Oklahoma adjourns 2021 legislative session without passing any constitutional amendments

The Oklahoma State Legislature adjourned its 2021 state legislative session on May 27, 2021. The legislature did not refer any constitutional amendments to the ballot during the 2021 legislative session. One constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1001, was passed unanimously in the House but did not receive a vote in the Senate before the session adjourned. The legislature may consider the amendment again for referral to the 2022 ballot during its 2022 legislative session.

HJR 1001 would change how the Rainy Day Fund’s maximum balance is calculated. Currently, the state’s Constitutional Reserve Fund (Rainy Day Fund) has a maximum allowed balance of 15% of the General Revenue Fund certification for the preceding year. The amendment would change how the maximum balance is calculated to 15% of total expenditures for the previous fiscal year. The total expenditures would exclude money expended from revolving funds, funds with money derived from fees or non-tax revenues, and proceeds from a bond or debt obligation. In the amendment’s fiscal impact statement, legislative analysts said that “the provisions will increase the basis on which the calculation of the fund balance maximum is made, perhaps as much as a one hundred percent (100%) increase. This will result in the ability for the fund to receive more surplus funds.”

Oklahoma also allows for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, citizen-initiated state statutes, and veto referendums, making it one of 26 states in which statewide ballot measures can qualify for the ballot through a signature petition. The number of signatures required to qualify initiatives and veto referendums for the ballot is tied to the total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election. For a signature petition to initiate a constitutional amendment, proponents must collect valid signatures equal to 15% of votes cast for governor—177,958 for the 2022 ballot. For initiated state statutes, the requirement is 8%—94,911 for the 2022 ballot—and for veto referendums, the requirement is 5%—59,320 for the 2022 ballot.

One initiative petition has been filed targeting the 2022 ballot. The measure is a veto referendum that was designed to repeal House Bill 1674. HB 1674 would (1) make unlawfully obstructing use of public roads a misdemeanor and prescribe penalties for those found guilty of participation in a riot and (2) grant criminal and civil immunity in certain circumstances to vehicle operators who flee from a riot if they cause injury or death.

Once an initiative petition is filed, protests may be filed challenging the sufficiency of the petition within 10 days after the notice of filing is published. The Secretary of State sets the date for signature collection to begin at least 15 days (but no more than 30 days) after any/all protests challenging the petition have been resolved. Initiatives can be circulated for a maximum of 90 days. Signatures are due by 5:00 p.m. local time on the 90th day. State election officials in Oklahoma recommend filing a proposed initiative during the first months of the year preceding the targeted election year due to the two periods during which challenges may be filed against an initiative. For example, to qualify an initiative for the November 2022 ballot, Oklahoma election officials recommended filing the initiative proposal in the early months of 2021. For a measure to appear on the ballot, signatures must be submitted long enough in advance for the governor to issue an election proclamation, which must be issued and certified to the State Election Board at least 70 days prior to an election (August 30, 2022, to qualify for the November 8, 2022, ballot).

A total of 71 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Oklahoma from 2000 to 2020, including five measures that appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years. Of the measures, 74.65% (53 of 71) were approved, and 25.35% (18 of 71) were defeated.

Connecticut voters to decide early voting amendment in 2022

On May 27, the Connecticut State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to voters in 2022 that would authorize the state legislature to provide by law for early voting. Currently, Connecticut does not permit early voting.

As of April 2021, 38 states and the District of Columbia permitted early voting. Early voting allows citizens to cast ballots in person at a polling place prior to an election. In states that permit early voting, a voter does not have to provide an excuse for being unable to vote on election day.

Cheri Quickmire, the Connecticut executive director of Common Cause, a progressive 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, said, “We trust Connecticut’s voters will embrace this additional option when it is on the ballot next year. In states that have Early Voting, people use it. In Georgia, for instance, more than two-thirds of November’s voters used in-person early voting to cast their ballots. In Florida, almost half of November’s voters cast their ballots early, in person.”

The Connecticut Constitution provides two paths for the Connecticut General Assembly to refer constitutional amendments to the ballot: (1) a 75 percent vote in each chamber of the legislature during one legislative session, or (2) a simple majority vote (50%+1) in each chamber of the legislature during two legislative sessions.

The constitutional amendment was introduced into the Connecticut General Assembly as House Joint Resolution 161 (HJR 161) during the 2019 legislative session. On April 24, 2019, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed HJR 161, meeting the three-fourths vote required to approve a constitutional amendment during one legislative session. As there was one vacant seat in the House, 113 votes were needed to approve the amendment during one session. The vote on HJR 161 was 125 to 24. On May 8, 2019, the Connecticut State Senate passed HJR 161 by less than the three-fourths vote required to approve an amendment during one session. The vote was 23 to 13. At least 27 votes were required to meet the three-fourths threshold.

As the constitutional amendment was approved during the 2019 legislative session by a simple majority vote in each chamber, legislators needed to approve the amendment again during the 2021–2022 legislative session by a simple majority vote. The amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution (HJR 59). It was approved by the House on May 6, 2021, by a vote of 115-26 with 10 absent or not voting. On May 27, 2021, the Senate approved HJR 59 by a vote of 26-9 with one absent.

This is the first amendment referred to the 2022 statewide ballot in Connecticut. Between 1996 and 2020, voters approved 71% (5 of 7) ballot measures that appeared on statewide ballots in Connecticut.

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Newsom recall update: 37 filed candidates, a new poll, and a $3 million donation

The recall campaign against California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is currently in the signature removal phase, when voters can request to have their signatures removed from the recall petitions through June 8. At that point, if at least 1,495,709 signatures remain, the recall election will be certified and proceed to a budgeting and scheduling phase. If that happens, political analysts expect the recall to take place in October or November 2021.

So far, 37 candidates have officially filed with the California Secretary of State to run in a recall election. Among those candidates are eight Democrats, 17 Republicans, two Green Party candidates, and a Libertarian Party candidate. The remaining candidates filed with no party preference. Ballotpedia has tracked an additional 13 candidates who have declared their intent to run in the recall election but have not yet officially filed. In the 2003 recall election, 135 candidates ran.

On May 25, the Public Policy Institute of California published a poll finding that 57% of respondents opposed a recall, 40% supported a recall, and 3% were undecided. These numbers were about the same as a March poll by the same group, which found 56% opposed, 40% supported, and 5% undecided. Both polls surveyed 1,700 people and had a margin of error of around 3%.

On May 21, multiple media outlets reported a $3 million donation from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to Stop The Republican Recall, a committee registered in opposition to the recall effort. According to The Hill, Hastings donated $7 million in 2018 to the gubernatorial campaign of Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost in the primary. Hastings has also previously donated to ballot measure campaigns in the state—Ballotpedia has tracked donations to at least eight propositions since 2009.

Newsom was elected governor in 2018 with 61.9% of the vote. Since 1911, there have been 55 attempts to recall a sitting California governor. The only successful recall campaign was in 2003 when voters recalled then Gov. Gray Davis (D). and elected Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) as Davis’ replacement.

Documenting America’s Path to Recovery #256: May 28, 2021

Note: in observance of Memorial Day, we’re taking a break from sending out this newsletter on Monday, May 31. We’ll resume our regular schedule Tuesday, June 1.  

Welcome to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery. Today we look at:

  • Changes in coronavirus restrictions in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania
  • A vaccine incentive initiative in California
  • COVID-19 policy changes from this time last year 

We are committed to keeping you updated on everything from mask requirements to vaccine-related policies. We will keep you abreast of major developments—especially those affecting your daily life. Want to know what we covered yesterday? Click here.

The next 72 hours

What is changing in the next 72 hours?

Massachusetts (divided government): Effective Saturday, May 29, all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and individuals will end, including capacity limits on events and the statewide mask mandate. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) made the announcement on May 17, and also said he would end the COVID-19 state of emergency on June 15.   

New York (Democratic trifecta): Effective Monday, May 31, the midnight curfew on indoor dining facilities and catered events will end for vaccinated and unvaccinated customers and attendees. The curfew for catered events ended May 17 for events where all attendees are fully vaccinated or provide proof of a recent negative test to event organizers, but remained in place for unvaccinated people. 

Pennsylvania (divided government): Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced all mitigation measures except the mask mandate (including capacity restrictions for businesses) will end May 31 at 12:01 a.m. Wolf said the mask mandate will end when 70% of residents age 18 and older are fully vaccinated. Localities will still be able to implement stricter measures.

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

Arizona (Republican trifecta): The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry announced on May 27 that in-person visits would resume at correctional facilities beginning June 19. Inmates will be allowed up to three visitors – two adults and one minor. Additionally, attorney visits and in-person volunteer activities will also be allowed.

California (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced a vaccine incentive program called Vax for the Win on May 27. Californians ages twelve and up who have received at least one vaccine dose can participate in a drawing for $50,000, for which 30 winners will be selected, and a drawing for $1.5 million, for which ten winners will be selected. Additionally, beginning May 27, the next two million people to begin and complete their vaccination will receive a $50 prepaid card—for use online or in-stores wherever major debit cards are accepted—or grocery gift card.

Delaware (Democratic trifecta): On May 26, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz announced Delaware courts would resume many in-person proceedings on June 1. The courts will require masks and implement temperature screenings and COVID-19 screening questions.

Idaho (Republican trifecta): On May 28, Gov. Brad Little (R) repealed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s (R) executive order banning government entities, including schools, from requiring masks. McGeachin, who was serving as acting governor while Little was out of state at the Republican Governors Association conference, issued the order without informing Little beforehand. Little did not issue a statewide mask mandate during the pandemic. McGeachin has said she intends to run for governor in 2022.  

Kentucky (divided government): Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced on May 7 that all events and businesses serving fewer than 1,000 people at once can expand to 75% capacity effective May 28. Indoor and outdoor venues with more than 1,000 people can also expand to 60% capacity.

Minnesota (divided government): On Thursday, May 27, Gov. Tim Walz (D) announced “Your Shot to Summer,” a vaccine incentive program to get 70% of eligible residents over 16 vaccinated by July 1. People who receive their first shot of a vaccine between May 28 and June 30 will be eligible to choose between nine different prizes, including amusement park tickets and state park permits. One hundred thousand people will be eligible to win. 

New Jersey (Democratic trifecta): Effective May 28, the state’s indoor mask requirement ended for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Masks are still required in state offices open to the public, schools and childcare centers, on public transportation, and in health care settings. The six-foot social distancing requirement also ended, along with restrictions on dance floors and standing service at bars and restaurants.

New York (Democratic trifecta): 

  • On May 27, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that the New York Department of Labor will be issuing guidance that says any necessary recovery time from a COVID-19 vaccination is covered under the state’s Paid Sick Leave Law.
  • Cuomo announced a weeklong extension of the MTA pop-up vaccination and MetroCard incentive program at Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. 

Ohio (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, May 27, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) ended the Ohio Public Health Advisory System heatmap. The map was instituted in July 2020, and showed where COVID-19 was spreading fastest around the state based on several different metrics. Countywide mask mandates were based on the map until DeWine instituted a statewide mandate on July 23, 2020. 

Pennsylvania (divided government): On May 27, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam announced the state would lift its statewide mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals on June 28. She said the requirement could be lifted sooner if at least 70% of Pennsylvania residents become fully vaccinated.

Virginia (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ended all statewide coronavirus restrictions on businesses and individuals effective Friday, May 28. Northam issued the order lifting all restrictions on May 14 and scheduled it to take effect May 28. 

West Virginia (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, May 27, Gov. Jim Justice (R) announced new details on a COVID-19 vaccine incentive initiative. People who have or will receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will be entered into drawings for prizes beginning June 20. Prizes will include cash, college scholarships, and pickup trucks. Justice said he will announce more details at a press conference Tuesday, June 1. 

This time last year: Friday, May 29, 2020

The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21, 2020. But it wasn’t until March when the novel coronavirus upended life for most Americans. Throughout March and April, many states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, and changed election dates. Many of those policies remain in place today. Each week, we’ll look back at some of the defining policy responses of the early coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what happened this time last year. To see a list of all policy changes in each category, click the links below.

Friday, May 29, 2020:

Stay-at-home orders:

  • Northern Virginia (NOVA), as well as Richmond and Accomack County, moved into Phase One of the “Forward Virginia” reopening plan, ending the stay-at-home order in those areas. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) previously ended the statewide stay-at-home order for all counties except those in the NOVA region on May 15. 
  • Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) allowed the statewide stay-at-home order to expire. Pritzker issued the order on March 20, and extended it on March 31 and April 23. 

Travel restrictions

  • Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) extended the 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers and residents returning to the state through June 5. Dunleavy said travelers who could prove they tested negative for COVID-19 before coming to Alaska could bypass the 14-day quarantine requirement. Dunleavy asked travelers to get tested at least 72 hours before arriving in the state.
  • Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) issued an updated travel advisory that asked visitors to follow CDC guidelines, which included social distancing and wearing a face covering.

Mask requirements:

  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) issued an order requiring people 10 and older to wear a mask when indoors. 

Sports betting initiative qualifies for 2022 ballot in California

An initiative to legalize sports betting qualified for the ballot in California. Voters will decide the issue on November 8, 2022. The ballot initiative would amend the state constitution and state statutes to legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks in California. The measure would tax profits derived from sports betting at racetracks at 10% and legalize roulette and dice games, such as craps, at tribal casinos. 

The Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering, which supports the proposal, launched in November 2019. It received a signature deadline extension due to the coronavirus pandemic and related regulations. On December 14, 2020, the campaign filed 1,427,373 signatures. On May 26, 2021, the office of Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced that the initiative qualified for the ballot after counties found 1,061,282 signatures to be valid. The minimum number required was 997,139.

Several American Indian tribes support the Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering, including the top-five donors to the campaign—the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The campaign had raised $11.57 million through March 31, 2021. Mark Macarro, chairman of Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, stated, “Californians should have the choice to participate in sports wagering at highly regulated, safe and experienced gaming locations. We are very proud to see tribes from across California come together for this effort, which represents an incremental but important step toward giving Californians the freedom to participate in this new activity in a responsible manner.”

Opponents launched the No on the Gambling Power Grab PAC, which terminated in late 2020. The PAC raised $1.09 million. Kyle Kirkland, president of the California Gaming Association, said, “This initiative does nothing to advance sports wagering, and instead expands the tribal casinos’ tax-free monopoly on gaming and rewards those operators for prioritizing their own wealth over public health and safety.”

As of May 2021, California was one of 21 states that had not legalized sports betting; 29 states and D.C. had legalized or passed laws legalizing sports betting. In California, a constitutional amendment is required to legalize sports betting because the state constitution defines what types of gambling are permitted in the state. Since 2018, four states have legalized sports betting through ballot measures. The ballot measures received approval from between 51.4% of voters in Colorado and 67.7% in Maryland. 

The sports betting ballot initiative joins two other citizen-initiated measures on the 2022 general election ballot in California. An initiative to increase the cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits and a veto referendum to overturn the ban on flavored tobacco sales have also qualified for the ballot. Signatures need to be verified for California 2022 ballot initiatives 131 days before the general election, which is June 30, 2022.

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Thirteen states prohibit proof-of-vaccination requirements

In 13 states, governors have issued orders or signed bills prohibiting some or all levels of government from issuing COVID-19 vaccine identification cards or requiring proof of vaccination as a condition for people to enter premises or receive services.

A proof-of-vaccination requirement can be a private or government requirement that people prove they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine in order to receive business or government services. Vaccine identification cards or apps, which can be used to verify a person’s vaccine status, are sometimes referred to as vaccine passports.

All 13 states have a Republican governor.

In Alabama, Iowa, Montana, Texas, and Florida, bans on proof-of-vaccination requirements extend to some private businesses.

Governors in eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas—banned proof-of-vaccination requirements through executive orders. Governors in five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Utah—signed legislation banning proof-of-vaccination requirements.

While several states have prohibited proof-of-vaccination requirements, New York and Hawaii have facilitated the creation of a vaccine status identification system or implemented policies allowing fully vaccinated individuals to bypass some COVID-19 restrictions.

In Hawaii, fully vaccinated individuals can travel between islands without quarantining or presenting a negative COVID-19 test if they can prove they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) launched the Excelsior Pass, an app that allows people to upload their vaccine status. Users can present the Excelsior App at events like sports games to sit in vaccinated sections that don’t require social distancing.

In Oregon, businesses and venues that verify vaccine status can allow fully vaccinated people to go without masks while indoors.

Missouri governor appoints Robin Ransom to state supreme court

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) appointed Robin Ransom to the Missouri Supreme Court on May 24. Ransom was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Laura Denvir Stith, who retired on March 8. Ransom is Parson’s first appointee to the state’s highest court.

Under Missouri law, the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission selects supreme court judges according to the Missouri Plan. When a seat on the court becomes vacant, the commission submits three names to the governor to determine the replacement. If the governor fails to nominate a replacement from the list, the responsibility goes to the commission.

Ransom has served as a judge of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District since her appointment to that court by Gov. Parson in January 2019. Ransom previously served as a circuit court judge for the 22nd Circuit Court in Missouri. Governor Matt Blunt (R) appointed her to the position on Sept. 11, 2008, and she was retained by voters in 2010 and 2016. Ransom earned a B.A. in political science and sociology from Rutgers University’s Douglass College in 1988 and a J.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law in 1991.

In 2021, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in nine of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have all been caused by retirements.

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Illinois voters will decide ballot measure in 2022 to make collective bargaining a state constitutional right

In 2022, voters in Illinois will decide a constitutional amendment to make collective bargaining a right. The ballot measure would also prohibit a future right-to-work law in Illinois.

In the General Assembly, the constitutional amendment needed to receive 36 votes in the Senate and 71 votes in the House. The Illinois Senate voted 49 to 7 on May 21, 2021. Senate Democrats and 11 Senate Republicans supported the resolution, while seven Senate Republicans opposed it. The Illinois House of Representatives voted in favor of the amendment 80 to 30 on May 26, 2021. House Democrats and 9 House Republicans supported the resolution. Thirty House Republicans voted against the proposal. During committee hearings, representatives from the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, Chicago Teachers, and Illinois AFL-CIO advocated for the constitutional amendment, and representatives from the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and National Federation of Independent Business advocated against it.

Currently, 27 states have right-to-work laws, which mandate that no person can be required to pay dues to a labor union or join a labor union as a condition of employment.

In 2018, Missouri voters repealed the right-to-work law through a veto referendum. Missouri was the last state in which voters directly voted on a right-to-work law.

In 2022, Tennessee voters will decide a measure to put a right-to-work provision into the state’s constitution. Tennessee enacted a right-to-work law in state statute 1947.

Since 1995, Illinois voters have decided 7 constitutional amendments, approving 5 of them. The most recent defeated measure was in 2020, when 53% of voters opposed a constitutional amendment to repeal the requirement that the state personal income tax be a flat rate and instead allow the state to enact legislation for a graduated income tax. The 2020 tax amendment saw more than $123 million in contributions, with supporters and opponents evenly split in terms of campaign cash. 

The Illinois General Assembly is expected to adjourn on May 31, 2021. Additional constitutional amendments can be referred to the 2022 general election ballot during the remainder of this year’s legislative session or during next year’s legislative session.

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Top-two vote-getters in Alabama House District 78 Democratic primary head to June 2 primary runoff

A special Democratic primary was held for Alabama House District 78 on May 25. Kenyatté Hassell and Donald Williams advanced to the Democratic primary runoff after defeating Terance Dawson and Roderick Thornton. 

The primary runoff is scheduled for June 22. The Democratic primary runoff winner will face Loretta Grant (R) in the general election on Sept. 7. Grant was the only Republican candidate to file, so the Republican primary was canceled.

The special election was called after Kirk Hatcher (D) was elected to the Alabama State Senate in a special election on March 2. Hatcher served in the state House from 2018 to 2021.

As of May 2021, 38 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Alabama held 23 state legislative special elections from 2010 to 2020, about two per year on average.

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Mike Hunter announces resignation as Oklahoma attorney general

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) announced on May 26 that he would be resigning effective June 1. Hunter cited “personal matters that are becoming public” as the reason for his resignation. The Oklahoman reported that Hunter allegedly had an affair with another state employee.

In a statement, Hunter said, “It has been a distinct and absolute privilege of a lifetime to serve as the state’s attorney general…I cannot allow a personal issue to overshadow the vital work the attorneys, agents, and support staff do on behalf of Oklahomans.”

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) appointed Hunter attorney general of Oklahoma in 2017 after former Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) was sworn in as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hunter was then elected to a full term in 2018. Before his appointment as attorney general, Hunter served as secretary of state of Oklahoma from 2016 to 2017 and from 1999 to 2002. Hunter began his political career by serving in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1984 to 1990.

The attorney general is an executive office in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, serving as the chief legal advisor and chief law enforcement officer for the state government. The office is empowered to prosecute violations of state law, represent the state in legal disputes, and issue legal advice to state agencies and the legislature.

The attorney general is an elected position in 43 states and the District of Columbia, including Oklahoma. However, when a vacancy occurs in the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, the governor appoints a successor to serve until the next election. 

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