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Four states holding state legislative elections in 2019

In 2019, four states are holding regular state legislative elections: Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia. Seven chambers will be up for election. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia are holding elections for both state house and state senate, but New Jersey is only holding its General Assembly elections. The next New Jersey State Senate general election will take place in 2021.
 
The state legislative elections in Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia will take place on November 5, and the state legislative elections in Louisiana will take place on November 16.
 
Entering 2019, New Jersey has a Democratic trifecta and Mississippi has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Louisiana and Virginia both have divided governments with a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled Senate and House.
 
Check with Ballotpedia regularly for updates on state legislative elections across the county and information on which races to watch. Also, click here for more information about state legislative special elections on the ballot in 2019.


Candidate filing deadline is February 8 in California special election

Candidates seeking to run in the special election for an open seat on the Moreno Valley Unified School District in California must file by February 8. The election to fill the vacant Area 5 seat on the board of education will be held on May 7.
 
The seat was originally vacated in August 2018. Evan Morgan resigned his position following his arraignment on criminal charges, which Morgan said he feared would distract from his work on the board. The Board of Education appointed Darrell Peeden to the seat in October 2018, but the community had 30 days following Peeden’s appointment to gather signatures from 1.5 percent of Trustee Area 5 voters—or 231 signatures—for an election to be called. Community members turned in 318 valid signatures. The appointment was overturned in December, and the special election was called.
 
This is the second such special election to be called in the school district this decade. In May 2013, the school district appointed Gary Baugh to a vacant at-large seat on the board. Following a similar petition drive, Baugh vacated the seat in June of that year and stood for election in November. He won the special election and served until 2018.


Ballotpedia covering elections for 496 school board seats in 2019

In 2019, Ballotpedia is covering school board elections for 496 seats across 176 school districts. These districts span 23 states, and collectively, they served 6,425,522 students during the 2015-2016 school year—approximately 12.8 percent of all public school students in the nation. In addition to the 200 largest school districts as measured by student enrollment, Ballotpedia covers school districts that overlap with the 100 largest cities by population in the United States.
 
In 2018, Ballotpedia covered school board elections in 401 of America’s school districts. There were 941 school board seats up for grabs across 26 states. Collectively, these districts served 12,047,892 students during the 2015-2016 school year—approximately 24.4 percent of all public school students in the U.S.
 
Our marquee coverage of races in 2018 included elections in the Detroit Public Schools Community School District following the discovery of lead and copper in the district’s water supply, as well as elections in Broward County Public Schools in Florida in the aftermath of the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School.
 
Check with Ballotpedia regularly for information on races to watch in 2019 and for updates on important events in school districts across the nation.


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.


One-fourth of contested Kentucky state executive primaries since 2007 have been decided by less than 5 percent

Twenty-six percent of contested state executive primaries in the Commonwealth of Kentucky since 2007 have been decided by five percentage points or less, including four where the winner’s margin of victory was less than one percent of total votes cast.
 
All four of the races decided by less than one percent during this time were Republican primaries, and all of them were for open seats in the general election.
 
These four primaries decided by less than one percent were:
  • in 2007, the Republican primary for state treasurer was won by Melinda Wheeler by 1,107 votes, or 0.7 percent, over Lonnie Napier. In the general election that year, Todd Hollenbach (D) won the open-seat race over Wheeler.
  • in 2011, the Republican primary for secretary of state was won by Bill Johnson by 1,108 votes, or 0.8 percent, over Hilda Legg. Johnson was defeated in the open-seat contest in the general election by current Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).
  • in 2015, Ryan Quarles won the Republican primary for agriculture commissioner by 1,429 votes, or 0.8 percent, over Richard Heath. Quarles then defeated Jean-Marie Lawson Spann (D) in the open-seat contest that November.
  • in 2015, Matt Bevin won the Republican primary for governor by 83 votes out of more than 214,000 votes cast, or 0.04 percent, over then-Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. Bevin went on to win the open-seat governor’s race over Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in November 2015.
 
Kentucky elects six constitutional officers every four years – governor/lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, and commissioner of agriculture. Over the past three election cycles (2007, 2011, and 2015), 23 primaries held during this time were contested, an average of just under eight per year. In 2019, there are nine contested primary elections in Kentucky for these offices – four Republican and five Democratic – which will take place on May 21.
 
Click here to see a chart showing the distribution of the margin of victory in contested Kentucky state executive primaries from 2007 to 2015.


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.



Federal Register weekly update; page count rises as government reopens

The Federal Register is a daily journal of federal government activity that includes presidential documents, proposed and final rules, and public notices. It is a common measure of an administration’s regulatory activity.
 
During the week of January 28 to February 1, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 936 pages, bringing the year-to-date total to 1,342 pages. A total of 600 documents were included in the week’s Federal Register, including 534 notices, one presidential document, 31 proposed rules, and 34 final rules.
 
One proposed rule and one final rule were deemed significant under E.O. 12866—meaning that it may have large impacts on the economy, environment, public health, or state or local governments. Significant actions may also conflict with presidential priorities or other agency rules.
 
During the same week in 2018, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,092 pages. As of February 1, the 2019 total trailed the 2018 total by 3,686 pages.
 
The Trump administration has added an average of 268 pages to the Federal Register each week in 2019 as of February 1. In 2018, the Trump administration added an average of 1,301 pages to the Federal Register each week. Over the course of the Obama administration, the Federal Register increased by an average of 1,658 pages per week.
 
According to government data, the Federal Register hit an all-time high of 95,894 pages in 2016.
 
Click here to find yearly information about additions to the Federal Register from 1936 to 2016:


Administrative state cases bring unpredictable partisan splits at U.S. Supreme Court

The contemporary U.S. Supreme Court often divides along partisan lines. In Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group — a 2017 term case questing whether an administrative tribunal violated Article III of the U.S. Constitution — partisan lines weren’t so predictable. Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts were the only dissenting voices from an opinion written by Clarence Thomas, which held that the tribunal did not violate Article III.



Two Georgia Republicans competing in February 5 special runoff

On January 8, Jesse Vaughn (R) and Matt Barton (R) defeated four other candidates in a special general election for the District 5 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. Vaughn and Barton advanced to a special runoff election scheduled for February 5.
 
The seat was previously held by John D. Meadows III (R), who passed away on November 12, 2018. Meadows was first elected to the office in 2004. He won his last re-election bid on November 6, 2018, with more than 81 percent of the vote against challenger Brian Rosser (D). Rosser was also the only Democratic candidate to file in the special election to replace Meadows, and he finished in fifth place with less than 5 percent of the vote. Meadows ran unopposed in the 2018 Republican primary and won re-election unopposed in 2014 and 2016. He had served as the chair of the chamber’s Rules Committee.
 
Entering the special election, the Georgia House of Representatives has 75 Democrats, 103 Republicans, and two vacancies. Another special election is scheduled on February 12 for the District 176 seat, which was previously held by Jason Shaw (R). A majority in the chamber requires 91 seats. Georgia has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.


Washington Legislature unanimously passes bill to amend police use of deadly force initiative, I-940

House Bill 1064 to amend Washington I-940 was introduced on December 17, 2018. It passed unanimously in the House on January 24 and unanimously in the Senate on January 30, 2019, sending it to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D) for his signature.
 
Initiative 940 was designed to create a legally-defined good faith test to determine when the use of deadly force by police is justifiable, require police to receive de-escalation and mental health training, and provide that police have a duty to render first aid. It removed the requirement that prosecutors show that a law enforcement officer acted with malice to be convicted. I-940 was approved in November 2018 by 59.6 percent of voters.
 
House Bill 1064 was designed to amend I-940 as passed by voters in 2018. Specifically, the bill amends provisions relating to I-940’s standard for the use of deadly force. Under I-940, officers would have been required to show that they believed they were acting in good faith when they used deadly force. The new language under HB 1064 uses a different test: whether another officer acting reasonably in the same circumstances would have believed deadly force was necessary.
 
The bill was also designed to require the state to reimburse law enforcement officers for defense costs if charges against an officer are dismissed or if they are found not guilty of charges surrounding unjustified use of deadly force. The bill also modified provisions of I-940 regarding independent investigations of deadly force incidents, training requirements, and more. HB 1064 was the result of a compromise between supporters and opponents of I-940.
 
Ken Thomas, president of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs board, said, “We believe this new deadly-force standard — clarified and agreed-upon by HB 1064 — provides a clear and objective standard that can be clearly understood.”
 
Before the election, a deal was made and state legislators approved bills designed to enact I-940 and immediately amend it without it going on the ballot. Ultimately, a court ruling required that the initiative go before voters at the November 2018 election.
 
In Washington, a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature is required to amend an initiative passed by voters within two years following a measure’s approval. Five states along with Washington have a supermajority requirement in the legislature to appeal or amend an initiative. Eleven states have no restrictions on legislative alteration of initiatives. California and Arizona are the only two states that require voter approval for changes to or the repeal of citizen-initiated state statutes.
 
In 2017 and 2018, Ballotpedia tracked nine other initiatives in five states and D.C. that were amended or repealed through legislative alteration. Moreover, proposals were introduced but ultimately failed for the legislative alteration of two additional initiatives in 2017.
 
Utah Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative of 2018, was altered by the legislature the month after it was approved by voters. The Utah Senate is expected to pass a bill altering Proposition 3, the Medicaid expansion initiative, in the coming days.
 
Click here to read more about legislative alteration of citizen initiatives.