Author

Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Maine secretary of state verifies sufficient signatures for ballot initiative to prohibit electric transmission corridors in state’s Upper Kennebec Region

Voters in Maine could decide a ballot initiative designed to stop a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission project, known as the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), that would transmit hydroelectric power from Quebec to utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. The ballot initiative would also require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve future high-impact (defined) electric transmission corridors and prohibit new transmission corridors in the Upper Kennebec Region.

On February 22, 2021, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows announced that the initiative’s proponents had collected 80,506 valid signatures—17,439 more than the minimum needed for the initiative to go before voters on November 2, 2021. Proponents filed 95,622 unverified signatures on January 21. As ballot initiatives are indirect in Maine, the state legislature has the option to approve the initiative rather than having the issue placed on the November 2021 ballot.

The ballot initiative is the second attempt by NECEC opponents to stop the project at the ballot box. In 2020, the No CMP Corridor PAC, which is also behind this year’s effort, qualified a ballot initiative to require the state’s public utilities commission to reverse an order granting the project with a needed permit. On August 13, 2020, the Maine Supreme Court issued an opinion that the ballot initiative was not a legislative action and therefore exceeded “the scope of the people’s legislative power.” Ten weeks later, No CMP Corridor’s Thomas Saviello, a former Republican state senator, filed the new proposal.

NECEC was proposed by Central Maine Power (CMP) and Hydro-Québec, a Quebec state-owned enterprise. NECEC received its final federal or state permit from the U.S. Department of Energy on January 15, 2021. However, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to prevent the construction of Segment 1 of NECEC, a 54-mile stretch of new corridor in northern Maine, pending a future court decision. Construction was permitted to begin on other segments, which will utilize existing corridors. 

No CMP Corridor, along with the Mainers for Local Power PAC, raised $6.29 million in contributions through December 31, 2021. Most—$6.05 million—was received by Mainers for Local Power. Contributions included $3.78 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine; $1.15 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and $1.12 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

Two PACs—Clean Energy Matters and Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership—registered to oppose the ballot measure. Together, the committees have raised $25.68 million, including $16.28 million from Central Maine Power (CMP) and CMP’s parent firm Avangrid and $8.28 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec.

No CMP Corridor was the only campaign to filed signatures to get an initiative on the ballot for November 2, 2021. The general election could also feature legislatively referred constitutional amendments and bond issues, as well as citizen-initiated veto referendums proposed after a bill is passed.

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Who funded the campaigns for and against ranked-choice voting ballot measures in 2020?

Voters in Alaska and Massachusetts decided statewide ranked-choice voting ballot measures in 2020. Alaskans approved an initiated statute to replace partisan primaries with open top-four primaries and establish ranked-choice voting for general elections, including the presidential election. Voters in Massachusetts rejected an initiative to adopt ranked-choice voting statewide.  

The top-two donors to the campaigns behind the ballot initiatives were the non-profit organizations Action Now Initiative and Unite America. Action Now Initiative was a top donor to ranked-choice voting measures in previous years, such as Maine Question 5 (2016) and New York City Question 1 (2019). Unite America also contributed to campaigns in prior years but did not break into the lists of top-five largest donors. In 2020, Unite America was the largest donor to Alaskans for Better Elections and the third-largest donor to Voter Choice Massachusetts.

The Action Now Initiative provided $6.59 million to the statewide ranked-choice voting campaigns in 2020, including $2.93 million in Alaska and $3.66 million in Massachusetts. John and Laura Arnold founded the Action Now Initiative as a 501(c)(4) organization in Huston, Texas, in 2011. Besides ranked-choice voting ballot measures, the Action Now Initiative has supported ballot initiatives related to redistricting commissions and criminal justice changes.

Unite America contributed $3.84 million to the ranked-choice voting campaigns in 2020, $3.40 million of which was donated to Alaskans for Better Actions. While Unite America provided $445,000 to Voters Choice Massachusetts, the organization’s board co-chair, Kathryn Murdoch, donated $2.50 million and board member Katherine Gehl contributed $250,000. Unite America, founded in 2014 as the Centrist Project, is based in Denver, Colorado, and has the stated purpose of electing officials and enacting electoral laws that reduce partisanship and achieve better governing outcomes. Unite America has a federal hybrid political action committee (PAC) and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Opponents of the two ballot measures did not have overlapping donors. In Massachusetts, an opposition PAC raised $8,475. In Alaska, opponents received $579,426, including $150,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization that seeks to elect down-ballot, state-level Republicans, and $50,000 from the Alaska Republican Party. 

In 2020, voters in five cities—two in California, two in Minnesota, and one in Colorado—also decided ranked-choice voting ballot measures. All five measures were approved.

The next scheduled vote on a ranked-choice voting ballot measure is March 2 in Burlington, Vermont. Former Gov. Howard Dean (D) and City Councilmember Zoraya Hightower (Vermont Progressive Party) are co-chairing the support campaign Better Ballot Burlington.

Committees registered to support or oppose all 129 statewide measures on the ballot in 2020 reported a combined total of $1.23 billion in contributions.

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New York voters to decide constitutional amendment about environmental rights in November

Voters in New York will decide a ballot measure to add a right to clean water, clean air, and a healthful environment to the New York Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The ballot measure would make New York the third state, after Pennsylvania and Montana, to adopt an environmental rights amendment. Pennsylvania and Montana both adopted their amendments in the 1970s.

In New York, a constitutional amendment requires approval in two successive legislation sessions to go on the ballot. Legislators approved the proposal in 2019 and 2021. On January 12, 2021, the state Senate voted 48 to 14 to approve the amendment. Senate Democrats supported the proposal, and Senate Republicans were divided 6 to 14. On February 8, the state Assembly voted 124 to 25, with support from all Democrats, 17 Republicans, and the chamber’s one Independence Party member.

The 15-word constitutional amendment reads: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

State Sen. Robert Jackson (D-31) sponsored the proposal in the Senate. He said, “This language will finally put in place safeguards that require the government to consider the environment and our relationship to the Earth in decision making. If the government fails in that responsibility, New Yorkers will finally have the right to take legal action for a clean environment because it will be in the State Constitution.”

State Sen. Dan Stec (R-45), who voted against the constitutional amendment, stated, “I’m all for clean air and clean water. Who isn’t? But in the face of ambiguity you will have distrust, you will have lawsuits, you will have costs, and I’m trying to avoid that.”

The election on November 2, 2021, could feature as many as six amendments to the New York Constitution. The Environmental Rights Amendment is the second approved for the ballot after legislators referred a redistricting measure on January 20, 2021. Since 1995, New Yorkers have approved 76.0% (19 of 25) of the constitutional amendments that have appeared on their ballots.

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Pennsylvania General Assembly refers constitutional changes to governor’s emergency powers to May primary ballot

Voters in Pennsylvania will decide at least three constitutional amendments on May 18, 2021, including two ballot measures to alter the governor’s emergency powers. One ballot measure would limit an emergency declaration by the governor to 21 days unless the legislature passes a resolution to extend the order. Another proposal would allow the legislature to pass a resolution—without the governor’s signature—to extend or terminate an emergency declaration by the governor.

The constitutional amendments were proposed by legislative Republicans in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) emergency orders related to the coronavirus pandemic. On March 6, 2020, Gov. Wolf signed an emergency disaster declaration following presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.

In June 2020, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a concurrent resolution to terminate the governor’s coronavirus emergency declaration. Mike Straub, a spokesperson for House Republicans, said that the resolution did not need the governor’s signature. “This will not go to Wolf. The declaration is over, and it will be published in the Pennsylvania bulletin,” said Straub. Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for Gov. Wolf, said, “The disaster proclamation has not been terminated by the House or Senate’s actions. Only the governor can terminate the disaster emergency.”

On July 1, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the governor could veto the concurrent resolution. According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the state constitution requires all concurrent resolutions to be presented to the governor for approval or veto except for resolutions on legislative adjournment, internal affairs of the legislature, and constitutional amendment ballot measures. On July 14, Gov. Wolf vetoed the resolution. The state House voted on the governor’s veto on Sept. 2, 2020, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds requirement to overturn a veto.

State Rep. Russ Diamond (R-102) proposed the constitutional changes. He said, “If the General Assembly — a co-equal branch of government — does not believe that the governor is acting properly, then the General Assembly should have a right to override that governor’s disaster emergency order.”

Gov. Wolf responded, “[The amendment] would hinder our ability to respond quickly, comprehensively and effectively to a disaster emergency by requiring any declaration to be affirmed by concurrent resolution of the legislature every three weeks. This would force partisan politics into the commonwealth’s disaster response efforts and could slow down or halt emergency response when aid is most needed.”

The third constitutional amendment certified for the May 18 ballot would add language to the state constitution that prohibits the denial or abridgment of rights on account of an individual’s race or ethnicity. It was included in the same bill as the two constitutional amendments addressing the governor’s emergency powers. It wasn’t originally part of the bill. Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-7) proposed adding the amendment to the bill, and the full Senate voted unanimously to include it. 

Between 1995 and 2020, the state legislature referred 10 constitutional amendments to the ballot. All 10 of the constitutional amendments were approved. Pennsylvania voters last rejected a constitutional amendment in 1981.

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Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth to resign after error in constitutional amendment process

Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (D) is expected to resign on February 5, 2021, after her office failed to advertise a constitutional amendment as the state constitution requires. Voters could have decided the constitutional amendment at the election on May 18, 2021, but the two-session process will need to restart. The earliest the amendment could be referred to the ballot is now May 16, 2023. 

The constitutional amendment would have created a two-year period in which persons can file civil suits arising from childhood sexual abuse that would otherwise be considered outside the statute of limitations. A 2018 grand jury report that investigated child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church recommended the two-year litigation window.

A constitutional amendment must be approved at two successive sessions of the Pennsylvania Legislature. During the 2019-2020 legislative session, both legislative chambers approved the amendment. It was reintroduced during the 2021-2022 session, and the state House re-approved it on January 27. 

The Pennsylvania Constitution (Section 1 of Article XI) required Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (D) to publish the constitutional amendment in at least two newspapers in each of the state’s 67 counties during each of the three months before the general election following approval in the first legislative session (November 3, 2020). On February 1, 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of State announced that officials did not advertise the constitutional amendment as required. The department’s press released said, “While the department will take every step possible to expedite efforts to move this initiative forward, the failure to advertise the proposed constitutional amendment means the process to amend the constitution must now start from the beginning.” 

Gov. Tom Wolf (D), in announcing Boockvar’s resignation, said, “The delay caused by this human error will be heartbreaking for thousands of survivors of childhood sexual assault, advocates, and legislators, and I join the Department of State in apologizing to you. I share your anger and frustration that this happened, and I stand with you in your fight for justice.” State Rep. Jim Gregory (R-80), one of the amendment’s legislative cosponsors in 2019, responded, “The gravity of this ‘error’ is of the magnitude that the secretary’s resignation will not be enough for the victims. I do not want to believe that this is willful misconduct on the part of someone, but I will need to be shown that is not the case.”

Pennsylvania is not the only state to miss a constitutionally required advertisement period for a constitutional amendment in recent years. In 2019, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said that his office failed to report two constitutional amendments that the 86th Iowa General Assembly (2017-2018) approved in 2018. This meant those amendments couldn’t go on the 2020 ballot and the process had to start over. One of those amendments, a measure to add a right to firearms to the state constitution, was certified for the 2022 ballot on January 28.

Like the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Iowa Constitution required notifications of the constitutional amendments to be published at least three months before the general election following approval in the first legislative session. Unlike Pennsylvania, the Iowa Constitution doesn’t specify who needs to publish the amendment. Rather, it is set in statute. In response to the error, the Iowa Legislature passed a bill to make the state legislature, rather than the secretary of state, responsible for publishing proposed constitutional amendments passed in one legislative session.

Since the Pennsylvania Constitution specifically requires the secretary of the commonwealth to publish amendments, a constitutional amendment would be needed to pursue a similar policy change as Iowa.

Thirty-six state constitutions have a publication requirement for proposed constitutional amendments. Most require public notice prior to the election at which voters are to decide a constitutional amendment.

In six states (out of 13) with a two-session process for legislatively referred constitutional amendments, there are constitutionally mandated publication requirements in between approval in the first legislative session and the second legislative session. Those states are Iowa, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

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Californians to vote on flavored tobacco ban referendum in 2022

In 2022, Californians will vote on a veto referendum to uphold or repeal a bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. On January 22, 2020, the secretary of state’s office confirmed that referendum petitioners submitted more signatures than the minimum requirement of 623,212. SB 793 was written to go into effect on January 1, 2021, but with the veto referendum pending signature verification, the effective date was suspended. As the signatures for the veto referendum were certified, the law is suspended until voters decide the issue at the election on November 8, 2022.

The California Coalition for Fairness is campaigning for the veto referendum to repeal SB 793. Through January 1, 2021, the campaign had reported $21.2 million, including $10.4 million from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and $9.8 million from Philip Morris USA.

The contested legislation, Senate Bill 793 (SB 793), was passed in August 2020, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bill on August 28. SB 793 was designed to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers, with exceptions for hookah tobacco, loose-leaf tobacco, and premium cigars. Retailers would be fined $250 for each sale violating the law.

In the state Legislature, SB 793 received support from most Democrats (84 of 89) and a quarter of Republicans (8 of 30). One legislator voted against the bill, and the remaining legislators were absent or abstained. State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-13), the sponsor of SB 793, said, “Using candy, fruit and other alluring flavors, the tobacco industry weaponized its tactics to beguile a new generation into nicotine addiction while keeping longtime users hooked. SB 793 breaks Big Tobacco’s death grip.” The California Fuels & Convenience Alliance, which opposed SB 793, described the flavored tobacco ban as “misguided policy that will do more harm than good” and “hurt small businesses, eliminate necessary tax revenue, and perpetuate dangerous and avoidable police interactions in our communities.”

If SB 793 had gone into effect on January 1, California would have been the second state, after Massachusetts, to ban all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. California would have been the fifth state to ban flavored e-cigarettes. 

The ballot measure is not the first flavored tobacco ban veto referendum in California. In 2017, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that banned the sale of flavored tobacco. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company launched a veto referendum campaign to repeal the ordinance. The signature drive was successful, placing the ordinance on the ballot as Proposition E. Voters approved Proposition E, thus upholding the board’s ordinance; 68.4% voted to adopt the ordinance. R.J. Reynolds provided $12.9 million to the campaign to overturn the ban. The campaign to uphold the ban received $3.2 million, including $2.3 million from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The ballot measure is the 50th veto referendum in California since the veto referendum process was adopted in 1911. Of the 49 veto referendums that Californians have voted on, voters upheld 20 (41%) of the laws and repealed 29 (59%) of the laws. Voters last decided a veto referendum in 2020, when they repealed a law to replace cash bail with risk assessments for detained suspects. 

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Signatures filed for Maine initiative regarding electric transmission

In Maine, the campaign No CMP Corridor reported filing more than 100,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve high-impact electric transmission lines. The ballot initiative would apply retroactively to September 16, 2020, and apply to any projects in which construction had not yet commenced as of that date. No CMP Corridor designed the ballot initiative to apply to the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission project, a joint proposal between Hydro-Québec and Central Maine Power (CMP).

Of the signatures submitted, at least 63,067 need to be deemed valid. The initiative process in Maine is indirect, meaning the legislature has the opportunity to approve the initiative itself before it is placed on the ballot. If the legislature does not approve it, the initiative will appear on the ballot for the election on November 2, 2021. 

The NECEC transmission project was designed to cross about 145 miles in Maine, from the state’s border with Quebec to Lewiston, and transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. About 90 miles of the transmission lines would utilize an existing corridor through central Maine. The most northern 54 miles, between the international border and The Forks, would require a new corridor through forested land. While the NECEC project was originally planned to deliver hydroelectric power to Massachusetts, Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced that Maine had also secured 500 megawatts from hydroelectric plants at a discounted rate via NECEC on July 10, 2020.

On January 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy provided a presidential permit for NECEC. The presidential permit was the last of the federal and state permits required to start construction activities. On the same day, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to prevent the construction of Segment 1 of NECEC, the 54-mile stretch of new corridor in northern Maine, pending a future court decision. 

No CMP Corridor sought a ballot initiative in 2020, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found the proposal to violate the Maine Constitution. The 2020 ballot initiative would have required the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reverse an order made on May 3, 2019, that provided the NECEC transmission project with a certificate. According to the Supreme Judicial Court, the Maine Constitution “requires that a citizens’ initiative constitute legislative action,” and the ballot initiative’s “effect is to dictate the [Public Utility] Commission’s exercise of its quasi-judicial executive-agency function in a particular proceeding…” No CMP Corridor released a statement saying the new proposal constitutes a general law as it does not single out any specific project.  

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New York voters to decide redistricting-related constitutional amendment at the 2021 general election

Voters in New York will decide at least one constitutional amendment at the election on November 2, 2021. On January 20, 2021, the State Assembly approved an amendment that would make changes to the redistricting process in New York, including for the redistricting cycle based on the 2020 U.S. Census. The state Senate approved the amendment on January 12. Both legislative chambers also approved the amendment in 2020. The New York Constitution requires that constitutional amendments be approved during two successive legislative sessions before going to voters.

In the state Senate, the vote was 42 to 20. Senate Democrats voted ‘yes’ on the amendment, and Senate Republicans voted ‘no’ on the amendment. In the state Assembly, the vote was 100 to 50. Most Assembly Democrats (99 of 106) voted ‘yes’ on the amendment, and seven Democrats and all 43 Republicans voted ‘no’ on the amendment.

New Yorkers last voted on, and approved, a redistricting ballot measure in 2014, titled Proposal 1. It established a 10-member redistricting commission to design congressional and state legislative maps and send them to the state legislature for an up-or-down vote. Under Proposal 1, the state Legislature cannot amend the redistricting plans unless two separate sets of plans are rejected. Eight of the redistricting commission’s members are appointed by majority and minority party legislative leaders. These eight members appoint the remaining two members, who cannot be registered with the two largest legislative officeholding political parties in the state. Based on the current partisan makeup of the state Legislature, the commission is designed to include four Democratic-appointed commissioners, four Republican-appointed commissioners, and two commissioners who are not Democrats or Republicans. The 2021 proposal would not change the makeup of the commission. 

This year’s constitutional amendment would change vote requirements for the commission and legislature to adopt plans. Proposal 1 of 2014 created vote requirements based on party control of the legislature. For the commission, seven of 10 commissioners must agree to a plan for it to pass. If party control of the legislature is divided, at least one member appointed by the Senate temporary president and one member appointed by the Assembly Speaker must vote for the plan. If one party controls both legislative chambers, at least one member appointed by each of the two majority party leaders and two minority party leaders must vote for the plan. The 2021 amendment would eliminate the requirements that specific appointees support the plans. Instead, approval by seven members would be required regardless of who appointed those seven members. 

Under Proposal 1, a simple majority vote is required in the state legislature to adopt maps if legislative control is divided. If one party controls both chambers, a two-thirds majority is required. Currently, Democrats control both chambers of the legislature. The 2021 amendment would require a simple majority vote regardless of how party power is distributed in the legislature.

The 2021 amendment would make additional changes to the redistricting process in New York. The ballot measure would cap the number of state senators at 63, which was the number of state senators as of 2021. New York would be required to count residents of the entire state, including people who are residents but not citizens, should the federal census fail to do so. New York would also be required to count incarcerated persons at the place of their last residence for redistricting purposes. The ballot measure would remove the block-on-border requirement for state Senate districts. It would also change the timeline for redistricting, moving up several dates, and remove inoperative language from the constitution. 

The New York State Legislature could place several other constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2021, including several related to electoral policy and an environmental rights amendment.

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SEIU asks California Supreme Court to declare Proposition 22 unconstitutional

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and four app-based drivers sued the state government in the California Supreme Court on January 12, 2021. The SEIU is seeking to have Proposition 22 declared unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Proposition 22 was approved at the election on November 3, 2020, with 58.6% of the vote. The ballot initiative defined app-based transportation (rideshare) and delivery drivers as independent contractors and not employees or agents. The ballot measure overrode Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), signed in September 2019, on the question of whether app-based drivers are employees or independent contractors.

In October 2020, the California First District Court of Appeal ruled that Lyft and Uber were misclassifying their drivers as contractors but gave the companies 30 days to implement changes unless Proposition 22 was approved.

DoorDash, InstaCart, Lyft, Postmates, and Uber funded the campaign Yes on Proposition 22, which received $203.0 million in contributions. Opponents of Proposition 22 received $19.7 million, and the top-five donors were labor unions, including the SEIU Local 721, SEIU Local 1021, and SEIU-UHW West. With $225.0 million between supporters and opponents, Proposition 22 was the most expensive ballot measure in California history, surpassing the next closest measure by $70.5 million. 

Following the announcement of litigation against Proposition 22, Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU California, said, “Prop. 22 doesn’t just fail our state rideshare drivers, it fails the basic test of following our state constitution. The law as written by Uber and Lyft denies drivers rights under the law in California and makes it nearly impossible for lawmakers to fix these problems.” Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson for Yes on Proposition 22, provided a statement from an app-based driver, which said, “Meritless lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people do not stand up to scrutiny in the courts.”

Petitioners argued that Proposition 22 violates Section 4 of Article XIV of the California Constitution, which “grants to the Legislature ‘plenary power, unlimited by any provision of this Constitution’ to establish and enforce a complete system of workers’ compensation.” Proposition 22, according to the petitioners, removed app-based drivers from the state’s system of workers’ compensation and therefore limited the legislature’s constitutional power to extend workers’ compensation benefits to app-based drivers. Petitioners also argued that Proposition 22 violated the single-subject rule for initiatives and included a definition of the word ‘amendment’ that is too expansive and “impermissibly usurped this Court’s authority to ‘say what the law is’ by determining what constitutes an ‘amendment'”, and “impermissibly invaded the Legislature’s broad authority to legislate in areas not substantively addressed by the initiative.”

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Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court rules that 2019 Marsy’s Law ballot measure violated state constitution

Judge gavel on desk

On January 7, 2021, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a ballot measure for Marsy’s Law, a type of crime victims’ rights amendment, violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. Pennsylvanians voted 74% to 26% in favor of Marsy’s Law at the election on November 5, 2019. Results were never certified, however, according to a court order.

The 3-2 appellate court decision stated that the proposal violated the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. According to the Pennsylvania Constitution, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” Judge Ellen Ceisler (D) wrote the majority’s opinion, which ruled that Marsy’s Law would impact separate rights and provisions of the state constitution.

Judge Patricia McCullough (R), who agreed with the majority’s decision but wrote a separate opinion, stated that the measure contained “laudable and salutary provisions” but “simply embraces too many disparate matters to effectively convey its import to voters within the 75 words mandated by statute.”

Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt (R) dissented, stating that Marsy’s Law created constitutional rights for crime victims without changing existing provisions of the state constitution. Judge Leavitt wrote, “The judgment the court enters today deprives the people of this power on the strength of no more than speculation.”

Jennifer Riley, director of the organization Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, responded to the Commonwealth Court’s decision, saying, “We are prepared to continue advocating for victims and to bring an appeal to the Supreme Court to ensure that the votes of Pennsylvanians are counted and that the voices of the victims are protected.”

In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments need to be passed by the state Legislature during two successive legislative sessions. In 2018, both chambers unanimously passed the amendment. In 2019, the state Senate unanimously passed the amendment, and 190 of 202 state representatives voted for it. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) supported the ballot measure, as did the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and U.S. Reps. Fred Keller (R) and Scott Perry (R).

Opponents included the ACLU of Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania raised $6.65 million from the Marsy’s Law for All Foundation to campaign for the measure.

Marsy’s Law ballot measures faced similar lawsuits in state courts in Kentucky and Montana. The amendment was struck down in Montana for violating the state’s separate-vote requirement on constitutional amendments. In Kentucky, after it was struck down for reasons related to ballot language, the state Legislature placed it on the ballot again in 2020. The 2020 version, which was approved, included the full text of the measure on the ballot.

As of January 2021, 12 states had Marsy’s Law amendments. Voters in two additional states—Pennsylvania and Montana—voted in favor of Marsy’s Law amendments, but they were overturned or blocked. Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., started campaigning for Marsy’s Law to increase the rights and privileges of victims in state constitutions. Marsy’s Law is named after Nicholas’ sister, Marsy Nicholas, who was murdered in 1983.

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