Author

Kristen Smith

Kristen Smith is an associate editor at Ballotpedia and can be reached at kristen.smith@ballotpedia.org

State minimum wage levels vary from $5 to $14 per hour

Voters approved two statewide ballot measures in 2018 pertaining to minimum wages. Arkansas Issue 5 was approved, incrementally raising the minimum wage in Arkansas from $8.50 to $11 per hour by 2021. Missouri Proposition B was also approved, increasing the state’s minimum wage each year from $7.85 up to $12 per hour in 2023.
 
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. Georgia and Wyoming are the only two states with minimum wages below the federal level, making the federal minimum wage operative in those states. Another 19 states have state minimums at $7.25, matching the federal level. The other 29 states and Washington, D.C., all have minimum wages above the federal level. Thirteen of those states have wages above $10.00 per hour. Statewide minimum wage laws range from $5.15 per hour in Georgia and Wyoming up to $14.00 per hour in Washington, D.C.
 
Overall, minimum wages increased in 20 states and Washington, D.C., in 2018. Some of these changes took place due to ballot measures, while others took place due to state legislation. Minimum wages will also increase in 21 states and Washington, D.C., in 2019. The average increase for these 21 states is $0.55.
 
Proponents of increased minimum wages in Florida and Nevada are aiming to get measures on the ballot in 2020. Supporters of Florida’s minimum wage measure need to collect 766,200 valid signatures by February 1, 2020, to get their measure on the ballot. In Nevada, a majority vote is required in two successive sessions of the Nevada State Legislature to place an amendment on the ballot. Legislators passed Senate Joint Resolution 6 in 2017 and need to pass it again in their 2019 legislative session in order to place it on the ballot in 2020.
 


SCOTUS hears arguments on vulgar trademarks and the First Amendment

On April 15, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Iancu v. Brunetti.
 
Erik Brunetti tried registering a trademark for his clothing brand but was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which said that the trademark violated the Lanham Act. The act states that a trademark can be refused when it “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter.”
 
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with the office’s initial decision not to grant the trademark. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that denying Brunetti’s trademark violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
 
The director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office appealed this decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
 
The Supreme Court also heard arguments in Emulex Corp. v. Varjabedian on the same day. Iancu v. Brunetti is one of five cases from the Federal Circuit that will be heard during the Supreme Court’s October 2018-2019 term. During the term, the court will hear a total of 75 cases.
 


43 states prohibit abortion at specific stages of pregnancy

A total of 43 states prohibit abortions beginning at specific stages of pregnancy. This includes 17 states that prohibit abortions beginning at the stage of fetal viability and 15 states that prohibit abortions beginning at 20 weeks post-fertilization. Seven states do not prohibit abortions in any form.
 
Two abortion-related ballot measures passed in 2018: Alabama Amendment 2 and West Virginia Amendment 1.
 
Alabama Amendment 2 amended the state constitution, declaring that the state’s policy is to support “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” This amendment was cited in a February 2019 wrongful death lawsuit. A county probate judge ruled that an Alabama resident could file a lawsuit on behalf of an unborn fetus given that a fetus was defined by the Alabama Constitution as a person with legal rights.
 
West Virginia Amendment 1 amended the state constitution to declare that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” This same language was also used in Alabama’s amendment.
 
Alabama Amendment 2 and West Virginia Amendment 1 were referred to the ballot by the state legislatures. Also in 2018, Oregon voters defeated a citizen initiative that would have prohibited public funds from being spent on abortions in Oregon, except when determined to be medically necessary or required by federal law.
 
The Alabama and West Virginia measures both followed language initially used in an approved 2014 measure: Tennessee Amendment 1. Two abortion-related measures with different proposed constitutional language were rejected in Colorado and North Dakota, respectively. The Colorado measure would have included unborn human beings under the definition of person and child in the Colorado criminal code. The North Dakota measure would have added language to the state constitution guaranteeing a right to life at every stage of human development.
 


Incumbents seek re-election in 75% of Oregon school board races

School board candidates in Oregon had to file by March 21 to appear on the 2019 ballot. Ballotpedia is covering elections in eight Oregon school districts in 2019. A total of 28 seats will be up for election in these eight districts. This represents just over half of the 54 total school board seats in these districts.
 
General elections will take place on May 21. Incumbents are seeking re-election in 21 of the 28 seats (75%) up for election. School board members in Oregon serve four-year terms, and each school board can have a total of five or seven members. If the school district has a resident population of more than 300,000, the school board must have seven members.
 
Ballotpedia covers the 200 largest school districts in the nation in addition to any districts overlapping with the 100 largest cities by population in the United States. Oregon is one of 23 states within this scope that are holding school board elections in 2019. Ballotpedia is covering 515 school board seat elections across 181 school districts this year.
 


Three-vote margin decides runoff candidates in Atlanta special election

A special election for the District 3 seat on the Atlanta City Council in Georgia took place on March 19, 2019.
 
Nine candidates appeared on the ballot. Results were certified on March 22, showing Byron Amos and Antonio Brown as the top two vote recipients. Third-place finisher Greg Clay finished three votes behind Brown, 293 to 296, which allows him to request a recount. Following the recount, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election scheduled for April 16, 2019.
 
Amos previously served on the Atlanta school board from 2011 to 2019. Brown is the CEO of LVL XIII, a men’s clothing business.
 
The special election was triggered after the former incumbent, Ivory Lee Young Jr., passed away in November 2018. Young had been a member of the city council since 2002.
 
The Atlanta City Council is made up of 16 members, including a council president. Twelve members are elected by the city’s 12 districts, while three other members and the council president are elected at large.
 


Candidate filing deadline passes for Denver’s 2019 municipal elections

Candidates for Denver mayor and city council had to file by Thursday, March 14, in order to make the ballot for the general election on May 7, 2019. In races where no candidate wins a majority of the vote, a runoff election will be held on June 4, 2019.
 
Denver’s current mayor, Michael Hancock, is seeking a third term in office. Hancock became mayor in 2011 after serving on the Denver City Council from 2004-2011. Hancock is running alongside five other candidates in the nonpartisan race: Lisa Calderón, Stephan Evans, Jamie Giellis, Kalyn Heffernan, and Penfield Tate.
 
Mayors in Denver serve four-year terms and can serve up to three terms (12 years) in office. As the city’s chief executive, the mayor is responsible for proposing a budget, signing legislation into law, appointing departmental directors, and overseeing the city’s day-to-day operations.
 
Denver uses a strong mayor-council form of government, meaning that the mayor is the city’s chief executive while the council is the city’s primary legislative body. Of the largest 100 cities in the country, 47 use a strong mayor system, 46 use a council-manager system, six use hybrid systems, and one uses a city commission.
 
Citizens in Denver will also cast votes for city auditor, city clerk and recorder, and 13 seats on the Denver City Council.
 
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Burchett wins runoff in Georgia House of Representatives

James Burchett (R) defeated Franklin Patten (R) in a runoff election on Tuesday, March 12, to become the next representative for Georgia House of Representatives District 176.

The district became vacant after former Rep. Jason Shaw (R) was appointed to serve on the Georgia Public Service Commission starting on January 1, 2019. Burchett and Patten advanced to a runoff after defeating two other candidates in the special general election on February 12.

Georgia is currently a Republican trifecta—a state where one political party holds the governor’s office and controls both state legislative chambers. Georgia became a Republican trifecta in 2005 when the Republican Party took control of the state House.



Nevada becomes a Democratic trifecta in 2019

When Steve Sisolak (D) was sworn in as Nevada’s governor on Monday, January 7, the state became a new Democratic trifecta.
 
A trifecta is a state where one political party holds the governorship, a majority in the state senate, and a majority in the state house.
 
In 2018, Sisolak won the governor’s office that had been held by Republican Brian Sandoval. Democrats also kept control of the state Assembly and Senate. They currently hold a 27-13 majority in the state Assembly (with two vacancies) and a 13-8 majority in the state Senate.
 
Besides Nevada, five other states became Democratic trifectas as a result of the 2018 elections: Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and New York.


Utah’s legislative session starts January 28

Utah’s state legislature will be in session from January 28 through March 14, 2019—a total of 45 days.
 
Utah joins 39 other states that are currently in regular session. It is one of 46 states that hold annual legislative sessions, with the other four states—Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas—meeting only in odd-numbered years. Nine states have full-time legislatures, meaning they meet throughout the year.
 
In 2018, Utah held three sessions in addition to its regular session: one veto session and two special sessions. During these sessions, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed bills dealing with Medicaid expansion, a child tax credit, and medical marijuana, among other topics.
 
Utah is one of 22 Republican trifectas, with the GOP controlling the governor’s office, the state House, and the state Senate.


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