Author

Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell is a state ballot measures staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Mississippi to vote on changing gubernatorial and state office election procedures

The Mississippi Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2020 ballot that would change election requirements for candidates for governor and statewide elected office.

Currently, in Mississippi, a candidate for Governor or elected statewide offices (Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture, and Commissioner of Insurance) must win the popular vote and the highest number of votes in a majority of the state’s 122 House districts (the electoral vote).

If no candidate secures majorities of both the popular and the electoral vote, under Article V, Section 141, the Mississippi House of Representatives considers the two highest vote-getters and chooses the winner. The election system was adopted in the state constitution of 1890.

The constitutional amendment would remove the electoral vote requirement and the House of Representatives’ role in choosing a winner. The amendment would provide that if a candidate for Governor of Mississippi or statewide elected office does not receive a majority vote of the people, the candidates will proceed to a runoff election.

The details of the runoff election would be provided through state law. A runoff election is a second election conducted to determine which of the top vote-getters in the first election will be elected to office. Runoffs occur in states that require candidates to receive a majority (as opposed to a plurality) of the vote to win an election.

A majority voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received more than half (50%+1) of the votes cast. A plurality voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received the highest number of votes. The candidate does not need to win a majority of votes to be elected.

The amendment was introduced as House Concurrent Resolution 47 by Rep. Jim Beckett (R) on February 17, 2020. The House adopted the measure in a vote of 109-6 on June 28, and the Senate adopted the measure in a vote of 49-2 on June 29, 2020.

The Mississippi House of Representatives has decided a gubernatorial election one time. In 1999, Ronnie Musgrove (D) received a plurality of the vote, 8,300 more votes than the next highest vote-getter, Mike Parker (R) in a contest with four candidates. Musgrove received 49.6% of the vote and Parker received 48.5% of the vote. Musgrove and Parker each won 61 of the state’s 122 House districts. Since neither candidate won a majority (over 50%) of the vote and a majority of the state’s House districts, the Democratic-controlled Mississippi House of Representatives decided the election. The House chose Musgrove on January 4, 2000, in a vote of 86-36 along party lines.

The National Redistricting Foundation, the 501(c)(3) arm of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, supports the constitutional amendment. The foundation said the amendment would “remove a racially discriminatory law designed to restrict the voting rights of African Americans. Due to pressure from a National Redistricting Foundation lawsuit filed last year, the state is finally casting out a post-Reconstruction era electoral scheme designed to maintain white control of the state government and prevent African-American voters in Mississippi from having a real voice in their representation.”

Four African-American citizens filed a federal lawsuit (McLemore v. Hosemann) backed by the National Redistricting Foundation on May 30, 2019, alleging that the electoral vote requirement was racially discriminatory and violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the electoral vote requirement for the 2019 gubernatorial election.

On November 1, 2019, the court acknowledged that the electoral vote requirement was likely unconstitutional, but noted that “courts have allowed elections to proceed under unconstitutional rules where it is simply too late to make a change” and denied to grant a preliminary injunction. On December 13, 2019, the court stayed litigation surrounding the election requirements to give the state legislature a chance to remove the constitutional provisions during the 2020 legislative session and said that “if the amendment process falls short, then there would be ample time to resume this litigation and resolve the matter before the 2023 election cycle.”



Oklahoma voters approve State Question 802 to expand Medicaid

Voters in Oklahoma approved State Question 802 to expand Medicaid. With 100% of precincts reporting, the vote was 50.5% (340,279) in favor to 49.5% (333,761) opposed.

State Question 802 was designed to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. It would amend the state constitution to provide Medicaid coverage for certain low-income adults between 18 and 65 with incomes at or below 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL). For 2020, the FPL is $12,490 for individuals and $25,750 for a family of four. Because the ACA includes a 5% income disregard, this measure would effectively expand Medicaid to those with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level.

Medicaid is a government program that provides medical insurance to groups of low-income people and individuals with disabilities. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, provided for the expansion of Medicaid to cover all individuals earning incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NFIB v. Sebelius that the federal government could not withhold funds from states that refused to expand Medicaid. The ruling had the practical effect of making Medicaid expansion optional for states. In 2018, the federal government financed 94% of the costs of state Medicaid expansion. For 2020 and subsequent years, the federal government was set to cover 90% of the costs. As of 2020, 14 states, had chosen not to expand Medicaid.

Oklahomans Decide Healthcare led the campaign in support of the initiative. Oklahomans Decide Healthcare said, “Expanding Medicaid will [make] our families healthier and our economy stronger. It will deliver healthcare to those who need it, including many parents, seniors, and hardworking folks who earn less than $17,000 a year. It will also bring more than a billion of our tax dollars home from Washington, D.C. every year to create jobs, boost our economy, and keep our rural hospitals open. That’s money that 36 other states that have expanded Medicaid get, but Oklahoma has lost out on for years.” State Question 802 was supported by the Oklahoma Hospital Association, State Medical Association, Osteopathic Association, and Nurses Association.

Vote No on 802 Association registered with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission to oppose State Question 802. The committee was chaired by John Tidwell, state director of Americans for Prosperity. Tidwell said, “State Question 802, which will force Medicaid expansion, will overwhelm our already struggling state budget and hurt those that the program was intended to help. There is no question that overburdening an already fragile system will lead to cuts of core services we all rely on and trigger tax increases at a time when Oklahomans can least afford additional financial burdens. Oklahoma must vote no on State Question 802.”

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) also opposed the initiative. A spokeswoman for Stitt said, “If SQ 802 passes, our state agencies will experience deep cuts, because the ballot measure offers no mechanism to pay for it. The governor does not support this unfunded mandate.”

In 2017, voters in Maine approved the first-ever ballot initiative to expand Medicaid according to an optional provision of Obamacare.

In 2018, voters in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, and Utah decided citizen-initiated measures concerning Medicaid expansion and the funding of expanded Medicaid coverage.



Mississippi Legislature passed bill providing for vote on new state flag design on November 3

Mississippi voters are expected to vote on a new state flag design at the general election on November 3, 2020.

On June 27, 2020, the state legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 79, which suspended the legislative deadlines for introducing bills so that a bill could be introduced to establish a commission to design a new state flag. House Bill 1796 was then introduced and passed by the state legislature on June 28, 2020, in a vote of 92-23 in the House and 37-14 in the Senate.

In the House, all 46 Democratic representatives voted in favor of the bill. The vote among House Republicans was split with 45 voting in favor, 23 voting against, and five absent or not voting. Independent Representative Angela Cockerham voted in favor. There were two vacancies in the House at the time of the vote.

In the Senate, all 16 Democratic senators voted in favor of the bill. The vote among Senate Republicans was split with 22 voting in favor, 16 voting against, and one absent or not voting.

The bill requires the governor’s signature. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) is expected to sign it. Reeves said, “The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag. The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it. If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it.”

The bill establishes the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, which must design a new state flag and report the recommended design to the Governor and to the state legislature by September 14, 2020. The new flag design may not include the Confederate Battle Flag and must include the words “In God We Trust.” The bill provides that “the new design for the Mississippi State Flag shall honor the past while embracing the promise of the future.”

The Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag was designed to consist of nine members. The Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor would each appoint three members. The other three members would be representatives from the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, to be appointed by Gov. Tate Reeves. All appointments to the commission would need to be made by July 15, 2020.

Voters would be shown a colored picture of the new proposed state flag and would vote either yes to adopt the new flag or no to oppose adopting the new state flag. If the new proposed flag is rejected by voters, the commission would reconvene, design another flag, and allow voters to approve or reject it at a special election in November 2021.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R) said that the Confederate flag had come to be viewed as a hate symbol “whether we like it or not” and that “by changing our flag, we don’t abandon our founding principles. We embrace them more fully by doing what is right. We’re not moving further away from our Founding Fathers’ visions. We’re moving closer to them. We’re not destroying our heritage; we’re fulfilling it.”

Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) argued in the state legislature to keep the current state flag. McDaniel said, “I can see where any symbol can be subject to misinterpretation …I’m going to come down on the side of history and tradition.”

Voters in Mississippi decided a state flag referendum in April 2001. The referendum was referred to the ballot by the legislature. The measure presented voters with two potential state flags. Voters approved Proposition A, which reaffirmed the use of the flag adopted in 1894 containing the Confederate Battle Flag.

The 2001 flag referendum came about after a lawsuit brought by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) alleging that the use of the Confederate flag in the state flag violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the state flag’s inclusion of the Confederate Battle Flag did not violate any constitutionally protected rights. The court had also found that the state flag requirements were not codified in state law and thus that Mississippi did not have an official state flag. The 2001 flag referendum was held to formally adopt a state flag and officially codify it in law.

Five citizen initiatives related to the Mississippi state flag—one which sought to change the flag and four which sought to keep or more formally recognize it—were proposed in 2018 and 2019. None of those measures made it to the ballot.

Mississippi became the only state with a flag containing the Confederate flag after Georgia removed it from their state flag in 2001. The Georgia state flag had contained the Confederate flag since 1956.



Referendum 90 on Washington 2020 ballot asks voters to approve or reject comprehensive sexual health education in public schools

On June 24, the Washington Secretary of State’s office found that Parents for Safe Schools, proponents of Referendum 90, had submitted enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot.

Referendum 90 asks voters to approve or reject Washington Senate Bill 5395, which was designed to require comprehensive sexual health education in public schools.

A vote to approve Referendum 90 would allow SB 5395 to go into effect. A vote to reject this referendum would repeal Senate Bill 5395. The bill is on hold pending the result of the election.

Senate Bill 5395 would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades 6-12 beginning in the 2021-22 school year and for all public school students, including those in grades K-5, beginning in the 2022-23 school year. The curriculum would have to include instruction and information regarding affirmative consent (defined as “a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity”) and bystander training.

Parents for Safe Schools sponsored the referendum measure in an attempt to repeal SB 5395. In a random sample check of 7,940 signatures submitted by the group, the secretary of state’s office found that 7,186 signatures were valid, projecting a signature validity rate of 90.5%. This means that of 264,637 signatures submitted by proponents, 239,496 were deemed valid through the random sample verification. To qualify for the ballot, 129,811 valid signatures were required.

Senate Bill 5395 was sponsored by Senator Claire Wilson (D), vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. SB 5395 was passed in the state House on March 4 with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. SB 5395 passed in the Senate largely along party lines on March 7, 2020, with one Democrat, Tim Sheldon, joining all Senate Republicans in voting no. Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed the bill into law on March 27, 2020.

Under SB 5395, comprehensive sexual health education means “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.” The bill would require course materials to be verified or supported by scientific research, published in peer-reviewed journals, and recognized as accurate by organizations such as the Washington State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Comprehensive sexual health education for students in grades K-3 would need to be taught as instruction in social and emotional learning (SEL). Social and emotional learning is defined by the Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction as “a process through which individuals build awareness and skills in managing emotions, setting goals, establishing relationships, and making responsible decisions that support success in school and in life.” Sexual health education would need to be provided at least once to students in grades K-3, once to students in grades 4-5, twice to students in grades 6-8, and twice to students in grades 9-12. Sexual health education would not be required to be integrated into unrelated subjects or courses.

Schools would be required to notify parents that they are providing comprehensive sexual health education and make all course materials accessible to the parents. Parents could file a written request with the school district or the school’s principal to excuse their child from sexual health education instruction. The bill would require school officials to grant such a request.

Parents for Safe Schools said, “As parents, we have a responsibility to protect our children from inappropriate, ideology-based curriculum. This bill was passed late in the session with very little opportunity for ordinary citizens to testify and no amendments accepted. Parents and their local school boards deserve a voice in controversial curriculum decisions and many districts cannot afford an expensive, unfunded mandate.” As of June 21, Parents for Safe Schools had raised $178,846. The largest donor to the committee was The Reagan Fund, which gathers contributions for the Washington State House Republican Leadership PAC, and which gave $25,000 to Parents for Safe Schools.

Senator Claire Wilson (D), sponsor of Senate Bill 5395 and vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said, “Some people hear the words ‘sex education’ and mistake the focus of the curriculum, which is health and safety, and is age-appropriate for each grade level. This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior. It’s about teaching all children to respect diversity and not to bully others. […] There are children who will be targeted for molestation in the coming year, there are young women who may face sexual coercion or assault. They need access to information and lessons that will enable them to make decisions to ensure their health and safety.”

Since the first in 1914, Washington voters have decided 38 statewide veto referendum measures at the ballot. The most recent veto referendum was on the ballot in Washington in 2019, when voters rejected Initiative 1000, an affirmative action-related measure approved by the legislature. In 81.6% of veto referendums (31 of 38), voters repealed the targeted bill. Conversely, in 18.4% (seven of 37) of veto referendums, voters upheld the targeted law.

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Oklahoma to decide State Question 802 to expand Medicaid on June 30

Oklahoma voters will decide State Question 802 on June 30. The initiative would expand Medicaid in Oklahoma under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It would provide Medicaid coverage for certain low-income adults between 18 and 65 with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL). For 2020, the FPL is $12,490 for individuals and $25,750 for a family of four. Because the ACA includes a 5% income disregard, this measure would effectively expand Medicaid to those with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level.

June 24 is the deadline to request an absentee ballot for the June 30 election.

Medicaid is a government program that provides medical insurance to groups of low-income people and individuals with disabilities. The ACA provided for the expansion of Medicaid to cover all individuals earning incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NFIB v. Sebelius that the federal government could not withhold funds from states that refused to expand Medicaid. The ruling had the practical effect of making Medicaid expansion optional for states. In 2018, the federal government financed 94% of the costs of state Medicaid expansion. For 2020 and subsequent years, the federal government was set to cover 90% of the costs. As of 2020, 14 states, had chosen not to expand Medicaid according to the ACA.

Yes on State Question 802—Oklahomans Decide Healthcare is registered with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission to support State Question 802. Vote No on 802 Association, chaired by John Tidwell, state director of Americans for Prosperity, is registered to oppose State Question 802. Campaign finance reports are due on July 31, 2020, for the period covering April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020. As of June 22, Vote No on 802 Association reported $165,550.97 in independent expenditures for state question communications purposes including mailers and advertisements. Yes on State Question 802 had not reported any independent expenditures. Reports of cash and in-kind contributions to the committees and expenditures by the committees are due on July 31, 2020.

Oklahomans Decide Healthcare said, “Expanding Medicaid will [make] our families healthier and our economy stronger. It will deliver healthcare to those who need it, including many parents, seniors, and hardworking folks who earn less than $17,000 a year. It will also bring more than a billion of our tax dollars home from Washington, D.C. every year to create jobs, boost our economy, and keep our rural hospitals open. That’s money that 36 other states that have expanded Medicaid get, but Oklahoma has lost out on for years.” State Question 802 is supported by the Oklahoma Hospital Association, State Medical Association, Osteopathic Association, and Nurses Association.

A spokeswoman for Governor Kevin Stitt (R) said, “If SQ 802 passes, our state agencies will experience deep cuts, because the ballot measure offers no mechanism to pay for it. The governor does not support this unfunded mandate.” Stitt had announced a Medicaid expansion plan set to take effect July 1, 2020, and a Medicaid program plan under the Healthy Adult Opportunity (HAO) federal program referred to as SoonerCare 2.0 designed to take effect July 1, 2021. On May 28, 2020, the state withdrew the expansion plan for certain low-income adults that was set to take effect on July 1, 2020. The expansion was withdrawn after Stitt vetoed a bill designed to fund the programs, citing funding concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. The SoonerCare 2.0 program under the HAO was posted for public comment through June 27, 2020.

Stitt said, “I appreciate the willingness of the Legislature to craft a proposal to fund SoonerCare 2.0. When I announced SoonerCare 2.0, unemployment rates were at 3.2 percent. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty within energy markets and commodity prices, unemployment rates are predicted to be as high as 14 percent. This will not only increase the number of individuals currently enrolled in Medicaid, but will also increase the number of potential enrollees in the expanded population.”

On August 4, Missouri voters will also decide a Medicaid Expansion initiative. The default election date for both the Oklahoma and Missouri initiatives was the November 3 general election. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) and Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R) both opted to put the initiatives on their states’ primary election ballots instead.

In November 2018, voters in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and Utah decided ballot initiatives concerning Medicaid expansion and the funding of expanded Medicaid coverage. In January 2018, voters in Oregon approved Measure 101, thereby upholding 2017 legislation to provide funding for the state’s portion of costs for expanded Medicaid coverage through a tax on healthcare insurance and the revenue of certain hospitals. In 2017, voters in Maine approved the first citizen initiative used to implement an optional provision of Obamacare.

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Colorado to vote on repeal of Gallagher Amendment

The Colorado Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2020 ballot that would repeal the Gallagher Amendment of 1982. The Gallagher Amendment limits the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property tax revenue equals 45% of the total share of state property tax revenue and non-residential property tax revenue equals 55% of the total share of state property tax revenue.

Under the Gallagher Amendment, property tax assessment rates were initially set in the state constitution to be 29% for non-residential property and 21% for residential property. The residential assessment rate was adjusted every two years so as to maintain the 45%-55% split between the total share of property tax revenue. The current residential property tax assessment rate is 7.15%.

The legislature also passed a companion bill, Senate Bill 20-223, which would take effect if voters approve the constitutional amendment. Senate Bill 223 would prohibit the legislature from changing assessment rates for property, thereby freezing the current rates of 7.15% for residential property and 29% for non-residential property. Under the Gallagher Amendment, property tax assessment rates were expected to decrease. Therefore, removing the Gallagher Amendment and freezing property tax rates at current levels was expected to result in higher residential assessment rates than under the Gallagher Amendment.

The amendment was introduced in the Senate on June 1, 2020. The measure’s primary sponsors were Senators Jack Tate (R) and Chris Hansen (D) and Representatives Daneya Esgar (D) and Matt Soper (R). The measure was passed by the Senate on June 9 in a vote of 27-7 and was passed by the House in a vote of 51-14 on June 12, 2020. All no votes came from Republican legislators.

Coloradans are set to vote on a total of eight ballot measures in November. However, the state legislature passed a bill that would delay one of the measures, a transportation bond issue, to the 2021 ballot if signed by Governor Jared Polis (D).

In addition, 14 citizen initiatives have been cleared for signature gathering in Colorado with signatures due by August 3 to qualify for the 2020 ballot.



Georgians to vote in November on waiving state’s sovereign immunity

The Georgia State Legislature on Tuesday gave final approval to House Resolution 1023, sending it to the November 2020 ballot. The measure would allow residents to seek declaratory relief from state or local laws that are found to violate the U.S. Constitution, state Constitution, or state law. Under the amendment, a court could not award damages, attorney’s fees, or other costs of litigation unless authorized by the state legislature. After granting declaratory judgment, a court would be able to block the law or act in question. If approved, the amendment would waive the state’s sovereign immunity for any acts occurring on or after January 1, 2021.

This amendment was sponsored by Republican Representative Andrew Welch. On February 20, 2020, the state House passed HR 1023 unanimously. On June 15, 2020, the state Senate unanimously approved an amended version of the measure, which was then approved unanimously in the House on June 16, 2020.

One other constitutional amendment is also set to appear on the statewide ballot in Georgia this November. The amendment would authorize the Georgia State Legislature to pass legislation establishing special funds with dedicated revenue sources to fund statute specific projects. Statutes that impose such taxes and fees would need to reference the amendment and identify the government agency responsible for administering the revenue in its text.

The state legislature reconvened its session on June 15 after it had been suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The legislative session is limited to 40 legislative days and, as of Wednesday, there were eight days left of the legislative session.

From 1996 to 2018, 81 measures were on the ballot in Georgia. Of the total, 84% (68 of 81) were approved and 16% (13 of 81) were defeated.

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Colorado Legislature gives final approval to a charitable bingo and raffles amendment and a cigarette tax increase measure

On Monday, the Colorado State Legislature sent two measures to the November 2020 ballot.

One measure would amend the state constitution to require charitable organizations to have existed for three years before obtaining a charitable gaming license instead of the current constitutional requirement of five years. The amendment would allow charitable organizations to hire managers and operators of gaming activities so long as they are not paid more than the minimum wage. Currently, the constitution requires those who operate charitable gaming activities to be a member of the organization working as an unpaid volunteer.

The other measure would increase cigarette taxes and create a new tax on nicotine products such as e-cigarettes. It would dedicate revenues to various health and education programs. The measure requires voter approval under TABOR since it would increase state revenue. The TABOR Amendment requires voter approval for all new taxes, tax rate increases, extensions of expiring taxes, mill levy increases, valuation for property assessment increases, or tax policy changes resulting in increased tax revenue. The Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights was passed in 1992 as Initiative 1 by a vote of 53.68% to 46.32%. The measure was spearheaded by Colorado activist Douglas Bruce (R). TABOR limits the amount of money the state of Colorado can take in and spend. It limits the annual increase for some state revenue to inflation plus the percentage change in state population. Any money collected above this limit is refunded to taxpayers unless the voters allow the state to spend it.

Currently, in Colorado, cigarettes are taxed at a base rate of one cent per cigarette. The measure would incrementally increase the per-cigarette base tax rate as follows:
  1. 6.5 cents per cigarette from January 1, 2021, to July 1, 2024;
  2. 8 cents per cigarette from July 1, 2024, to July 1, 2027; and
  3. 10 cents per cigarette after July 1, 2027.

Additionally, Amendment 35 of 2004 authorized an additional tax of 3.2 cents per cigarette. Revenues from this additional voter-approved tax are exempt from the TABOR limit.

With the addition of these two measures, Coloradans are set to vote on a total of eight ballot measures in November. However, the state legislature passed a bill that would delay one of the measures, a transportation bond issue, to the 2021 ballot if signed by Governor Jared Polis (D).

A measure to repeal the Gallagher Amendment of 1982 was also referred to the 2020 ballot by the legislature. The Gallagher Amendment limits the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property taxes equal 45% of the total share of state property taxes and non-residential property taxes equal 55% of the total share of state property taxes. The measure was passed by the Senate on June 9 in a vote of 27-7 and was passed by the House in a vote of 51-14 on June 12, 2020.

Fourteen citizen initiatives have been cleared for signature gathering in Colorado with signatures due by August 3 to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

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Proponents of a veto referendum in Washington file signatures to repeal a bill requiring comprehensive sexual health education in public schools

Parents for Safe Schools, sponsors of Referendum 90, submitted 266,000 signatures to the Washington Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday. To qualify the referendum for the November ballot,129,811 of the signatures must be valid.

Referendum 90 petitioners seek to repeal Senate Bill 5395, which was signed by Governor Jay Inslee (D) on March 27, 2020. Senate Bill 3395, sponsored by Senator Claire Wilson (D), vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, was passed in the State House on March 4 along party lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. It passed in the Senate along party lines on March 7, except one Democrat, Tim Sheldon, joined all Senate Republicans in voting no. The bill is on hold pending the verification of signatures, and if placed on the ballot, the result of the election.

Senate Bill 5395 would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades 6-12 beginning in the 2021-22 school year and for all public school students, including those in grades K-5, beginning in the 2022-23 school year. The curriculum would have to include instruction and information regarding affirmative consent and bystander training. Sexual health education would need to be provided at least once to students in grades K-3, once to students in grades 4-5, twice to students in grades 6-8, and twice to students in grades 9-12. Sexual health education would not be required to be integrated into unrelated subjects or courses.

Under SB 5395, comprehensive sexual health education means “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.” Course materials would need to be medically and scientifically accurate, meaning the information has been verified or supported by scientific research, has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and is recognized as accurate by organizations such as the Washington State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Under the bill, schools would be required to notify parents that they are providing comprehensive sexual health education and make all course materials accessible to the parents. Parents could file a written request with the school district or the school’s principal to excuse their child from sexual health education instruction. School districts would be required to grant such requests.

SB 5395 sponsor Sen. Claire Wilson (D) said, “Some people hear the words ‘sex education’ and mistake the focus of the curriculum, which is health and safety, and is age-appropriate for each grade level. This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior. It’s about teaching all children to respect diversity and not to bully others. Students need a safe place to ask questions, to fully understand consent, and to have the information they need to make safe decisions.”

Parents for Safe Schools said SB 5395 “mandates graphic sex education starting in elementary school” and “orders school districts to ‘comprehensively’ include sex ed in all curriculum — including math, social studies, science, business and computer classes. … Keep the Olympia activists out of our classrooms. Parents and elected local school boards should be the only people deciding what is taught in our classrooms.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference, which opposes SB 5395, said, “The law requires ‘affirmative consent curriculum’ defined as ‘a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity.’ This requirement is not in accordance with church teaching that sexual activity be reserved for marriage. Parents can opt their children out of classroom instruction, but they cannot opt them out of school yard discussions and the culture change that may take place at school.”

Parents for Safe Schools had raised $158,903 according to the most recent reports available on June 11, 2020. The largest donor was The Reagan Fund, which is the name of the Washington State House Republican Leadership PAC.

Since the first in 1914, Washington voters have decided 38 statewide veto referendum measures at the ballot. Opponents of laws targeted for repeal collect signatures for veto referendum petitions hoping that voters will repeal the laws at the ballot. The most recent veto referendum, Referendum 88, was on the ballot in Washington in 2019. Voters rejected the targeted law, Initiative 1000. In 81.6% of cases (31 of 38), veto referendums resulted in the targeted bill being repealed. Conversely, 18.4% (seven of 37) of veto referendum measures resulted in the targeted law being upheld.

Between 1906 and 2019, 522 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 341 (65.3%) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California (48).
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Atlanta voters approve measure to reauthorize 1% sales tax to fund water and sewer projects

Voters in Atlanta, Georgia, approved a measure Tuesday reauthorizing the city to levy the 1% Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST). With 89 precincts reporting, the vote was 71% in favor to 29% against.

Going into the election, the city levied a 1% sales tax that was set to expire on September 30, 2020. This measure was designed to allow the city of Atlanta to renew the 1% sales tax for four years in order to raise $750 million to fund water and sewer projects. The measure was put on the ballot through a vote of the Atlanta City Council.

The city of Atlanta said the MOST tax is “a 1-cent tax that applies to most goods purchased in the City of Atlanta. These funds allow visitors and business people who use the city’s water and sewer infrastructure but do not pay city water/sewer bills to help pay for upgrading and maintenance of the infrastructure. … The city estimates that Atlanta’s already high water/sewer rates would have to increase by 25 to 30 percent without the MOST.”

The original 1% sales tax was in place from October 1, 2004, through September 30, 2008, and was used to partially fund Atlanta water and sewer projects. Voters approved measures to renew the tax for additional four-year periods in 2008, 2012, and 2016.


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