Tagballot measures

Oregon voters will decide on whether to add a right to affordable healthcare to the state constitution in 2022

On May 19, the Oregon State Legislature voted to refer a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would add a new section requiring the state to “ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.” The amendment would also add a provision requiring the right to affordable healthcare be “balanced against the public interest in funding public schools and other essential public services.”

Rep. Rob Nosse (D), one of the chief sponsors of the amendment, said, “Burdensome medical bills, or medical conditions that go untreated because of a lack of financial resources, cause great strain to families and individuals all over this state. They hold people back, causing them to forego starting a business, getting an education, buying a home, or having children. This amendment is a practical and sober statement of what the people of this state need.”

Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod (R), who voted in opposition to the measure, said, “It’s going to either be an absolutely empty promise that we have no intention of keeping, or it’s going to be a right that’s going to bankrupt the state.”

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority is required in both the Oregon State Senate and the Oregon House of Representatives.

This amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 12 (SJR 12) on January 11, 2021. On March 18, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 12 largely along party lines in a vote of 17-13. Independent Senator Brian Boquist and Democratic Senator Betsy Johnson joined the Republican minority. On May 19, 2021, the House approved SJR 12 along party lines by a vote of 34-23 with three excused. 

The amendment was proposed in the state legislature at least eight times in the last 16 years according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. During the 2020 legislative session, Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D) proposed the amendment. It was approved largely along party lines in the Oregon House of Representatives by a vote of 36-21 with three excused. One Democrat joined the Republican minority in the vote. 

The amendment did not receive a vote in the Oregon State Senate due to a legislative walkout. On February 24, 2020, 11 of the 12 Republican members of the Senate did not attend the regularly scheduled morning Senate floor session. Democrats held 18 seats, two short of the 20 members needed for a quorum. On March 5, Senate President Peter Courtney (D) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) adjourned their respective chambers early due to the lack of a quorum.

The amendment is the first ballot measure to be referred to the Oregon 2022 ballot. From 1995 to 2020, the number of measures on statewide ballots during even-numbered years ranged from four to 32, and the average number of measures was 14. Between 1995 and 2020, about 46.43% (78 of 168) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots during even-numbered years were approved, and about 53.57% (90 of 168) were defeated.

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Measures to ban solitary confinement, no-knock warrants approved in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh

In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, voters approved a ballot initiative to prohibit solitary confinement in the county jail. The ballot initiative received 70% of the vote. In Pittsburgh, which is also located in Allegheny County, voters approved a ballot initiative to prohibit the police from executing warrants without knocking or announcing themselves. It received 81% of the vote.

Ballotpedia has tracked five local ballot measures in 2021 concerning

  1. police oversight;
  2. the powers and structure of oversight commissions;
  3. police and incarceration practices;
  4. law enforcement department structure and administration;
  5. reductions in or restrictions on law enforcement budgets;
  6. law enforcement training requirements; or
  7. body and dashboard camera footage.

Ballotpedia identified 20 local police-related ballot measures on the ballot for the election on November 3, 2020, that qualified following the death of George Floyd.

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The Texas legislature sends amendment on homestead tax limits for surviving spouses of disabled to November ballot

On May 14, the Texas State Legislature voted to refer a constitutional amendment that would allow the surviving spouse of a disabled individual to maintain a homestead property tax limit if the spouse is 55 years of age or older at the time of the death and remains at the homestead. The amendment would retroactively validate a 2019 law that extends the property tax ceiling to the surviving spouse. The amendment would also add a temporary provision that would refund taxes to spouses of a deceased disabled individual for the 2020 and 2021 tax years that exceeded the amount that should have been paid with the tax limit.

Representative Jake Ellzey (R), one of the authors of the amendment, said, “The surviving spouse of a disabled homeowner should not be saddled with an unexpected large increase in their tax bill. That only magnifies the tragedy of the loss of their spouse and if they are on a fixed income it even further compounds their difficulties. If a couple has a disability exemption for their homestead, when the disabled person passes away, the surviving spouse loses the exemption. HJR125 protects the surviving spouse from the loss of an important benefit.”

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before Texas voters, a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote is required in both the Texas State Senate and the Texas House of Representatives.

This amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 125 on March 8, 2021. On April 12, 2021, the state House passed HJR 125 in a vote of 147-0, with three not voting. On May 14, 2021, the Senate approved HJR 125 in a vote of 30-0 with one excused.

Currently, disabled individuals may apply for a $10,000 homestead tax exemption and a limit on school district property taxes. In order to qualify for the disabled exemption and tax limit, the individual must also qualify to receive disability benefits under the Federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Program administered by the Social Security Administration. Property taxes on the residence of a disabled individual or their surviving spouse do not increase from the year the individual qualifies for the exemption and tax limit.

The amendment is the second ballot measure the Texas Legislature sent to the 2021 ballot. In November, Texas voters will also be deciding whether to add a provision to the Texas Constitution that prohibits the state or any political subdivision from limiting religious services.

Since 1876 when the current constitution was adopted, it has been amended 507 times. In November 2019, voters approved nine constitutional amendments. On average, the legislature referred 13 constitutional amendments to odd-year ballots from 1995 through 2019.

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Pennsylvania voters pass constitutional amendments to limit governor’s emergency orders without legislative support

On May 18, Pennsylvania voters approved two constitution amendments on the governor’s emergency powers, which were a point of conflict between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf during the coronavirus pandemic. According to unofficial results on May 19, both Question 1 and Question 2 received 54% of the statewide vote.

Voters also approved the other two statewide measures on the ballot by votes of 71%-29% and 72%-28%, respectively.

Question 1 allows the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a resolution, which would not require the governor’s signature, to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency declaration. Question 2 limits the governor’s declaration to 21 days unless the legislature votes on a concurrent resolution to extend the order. 

The Legislature passed a concurrent resolution to end the governor’s coronavirus emergency declaration in June 2020. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the governor could veto the concurrent resolution. On July 14, Gov. Wolf vetoed the resolution. A two-thirds vote in the legislature would have been required to overturn the veto.

Pennsylvania will join four other states—Alaska, Kansas, Michigan, and Minnesota—that require a legislative vote to extend or terminate a governor’s emergency declaration after a specific number of days. In Kansas, the requirement is 15 days after the order is first issued. In Michigan, the requirement is 28 days. In Alaska and Minnesota, the requirement is 30 days.

Ballotpedia did not identify ballot measure committees that supported or opposed the constitutional amendments. Americans For Prosperity and The Commonwealth Foundation—both 501(c) organizations—spent about $150,000 through independent expenditures to support Question 1 and Question 2.

The Pennsylvania amendments were the first in the country to address the governor’s emergency powers since the pandemic began. In 2021 or 2022, at least six other states will vote on at least seven other ballot measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions. In November, Texans will vote on a constitutional amendment to prohibit the state or any political subdivision from limiting religious services or organizations. 

The approval of Pennsylvania Question 1 and Question 2, as well as Question 3, continues the trend of successful constitutional amendments in the state since 1989. Between 1989 and 2020, 15 constitutional amendments were approved. Pennsylvanians could see more constitutional amendments on the ballot in November. Potential measures that have passed in one chamber of the legislature include amendments to have gubernatorial candidates select their lieutenant gubernatorial running mates and to reorganize the election of state judges and justices into districts. 

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Voters in Multnomah County, Oregon, renew property tax levy to fund historical society

On May 18, voters in Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland, approved a ballot measure to renew a property tax levy of $0.05 per $1,000 in assessed property value. Revenue will fund the Oregon Historical Society’s library, museum, and educational programs. The ballot measure received 78.5% of the vote according to unofficial election night results. The measure was put on the ballot through a vote of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

Officials estimated the measure would between $3.4 million and $3.9 million per year to the Oregon Historical Society. The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) was established in 1898 and curates historical records and artifacts for Portland and the state. The OHS acts as the Multnomah County Historical Society.

Nevada legislature refers minimum wage amendment to 2022 ballot

In November 2022, Nevada voters will decide on an amendment to increase the minimum wage for all employees to $12 by 2024. The state legislature voted on Friday to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot that would change the current minimum wage, which is set at two different rates depending on whether the employee receives health benefits or not. The amendment would also remove the existing annual inflation adjustments to the minimum wage, which are currently capped at 3% of the prior year’s rate, and allow the legislature to pass a minimum wage law setting the rate higher than the constitutionally mandated minimum.

In 2019, the Nevada State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 456 (AB 456), which enacted a minimum wage increase beginning in 2020 at a rate of $8.00 for employees that received health benefits and $9.00 for those who did not. The rate is set to increase incrementally until July 2024 when it reaches $11 and $12 for the respective employee tiers. 

As of January 2021, the minimum wage in Nevada was $8.75 for employees with health benefits and $9.75 for employees without health benefits.

Twenty-five states and D.C. increased or will increase their minimum wages in 2021. Across the country, the average state minimum wage in 2021 is about $9.59, up from $9.17 in 2020.

To refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot, a majority vote is required in both chambers of the Nevada Legislature in two successive sessions. The amendment was introduced as Assembly Joint Resolution 10 (AJR 10) during the 2019 legislative session. The amendment passed in the Nevada State Legislature along party lines with Democrats in the majority and Republicans in the minority. The Assembly passed the amendment in a vote of 28-12 with one Republican member excused. The State Senate passed the amendment in a vote of 12-8 with one Democratic member excused.

During the 2021 legislative session, the State Assembly passed the amendment along party lines with a vote of 26 Democrats in favor and 16 Republicans opposed. The Senate passed the amendment largely along party lines with a vote of 13-8, with one Republican joining the Democratic majority.

The amendment is the fourth ballot measure to qualify for the 2022 ballot. The legislature also referred a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the denial or abridgment of rights on account of an individual’s race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry, or national origin. Voters will also be deciding two indirect initiatives that would increase gaming and sales taxes and dedicate revenue to education and tourism.

Between 1996 and 2020, Nevada voters approved 60.7% (51 of 84) and rejected 39.3% (33 of 84) of the ballot measures that appeared on statewide ballots.

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Montana governor signs bill adding restrictions to the initiative process

On May 14, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed House Bill 651 into law. Both chambers of the legislature passed the bill along party lines in the last week of April. All Republicans but one were in favor and all Democrats were opposed. 

House Bill 651 changes the laws governing the initiative process in Montana

• to require the employees of paid signature gatherers to register with the state and pay a fee;

• to require the relevant legislative committee or the legislative council to review and vote whether to support or oppose adding any proposed initiative to the ballot and to require the results of that vote to be published on the initiative petition during circulation;

• to require the attorney general to determine whether a proposed initiative would “cause significant material harm to one or more business interests in Montana” and to require a statement on petition sheets if the attorney general finds that it would; and

• to define appropriations, which the state constitution prohibits initiatives from making, to include directly or indirectly creating a financial obligation or expanding the eligibility for a government program.

Legislators in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah have passed restrictions on the initiative processes in their states in 2021.

As of May 14, 2021, Ballotpedia had tracked 197 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 39 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 21 had been approved, and 20 had been defeated or had died.

Notable topics among bills introduced in 2021 sessions include supermajority requirement increases, signature requirement and distribution requirement increases, single-subject rules, pay-per-signature bans, residency requirements and other circulator restrictions, fiscal impact statement and funding source requirements, and ballot measure campaign contribution restrictions.

Texas voters will decide amendment prohibiting restrictions on religious gatherings and organizations in November

The Texas State Legislature voted Tuesday to refer its first constitutional amendment to the November ballot. The amendment would add a section to the state constitution prohibiting the state or any political subdivision from issuing or enacting a statute, order, or rule that prohibits or limits religious services, including religious services conducted in churches.

The amendment was proposed in response to the restrictions put in place requiring religious institutions to refrain from meeting in person in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Texas cities and counties issued stay-at-home orders requiring religious gatherings to stream their services. On March 31, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order that included “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship” in the definition of “essential services.”

Rep. Scott Sanford (R), who voted in favor of the amendment, said, “Churches provide essential spiritual, mental and physical support in a time of crisis. Closing churches not only eliminated these critical ministries and services, but it violated their religious freedom, guaranteed by our laws and Constitution.”

Douglas Laycock, professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, opposes the measure and similar bills considered by the legislature: “There are very few occasions or reasons on which it would ever be necessary to shut down a place of worship, but COVID is one.”

As of May 10, Ballotpedia has identified 10 measures appearing on statewide ballots that were proposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and coronavirus-related regulations. On May 18, 2021, Pennsylvanians will decide on two constitutional amendments on the governor’s emergency powers, which have been a point of conflict between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf during the pandemic. The other ballot measures, which will be decided in 2022, concern changes to election procedures, convening state legislatures, and increasing appropriations limits during emergencies.

In Texas, to put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67%) supermajority vote is required in both the Texas State Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. This requirement amounts to 100 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate.

The amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 27 on January 25, 2021. On March 25, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 27 in a vote of 28-2 with one absent. All but two Democratic members voted in favor of the amendment. On May 11, 2021, the House approved the amendment by a vote of 108-33, with nine not voting or absent. In the House, 27 Democrats joined the Republican majority, and 33 Democrats were in the minority.

At the general election on November 3, 2020, Republicans retained control of the House and Senate. They maintained their 83-67 majority in the House and lost one seat in the Senate. The new majority in the Senate following the election was 18-13, which means support from at least three Democrats is needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the Senate.

During the 2021 legislative session, 218 constitutional amendments were filed in the Texas State Legislature. Legislators were permitted to file constitutional amendments through March 12, 2021, unless permission was given to introduce an amendment after the deadline. Democrats filed 92 (42.2%) of the constitutional amendments. Republicans filed 126 (57.8%) of the constitutional amendments. The legislature has until May 31st when it adjourns to refer a measure to the ballot.

Since 1876 when the current constitution was adopted, it has been amended 507 times. Voters approved 91% (154 of 169) and rejected 9% (15 of 169) of the constitutional amendments on ballots between 1995 and 2019.

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New York Legislature refers two voting policy constitutional amendments to November ballot

Voters in New York will decide constitutional amendments at the election on November 2, 2021, to authorize no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration. Currently, the state constitution requires voters to be absent from their county of residence, ill, or physically disabled to vote with an absentee ballot. It also requires that persons must register to vote at least ten days before an election, thus prohibiting same-day voter registration.

To refer constitutional amendments to the ballot, the New York State Legislature must approve them by a simple majority vote in each chamber during two successive legislative sessions with an election for state legislators in between. Both of the constitutional amendments were previously approved in 2019. On January 11, 2021, the state Senate voted 50 to 13 to pass the no-excuse absentee voting amendment. Democrats, along with seven Republicans, voted in favor of the proposal. Thirteen Republicans voted against the proposal. On January 12, the Senate voted 42 to 20 to pass the same-day voter registration amendment. Democrats supported the proposal, and Republicans opposed the proposal. On May 11, 2021, the state Assembly voted to pass both constitutional amendments, sending them to the ballot for voter consideration.

As of April 2021, 20 states and D.C. allow for same-day voter registration, including neighboring Connecticut and Vermont. New York is one of 16 states that require an excuse to receive an absentee ballot. Thirty-four states and D.C. provide for no-excuse absentee voting (or provide every voter with a mail-in ballot), meaning any voter can apply to receive an absentee ballot and vote by mail.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting was temporarily extended in New York to any voter ‘unable to appear personally at the polling place of the election district in which they are a qualified voter because there is a risk of contracting or spreading a disease causing illness to the voter or to other members of the public.’  

Since 1995, an average of 1.5 constitutional amendments appeared on odd-year ballots in New York. As of May 12, four constitutional amendments had been approved for the November election. In addition to the two voting policy amendments, voters will also decide an amendment to make changes to the redistricting process in New York and an amendment to create a state constitutional right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment.

An additional two constitutional amendments could appear on the ballot, bringing the total up to six measures. These two amendments would increase the NYC Civil Court’s jurisdiction from civil cases involving $25,000 to $50,000 and remove the wartime service requirement for veterans to receive civil service credits.

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Arizona to vote on in-state tuition for non-citizen residents in 2022

In 2022, Arizonans will vote on a ballot measure to expand in-state tuition to some residents without legal citizenship status. The ballot measure would make in-state tuition available to non-citizen residents who (a) attended school in Arizona for at least two years and (b) graduated from a public school, private school, or homeschool in Arizona. Individuals who are considered nonresident aliens under federal law, such as the children of foreign diplomats and foreign government employees, would not be eligible.

The ballot measure would repeal provisions of Proposition 300, which 71% of voters approved in 2006. Proposition 300 provided that non-citizens could not receive certain state-subsidized services, benefits, or financial aid or in-state tuition rates.

State Sen. Paul Boyer (R-20) filed the ballot measure as Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044 (SCR 1044). On March 4, 2021, the Arizona State Senate voted 17-13 to approve the proposal, with Democrats and three Republicans supporting SCR 1044. On May 10, 2021, the Arizona House of Representatives voted 33-27 to refer the ballot measure to the ballot, with Democrats and four Republicans supporting the resolution. According to the Associated Press, House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-25) did not want a vote on the bill unless a majority of House Republicans supported it. However, State Reps. Michelle Udall (R-25) and Joel John (R-4) motioned for a vote and were joined by Democrats and two other Republicans.

Republicans hold 31 House seats and Democrats hold 29 House seats. Rep. Udall said, “We need more college educated teachers, health care workers, lawyers, engineers and a host of other occupations. The youth this bill seeks to help shouldn’t be blamed or judged based on others’ actions. They were brought here as minors, as children.” State Rep. John Fillmore (R-16), who voted against the measure, stated, “Americans should not have to pay for non-American citizens, illegals, giving them favored status for their trespass and invasion into America.” 

The ballot measure is the first certified for the ballot in Arizona for 2022. Since 1985, the state legislature referred an average of five proposals to the ballot during each election cycle. As of May 10, ten legislative referrals have passed at least one chamber of the Arizona State Legislature. A simple majority is required in each legislative chamber to refer a measure to the ballot. This applies to both statutes and constitutional amendments. The 2021 legislative session is expected to adjourn on May 31. 

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