Tagstate senate

April 2021 partisan composition of state legislative seats: 54.3% Republicans, 44.9% Democrats

Ballotpedia’s April partisan count of state legislative seats found that 54.29% of state legislators are Republicans and 44.94% are Democrats. 

At the end of every month, Ballotpedia tallies the partisan balance of state legislatures, which refers to which political party holds a majority of seats in each chamber. Republicans currently control 61 chambers, while Democrats control 37. One chamber, the Alaska House of Representatives, has a power-sharing agreement between the two parties.

At the end of April, Republicans held 1,091 of the 1,972 total state senate seats, while Democrats held 869. The Republicans gained two seats since March, while the Democrats’ number of seats remained the same. Republicans also held 2,917 of the 5,411 total state House seats (down one from last month), while Democrats controlled 2,449 (up two). Third-party or independent officeholders held 38 seats, and there were 19 vacancies.

In April, Democrats had a net gain of two seats, while Republicans have a net gain of one. Compared to April 2020, Democrats have lost 142 state legislative seats, while Republicans have gained 151 seats. 

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Arkansas passes bill with multiple restrictions on the ballot initiative process

On April 29, Arkansas Senate Bill 614 became law (Act 951). The bill added several restrictions to the state’s ballot initiative and veto referendum process, including to:

• ban paying signature gatherers based on the number of signatures gathered, a payment method called pay-per-signature;

• require circulators to be state residents and citizens;

• add certain offenses that disqualify a person from being a signature gatherer, including assault, battery, intimidation, threatening, sexual offenses, trespassing, vandalism, and theft (in addition to the existing list of any felony, election law violations, fraud, forgery, and identity theft);

• require initiative sponsors to certify that signature gatherers do not have any disqualifying conviction and put the burden of proof on initiative sponsors with regard to lawsuits and administrative proceedings;

• make it a felony for petition sponsors or their representatives to knowingly pay a circulator for or submit petitions for which the circulator did not personally witness all signatures; and

• make it a felony for a circulator to not report another circulator that provides a false affidavit that they personally witnessed all signatures.

The state House passed an amended version of the bill on April 14 by a vote of 72-18. The Senate passed it on April 22 by a vote of 27-5. In the House, 72 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and 17 Democrats and one Republican voted against it. In the Senate, 26 Republicans and one Democrat voted in favor of the bill, and four Democrats and one independent voted against it. It became law after the governor’s five-day window to veto bills passed. Arkansas has a Republican state government trifecta. 

Provisions in Senate Bill 614 about disqualifying offenses for signature gatherers and the responsibilities of initiative sponsors regarding those offenses would replace the state’s previous background check requirements that were overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court on March 11. The ruling upheld a lower court decision that blocked the enforcement of the state’s background check requirements for paid circulators. The lower court ruled that the sections of state law requiring that information from a federal background check be included were impossible for sponsors to comply with since there was no way to obtain a federal background check. During appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court, Secretary of State John Thurston (R) argued that requirements for state police background checks could be left in place while blocking federal background check requirements. The supreme court ruled that the federal and state background check provisions could not be separated.

The Arkansas Legislature also referred a constitutional amendment to the November 2022 ballot that would require 60% supermajority voter approval to adopt future constitutional amendments (legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) and citizen-initiated state statutes.

2021 ballot measure law changes context

Ballotpedia has tracked 180 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 37 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 16 have been approved, and 12 have been defeated or have died.

Legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah have approved bills to restrict the ballot initiative processes in their states.

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.

Ballotpedia recently published an analysis of the effect of certain policy changes on the ease or difficulty of the ballot initiative and veto referendum processes. The analysis is based on generic concepts taken from proposed and approved laws that Ballotpedia has tracked since 2010. Twenty-six states have a process for either ballot initiatives, veto referendums, or both.

The analysis does not take into consideration the intention behind any proposed policy changes. It does not consider any other effects beyond the difficulty or ease with which ballot initiative or veto referendum sponsors can place their measures on the ballot, pass them, and see them enforced. Bills proposing these changes are not necessarily designed with the purpose of making the initiative process harder or easier. Ballotpedia is not endorsing any position on the policy changes listed in the analysis. The analysis covers topics including signature requirements and deadlines, a variety of restrictions on petition circulators, ballot and petition language requirements, petition formatting, legislative alteration, and supermajority requirements.

Click here to see the full list of policy changes.

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Montana voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to require a search warrant to access electronic data in 2022

On April 22, the Montana State Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would require a search warrant to access electronic data or electronic communications. The amendment would also state that electronic data and electronic communications would be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.

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

Senate Bill 203 (SB 203) was introduced on February 9, 2021, by Sen. Kenneth Bogner (R). The state Senate approved the bill on February 23, 2021, in a vote of 50 to 0. On April 22, the state House approved the bill in a vote of 76-23 with one absent. 

Sen. Kenneth Bogner (R) said, “Senate Bill 203 is about updating Montana’s Constitution to reflect life in the 21st Century and make it explicitly clear that our digital information is protected from unreasonable government searches and seizures. Today, so much of our private lives—financial information, communication with family and friends, medical information, and much, much more—is contained on and transferred electronically among many devices and computer systems.”

The amendment is similar to a 2020 Michigan ballot measure that was approved by voters with 88.75% of the vote. Missouri voters also approved a similar ballot measure in 2014 with 74.75% of the vote.

In 2022, Montana voters will also be voting on a law referred to the ballot by the state legislature that would require medical care to be provided to infants born alive after an attempted abortion. Healthcare providers that violate the requirement would be guilty of a felony with a maximum sentence of a $50,000 fine and/or 20 years in prison under the measure.

Between 1996 and 2020, about 64.6% (42 of 65) of the total number of measures that appeared on Montana ballots were approved, and about 35.4% (23 of 65) were defeated.

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Arkansas State Legislature refers two constitutional amendments to 2022 ballot

The Arkansas State Legislature gave final approval to two constitutional amendments on April 22, 2021, sending them to the November 2022 ballot.

One of the amendments would require 60% supermajority voter approval to ratify constitutional amendments (legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) and citizen-initiated state statutes.

Constitutional amendments require approval by voters in a statewide election to become a part of the state’s constitution except in Delaware. As of 2021, 38 states required a simple majority vote (50%+1) for a proposed constitutional amendment to be adopted. In 11 states, voters must approve a proposed constitutional amendment by more than a simple majority or by some rule that combines different criteria. Two other states— Florida and Illinois— require a three-fifths (60%) vote of approval for constitutional amendments.

Currently, none of the 26 states with a process for citizen-initiated ballot measures require a supermajority vote of approval to adopt them. However, three states (Florida, Utah, and Washington) have a supermajority requirement for certain initiatives dealing with specified topics.

As of April 17, 2021, Ballotpedia had tracked 124 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 34 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 14 had been approved. Legislation to enact or increase supermajority requirements for ballot measures was introduced in 2021 sessions in at least seven states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah legislators have passed restrictions on ballot measure processes in 2021.

The South Dakota State Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the state’s 2022 ballot that would require a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote for the approval of ballot measures that would increase taxes or fees or that would require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years.

The other amendment the Arkansas Legislature referred to the ballot would allow the state legislature to call itself into special sessions upon (a) a joint proclamation from the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore or (b) upon a proclamation signed by two-thirds of the members in each chamber. Arkansas is one of 14 states where only the governor can call a special session.

The Arkansas Legislature is able to refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot for each general election. As of April 24, 2021, one other constitutional amendment (SJR 14) has passed one chamber. It would prohibit government from burdening the freedom of religion except under certain circumstances. Upon passage by the House, it would be referred to the 2022 ballot.

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Suellentrop removed as Kansas State Senate majority leader

Members of the Republican caucus in the Kansas State Senate voted to remove Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop (R) from his position on April 9. The caucus vote was 22-4 following the release of additional details about Suellentrop’s March 16 arrest. Assistant Majority Leader Larry Alley will act as Senate Majority Leader until the Republican caucus selects a new leader in May. 

Suellentrop had previously stepped down from his leadership position on March 17 after the Kansas Highway Patrol arrested him for allegedly driving under the influence and attempting to flee from a law enforcement officer. An affidavit submitted by the arresting officer was released on April 8  that stated Suellentrop’s blood-alcohol level was 0.17, over twice the legal limit. The affidavit also says that Suellentrop taunted the Highway Patrol officer. 

Suellentrop was elected State Senate majority leader in December 2020 and had been set to serve in that role through 2024. The majority leader is the second-highest leadership position in the Kansas State Senate, after the Senate president. As the floor leader of the majority caucus, the majority leader serves as the principal speaker during debates on the Senate floor and works to promote the party’s legislative agenda. 

Suellentrop was first elected to the state Senate in 2016, defeating Tony Hunter, 66.5% to 33.5%. Before his election to the Senate, he served in the Kansas House of Representatives from 2009 to 2017. 

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March 2021 partisan composition of state legislative seats — 54.3% Republicans and 44.9% Democrats

According to March’s partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 54.27% of all state legislators are Republicans, and 44.91% are Democrats.

Ballotpedia tallies the partisan balance of state legislatures, or which political party holds the majority of the seats in each chamber, at the end of every month. Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats control 37. One chamber (Alaska’s state House) has a power-sharing agreement between the two parties.

Republicans held 1,089 of the 1,972 total state senate seats—up five seats from February—and 2,918 of the total 5,411 state house seats—up one seat from last month. Democrats held 869 state senate seats (up three seats) and 2,447 state house seats (down two seats). Independent or third-party legislators held 38 seats. There were 22 vacant seats.

In March, Democrats saw a net increase of one seat, while Republicans saw a net increase of five seats. Compared to March 2020, Democrats have lost five state Senate seats (874 v. 869) and 139 state House seats (2,586 v. 2,447). Republicans have gained four state Senate seats (1,085 v 1,089) and 139 state House seats (2,779 v 2,918). 

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Republican-controlled Arkansas General Assembly overrides gubernatorial veto of bill prohibiting gender-affirming treatments for minors

On April 6, the Arkansas General Assembly overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s (R) veto of House Bill 1570 (H.B. 1570), a bill prohibiting physicians and healthcare professionals from providing chemical or surgical gender-affirming treatments—including hormone therapy and puberty blockers—to individuals under the age of 18. The bill also prohibits providers from referring minors elsewhere in order to receive such treatments. Gender-affirming treatment, also known as gender reassignment treatment, refers to the process of changing a person’s body to conform with their gender identity.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Flippo (R), a proponent of the bill, described the prohibited treatments as “something that oftentimes could be irreversible,” adding that “it is not simply too much to ask to let [children’s] minds develop and mature a little bit before they make what could be a very permanent and life-changing decision.”

In his veto announcement, Hutchinson said the bill would create “new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people. … This would be, and is, a vast government overreach.”

Hutchinson vetoed H.B. 1570 on April 5. In Arkansas, a majority of votes in both chambers is required to override a gubernatorial veto. At the time of the veto, Republicans held veto-proof majorities in both the state House and Senate.

The House and Senate voted 71-24 and 25-8 in favor of the override, respectively. All Democrats, one independent, and three Republicans voted against the override. The remaining Republicans voted in favor of the override. Seven assembly members—one Democrat and six Republicans—did not vote.

This is the third noteworthy gubernatorial veto override Ballotpedia has identified in 2021.



Special election to be held in Oklahoma Senate district

A special election is being held on April 6 for District 22 of the Oklahoma State Senate. Molly Ooten (D) and Jake Merrick (R) are running in the general election.

The seat became vacant after Stephanie Bice (R) was elected to represent Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District on Nov. 3, 2020. Bice had represented the district since 2015. She won re-election in 2018 with 68.3% of the vote.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 38-9 majority in the Oklahoma Senate with one vacancy. Oklahoma has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of March, 33 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.

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Special election for Virginia Senate district on March 23

A special election is being held on March 23 for District 38 of the Virginia state Senate. Former Radford City Councilwoman Laurie Buchwald (D) and Tazewell County Supervisor Travis Hackworth (R) are running in the general election.

The seat became vacant after the death of A. Benton Chafin (R) on Jan. 1, 2021, from complications due to COVID-19. Chafin had represented the district since 2014.

Heading into the special election, Democrats have a 21-18 majority in the Virginia Senate. Virginia has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of March, 30 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.

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