CategoryBallot measures

Lawsuits filed over citizen tax initiative vote requirement in California

New lawsuits were filed in Oakland and Fresno on February 1 regarding an undetermined vote requirement for citizen tax initiatives.
In Oakland, Measure AA—an education parcel tax—received 62 percent approval on November 6, 2018. The official summary and impartial analysis stated that a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote was required for approval of the measure. However, on December 11, 2018, the Oakland City Council voted to certify Measure AA as approved according to a simple majority requirement after officials in San Francisco and other jurisdictions had challenged the two-thirds vote requirement for tax measures proposed through citizen initiatives rather than through measures referred to the ballot by lawmakers. On February 1, 2019, a group made up of homeowners, landlords, and the Jobs and Housing Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city of Oakland, arguing that the certification of Measure AA as approved was illegal. The city had certified the measure after interpreting a 2017 California Supreme Court case, California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland, as a precedent for exempting citizen initiatives from the two-thirds vote requirement that is applied to tax measures designed to fund specific projects.
In Fresno, the group Fresno Building Healthy Communities filed suit against the city of Fresno regarding Measure P, a sales tax initiative to fund recreation and the arts that received 52 percent approval on November 6, 2018. In this case, the Fresno City Council did not enact the measure and had applied the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement. The plaintiffs argued that the measure should have passed with a simple majority and are challenging the outcome. On the same day, the Fresno City Attorney’s office filed a lawsuit asking the Superior Court of Fresno County to determine the vote requirement for Measure P. The city attorney asked the court to consolidate its action with the lawsuit filed by Fresno Building Healthy Communities.
According to Proposition 218 (1996), local governments in California may only enact, extend, or increase a special tax with a two-thirds supermajority vote of the electorate. In August 2017, a California Supreme Court ruling in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland categorized taxes imposed by citizen initiatives as separate from taxes imposed by local governments, bringing into question the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement. Officials in San Francisco are currently defending a simple majority requirement in court for two initiatives, Proposition C (June 2018)—a commercial rent tax for childcare—and Proposition C (November 2018), a gross receipts tax for homelessness services.
Click the button below to learn more about Oakland Measure AA. Click here to learn more about Fresno Measure P.

Idaho Supreme Court upholds Medicaid expansion initiative, dismissing legal challenges

On February 5, 2019, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 vote to uphold Proposition 2, dismissing legal challenges to the initiative that was approved by voters in November 2018.
Proposition 2 expanded Medicaid eligibility to those under 65 years old whose income is 133 percent of the federal poverty level or below and who are not eligible for other state insurance coverage. This effectively increased the coverage level to 138 percent under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The measure was approved by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent.
On November 21, 2018, Brent Regan, Kootenai County Republican Central Committee chairman and head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s board of directors, filed a lawsuit in the Idaho Supreme Court seeking to block Proposition 2.
Regan said that “The primary concern with Proposition 2 was that it unconstitutionally delegated legislative authority to the federal government.”
Chief Justice Roger Burdick, writing for the majority of justices in dismissing the lawsuit, wrote, “If we were to accept Regan’s argument that any reference to a federal statute delegates lawmaking authority to the federal government, then many of Idaho’s statutes would be unconstitutional, and in fact, the option of any cooperative federal-state program would be curtailed.”
In court arguments on January 29, 2019, Bryan Smith, an attorney for Idaho Freedom Foundation, said, “When they voted for that, they also understood that the government was going to pay 90 percent. That’s what they understood. The federal government can change that, and if they change that, then the people just voted for something that becomes different.”
Defending Proposition 2 on behalf of the state, Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane said, “There is simply no delegation to the federal government. This [lawsuit against Proposition 2] is without legal foundation because no cogent legal theory has been advanced, procedurally or substantively. […] You can’t force states to make that change. The state of Idaho has consistently approached any change within Medicaid as requiring the state to opt in.”
As of November 2018, a total of 36 states and Washington, D.C., had expanded or voted to expand Medicaid, while 14 states had not. Medicaid expansion initiatives were on the ballot in four states in November 2018. It was approved in three: Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah. The first ever citizen initiative to expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA was approved in Maine in 2017.
Legislation was introduced in both the Idaho and Utah 2019 legislative sessions to amend or repeal the Medicaid expansion initiatives.

Albuquerque Public Schools district voters defeat all three tax and bond measures in Tuesday’s special election

Albuquerque Public Schools district voters in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, defeated three school funding measures on February 5, 2019. With 99 percent of precincts reporting on election night, a capital improvements property tax received 36 percent approval, while a property tax for school buildings received 31 percent approval, and a bond issue for capital and equipment received 42 percent approval. Had the measures passed, the combined increase in annual property taxes would have been $2 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

New Jersey governor signs $15 minimum wage legislation

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage over five years, reaching $15 in 2024. Thereafter, the minimum wage will be tacked to increases in the Consumer Price Index. New Jersey is the fourth state, following California, Massachusetts, and New York, to enact $15 minimum wage legislation.
The first increase is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2019, when the minimum wage will increase from $8.85 to $10.00. On January 1, 2019, New Jersey’s minimum wage increased from $8.60 to $8.85. Between the increases on January 1 and July 1, the minimum wage will increase a total of $1.40 in 2019—the largest increase in a state minimum wage in 2019. California, Maine, and Massachusetts each had a $1.00 increase on January 1, 2019.
With trifecta control of state government, Democrats were able to pass the minimum wage increase without the support of legislative Republicans. In 2016, Democratic legislative leaders considered putting the issue before voters as a constitutional amendment after then-Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed a statute. Referring constitutional amendments to the ballot does not require the governor’s signature.
Legislative Democrats asked voters to increase the minimum wage earlier in Christie’s tenure as governor. Voters approved the $8.25-an-hour ballot measure in 2013. According to Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, he could not reach an agreement with Senate President Stephen Sweeney regarding how a $15 minimum wage would be implemented. At the time, Prieto said legislative leaders would start again when a new governor took office in 2018. Murphy, who campaigned on increasing the minimum wage to $15, was elected to succeed Christie on November 7, 2017, giving Democrats trifecta control of state government.
Of the 29 states with a minimum wage above the federal requirement of $7.25, 14 were enacted via citizen-initiated measures in states with divided governments or Republican trifectas. None of the ballot initiatives were on the ballot in a state with a Democratic trifecta. Fifteen of the increases were enacted via legislative bills in states with Democratic trifectas or, in the case of New York, a divided government. None of the increases occurred via legislation in Republican trifectas. In Michigan, legislators under a Republican trifecta amended a citizen-initiated measure in December 2018. The legislation, like the citizen-initiated measure, was designed to increase the minimum wage to $12 but over a longer time period. As of February 5, 2019, ballot measures to increase state minimum wages have been proposed for the 2020 ballot in Florida, Nevada, and South Dakota.

Four 2019 initiative signature deadlines passed, three remain

Four signature submission deadlines for statewide ballot initiatives targeting the 2019 ballot have passed, and three remain.
Ballot initiatives are proposals for new laws or constitutional amendments put on the ballot through citizen signature petition drives. Of the 26 states with a process for citizen-initiated measures, four allow for ballot initiatives or veto referendums for elections in any odd-numbered years: Colorado, Maine, Ohio, and Washington. Moreover, citizen-initiated measures could have gone on the Mississippi ballot because of the gubernatorial election in 2019, but no signatures were filed by the deadline.
Signature deadlines that have passed:
October 10, 2018: initiated constitutional amendments in Mississippi;
  • No signatures were submitted
December 28, 2018: initiated state statutes in Ohio;
  • No signatures were submitted
January 4, 2019: Washington’s indirect process for Initiatives to the Legislature;
  • Signatures for two Washington Initiatives to the Legislature were submitted
January 24, 2019: initiated state statutes in Maine.
  • No signatures were submitted
Signature deadlines that remain:
July 3, 2019: initiated constitutional amendments in Ohio
  • There is one pending potential 2019 initiative left in Ohio – an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana and authorize the state legislature to enact a marijuana sales tax.
    • Proponents need to collect 442,958 signatures by the July 3 deadline to qualify the initiative for the November 2019 ballot. They must also meet Ohio’s signature distribution requirement by gathering signatures equal to at least 5 percent of votes cast for governor in at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
    • In 2018, voters approved a recreational marijuana legalization initiative in Michigan (the first to be approved in the Midwest) and defeated a recreational marijuana legalization initiative in North Dakota.
    • Voters in Ohio rejected a marijuana legalization initiative in 2015 (Issue 3) that was designed to give exclusive rights for commercial marijuana production to 10 facilities.
July 5, 2019: Washington’s direct process for Initiatives to the People
  • Unlike Initiatives to the Legislature, these initiatives go directly to the ballot without consideration by the state legislature if the required 129,811 signatures are submitted before the July 5 deadline.
  • Proponents of 11 distinct initiative efforts filed Initiatives to the People with the Washington secretary of state. Some proponents submitted multiple versions for the same initiative effort.
August 5, 2019: initiated constitutional amendments and initiated state statutes in Colorado
  • Two distinct initiatives have been filed with the secretary of state, although proponents of one effort filed multiple versions. One would change the tax structure for oil and gas severance taxes and the other would amend or repeal (depending on the version) Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Proponents must submit 124,632 signatures by the August 5 deadline and meet the state’s distribution requirement to qualify for the November 2019 ballot.
There are also signature deadlines for veto referendums, which are measures to overturn bills passed by the state legislature during the 2019 session. These depend on the date the bill was approved or the adjournment date of the legislature. None are currently pending for the 2019 cycle.

Voters to decide in May whether to make Denver the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms

Denver voters will decide a citizen initiative to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms at the election on May 7, 2019. The initiative would make the enforcement of any criminal laws regarding the possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms by anyone 21 years old or older the lowest law enforcement priority of the city. It would also prohibit any city officers, agencies, or employees from using city funds or resources to enforce laws with criminal penalties for the possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms by adults.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), psilocybin is a “chemical obtained from certain types of fresh or dried mushrooms.” The mushrooms containing psilocybin are also known as magic mushrooms, hallucinogenic mushrooms, or shrooms. Psilocybin is considered a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act and the state Controlled Substances Act.

The group behind the initiative, Decriminalize Denver, submitted over 8,000 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot with the Denver Elections Division on January 7, 2019. A total of 4,726 valid signatures were required to qualify the initiative for the ballot. In Denver, signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast for mayoral candidates in the preceding mayoral election are required to put an initiative before voters. On February 1, 2019, the Denver elections office announced that enough signatures had been validated to qualify the initiative for the May 2019 ballot.

No state or city has legalized or decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms. An initiative effort is ongoing in Oregon targeting the 2020 ballot to reduce some criminal penalties for possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms and create a regulated program to provide psilocybin mushrooms to certain adults. An initiative effort to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last year in California reported making it a quarter of the way to the state’s signature requirement but ultimately did not qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Washington Legislature unanimously passes bill to amend police use of deadly force initiative, I-940

House Bill 1064 to amend Washington I-940 was introduced on December 17, 2018. It passed unanimously in the House on January 24 and unanimously in the Senate on January 30, 2019, sending it to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D) for his signature.
Initiative 940 was designed to create a legally-defined good faith test to determine when the use of deadly force by police is justifiable, require police to receive de-escalation and mental health training, and provide that police have a duty to render first aid. It removed the requirement that prosecutors show that a law enforcement officer acted with malice to be convicted. I-940 was approved in November 2018 by 59.6 percent of voters.
House Bill 1064 was designed to amend I-940 as passed by voters in 2018. Specifically, the bill amends provisions relating to I-940’s standard for the use of deadly force. Under I-940, officers would have been required to show that they believed they were acting in good faith when they used deadly force. The new language under HB 1064 uses a different test: whether another officer acting reasonably in the same circumstances would have believed deadly force was necessary.
The bill was also designed to require the state to reimburse law enforcement officers for defense costs if charges against an officer are dismissed or if they are found not guilty of charges surrounding unjustified use of deadly force. The bill also modified provisions of I-940 regarding independent investigations of deadly force incidents, training requirements, and more. HB 1064 was the result of a compromise between supporters and opponents of I-940.
Ken Thomas, president of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs board, said, “We believe this new deadly-force standard — clarified and agreed-upon by HB 1064 — provides a clear and objective standard that can be clearly understood.”
Before the election, a deal was made and state legislators approved bills designed to enact I-940 and immediately amend it without it going on the ballot. Ultimately, a court ruling required that the initiative go before voters at the November 2018 election.
In Washington, a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature is required to amend an initiative passed by voters within two years following a measure’s approval. Five states along with Washington have a supermajority requirement in the legislature to appeal or amend an initiative. Eleven states have no restrictions on legislative alteration of initiatives. California and Arizona are the only two states that require voter approval for changes to or the repeal of citizen-initiated state statutes.
In 2017 and 2018, Ballotpedia tracked nine other initiatives in five states and D.C. that were amended or repealed through legislative alteration. Moreover, proposals were introduced but ultimately failed for the legislative alteration of two additional initiatives in 2017.
Utah Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative of 2018, was altered by the legislature the month after it was approved by voters. The Utah Senate is expected to pass a bill altering Proposition 3, the Medicaid expansion initiative, in the coming days.
Click here to read more about legislative alteration of citizen initiatives.

How much did the signature drives for California’s three 2020 citizen-initiated measures cost?

As of February 1, 2019, three citizen-initiated statewide ballot measures have qualified for the election on November 3, 2020, in California. The signature drives for the ballot initiatives cost between $2.05 million and $3.49 million.
Campaigns behind ballot initiatives often hire companies that specialize in signature drives to circulate petitions. Since Ballotpedia began tracking signature drive costs in 2010, none of the 51 citizen-initiated measures that appeared on statewide California ballots relied exclusively on volunteers to collect signatures; each hired a private firm to collect some or all of the required signatures.
In 2018, the average signature drive cost in California was about $2.56 million, or $6.07 per required signature. The ballot initiatives that have qualified for the 2020 ballot thus far had the same signature requirements as those on the ballot in 2018. However, any future 2020 ballot initiatives will require 70.3 percent more signatures due to voter turnout in 2018, which will likely increase the spending on signature drives. From 2010 to 2018, the cost-per-required-signature has ranged from $1.18 to $11.31 in California.
Summaries of California’s three 2020 citizen-initiated measures are below:
*Criminal Sentencing, Parole, and DNA Collection Initiative: The ballot initiative would amend several criminal sentencing and supervision laws that were passed between 2011 and 2016. The Keep California Safe PAC, a project of the California Public Safety Partners, is leading the campaign in support of the ballot initiative. The PAC spent $2.05 million to collect the 365,880 valid signatures required to put the initiative on the ballot, resulting in a total cost per required signature (CPRS) of $5.59. Arno Petition Consultants was hired to collect signatures, receiving 96.7 percent of the spending on the signature drive.
*Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments Veto Referendum: The veto referendum was designed to overturn Senate Bill 10 (10). SB 10 was designed to replace cash bail with risk assessments for detained suspects awaiting trials. The American Bail Coalition, a nonprofit trade association, organized the political action committee (PAC) Californians Against the Reckless Bail Scheme to sponsor the veto referendum petition and advocate for a “no” vote. The PAC spent $2.78 million to collect the 365,880 valid signatures required to put the referendum on the ballot, resulting in a total cost per required signature (CPRS) of $7.59. National Petition Management, Inc. was the largest recipient of the spending, receiving 99.1 percent.
*Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative: The ballot initiative would require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price. As of 2019, commercial and industrial properties, like residential properties, are taxed based on purchase price. The additional revenue from the change would be allocated to local governments and school districts. The Schools and Communities First PAC is leading the campaign in support of the ballot initiative. The PAC spent $3.40 million to collect the 585,407 valid signatures required to put the referendum on the ballot, resulting in a total cost per required signature (CPRS) of $5.96. Kimball Petition Management, Inc. received 99.0 percent of the spending on the signature drive.

Missouri could have the 10th largest city in the U.S. if voters decide a ballot initiative to merge St. Louis city and St. Louis County

In 2020, voters across Missouri could decide a ballot initiative to consolidate St. Louis city and St. Louis County into a single political entity named The Metropolitan City of St. Louis. The new city would be the 10th largest city in the U.S., with a population around 1.3 million as of 2017. Residents of The Metropolitan City of St. Louis would elect a 33?member legislative council, with members elected from districts to four-year terms, an executive mayor, a prosecutor, and an assessor.
The ballot initiative would amend the Missouri Constitution, as St. Louis city and St. Louis County are inscribed in the state constitution. Changes to the Missouri Constitution require a statewide vote.
Better Together, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, proposed the ballot initiative. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson (D) and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger (D) spoke at Better Together’s news conference in favor of the plan. Ben Keathley, a council member for the city of Chesterfield in St. Louis County, said he was opposed to not having a local vote on consolidation. He stated, “If this is the thing we want to do, then we should be the ones choosing it. People all over the state of Missouri shouldn’t be picking the government for someone else.”
Voters in Missouri had addressed several ballot measures related to the consolidation of St. Louis and St. Louis County, including in 1930 and 1962. Both of the ballot measures were defeated.
In Missouri, the signature requirement totals for initiatives are based on the number of votes cast for governor in the state’s most recent gubernatorial election in six of the state’s eight congressional districts. This means the smallest possible requirement to get an initiated constitutional amendment placed on the ballot for November 3, 2020, is 160,199. Signatures for initiated amendments are due six months before the general election, which is May 3, 2020.

Florida energy market initiative moves forward; still needs more than 687,000 signatures to qualify for 2020 ballot

The Florida Changes to Energy Market Initiative (Initiative #18-10) is headed to the state supreme court for a ballot language review after sponsors submitted over 79,000 valid preliminary signatures. Citizens for Energy Choices, the sponsors of the measure, call it the Florida Energy Choice Initiative. The measure would give customers “the right to choose their electricity provider” and allow them to generate and sell electricity.
The measure would amend the state constitution to declare that it is the policy of the state of Florida that “its wholesale and retail electricity markets be fully competitive so that electricity customers are afforded meaningful choices among a wide variety of competing electricity providers.”
As of January 31, 2019, the Florida Division of Elections reported that Citizens for Energy Choices had submitted 79,132 valid preliminary signatures, triggering a court review of the initiative’s ballot language and compliance with the state’s single-subject rule. To qualify for the 2020 ballot, at least 766,200 signatures need to be collected and verified with a recommended submission deadline of January 1, 2020.
The initiative itself would not directly change the structure of the state’s electric-power retail market. Rather, the amendment would declare that the state’s policy is to establish an open and competitive market for electric-power; provide consumers of investor-owned utility companies with the right to choose providers on a competitive wholesale and retail electric market and to produce electricity for themselves; and require the Florida State Legislature to pass laws to implement the amendment.
According to reports available as of January 31, 2019, Citizens for Energy Choice reported $1.14 million in contributions, all from Coalition for Energy Choice, Inc. The committee reported $574,080.39 in total expenditures. Of the total expenditures, $546,500 was expended to Ballot Access LLC and Linjen Corp for signature gathering. The average cost of a successful initiative in Florida was $4.15 million in 2016 and $4.59 million in 2018. The average total cost for qualifying a statewide initiative or veto referendum for the ballot in 2018 across the country was between $1.1 million and $1.2 million. In 2016, the average cost was $1.03 million.
On its website, Citizens for Energy Choice argued, “Florida has the second-highest electricity usage in the country, so it can be a major expense for homes and businesses alike. But of America’s seven largest states, Florida is the only one that doesn’t allow consumers to choose their own electricity providers. With choice, Florida can save more than $5 billion every year. This economic advantage would help keep Florida a leader among the country’s most populous states. Enacting energy choice in Florida will lower energy bills for all Floridians, expand clean energy options, and improve the reliability of infrastructure.”
Opponents of the measure include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, and Florida Power and Light. Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Tom Feeney said, “We believe deregulation would have a detrimental impact on Florida’s businesses and citizens in the form of increased cost of electricity and market uncertainty. Deregulating Florida’s electric utility industry would create inefficient and uneven services throughout the state, causing major chaos when a natural disaster strikes.”
This Florida amendment contains very similar provisions to Nevada Question 3 of 2018, which supporters also referred to as the Energy Choice Initiative. The question needed to be approved at two successive general elections but was defeated at the second general election it faced in 2018. Nevada Question 3 was one of the top ten most expensive ballot initiatives in 2018 and was the measure with the highest cost-per vote– $100.85 was raised per vote for or against Nevada Question 3. In total, $33.4 million was raised in support of the measure and $63.9 million was raised in opposition to it.