Author

Ryan Byrne

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

Texas voters will decide constitutional amendment prohibiting income tax

In November, voters in Texas will decide a constitutional amendment to prohibit the state from levying an income tax on individuals. Legislative Republicans supported the amendment but did not have the two-thirds majorities required in each legislative chamber to pass the amendment without support from some Democrats. In the Texas State House, 100 votes were needed, and 80 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted to pass the amendment. In the Texas State Senate, 21 votes were needed, and 19 Republicans and three Democrats voted to pass the amendment.
 
Texas is one of seven states without a personal income tax. Currently, enacting an income tax requires a simple majority vote each legislative chamber and voter approval through a statewide referendum. As the 2019 ballot measure would ban the income tax in the constitution, a constitutional amendment, requiring a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber and voter approval, would be required to enact an income tax in the future.
 
Democratic Sen. Royce West (D-23) said the Legislative Budget Board’s analysis of the constitutional amendment was concerning. The proposed amendment would ban an income tax on individuals, whereas the existing language described an income tax as being imposed on natural persons. The Legislative Budget Board’s analysis stated, “The term ‘individuals’ is not defined and could be interpreted to include entities that are currently subject to the state’s franchise tax. To the extent the joint resolution might exempt some entities from the franchise tax, there could be a loss to state revenue.” Sen. West argued that the term individuals should be replaced with natural persons to “bring clarity to exactly what we’re attempting to do,” but his motion to amend the language was rejected. Republican Sen. Pat Fallon (R-30) responded to West, saying that “‘Individual’ is synonymous with ‘natural person.’” According to the House Research Organization, supporters also argued that the amendment would “keep the Texas economy strong by making certain that the state never could impose a state individual income tax.”
 
As of May 21, 2019, six statewide ballot measures were certified for the ballot on November 5, 2019, in Texas. The state legislature is expected to adjourn on May 27, 2019, and could refer additional constitutional amendments before adjournment. An average of 13 measures appeared on odd-year statewide ballots in Texas between 1995 and 2017. Voters approved 91 percent (145 of 159) and rejected 9 percent (14 of 159) of the constitutional amendments on the ballot during this 22-year period. Across the U.S., 10 statewide ballot measures in four states had been certified for 2019 ballots as of May 21.
 
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Voters in Missouri will decide constitutional amendment to limit state executive officials to two terms

Voters in Missouri will decide a constitutional amendment to limit state executive officials to two terms in office. The constitutional amendment will be on the ballot for November 3, 2020, unless the governor calls a special election for an earlier date.
 
As of 2019, the state constitution limited the governor and state treasurer to two terms of office but not the other executive offices. The constitutional amendment would add the limit to the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, and attorney general. None of the current officeholders have been in office for more than two terms.
 
In Missouri, referring a constitutional amendment to the ballot requires a simple majority vote in each chamber of the Missouri State Legislature during one legislative session. The constitutional amendment was the only one passed by the Missouri State Legislature during its 2019 legislative session, which adjourned on May 17.
 
State legislators are also limited in the number of terms they can serve in Missouri. In 1992, voters adopted a constitutional amendment, titled Amendment 12, to enact term limits on state legislators. Amendment 12 received 75 percent of the vote. The constitutional amendment prohibited a person from serving more than eight years in either the state House or state Senate, or a total of sixteen years in both legislative chambers.
 
Noting the limits on state legislators and the governor, Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-34), the 2020 amendment’s legislative sponsor, said, ”The voters of Missouri have made it clear they emphatically support term limits. This measure will bring consistency to our term limits for all state officials and prevent them from becoming career politicians.” Sen. Ed Emery (R-31), who voted against the amendment in the legislature, said certain executive offices, like the auditor and attorney general, require experience and shouldn’t be term limited like other offices. He said, “We want people in there who are experienced and know the job and know what they’re doing. I do think that those are a little different categorically and functionally than those top executive positions.”
 


Voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will vote on four charter amendments on May 21, 2019

On May 21, 2019, voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will vote in the city’s primary election for mayor, city council, and other city offices. Voters will also decide on four amendments to the city’s charter. The four amendments were all referred to the ballot by the city council.
 
Question 1 would change gender-specific references, such as councilman, to gender-neutral references, such as councilmember, in the city’s charter.
 
Question 2 would add the Office of Immigrant Affairs to the city’s charter, making the office permanent rather than dependent on executive orders. In 2013, Mayor Michael Nutter created the office through an executive order, and his successor, Mayor James Kenney, also authorized the office.
 
Question 3 would call on the Pennsylvania State Legislature to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 by 2025 and request the legislature to allow Philadelphia to increase the city’s minimum wage. Since 2006, Pennsylvania has preempted local governments, such as cities, from setting their own minimum wage standards. Therefore, Philadelphia cannot increase its minimum wage for private employers unless the legislature repeals the preemption clause.
 
Question 4 would create a new class of law enforcement officers, called public safety enforcement officers (PSEO), to assist the police department in regulating traffic and enforcing code provisions. PSEO would not have the authority to carry firearms or to detain or arrest any person.
 
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Texas voters will decide a ballot measure to permit $3 billion more in bonds for the state’s cancer research institute

On November 5, 2019, voters in Texas will decide a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to increase the maximum amount of bonds for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) from $3 billion to $6 billion. According to the Texas House Research Organization, the state is projected to run out of bonds for CPRIT between 2020 and 2022. Between September 1, 2009, and February 21, 2019, CPRIT had issued $2.26 billion in grants.
 
CPRIT was created in 2009 after voters approved Proposition 15 in 2007. The ballot measure tasked CPRIT with making grants to public and private researchers, education institutions, and medical research facilities to research the causes of cancer in humans and develop cures, mitigation procedures, and prevention protocols and services. Proposition 15 allowed the Texas Public Finance Authority to authorize $3 billion in general obligation bonds, which would be used for the institute’s operation and grants. Under Proposition 15, as well as the 2019 amendment, no more than $300 million in bonds could be authorized per year.
 
The 2019 constitutional amendment received unanimous approval in the state Senate. In the state House, Democrats, along with 64 Republicans, voted for the amendment. Fifteen House Republicans voted against referring the amendment to the ballot. The amendment needed a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the legislature. The governor does not sign constitutional amendments, which go on the ballot for voter consideration.
 
The CPRIT bond increase amendment is the second certified for the 2019 ballot in Texas. The first amendment, certified on April 29, addresses the transfer of law enforcement animals to their handlers. The 2019 legislative session began on January 8, 2019, and is expected to adjourn on May 27, 2019, during which time the legislature can refer additional constitutional amendments to the ballot.
 


Vermont legislature passes constitutional amendment declaring a right to personal reproductive autonomy; could make 2022 ballot

On May 7, 2019, the Vermont General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment declaring a right to personal reproductive autonomy. Constitutional amendments are uncommon in Vermont. During the previous 25 years, Vermont has voted on two constitutional amendments—the lowest number in the U.S. besides Delaware, where the legislature can pass amendments without a vote of electors. In Vermont, a constitutional amendment requires the approval of two successive legislatures—in this case, the one elected in 2018, and the one that will be elected in 2020. Therefore, the earliest the amendment can appear on the ballot in 2022.
 
Sen. Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden), chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, stated that the amendment is needed due to “the lack of a definitive enumeration of reproductive liberty in Vermont’s Constitution, the threat of Roe versus Wade being overturned by a very conservative U.S. Supreme Court and the cloud of a multistate initiative to pass restrictive punitive laws.”
 
The constitutional amendment would not define the term personal reproductive autonomy. Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Washington) questioned the term, saying, “It’s a term far more open to interpretation and, in fact, could mean a great many things that we don’t currently envision.” The ACLU of Vermont, which supports Proposition 5, and Vermont Right to Life, which opposes Proposition 5, agree that the term includes abortion but supporters and opponents disagree on other ways the term could be interpreted.
 
In the state Senate, the amendment passed 28-2. In the state House, the amendment passed 106-38. Overall, 99 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Republicans voted to pass the amendment.
 
The Senate and House will need to pass the amendment again during the 2021—2022 legislative session with similar majority votes in each chamber. Every state senator and representative will be up for reelection in 2020.
 
In 2018, voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved constitutional amendments stating, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of [an] abortion.” In 2019, voters in Louisiana could vote on a similar constitutional amendment.
 
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Three states have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact so far in 2019

As of May 1, 2019, an additional three states have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) in 2019. Colorado, Delaware, and New Mexico—all Democratic trifectas—joined the compact earlier this year.
 
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is an interstate compact to award member state’s presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote. The NPVIC would go into effect if states representing at least 270 electoral college votes adopt the legislation. This compact does not abolish the electoral college system; rather, the compacts awards all of the electoral votes from the member states to the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide. To date, 14 states and D.C., representing 189 electoral votes, have joined the compact.
 
Most states use a winner-take-all system for awarding electoral votes—a candidate who receives 51 percent of the popular vote in a state would receive 100 percent of that state’s electoral votes. In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election with 304 electoral votes but Hillary Clinton received the most popular votes nationwide. The 2016 election was not the only instance in which the winner of the electoral college did not receive the most popular votes; it happened in five of the 58 presidential elections in our nation’s history.
 
Supporters and opponents of the NPVIC disagree about whether it is constitutional under the U.S. Constitution’s Compact Clause, which states, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress… enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State…” Jessica Heller, a legal writer at FairVote, argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Compact Clause to allow agreements between states that do not “infringe upon federal supremacy.” William G. Ross, a law professor at Samford University, disagrees, arguing, “it would jettison the federalist structure of the Electoral College… thwart[ing] the intention of the Framers of the original Constitution…”
 
In 2019, additional states, including Nevada and Oregon, could vote to join the NPVIC. Like 12 of the 14 states that have voted to join in the past, both states are Democratic trifectas.
 


Illinois Senate passes constitutional amendment allowing for graduated income tax

On May 1, 2019, the Illinois State Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would repeal the state’s constitutional requirement that the state personal income tax be a flat rate across income. Instead, the amendment would allow the state to enact legislation for a graduated income tax. Voters would address the constitutional amendment at the general election in 2020 if it is approved in the House.
 
In Illinois, a 60 percent vote is needed in each chamber of the Illinois General Assembly to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration. In the state Senate, the amendment passed along partisan lines. Democrats supported the amendment, and Republicans opposed the amendment. Democrats have supermajorities in both legislative houses and can pass amendments without support from Republicans. In the state House, 71 votes will be needed to pass the amendment. Democrats control 74 seats in the state House, and Republicans control 44 seats.
 
Sen. Don Harmon (D-39), who voted for the amendment, stated, “If you’re saying the flat tax is a good idea, you are protecting the uber-rich, not the middle class. Because we can’t raise taxes on anyone without raising taxes on everyone, and that’s a protection for the richest among us.” Sen. Dale Righter (R-55), who voted against the amendment, said, “There are a handful who believe that the answer to government’s problems is simply to raise taxes. This will make it easier for those who believe that to reach into your constituents’ pockets and get more money.”
 
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) supports the constitutional amendment and campaigned on a graduated income tax during his gubernatorial campaign in 2018. Pritzker defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
 
In addition to the constitutional amendment, the state Senate approved a bill changing the state’s income tax from a flat rate to graduated brackets beginning on January 1, 2021, if voters approve the constitutional amendment in 2020. For income earned in 2018, the personal income tax in Illinois was a flat rate of 4.95 percent. Under the bill, the income single filers who earned $750,000 or less would be marginal rates between 4.75 percent and 7.85 percent. The income of single filers who earned $750,001 or more would be 7.99 percent on their total net income.
 


First constitutional amendment certified for Texas’ 2019 ballot

The Texas State Legislature has referred its first constitutional amendment to the ballot for the election on November 5, 2019. The constitutional amendment, which received unanimous approval in the state legislature, would allow law enforcement agencies to transfer a dog, horse, or another animal to the animal’s handler if the transfer is in the animal’s best interest. State Sens. Brian Birdwell (R-22) and Jane Nelson (R-12) proposed the constitutional amendment.
 
Under the state’s Local Government Code, a retiring police dog or working animal is classified as salvage or surplus property and, according to code, surplus or salvage property can be auctioned, donated to a civic or charitable organization, or destroyed. According to the Texas Senate Research Center, the existing Local Government Code makes transferring a retiring animal to its handler difficult.
 
While the constitutional amendment is the first referred to the 2019 ballot, the Texas State Legislature generally refers multiple amendments to odd-year ballots. The average number of amendments on the ballot was 13, with a range of seven to 22, between 1995 and 2017.
 
The legislature is expected to adjourn on May 27, 2019, and additional amendments can be referred before adjournment. Legislators proposed 216 amendments in 2019. Between 2009 and 2017, an average of 187 constitutional amendments were filed during regular legislative sessions. The state legislature approved an average of nine constitutional amendments during regular legislative sessions. Therefore, the average rate of certification during regular legislative sessions was 4.7 percent.
 


Louisiana House passes constitutional amendment on abortion; needs Senate approval to appear on 2019 ballot

On April 23, 2019, the Louisiana House of Representatives voted 81-10 to pass a constitutional amendment stating that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” At least 70 votes were needed. State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-16) is the lead legislative sponsor of the amendment, and Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) also supports the amendment. House Republicans, along with half of House Democrats, voted to pass it.
 
The constitutional amendment will need to receive 26 votes in the 39-member Senate. Republicans hold 25 seats and Democrats hold 14 seats in the Senate. Approval in both the House and Senate would refer the constitutional amendment to the ballot for October 12, 2019—the same day as Louisiana’s top-two primary election for governor and other offices.
 
The Louisiana proposal follows two ballot measures in 2018—Alabama Amendment 2 and West Virginia Amendment 1—designed to ensure that the state’s constitution could not be used to allow abortions. In West Virginia, the measure received 51.7 percent of the vote. In Alabama, the measure received 59.0 percent of the vote.
 
Louisiana’s 2019 legislative session is expected to run through June 6, 2019, during which time the legislature can refer constitutional amendments to the ballot. An average of five constitutional amendments appeared on odd-year ballots in Louisiana between 1995 and 2018.
 


Californians could address a second rent control initiative in 2020

In 2020, Californians could see an initiative to expand rent control on their ballots—two years after 59 percent of voters rejected Proposition 10. Unlike Proposition 10, which would have allowed local governments to adopt rent control on any type of rental housing, the 2020 proposal would make exceptions for housing units first occupied within the last 15 years and owners of one or two residential units.
 
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) co-sponsored Proposition 10, and an AHF division called Housing Is A Human Right is leading the campaign in support of the 2020 ballot initiative.
 
The campaigns surrounding Proposition 10 raised a combined $96.66 million. Opponents of Proposition 10 out-raised the support campaign by about 3-to-1. The Coalition for Affordable Housing led the campaign in support of the initiative. The coalition and allied committees raised $25.30 million, with AHF providing $22.52 million. The California Apartment Association (CAA) and the California Rental Housing Association (CalRHA) each organized a PAC to oppose Proposition 10. An additional three PACs formed to oppose the ballot initiative. Together, the five opposition committees raised a combined $71.37 million. The largest contributors included the California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC ($8.00 million), Blackstone Property Partners, L.P. and affiliated holdings ($5.81 million), and Essex Property Trust, Inc. ($5.62 million).
 
Michael Weinstein, president of AHF, said the 2020 campaign wished to enter into negotiations with officials and real estate representatives to avoid a ballot initiative but was prepared to work to place the initiative on the ballot. René Moya, director of Housing Is A Human Right, stated, “rent control is still very much a popular policy” and that the amount of money opponents spent against Proposition 10 was one reason for its failure in 2018.
 
The campaign for the initiative needs to collect 623,212 valid signatures within 180 days. Signature gathering can begin when the attorney general prepares the petition language, which had not occurred as of April 22. In 2018, proponents of Proposition 10 spent about $5.42 per signature but fewer signatures—365,880—were required.
 


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