As of February 10, 2021, Ballotpedia had tracked 122 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recalls in 34 states in 2021 legislative sessions.
• Legislation to enact or increase existing supermajority requirements for certain ballot measures was introduced in 2021 sessions in six states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Proposed requirements range from 60% to two-thirds (66.67%). Some proposals apply only to citizen-initiated measures, some to constitutional amendments—both citizen-initiated and legislatively referred, and some to measures proposing tax increases or certain levels of funding allocation.
• Bills to increase initiative and referendum signature requirements or signature distribution requirements were introduced in Idaho and Missouri.
• Bills to enact single-subject rules for ballot initiatives were introduced in Arizona, Mississippi, and North Dakota.
• Bills to require certain disclosures and details regarding their single-subject rules were also introduced in 2021 in Nebraska and South Dakota.
• Proposals to establish statewide initiative, referendum, or recall processes were introduced in Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee, which are currently among the 24 states without the power of citizen-initiated statewide ballot measures.
• A proposal was also introduced in Illinois to remove the state’s very specific subject restriction on ballot initiatives and to establish a process for veto referendums. In Florida, a proposal was introduced to enact a process for initiated state statutes.
• Legislation to change rules for drafting and displaying ballot language, petition language, or voter guide language was introduced in California, Idaho, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington.
• Other topics include signature removal, signature verification, filing fees, ballot and voter guide argument fees and requirements, deadlines and process changes, procedures and requirements for legal challenges, and election date requirements.
Many changes—including most proposals to change signature requirements, add or change supermajority requirements, or establish a statewide process for initiative or referendum—are constitutional amendments, which means after legislative approval they would require voter approval to be enacted.
In November, South Dakota became the first state to vote on recreational and medical marijuana at the same election. Voters approved Initiated Measure 26 by a vote of 70% to 30% and Constitutional Amendment A by a vote of 54% to 46%.
IM 26 was designed to establish a medical marijuana program in South Dakota for individuals who have a debilitating medical condition as certified by a physician. The initiative was set to take effect on July 1, 2021, with deadlines for certain implementation steps to take place in the fall. The state House is considering a bill to change the effective date from July 1, 2021, to January 1, 2022, and to delay the deadlines for certain provisions from Fall 2021 (under IM 26) to Spring 2022. The delays are supported by Governor Kristi Noem, who announced plans for delaying implementation of the program by one year. Sponsors of IM 26 proposed an alternative implementation schedule to shorten the delays.
Under the IM 26, patients will be allowed to possess a maximum of three ounces of marijuana. Limits on the cannabis products a person may possess would be set by the Department of Health. According to the measure, patients registered to cultivate marijuana at home could grow three plants at minimum, or another amount as prescribed by a physician.
Constitutional Amendment A was designed to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and require the South Dakota State Legislature to pass laws providing for the use of medical marijuana and the sale of hemp by April 1, 2022. Amendment A was ruled unconstitutional by the Hughes County Circuit Court. Sponsors appealed to the state supreme court.
On February 10, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) announced a plan to delay the implementation of the state’s medical marijuana program until July 1, 2022, a year later than the dates set forth under the IM 26. Noem said, “We are working diligently to get IM 26 implemented safely and correctly. The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time.”
House Bill 1100 was introduced in the South Dakota House of Representatives on January 27, 2021, and was passed by the state affairs committee on February 17, 2021. The bill would amend IM 26 to change the effective dates from 2021 to 2022. The bill stated that “Due to the pending litigation [surrounding Constitutional Amendment A], the Department of Health’s continued efforts against COVID-19, and the complexity of marijuana’s status under federal law, the State needs more time to establish a medical marijuana program with integrity and prudency than its current effective date of July 1, 2021.”
On February 22, 2021, New Approach South Dakota and South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws announced their proposal for an alternative implementation schedule in response to House Bill 1100. Matthew Schweich, director of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws said, “A delay to implementation is partly justified due to the Department of Health’s important role in managing South Dakota’s pandemic response. That is one of the reasons why we are proposing this compromise. However, the primary motivation is the prospect of enactment of HB 1100A, which defies the will of the people, harshly re-criminalizes medical marijuana patients, and provides a vehicle for repealing and replacing the law.”
The proposed compromise legislation would extend the deadlines for certain parts of the medical marijuana program’s implementation to January 2022 in order to give the state more time to implement the measure. The proposed compromise bill would require legal protections for potential medical marijuana patients prior to registry ID cards being issued to take effect on July 1, 2021 (the date set forth under IM 26). HB 1100 initially proposed enacting the legal protections for potential medical marijuana patients starting on July 1, 2022, but it was amended to move that date up to January 1, 2022.
South Dakota is one of eleven states (out of 21 with a process for initiated state statutes) with no restrictions on how soon or with what majority state legislators can repeal or amend initiated statutes.
As of November 2020, 35 states and Washington, D.C., had passed laws legalizing or decriminalizing medical marijuana. Additionally, 15 states had legalized the use of cannabis oil, or cannabidiol (CBD)—one of the non-psychoactive ingredients found in marijuana—for medical purposes.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes: 12 states and D.C. through ballot initiatives, one state through a legislatively referred ballot measure, and two through bills approved by state legislatures and signed by governors.
The federal government has classified marijuana as an illegal controlled substance since 1970. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). As of 2020, the possession, purchase, and sale of marijuana were illegal under federal law.
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.
Louisiana Pro-Life Amendment Coalition, the campaign in support of Louisiana Amendment 1, and Louisiana for Personal Freedoms, the opposition campaign, reported receiving a combined total of $1.1 million in contributions for the 2020 election cycle.
Louisiana voters approved Amendment 1 in November 2020 by a vote of 62.06% to 37.94%. It added language to the Louisiana Constitution stating that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
According to the latest campaign finance reports filed February 17, Louisiana Pro-Life Amendment Coalition reported $681,191 in contributions. The top donors to the coalition included: • LA Right to Life Educational Committee – $280,000 • Edward L. Rispone – $50,000 • Donald T. Bollinger – $25,000 • Kenneth Wood Sr. – $25,000 • William Henry Shane Jr. – $20,000
Louisiana for Personal Freedoms reported $428,824 in cash and in-kind contributions. The top donors to the committee included: • BYP 100 – $150,000 • Open Society – $100,00 • Lift Louisiana – $80,758.12 • Planned Parenthood Action Fund – $51,448 • Catholics for Choice – $5,000
As of 2021, at least 10 states, according to The Guttmacher Institute, provided a state constitutional right to abortion based on court rulings. Ballotpedia has identified six ballot measures to amend state constitutions to declare that nothing in the state constitution provides a right to abortion. In Tennessee (2014), Alabama (2018), West Virginia (2018), and Louisiana (2020), these constitutional amendments were passed. In Massachusetts (1986) and Florida (2012), these constitutional amendments were defeated.
Kansas voters will be deciding a similar measure in August 2022 to state that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion or requires government funding for abortion and that the state legislature has the authority to pass laws regarding abortion. The amendment was a response to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt (2019), in which the court decided that the Kansas Bill of Rights includes a right to abortion.
Louisiana Amendment 1 was referred to the ballot by the state legislature in June 2019. A two-thirds vote is needed in each chamber of the Louisiana State Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment.
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.
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.
The South Dakota House of Representatives approved House Joint Resolution 5003 on February 16 in a vote of 56-12.
The measure would amend the state constitution to require a three-fifths (60%) vote for approval of any ballot measures (whether citizen-initiated or legislatively referred) that imposes or increases taxes or fees or appropriates $10 million or more in any of the first five fiscal years after enactment.
South Dakota residents may initiate legislation as either a state statute or a constitutional amendment. The South Dakota State Legislature may place measures on the ballot as legislatively referred constitutional amendments or legislatively referred state statutes with a simple majority vote of each chamber. As of 2021, all ballot measures in South Dakota required a simple majority vote (50%+1) to be adopted.
HJR 5003 was introduced into the South Dakota House of Representatives by Republican Speaker Pro Tempore Jon Hansen on February 2, 2021. All eight House Democrats voted against the bill. Of 62 House Republicans, 56 voted in favor, four voted against, and two were excused. To be placed on the 2022 ballot, the amendment must receive 18 affirmative votes in the South Dakota State Senate, in which Republicans hold a 32-3 supermajority. To become a part of the state constitution, a simple majority of voters must approve the change.
The South Dakota State Senate has passed three other bills this month concerning citizen initiative requirements:
Senate Bill 77, which was designed to require initiative petitions to print the full text in 14-point font;
Senate Bill 86, which was designed to require the South Dakota Secretary of State and Attorney General to issue an opinion to sponsors of initiative constitutional amendments concerning whether or not the amendment comprises a single subject and whether or not the proposed change is considered a constitutional amendment or a revision of the state constitution; and
Senate Bill 123, which was designed to create a 10-day comment period for ballot language of citizen initiatives, requiring the attorney general to review all comments and amend the ballot language as deemed necessary.
These bills would take effect if approved in the state House, where Republicans hold a 62-8 supermajority and do not require voter approval.
Republican sponsors of the bills pointed to the legal challenges to Amendment A, a constitutional initiative approved by voters in 2020 to legalize marijuana, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Hughes County Circuit Court and appealed to the state supreme court.
Senator Reynold Nesiba, one of three Democratic Senators in South Dakota, said, “This is a systematic attack by the Republican party to stifle direct democracy in South Dakota.”
Vote requirements for ballot measures vary from state to state and based on different ballot measure types and topics.
As of 2021, South Dakota was one of 37 states that required a simple majority vote (50%+1) for a proposed constitutional amendment to be adopted. Below are some of the other requirements that ballot measures face across the country.
In Nevada, a simple majority vote is required for all constitutional amendments, however, initiated constitutional amendments must be approved by voters at two successive general elections.
Constitutional amendments in Colorado require a 55% supermajority vote for approval, except for amendments that repeal language and do not amend or add language, which require a simple majority. This supermajority requirement was adopted in 2016 through a citizen initiative.
Constitutional amendments in Florida (citizen-initiated and legislatively referred) must receive a supermajority vote of 60% of those voting on the question, according to Section 5 of Article XI. This change was made via a legislatively referred constitutional amendment in 2006.
In Illinois, legislatively referred constitutional amendments must receive a supermajority vote of 60% of those voting on the question or a majority of those who cast a ballot for any office in that election.
In New Hampshire, a proposed amendment must be approved by two-thirds (66.67%) of those voting in order to become part of the state’s constitution.
In seven other states, there are requirements based on turnout at the election or for a particular office, such as governor.
In Washington, a 60 percent supermajority vote for any measure concerning gambling. Utah requires a two-thirds (66.67%) supermajority vote for the approval of any initiatives concerning the taking of wildlife.
A total of 67 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in South Dakota during the 20-year from 2000 through 2020 in South Dakota, of which, 43% (29 of 67) were approved by voters and 57% (38 of 67) were defeated.
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.
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.
The Kansas State Legislature referred the No Right to Abortion in Constitution Amendment to the August 2, 2022, primary ballot. The amendment will reverse a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that ruled that the Kansas Bill of Rights granted a right to abortion. The amendment would add a section to the Kansas Bill of Rights to state that constitution does not provide a right to abortions and the government is not required to provide funding for abortions. The new section would also add that the state legislature has the authority to pass laws to regulate abortion.
In Kansas, a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Kansas State Legislature during one legislative session is required to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. This amounts to 84 votes in the House and 27 votes in the Senate.
On January 22, 2021, the state House passed HCR 5003 with a vote of 86 to 38 with one absent. All Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, and all but one Democrat that was absent voted against it. The one Independent in the House voted against the amendment as well.
The measure was introduced in the state Senate on January 21, 2021. The state Senate passed the amendment on January 28, 2021, in a vote of 28-11 with one absent. All 11 Democrats voted against the amendment. One Republican was absent, and the remaining 28 Republicans approved the amendment. Proponents refer to the measure as the “Value Them Both Amendment.”
The same amendment was introduced during the 2020 legislative session. After receiving a two-thirds vote in the state Senate, the state House voted 80-43 on the measure, four votes under the required two-thirds.
As of January 2021, court rulings had determined that at least 10 state constitutions provided a state constitutional right to abortion according to The Guttmacher Institute. Ballotpedia has identified six ballot measures to amend state constitutions to declare that nothing in the state constitution provides a right to abortion. The most recent measure was approved in Louisiana in November 2020 with 61.1% of the vote. Tennessee (2014), Alabama (2018), and West Virginia (2018) also previously approved measures to declare no right to an abortion in their respective state constitutions. In Massachusetts (1986) and Florida (2012), similar constitutional amendments were defeated.
From 1995 through 2020, the Kansas Legislature referred ten constitutional amendments to the ballot. Voters approved eight and rejected two of the referred amendments.
Voters in Iowa will decide in 2022 whether to add a right to own and bear firearms to the Iowa Constitution and require strict scrutiny for any alleged violations of the right brought before a court.
The amendment was certified for the ballot on January 28, 2021, after having passed both chambers of the legislature. To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority vote is required in both the Iowa State Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives in two legislative sessions with an election for state legislators in between. Every two years, half of the state senators and all of the members of the state House are up for election.
This amendment was approved as Senate Joint Resolution 18 during the 2019-2020 legislative session and required approval by both chambers of the legislature again in the 2021-2022 session.
SJR 18 was introduced on February 21, 2019. On March 13, 2019, it was approved by the Senate in a vote of 33 to 16, passing along party lines (with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed) except for one Democratic senator, Rich Taylor (D-42), who voted yes. The House approved the measure on the same day along party lines.
The amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 7 in the 2021-2022 legislative session and was approved on January 28, 2021, along party lines with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed.
Amendment sponsors originally intended to pass the bill during the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 sessions to place the question on the 2020 ballot, but a bureaucratic oversight resulted in the amendment process needing to start over again, meaning the bill needed to be passed in the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 legislative sessions to appear on the 2022 ballot.
The Iowa Constitution requires notifications of any proposed constitutional amendments passed in one legislative session to be published at least three months before the general election for the next legislature—November 2018 in this case. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said that his office failed to report constitutional amendments that the 86th Iowa General Assembly (2017-2018) approved in 2018. Because of the oversight that resulted in the amendments not being published, the amendment process had to be started over again.
Republican Iowa legislators argued that the amendment was necessary because Iowa is one of six states without a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Amendment sponsor Rep. Steven Holt said, “The right to someone’s own life and the pursuit of their own happiness, their own destiny — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — cannot be separated from the right to defend their life, hence the fundamental right to keep and bear arms in our Second Amendment.” Regarding the strict scrutiny provision, Holt said, “If current or future laws are narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest regarding this fundamental individual right, they will be safe. If they do not fit that category, they will not be safe and they should not be on the books.”
Democratic Iowa legislators argued that the amendment could negate state laws such as permit-to-carry requirements and the ban of firearm ownership for felons. Sen. Kinney (D) said, “Not many of you have ever had to sit and look down the barrel of a gun. I have, on a number of occasions. When you are placing strict scrutiny into the Constitution, you’re going to be diminishing our laws that are on the books. To me, this is going to make law enforcement more dangerous.”
Forty-four states have a right to bear arms in their constitutions. Six states— California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York—do not.
The House also passed House Joint Resolution 5 in a vote of 59-41 on January 27, 2021. HJR 5 would amend the constitution to state that Iowa does not “recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.” All 41 House Democrats voted against the bill. Of 59 House Republicans, 55 voted in favor, three voted against, and one was absent or not voting. The measure could appear on the 2024 ballot if it is approved by the Senate (where Republicans hold a 32-18 majority) during the current session and passed by both chambers of the legislature again in 2023 or 2024.