Author

Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at ryan.byrne@ballotpedia.org

Signatures filed for ballot initiative to expand local governments’ rent control powers in California

Californians could vote on a ballot initiative to expand the power of local governments to enact rent control in 2020. The campaign behind the ballot initiative filed around 1 million signatures on December 5, 2019. At least 623,212 signatures need to be valid for the measure to appear on the ballot.
Counties will first conduct a random sample of signatures to determine whether enough valid signatures were filed. If the random sample projects that more than 685,534 signatures, which is 110 percent of the required minimum, are valid, then the measure qualifies for the ballot. If the projection is between 95 percent and 110 percent of the requirement, a check of each signature will be conducted. If the projection is less than 95 percent of the requirement, the initiative fails to make the ballot.
In 2018, 59 percent of voters rejected Proposition 10, which would have allowed local governments to adopt rent control on any type of rental housing. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which is headed by Michael Weinstein, co-sponsored Proposition 10 and an AHF division called Housing Is A Human Right is sponsoring the campaign in support of the 2020 ballot initiative. Rand Martin, a lobbyist for AHF, said, “The one lesson we learned from Proposition 10 is that the voters were not interested in a wholesale repeal of Costa Hawkins. But the other message we got in polling and focus groups is that people believe there are excesses to Costa Hawkins and there needs to be reforms.” Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, opposed Proposition 10 in 2018. He said, “Voters overwhelming rejected the measure the last time it was on the ballot. Once we educate voters about Weinstein’s latest housing-freeze measure, it’s bound to fail just as miserably as Prop. 10.”
Unlike Proposition 10, the new proposal was designed to exempt some units from rent control. Exemptions would be made for (a) units first occupied within the last 15 years and (b) residential units owned by landlords who own no more than two properties. The new initiative would also require that local governments allow landlords to increase rental rates by 15 percent during the first three years following a vacancy.
The campaigns surrounding Proposition 10 raised a combined $96.66 million. Opponents of Proposition 10 raised $71.37 million, with the largest contribution ($8 million) coming from the California Association of Realtors. Supporters raised $25.30 million. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation provided 89.0 percent of the campaign’s funds. As of the most recent deadline on September 30, 2019, the campaign behind the new initiative has raised $2.26 million, which all came from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
If the ballot initiative qualifies for the 2020 ballot, it will be the fourth citizen-initiated measure to do so. The deadline for signatures to be verified for ballot initiatives is June 25, 2020. A total of 44 initiatives have been proposed for the California ballot this election cycle.
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Judge blocks Washington Initiative 976 from taking effect on Dec. 5

At the election on November 5, Washington Initiative 976 was approved, receiving 53 percent of the vote. Initiative 976 was designed to limit annual license fees for vehicles to $30, repeal Sound Transit’s authorization to impose motor vehicle excise taxes, and reduce other vehicle taxes and fees. Tim Eyman proposed Initiative 976, which was his 17th initiative to appear on a statewide ballot.
 
On November 13, 2019, nine plaintiffs, including the governments of Seattle and King County, filed a legal complaint in the King County Superior Court to declare that Initiative 976 violated the Washington Constitution. The complaint named the State of Washington as the defendant. Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) was tasked with defending the state. The complaint read, “As with prior initiatives by the same sponsor, I-976 is a poorly drafted hodge-podge that violates multiple provisions of the Constitution.” The complaint stated that Initiative 976 violated the single-subject rule, the separate subject-in-title requirement, the requirement to disclose the repeal of statutes, and other constitutional provisions.
 
On November 26, 2019, Judge Marshall Ferguson blocked Initiative 976 from taking effect on December 5, pending the conclusion of the case. Judge Ferguson said that plaintiffs possessed “a clear legal and equitable right because they are likely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional challenge… specifically the ‘subject-in-title’ requirement.” The subject-in-title requirement states that “No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.” Plaintiffs contended, “… the [I-976] title misleadingly suggests that voters will retain the authority to approve vehicle charges, but several provisions of I-976 then repeal statutes that provide for voter-approved charges.”
 
Judge Ferguson also said, “If the collection of vehicle license fees and taxes stop on December 5, 2019, there will be no way to retroactively collect those revenues if, at the conclusion of this case, the Court concludes that I-976 is unconstitutional and permanently enjoins its enforcement. Conversely, refunds of fees and taxes impacted by I-976 can be issued if the State ultimately prevails in this matter, albeit at some expense to the State.”
 
Attorney General Ferguson responded to the injunction, “This is not a final judgment, and this case is far from over. We will continue working to defend the will of the voters. This case will ultimately wind up before the State Supreme Court.” Tim Eyman called on people to “join me and refuse to renew your vehicle taxes.” He added, “It is absolutely critical that the people of Washington state, regardless of how they voted, not pay taxes and fees that the voters voted to get rid of.”
 


Eight former Michigan state legislators sue to overturn 1992 term limits ballot initiative

On November 20, eight former state legislators filed a legal complaint in the U.S. District Court for Western Michigan to invalidate provisions of a ballot initiative that enacted term limits on legislators. The ballot initiative, titled Proposal B, was approved on November 3, 1992, with 58.7 percent of the vote. Proposal B was designed to limit the number of terms that a person could be elected to congressional, state executive, and state legislative offices in Michigan.
 
Plaintiffs sued to “vindicate their own rights to appear on the ballot, as well as their right to themselves vote for experienced candidates,” according to the complaint. Proposal B, according to the plaintiffs, violated their freedom of association as voters and officials. The complaint states, “[Proposal B] denies voters the opportunity to participate on an equal basis with other voters in the election of their choice of representatives, and denies such voters the ability [to] support an entire class of candidates—experienced legislators.” The former state legislators also contend that Proposal B, as presented to voters in 1992, violated the state’s single-subject rule and had prejudiced ballot language.
 
Patrick L. Anderson, an economist and principal author of Proposal B, responded to the litigation, saying, “It is disgraceful for people who took an oath to uphold the Michigan constitution, to now go before a federal judge and ask for it to be put aside.”
 
As of 2019, state legislators are subject to term limits in 15 states. State legislative term limits came through citizen-initiated ballot measures in each state except Louisiana, where the legislature referred a ballot measure to voters.
 
In Idaho, voters passed a ballot initiative for state legislative term limits, which the state legislature then repealed. In Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming, voters approved ballot measures for state legislative term limits, which state supreme courts struck down as unconstitutional.
 


Coalition of 18 tribes files ballot initiative to legalize sports betting in California

On November 14, four tribal chairmen filed a ballot initiative to legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks in California. The ballot initiative has the support of 18 tribal governments.
 
The announcement comes nine days after voters in Colorado passed Proposition DD, which authorized sports betting in the state. California would be the third state—after Colorado and Arkansas—to vote on sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law requiring states to prohibit sports betting on May 14, 2018.
 
The ballot measure would enact a tax of 10 percent on profits derived from sports betting. The state would be required to distribute 15 percent of the revenue to the California Department of Health and local governments for programs related to problem gambling and mental health. The measure would earmark another 15 percent of revenue for enforcing and implementing gambling laws. The remaining 70 percent would be allocated to the General Fund.
 
Some of California’s most expensive ballot measures addressed tribal gambling authorizations. Based on available reports on Cal-Access, which provides information on campaign finance from 1999 to present, the most expensive ballot measures in California were 2008’s Propositions 94, 95, 96, and 97—four veto referendums against gaming compacts between tribes and the state government. The political action committees (PACs) were the same for each measure; therefore, the combined total of $154.55 million in contributions was raised for or against four ballot measures.
 
Proponents of the sports betting ballot initiative will need to collect at least 997,139 valid signatures, with a verification deadline of June 25, 2020. However, the process of verifying signatures can take multiple months. The recommended signature submission deadlines are March 3, 2020, for an initiative requiring a full check of signatures and April 21, 2020, for an initiative requiring verification only of a random sample of signatures. Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) is expected to release ballot language for the initiative on January 21, giving the initiative’s proponents between six and 13 weeks to collect around 1 million signatures.
 
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Texas voters approve Proposition 4, which bans a state income tax

Proposition 4 added language to the Texas Constitution banning a state income tax on individuals. The vote was 74% in favor to 26% against.
 
Before Proposition 4, the Texas State Constitution required the state legislature to put legislation enacting an income tax before voters as a statewide referendum, which voters could approve or reject. Placing a referendum before voters required a simple majority vote (50%+1) in each legislative chamber. Since Proposition 4’s ban on an income tax is a provision of the Texas Constitution, a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber and a statewide referendum is needed to repeal or amend the ban. Therefore, one of the practical effects of Proposition 4 is to increase the legislative vote requirement to authorize an income tax.
 
The Texas State Legislature placed Proposition 4 on the ballot in one of the narrowest votes between 1995 and 2019. In Texas, a two-thirds vote is required to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, which is equal to 100 votes in the state House and 21 votes in the state Senate, assuming no vacancies. The constitutional amendment received 100 in the state House and 22 votes in the state Senate. Most legislative Democrats (65 percent) opposed Proposition 4. Legislative Republicans, along with 29 percent of legislative Democrats, supported the constitutional amendment.
 
The current Texas Constitution was adopted in 1876. Voters had addressed 677 proposed amendments before 2019, approving 498 (73.6%) and rejecting 179 (26.4%). The rate of approval has been higher in recent years, with 91.2 percent being approved since 1995.


Texas Proposition 1 is the first constitutional amendment to be defeated in Texas since 2011

Voters rejected Texas Proposition 1, which would have allowed elected municipal judges to hold office in multiple municipalities at the same time. The vote was 65% against and 35% in favor. Proposition 1 is the first constitutional amendment to be rejected in Texas since 2011, when three measures were defeated. Proposition 1 was put on the ballot by the state legislature, where it received the unanimous support of Republicans and Democrats in both legislative chambers.
 
The current Texas Constitution was adopted in 1876. Voters had addressed 677 proposed amendments before 2019, approving 498 (73.6%) and rejecting 179 (26.4%). The rate of approval has been higher in recent years, with 91.2 percent being approved since 1995.


Marsy’s Law will be on Pennsylvania’s ballot, but votes won’t be counted or certified, pending court ruling

On November 5, Pennsylvanians will consider a constitutional amendment, known as Marsy’s Law, on their ballots. However, voters shouldn’t expect to find out the amendment’s fate on election night. Judge Ellen Ceisler of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court enjoined Acting Secretary of State Boockvar (D) from counting and certifying votes on the constitutional amendment, pending a final ruling. According to Judge Ceisler, the action appears to be the first time that a state court has delayed certification of a constitutional amendment.
 
Marsy’s Law would add a section addressing crime victims’ rights to the Pennsylvania Constitution Declaration of Rights. Judge Ceisler said she issued the preliminary injunction because approval of the constitutional amendment would have “immediate, profound, and in some instances, irreversible, consequences on the constitutional rights of the accused and in the criminal justice system.” While Judge Ceisler enjoined certification of the amendment due to the possible consequences of the law, the case itself addresses a different question—Does the ballot measure for Marsy’s Law violate the state constitution’s requirement that separate amendments receive separate votes?
 
The League of Women Voters (LWV) and Lorraine Haw challenged Marsy’s Law as violating the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. Article XI of the Pennsylvania Constitution says, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” LWV and Haw argued that the ballot measure proposes several amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution and, therefore, violates Article XI. Judge Ceisler said, ” Petitioners [LWV and Haw] have raised substantial questions as to the constitutionality of the Proposed Amendment in terms of both a violation of Article XI, Section 1’s separate vote requirement, and its facial impact on other articles and sections of the Constitution.”
 
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which opposes Marsy’s Law, responded, “This ruling reaffirms the importance of following the constitution. Despite the heated rhetoric, rather than help crime victims, the Legislature failed them in this process. They did not hold a single hearing over two legislative sessions, and they ignored the law in proposing this massive constitutional amendment. They knew better, and they should have done better.” Jennifer Riley, state director for Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, also responded, “We are dismayed by the decision of the Commonwealth Court to grant the injunction request. We maintain our position that the proposed amendment for Marsy’s Law satisfies the single-subject rule, and remain confident that the court will ultimately rule in favor of certifying the election results.”
 
The outcome of Pennsylvania Marsy’s Law could be unknown until the question is appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which the plaintiffs or defendants will have the option to do after the state Commonwealth Court issues a ruling. In 2018, certification of the Kentucky Marsy’s Law Amendment was blocked, pending a court ruling, but votes were counted. The amendment was approved, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the votes could not be certified. In Pennsylvania, votes will not be counted or certified unless a court rules that the amendment is constitutional.
 


Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash file California ballot initiative to define their drivers as independent contractors and enact labor policies

Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash file California ballot initiative to define their drivers as independent contractors and enact labor policies
Type: News
 
Representatives of DoorDash, Lyft, and Uber filed a ballot initiative in California for the election on November 3, 2020, in response to the passage of Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5). The ballot measure would consider app-based drivers to be independent contractors and not employees or agents. Therefore, the ballot measure would override AB 5, signed in September 2019, on the question of whether workers are employees or independent contractors.
 
AB 5 established a three-factor test to decide a worker’s status as an independent contractor. The three-factor test requires that (a) the worker is free from the hiring company’s control and direction in the performance of work; (b) the worker is doing work that is outside the company’s usual course of business; and (c) the worker is engaged in an established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.
 
Responding to AB 5, Tony West, the chief legal officer for Uber, stated, “”Because we continue to believe drivers are properly classified as independent, and because we’ll continue to be responsive to what the vast majority of drivers tell us they want most—flexibility—drivers will not be automatically reclassified as employees … We expect we will continue to respond to claims of misclassification in arbitration and in court as necessary, just as we do now.”” On September 11, 2019, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Uber, which said, “”Uber has stated that it will not reclassify its drivers [as employees], even though the legislature has clearly intended for Uber to be covered by [AB 5].””
 
The ballot measure would also enact labor and wage policies specific to app-based drivers and companies, including a net earnings floor based on 120 percent of the state’s or municipality’s minimum wage and 30 cents per mile; a limitation on the hours a driver is permitted to work during a 24-hour period; healthcare subsidies; occupational accident insurance; and accidental death insurance. The proposal would require the companies to develop anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policies. The proposed net earnings floor and healthcare subsidies would be based on a worker’s engaged time, which is defined as the time between accepting a request and completing the request. Asm. Lorena Gonzalez (D-80), who authored AB 5, criticized the concept of engaged time, saying, “”Their wage floor suggests if If I’m a cashier, I’m only paid while there’s a customer in my line, not when I’m waiting for the next customer.”” She also said the benefits of being considered an employee outweigh what the initiative would provide to app-based drivers.
 
DoorDash, Lyft, and Uber have each placed $30 million into campaign accounts to fund the ballot initiative campaign. Brandon Castillo, a spokesperson for the campaign supporting the initiative, stated, “”We’re going to spend what it takes to win. It’s been widely reported that three of the companies already shifted $90 million, but we’re still in the early phases. The bottom line is: We’re committed to passing this.””
 
The next step for the campaign is to receive ballot language from Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D). He is expected to release language on January 2, 2020, which would allow the campaign to begin collecting the 623,212 valid signatures needed. The deadline for signature verification is June 25, 2020; however, the recommended deadline to file signature petitions for verification using a random sample is April 21.
 


Where do Texas’ largest newspapers stand on this year’s constitutional amendments?

 
There are no statewide offices on the ballot in Texas this November, but there are 10 state constitutional amendments. The editorial boards of the state’s five largest newspapers gave unanimous endorsements to five of the constitutional amendments and were divided on the remaining amendments. According to Statista, the state-based newspapers with the largest circulation in 2016 were (1) The Dallas Morning News, (2) Houston Chronicle, (3) San Antonio Express-News, (4) Forth Worth Star-Telegram, and (5) Austin American-Statesman.
 
The five constitutionals that received unanimous support from the five-largest newspapers were Propositions 2, 6, 7, 8, and 10. On Propositions 3 and 5, one newspaper editorial board opposed the measure. On Proposition 1, two newspaper editorial boards opposed the measure. Proposition 4 was the one measure on this year’s ballot to receive an endorsement from just one—Fort Worth Star-Telegram—of the five-largest newspapers. The other four newspapers—The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, and Austin American-Statesman—each opposed Proposition 4.
 
Proposition 4 would add an amendment to prohibit the state from levying an income tax on individuals to the Texas Constitution, which requires a two-thirds legislative vote and a statewide referendum to amend. The current requirement to enact an income tax is a simple majority legislative vote and a statewide referendum. In other words, one of the practical effects of Proposition 4 is increasing the legislative vote requirement to enact an income tax.
 
The Texas State Legislature placed Proposition 4 on the ballot in one of the narrowest votes of the past 25 years. In Texas, a two-thirds vote is required to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, which is equal to 100 votes in the state House and 21 votes in the state Senate, assuming no vacancies. The constitutional amendment received 100 in the state House and 22 votes in the state Senate. Most legislative Democrats (65 percent) opposed Proposition 4. Legislative Republicans, along with 29 percent of legislative Democrats, supported the constitutional amendment.
 
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board wrote, “The bar to a major new tax should be high.” The Austin American-Statesman and Houston Chronicle opposed the measure’s wording, contending that the wording could lead to legal challenges against the state’s business franchise tax. The Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express-News both described the amendment as unnecessary.
 
Below is an image of the stances that Texas’ largest newspapers have taken on this year’s constitutional amendments, along with other editorials that Ballotpedia has identified.
 
 


Lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania to invalidate the Marsy’s Law ballot measure on the state’s November ballot

In November, Pennsylvania will be the 13th state to vote on Marsy’s Law, an amendment to add crime victims’ rights to the state constitution. The ballot measure would create 15 constitutional rights for crime victims.
 
Lorraine Haw, along with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (LWV), filed litigation to invalidate the ballot measure on October 10, 2019. The lawsuit argues that the measure violates the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. Article XI of the Pennsylvania Constitution reads, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” The legal complaint said Haw, a registered voter of Pennsylvania, “cannot vote for the parts of the amendment she agrees with without voting for other things she disagrees with,” which violates her rights. Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) was named as the defendant.
 
Boockvar filed her response to the complaint on October 16, 2019. Boockvar said, “The Crime Victims’ Rights Amendment pertains to a single subject matter — securing victims’ rights in the criminal case in which they suffered direct harm. Every single subpart of the amendment advances this one goal.” The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has scheduled a hearing for October 23, 2019, but a ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
 
Courts have struck down Marsy’s Law in Kentucky and Montana. In Kentucky, the state Supreme Court ruled on June 12, 2019, that the ballot language did not provide enough information to communicate the amendment’s substance to voters. On November 1, 2017, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the Marsy’s Law ballot measure violated the state’s separate-vote requirement.
 
The Pennsylvania State Legislature placed Marsy’s Law on the ballot after approving the proposal during two consecutive legislation sessions (2018 and 2019). The proposal received unanimous support in 2018. In 2019, the proposal received unanimous support in the state Senate, while seven Democrats and one Republican voted against the proposal in the 203-member state House. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced his support for Marsy’s Law in April 2018, saying, “Marsy’s Law will amend the state constitution to provide crime victims with equal protections and participation in the process. Victims and their families deserve equity.”
 
The ACLU of Pennsylvania is opposed to Marsy’s Law. Andy Hoover, communications director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said, “Contrast these [defendants’ rights] with victims’ rights, which arise out of a dispute between two private people. One person’s rights against another person are fundamentally different than a person’s rights against the awesome power of the government. This is why our Constitution, which lays out the restrictions on government power, includes defendants’ rights and why victims’ rights are primarily contained in statute.”
 
Through September 16, 2019, the campaign Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania has received $6 million from the national organization Marsy’s Law for All Foundation. Henry Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corp, founded Marsy’s Law for All Foundation. Marsy’s Law is named after Nicholas’ sister, who was murdered in 1983.
 


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