Author

Josh Altic

Josh Altic is a project director at Ballotpedia and can be reached at josh.altic@ballotpedia.org

Four new statewide ballot measures certified for 2019 and 2020

Four new statewide ballot measures were certified for 2019 and 2020 ballots in the past 30 days.
 
Three statewide measures were certified for 2019 in Maine, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Here’s what they would do:
  • Maine: allow legislation to let persons with physical disabilities that prevent them from signing their own names use an alternative signature to sign petitions for citizen-initiated ballot measures.
  • New Jersey: extend an existing $250 property tax deduction that veterans receive to continuing care retirement centers on behalf of the veterans living there, and require retirement centers to pass the value of the deduction on to veterans in the form of credits or payments. 
  • Pennsylvania: add specific rights of crime victims, together known as a Marsy’s Law, to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
 
A 2020 measure to establish the authority of state and local governments to pass campaign finance laws was certified in Oregon.
 
All four statewide measures certified in the past month were proposed constitutional amendments referred to the ballot by state legislatures.
 
Proponents of a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment in Florida designed to state that only citizens of the United States are qualified electors announced that they had collected 1.5 million signatures seeking to qualify their measure for the 2020 ballot; they need to submit 766,200 valid signatures and have them verified prior to a deadline on February 1, 2020.
 
Proponents of a 2019 sanctuary city measure in Tucson also submitted signatures for their initiative.


Judge rules a simple majority, not two-thirds supermajority, is enough for San Francisco’s 2018 citizen-initiated special tax measures

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled Friday that two measures (both called Proposition C) on the San Francisco ballot in June and November of 2018 were properly certified as approved by city officials. Schulman ruled that the measures proposing tax increases for specific purposes required a simple majority for approval because they were put on the ballot through a citizen signature petition.
 
The ruling stated that the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement for local special taxes in California applies to tax measures referred to the ballot by lawmakers, but not to citizen initiatives. Rex Hime, president of the California Business Properties Association and representing the Howard Jarvis association and the California Business Roundtable, said that plaintiffs would immediately appeal the ruling.
 
California voters approved statewide Proposition 218 in 1996, adding Article XII C: Voter Approval For Local Tax Levies to the California Constitution. The article includes the requirement that local governments may only enact, extend, or increase a special tax with a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote of the electorate. Following the passage of Proposition 218, the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement was applied to legislative referrals and citizen initiatives.
 
In August 2017, however, the California Supreme Court ruled in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland that one requirement contained in Article XIII C—that certain tax measures must be put on the ballot during general elections—did not apply to citizen initiatives. The court categorized taxes imposed by citizen initiatives as separate from taxes imposed by local governments. This ruling brought the two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote requirement into question for special taxes proposed through citizen initiatives.
 
In June 2018, 50.9% of city voters approved a citizen initiative to authorize an additional tax on the lease of commercial property for landlords with annual gross receipts over $1 million to fund childcare and early education programs. In November 2018, 61.3% of city voters approved a measure authorizing the city and county of San Francisco to impose a gross receipts tax on business to fund homelessness services.
 
 City and county officials in San Francisco argued that the court’s 2017 decision meant that a simple majority—not a two-thirds supermajority—was required for the approval of local citizen initiatives, including tax measures that designate funds for specific purposes. The city certified the 2018 measures and is collecting the June and November Proposition C taxes but is holding the tax revenue until legal disputes are concluded.
 
Christin Evans, a supporter of November’s Proposition C, said, “Obviously, we’re thrilled. We felt that Prop. C was on firm legal ground from the beginning, and the judge’s opinion left no question that voter-led initiatives will be possible going forward to allow the people to help shape city policy.”
 
Rex Hime said, “We are disappointed in today’s ruling but will continue to fight to uphold the will of the voters. Prop. 13 and Prop. 218 are unambiguous — voters want a two-thirds vote requirement for special taxes. We will be filing an immediate appeal.”
 
At least five other local special tax measures, including a third measure in San Francisco, were put on the ballot by citizen initiative petitions and were approved by more than 50% but less than two-thirds of voters.
 
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Signatures submitted for Tucson sanctuary city initiative targeting the November 2019 ballot

On July 3, 2019, proponents of an initiative to make Tucson the first sanctuary city in Arizona submitted 18,155 unverified signatures to election officials. They needed to collect 9,241 valid signatures by July 5, 2019, to qualify the initiative for the November general election ballot.
 
Submitted signatures must now be verified by election officials. The initiative would include a declaration of the city’s sanctuary status and add a new section that includes provisions:
  • restricting law enforcement officers from actions to determine a person’s immigration status under certain conditions,
  • prohibiting officers from contacting federal law enforcement agencies to determine a person’s immigration status, and
  • prohibiting city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status, among other policies.
People’s Defense Initiative (also referred to as Tuscon Families Free and Together) sponsored the petition drive for the initiative.
 
Ballotpedia’s August 2017 review of municipal immigration policies found that 32 cities among the nation’s 100 largest by population self-identified as sanctuary cities or maintained sanctuary policies. As of 2017, 30 of the 32 cities identified as sanctuary jurisdictions had Democratic mayors.
 


Fourteen states approve changes to laws governing ballot measures in 2019

In 2019, 14 states have approved 29 proposals changing laws governing ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall.
 
Five approved proposals, however, were constitutional amendments requiring voter ratification in 2019 or 2020. Two additional bills were approved by the Idaho State Legislature, but the governor vetoed them. Five citizen-initiated measures directly related to initiative and referendum laws were also filed in Florida, Missouri, and South Dakota. Below are some of the most significant proposals:
  • Arkansas legislators passed a bill to change the timeline for approval of the ballot title and popular name of citizen initiatives to after signatures are submitted and make other changes to the state’s initiative processes.
  • Arkansas legislators sent an amendment to the 2020 ballot increasing the state’s distribution requirement, adding a supermajority vote requirement for the legislature to put amendments on the ballot, and making other changes to laws governing ballot measures.
  • A proposal requiring out-of-state circulators to register and adding other restrictions for circulators was passed in Arizona.
  • A bill banning pay-per-signature, requiring paid circulators to register with the secretary of state, and establishing economic impact statement requirements was passed in Florida.
  • The Maine Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill requiring reporting about which circulators are paid and what the method of payment is, among other requirements.
  • Bills requiring ballot language to be written as simply as possible and making other changes regarding ballot language and public hearings were also passed in Maine.
  • Utah legislators approved five bills changing the initiative process. Changes included: changing signature requirements, requiring county clerks to post the names of those who sign an initiative petition on county websites, requiring funding sources to be specified, and establishing rolling signature submission deadlines.
  • The Idaho State 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, reduce the allowed circulation period, enact a single-subject rule, and require a fiscal impact statement.
In 2018, Ballotpedia tracked 203 ballot measure law change proposals in 34 states. In 2017, Ballotpedia tracked 213 bills in 37 states.
 


Kansas City voters reject citizen initiative to limit revenue used for economic development incentive programs

On June 18, voters in Kansas City defeated Question 1, a citizen initiative that would have limited the property tax abatement or redirection that could be used toward economic development projects in the city to 50% of the revenue that would have otherwise been generated.
 
According to election night results with 97% of precincts reporting, the measure was defeated 66% to 34%.
 
In 2017, the city implemented a 75% incentive cap on ad valorem tax incentives for economic development. Question 1 was a citizen initiative designed to enact a more restrictive cap of 50%.
 
This measure was put on the ballot through a successful initiative petition campaign led by the Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform, also known as the KC TIF Watch. The signature requirement to place an initiative on the ballot in Kansas City is equal to 5% of the total votes cast for mayoral candidates at the last preceding regular municipal election. KC TIF Watch needed to collect 1,708 valid signatures. On November 29, 2018, the city clerk verified that proponents had submitted 2,321 valid signatures.


Louisiana voters will decide a constitutional amendment concerning the state’s board of tax appeals in October 2019

The Louisiana State Legislature gave final approval to a constitutional amendment on Monday that would allow the legislature to expand the authority of the Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals. The amendment will be on the state’s October 2019 election ballot.
 
Rep. Stephen Dwight (R-35) introduced the constitutional amendment as House Bill 428 (HB 428). After the House approved the amendment, the Louisiana State Senate amended it and passed it on June 1, 2019, with 35 senators supporting it, two opposing it, and two absent. The House unanimously concurred with the Senate’s changes on June 3, 2019, certifying it for the ballot.
 
The amendment would require “complete and adequate remedy for the prompt recovery” of any unconstitutional tax paid and to allow the legislature through a two-thirds vote to give the Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals jurisdiction over the constitutionality of taxes, fees, and related matters.
 
The Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals consists of three attorneys appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The board has jurisdiction over tax and fee disputes. Prior to 2014, the board adjudicated claims brought only against the state department of revenue. A 2014 bill extended the board’s jurisdiction to local sales tax disputes.
 
From 1995 through 2018, Louisiana voters decided 185 constitutional amendments. An average of five measures appeared on odd-year statewide ballots, with a range from zero to 16. Voters approved 75 percent (139 of 185) and rejected 25 percent (46 of 185) of the constitutional amendments.


Los Angeles Unified School District Measure EE parcel tax fails

Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters
 
On Tuesday, voters in Los Angeles Unified School District defeated Measure EE, which would have enacted an annual parcel tax for 12 years at the rate of $0.16 per square foot of building improvements to fund educational improvements, instruction, and programs.
 
District officials estimated that the parcel tax would have raised $500 million per year. A two-thirds (66.67%) supermajority vote was required for the approval of Measure EE. According to election night results, 54% of voters were against the measure and 46% were in favor.
 
A parcel tax is a kind of property tax based on units of property rather than assessed value. So far in 2019, local California voters have approved ten parcel tax measures and have defeated three. Since 1983, there have been 708 local parcel tax measures on ballots in California; 425 (60%) were approved, and 283 (40%) were defeated.
 


Voters in Denver approve initiative requiring voter approval of any public funding for future Olympics

Voters in Denver, Colorado, approved Initiated Ordinance 302 on Tuesday. According to preliminary reports, it was approved by 79 percent of voters. The initiative prohibits the city and county from using public funds in connection with future Olympic Games unless a majority of voters approve such funds.
 
The group Let Denver Vote circulated the initiative petition during the city’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to host the 2030 winter Olympic Games. I-302 was designed to apply to any future Olympic Games.
 
In 2018, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) considered bids from cities wishing to host the 2030 winter Olympic Games. The city of Denver made a proposal to host the games for $1.9 billion. The USOC selected Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver as its top two choices. In the midst of the city’s Olympic bid, Let Denver Vote circulated the petition for I-302, seeking to restrict public funding for the games to only voter-approved funds. On December 18, 2018, the USOC selected Salt Lake City as its city to bid for the 2030 games.


Louisiana State Legislature sends two property tax exemption ballot measures to the 2019 ballot

The Louisiana State Legislature gave final approval to two constitutional amendments on Sunday, sending them to the October 2019 primary election ballot. Both amendments concern exemptions for ad valorem property taxes. In Louisiana, the state legislature can refer constitutional amendments to the ballot with a two-thirds (66.67 percent) vote of all members in each chamber.
 
One amendment would authorize the city of New Orleans to exempt properties with no more than 15 residential units from taxes for the purpose of, according to the amendment, promoting and encouraging affordable housing. The ballot measure would allow New Orleans to (a) exempt a portion of assessed values of properties, (b) exempt the full assessed value of properties, or (c) keep assessed values at the level for the year prior to the exemption going into effect. The ballot measure would prohibit properties used as short-term rentals (less than 30 days) from receiving the exemption. State Sen. Troy Carter (D-7) introduced the constitutional amendment. The state Senate approved it 28-9 on May 7. At least 26 votes were needed to pass SB 79 in the Senate. On June 2, 2019, the state house approved the amendment 92-2.
 
The other amendment would exempt goods and other property stored in Louisiana in transit to the Outer Continental Shelf from ad valorem property taxes. State Sen. Blake Miguez (R-49) introduced the constitutional amendment as House Bill 234 (HB 234). On May 22, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved the constitutional amendment, with 83 representatives supporting the amendment, 12 representatives opposing the amendment, and 10 members absent or not voting. In the Senate, a change to the proposed amendment was adopted amending the definition to which the property tax exemption would apply from “stored in Louisiana for maintenance or with a destination to the Outer Continental Shelf” to “stored in Louisiana for maintenance with a destination to the Outer Continental Shelf” (emphasis added). As amended, it passed unanimously in the Senate. The House, concurred with the Senate changes on June 2, 2019, with 91 representatives supporting the amendment, four opposing it, and 10 not voting. An exemption exists for property stored in Louisiana before being exported out of the U.S. or transported to another state. This amendment would extend that exemption to property destined to the Outer Continental Shelf.
 
The legislature is considering other constitutional amendments for the 2019 ballot before it adjourns later this week. Amendments that have been approved in one chamber include measures concerning abortion, taxes, and education.
 
From 1995 through 2018, Louisiana voters decided 185 constitutional amendments. An average of five measures appeared on odd-year statewide ballots, with a range from zero to 16. Voters approved 75 percent (139 of 185) and rejected 25 percent (46 of 185) of the constitutional amendments.
 
So far, 17 statewide ballot measures have certified for 2019 election ballots in five states. By this time in the year, an average of 16 statewide measures had been certified for the ballot in the last four odd-numbered years. An average of 30 statewide measures ultimately appeared on the ballot during odd-numbered years since 2011.
 
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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) rules ballot measure distribution requirement unconstitutional

On Wednesday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) released an opinion stating that a distribution requirement and some other provisions restricting the state’s initiative process passed in 2018 were unconstitutional.
 
Nessel’s opinion is binding for state officials unless a court ruling overturns it. The opinion was requested by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), who would have been involved in the enforcement of the new initiative petition rules.
 
In 2018’s lame-duck legislative session the Michigan State Legislature approved and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed Michigan House Bill 6595 (now Public Act 608). HB 6595 (PA 608) created a distribution requirement for initiative signature petitions in Michigan limiting the number of signatures collected in any one congressional district to 15% of the total required. This effectively requires valid signatures from a minimum of seven different congressional districts for a successful initiative petition. The bill also required the disclosure on petitions of whether a petitioner is paid or volunteer; mandated a petitioner affidavit; and made other changes regarding petitioners, valid signatures, and the timeline for certification. In the Senate, 26 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and all 11 Democrats along with one Republican voted against the bill. In the House, Republicans approved the bill 56-5, and Democrats rejected the bill 42-1.
 
Nessel’s opinion also declared unconstitutional the requirement that petitioners disclose on petition sheets their paid or volunteer status.
 
In her opinion, Nessel argued that the distribution requirement provisions of HB 6595 imposed an additional obligation for qualifying an initiative for the ballot beyond what was required or authorized by the Michigan Constitution. Nessel said, “The Legislature cannot impose an additional obligation that does not appear in article 2, § 9 and that curtails or unduly burdens the people’s right of initiative and referendum. Here, the 15% distribution requirement goes beyond a process requirement to impose a substantive limitation on the number of voters within a congressional district whose signatures may be counted under article 2, § 9.”
 
Nessel also cited Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution v Sec’y of State—a 2018 Michigan Supreme Court ruling—that the initiative and referendum rights “can be interfered with neither by the legislature, the courts, nor the officers charged with any duty in the premises.”
 
In response to Nessel’s opinion, Rep. Jim Lower (R), who sponsored HB 6595, said, “I don’t think anybody’s surprised. I disagree with the conclusions she has come to, and I think it will be litigated.” Lower argued spreading signature gathering efforts out across more of the state shows broader support for any proposed initiatives and is a common-sense requirement.
 
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) said, “Both the Michigan Constitution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protect Michigan citizens’ right to amend our laws or state constitution through direct citizen petitions. I am grateful to Attorney General Nessel for clarifying the constitutional infirmities of Public Act 608.”
 
Sixteen other states have a distribution requirement for citizen-initiated measures.
 
Michigan has divided government with Republicans controlling the state legislature and a Democrat controlling the governor’s office. Michigan has a Democratic Triplex. In the 2018 elections, Democrats took control of the offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state—offices held by Republicans going into 2018. The 2018 elections broke an existing Republican trifecta and triplex in Michigan.
 
In the 2018 election cycle, Michigan voters approved three citizen initiatives:
  • a marijuana legalization initiative;
  • a redistricting commission initiative; and
  • an initiative adding eight voting policies to the Michigan Constitution, including straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and no-excuse absentee voting.
 
Three other initiatives qualified for the 2018 ballot: a minimum wage initiative, a paid sick leave initiative, and an initiative repealing the state’s prevailing wage law. But, using Michigan’s indirect initiative process, the legislature passed the initiatives themselves, thereby precluding an election on them. Then, in December 2018, the legislature amended the minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives.
 
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