CategoryBallot measures

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.

Arkansas veto referendum petition filed seeking to block new optometry practice law letting optometrists perform some surgical procedures

On Tuesday, June 11, Arkansas lawyer and lobbyist Alex Gray filed a referendum petition on behalf of sponsors Safe Surgery Arkansas. The referendum petition effort seeks to overturn Act 579 (House Bill 1251), which was signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 27, 2019.
Act 579 amended the definition of practice of optometry to allow optometrists to perform the following procedures:
  • Injections, excluding intravenous or intraocular injections;
  • Incision and curettage of a chalazion (bump on the eyelid caused by a clogged oil gland);
  • Removal and biopsy of skin lesions with low risk of malignancy, excluding lesions involving the lid margin or nasal to the puncta;
  • Laser capsulotomy (a laser treatment following cataract surgery); and
  • Laser trabeculoplasty (a laser treatment for glaucoma).
Before Act 579, licensed optometrists were prohibited from using ophthalmic lasers for surgical procedures.
Safe Surgery Arkansas, the sponsor of the veto referendum effort, argues that Act 579 would jeopardize patient safety and lower the quality of surgical eye care in Arkansas. The group argued, “This new law would allows [sic] optometrists— who are not medical doctors or trained surgeons— to perform delicate surgery on the eye and surrounding tissues using scalpels, lasers, and needles. When it comes to performing surgery, especially eye surgery, there is no substitute for medical school and residency to obtain the necessary level of education and training— which was required to perform eye surgery in Arkansas— but not anymore. HB 1251 removes this critical patient safeguard by granting optometrists broad surgical privileges to operate on the eyes while bypassing these critical training requirements.”
The Arkansas Optometric Association, however, supports Act 579 and opposes the referendum effort to overturn it. The executive director of the Arkansas Optometric Association, Vicki Farmer, argued, “Arkansas legislators overwhelmingly approved this measure during the recent session, after listening to hours of testimony and debate, and learning optometrists in other states, like Oklahoma, have been safely performing these procedures for more than 20 years. Lawmakers also heard from constituents who have had to endure added costs and lengthy waits when required to see a specialist for care their optometrist is trained to safely provide.”
Proponents have six weeks to collect 53,491 valid signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Signatures must be submitted by July 23, 2019.
For veto referendums in Arkansas, a “yes” vote is a vote to uphold the targeted legislation and a “no” vote is a vote to repeal the legislation. Sponsors of the veto referendum are advocating for a “no” vote. The last time a veto referendum appeared on the ballot in Arkansas was 2004. Since the first referendum in 1934, 10 such measures have appeared on the Arkansas ballot. The referendums resulted in the targeted legislation being repealed or overturned in all but one case.
Already set to appear on Arkansas’ 2020 ballot are three constitutional amendments that have been referred to the ballot by the state legislature. The amendments concern a sales tax for transportation, term limits for state legislators, and changes to the initiative process and legislative referral requirements.

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.

Voters in Denver approve initiative requiring voter approval of any public funding for future Olympics

Voters in Denver, Colorado, approved Initiated Ordinance 302 on Tuesday. According to preliminary reports, it was approved by 79 percent of voters. The initiative prohibits the city and county from using public funds in connection with future Olympic Games unless a majority of voters approve such funds.
The group Let Denver Vote circulated the initiative petition during the city’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to host the 2030 winter Olympic Games. I-302 was designed to apply to any future Olympic Games.
In 2018, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) considered bids from cities wishing to host the 2030 winter Olympic Games. The city of Denver made a proposal to host the games for $1.9 billion. The USOC selected Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver as its top two choices. In the midst of the city’s Olympic bid, Let Denver Vote circulated the petition for I-302, seeking to restrict public funding for the games to only voter-approved funds. On December 18, 2018, the USOC selected Salt Lake City as its city to bid for the 2030 games.

Louisiana State Legislature sends two property tax exemption ballot measures to the 2019 ballot

The Louisiana State Legislature gave final approval to two constitutional amendments on Sunday, sending them to the October 2019 primary election ballot. Both amendments concern exemptions for ad valorem property taxes. In Louisiana, the state legislature can refer constitutional amendments to the ballot with a two-thirds (66.67 percent) vote of all members in each chamber.
One amendment would authorize the city of New Orleans to exempt properties with no more than 15 residential units from taxes for the purpose of, according to the amendment, promoting and encouraging affordable housing. The ballot measure would allow New Orleans to (a) exempt a portion of assessed values of properties, (b) exempt the full assessed value of properties, or (c) keep assessed values at the level for the year prior to the exemption going into effect. The ballot measure would prohibit properties used as short-term rentals (less than 30 days) from receiving the exemption. State Sen. Troy Carter (D-7) introduced the constitutional amendment. The state Senate approved it 28-9 on May 7. At least 26 votes were needed to pass SB 79 in the Senate. On June 2, 2019, the state house approved the amendment 92-2.
The other amendment would exempt goods and other property stored in Louisiana in transit to the Outer Continental Shelf from ad valorem property taxes. State Sen. Blake Miguez (R-49) introduced the constitutional amendment as House Bill 234 (HB 234). On May 22, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved the constitutional amendment, with 83 representatives supporting the amendment, 12 representatives opposing the amendment, and 10 members absent or not voting. In the Senate, a change to the proposed amendment was adopted amending the definition to which the property tax exemption would apply from “stored in Louisiana for maintenance or with a destination to the Outer Continental Shelf” to “stored in Louisiana for maintenance with a destination to the Outer Continental Shelf” (emphasis added). As amended, it passed unanimously in the Senate. The House, concurred with the Senate changes on June 2, 2019, with 91 representatives supporting the amendment, four opposing it, and 10 not voting. An exemption exists for property stored in Louisiana before being exported out of the U.S. or transported to another state. This amendment would extend that exemption to property destined to the Outer Continental Shelf.
The legislature is considering other constitutional amendments for the 2019 ballot before it adjourns later this week. Amendments that have been approved in one chamber include measures concerning abortion, taxes, and education.
From 1995 through 2018, Louisiana voters decided 185 constitutional amendments. An average of five measures appeared on odd-year statewide ballots, with a range from zero to 16. Voters approved 75 percent (139 of 185) and rejected 25 percent (46 of 185) of the constitutional amendments.
So far, 17 statewide ballot measures have certified for 2019 election ballots in five states. By this time in the year, an average of 16 statewide measures had been certified for the ballot in the last four odd-numbered years. An average of 30 statewide measures ultimately appeared on the ballot during odd-numbered years since 2011.
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Alabama sends five constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot before adjourning

The Alabama Legislature adjourned its 2019 legislative session on May 31, 2019. In total, the legislature referred five constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot where voters will approve or reject them. The measures will appear either on the March 3, 2020, primary ballot or the November 3, 2020, general election ballot. The measures are as follows:
  • The Alabama Judicial System Amendment (SB 216), sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-3), would revise multiple sections of the state constitution concerning the state judiciary, including removing the authority of the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to hire the administrative director of courts and giving that authority to the Alabama Supreme Court as a whole. The amendment would also change the composition of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary so that three (instead of two) persons on the court are members of the State Bar. The amendment also removes the authority of the Lieutenant Governor to appoint one member to the court.
  • The Alabama Judicial Vacancies Amendment (HB 505), sponsored by Rep. David Faulkner (R-46), would change provisions related to the timeline, term length, and rules for judges appointed to fill vacancies.
  • The Alabama Changes to State Board of Education Amendment (SB 397), sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh (R-12), would change the state’s education board members from elected to appointed. It would also rename the State Board of Education to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education. Under the amendment, board members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate rather than being elected by voters in one of the state’s eight education districts.
  • The Alabama Citizen Requirement for Voting Amendment (SB 313), sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh (R-12), would amend the Alabama Constitution to state that “only a citizen” rather than “every citizen” of the U.S. can vote in Alabama.
  • The Alabama Authorize Legislature to Recompile the State Constitution Amendment (HB 328), sponsored by Rep. Merika Coleman (D-57), would authorize the state legislature to revise and recompile the Alabama Constitution during the 2022 regular state legislative session and provide for voter ratification of the recompiled constitution. Authorized revisions to the constitution would, according to the text of the amendment, include removing all language in the state constitution considered to be racist; arranging the constitution into proper articles, parts, and sections; deleting repealed or duplicate provisions; arranging all local amendments by county; and consolidating provisions regarding economic development.
In Alabama, a 60 percent vote is needed in each chamber of the Alabama State Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration.
On average since 1997, the legislature referred eight measures to even-year ballots, 81% of which were approved. The legislature may also refer additional amendments to the 2020 ballot during its 2020 legislative session, expected to take place during the early months of 2020.
As of June 3, 2019, 35 statewide ballot measures had been certified for the 2020 ballot in 16 states.
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Alabama voters to decide in 2020 on citizen requirement for voting

On May 30, 2019, the Alabama Legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 313, which would amend the Alabama Constitution to state that “only a citizen of the United States,” rather than “every citizen of the United States,” has the right to vote in Alabama (emphasis added).
Sen. Del Marsh (R-12) introduced the constitutional amendment as Senate Bill 313 (SB 313) during the 2019 legislative session. On May 8, 2019, the Alabama State Senate approved SB 313 in a vote of 27-0 with eight members (three Democrats and five Republicans) absent or not voting. On May 30, 2019, the state House passed the measure in a vote of 87-0 with 14 Democratic members abstaining and 3 members (two Democrats and one Republican) absent or not voting.
Joshua Jones of Citizen Voters, a group pushing for similar amendments across the nation, said, “Most people don’t realize cities around the country are already opening municipal elections to non-citizen voters. This constitutional amendment will ensure that trend never comes to Alabama. [The amendment’s sponsors] are warriors for ballot security, the rule of law and ensuring voting remains a sacred and solemn duty of citizens only.”
Voters in North Dakota decided on a similar measure, Measure 2, in 2018. The measure amended the North Dakota Constitution to state that “only a citizen” rather than “every citizen” of the U.S. can vote in federal, state, and local elections. Measure 2 was approved by a vote of 66% to 34%.
Similar initiatives have been proposed in Colorado and Florida targeting the 2019 and 2020 ballots, respectively.
As of 2019, neither Alabama nor any of the state’s local jurisdictions allowed non-citizens to vote in elections. In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed a law prohibiting non-citizens from voting in federal elections, such as U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and presidential elections. Federal law did not address state or local elections. San Francisco and several local governments in Maryland had passed laws to expand voting to non-citizens for certain local elections.
The Alabama State Legislature referred a total of five constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot during the 2019 legislative session. In Alabama, a 60 percent vote is needed in each chamber of the Alabama State Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration.
On average since 1997, the legislature referred eight measures to even-year ballots, 81% of which were approved. The legislature may also refer additional amendments to the 2020 ballot during its 2020 legislative session.
As of June 3, 2019, 35 statewide ballot measures had been certified for the 2020 ballot in 16 states.
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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.

Alabama voters will decide in 2020 whether or not the state legislature may recompile the state constitution

In Alabama, a 2020 ballot measure would, if approved, authorize the state legislature to recompile the state constitution during its 2022 regular session and also provide for its ratification.
According to the text of the proposed amendment, authorized changes to the constitution would include:
  • arranging it in proper articles, parts, and section;
  • removing all racist language;
  • delete duplicative and repealed provisions;
  • consolidate provisions regarding economic development; and
  • arrange all local amendments by county of application.
The amendment was introduced as House Bill 328 by Rep. Merika Coleman (D-57) on April 3, 2019. On April 25, the state House passed the amendment unanimously (101-0) with three representatives (two Republicans and one Democrat) absent or not voting. The measure was then amended and passed in the state Senate unanimously (30-0) with five senators (three Republicans and two Democrats) absent or not voting. On May 23, the state House concurred with the state Senate’s amendments and approved the bill unanimously (97-0) with seven representatives (four Republicans and three Democrats) absent or not voting.
As of May 28, one other constitutional amendment is on the ballot to be decided by Alabama voters in 2020. That measure would revise multiple sections of the state constitution concerning the state judiciary, including removing the authority of the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to hire the administrative director of courts and instead giving that authority to the Alabama Supreme Court as a whole.
A total of 95 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Alabama from 1997 to 2018. During that time, the number of measures on the statewide ballot during even-numbered years ranged from four to 15. Between 1997 and 2018, about 81% (72 of 89) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots during even-numbered years were approved, and about 19% (17 of 89) were defeated.