CategoryBallot measures

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

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


Voters in Philadelphia approve four charter amendments

On May 21, 2019, voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, voted in the city’s primary election for mayor, city council, and other city offices. Voters also approved four amendments to the city’s charter according to election night results with 94% of precincts reporting. The four amendments were all referred to the ballot by the city council.
 
Question 1 changed gender-specific references, such as councilman, to gender-neutral references, such as councilmember, in the city’s charter. It was approved by 68% of voters.
 
Question 2 added the Office of Immigrant Affairs to the city’s charter, making the office permanent rather than dependent on executive orders. In 2013, Mayor Michael Nutter created the office through an executive order, and his successor, Mayor James Kenney, also authorized the office. Question 2 was approved by 74% of voters.
 
Question 3 calls on the Pennsylvania State Legislature to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 by 2025 and requests the legislature to allow Philadelphia to increase the city’s minimum wage. It did not have a direct, legally binding effect on the city’s minimum wage. Since 2006, Pennsylvania has preempted local governments, such as cities, from setting their own minimum wage standards. Therefore, Philadelphia cannot increase its minimum wage for private employers unless the legislature repeals the preemption clause. Question 3 was approved by 81% of voters.
 
Question 4 created a new class of law enforcement officers, called public safety enforcement officers (PSEO), to assist the police department in regulating traffic and enforcing code provisions. PSEOs will not have the authority to carry firearms or to detain or arrest any person. The amendment was approved by 69% of voters.
 


Texas voters will decide constitutional amendment prohibiting income tax

In November, voters in Texas will decide a constitutional amendment to prohibit the state from levying an income tax on individuals. Legislative Republicans supported the amendment but did not have the two-thirds majorities required in each legislative chamber to pass the amendment without support from some Democrats. In the Texas State House, 100 votes were needed, and 80 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted to pass the amendment. In the Texas State Senate, 21 votes were needed, and 19 Republicans and three Democrats voted to pass the amendment.
 
Texas is one of seven states without a personal income tax. Currently, enacting an income tax requires a simple majority vote each legislative chamber and voter approval through a statewide referendum. As the 2019 ballot measure would ban the income tax in the constitution, a constitutional amendment, requiring a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber and voter approval, would be required to enact an income tax in the future.
 
Democratic Sen. Royce West (D-23) said the Legislative Budget Board’s analysis of the constitutional amendment was concerning. The proposed amendment would ban an income tax on individuals, whereas the existing language described an income tax as being imposed on natural persons. The Legislative Budget Board’s analysis stated, “The term ‘individuals’ is not defined and could be interpreted to include entities that are currently subject to the state’s franchise tax. To the extent the joint resolution might exempt some entities from the franchise tax, there could be a loss to state revenue.” Sen. West argued that the term individuals should be replaced with natural persons to “bring clarity to exactly what we’re attempting to do,” but his motion to amend the language was rejected. Republican Sen. Pat Fallon (R-30) responded to West, saying that “‘Individual’ is synonymous with ‘natural person.’” According to the House Research Organization, supporters also argued that the amendment would “keep the Texas economy strong by making certain that the state never could impose a state individual income tax.”
 
As of May 21, 2019, six statewide ballot measures were certified for the ballot on November 5, 2019, in Texas. The state legislature is expected to adjourn on May 27, 2019, and could refer additional constitutional amendments before adjournment. An average of 13 measures appeared on odd-year statewide ballots in Texas between 1995 and 2017. Voters approved 91 percent (145 of 159) and rejected 9 percent (14 of 159) of the constitutional amendments on the ballot during this 22-year period. Across the U.S., 10 statewide ballot measures in four states had been certified for 2019 ballots as of May 21.
 
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Voters in Missouri will decide constitutional amendment to limit state executive officials to two terms

Voters in Missouri will decide a constitutional amendment to limit state executive officials to two terms in office. The constitutional amendment will be on the ballot for November 3, 2020, unless the governor calls a special election for an earlier date.
 
As of 2019, the state constitution limited the governor and state treasurer to two terms of office but not the other executive offices. The constitutional amendment would add the limit to the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, and attorney general. None of the current officeholders have been in office for more than two terms.
 
In Missouri, referring a constitutional amendment to the ballot requires a simple majority vote in each chamber of the Missouri State Legislature during one legislative session. The constitutional amendment was the only one passed by the Missouri State Legislature during its 2019 legislative session, which adjourned on May 17.
 
State legislators are also limited in the number of terms they can serve in Missouri. In 1992, voters adopted a constitutional amendment, titled Amendment 12, to enact term limits on state legislators. Amendment 12 received 75 percent of the vote. The constitutional amendment prohibited a person from serving more than eight years in either the state House or state Senate, or a total of sixteen years in both legislative chambers.
 
Noting the limits on state legislators and the governor, Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-34), the 2020 amendment’s legislative sponsor, said, ”The voters of Missouri have made it clear they emphatically support term limits. This measure will bring consistency to our term limits for all state officials and prevent them from becoming career politicians.” Sen. Ed Emery (R-31), who voted against the amendment in the legislature, said certain executive offices, like the auditor and attorney general, require experience and shouldn’t be term limited like other offices. He said, “We want people in there who are experienced and know the job and know what they’re doing. I do think that those are a little different categorically and functionally than those top executive positions.”
 


Presidential hopefuls Harris, Buttigieg endorse Los Angeles schools Measure EE

On June 4, voters in the Los Angeles Unified School District will vote on Measure EE, a proposal to enact a special property tax to fund local schools. Approval of the measure would authorize a $0.16-per-square foot parcel tax for twelve years to fund educational improvements, instruction, and programs. School district officials have estimated that the tax would raise $500 million per year. The measure has received endorsements from 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris (D) and Pete Buttigieg (D).
 
California Senator Kamala Harris endorsed a “yes” vote on Measure EE on May 20. She tweeted, “Closing the teacher pay gap is a key part of our campaign because investing in our future starts with investing in our schools. Join me and @VoteYesOnEE on June 4 (or right now by mail) to lower class sizes and stand with teachers and students.”
 
 
On May 9, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg attended a rally in Los Angeles with Mayor Eric Garcetti where he endorsed Measure EE. Relating the issue to his presidential campaign, he said, “In our campaign we talk about three issues: freedom, security and democracy. Every one of those issues is at stake when it comes to Measure EE and supporting the men and women who make public education work.”
 
 
The group Yes on EE is leading the campaign in support of the measure. On its campaign website, the group states that Measure EE will “help our neighborhood schools retain and attract quality teachers, counselors, school nurses, librarians, support staff and principals.” The campaign reported $1.28 million in contributions between January 1 and April 20. Top donors to the “yes” campaign include the JMM Charitable Foundation, Steve Ballmer, and United Teachers Los Angeles.
 
The group No On Measure EE is leading the campaign in opposition to the measure. On its website, the group states that “the 16-cent per square foot tax on all properties will flow into the School District’s general fund with no requirement that revenue be spent in the classroom or on our kids.” The opposition campaign reported $358,000 in contributions between January 1 and April 20. Top donors to the No On Measure EE campaign included the National Association of REALTORS, California Business Roundtable, and the California Association of Realtors.
 
Measure EE requires a two-thirds supermajority vote for approval. Polls close for LAUSD voters at 8 p.m. on June 4.
 
 


Voter-approved pay parity initiative in Houston ruled unconstitutional

On May 15, Judge Tanya Garrison of Texas District Court 157 ruled Proposition B (2018) unconstitutional. Proposition B was an initiative granting pay parity with city police to Houston firefighters.
 
Proposition B was placed on the 2018 general election ballot in Houston through a citizen initiative campaign led by the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. The measure was designed to match city firefighters’ pay to that of the Houston Police Department. It was approved 59 percent to 41 percent in November.
 
The proposition provided for a 29 percent raise for firefighters in the first year, followed by additional raises equal to police pay. Prior to the measure’s approval, city officials had estimated that Proposition B would cost $100 million per year. The proposition could not be funded through increased taxes due to an annual revenue cap. Mayor Sylvester Turner had argued that the city did not have a funding mechanism for Proposition B.
 
Following approval of Proposition B, the Houston Police Officers’ Union filed a lawsuit against the city and the firefighters’ union, arguing that the measure was unconstitutional for the following reasons:
  • It violated Texas Local Government Code by setting firefighter pay relative to other municipal workers instead of private sector jobs;
  • It is preempted by the state’s Fire and Police Employment Relations Act; and
  • It is preempted by state policy on collective bargaining rights by forcing police bargaining to also encompass firefighter pay.
 
Judge Garrison granted the motion by the police officers’ union, stating that Proposition B is preempted by state code regarding fire and police employee relations and that it violates Article XI, Section 5 of the state constitution.
 
Following Judge Garrison’s ruling on May 15, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association tweeted, “We will continue to strive to force Sylvester Turner to respect the will of 298,000 [sic] Prop B voters who sent a strong message that Houston should equally value its police and fire personnel.”
 


Voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will vote on four charter amendments on May 21, 2019

On May 21, 2019, voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will vote in the city’s primary election for mayor, city council, and other city offices. Voters will also decide on four amendments to the city’s charter. The four amendments were all referred to the ballot by the city council.
 
Question 1 would change gender-specific references, such as councilman, to gender-neutral references, such as councilmember, in the city’s charter.
 
Question 2 would add the Office of Immigrant Affairs to the city’s charter, making the office permanent rather than dependent on executive orders. In 2013, Mayor Michael Nutter created the office through an executive order, and his successor, Mayor James Kenney, also authorized the office.
 
Question 3 would call on the Pennsylvania State Legislature to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 by 2025 and request the legislature to allow Philadelphia to increase the city’s minimum wage. Since 2006, Pennsylvania has preempted local governments, such as cities, from setting their own minimum wage standards. Therefore, Philadelphia cannot increase its minimum wage for private employers unless the legislature repeals the preemption clause.
 
Question 4 would create a new class of law enforcement officers, called public safety enforcement officers (PSEO), to assist the police department in regulating traffic and enforcing code provisions. PSEO would not have the authority to carry firearms or to detain or arrest any person.
 
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Texas voters will decide a ballot measure to permit $3 billion more in bonds for the state’s cancer research institute

On November 5, 2019, voters in Texas will decide a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to increase the maximum amount of bonds for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) from $3 billion to $6 billion. According to the Texas House Research Organization, the state is projected to run out of bonds for CPRIT between 2020 and 2022. Between September 1, 2009, and February 21, 2019, CPRIT had issued $2.26 billion in grants.
 
CPRIT was created in 2009 after voters approved Proposition 15 in 2007. The ballot measure tasked CPRIT with making grants to public and private researchers, education institutions, and medical research facilities to research the causes of cancer in humans and develop cures, mitigation procedures, and prevention protocols and services. Proposition 15 allowed the Texas Public Finance Authority to authorize $3 billion in general obligation bonds, which would be used for the institute’s operation and grants. Under Proposition 15, as well as the 2019 amendment, no more than $300 million in bonds could be authorized per year.
 
The 2019 constitutional amendment received unanimous approval in the state Senate. In the state House, Democrats, along with 64 Republicans, voted for the amendment. Fifteen House Republicans voted against referring the amendment to the ballot. The amendment needed a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the legislature. The governor does not sign constitutional amendments, which go on the ballot for voter consideration.
 
The CPRIT bond increase amendment is the second certified for the 2019 ballot in Texas. The first amendment, certified on April 29, addresses the transfer of law enforcement animals to their handlers. The 2019 legislative session began on January 8, 2019, and is expected to adjourn on May 27, 2019, during which time the legislature can refer additional constitutional amendments to the ballot.
 


South Dakota’s 2018 initiative banning out-of-state ballot measure campaign contributions ruled unconstitutional

On April 9, 2019, Judge Charles Kornmann overturned South Dakota Initiated Measure 24, which banned contributions to ballot measure campaigns from outside of the state. Initiated Measure 24 was approved by South Dakota voters in 2018 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent.
 
Kornmann’s ruling blocks the state from enforcing the initiative, which was set to become effective on July 1, 2019. His decision applies to two lawsuits filed against the measure: he declared that Measure 24 violated the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by impeding political free speech rights and interfering with the transfer of money from one state to another.
 
Kornmann, a federal judge with the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, said the evidence in the case “demonstrates how important out-of-state contributions are for the ballot question committees to pursue political speech. The State cannot enact restrictions that so completely prevent those pursuing unpopular laws from amassing the resources necessary for effective advocacy.”
 
Concerning an appeal of the decision, Timothy Bormann, chief of staff for Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R), said that the attorney general’s office was considering the ruling and “examining the avenues available to our office that best coincide with protecting the best interests of the people and the State of South Dakota.”
 
In 2016, two years before Initiated Measure 24 was on the ballot, $12.5 million was contributed to the campaigns in support of or opposition to measures in South Dakota (out of about $1 billion nationwide). Out-of-state donors accounted for 75 percent ($9.4 million) of ballot measure campaign contributions in the state.
 
 
The South Dakota State Legislature considered legislation proposing a ban on out-of-state ballot measure campaign contributions in 2018. In 2017, bills to prohibit or restrict out-of-state spending on ballot measure campaigns were introduced but not approved in Arizona, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Rep. Mark Mickelson (R-13), the speaker of the South Dakota House of Representatives, sponsored 2017 and 2018 legislation to restrict out-of-state spending on ballot measure campaigns. Mickelson also sponsored the initiative petition drive and the support campaign for Measure 24.


Vermont legislature passes constitutional amendment declaring a right to personal reproductive autonomy; could make 2022 ballot

On May 7, 2019, the Vermont General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment declaring a right to personal reproductive autonomy. Constitutional amendments are uncommon in Vermont. During the previous 25 years, Vermont has voted on two constitutional amendments—the lowest number in the U.S. besides Delaware, where the legislature can pass amendments without a vote of electors. In Vermont, a constitutional amendment requires the approval of two successive legislatures—in this case, the one elected in 2018, and the one that will be elected in 2020. Therefore, the earliest the amendment can appear on the ballot in 2022.
 
Sen. Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden), chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, stated that the amendment is needed due to “the lack of a definitive enumeration of reproductive liberty in Vermont’s Constitution, the threat of Roe versus Wade being overturned by a very conservative U.S. Supreme Court and the cloud of a multistate initiative to pass restrictive punitive laws.”
 
The constitutional amendment would not define the term personal reproductive autonomy. Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Washington) questioned the term, saying, “It’s a term far more open to interpretation and, in fact, could mean a great many things that we don’t currently envision.” The ACLU of Vermont, which supports Proposition 5, and Vermont Right to Life, which opposes Proposition 5, agree that the term includes abortion but supporters and opponents disagree on other ways the term could be interpreted.
 
In the state Senate, the amendment passed 28-2. In the state House, the amendment passed 106-38. Overall, 99 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Republicans voted to pass the amendment.
 
The Senate and House will need to pass the amendment again during the 2021—2022 legislative session with similar majority votes in each chamber. Every state senator and representative will be up for reelection in 2020.
 
In 2018, voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved constitutional amendments stating, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of [an] abortion.” In 2019, voters in Louisiana could vote on a similar constitutional amendment.
 
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