Recall effort rejected in Bell Gardens, California

An effort to recall Mayor Alejandra Cortez and city council members Pedro Aceituno and Marco Barcena in Bell Gardens, California, was rejected by the city clerk. Recall organizers submitted notices of intent to recall in late February. The notices were rejected on the grounds that they did not include Section 11023 of the Elections Code, which covers the handling of statements of defense.

Recalls of local officials in California start with notices of intent to targeted officials. Each notice requires signatures from 10 city residents, the name of the targeted official, and reasoning for the recall that cannot exceed 200 words. A copy of the notice is delivered to the city clerk, who publishes the notice in at least three public places. Targeted officials have seven days following receipt of their notices to issue statements of defense. A recall petition can be circulated against each targeted official once the notice of intent is published. Recall efforts can be started from the beginning of the process after notices of intent are rejected.

The recall effort against Cortez, Aceituno, and Barcena was initiated in response to issues surrounding real estate development and cannabis businesses.

Aceituno was elected to the city council in a 1999 recall election that saw the removal of Mayor Joaquin Penilla, Mayor Pro Tem David Torres, and Councilman Salvador Rios. Aceituno received the most votes to replace Torres.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

Additional reading:
Laws governing recall in California
Political recall efforts, 2020

Signature deadline for citizen initiatives in Idaho is May 1; two campaigns have suspended signature drives due to coronavirus

Signatures for citizen initiative petitions in Idaho are due on May 1, 2020. To qualify for the November ballot, 55,057 valid signatures are required.

As of March 19, 2020, three citizen initiatives were cleared to gather signatures targeting the 2020 ballot in Idaho.

The Idaho Minimum Wage Increase Initiative was designed to increase the minimum wage in Idaho to $12 per hour by June 2024. Sponsors of the measure, Idahoans for a Fair Wage, announced on March 17 that they were suspending their signature drive. The group reported having collected more than 32,000 signatures.

The Idaho Tax Increases for Education Funding Initiative was designed to increase the income tax rate for individuals with incomes above $250,000 and increase the corporate income tax rate to fund education. Reclaim Idaho, sponsors of the measure, announced on March 18, 2020, that they were suspending their signature drive due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of March 2020, Reclaim Idaho reported having collected more than half of the required signatures.

The Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative was designed to create a medical marijuana program in Idaho. Sponsors of the measure, Idaho Cannabis Coalition/Legalize Idaho, had planned a tour—called the “Educate and Legalize Idaho” tour—to collect signatures for the measure, but announced that the tour would be postponed until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic. The group has not announced a signature drive suspension.

On March 18, Governor of Idaho Brad Little (R) announced that Idaho was adopting the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House, urging Idahoans to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people.

Ballotpedia is tracking changes to ballot measure campaign activities, elections, procedures, and policies made in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Ballotpedia is also tracking changes to election dates and procedures; federal, state and local responses; diagnosed or quarantined officials; school closures; and court closures.

One measure is certified to appear on the 2020 ballot in Idaho. The constitutional amendment, referred to the ballot by the state legislature, would remove language in the state constitution that allows the legislature to have between 30 and 35 legislative districts and, instead, require the legislature to consist of 35 districts. Currently, the Idaho Constitution provides that the state may have between 30 and 35 state legislative districts, as provided by statute.

From 1996 to 2018, 36 measures were on the ballot in Idaho, of which, 72% (26 of 36) were approved and 28% (10 of 36) were defeated.

Additional reading:
Federal, state, and local government policy changes in response to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020
Ballot measure petition deadlines and requirements, 2020
Ballot initiatives filed for the 2020 ballot

A preview of local charter amendments, school bonds, and taxes that were scheduled for the March 17 ballot in Ohio

Voters in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, and Hamilton County were scheduled to decide eight local ballot measures on March 17, 2020.

On March 16, 2020, Ohio Governor Mark DeWine announced that polls would be closed on March 17, 2020, by the order of the state department of health due to the coronavirus. In-person voting was postponed to June 2.

Three charter amendments—Issues 5, 6, and 7—are on Cleveland ballots. Issue 5 would amend the city charter to allow votes to be counted using Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Systems instead of manual ballot tabulation. DRE systems employ computers that record votes directly into the computers’ memory.

Issue 6 would amend the city charter to limit the annual salary increase of city council members to the salary increase percentage of a majority of city recognized unions. In 2018, the Cleveland City Council received a raise of 4% and earned on average $83,370.

Issue 7 would amend the city charter to allow the first city council meeting in January to be held on the first business day if the first Monday is on a legal holiday.

Cleveland Issues 3 and 4, which concerned reducing the size and salary of the city council, were withdrawn in February by supporters. They will still appear on ballots, but votes for the measures will not be counted.

In Columbus, voters will decide on Columbus State Community College Issue 21, which would authorize the college to issue $300 million in bonds and require an average tax rate of $65 per $100,000 in assessed value. In terms of market value, the average annual tax to repay the bonds was estimated at $22.75 per $100,000 of market value.

Certain voters in Columbus will also decide South Western City School District Issue 20, which would renew a property tax at the rate of $100 per $100,000 of assessed property value to help fund Southwest Public Libraries.

Hamilton County Issue 7 would impose a 0.8% sales tax for 25 years to raise revenue for infrastructure improvements and the Metro transportation system operations.

In Toledo, voters will decide Issue 1, which would authorize the city to increase the local income tax from 2.25% to 2.75% for 10 years beginning July 1, 2020, through December 31, 2030.

Ballotpedia covers local ballot measures on the ballot for voters within the top 100 largest cities in the U.S. Ballotpedia also covers all local measures in California and all statewide ballot measures.

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Utah residents set to vote on seven constitutional amendments in November

The Utah Legislature passed three constitutional amendments on Wednesday, bringing the total amendments set to appear on the Utah 2020 ballot to seven. The 2020 legislative session was set to adjourn on Thursday, March 12, 2020. The Legislature also referred four amendments to the ballot during the 2019 legislative session.

Below are summaries of the constitutional amendments set to appear on the 2020 ballot in Utah.

Amendments from 2020 session:

Senate Joint Resolution 3, Legislative Session Start Date Amendment: allows the state legislature to set the January legislative session start date in state statute rather than constitutionally requiring the legislative session to begin on the fourth Monday in January

House Joint Resolution 15, Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment: establishes a state constitutional right to hunt and fish for the people of Utah

Senate Joint Resolution 9, Use Income and Property Tax Revenue to Support Children and Individuals with Disabilities Amendment: allows the Utah State Legislature to use revenue from income taxes and intangible property taxes to support children and individuals with a disability, rather than continuing to limit such tax revenue to support public education and higher education

Amendments from 2019 session:

House Joint Resolution 3, Municipal Water Resources Amendment: specifies the circumstances under which a municipality may commit water resources, supply water outside its boundary, or exchange water resources; revises provisions surrounding municipal water rights

House Joint Resolution 4, Legislator Qualifications Amendment: specifies that certain qualifications of a legislator—such as age— apply as of the time of election or appointment rather than the time a legislator assumes office

House Joint Resolution 8, Remove Slavery as Punishment for a Crime from Constitution Amendment: removes language from the Utah Constitution that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments

Senate Joint Resolution 7, Gender-Neutral Constitutional Language Amendment: removes gendered language in the Utah Constitution and replaces it with gender-neutral language

A total of 53 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Utah between 1996 and 2018. From 1996 to 2018, an average of four measures appeared on the ballot for even-year elections in Utah, of which 86.5% were approved by voters. The number of measures appearing on even-year statewide ballots between 1996 and 2018 ranged from one to seven.

Virginians to decide constitutional amendment transferring redistricting powers from legislature to commission

On March 5, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 54-46 to approve a resolution placing a redistricting-related constitutional amendment on the ballot for November 3, 2020. The ballot measure would transfer the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a 16-member redistricting commission composed of eight state legislators and eight citizens.

In Virginia, a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment needs to be passed in two successive sessions of the Virginia General Assembly. In 2019, the Republican-controlled House and Senate passed a resolution. Democrats won control of both legislative chambers in November 2019. In 2020, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed the resolution 38-2. The proposal received more opposition in the state House, where 46 Democrats opposed it. Nine House Democrats and all 45 Republicans voted to place the constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot. Before the final vote on March 5, Del. Marcus Simon (D-53) offered a substitute for SJR 18. The substitute resolution was rejected 47-53. Substitute SJR 18 would have created a redistricting commission composed of 11 commissioners “who are, as a whole, representative of the racial, gender, political, and geographic diversity of the Commonwealth.” Approval of Substitute SJR 18 would have restarted the process of amending the Virginia Constitution, meaning an amendment could appear on the 2022 ballot at the earliest.

Under the constitutional amendment that voters will decide in November, the commission would draw the maps, and the General Assembly would vote to pass or reject the maps. The General Assembly would be prohibited from amending the maps. If the General Assembly rejected a map, the redistricting commission would design a new map. If the map was rejected again, the Virginia Supreme Court would establish the districts.

Maps would also require approval by 12 of 16 (75 percent) commissioners, including six of eight legislators and six of eight citizens. Leaders of the legislature’s two-largest political parties would select members to serve on the commission. Therefore, based on the current membership, the commission’s legislative members would include two Senate Democrats, two Senate Republicans, two House Democrats, and two House Republicans. The commission’s eight citizen members would be recommended by legislative leaders and selected by a committee of five retired circuit court judges.

The constitutional amendment is the first ballot measure certified for 2020 that is related to redistricting. Measures could also be on the ballot in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon. In 2018, five states—Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah—voted on initiatives to change redistricting procedures or establish redistricting commissions, and all of them were approved by voters.

With the Virginia General Assembly adjourning on March 8, no additional constitutional amendments can be referred to the 2020 general election ballot unless a special session is held. Besides the redistricting amendment, voters will also decide an amendment that would create a property tax exemption on vehicles for veterans.

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Voters in South Dakota to decide on legalizing sports betting in Deadwood this fall

South Dakota legislators passed Senate Joint Resolution 501 on March 3, certifying it for the November 2020 ballot.

The amendment would legalize sports betting (wagering on the outcome of athletic sporting events) within the city limits of Deadwood, South Dakota. Currently, in Deadwood— a resort and gaming town— blackjack, craps, keno, poker, roulette, and slot machines are legalized. Like other authorized forms of gambling within the city, net municipal proceeds would be dedicated to the historic restoration and preservation of Deadwood.

Senate Joint Resolution 501 was passed in the Senate on February 11, 2020, in a vote of 24-10, with one excused. Of the 30 Republicans in the Senate, 20 voted in favor, nine voted against, and one was excused. Among the five Senate Democrats, four Democrats voted in favor and one voted against. It was sent to the state House where it passed on March 3, 2020, by a vote of 36-27 with seven representatives excused. Among Democrats, seven were in favor and three were against. Among Republicans, 29 were in favor and 24 were against.

Sports betting was banned at the federal level under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) until a 2018 United States Supreme Court decision, Murphy v. NCAA, overturned that federal ban and allowed states to legalize sports betting. As of March 2020, 13 states had legalized sports betting. Voters in Arkansas approved legalizing sports betting through Issue 4 in 2018. Voters in Colorado approved sports betting through Proposition DD in 2019. In certain other states, legislative bills to legalize sports betting have been introduced.

Two other ballot measures are certified to appear on the November ballot in South Dakota. Initiated Measure 26 would provide for a medical marijuana program in South Dakota. Constitutional Amendment A would legalize recreational use of marijuana and require the legislature to pass laws providing for the use of medical marijuana and the sale of hemp by April 1, 2022.

A total of 74 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in South Dakota from 1996 through 2018, of which, about 39% (29 of 74) were approved and about 61% (45 of 74) were defeated.

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Signatures verified for Maine ballot initiative designed to void international hydroelectric transmission project

A citizen initiative to void a certificate needed for an international hydroelectric transmission project will go on the ballot unless the state legislature approves it.

The campaign No CMP Corridor filed 75,253 signatures on February 3. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) reported that 69,714 signatures were valid. At least 63,067 signatures needed to be verified. As citizen-initiated statutes are indirect in Maine, the state legislature has the option to approve the proposal before the end of this year’s legislative session, which is expected to adjourn on April 15, 2020. Otherwise, the proposal will appear on the ballot for the general election on November 3, 2020.

The ballot measure would require the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reverse an order made on May 3, 2019, that provided the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission project with a certificate of public convenience and necessity. In Maine, a certificate of public convenience and necessity is required before constructing a transmission line capable of operating at 69 kilovolts or more. The NECEC transmission project was designed to cross about 145 miles in Maine, from the state’s border with Quebec to Lewiston, and transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts.

The State of Massachusetts proposed the NECEC transmission corridor, which is a joint project of Central Maine Power (CMP) and Hydro-Quebec. Massachusetts sought renewable generation and transmission projects to help meet the state’s renewable standards portfolio (RPS). CMP and Hydro-Quebec agreed to an incentives and benefits package worth $258 million, which would include funds for low-income electric consumer projects, rural broadband internet, electric vehicle charging stations, electric heat pumps, education grants, workforce development, and business retention.

The campaign No CMP Corridor, and allied PAC Mainers for Local Power, raised $198,912 through 2019. The largest contribution was $110,287 from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas plant in Westbrook, Maine. Clean Energy Matters is leading the campaign in opposition to the ballot initiative. Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership is also funding an effort opposed to the measure. Together, the opposition committees raised $2.41 million, which came from Central Maine Power (CMP) and CMP’s parent firm Avangrid.

The citizen-initiated statute is the only one that may appear on the Maine ballot in 2020. The signature deadline for initiated statutes was February 3, 2020. The campaigns behind veto referendums, including one to overturn a law expanding ranked-choice voting to presidential elections, have until 90 days after the 2020 legislative session adjourns to file signatures. The legislature can also refer constitutional amendments and bond measures to the November ballot.

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