CategoryBallot measures

Florida marijuana initiative has enough signatures to appear on 2024 ballot; state supreme court review pending

Smart & Safe Florida, a campaign supporting a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Florida, has collected 967,528 valid signatures, exceeding the 891,523 valid signatures needed to be placed on the ballot in 2024.

State officials confirmed on June 1, 2023, that the campaign had submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot and had met the signature distribution requirement mandating that signatures equaling at least 8% of the district-wide vote in the last presidential election be collected from at least half (14) of the state’s 28 congressional districts.

The initiative would legalize marijuana for adults 21 years old and older. Individuals would be allowed to possess up to three ounces of marijuana (about 85 grams), with up to five grams in the form of concentrate. Existing Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers would be authorized under the initiative to sell marijuana to adults for personal use. The Legislature could provide by state law for the licensure of entities other than existing medical marijuana treatment centers to cultivate and sell marijuana products.

The campaign has raised $38.5 million, all from Trulieve Cannabis Corp., a marijuana business that operates in several states, including Florida. According to campaign reports covering information through April 30, 2023, Smart and Safe Florida had paid $23.07 million to Axiom Strategies and Vanguard Field Strategies for signature gathering.

Across all states with an initiative process, the average cost of a petition drive increased 297% from 2016 to 2022. So far, the cost of this signature drive is 463% more expensive than the average signature drive cost in Florida in 2016. The cost of running a successful initiative signature drive in Florida was $4.1 million in 2016, $4.6 million in 2018, and $6.7 million in 2020. No initiatives qualified for the Florida ballot in 2022. Marijuana legalization initiative campaigns in four states spent between $68,000 and $3.66 million on signature drives for 2022 initiatives.

In 2016, voters in Florida legalized medical marijuana through a ballot initiative, which was approved by a vote of 71.32% in favor and 28.68% opposed.

In Florida, proposed initiatives are reviewed by the state attorney general and state supreme court after proponents collect 25% of the required signatures across the state in each of one-half of the state’s congressional districts (222,898 signatures for 2024 ballot measures). After these preliminary signatures have been collected, the secretary of state must submit the proposal to the Florida Attorney General and the Financial Impact Estimating Conference (FIEC). The attorney general is required to petition the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the measure’s compliance with the single-subject rule, the appropriateness of the title and summary, and whether or not the measure “is facially valid under the United States Constitution.”

The measure qualified for a state supreme court review after collecting 25% of the total required signatures on April 6, 2023. On May 15, 2023, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the measure. Moody wrote that she believes “the proposed amendment fails to meet the requirements” and that she plans to “present additional argument through briefing at the appropriate time.” Briefings in the case are due by June 12, 2023.

In 2021, Attorney General Ashley Moody argued against a proposed 2022 initiative to legalize marijuana sponsored by Make It Legal Florida. Moody argued that the ballot title was misleading and inaccurately stated that the measure would legalize something that is illegal under federal law.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the measure could not appear on the 2022 ballot. The court wrote, “A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally ‘permit’ or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law. And a ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading.” Justices Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson dissented. Lawson said, “Because the ballot summary in this case complies with the constitutional and statutory requirements by which we are to judge ballot summaries, I would apply our precedent and approve this measure for placement on the ballot.”

The ballot language for the proposed 2024 initiative includes a sentence stating, “Applies to Florida law; does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law.”

In Florida, constitutional amendments require a 60% supermajority vote of approval to pass. This requirement was added to the state constitution through voter approval of Amendment 3 in 2006. Since then, nine constitutional amendments (including a 2014 medical marijuana initiative) received a majority of votes in favor but failed to reach the 60% threshold and were therefore defeated.

As of June 1, 2023, 23 states and Washington, D.C., had legalized the possession and personal use of marijuana for recreational purposes. In 12 states and D.C., the ballot initiative process was used to legalize marijuana. In two states, the legislature referred a measure to the ballot for voter approval. In nine states, bills to legalize marijuana were enacted into law. The average yes vote was 57.86% and the average no vote was 42.21% with an average margin of victory of 15.65%.

Of the 15 marijuana legalization ballot measures, four received a vote of approval of 60% or higher. The measure with the highest margin of victory was Washington, D.C.’s 2014 initiative, which was approved by a vote of 70.06% to 29.94% for a margin of victory of 40.12%. The measure with the lowest margin of victory was Maine’s 2016 initiative, which was approved by a vote of 50.26% to 49.74% for a margin of victory of 0.52%.

Additional reading:

Louisiana legislature refers two constitutional amendments to October 14 ballot concerning freedom of worship and nonprofit property tax exemptions

On May 30, 2023, the Louisiana State Legislature gave final approval to two constitutional amendments set to appear on the ballot on Oct. 14, 2023.

One of the amendments, Senate Bill 63, would provide in the state constitution that “the freedom to worship in a church or other place of worship is a fundamental right that is worthy of the highest order of protection.”

Senate Bill 63, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell (R), was passed unanimously in the Senate on May 2, 2023. The House passed the bill on May 30, 2023, by a vote of 86-13 with six members absent. All 13 no votes came from House Democrats.

The other amendment, House Bill 46, would prevent a nonprofit organization from receiving a property tax exemption if they own residential property that is in such a state of disrepair that it is dangerous to the public’s health or safety, as determined by the governing authority of the municipality or parish the property is located in.

House Bill 46, sponsored by Rep. Jason Hughes (D), was passed in the House on May 18, 2023, by a vote of 80-18 with seven members absent. The Senate passed the bill on May 30, 2023, in a vote of 37-0 with two members absent.

Last year, the state legislature also referred a measure to the Nov. 18 ballot concerning legislative veto sessions and gubernatorial bill action deadlines.

A total of 56 constitutional amendments appeared on the statewide ballot in Louisiana during odd-numbered years from 1999 through 2021. Of the 56 amendments, 37 (67.27%) were approved and 19 (34.54%) were defeated. An average of five constitutional amendments appeared on the statewide ballot in Louisiana during odd-numbered years.

Additional reading:

Connecticut voters will decide a constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting in 2024

Connecticut voters will decide on a proposed constitutional amendment in 2024 that would allow for no-excuse absentee voting. Connecticut would join 35 other states that allow this method of voting. No-excuse absentee voting is where any voter may request a mail-in ballot. Generally, a voter must first submit an application in order to receive a ballot. The voter may then return the completed ballot by mail or by using a designated deposit site.

Currently, Connecticut voters are eligible to vote absentee in an election if they cannot make it to the polls on election day for one of the following reasons:

*Active military service;

*Absence from town of residence during voting hours;

*Illness or physical disability;

*Religious beliefs precluding secular activity on election day; or

*Performance of duties as an election official at a different polling place during voting hours.

An absentee ballot must be returned either in person by the close of business the day before the election or by mail. If returned by mail, the ballot must be received by the close of polls on election day.

The Connecticut Constitution provides two paths for the legislature to refer constitutional amendments to the ballot, either through a 75% vote in each chamber of the legislature during one legislative session or a simple majority vote (50%+1) in each chamber of the legislature during two legislative sessions.

This amendment was referred over two legislative sessions and was first introduced as House Joint Resolution 58 on Feb. 17, 2021. On May 11, 2021, the House passed HJR 58 with a vote of 104-44, with three members absent or not voting. On June 3, 2021, the Senate approved HJR 58 with a vote of 27-9. The amendment was approved mostly along party lines with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed with twelve Republican legislators joining Democrats in approving the amendment during the 2021 legislative session.

On May 10, 2023, the Connecticut House of Representatives approved the amendment, known as HJR 1 this session, in a vote of 113-38. On May 30, 2023, the state Senate approved the measure in a vote of 26-8. Of the 53 House Republicans, 16 joined Democrats in voting in favor of the amendment. Of the 12 Senate Republicans, three voted in favor of the amendment, including Sen. Tony Hwang. Hwang said, “As we move forward, I wish we had more collaboration of ideas, ideas that make our voting process better, more inclusive, more transparent, more engaged.”

Democratic State Sen. Mae Flexer said, “It would be the next step in the process in allowing all voters in the state of Connecticut to cast a vote via absentee ballot, regardless of the reason.”

State Sen. Rob Sampson (R), who voted against the amendment, said, “We have to be able to trust those votes without question. I have some concerns about trying to move our voting process away from the way it’s been traditionally done where people vote on one specific day in person. In the last election, we saw all campaigns across this state mailing ballot applications like crazy to people, and also sending out companion mail to say, ‘Yes, you can check the box for sickness. You can vote by absentee.’ It was a mess.”

As of 2023, 35 states and Washington, D.C. allowed no-excuse absentee voting, and 15 states required an excuse to vote absentee.

Additional reading:

Nevada voters to decide on amendment related to constitutional language related to mental illness, blindness, and deafness

An amendment that would revise constitutional language relating to public entities for individuals with mental illness, blindness, and deafness has been certified for the ballot in Nevada, and will go to voters on Nov. 5, 2024.

Currently, Article 13, Section 1 of the Nevada Constitution reads: “Institutions for the benefit of the Insane, Blind and Deaf and Dumb, and such other benevolent institutions as the public good may require, shall be fostered and supported by the State, subject to such regulations as may be prescribed by law.”

If approved, this amendment would change the word institutions to entities, and would also change the Insane, Blind and Deaf and Dumb to persons with significant mental illness, persons who are blind or visually impaired, persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and persons with intellectual disabilities or developmental disabilities.

Nevada Assemblywoman Robin Titus (R), one of the primary sponsors of the amendment, said, “I am aware that when the Nevada Constitution was written, different terminologies were used to describe persons with disabilities or a mental illness. However, more than 156 years after Nevada was admitted into the Union, it is time to give these words a more critical look. We should change them to contemporary language that is not deemed to be discriminatory or narrow.”

The amendment was referred to the ballot by the Nevada State Legislature. In Nevada, in order for the legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot, each chamber of the legislature must approve the amendment by a simple majority in two consecutive sessions. The amendment, Assembly Joint Resolution 1, passed the Assembly by 42-0 on April 13, 2021, and then passed 21-0 in the Senate on May 17, 2021. In the following legislative session, the amendment passed the Assembly by 41-0 on March 29, 2023, then passed the Senate by 20-0 on May 26, 2023.

As of May 31, there are four measures certified for the Nov. 5, 2024, ballot in Nevada. Three measures are constitutional amendments referred by the state legislature, and one is a constitutional amendment that qualified for the ballot by a successful citizen initiative.

In 2024, voters in North Dakota will decide on a similar state constitutional amendment, which would change words such as insane to individuals with mental illness and deaf and dumb to deaf and hard of hearing in the North Dakota Constitution.

Update on this year’s and next year’s ballot measure certifications

As of May 30, 2023, 24 statewide measures have been certified for the ballot in eight states for elections in 2023. That’s nine more measures than the average number (15) certified at this point in other odd-numbered years from 2011 to 2021. 

For 2024, 38 statewide measures have been certified in 20 states. That’s six more measures than the average number certified at this point from 2010 to 2022.

Here’s an update on the latest ballot measure activity.

Five new measures were certified for the 2023 ballot last week:

Two new measure were certified for the 2024 ballot last week:

Signatures have been submitted and are pending verification for one initiative in Michigan:

Signatures were verified for three indirect initiatives in Maine, and the initiatives are now before legislators:

In Ohio, one initiative to legalize marijuana was certified to the Legislature, which had four months to act on the proposal; as the Legislature took no action, a second 90-day signature-gathering period commenced on May 3.

Additional links:

Texas State Legislature sends 13 ballot measures to the November ballot during its regular session—the most since 2007

Texas voters will decide on 13 constitutional amendments this November—the most since 2007 when voters decided on 17 measures on two election dates. The average number of measures appearing on Texas odd-numbered-year ballots was 14 between 1985 and 2021. The year with the highest number of measures was 1987 with 25 on one election date.

The state legislature adjourned its regular session on May 29, taking final votes on four of the 13 amendments over the weekend. The final additions to the ballot relate to creating a state broadband infrastructure fund; creating a state energy fund to modernize electric generation facilities; creating a state water fund to finance water projects; and renaming the National Research University Fund to the Texas University Fund and establishing an ongoing revenue source from the accrued interest of the rainy day fund.

The nine other previously certified amendments relate to:

  1. issuing bonds for conservation districts in El Paso County;
  2. establishing a right to farming and ranching;
  3. increasing the mandatory retirement age for state judges and justices;
  4. abolishing the office of Galveston County treasurer;
  5. providing for tax exemptions on medical equipment and inventory;
  6. prohibiting a wealth or net worth tax;
  7. providing for tax exemptions on childcare facilities;
  8. creating the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund; and
  9. providing cost-of-living adjustments for annuitants of the Teacher Retirement System.

The state legislature convened on Jan. 10. The Texas State Legislature is one of 16 states that requires a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber—100 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate (assuming no vacancies)—during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. During the 2023 legislative session, legislators introduced 297 constitutional amendments, of which 47 passed at least one chamber. This compares to 218 introduced constitutional amendments with 16 passing at least one chamber in 2021 and 216 amendments with 19 passing at least one chamber in 2019.

One 2023 amendment that would have stated that only citizens could vote in Texas passed the Senate but failed in the House by a vote of 88-0 with 54 present and not voting.

Excluding the four newest additions to the ballot that do not have official vote totals yet, the average number of yes votes in both chambers for amendments on the 2023 ballot was 150. This is lower than the average yes votes received by amendments appearing on even and odd-numbered year ballots in Texas between 1995 and 2022, which was 164 votes.

The 2023 right-to-farm amendment received the most yes votes with 175. The amendment to prohibit a wealth or net worth tax received the fewest yes votes with 123—surpassing the two-thirds supermajority threshold by one vote in both chambers.

During the 2023 legislative session, Republicans controlled both chambers of the state legislature, as well as the governor’s office, making Texas a Republican trifecta. At the general election on November 8, 2022, Republicans retained control of the House and Senate, increased their 86-64 majority in the House, and gained one seat in the Senate. The new majority in the Senate following the election was 19-12. Changes in the state have impacted the prospects of constitutional amendments making the ballot. Republicans held 21 seats in the state Senate in 2018, which was enough to pass a constitutional amendment without support from Democrats. In 2023, Republicans held 19 seats, meaning at least two Democrats were needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the state Senate. 

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called a special session that convened on May 29 to address property taxes and the border. During the regular session, the Senate introduced a constitutional amendment to increase the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000, which was amended by the House to $100,000. However, the two chambers did not pass a final version of the amendment prior to the regular session adjournment.

Gov. Abbott last called for a special legislative session in August 2021 that resulted in the placement of two constitutional amendments on the May 2022 ballot—the first even-numbered year statewide measures since 2014.

In Texas, a total of 281 ballot measures appeared on statewide ballots between 1985 and 2022. Two hundred forty-eight ballot measures were approved, and 33 ballot measures were defeated.

Texans to decide constitutional amendment on cost-of-living adjustments for Teacher Retirement System in November

On May 25, the Texas Legislature took the final vote to send a constitutional amendment to the ballot that would authorize the legislature to provide for cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for certain annuitants, who meet criteria provided by law, of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The amendment also authorizes the legislature to allocate money from the general fund to pay for the adjustment.

The amendment, House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR 2), passed the state House by a vote of 147-0 with three not voting on April 28. The state Senate passed an amended version of HJR 2 on May 22 by a vote of 31-0. The state House concurred on May 25 by a vote of 140-0 with nine not voting.

The implementing legislation, Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), passed the state Senate, was amended by the state House, and is headed to a conference between the chambers after the Senate did not concur with the House amendments. Under the House amended version of SB 10, annuitants would receive an annual gain sharing cost-­of­-living adjustment not to exceed 2% annually and contingent upon a five-year average pension fund investment return of 7%. The gain-sharing cost-of-living adjustment would take effect in Sept. 2028 and apply to annuitants who have been retired for at least three state fiscal years. The amended bill would also provide for a one-time cost-of-living adjustment in Jan. 2024. The rate would vary by the amount of time an annuitant has been retired ranging from 2% to 6% of a cost-of-living adjustment.

The Teacher Retirement System is considered actuarially sound with an authorization period of 27 years according to the Pension Review Board.

Legislative Chair for the Texas Retired Teachers Association Ricky Chandler said, “I think it’ll be a big help especially to the retired teachers and staff, not only teachers but everybody that’s a school employee.” He also said, “The inflation has really hurt teachers and employees that have retired years and years ago, some of them are just barely making it.”

Nicole Hill, communications director for the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said, “Good news is we saw movement, and we haven’t seen that in years,” she said. “But it just doesn’t go far enough. This is essentially crumbs.”

This is the ninth amendment to be certified for statewide ballots in Texas for Nov. 2023. Between 1985 and 2021, an average of 14 measures appeared on statewide ballots in odd-numbered-year elections in Texas.

Additional Reading:

New York voters to decide on municipal debt limit exemptions for sewage improvements

A constitutional amendment regarding indebtedness for the construction of sewage facilities will appear on the ballot for New York voters on Nov. 7, 2023. The amendment was referred to the ballot by the New York Legislature.

In New York, for the state Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, a simple majority vote is required during two successive legislative sessions. The amendment, introduced as Senate Bill S8931 in 2022, passed the Senate by 63-0 on May 31, 2022, then passed by 141-1 in the House on June 3, 2022. In the following legislative session, the amendment passed the Senate by 61-0 on March 23, 2023, then passed the House by 146-0 on May 17, 2023.

The amendment would extend an existing provision in the New York Constitution regarding municipal indebtedness resulting from the construction or maintenance of sewer facilities. Under the New York Constitution, state municipalities are under a constitutional debt limitation. In 1963, voters approved Amendment 5, which provided for these municipalities to exclude from their constitutional debt limits any indebtedness related to the construction or reconstruction of sewage facilities for an 11-year period. It was most recently re-approved in 2013, when 62% of voters approved Proposal 3. Proposal 3 extended the exclusion until Jan. 1, 2024.

The 2023 amendment would extend that exemption for another ten years up until 2034.

A memorandum in support of the legislation, submitted by the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D), said, “The need and rationale for the debt exclusion cited in 1963 and in each subsequent extension remains relevant and valid today. Local government finances continue to be strained by the need to repair or replace aging sewer infrastructure. Indeed, the urgent need for improvements and upgrades to municipal sewer facilities is well-documented as an ongoing concern for local governments.”

New Yorkers approved extending this exemption five additional times after originally approving it in 1963.

  1. 1963: Voters approved Amendment 5 by 63%-36% on Nov. 5, 1963.
  2. 1973: Voters approved Amendment 1 by 54%-45% on Nov. 7, 1973.
  3. 1983: Voters approved Proposal 2 by 51%-48% on Nov. 8, 1983.
  4. 1993: Voters approved Proposal 2 by 50%-49% on Nov. 2, 1993.
  5. 2003: Voters approved Proposal 1 by 52%-47% on Nov. 4, 2003.
  6. 2013: Voters approved Proposal 3 by 62%-37% on Nov. 5, 2013.

As of May 23, there are two measures certified for the Nov. 7, 2023, ballot in New York. The other constitutional amendment, referred by the state legislature, would remove the debt limit regarding property valuations for small city school districts.

Nevada voters to decide on amendment regarding constitutional status of Board of Regents

An amendment to remove the constitutional status of the Board of Regents in Nevada, an elected executive agency responsible for managing the state’s system of higher education, will appear on the ballot in 2024 for Nevada voters.

In Nevada, placing an amendment on the ballot requires a majority vote in two consecutive sessions of the Nevada State Legislature. During the 2021 legislative session, the amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 7 (SJR 7), and received unanimous approval from the Senate on April 13, 2021, with a vote of 20-0. On May 18, 2021, the Assembly passed SJR 7 with a vote of 30-11. In the second legislative session in 2023, the amendment was approved by the Senate on April 10, 2023, with a vote of 19-2. On May 18, 2023, the Assembly approved it with a vote of 34-7.

The Board of Regents oversees eight public institutions of higher education in Nevada, including the University of Nevada System. It is composed of 13 voting members elected to six-year terms in by-district elections. Designated members are elected every two years at the general election.

This amendment would remove the Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution and would authorize the state legislature to review and change the governing organization of state universities.

An amendment to remove the constitutional status of the Board of Regents was also on the ballot for Nevada voters in 2020 as Ballot Question 1. Nevada voters rejected this amendment by 50.15-49.85%. Nevada Assemblymember Jim Wheeler (R), who supported Ballot Question 1, said, “Ballot Question 1 restores accountability, transparency, and oversight to higher education by reinvigorating the original intent of the framers of the Nevada Constitution. Question 1 simply makes the Board of Regents a statutory body, subject to checks and balances—an important American principle.”

Laura Perkins, a member of the Nevada Board of Regents who opposed the 2020 amendment on the ballot, said, “There’s no numbers or positive proof that the system that may or may not come out of this is better than the system that we have now.”

The Nevada Faculty Alliance, an organization representing all eight institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education, said that they are neutral on the 2024 amendment. In a statement, the organization said, “Question 1, narrowly defeated in 2020, had a clause regarding academic freedom, but as written it would actually have endangered academic freedom. SJR7 is silent on academic freedom. In the 2021 legislative session, we offered an amendment to protect academic freedom, but it gained no traction. The constitutional independence of a governing board provides some protection for academic freedom; however, today we see both elected and appointed boards becoming politicized and they do not necessarily protect the principles we value.”

Currently, there are three constitutional amendments on the Nevada 2024 ballot in November. One measure, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, would provide for open top-five primaries and ranked-choice voting for general elections. The other measure, a constitutional amendment referred by the state legislature, would repeal language from the Nevada Constitution that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments.

Constitutional amendment to prohibit wealth or net worth taxes in Texas headed to November ballot

The Texas Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to prohibit any future legislation from enacting a wealth or net worth tax.

​​This amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 132 on March 13, 2023. On May 2, the state House passed HJR 132 by a vote of 101-45 with four not voting. All Republicans in the state House and 16 Democrats voted in favor of the amendment. On May, 19, the state Senate passed HJR 132 by a vote of 22-9. Three Democrats joined the Republican Senate majority.

State Rep. Cole Hefner (R-5) authored the proposal. In the statement of purpose for the amendment, Rep. Hefner said, “[The amendment] would allow the people of Texas to decide whether or not they want a direct say in the possibility of a net worth tax being imposed by the legislature.”

Every Texan and the Texas American Federation of Teachers registered in opposition to the amendment. No organizations registered in support of the amendment.

According to Business Insider, eight states— California, Connecticut, Illinois, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, and Washington—had introduced some form of wealth tax legislation during their respective 2023 legislative sessions.

In 2019, Texans approved Proposition 4, which added a provision to the state constitution prohibiting the state from levying a personal income tax. It was approved with 74.4% of the vote. Texans had also previously prohibited the state from levying a personal income tax without voter approval with the passage of a constitutional amendment in 1993.

During the Texas 2023 legislative session, 297 constitutional amendments were filed. As of May 21, eight amendments were certified to appear on statewide ballots in November. Including the eight certified measures, 47 amendments received a vote by at least one chamber. Between 1985 and 2021, an average of 14 measures appeared on statewide ballots in odd-numbered years. The state legislature is set to adjourn on May 29.

Additional reading: