Tagballot measure

Atlanta voters approve measure to reauthorize 1% sales tax to fund water and sewer projects

Voters in Atlanta, Georgia, approved a measure Tuesday reauthorizing the city to levy the 1% Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST). With 89 precincts reporting, the vote was 71% in favor to 29% against.

Going into the election, the city levied a 1% sales tax that was set to expire on September 30, 2020. This measure was designed to allow the city of Atlanta to renew the 1% sales tax for four years in order to raise $750 million to fund water and sewer projects. The measure was put on the ballot through a vote of the Atlanta City Council.

The city of Atlanta said the MOST tax is “a 1-cent tax that applies to most goods purchased in the City of Atlanta. These funds allow visitors and business people who use the city’s water and sewer infrastructure but do not pay city water/sewer bills to help pay for upgrading and maintenance of the infrastructure. … The city estimates that Atlanta’s already high water/sewer rates would have to increase by 25 to 30 percent without the MOST.”

The original 1% sales tax was in place from October 1, 2004, through September 30, 2008, and was used to partially fund Atlanta water and sewer projects. Voters approved measures to renew the tax for additional four-year periods in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

Reclaim Idaho filed a lawsuit seeking more time to gather signatures and permission to use electronic signatures

Reclaim Idaho, sponsors of the Idaho Income Tax Increases for Education Funding Initiative, filed a lawsuit against Governor Brad Little (R) and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney (R) seeking a preliminary injunction to grant the campaign 48 more days to gather signatures and temporary permission to use electronic signatures. The campaign announced on March 18 that it was suspending its signature drive. The 48-day extension equals the number of days between the date the campaign suspended its signature drive and the original May 1 signature deadline.

The campaign argued in the lawsuit, which was filed in the District Court of Idaho, that the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus made it impossible for the campaign to collect signatures, and therefore the state violated the petitioners’ First Amendment rights to petition the government. In announcing the lawsuit, Reclaim Idaho said, “We don’t object to the Governor’s actions to protect public health. But the Governor and Secretary of State have a responsibility to provide alternative, safe means for collecting signatures during a deadly pandemic. We should not be forced to choose between public safety and our First Amendment rights to petition our government.”

The measure was designed to increase the income tax rate for individuals with incomes above $250,000, increase the corporate income tax rate, and create and fund the Quality Education Fund.

No Idaho initiative campaigns submitted signatures by the May 1 deadline. Two other ballot measures—the Minimum Wage Increase Initiative and the Medical Marijuana Initiative—cleared for signature gathering by the Idaho Secretary of State. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both campaigns announced that they were suspending their signature drives prior to the signature deadline.

At least 14 lawsuits challenging ballot measure deadlines and requirements were filed in 11 of the 26 states that permit statewide initiative and/or referendum processes. The subjects of the lawsuits include the use of electronic signatures, notarization requirements, signature deadlines, and signature requirements.

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Florida Supreme Court rules that the ballot summary for the Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles and Shotguns Initiative is misleading

In 4-1 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the ballot summary of the Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles and Shotguns Initiative was misleading. Ban Assault Weapons NOW is sponsoring the measure targeting the 2022 ballot.

The measure would ban possession of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, with certain exceptions involving registration requirements. The measure would define Semiautomatic as “any weapon which fires a single projectile or a number of ball shots through a rifled or smooth bore for each single function of the trigger without further manual action required.” Assault weapon would be defined by the measure as “any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition feeding device.” If a person lawfully owned an assault weapon before the measure’s effective date, their ownership of such weapon would still be legal (a) for one year after the measure’s effective date or (b) after the owner registers the weapon by make, model, and serial number with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Records of such registration would be available for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

On July 26, 2019, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) filed a motion with the state supreme court arguing the measure’s ballot language was misleading and unclear and that the initiative should be blocked from the ballot. Moody argued, “The ballot title and summary do not inform Florida’s electorate that virtually every lawful owner of a semi-automatic long-gun will be forced to register with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or that this registry would be available to all local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Nor do the ballot title and summary state the time within which preexisting long-gun owners must register their firearms that meet the proposed amendment’s definition of ‘assault weapon’ and avail themselves of the amendment’s grandfathering provision.”

In its decision released on June 4, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with Moody. The court wrote, “While the ballot summary purports to exempt registered assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to the Initiative’s effective date, the Initiative does not categorically exempt the assault weapon, only the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon. The ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading.” Judge Jorge Labarga dissented arguing that the 75-word limit was not enough to provide every detail of the initiative but that the ballot summary was still clear.”

Gail Schwartz, the chair of Ban Assault Weapons NOW, released a statement in response to the court’s ruling that said, “The Supreme Court, now controlled by the NRA in the same way as our Governor and our Legislature, has fundamentally failed the people of Florida. Not only has the Legislature recently made it harder to pass ballot initiatives, now the people must also face a Court of rightwing ideologues who will only approve initiatives they agree with politically.”

According to the Florida Secretary of State’s website, Ban Assault Weapons NOW had submitted 174,564 valid signatures. In order to obtain a spot on the 2022 ballot, proponents of the initiative would need to begin the process again with an amended ballot summary.

The total number of signatures required for an initiated constitutional amendment to qualify for the ballot is equal to 8% of the votes cast in the preceding presidential election. Florida also has a signature distribution requirement, which requires that signatures equaling at least 8% of the district-wide vote in the last presidential election be collected from at least half (14) of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

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Coloradans will decide a ballot initiative in November that would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks gestational age

Initiative #120, sponsored by Due Date Too Late, was designed to prohibit abortions after a fetus reaches 22 weeks gestational age as calculated from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period (LMP). To qualify for the ballot, 124,632 valid signatures were required. Sponsors submitted 114,647 valid signatures on the March 4 deadline and were allowed to collect additional signatures during a 15-day cure period. The Colorado Secretary of State’s office announced that the measure qualified for the ballot on June 8, 2020, after finding that proponents submitted an additional 38,557 valid signatures, bringing the total number of valid signatures submitted to 153,204.

Under the initiative, performing a prohibited abortion would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine except for in cases where an abortion is required immediately to save the life of the pregnant woman. Medical professionals who are found to have performed a prohibited abortion would have their medical licenses suspended by the Colorado Medical Board for at least three years. A woman who has a prohibited abortion could not be charged with a crime under the initiative.

Seven states—Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont—and Washington, D.C., do not restrict abortion after a certain point in a pregnancy. The other 43 states restrict abortion at a certain point in pregnancy based on varying criteria.

In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling in Roe v. Wade, finding that state laws criminalizing abortion before fetal viability violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The high court held that states can regulate and/or prohibit abortions (except those to preserve the life or health of the mother) once a fetus reaches the point of viability.

One state bans abortion at 20 weeks from LMP, 17 states ban abortion at 22 weeks from LMP, and four states ban abortion at 24 weeks from LMP. Twenty states ban abortion at viability, which is around 24-28 weeks from LMP and varies by pregnancy. One state, Virginia, bans abortion in the third trimester, or around 25 weeks from LMP.

Measure sponsor Erin Behrens said, “We are going to put a very reasonable limit of 22 weeks, which is about five months into pregnancy. And we think that this reasonable limit will pass overwhelmingly in Colorado, and we will finally be brought into the 21st century. We will finally be among all the other states that have reasonable limits, and we will finally not be the late-term abortion capitol of the United States.”

Jack Teter, Colorado’s political director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said, “This measure has no exceptions for rape and incest, it has no exceptions for maternal health, and that is cruel and unconscionable and that’s an abortion ban voters aren’t going to support.”

Bob Enyart, a spokesman for Colorado Right to Life, told Rewire.News, “Our misguided pro-life allies have presided over decades of regulating child-killing. You don’t regulate crime; you deter crime. … Their immoral initiative seeks to protect children ‘who can survive outside the womb.’ But what about the rest of them?”

Coalition for Women and Children, which operates Due Date Too Late and supports the initiative, reported $63,849 in contributions and $44,400 in cash expenditures according to the most recent campaign finance reports, which covered through May 27. The largest donors to the initiative’s support committee were Donald Hood and Kevin Heringer, who gave $10,000 each.

Abortion Access for All, which is registered to oppose the initiative, reported contributions of $105,000 and expenditures of $2,600. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado was the largest donor, providing $30,000.

Voters in Colorado defeated citizen-initiated constitutional amendments in 2008, 2010, and 2014 that attempted to define person to include unborn human beings from the moment of fertilization.

Four other measures are on the ballot in Colorado:

  • A veto referendum determining whether to join Colorado into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) and awarding Colorado’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote if the NPVIC goes into effect;
  • An initiative to amend the Colorado Constitution to state that only a citizen of the U.S. can vote in federal, state, and local elections, instead of the existing language that says every citizen of the U.S. can vote;
  • An initiative to reintroduce gray wolves on public lands; and
  • A bond issue to authorize the state to issue transportation revenue anticipation notes (TRANs)—a specific type of bond debt—in the amount of $1.837 billion with no increase to taxes.

Fifteen initiatives have been cleared for signature gathering in Colorado with 124,632 valid signatures due by August 3, 2020, to secure a place on the ballot on November 3, 2020.

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Louisiana Legislature sends five constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot and a sports betting measures to the governor’s desk

The Louisiana State Legislature adjourned its 2020 regular session on June 1, 2020, and immediately started a special session to consider the state’s annual budget bill for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

During the 2020 regular session, the state legislature referred five constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot for voter approval or rejection:

  • House Bill 267 would allow the Louisiana State Legislature, through a two-thirds vote in each chamber, to use up to one-third of the revenue in the Budget Stabilization Fund to cover the state’s costs associated with a federally-declared disaster.
  • Senate Bill 272 would authorize a property tax exemption for property that is subject to an agreement with local government and would allow certain property owners to make payments instead of paying property taxes.
  • House Bill 360 would allow the presence or production of oil or gas to be taken into account when assessing the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem property tax purposes.
  • House Bill 464 would change the state’s expenditures limit growth formula.
  • House Bill 525 would increases the income limit from $50,000 to $100,000 for those who qualify for the special assessment level for residential property receiving the homestead exemption.

The state legislature also passed Senate Bill 130, which would ask the voters in each of Louisiana’s 64 parishes whether to authorize sports betting within the parish. If a majority of voters in the parish support authorizing sports betting, sports betting would be allowed in the parish after state laws are passed providing for the regulation of such activities. Governor John Bel Edwards (D) is expected to sign the bill, which would then place a referendum on the ballot in each parish.

The legislature referred one other constitutional amendment to the November 2020 ballot during the 2019 legislative session. It would add language to the Louisiana Constitution stating that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

From 1995 through 2018, 185 constitutional amendments were placed on the ballot by the state legislature. About 10 constitutional amendments were on the ballot in Louisiana during even-numbered years. A total of 139 of the measures (75%) were approved and 46 of the measures (25%) were defeated.

Voters approve $130 million bond issue for Fort Wayne, Indiana, Community Schools

In Allen County, Indiana, voters approved a $130 million bond issue for the Fort Wayne Community Schools district, which is the second-largest school district in the state. The measure was approved 74 percent to 26 percent on June 2.

The ballot measure allowed the school district to issue bonds to fund repairs and renovations to 37 buildings. It was estimated to increase the property tax rate by $148.60 per $100,000 in assessed value, replacing expiring debt service property taxes.

The measure, known as REPAIR FWCS 2020, was the third measure in a series of three public votes concerning Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) School Basic Renewal/Restoration and Safety Projects. The first phase of the school renovations (known as REPAIR FWCS) was approved by voters in May of 2012. The second phase of the school renovations (known as REPAIR Phase 2) was approved by voters in May of 2016.

Kansas City, MO, voters approve a ballot measure to increase the sales tax for fire department operations

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Kansas City Question 1 was approved on June 2. The measure received 55 percent of the vote. Question 1 was designed to increase the sales tax by 0.25 percentage points, bringing the total city-levied sales tax to 3.25 percent (in addition to county and state sales taxes). Under Question 1, revenue from the sales tax increase will be used for Kansas City Fire Department operations.

Question 1 was put on the ballot through a 10-2 vote of the Kansas City Council on January 23, 2020.

Voters in the West Ada School District, Idaho, rejected a ballot measure to renew a $14 million property tax levy

Voters in West Ada School District, located in Ada and Canyon Counties, Idaho, rejected a ballot measure to renew a $14 million per year supplemental property tax levy for the period between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022. According to results released on June 2, 54 percent of voters rejected the ballot measure.

The two-year supplemental levy has been renewed four times since 2012. The renewal would not have increased the total levy raised by the school district. At the time of the election, the existing total levy rate was $351 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

This measure was put on the ballot for the May 19 election, but the absentee ballot return deadline was delayed to June 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which meant results weren’t available until Tuesday.

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Philadelphia voters approve two charter amendment ballot measures

Voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, approved two amendments to the city’s charter on June 2.

Question 1 created a Philadelphia Department of Labor, along with a Board of Labor Standards, to administer and enforce citywide labor laws and collective bargaining agreements. According to election night results, Question 1 had 80 percent of the vote.

Question 2 changed the city’s charter to state that appointed officers and employees can volunteer for statewide candidates. Before Question 2, the city’s charter said that appointed officers and employees could not take part in the management or affairs of a political campaign but did not specify how that relates to non-managerial volunteer activity. Question 2 was approved by 65 percent of voters.

Both Question 1 and Question 2 were placed on the ballot through a unanimous vote of the Philadelphia City Council.

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Sponsors of Oklahoma State Question 805 turned in 260,000 signatures on Monday

Yes on 805, sponsors of proposed Oklahoma State Question 805, turned in 260,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office on June 1. State Question 805 would prohibit a convicted person’s former felony convictions from being used to “enhance the statutorily allowable base range of punishment, including but not limited to minimum and maximum terms.” The initiative would provide for sentence modifications for eligible persons.

Yes on 805 President Sarah Edwards said, “Oklahoma has an incarceration crisis. This crisis separates families, damages communities and hurts our state’s chances of success. For several years, legislators have tried to pass legislation that would rein in sentence enhancements and reduce extreme sentences. These efforts have failed despite widespread support from state leaders and Oklahoma voters. This campaign is a continuation of recent criminal justice reform efforts, acknowledging that much more still needs to be done to address this crisis.”

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R), who opposes the initiative, said, “Trying to put this into our state’s constitution, it peels back enhancements for DUIs, human trafficking, domestic violence — some of the things I don’t think we need to put into our constitution.”

To qualify for the ballot, 177,958 valid signatures are required. Proponents had collected more than 260,000 signatures as of early March. On March 17, 2020, Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805, made the following statement regarding COVID 19: “Effective immediately, Yes on 805 will suspend all of its public activities, including signature gathering. The health and safety of our signature collectors and the public at large is our number one priority. We are doing our part to protect and support our communities by taking steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’re confident in the status of the campaign and the strength of our movement, and look forward to fulfilling the will of Oklahoma voters by filing the signatures needed to put State Question 805 on the 2020 ballot.”

On March 18, 2020, the Oklahoma Secretary of State tolled the signature gathering deadline for initiative petitions until the governor lifts the state’s emergency declaration, which meant the window for signature gathering for each initiative was pushed forward instead of continuing to run during the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. On May 7, 2020, Yes on 805 filed a petition with the Oklahoma Supreme Court asking for Oklahoma Secretary of State Michael Rogers to accept the more than 260,000 signatures the group had already collected. Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805 said, “It’s imperative we place State Question 805 on a 2020 ballot. People who are serving excessive sentences can’t wait another year. Their families can’t wait. We hope this legal move will prompt quick action from the Secretary of State to ensure the thousands of Oklahomans who signed our petition to place SQ 805 on the ballot have their voices heard.”

Secretary of State Michael Rogers said he would not accept the signatures until the state’s emergency declaration ends, which was set to end at the start of June. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on May 26, 2020, that the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office must accept the signatures within 10 business days. Sponsors submitted signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office on June 1, 2020.

A signature count was expected to begin on Wednesday. It was not known how long the count was expected to take. After the count is complete, the Oklahoma Supreme Court will determine the sufficiency or insufficiency of the number of signatures as counted by the Secretary of State. At this time, the state attorney general will review the ballot title and make any changes deemed necessary.

Signature validity and ballot title changes could be challenged legally within ten days after the Secretary of State publishes the signature count and final ballot title. Once all legal objections are resolved, the governor places the state question on the ballot.

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