Author

Ryan Byrne

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

Kentucky Supreme Court rules that the state’s Marsy’s Law (2018) constitutional amendment is invalid

On June 12, 2019, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the description presented to voters for Marsy’s Law, which was on the ballot in 2018, violated the state constitution. Legislators wrote the description, which said: “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and to have a voice in the judicial process?” On November 6, 62.8 percent of electors voted for the constitutional amendment. The state Supreme Court’s ruling means that Marsy’s Law, a type of constitutional amendment addressing the rights of crime victims, cannot be added to the Kentucky Constitution.
 
Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr. wrote the court’s unanimous opinion. He said that “Section 256 of the Kentucky Constitution requires the General Assembly to submit the full text of a proposed constitutional amendment to the electorate for a vote.” The full text of Marsy’s Law was 555 words long—517 words longer than the description that legislators wrote for the ballot.
 
The state Supreme Court’s ruling affirms a lower court’s ruling from October 2018, which prohibited the state from certifying election results for Marsy’s Law. Awaiting an order from the state Supreme Court, the outcome of Marsy’s Law was uncertain for 218 days.
 
Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, which registered as a political issues committee to support Marsy’s Law, responded to the ruling, stating, “We look forward to working with the General Assembly again to put Marsy’s Law back on the ballot for Kentucky voters in 2020 in a form that will pass legal muster as defined by the court.” Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-3), chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said that he would like the legislature to present the amendment to voters again in 2020. He also criticized the court’s ruling, saying, “It is troubling that in order to reach this conclusion the Supreme Court reversed years of established precedent and inserted an entirely new requirement for amending our state constitution.”
 
The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (KACFL) filed the lawsuit to invalidate Marsy’s Law on August 13, 2018. David Ward, who was the KACFL’s president in 2018, said, “Voters have a right to know what they are voting on and the legislature failed to tell them.”
 
Marsy’s Law describes a set of constitutional protections for crime victims that have been adopted in 11 states, excluding Kentucky. In Montana, which approved Marsy’s Law in 2016, a court struck down the constitutional amendment as violating the state’s separate-vote requirement for initiated amendments. Henry Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corporation, started the organization that backs Marsy’s Law. In Kentucky, Nicholas provided over $5 million to support the campaign.
 
Marsy’s Law will appear on the ballot in Wisconsin in 2020. The Pennsylvania State Legislature is also considering placing Marsy’s Law on the ballot in 2019. As of June 2019, voters have never rejected a Marsy’s Law ballot measure.
 


Oregon joins the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, bringing total jurisdictions to 16

On June 12, 2019, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed legislation to join the state in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). Oregon is the 16th jurisdiction to join NPVIC, as well as the fourth state in 2019. The NPVIC is an interstate compact to award member states’ 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. With Oregon joining the NPVIC, the compact’s members now account for 196 electoral votes.
 
In the Oregon State Senate, the legislation was passed 17-12. Fifteen Democrats and two Republicans supported the bill, while three Democrats and nine Republicans opposed the bill. In the Oregon House, the legislation was passed 37-22. House Democrats supported the bill, and House Republicans opposed the bill. Oregon is a Democratic trifecta, meaning Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
 
Gov. Brown’s signature comes 13 days after neighboring Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) vetoed a bill to join his state in the NPVIC. Gov. Sisolak, upon vetoing the bill, stated, “Once effective, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact could diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote, rather than the candidate Nevadans choose.” Regarding Oregon, Gov. Brown said, “I think it’s really important to be a part of the national conversation regarding the presidential election. I think it will encourage candidates to spend more time in states like ours, speaking directly to our voters.”
 
Maine could also join the NPVIC in 2019. The Maine House rejected legislation on May 30, 2019, but on June 12, the House voted to reconsider the bill. The Maine Senate had passed the bill on May 14.
 
Of the 16 jurisdictions to join the NPVIC, 14 of them were Democratic trifectas at the time of enactment. Two—Hawaii and New York—were divided governments. In Hawaii, the Democratic-controlled legislature was able to override Gov. Linda Lingle’s (R) veto in 2008. New York joined NPVIC in 2014, when Democrats controlled the governor’s office and Assembly. Democrats did not control the Senate due to a coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and Senate Republicans, but Democratic Party members held a three-seat numerical majority. Of the current Democratic trifectas, Maine and Nevada are the only two that have not joined the NPVIC as of June 2019.
 
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In 2020, Louisiana will vote on ballot measure declaring no state constitutional right to abortion

On June 5, 2019, the Louisiana State Legislature passed a constitutional amendment stating that “nothing in this [Louisiana Constitution] shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Voters will decide whether to approve or reject the constitutional amendment on November 3, 2020.
 
The constitutional amendment was approved after Senate Bill 184 (SB 184), which was designed to ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is present, except in certain medical emergencies. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed SB 184 on May 30, 2019. Gov. Edwards’ office has said that he also supports the constitutional amendment.
 
According to the Louisiana Pro-Life Amendment Coalition, which is campaigning in support of the ballot measure, the constitutional amendment would ensure that a state court cannot rule that the Louisiana Constitution provides a right to abortion. At least 10 state constitutions provide a right to abortion, according to state courts. The most recent state to join that list is Kansas, where the state Supreme Court ruled on April 26, 2019, that the Kansas Constitution provides a right to abortion. Should the U.S. Supreme Court rule that the U.S. Constitution does not provide a right to abortion, the Kansas Constitution would still provide a right to abortion, per the state Supreme Court’s ruling. In 2018, voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved ballot measures declaring that their state constitutions did not secure or protect a right to abortion. The Kansas State Legislature could refer a constitutional amendment to voters in 2020 to overrule the state court’s decision.
 
In Louisiana, the constitutional amendment declaring no state constitutional right to abortion received the support of legislative Republicans and divided legislative Democrats. Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat, introduced the constitutional amendment. In the House, Democrats voted 16-20 on the amendment. In the Senate, Democrats voted 8-5 on the amendment. Jackson asked for the constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot for 2020, rather than October 12, 2019. In Louisiana, state legislative and executive elections are held in odd-numbered years, such as 2019, while federal elections occur in even-numbered years.
 
The constitutional amendment is the first certified for the ballot in 2020 in Louisiana. As of June 5, the Louisiana State Legislature had passed four constitutional amendments during the 2019 legislative session for the election on October 12. The legislative session is expected to run through June 6, during which time additional amendments could be referred to the 2019 ballot. The legislature will meet again in 2020, when more measures can be added to the 2020 ballot alongside the abortion amendment.
 


In 2020, Nevada voters will decide a ballot measure to create a declaration of voters’ rights in the state constitution

On November 3, 2020, voters in Nevada will decide on a ballot measure to create a declaration of voters’ rights in the Nevada Constitution. The ballot measure is similar to a declaration passed as statute in 2003.
 
The ballot measure would provide voters with a constitutional right to receive and cast a ballot that is written in a “format that allows the clear identification of candidates” and “accurately records the voter’s preference in the selection of candidates.”
 
The measure would provide registered voters with other constitutional rights, including:
  • to have questions about voting procedures answered and have voting procedures posted in a visible location at the polling place;
  • to vote without intimidation, threats, or coercion;
  • to vote during any early-voting period or on election day if the voter is in line at the time polls close;
  • to return a spoiled ballot and receive a replacement ballot;
  • to request assistance in voting if necessary;
  • to a sample ballot “which is accurate, informative and delivered in a timely manner;”
  • to receive instruction on how to use voting equipment;
  • to equal access to the elections system without discrimination, including on the basis of “race, age, disability, military service, employment or overseas residence.”
  • to a “uniform, statewide standard for counting and recounting all votes accurately;” and
  • to have “complaints about elections and election contests resolved fairly, accurately and efficiently.”
In Nevada, a majority vote is required in two successive sessions of the Nevada State Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The constitutional amendment was introduced into the legislature in 2017 and sponsored by 13 legislative Democrats. The 2017 legislative session followed Democrats winning a majority of seats in both legislative chambers at the 2016 general election, which broke Republicans trifecta control of the state government. During the 2019 legislative session, both Democrats and Republicans supported placing the constitutional amendment on the ballot.
 
As of May 30, 2019, five statewide ballot measures have been certified to appear on the ballot in Nevada for the election on November 3, 2020. The state legislature could refer additional ballot measures before adjournment, which is expected on June 3, 2019. Citizens have until June 16, 2020, to file signatures for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments and veto referendums to appear on the ballot. Across the U.S., 32 ballot measures have been certified in 16 states for 2020.
 


Illinois State Legislature refers 2020 ballot measure to allow for a graduated state income tax

Since 1970, the Illinois Constitution has required the state personal income tax to be a flat rate. The Illinois State Legislature, with the support of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), passed legislation on May 27, 2019, to ask voters to repeal the requirement and instead allow for a graduated income tax by constitutional amendment.
 
Voters will decide the ballot measure on November 3, 2020. In Illinois, a ballot measure amending the state constitution requires either a 60 percent vote of those voting on the ballot measure or a simple majority vote of those voting in the election.
 
Gov. Pritzker and Democrats have named the proposal the Fair Tax, while Ideas Illinois, an organization opposed to the ballot measure, has called the proposal the Unfair Jobs Tax.
 
The ballot measure required 60 percent supermajorities in the state’s legislative chambers. Democrats control 68 percent (40 of 59) Senate seats and 63 percent (74 of 118) House seats, and were able to pass the constitutional amendment without Republican support. From 2016 to 2018, Democrats held majorities in the House and Senate but not enough seats to pass a constitutional amendment along partisan lines.
 
The ballot measure itself would not enact a graduated income tax, just allow for one. For income earned in 2018, the personal income tax in Illinois was a flat rate of 4.95 percent. The Illinois State Senate passed Senate Bill 687 (SB 687) on May 1, 2019, which would go into effect only if voters approve the constitutional amendment in 2020. SB 687 would change the state’s income tax from a flat rate to six graduated rates—ranging from 4.75 to 7.99 percent—beginning on January 1, 2021. The state House had not passed SB 687 as of May 27, 2019.
 
Ballotpedia has not identified political action committees (PACs) supporting or opposing the ballot measure; however, at least two 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations were airing advertisements regarding the ballot measure. Think Big Illinois supported the legislation to place the constitutional amendment on the ballot. Quentin Fulks, a former campaign staffer for Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) 2018 gubernatorial campaign is heading Think Big Illinois. Gov. Pritzker has donated to the organization but had no other involvement, according to Think Big Illinois spokesperson Lara Sisselman. Ideas Illinois opposed the legislation for the constitutional amendment. The Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity, which formed in 2004, organized Ideas Illinois. Greg Baise, former president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, is leading the group.
 
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22) said, “Middle-class families bear too much of the burden under the current tax system, and a Fair Tax will enable us to make the wealthy pay their fair share to balance the budget and invest in critical resources like education and health care — all while providing relief for 97% of taxpayers.” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-82) said his party “will continue to stand united against the majority part’s insatiable desire for higher taxes that has caused businesses and families to flee the state in droves.”
 
The ballot measure to allow for a graduated income tax will be the 23rd constitutional amendment that voters in Illinois have decided since adopting their current constitution in 1970. Fourteen of the 22 constitutional amendments were approved at the ballot box, while eight of them were rejected.
 


Nevada will be the first state to vote to repeal its constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman

On November 3, 2020, voters in Nevada will decide a ballot measure to repeal the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Instead, the ballot measure would define marriage as between couples regardless of gender and state that religious organizations and clergypersons have the right to refuse to solemnize a marriage.
 
The measure makes Nevada the first state to ask voters to repeal language prohibiting same-sex marriage from a state constitution.
 
Nevada is one of 30 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting same-sex marriage and/or defining marriage as between one man and one woman. In Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage as violating the U.S. Constitution. The language prohibiting same-sex marriage remained in the state constitutions.
 
Nevada was the third state to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
 
A citizen-initiated constitutional amendment in Nevada needs to be approved at two successive general elections. Question 2 was approved by almost 70 percent of voters in 2000 and approved again by 67 percent of voters in 2002.
 
The legislative process of amending the Nevada Constitution takes around four years and occurs over two legislative sessions. After Democrats took control of the state Legislature in 2016, legislation was introduced to repeal Question 2. The first version of the legislation, which didn’t include the provision stating that religious organizations can refuse to solemnize a marriage, received support from Democrats, along with one Republican. The final version received support from Democrats and three-quarters of Republicans in 2019.
 
The 2020 ballot measure is the second constitutional amendment referred to the ballot during the legislature’s 2019 legislative session. The legislature could refer an additional five amendments that were passed in 2017, which need approval again before the legislature adjourns on June 3. The potential measures include a minimum wage increase, a constitutional right to certain voting procedures and policies, and a constitutional right to medically-necessary emergency care and services.
 
As of May 24, 28 statewide ballot measures had been certified for the 2020 ballot in 15 states.
 


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.
 


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