ballot would (1) make permanent a 0.5 percent sales tax to fund transportation otherwise set to expire in 2023, (2) change term limits for state legislators. Citizen initiatives can still qualify for the 2020 ballot.
Additional reading:

Arkansas voters will decide on term limits for state legislators in 2020

On April 2, the Arkansas legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would impose term limits of twelve consecutive years for state legislators with the opportunity to return after a four-year break. The 12-year limit would apply to anyone elected in 2021 or after.
The amendment’s House sponsor, Sen. Jim Dotson (R-93), said, “The purpose of term limits is to limit power and advantages of incumbency. So if you have an incumbent who is running against someone who is not an incumbent, they obviously have a built-in advantage. After this resolution — if it is adopted and approved by the voters — is passed, after 12 years someone loses that advantage of incumbency.”
Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-17) asked House sponsor Rep. Dotson, “Those members who are currently serving would get to operate under the current law and serve 16 years — up to 16 years — while everyone else in the state would have to be limited to 12 years, thereby giving us in this chamber right now a definitive advantage over everybody else in the state?”
As of 2019, Arkansas legislators can serve up to 16 years throughout their lifetimes in the House or Senate. Those who were first elected to the legislature before 2021 would keep the state’s current lifetime term limit of 16 years.
The current term limits for state legislators were established by the passage of Issue 3 in 2014, which doubled the amount of time a lawmaker can stay in the Arkansas Senate and more than doubled the amount of time a lawmaker can stay in the House. Issue 3 in 2014 was referred to the ballot by the state legislature. Previously, representatives could serve up to three two-year terms, while senators could serve up to two four-year terms, as set by the 1992 citizen initiative, Issue 4.
Also targeting the 2020 ballot is a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment filed by the Arkansas Term Limits Ballot Question Committee (BQC) on March 14, 2019. The measure is identical to the group’s 2018 initiative, Issue 3, which was initially certified for the ballot but later blocked by the state Supreme Court based on arguments about the validity of signatures on the initiative petition. To qualify for the 2020 ballot, the group must submit 89,151 valid signatures by July 3, 2020. This initiative would impose term limits of six years for members of the Arkansas House of Representatives and eight years for members of the Arkansas Senate. Specifically, the measure would allow representatives to be elected to no more than three two-year terms and senators to be elected to no more than two four-year terms. Under the measure, no member of the state general assembly could serve more than 10 years in total.
The Arkansas State Legislature may refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot each general election. So far, two amendments have been certified for the 2020 ballot, including the term limits measure. Also appearing on the 2020 general election ballot is an amendment to continue and make permanent a 0.5 percent sales tax with revenue directed to state and local transportation, including highways, roads, and bridges.

Montana legislature will send concealed carry question to voters in November 2020 if Democratic Governor Steve Bullock vetoes identical bill

On April 2, the Montana Legislature voted to put a measure on the November 2020 ballot that, if approved by voters, would remove the authority of local governments to regulate the carrying of concealed weapons. The measure was designed to be sent to voters if an identical bill, House Bill 325, is vetoed by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock. House Bill 325 passed in the legislature along party lines (29-20 in the Senate and 57-42 in the House) on April 3, 2019. To override the governor’s veto in Montana, a two-thirds vote in each chamber (67 votes in the House and 34 votes in the Senate) would be required.
House Bill 357, sponsored by Representatives Matt Regier (R-4) and Derek Skees (R-11), would state that it is the policy of Montana “that the citizens of the state should be aware of, understand, and comply with any restrictions on the right to keep or bear arms that the people have reserved to themselves in Article II, section 12, of the Montana constitution, and that to minimize confusion the legislature withholds from local governments the power to restrict or regulate the possession of firearms.”
The measure’s text states that its purpose is “to secure the right to keep and bear arms and to prevent a patchwork of restrictions by local governments across the state.”
On February 21, 2019, the House passed the bill in a vote of 56 to 43, largely along party lines. Jade Bahr (D-50) and Jacob Bachmeier (D-28) were the only two of 42 House Democrats to vote in favor while Geraldine Custer (R-39), Neil Duram (R-2), and Bruce Grubbs (R-68) were the only three of 58 House Republicans to vote against. Representative Dale Mortensen (R-44) was absent. The measure passed in the Senate on April 2, 2019, by a vote of 28 to 21 with one Republican Senator absent or excused. One Republican, Brian Hoven of District 13, joined all 20 Senate Democrats in voting no. All 28 yes votes came from Republicans.
Montana Code 5-4-301 provides that the governor cannot veto legislatively-referred state statutes or stop them from appearing on the ballot. Montana is one of 14 states with divided government. The Montana State Legislature is controlled by Republicans and the governor’s office is controlled by Democrat Steve Bullock.

Montana Legislature sends constitutional amendments regarding initiative petition distribution requirements to voters in 2020

Two proposed constitutional amendments (House Bills 244 and 245), sponsored by Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-1) and given final approval on Wednesday, would not alter currently enforced initiative signature distribution requirements but would amend constitutional language to match the existing requirements. House Bills 244 and 245 passed largely along party lines in the House, with most Republicans in favor and most Democrats against. The bills passed in the Senate by votes of 46-3 and 45-4, respectively.
A distribution requirement is a statutory or constitutional mandate requiring that petitions for a ballot measure or candidate nomination be signed by voters from a certain percentage of different political subdivisions or districts in order for the ballot measure or candidate to qualify for the ballot.
For an initiated constitutional amendment in Montana, proponents must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the qualified electors in each of two-fifths (40) of the state’s 100 legislative districts.
For an initiated state statute or a veto referendum in Montana, signatures collected must be equal to 5 percent of the qualified electors in each of one-third (34) of the state’s legislative districts.
In 2002, two amendments, C-37 and C-38, attempted to change the basis for the ballot initiative distribution requirement in Montana from legislative districts to counties. However, given population disparities among counties, the amendments were found by a U.S. District Court to be unconstitutional on equal protection grounds in Montana PIRG v. Johnson. Attorney General Mike McGrath subsequently ruled that the federal court’s invalidation of C-37 and C-38 meant that the prior language of the state’s constitution about distribution requirements based on legislative districts for citizen initiatives was considered to be fully back in force. The language from C-37 and C-38 concerning county-based distribution requirements, however, remained in the state constitution.
In the 26 states that feature the powers of initiative, veto referendum, or both, 17 have a distribution requirement, while 9 of them do not. Where there are distribution requirements for initiative petitions, the political jurisdiction on which they are based vary. In seven states, the distribution requirement is spread out over a state’s counties (Arkansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wyoming). In five states, it is calculated based on state legislative districts (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah). In the other five states with a distribution requirement, it is based on U.S. congressional districts (Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Nevada). Washington, D.C., also has a distribution requirement based on city wards.
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U.S. Virgin Islands Legislative Apportionment Initiative fails due to low turnout

A ballot initiative in the U.S. Virgin Islands failed despite winning 75 percent of the vote because turnout did not reach the required 50 percent threshold. The initiative was proposed by St. Croix Government Retirees, Inc., and would have changed the territory’s system of legislative apportionment. The measure would have replaced the territory’s two seven-member legislative districts and one at-large member with four two-member districts, one single-member district, and six at-large members.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, a majority of registered voters must turn out for a ballot initiative to be approved, and a majority of voters who turn out need to cast their votes in support of the initiative. As of March 1, 2019, there were 51,741 registered voters in the U.S. Virgin Islands, meaning at least 25,872 people needed to vote in the election. With 86 percent of precincts reporting, voter turnout was at 9 percent (4,651 votes), meaning that the measure failed.

Voters in New Orleans reject property tax initiative to fund senior citizen services on Saturday

Voters in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, voted on Proposition 1 on March 30, 2019, rejecting it 71 percent to 29 percent.
The initiative would have authorized the city to levy an annual property tax for five years at the rate of $2 per $1,000 in assessed property value (2 mills), with funds dedicated to services and programs for senior citizens.
The senior services tax measure was backed by the New Orleans Council on Aging. City council members Jason Williams and Jared Brossett co-sponsored the proposal. Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the Action New Orleans PAC opposed the measure.

Washington activist Tim Eyman to launch his third 2019 signature petition drive; this initiative would ban income taxes

Sponsor Tim Eyman announced on March 26, 2019, that he would launch a signature drive for Initiative 1650 beginning on April 1, 2019, leaving 96 days to collect 259,622 valid signatures. Eyman refers to the measure as the We Don’t Want An Income Tax Initiative. I-1650 would prohibit local and state governments from enacting or imposing taxes on income including net, gross, or adjusted gross income; capital gains income; or any other portion or type of income. Washington state does not currently have a personal or corporate income tax.
This is the third active initiative or veto referendum petition drive Eyman has sponsored targeting the 2019 ballot. He successfully qualified Initiative 976 for the 2019 ballot. I-976 is currently certified to the legislature. The legislature can either approve the measure, reject or refuse to act on the measure and send it to the ballot, or send it to the ballot accompanied with an alternative. Eyman is currently collecting signatures for Referendum Measure 80, which would block salary increases for state elected officials set by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials (WCCSEO). The signature submission deadline for Referendum Measure 80 is on May 7, 2019.
Tim Eyman has sponsored or worked on a number of ballot initiative campaigns in the state of Washington each year since at least 1998. Of the Eyman initiatives that have been filed over the years, 16 qualified for the ballot. Of the 16 measures that appeared on the statewide ballot, 10 of them were approved, although eight (50 percent) were later invalidated. Six of the 16 were defeated by voters.
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