Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at

Nebraska voters will decide TIF constitutional amendment in 2020

On April 18, the Nebraska State Senate approved a constitutional amendment to increase the repayment period for tax-increment financing (TIF) from 15 years to 20 years for areas where more than one-half of properties are designed as extremely blighted. The vote in the Senate was 43-2. Voters will decide whether to adopt or reject the amendment at the general election in 2020.
TIF is designed to finance economic development in an area. In Nebraska, cities and villages have the power to declare an area as substandard, blighted, and in need of redevelopment and to create a TIF district. The local government can then issue bonds to finance improvements associated with a redevelopment project. The local government can use increased tax revenue, resulting from increased property values due to development, to pay off the bonds over a 15-year period.
The ballot measure would increase the period to pay off the bonds and indebtedness from 15 years to 20 years for TIF districts designed as extremely blighted. In Nebraska, an extremely blighted area is defined as a census tract with an average unemployment rate that is 200 percent or more of the average state unemployment rate and the poverty rate is more than 20 percent.
Sen. Justin T. Wayne (D-13) was the lead sponsor of the constitutional amendment in the state Senate. Sen. Wayne said, “If we add an extra five years, it makes the financing easier for a developer when he or she is weighing their risk.” He also said the amendment was written for “areas that would not otherwise be developed.” Sen. Mike Groene (R-42) was one of two Republicans to vote against the amendment. He referred to the law defining extremely blighted, saying, “This hasn’t even been enacted more than 6 months. We’re going from enacting a law that hasn’t happened, where any city has even defined a highly-blighted area, to putting it in the constitution! Government shouldn’t work that fast. It needs to slow down a little bit. Let’s see if it actually is used.”
The constitutional amendment is the second referred to the ballot in Nebraska for 2020. The other amendment would remove language from the Nebraska Constitution that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments.

States requiring legislative approval of constitutional amendments over two sessions, rather than one, have fewer amendments on average

The legislatures of 49 states are required to refer proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot for voter consideration. Most of the states (36 of 49) require legislatures to approve the amendments during one legislative session. An additional four states allow amendments to be passed during one or two successive legislative sessions, depending on how many lawmakers vote in favor. The remaining nine states require legislatures to approve amendments twice—once during one legislative session, and then again during the next legislative session. Delaware does not require constitutional amendments passed by the legislature to be referred to voters.
The two-session requirement means that a legislature can approve an amendment, and then, during the following session, reject the amendment or exclude the amendment from a floor vote.
Between the 2010 and 2018 legislative sessions, 62 constitutional amendments were approved during one legislative session in those states with two-session vote requirements. However, 21 of these constitutional amendments (33.9 percent) failed during the second legislative session.
An average of 0.5 constitutional amendments were referred to the ballot in each two-session state per year between 2010 and 2018. This compares to an average of 0.7 constitutional amendments per year that were passed in the first session and would have been on the ballot without the two-session requirement. The average for states where just one legislative session is required to refer an amendment was 1.6 per state per year. With the outliers of Alabama and Louisiana removed, the average in these states was 1.3 per state per year.
The two-session requirement means political variables—such as party control of legislative chambers and leadership—can change between sessions. These changes can influence whether an amendment fails to make the ballot despite receiving initial approval. When there was a change in party control of the legislature between legislative sessions, 90.0 percent of the constitutional amendments approved during the first session failed during the second session. When the same party kept control of the legislature between legislative sessions, 23.1 percent of the constitutional amendments approved during the first session failed during the second session.

New Mexico House Republican leadership seeks veto referendum to overturn firearm background checks legislation

Voters in New Mexico haven’t decided a citizen-initiated ballot measure since 1964, and voters haven’t repealed a law at the ballot since 1930. Some House Republicans, including Minority Leader James Townsend and Minority Whip Rod Montoya, are seeking to place a veto referendum before New Mexicans in 2020.
The veto referendum targets the repeal of Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which was signed into law on March 8, 2019. SB 8 was designed to require background checks for firearm sales, including sales between unlicensed persons. Under SB 8, sales between unlicensed persons need to go through a person with a license to perform a background check, and the person could charge up to $35.00 to perform the background check.
Townsend and Montoya informed Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D) of their intent to file a referendum petition to repeal SB 8 on March 7, 2019. On March 21, Oliver denied the petition, saying there were legal deficiencies. She said that courts have ruled that laws “providing for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety” were exempt from veto referendums, per Section 1 of Article IV of the New Mexico Constitution. Oliver stated, “The legislature enacted the background check law with the purpose of increasing public peace, health, and safety and thus the law is not subject to referendum.”
On April 1, Rep. Townsend sent a letter to Secretary of State Oliver, which said, “Neither the secretary of state nor the attorney general has the authority to unilaterally determine if a given piece of legislation meets the public peace, health and safety standard described by the New Mexico Constitution.” He added, “New Mexicans are constitutionally permitted to decide by referendum their choice on this consequential legislation.” Rep. Townsend also refiled the referendum petition.
In New Mexico, signatures for veto referendums are due 90 days after the adjournment of the legislative session in which the targeted law was approved. The New Mexico State Legislature adjourned on March 16, meaning the signature deadline is June 14, 2019. Proponents of veto referendums need to collect 70,165 signatures to put targeted bills before voters. An additional 105,248 signatures are needed to suspend a law until the election.

California Proposition 63’s provision on large-capacity firearm magazines declared unconstitutional by federal judge

On March 29, 2019, Judge Roger Benitez of the U.S. District Court of Southern California ruled that a provision of Proposition 63 banning large-capacity firearm magazines (more than 10 rounds) was unconstitutional. He wrote, “[Proposition 63] burdens the core of the Second Amendment by criminalizing the acquisition and possession of these magazines that are commonly held by law-abiding citizens for defense of self, home, and state.”
Voters approved Proposition 63 in 2016. Before Proposition 63, residents who owned large-capacity magazines before 2000 were allowed to keep them. Proposition 63 was designed to criminalize possession and require owners, including those who possessed large-capacity magazines before 2000, to remove them from the state, sell them to a firearms dealer, or surrender them to law enforcement. The provision was scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2017, but Judge Benitez placed an injunction on the provision on June 29, 2017, pending his final order.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who was lieutenant governor in 2016, was involved in developing Proposition 63. He responded to Judge Benitez’s ruling, saying, “This District Court Judge’s failure to uphold a ban on high-capacity magazines is indefensible, dangerous for our communities and contradicts well-established case law.”
If appealed, the case would go before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said his office is “reviewing the decision to evaluate next steps.”

Voters in Kansas will decide a constitutional amendment to end the practice of adjusting census data for legislative apportionment

On November 5, 2019, voters in Kansas will decide a ballot measure to end a process that requires the state to adjust its census population for state legislative redistricting. Kansas is the only state that adjusts its census population for redistricting.
Before 1988, Kansas reapportioned state legislative districts based on the state government’s own census. In 1988, voters approved a constitutional amendment to use the decennial federal census for state legislative redistricting, with adjustments to (1) exclude nonresident military personnel stationed in Kansas and nonresident students and (2) include resident military personnel and resident students in the district of their permanent residence.
The 2019 ballot measure would eliminate the requirement to adjust the census population for state legislative apportionment. Secretary of State Scott Schwab (R), who supports the ballot measure, said the state would spend an estimated $834,000 to adjust the 2020 U.S. Census. He said the state would hire a private consultant for the adjustment, who would contact military personnel and students and ask where they want to be counted.
The ballot measure was referred by the Kansas State Legislature. On March 14, the state Senate voted unanimously to approve the constitutional amendment. On March 27, the state House voted 117 to seven. As a constitutional amendment, the governor’s signature is not required.
Following the 2010 federal census, Kansas used a mix of electronic and paper questionnaires to make the adjustments for military personnel and students. Riley County, Kansas, was the only county with a negative adjustment of over two percent. The adjustment resulted in a decrease of 11,017 residents, or 15.5 percent, for the purpose of redistricting. Riley County is home to Kansas State University and the U.S. Army’s Fort Riley.
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In 2020, New Mexico voters will decide whether to make the Public Regulation Commission appointed instead of elected

In 2020, voters in New Mexico will decide a constitutional amendment to change the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) from an elected five-member commission to an appointed three-member commission.
The PRC is responsible for the regulation of public utilities, transportation companies, transmission and pipeline companies, insurance companies, and other public companies. As of 2019, the PRC’s five members include four Democrats and one Republican.
Rather than having voters elect the PRC’s members, the constitutional amendment would create a nominating committee which would develop a list of candidates, and the governor would appoint three members from the list, with the consent of the state Senate, to serve on the commission. The PRC would change from an elected commission to an appointed commission on January 1, 2023.
PRC commissioners Cynthia Hall (D) and Steve Fischmann (D) wrote an article supporting the constitutional amendment, which said, “The public and the utility companies that serve them deserve to have commissioners with meaningful expertise when they begin working on the commission. That means graduate-level education plus significant industry or regulatory experience. Commissioners should be experts at the outset, not rookies.” Theresa Becenti-Aguilar (D) and Jeff Byrd (R) wrote an article opposing the amendment, which said that the measure would “make our state’s most powerful regulatory agency less representative, less responsive to the public and more susceptible to the influence of powerful special interests.”
The constitutional amendment was approved 59-8 in the House and 36-5 in the Senate. It’s the first constitutional amendment referred to the 2020 ballot in New Mexico. Between 1995 and 2018, voters approved 85.5 percent of the constitutional amendments on the ballot in the state.

Washington Senate approves bill for year-round daylight saving time ballot measure

Voters in Washington could be asked to decide a ballot measure addressing year-round daylight saving time (DST). On March 12, the state Senate voted 46-3 to pass the bill for the ballot measure.

The ballot measure would provide for year-round DST if federal law is changed to allow states to adopt year-round DST. As of 2019, the federal Uniform Time Act allowed states to adopt one of two options: (a) adopt DST between the second Sunday of March or the first Sunday of November or (b) remain on standard time all year. The law did not allow for year-round DST. On March 12, President Donald Trump (R) tweeted, “Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!”

The state House of Representatives needs to pass the bill for the measure to appear on the ballot in November. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) would also need to sign the bill. The state House passed its own year-round DST bill on March 9, but that bill did not include a provision for a ballot measure.

If the measure appears on the ballot, Washington would be the second state to vote on a ballot measure addressing permanent DST. In 2018, Californians approved Proposition 7, which authorized the state legislature to adopt permanent DST if federal law changes.

There were 21 ballot measures related to time standards on the ballot between 1924 and 1972, including three in Washington. After 1972, the first measure addressing time was California Proposition 7 in 2018.

Filing window for Texas legislators to introduce proposed 2019 constitutional amendments ended on Friday

Members of the Texas State Legislature filed 213 constitutional amendments for the 2019 regular legislative session. Legislators were allowed to file constitutional amendments through March 8, 2019. The 2019 legislative session is expected to adjourn on May 27, 2019. Amendments approved by the legislature would appear on the ballot for voter consideration on November 5, 2019.

Republicans, who control 57 percent of state legislative seats in Texas, filed 111 (52.1 percent) of the constitutional amendments. Democrats filed 102 (47.9 percent) of the constitutional amendments.

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. If the average is applied to the 213 constitutional amendments filed in 2019, 10 would be expected to make the ballot.

In Texas, citizens do not have the power to initiate statewide initiatives or referendums. Voters rejected a constitutional amendment to provide for the initiative and referendum process in 1914. The Texas State Legislature can refer statewide ballot measures, in the form of constitutional amendments, to the ballot. Texas is one of 16 states that requires a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. That amounts to a minimum of 100 votes in the Texas House of Representatives and 21 votes in the Texas Senate, assuming no vacancies.

Voters have approved 145 of 159 (91.2 percent) of constitutional amendments on the ballot between 1995 and 2018. Turnout at odd-year general elections in Texas averaged 11 percent —39 percentage points lower than the average turnout at general elections in even-numbered years.

Nebraska voters will decide ballot measure to prohibit slavery as criminal punishment in 2020

Voters in Nebraska will decide a ballot measure on November 3, 2020, to repeal constitutional language allowing for enslavement and servitude as punishments for crime.
Like the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Nebraska State Constitution prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crimes.
Nebraska’s proposal to repeal the exception for criminal punishments follows a similar change that voters made in neighboring Colorado in 2018. Colorado Amendment A passed with 66.2 percent of the vote. The Utah and Vermont legislatures are also considering bills for ballot measures to repeal the criminal punishments exception from their state constitutions during their 2019 legislative sessions.
The unicameral Nebraska State Senate voted 44-0 to refer the constitutional amendment to the ballot. Sen. Justin T. Wayne (D-13) introduced the constitutional amendment.
The measure is the first certified in Nebraska for the 2020 ballot. The 2019 Nebraska legislative session is projected to run through June 6, 2019, during which time additional ballot measures could be referred. Citizen groups have until July 2020 to file signatures for ballot initiatives.
In Nebraska, voters have rejected 34 of 54 of the constitutional changes proposed by the state legislature between 1996 and 2018.

Arizona Senate approves constitutional amendment providing for a lieutenant governor; approval in House sends it to voters in 2020

The Arizona State Senate approved a constitutional amendment on March 4, 2019, that would create the position of lieutenant governor. Arizona is one of five states that do not have a lieutenant governor. Approval in the state House would refer the constitutional amendment to the ballot for the election on November 3, 2020, for voter consideration.
Senate Republicans supported the amendment, while Democrats were divided, with six supporting and seven opposing the amendment. In the House, 31 votes are needed to approve the amendment. Republicans hold 31 seats in the House, and Democrats hold 29.
The amendment would require gubernatorial candidates to select a person as their running mate at least 60 days before the general election (unless the legislature selects a different date), and the two would be elected on a joint ticket. The amendment would take effect for the election on November 3, 2026.
Currently, the secretary of state is first in the line of succession to succeed the governor should a vacancy occur. The amendment would make the lieutenant governor the first in the line of succession. Since 1912, when Arizona became a state, the secretary of state has succeeded the governor due to a vacancy on six occasions. Twice—in 1988 and 2008—the successions caused a change in partisan control of the governor’s office.
Voters in Arizona have rejected two ballot measures to create the position of lieutenant governor. In 1994, 65.3 percent of voters rejected Proposition 100, which would have created the position of lieutenant governor. In 2010, 59.2 percent of voters rejected Proposition 111, which would have replaced the secretary of state with the lieutenant governor.