The North Dakota legislature voted on April 8 to send the North Dakota Board of Higher Education Membership Amendment to the 2020 ballot.
The measure would amend the state constitution to do the following:
increase the number of members on the state’s board of higher education from eight to 15;
increase the length of board member terms from four years to six years;
require the board to have at minimum of one meeting per year with the directors of each of the education institutions overseen by the board;
restrict the membership of the board to exclude any state officials, legislators, and employees of the state; and
prohibit employees of an institution under control of the board from being members of the board for two years following the termination of such employment.
The amendment was introduced as Senate Concurrent Resolution 4016 on February 15, 2019. The state Senate approved the amendment by a vote of 29-14, with four absent or not voting, on March 7, 2019. The state House passed the measure with amendments on April 2, 2019, by a vote of 50-41. On April 8, 2019, the Senate concurred with the House’s amendments, by a vote of 27-17.
As of April 11, 2019, six constitutional amendments that would go on the 2020 ballot were approved in one chamber of the legislature and are pending approval in the other. Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years. Citizen initiatives can also be put on the North Dakota ballot in 2020. To qualify an initiative for the ballot, proponents must submit 26,904 valid signatures by July 6, 2020.
So far in 2019, 21 statewide ballot measures have been certified for the 2020 ballot in 11 states.
Initiated Ordinance 300 (I-300), named the “Right to Survive” Initiative by proponents, is on the ballot for voters in Denver, Colorado, on May 7. The citizen initiative has seen $1.6 million spent on campaigns, with $1.52 million in donations reported by “Together Denver – No on 300″ and $80,000 reported by “Yes On 300 Right To Survive.” Mail-in ballots will be sent to registered Denver voters beginning on April 15 containing this measure and other municipal races.
I-300 was designed to allow activities such as sleeping and sheltering oneself in public outdoor places—acts that are currently prohibited by Denver’s unauthorized camping ban, which was passed by the city council in 2012.
The city of Denver stated in an impact report that, if approved, I-300 would be the first initiative of its kind implemented in the nation. I-300 provides a list of rights that specifically concern homeless individuals, including the “right to rest and shelter oneself from the elements in a non-obstructive manner in outdoor public spaces.” While similar provisions under laws known as the “Homeless Bill of Rights” are codified in Illinois and Rhode Island, among other places, I-300 goes further by proposing to hold the city, county, law enforcement, or any other entity liable if that entity violates the rights listed in the initiative.
Initiative supporters have stated that the existing unauthorized camping law “targets Denver’s homeless, but fails to take into account that there are not enough shelter beds for everyone in need.” The “Yes on 300” campaign website states that I-300 would be a first step toward helping individuals experiencing homelessness sleep, find and hold down jobs, and find housing. Opponents have responded by saying that I-300 would threaten the quality of life for Denver citizens and prohibit officials from enforcing public safety laws. The “No on 300” website also states that the “Right to Survive” Initiative would fail to provide new services or address the causes of homelessness.
I-300 supporters have reported $81,514 in contributions to the “Yes on 300” campaign, with a top donation of $26,196 from Kayvan for Denver (former mayoral candidate Kayvan Khalatbari’s organization). The “No on 300” effort, led by Together Denver, has seen over $1.5 million in contributions, with top donors Downtown Denver Partnership and the National Association of Realtors each contributing $200,000.
Nick Brown, head of digital media for the “No on 300” campaign, said that “the initiative would allow camping in any public space in Denver indefinitely. That includes parks, sidewalks and other public areas.” He also stated that the campaign wants to “highlight that the initiative’s vague writing would make it harder for outreach workers to help people experiencing homelessness.”
Proponents of the “Right to Survive” Initiative submitted over 9,000 petition signatures to the Denver Elections Division in October 2018 to place I-300 on the ballot. Previously, proponents backed a 2014 bill at the state level known as the “Right to Rest Act,” sponsored by state Reps. Joe Salazar (D) and Jovan Melton (D). The act contained similar provisions to I-300, including “the right to use and move freely in public spaces.” Though it was reintroduced in 2015, 2016, and 2017, the “Right to Rest Act” never went to a vote in the legislature.
Denver voters will have a chance to weigh in on the “Right to Survive” Initiative starting the week of April 15, when vote-by-mail ballots are set to go out. All ballots must be received by 7:00 pm on election day, May 7. Denver voters are also deciding Initiative 301—a first-of-its-kind initiative to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms—and races for mayor, city auditor, city clerk, and all 13 city council seats.
The legislatures of 49 states are required to refer proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot for voter consideration. Most of the states (36 of 49) require legislatures to approve the amendments during one legislative session. An additional four states allow amendments to be passed during one or two successive legislative sessions, depending on how many lawmakers vote in favor. The remaining nine states require legislatures to approve amendments twice—once during one legislative session, and then again during the next legislative session. Delaware does not require constitutional amendments passed by the legislature to be referred to voters.
The two-session requirement means that a legislature can approve an amendment, and then, during the following session, reject the amendment or exclude the amendment from a floor vote.
Between the 2010 and 2018 legislative sessions, 62 constitutional amendments were approved during one legislative session in those states with two-session vote requirements. However, 21 of these constitutional amendments (33.9 percent) failed during the second legislative session.
An average of 0.5 constitutional amendments were referred to the ballot in each two-session state per year between 2010 and 2018. This compares to an average of 0.7 constitutional amendments per year that were passed in the first session and would have been on the ballot without the two-session requirement. The average for states where just one legislative session is required to refer an amendment was 1.6 per state per year. With the outliers of Alabama and Louisiana removed, the average in these states was 1.3 per state per year.
The two-session requirement means political variables—such as party control of legislative chambers and leadership—can change between sessions. These changes can influence whether an amendment fails to make the ballot despite receiving initial approval. When there was a change in party control of the legislature between legislative sessions, 90.0 percent of the constitutional amendments approved during the first session failed during the second session. When the same party kept control of the legislature between legislative sessions, 23.1 percent of the constitutional amendments approved during the first session failed during the second session.
Voters in Alameda, California, decided on competing local ballot measures at a special election on April 9. Measure A, referred to the ballot by the Alameda City Council, was designed to allow the development of a senior wellness center on land located on McKay Avenue. The group Friends of Crab Cove put competing Measure B on the ballot through a citizen initiative petition to prevent development on the land and to designate it as open space.
According to election night results, Measure A was approved by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. Measure B was defeated, with 56 percent of voters opposed and 44 percent in favor of the initiative.
Approval of Measure A authorizes the city to redevelop federal buildings on the 3.65 acre McKay Avenue site into a wellness center for senior assisted living and homelessness services. Measure A was backed by Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Vice Mayor John Knox White.
The Arkansas State Legislature is allowed to refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot for each general election. On Monday, it sent its third and final amendment to the 2020 ballot. The amendment would change the requirements for ballot initiatives and legislatively referred constitutional amendments.
This amendment, HJR 1008, was designed to do the following:
increase the state’s distribution requirement by requiring that a petition must contain valid signatures equaling at least half of the percentage required for the total petition from each of 45 counties instead of the current requirement of 15 counties;
require a three-fifths supermajority vote of both chambers of the legislature to refer a proposed constitutional amendment to voters;
eliminate the option for petitioners to collect extra signatures for 30 days if the petition fails to meet the signature requirement if the petition meets a 75 percent threshold;
require challenges to the sufficiency of any ballot measure or ballot measure petition to be filed no later than April 15 of the election year; and
require signatures for citizen initiative petitions to be submitted to the secretary of state by January 15 of the election year rather than the current deadline of four months before the election.
The amendment passed in the House on April 4, 2019, in a vote of 68-20. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 25-10 on April 8, 2019. In the House, the amendment passed largely along party lines with 64 of 68 voting Republicans in favor and 16 of 20 voting Democrats opposed.
The two other measures referred to the 2020 ballot would (1) make permanent a 0.5 percent sales tax to fund transportation otherwise set to expire in 2023, (2) change term limits for state legislators. Citizen initiatives can still qualify for the 2020 ballot.
The Idaho State Legislature approved a pair of bills last week designed to increase the state’s initiative signature requirement and its distribution requirement, reduce the allowed circulation period for initiative petitions, enact a single-subject rule, and require a fiscal impact statement.
On Friday, Governor Brad Little (R) vetoed one bill—Senate Bill 1159—and announced he would veto the second—House Bill 296. SB 1159 contained the more significant changes to the initiative process, while House bill 296 was a trailer bill reducing the magnitude of some of the provisions of SB 1159.
Both bills were approved with a majority of Republican legislators in favor and opposition from all voting Democrats. Neither bill was passed, however, with veto-proof supermajorities in each chamber. Idaho is a Republican state government trifecta.
Little announced his vetoes despite agreeing “with the goals and the vision of S 1159 and H 296.” He said, “I reluctantly vetoed S 1159 and plan to veto H 296 because I question the constitutional sufficiency of the bills and the unintended consequences of their passage. The bills invite legal challenges that likely will result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — the same Circuit that recently decided Idaho should pay for gender reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate serving time for molesting a child. We need to do all we can to control the rules of our initiative process.”
Little also said that he supported giving rural Idahoans “a voice in the initiative process” and limiting the initiative process so it does not interfere with representative government and that he would work with the legislature to examine the state’s initiative process in the future. He said, “Idaho cannot become like California and other states that have adopted liberal initiative rules that result in excessive regulation and often conflicting laws.”
Senate Bill 1159 would have made the following changes to Idaho’s initiative process:
increased the signature requirement for initiatives and veto referendums from 6 percent to 10 percent of votes cast at the last general election;
increased the state’s distribution requirement to require initiative and referendum petitioners to meet the 10 percent requirement in 32 legislative districts;
going into 2019 the requirement was to meet the 6 percent signature requirement in 18 legislative districts;
reduce the amount of time allowed for signature gathering from 18 months to 180 days (about six months);
enact a single-subject rule for initiatives;
require a fiscal impact statement for each initiative certified for the ballot.
House Bill 296 would have made the distribution requirement apply in two-thirds (24) of legislative districts instead of 32 of them and would allow nine months for signature gathering instead of 180 days.
All 21 legislative Democrats opposed SB 1159, while Republicans were split 58 to 26. HB 296 was also opposed by all voting Democrats. SB 1159 was approved 40 to 30 in the House and 18 to 17 in the Senate. HB 296 was approved 47 to 22 in the House and 20 to 15 in the Senate. Neither bill received the two-thirds supermajority vote (47 votes in the House and 24 votes in the Senate) required in both chambers to override a veto.
In 2018, voters in Idaho approved a citizen initiative to expand Medicaid coverage according to the Affordable Care Act.
Other 2019 initiative process legislation
Ballotpedia is tracking nearly 150 changes to laws governing ballot measures and recall in 31 states proposed in 2019, including changes to distribution requirements, signature requirements, subject restrictions, ballot language rules, supermajority requirements, and bills proposing to establish initiative or referendum processes in states without them. So far, significant changes have been approved in Arkansas and Utah.
On April 2, the Arkansas legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would impose term limits of twelve consecutive years for state legislators with the opportunity to return after a four-year break. The 12-year limit would apply to anyone elected in 2021 or after.
The amendment’s House sponsor, Sen. Jim Dotson (R-93), said, “The purpose of term limits is to limit power and advantages of incumbency. So if you have an incumbent who is running against someone who is not an incumbent, they obviously have a built-in advantage. After this resolution — if it is adopted and approved by the voters — is passed, after 12 years someone loses that advantage of incumbency.”
Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-17) asked House sponsor Rep. Dotson, “Those members who are currently serving would get to operate under the current law and serve 16 years — up to 16 years — while everyone else in the state would have to be limited to 12 years, thereby giving us in this chamber right now a definitive advantage over everybody else in the state?”
As of 2019, Arkansas legislators can serve up to 16 years throughout their lifetimes in the House or Senate. Those who were first elected to the legislature before 2021 would keep the state’s current lifetime term limit of 16 years.
The current term limits for state legislators were established by the passage of Issue 3 in 2014, which doubled the amount of time a lawmaker can stay in the Arkansas Senate and more than doubled the amount of time a lawmaker can stay in the House. Issue 3 in 2014 was referred to the ballot by the state legislature. Previously, representatives could serve up to three two-year terms, while senators could serve up to two four-year terms, as set by the 1992 citizen initiative, Issue 4.
Also targeting the 2020 ballot is a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment filed by the Arkansas Term Limits Ballot Question Committee (BQC) on March 14, 2019. The measure is identical to the group’s 2018 initiative, Issue 3, which was initially certified for the ballot but later blocked by the state Supreme Court based on arguments about the validity of signatures on the initiative petition. To qualify for the 2020 ballot, the group must submit 89,151 valid signatures by July 3, 2020. This initiative would impose term limits of six years for members of the Arkansas House of Representatives and eight years for members of the Arkansas Senate. Specifically, the measure would allow representatives to be elected to no more than three two-year terms and senators to be elected to no more than two four-year terms. Under the measure, no member of the state general assembly could serve more than 10 years in total.
The Arkansas State Legislature may refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot each general election. So far, two amendments have been certified for the 2020 ballot, including the term limits measure. Also appearing on the 2020 general election ballot is an amendment to continue and make permanent a 0.5 percent sales tax with revenue directed to state and local transportation, including highways, roads, and bridges.
On April 2, the Montana Legislature voted to put a measure on the November 2020 ballot that, if approved by voters, would remove the authority of local governments to regulate the carrying of concealed weapons. The measure was designed to be sent to voters if an identical bill, House Bill 325, is vetoed by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock. House Bill 325 passed in the legislature along party lines (29-20 in the Senate and 57-42 in the House) on April 3, 2019. To override the governor’s veto in Montana, a two-thirds vote in each chamber (67 votes in the House and 34 votes in the Senate) would be required.
House Bill 357, sponsored by Representatives Matt Regier (R-4) and Derek Skees (R-11), would state that it is the policy of Montana “that the citizens of the state should be aware of, understand, and comply with any restrictions on the right to keep or bear arms that the people have reserved to themselves in Article II, section 12, of the Montana constitution, and that to minimize confusion the legislature withholds from local governments the power to restrict or regulate the possession of firearms.”
The measure’s text states that its purpose is “to secure the right to keep and bear arms and to prevent a patchwork of restrictions by local governments across the state.”
On February 21, 2019, the House passed the bill in a vote of 56 to 43, largely along party lines. Jade Bahr (D-50) and Jacob Bachmeier (D-28) were the only two of 42 House Democrats to vote in favor while Geraldine Custer (R-39), Neil Duram (R-2), and Bruce Grubbs (R-68) were the only three of 58 House Republicans to vote against. Representative Dale Mortensen (R-44) was absent. The measure passed in the Senate on April 2, 2019, by a vote of 28 to 21 with one Republican Senator absent or excused. One Republican, Brian Hoven of District 13, joined all 20 Senate Democrats in voting no. All 28 yes votes came from Republicans.
Montana Code 5-4-301 provides that the governor cannot veto legislatively-referred state statutes or stop them from appearing on the ballot. Montana is one of 14 states with divided government. The Montana State Legislature is controlled by Republicans and the governor’s office is controlled by Democrat Steve Bullock.
Two proposed constitutional amendments (House Bills 244 and 245), sponsored by Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-1) and given final approval on Wednesday, would not alter currently enforced initiative signature distribution requirements but would amend constitutional language to match the existing requirements. House Bills 244 and 245 passed largely along party lines in the House, with most Republicans in favor and most Democrats against. The bills passed in the Senate by votes of 46-3 and 45-4, respectively.
A distribution requirement is a statutory or constitutional mandate requiring that petitions for a ballot measure or candidate nomination be signed by voters from a certain percentage of different political subdivisions or districts in order for the ballot measure or candidate to qualify for the ballot.
For an initiated constitutional amendment in Montana, proponents must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the qualified electors in each of two-fifths (40) of the state’s 100 legislative districts.
For an initiated state statute or a veto referendum in Montana, signatures collected must be equal to 5 percent of the qualified electors in each of one-third (34) of the state’s legislative districts.
In 2002, two amendments, C-37 and C-38, attempted to change the basis for the ballot initiative distribution requirement in Montana from legislative districts to counties. However, given population disparities among counties, the amendments were found by a U.S. District Court to be unconstitutional on equal protection grounds in Montana PIRG v. Johnson. Attorney General Mike McGrath subsequently ruled that the federal court’s invalidation of C-37 and C-38 meant that the prior language of the state’s constitution about distribution requirements based on legislative districts for citizen initiatives was considered to be fully back in force. The language from C-37 and C-38 concerning county-based distribution requirements, however, remained in the state constitution.
In the 26 states that feature the powers of initiative, veto referendum, or both, 17 have a distribution requirement, while 9 of them do not. Where there are distribution requirements for initiative petitions, the political jurisdiction on which they are based vary. In seven states, the distribution requirement is spread out over a state’s counties (Arkansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wyoming). In five states, it is calculated based on state legislative districts (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah). In the other five states with a distribution requirement, it is based on U.S. congressional districts (Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Nevada). Washington, D.C., also has a distribution requirement based on city wards.
Voters in Anchorage, Alaska, weighed in on 11 local measures at the citywide election Tuesday. The first summary report released election night showed voters opposing the proposed alcohol sales tax, Proposition 9, by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.
Proposition 9 was designed to enact a 5 percent sales tax on alcoholic beverages to fund homelessness services, behavioral health programs, and illegal campsite removal. Support for the measure came from Yes for a Safer Anchorage, with endorsements from Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, among others. Alaskans Against Unfair Alcohol Taxes led the campaign in opposition to Proposition 9, and the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant & Retailers Association (CHARR) came out against the tax.
Initial results also showed six of seven bond measures ahead, with Proposition 3 behind at 47 percent approval. Proposition 3 was designed to authorize $5.5 million in bonds to fund improvements to city buildings and facilities. Propositions that were ahead included a $59 million bond issue for the Anchorage School District and a $33 million bond issue for road and storm drain improvements in the Anchorage Roads and Drainage Service Area.
Additionally, as of election night, voters were in favor of transferring substations in Frontierland Park and Goose Lake Park to Chugach Electric, allowing peace officers to enforce vehicle violations, and allowing sitting Assemblies to have discretion over lease-purchase payments.