On July 22, a jury found former Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck (R) guilty on 37 counts of fraud, including mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and tax fraud.
Beck was elected to the office on November 6, 2018, and was suspended from the office by Governor Brian Kemp (R) on May 16, 2019.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in late January that Beck had been receiving pay and benefits since being indicted for federal wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering charges in May 2019. The charges included allegations that Beck stole over $2 million from his former employer, the Georgia Underwriting Association, and used those funds to pay for his 2018 campaign. Because Beck was suspended and did not resign, the state had been compensating him as well as John King, Kemp’s appointment to fill the position during Beck’s suspension.
Following the verdict, insurance commissioner John King said, “The state of Georgia is no longer paying for two commissioners. We took him off the payroll within hours of the jury coming back.”
Beck was placed on house arrest until sentencing, which was set for October 8, 2021.
Voters in Georgia will decide in 2022 whether to amend the state constitution to suspend compensation for the following public officials while suspended from office due to a felony indictment:
1. any member of the General Assembly;
3. Lieutenant Governor;
4. Secretary of State;
5. Attorney General;
6. State School Superintendent;
7. Commissioner of Insurance;
8. Commissioner of Agriculture; or
9. Commissioner of Labor
Currently, under the state’s constitution, assembly members and public officials who are suspended from office due to the indictment for a felony still receive compensation until they are convicted. Officials that are reinstated to their position would receive pay that was withheld under the amendment.
On July 22, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a constitutional amendment enacting Medicaid expansion was constitutional. The decision reversed a lower court’s ruling that found the amendment approved by voters last August to be unconstitutional because it did not include a revenue source for the state to pay for the Medicaid expansion. The Supreme Court ruled that the amendment “does not remove the General Assembly’s discretion in appropriating money to MO HealthNet,” and therefore, “the circuit court erred in declaring article IV, section 36(c) constitutionally invalid.”
The Supreme Court concluded that the Department of Social Services and Missouri HealthNet, who are responsible for the administration of Medicaid in Missouri, are required to use the funds appropriated by the legislature on all eligible recipients under the adopted amendment. The amendment, which was approved by a margin of 53.27% to 46.73%, expanded Medicaid eligibility in Missouri to adults that are 19 years of age or older and younger than 65 whose income is 138% of the federal poverty level or below under the Affordable Care Act.
Stephanie Doyle, Melinda Hille, and Autumn Stultz—three individuals who qualify for Medicaid under the expanded eligibility—filed the lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court. On June 23, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional because it did not include a way for the state to pay for the Medicaid expansion. He wrote, “If the court allows them to spend other state revenues by initiative such action would deprive the General Assembly of its constitutional right to appropriate revenues in all other non-initiative circumstances.”
Amy Blouin of the Missouri Budget Project said, “As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Missourians across the state will finally be able to realize the health and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion. State after state has shown that in addition to providing insurance to those eligible, expansion is a fiscal and economic boon to state economies and budgets.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman (R), who opposed the amendment, said, “The legal gymnastics employed by the court to get their desired political outcome sets a dangerous precedent and greatly diminishes the power of Missourians’ elected representatives.”
Since the Supreme Court has upheld Medicaid expansion, the state must file paperwork with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to set up the enrollment process for newly eligible individuals. Governor Mike Parson (R) previously withdrew the state’s paperwork in May after the state legislature passed the state’s budget without expanding funding for Medicaid.
The amendment faced legal challenges before the vote last August. In May 2020, two separate lawsuits were filed against Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) challenging the constitutionality of the citizen-initiated ballot measure by Americans for Prosperity-Missouri and United for Missouri. Both lawsuits argued that the initiative was unconstitutional because it appropriated state funds without creating a new source of revenue. In June 2020, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled in favor of the initiative keeping it on the ballot. Judge Green argued that the ballot measure does not require the state legislature to appropriate money for Medicaid expansion, and therefore, it does not need to provide a funding source. Missouri Western District Court of Appeals upheld Judge Green’s decision to keep the initiative on the August ballot after United for Missouri and Americans for Prosperity-Missouri appealed the decision.
Missouri joins 38 states and Washington, D.C., in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
In November, voters in Maine will decide a ballot initiative designed to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project. NECEC would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine.
Since 2010, Ballotpedia has tracked campaign finance for ballot measures in Maine, and the transmission lines ballot initiative is the most expensive since then. Supporters and opponents of the initiative have raised more than $46 million raised June 30, 2021.
The second most expensive initiative was Question 1 (2017), an initiative to authorize slot machines or a casino in York County, Maine, which saw $10.16 million in contributions through the entire election cycle. In June 2017, the combined campaign contributions surrounding Question 1 were at $4.41 million—less than half of the final aggregate contributions. The next campaign finance deadline for the campaigns surrounding the transmission lines initiative is October 5, 2021.
The NECEC was proposed in response to Massachusetts soliciting for 9.45 million hydropower-derived megawatts in 2016. Hydro-Québec, a government-owned firm in Quebec, and Central Maine Power (CMP) submitted a joint proposal to deliver hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts through Maine. Segment 1 of the NECEC required a new 53-mile corridor from the border with Quebec to The Forks, Maine, which began construction on May 13, 2021. Other segments were planned to use existing transmission line corridors.
Maine, in exchange for entering into a stipulation agreement for the project, was set to receive a benefits package worth $258 million, which included funds for low-income electric consumer projects, rural broadband internet, electric vehicle charging stations, electric heat pumps, education grants, workforce development, and business retention. Maine also secured 500 megawatt (MWh) hours per year from hydroelectric plants via NECEC.
Former Sen. Thomas Saviello (R-17), a member of the campaign No CMP Corridor, filed the ballot initiative in October 2020. He said, “Mainers know they’re being lied to by these two foreign corporations, and they know that this project will forever change our state’s character, environment and economy in ways that will not benefit us.” Besides aiming to halt the NECEC, the ballot initiative would prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines defined as high-impact in the Upper Kennebec Region, such as the NECEC, and require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve high-impact electric transmission line projects. The ballot initiative would define high-impact electric transmission lines as those that are (a) 50 miles in length or more, (b) outside of a statutory corridor or petitioned corridor, (c) not a generator interconnection transmission facility, or (d) not constructed to primarily provide electric reliability.
No CMP Corridor, together with the Mainers for Local Power PAC, raised $9.46 million, including $6.67 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine; $1.27 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and $1.23 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.
Clean Energy Matters is leading the campaign in opposition to the ballot initiative. Jon Breed, executive director of Clean Energy Matters, stated, “It’s bad public policy and sets a bad precedent for our state if we take a project that has cleared every major regulatory milestone at the state and federal level, and then turn around and pull permits.” The PAC Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership is also registered to oppose the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $36.99 million, including $27.12 million from Central Maine Power (CMP), NECEC Transmission LLC, and the companies’ parent firm Avangrid; and $8.58 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec.
The Maine State Legislature passed a bill in June 2021 that could have impacted Hydro-Québec’s abilities to make contributions. LD 194 was designed to prohibit corporations and other entities that are at least 10% owned by a foreign government from making contributions or expenditures for or against a citizen-initiated ballot measure. Gov. Janet Mills (D) vetoed the legislation, saying, “Government is rarely justified in restricting the kind of information to which the citizenry should have access in the context of an election, and particularly a ballot initiative.”
On July 6, Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed legislation placing a $100-million bond issue on the ballot for November 2, 2021. The bond issue is the third ballot measure set to go before voters in November. It’s the only bond issue certified for the ballot so far.
The ballot measure divides the bond revenue into two categories:
(1) $85 million for the construction, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of Priority 1, Priority 2, and Priority 3 highways, as well as bridges, and
(2) $15 million for facilities or equipment related to transit, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, ports and harbors, marine transportation, and active transportation projects.
The bond issue would leverage an estimated $253 million in federal and other funding.
Since 2007, voters have approved 97.6 percent (40 of 41) of statewide bond issues in Maine. The last bond measure to be rejected was Question 2 (2012), which would have authorized $11 million in bonds to expand the state’s community college system. In 2020, voters approved two bond issues, one that issued $105 million for transportation projects and one that issued $15 million for high-speed internet infrastructure.
As of June 30, 2020, Maine had $572.70 million in debt from general obligation bonds. About $64.63 million of voter-approved bonds from prior elections had not yet been issued for projects. The debt from general obligation bonds was the highest since at least 2005 (not accounting for inflation). In 2019, the general obligation bond debt was $543.40 million.
Besides the bond issue, voters will also decide a ballot initiative to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the New England Clean Energy Connect, and a constitutional amendment to create a state right to growing, raising, harvesting, and producing food. Also before Gov. Mills, as of July 7, is a bill that would refer to voters a measure that would create a state-established, consumer-owned electric utility company called the Pine Tree Power Company. The legislature will return to session on July 19 and could consider an additional two constitutional amendments.
The signature submission deadline for Initiatives to the People (ITP)—which is the name of direct ballot initiatives in Washington—passed on July 2, 2021. No campaigns submitted signatures. To qualify for the ballot, proponents would have needed to submit 324,516 valid signatures. A total of 136 ITPs were filed by five sponsors. The filed initiatives concerned a range of topics, including taxes, affirmative action, drug policy, marijuana, civil rights, and time standards.
Citizens of Washington may initiate legislation as either a direct state statute—called Initiative to the People (ITP) in Washington—or indirect state statute—called Initiative to the Legislature (ITL) in Washington. In Washington, citizens also have the power to repeal legislation through veto referendums. Citizens may not initiate constitutional amendments.
This year will be the third consecutive year that no ITPs appeared on the statewide ballot in Washington. The 2020 election was the first presidential election year since 1928 in which the Washington ballot did not feature an Initiative to the People (ITP).
The last ITPs on the ballot were decided in the 2018 general election. In the ten-year period from 2009 to 2019, six ITPs were on the ballot in odd-numbered years: one in 2009, three in 2011, and two in 2015.
The signature deadline for 2021 Washington Initiatives to the Legislature (ITL) was December 31, 2020. A total of 216 ITLs were filed by 14 sponsors. None of the campaigns submitted signatures by the deadline. Thirty-four Initiatives to the Legislature have been on the ballot since the first ITL in 1916; 18 were approved. The most recent ITL, Initiative 976, was on the ballot in 2019 where it was approved and later invalidated by the Washington State Supreme Court.
Two veto referendum measures filed by Tim Eyman have a signature deadline of July 24, 2021. A veto referendum is a type of citizen-initiated ballot measure that asks voters whether to uphold or repeal a law recently passed by the state legislature. Opponents of the law collect signatures for the veto referendum petition hoping that voters will repeal it at the ballot. Referendum 92 would ask voters to approve or repeal House Bill 1091, which would create the Clean Fuels Program overseen by the Department of Ecology to limit transportation fuel energy greenhouse gas emissions. Referendum 93 would ask voters to approve or repeal Senate Bill 5126, which was designed to create a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions overseen by the Department. of Ecology. Ballotpedia is not aware of an active signature-gathering campaign for either measure.
The Washington State Legislature may refer constitutional amendments to the ballot with a two-thirds (66.67%) supermajority vote. No constitutional amendments or other referrals were passed in the legislature before it adjourned its 2021 session on April 25, 2021. Advisory questions on bills increasing tax revenue could appear on the 2021 ballot.
A total of 61 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Washington during odd years from the 20-year period between 1999 and 2019. 56% (34) were approved, and 44% (27) were defeated.
Maine voters will decide a constitutional amendment to create a state right to growing, raising, harvesting, and producing food, as well as saving and exchanging seeds, at the election on November 2, 2021. People would have this right as long as an individual does not commit trespassing; theft; poaching; or abuses to private land, public land, or natural resources in the process of acquiring food.
The Maine Senate approved the constitutional amendment, which required a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers, on July 2. The House approved the amendment on June 10. Of House Democrats, 75 voted “Yes” and 2 voted “No.” Of House Republicans, 26 voted “Yes” and 29 voted “No.” The constitutional amendment also received the support of the House’s four independent and third-party members. As a constitutional amendment, the governor’s signature is not required for the proposal to go before voters.
State Rep. William Faulkingham (R-136) introduced the constitutional amendment. He said the proposal was needed to “protect our food rights for future generations.” He added, “Will Monsanto own all the seeds, and will we have gotten so far from our roots that we won’t even have natural seeds anymore? Will people even be allowed to grow gardens?”
House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham (R-72), who voted against the amendment, said, “I think most of us here agree we have every right to grow, raise, harvest and choose our own food, on our own property. But this isn’t limited to just that.” She also stated, “This language is so broad we will be placing these challenges in the hands of the courts to interpret intent.”
The constitutional amendment is the first legislative referral certified for Maine’s November 2021 ballot. A citizen-initiated measure to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the New England Clean Energy Connect, will also be on the ballot. As of July 2, the state Legislature had also approved a referred statute and a bond issue, which require the governor’s signature before being certified for the ballot.
The Maine State Legislature is also considering a constitutional amendment to create a state “right to a clean and healthy environment.” Between 1995 and 2020, the average number of measures on an odd-year ballot in Maine was between five and six. On average, there were one initiative, one amendment, and three bond measures.
On July 1, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor issued a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of Florida Senate Bill 1890. SB 1890 was designed to set $3,000 limits on campaign contributions to committees in support of or opposition to ballot initiatives during signature gathering. The bill was designed to lift the contribution limits after a measure is put on the ballot. It would have taken effect on July 1 without the injunction.
Winsor wrote that the state “bears the burden of justifying restrictions on political expression by advancing at least ‘a significantly important interest’ that is ‘closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms.’ […] Binding decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and the 5th Circuit (Court of Appeals) applied those principles and concluded that the First Amendment forbids limitations like those SB 1890 imposes.”
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) responded to the ruling, “The citizen initiative system was designed to be a mechanism for grassroots expression not a shortcut for billionaires to bypass the political process. SB 1890 contained limited and narrowly tailored measures to protect the integrity of the signature-gathering process.”
The Senate passed the bill 23-17 on April 14. Twenty-three Republicans were in favor, and 16 Democrats and one Republican were opposed. The House passed it 75-40 on April 26. All 75 voting Republicans were in favor, and all 40 voting Democrats were opposed. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the bill on May 7.
On May 8, the ACLU of Florida along with three initiative petition campaigns filed the lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction. The lawsuit cited previous rulings that overturned limitations on campaign contributions for ballot measure committees, including Citizens Against Rent Control v. City of Berkeley (1981), First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978), and Buckley v. Valeo (1976). The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in previous cases that political contributions constitute freedom of speech and cannot be limited without a compelling state interest, such as to prevent corruption and bribery. The court has also ruled that “referenda are held on issues, not candidates for public office. The risk of corruption perceived in cases involving candidate elections simply is not present in a popular vote on a public issue.”
In Florida, initiative proponents must collect signatures equal to 8% of votes cast at the previous presidential election. The requirement to put an initiative on the 2022 ballot is 891,589 valid signatures. 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. Signatures remain valid until February 1 of even-numbered years and must be verified by February 1 of the targeted general election year.
In 2020, four initiatives qualified for the ballot in Florida. The petition drives to put those measures on the ballot cost an average of $6.7 million each, ranging from $4 million to $8.8 million. From 2016 through 2020, the average total cost of an initiative petition drive that successfully qualified an initiative for the ballot in Florida was $5.1 million. Nationwide, the average total cost of a successful initiative petition drive was $2.1 million in 2020. It was $1.2 million in 2018. In Florida, the petition drives that put the four initiatives that were on the ballot in 2020 were each funded by one donor or entities that were all associated.
At the 2022 general election, Arizona voters will decide a constitutional amendment to require that citizen-initiated ballot measures embrace a single subject. The ballot measure would also require the initiative’s subject to be expressed in the ballot title, or else the missing subject would be considered void.
Known as the single-subject rule, 16 states (of 26 with an initiative or veto referendum process) require that ballot initiatives address a single subject. Courts are often responsible for determining whether an initiative meets a single-subject rule if someone contests the initiative as violating the rule.
The single-subject issue came up in a 2017 court case in which the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there was no single-subject rule for ballot initiatives. The case involved voter-approved Proposition 206, which enacted statutes related to minimum wage and paid sick time. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry argued that the initiative was two subjects in violation of a provision in the state constitution (Section 13 of Article 4) requiring that “every act shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” The Arizona Supreme Court held that the single-subject rule found in Section 13 of Article 4 applied to bills passed by the legislature but not citizen-initiated statutes.
State Rep. John Kavanagh (R-23) introduced the constitutional amendment into the Arizona State Legislature. He said, “It’s unfair to the people who you ask to vote to have more than one subject matter.” Joel Edman, director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, criticized the proposal, saying, “The trick is that what qualifies as a single subject is in the eye of the beholder.”
On March 4, 2021, the Arizona House of Representatives voted 31-28 to pass the constitutional amendment. On June 29, 2021, the Arizona State Senate voted 16-14 to approve the proposal. In both chambers, votes were along party lines, with Republicans voting to send the amendment to the ballot and Democrats voting against it. Since Republicans hold a one-member majority in each chamber, the amendment passed by the minimum number of required votes in the House and Senate.
The amendment is the second put on the 2022 Arizona ballot related to ballot initiative procedures. On June 25, the legislature referred an amendment to change the state’s laws on legislative alteration. It would allow the legislature to amend or repeal voter-approved ballot initiatives if any portion has been declared unconstitutional or illegal by the Arizona Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court.
The legislature can refer additional measures during the remainder of this year’s legislative session and the 2022 legislative session. Arizonans also have the power to initiate legislation as either a state statute or a constitutional amendment or repeal legislation via veto referendum. Signatures for 2022 ballot initiatives are due July 8, 2022.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel announced a tentative decision on June 17 to overturn last year’s Measure J. Strobel said that Measure J unconstitutionally limits how the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors can decide revenue allocations. Strobel gave 15 days for both plaintiffs and defendants to submit more evidence. She said she expected to issue a final ruling within the following weeks.
The Coalition of County Unions, which includes the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, filed the lawsuit against the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.
Measure J, among other provisions, was designed to require that no less than 10% of the county’s general fund be appropriated to community programs and alternatives to incarceration, such as health services and pre-trial non-custody services, and prohibit those funds from being allocated to law enforcement. It was approved last year by Los Angeles County voters, 57% to 43%.
Click here to read more about Los Angeles County Measure J.
The California Public Employment Relations Board overturned portions of Measure P, a police oversight-related measure that Sonoma County voters approved last year, on June 23. The board ruled that certain provisions of Measure P violated the collective bargaining rights of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. The ruling overturned provisions allowing the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) to:
conduct its own investigations of deputies,
publish camera footage,
provide disciplinary recommendations, and
observe interviews during investigations by internal affairs.
The California Public Employment Relations Board is a commission of four appointees that rule on government labor issues. The board said that the unions representing county sheriffs should have had the opportunity to negotiate these provisions before they were enacted.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors can appeal the decision to the California First District Court of Appeal.
Here is a sampling of reactions to the California Public Employment Relations Board’s ruling:
Karlene Navarro, the director of the law enforcement oversight office, said that the ruling “appears to essentially delete IOLERO’s independent investigatory power in its entirety and voids IOLERO’s subpoena power.”
“Who is in charge of law enforcement oversight?” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins said. “Is it the more than 166,000 people in Sonoma County who voted yes on Measure P or is it the four members of the [labor board]?”
Mike Vail, president of the county sheriff deputy union, said that the union should have been invited to negotiate before the measure was put on the ballot. Vail said, “The Board of Supervisors rejected the appropriate legal process and squandered an opportunity to accomplish a mutually agreeable set of reforms.”
Click here to read more about Sonoma County Measure P.
Note: An earlier edition of this article contained a typo that misquoted Karlene Navarro. This has been corrected. We apologize for this error and any confusion it caused.