CategoryBallot measures

Seattle Public Schools voters pass two funding measures on February 12

Voters in the Seattle Public Schools district approved two property tax measures on February 12, 2019. Proposition 1 was designed to fund educational programs with a tax levy at the rates of $1.05 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2020; $0.96 per $1,000 in 2021; and $0.87 per $1,000 in 2022. The district proposed these rates over the legal maximum amount that the state legislature determined school districts could collect through local property taxes in 2017. District officials noted that state lawmakers would need to adjust the existing limits in order to allow the proposed rates. Otherwise, the tax rate under Proposition 1 would default to $0.53 per $1,000 in 2020, according to The Seattle Times. Proposition 1 received 66 percent approval on election night, requiring a simple majority to pass.
Proposition 2 was designed to fund capital improvements with a six-year property tax levy. The tax rate would range from $0.90 per $1,000 in value in 2020 down to $0.56 per $1,000 in 2025. The text of the measure listed capital improvements such as earthquake safety projects, building construction, infrastructure updates, and technology updates in the district as purposes for the revenue. Proposition 2 received 68 percent approval on election night, also requiring a simple majority.
The King County elections office reported that 40,500 ballots remained to be counted as of 8:05 pm on February 12, with about 99,385 ballots already counted. Voter turnout for the countywide election was 17.74 percent.

Utah governor signs law changing Proposition 3, the Medicaid expansion initiative approved in November 2018

Utah Proposition 3, the Medicaid Expansion Initiative, was on the ballot in Utah as an initiated state statute on November 6, 2018. It was approved by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. Proposition 3 expanded Medicaid coverage to include persons under the age of 65 and with incomes equal to or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line according to traditional Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. It also increased the state’s sales tax rate from 4.70 percent to 4.85 percent, with revenue allocated toward the state’s portion of the cost of Medicaid expansion.
On Monday, the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 96 to repeal and replace Proposition 3, and Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed it into law. Changes proposed by the bill include limits on eligibility for Medicaid coverage, such as a work requirement; restrictions on the total number of people who could enroll; and changes to the provisions concerning the sales tax increase, although the sales tax increase would be implemented under SB 96 as it was designed to under Proposition 3. It would require special approval of waivers from the Federal government and contains contingency provisions that take effect if the waivers aren’t approved.
Utah Sen. Allen Christensen (R) introduced Senate Bill 96. The bill passed in the Senate on February 4, 2019. The bill passed with amendments in the House on February 8, 2019. The Senate concurred with the House’s amendments, and the governor signed the bill on February 11, 2019. All six Senate Democrats and all 16 House Democrats voted against the bill. One Republican Senator, Todd Weiler of District 23, and three House Republicans—Craig Hall (33), Eric Hutchings (38) and Steven Eliason (45)—also voted against the bill. The remaining legislative Republicans voted in favor of SB 96.
Utah has a Republican state government trifecta, meaning Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship. Utah is one of three Republican trifecta states that approved Medicaid expansion initiatives in November 2018. The other two are Idaho and Nebraska.
Utah is one of 11 states that have no restrictions on legislative alterations, which means the legislature can amend or repeal initiated state statutes with a simple majority vote at any time.
Statement from Governor Gary Herbert:
Governor Herbert said, “SB96 balances Utah’s sense of compassion and frugality. It provides quality coverage to the same population covered by Proposition 3 in a meaningful, humane and sustainable way. It is now time to set aside differences and move forward to get those in greatest need enrolled on Medicaid and on the federal health care exchanges.”
Response from Proposition 3 supporters:
Utah Decides Healthcare, the Proposition 3 support campaign, “This is a dark day for democracy in Utah. State legislators turned their backs on voters and on families in need. This bill leaves billions of our tax dollars in Washington and cuts healthcare for tens-of-thousands of Utahns. While special interests and politicians celebrate the success of their backroom deal, Utah families will be up late tonight knowing they just lost the ability to afford lifesaving care.”
Proposition 3 supporter Matt Slonaker, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, stated, “This bill is not perfect, and there are significant parts of it that we don’t support and will work hard to fix. But Governor Hebert, President Adams, and Speaker Wilson have stated that we will have an April 1, 2019 roll out date of coverage. UHPP, and our partners in the community, should be ready. We will finally be able to get coverage for Utahns that need it badly.”
The Utah Legislature also amended Proposition 2, the Medical Marijuana Initiative, which was approved by voters in 2018.

Arizona Appeals Court rules that a bill preempting local benefits ordinances violated the Voter Protection Act

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that a state law, passed as HB 2579 in 2016, violated the Voter Protection Act, Arizona’s restriction on legislative alteration. The Voter Protection Act requires voter approval of substantive changes made by the legislature to ballot initiatives. HB 2579 was designed to preempt local governments from requiring nonwage benefits above the state requirement. The three-judge panel concluded that HB 2579 contradicted Proposition 202, which voters approved in 2006. Proposition 202 increased the minimum wage and provided that local governments can enact ordinances to regulate the minimum wage and benefits.

HB 2579 defined benefits to include fringe benefits, sick and vacation days, retirement plans, child or adult care plans, and welfare benefits. Proposition 202 did not define benefits.

The appeals court’s ruling said, “H.B. 2579 explicitly prohibits what the Minimum Wage Act permits, and thus, the two statutes cannot be harmonized. Because H.B. 2579 impliedly amends and repeals a portion of the Minimum Wage Act, it violates the VPA’s express limitations on legislative changes to voter-approved laws.”

The state government, represented by Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R), has the option of appealing the case to the Arizona Supreme Court, which would have final jurisdiction on the issue. If the state does not appeal the case, or the state Supreme Court sides with the appeals court, the Arizona State Legislature could pass the same bill to preempt local benefits ordinances; however, an additional provision referring the bill to the ballot for voter consideration would need to be added to meet the requirements of the Voter Protection Act.

Due to the Voter Protection Act, which was passed as a ballot initiative in 1998, Arizona is one of two states—the other is California—that requires voter approval to make substantive changes to voter-approved ballot initiatives.

Initiative to allow affirmative action in Washington certified to the legislature, may appear on November 2019 ballot

On February 7, 2019, Initiative 1000 was certified to the Washington legislature after enough signatures were found to be valid. Proponents submitted 395,938 signatures and, using a random sample method, the secretary of state’s office found that 76 percent of the signatures were valid—more than the 259,622 required signatures.
Initiative I-1000 would allow affirmative action without the use of quotas in the state of Washington. This means that characteristics such as race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability, or veteran status could be used as factors when considering a person for education or employment opportunities. I-1000 would, however, ban preferential treatment, meaning those characteristics could not be the sole or deciding factor when considering a person for education or employment opportunities. I-1000 would also ban discrimination based on those characteristics.
The measure would also create the Governor’s commission on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the measure, and would be required to issue an annual report on the progress of state agencies in achieving the measure’s goal of “guaranteeing every resident of Washington state equal opportunity and access to public education, public employment.”
Initiative to the Legislature is the name for indirect initiated state statutes in the state of Washington. Upon signature verification, these initiatives go before the Washington Legislature at its next regular legislative session in January. The legislature must take one of three actions:
  • The legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people.
  • The legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
  • The legislature can approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the legislature’s alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
Washington I-200 of 1998 banned preferential treatment and discrimination in public education, employment and contracting based on sex, race, and ethnicity. Voters approved the measure by over 300,000 votes (58 percent to 42 percent) making Washington the second state to enact such a measure at the time.
Seven other states besides Washington currently ban race-based affirmative action at all public universities. In Arizona, California, Michigan, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, all bans were passed by voters at the ballot box. In Florida, Governor Jeb Bush created the ban through executive order. In New Hampshire, the legislature passed a bill banning the consideration of race.
The following constitutional amendments prohibited discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting:
  • California Proposition 209 (1996)
  • Michigan Proposal 2 (2006)
  • Nebraska Measure 424 (2008)
  • Oklahoma State Question 759 (2012)
The Oklahoma measure was referred to the ballot by the state legislature while the California, Michigan, and Nebraska measures were initiated by citizens.
Arizona Proposition 107 (2010), a legislatively-referred amendment, banned affirmative action programs in the state that were administered by statewide or local units of government, including state agencies, cities, counties, community colleges, and school districts.

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.