New applications for U.S. unemployment insurance benefits rose 4,000 for the week ending July 2 to a seasonally adjusted 235,000. The four-week moving average as of July 2 rose to 232,500 from 231,750 as of the week ending June 25.
The number of continuing unemployment insurance claims, which refers to the number of unemployed workers who filed for benefits at least two weeks ago and are actively receiving unemployment benefits, rose 51,000 to a seasonally adjusted 1.375 million for the week ending June 25. Reporting for continuing claims lags one week.
Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.
The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.
Ballotpedia is tracking 20 citizen-initiated measures in nine states related to marijuana that could appear before voters in 2022. As of 2022, recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C., and medical marijuana is legal in 36 states and D.C.
In Ohio, sponsors of an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana submitted an additional 29,918 signatures on January 13, after the secretary of state verified their initial petition contained 119,825 valid signatures–13,062 less than the number required. If enough of the additional signatures are found to be valid, the initiative will go before the state legislature. If the state legislature does not enact it outright, sponsors will have to collect a second round of 132,887 signatures to place it on the 2022 ballot. In 2015, Ohio voters defeated Issue 3 with a margin of 63.65% to 36.35%.
In Arkansas, voters could decide on two marijuana initiatives. One initiative would decriminalize marijuana, give limited immunity to cannabis businesses, and create regulations on the cannabis industry. The other would legalize marijuana use for individuals 21 years of age and older regardless of residency. Both campaigns have until July 8, 2022, to collect 89,151 valid signatures.
Florida voters could decide changes to the state’s medical marijuana amendment approved by voters in 2016 with two separate initiatives. Initiative #18-02 would add nine mental health disorders to the list of qualifying conditions to purchase and use medical marijuana. Initiative #18-05 would redefine medical use under the measure to include growing up to nine marijuana plants.
Nebraska has four initiatives cleared for circulation related to marijuana. Three of the initiatives would establish a state medical marijuana program and are sponsored by State Senators Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D). One initiative is a constitutional amendment, and the other two are state statutes. The Nebraska Hemp Company filed a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana. The Nebraska signature deadline is July 7, 2022.
In North Dakota, an initiative was cleared for signature gathering that would legalize marijuana use for residents 21 years of age and older and allow a person to possess, grow, process, or transport up to 12 cannabis plants for personal use. In 2018, North Dakota voters defeated Measure 3, an initiative that would have legalized marijuana, in a vote of 59.45% to 40.55%.
Kind Idaho filed an initiative to establish a state medical marijuana program. Sponsors attempted to qualify an identical initiative for the 2020 Idaho ballot but suspended their signature-gathering campaign in April 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Voters could also decide on an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. The initiative is sponsored by The Idaho Way. The campaigns need to submit 64,945 valid signatures by May 1, 2022.
In Missouri, there are three initiatives cleared for circulation that would legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. The initiatives were filed by three different sponsors. A constitutional amendment to change the state’s medical marijuana program approved by voters in 2018 was also cleared for circulation. It would allow medical marijuana patients to grow marijuana for personal use, decrease the cost of a patient identification card from $100 to $25, and allow up to three primary caregivers for a medical marijuana patient. The signature requirement for constitutional amendments is 160,199 signatures by May 8, 2022.
Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action filed three initiatives. Two initiatives would (1) amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana for persons 21 years old and older and (2) impose a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales for purchases by an individual without a medical marijuana license. The third initiative would make changes to the state’s medical marijuana program to create the State Cannabis Commission to replace the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
In South Dakota, an initiative to legalize marijuana was cleared for signature gathering. In 2020, 54.18% of voters approved Amendment A, which would have legalized marijuana, but it was later overturned by a supreme court ruling that found the initiative violated the state’s single-subject rule and constituted a revision of the constitution rather than an amendment. The 2022 initiative was filed by New Approach South Dakota, which also sponsored the 2020 amendment.
This edition of the State Ballot Measure Monthly report covers certifications and a selection of notable ballot measure news from May 17 through June 17.
Here are the highlights:
• 10 statewide measures were certified for the 2021 ballot in Louisiana, Maine, New York, and Texas.
• One measure was removed from the 2021 ballot in Colorado.
• 12 statewide measures were certified for the 2022 ballot in six states.
• Texas’ 2021 constitutional amendments are finalized. Voters will decide eight measures, including two measures proposed in response to COVID-19 and related regulations.
• One amendment in Texas would prohibit the state or any political subdivision from limiting religious services or organizations. Another would provide residents of nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or state-supported living centers with the right to designate an essential caregiver who may not be prohibited from visiting the resident.
• An initiative was certified for the 2022 ballot in California that would legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks.
• Oregon voters will decide a measure in 2022 to make affordable healthcare a constitutional right.
• Connecticut voters will decide in 2022 on a constitutional amendment to allow early voting.
• The Massachusetts Legislature referred a measure to enact an additional tax on income above $1 million to fund education and transportation. The amendment is identical to a 2018 citizen initiative that initially qualified for the ballot but was later removed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
• A federal court judge blocked the enforcement of paid circulator registration requirements that the South Dakota Legislature passed in 2020.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein stepped down from his position on June 4. He had led the agency for over four years since former Gov. Rick Scott (R) appointed him on May 23, 2017. Shawn Hamilton, the department’s deputy secretary for land and recreation, will take over as interim secretary.
In his resignation letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Valenstein said, “it has been an honor to head Florida’s lead environmental agency during a time where natural resource protection has been a top priority, with unprecedented support and advancements.”
Before he was appointed secretary, Valenstein worked as the executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District. He has also worked on environmental policy in the Florida House of Representatives and for Gov. Scott.
The secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection heads the agency responsible for protecting the state’s natural resources and enforcing its environmental laws. The department also oversees Florida’s state parks and trails system, among other duties. The governor appoints the secretary with the agreement of three or more members of the governor’s cabinet.
Each state has different laws governing the release of information by public entities. Often called open records laws, public records laws, or FOIA laws after the federal Freedom of Information Act, these laws regulate the process through which a person can request public records. Those laws often set the length of time within which a public body must respond to a records request.
As of May 2021, 13 states do not have a mandated response time. Of the 37 states that have response time limits, 10 allow agencies to extend response times in certain cases, while 27 states allow no exceptions. Eight states require responses in 3 days or less, 10 in 5 days or less, 13 in 10 days or less, and 6 in 20 days or less. The longest possible response times are in Iowa and South Carolina, which both require responses to be made within 10 days but allow extensions of up to 20 days. The shortest possible response times are in Indiana and Mississippi, where public entities must respond to most requests within 24 hours.
Some states do not specify a required time to respond to a FOIA request and only require that responses be prompt or made within a reasonable amount of time. State statutes with clear response time limits either require all responses to be made before a certain number of days or allow a range of response time based on certain circumstances. For example, California law states that a response must be given within 10 days for most requests, but also allows responses within 14 days under unusual circumstances.
On May 4, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to send a constitutional amendment to provide a process, along with a line of succession, for an acting governor when the governor is unable to perform the office’s powers and duties.
The ballot measure would allow the governor to provide a written, signed declaration saying that he or she is unable to perform the powers and duties of the office. The speaker of the Senate, who also serves as the Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, would serve as acting governor. If the office of the speaker of the Senate is vacant, the speaker of the House would be next in line to assume the office. The acting governor would perform the duties of the office until the governor provides a written, signed declaration saying he or she is able to perform the office’s powers and duties again. The ballot measure would also allow a majority of executive department officials to determine that the governor is unable to perform his or her powers and duties, putting an acting governor in power until the governor provides a written, signed declaration saying he or she is able to perform the office’s powers and duties.
The Tennessee State Legislature can refer constitutional amendments to the ballot for gubernatorial general elections. The Tennessee Constitution requires the legislature to approve a constitutional amendment during two successive legislative sessions with an election in between. However, the constitution provides for two different vote requirements depending on the session. During the first legislative session, the constitutional amendment needs to receive a simple majority (50%+1) vote in each legislative chamber. During the second legislative session, the constitutional amendment needs to receive a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber. In the state Senate, that amounts to 17 votes during the first session and 22 votes during the second session, assuming no vacancies. In the state House, that amounts to 50 votes during the first session and 66 votes during the second session.
During the 2019 legislative session, Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R) introduced the constitutional amendment into the legislature as Senate Joint Resolution 154 (SJR 154) on February 5, 2019. On April 18, 2019, the state Senate approved SJR 154, in a vote of 32-0, with one senator not voting. On May 2, 2019, the state House approved SJR 154, with 92 members supporting the amendment, two members opposing the amendment, and two members not voting.
The amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 10 (SJR 10) during the 2021 legislative session on January 12, 2021. The Senate passed SJR 10 on March 4, 2021, in a vote of 32-0, with one not voting. The House approved an amended version of SJR 10 on May 3, 2021, in a vote of 91-0. On May 4, the Senate concurred with the amendments in a vote of 29-0.
The amendment is one of three set to appear on the 2022 statewide ballot. Tennessee voters will also be deciding a right to work amendment and an amendment that would remove language that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishment.
Tennessee voters last decided on a constitutional amendment in 2014. Tennessee voters approved 100% of the 11 statewide ballot measures appearing on ballots between 1995 and 2014.
Republicans in Virginia will be meeting on Saturday to pick their statewide nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. The Republican Party of Virginia chose to hold an unassembled convention rather than a primary, meaning delegates, voters who registered to participate in the convention, will decide the nominees.
Conventions in Virginia typically take place with delegates meeting at a single location, but due to coronavirus restrictions, the party developed a new set of rules for 2021. Here’s a breakdown:
• The convention is taking place from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on May 8, 2021.
• Delegates will meet at 39 different locations across the state. Each delegate represents a voting unit and may only vote at the polling place assigned to his or her given voting unit.
• There are 125 voting units. These units mainly correspond with each of the state’s 95 counties and 38 independent cities.
• Over 53,000 delegates registered to participate in the convention, a record number.
• Delegate votes are weighted. The state party allocated a set number of votes to each voting unit, which will, in turn, be divided among the delegates assigned to that voting unit. For example, if the party allocated 100 votes to a unit and 100 delegates participate, each delegate would have one vote. If 200 delegates participate in that voting unit, each would have half a vote.
• The convention will use ranked-choice voting, an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots rather than voting for just one candidate. If one candidate wins a majority of voters’ first-preference votes, they win outright. Otherwise, the bottom-placing candidate is eliminated and their votes are distributed among their voters’ next choices. The process is repeated until one candidate wins a majority.
• This is the Republican Party of Virginia’s second election using ranked-choice voting. The party previously used the system to select its chairman in 2020. This will be the first time the state party uses the system in a candidate election.
• All ballots will be counted by hand. After the convention, the ballots will be delivered to a central location and counting will begin on Sunday. Party chairman Rich Anderson (R) said they are prepared to count until the following Thursday, but he expects counting to be finished by the following Tuesday.
Republicans last won a statewide race in Virginia in 2009, when Bob McDonnell (R) was elected governor. Virginia became a Democratic trifecta in 2019 after Democrats won control of both the state House and Senate.
The Rhode Island Senate unanimously confirmed Sabina Matos (D) as lieutenant governor on April 13. She was sworn in the following day.
Governor Daniel McKee (D) nominated Matos as lieutenant governor on March 31. McKee resigned as lieutenant governor to be sworn in as governor on March 2, replacing Gina Raimondo (D) when she became U.S. secretary of commerce under the Biden administration.
Before serving as lieutenant governor, Matos served on the Providence City Council since 2011. She became president of the council in January 2019.
According to NBC, around 80 people applied to be the state’s lieutenant governor. After selecting Matos, McKee said, “I was looking for someone to be a true governing partner…someone who shares my commitment to supporting our 39 cities and towns and our small businesses, and that’s exactly what I found in Sabina.” Matos is the first person of color and second woman to serve as lieutenant governor of Rhode Island.
Although the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21, 2020, it wasn’t until March when the novel coronavirus upended life for most Americans. Throughout March and April, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, and changed election dates. Many of those policies remain in place today.
Here are the policy changes that happened April 6-10, 2020. This list is not comprehensive.
The “Stay Home Missouri” order took effect in Missouri. It directed individuals in the state to stay home unless performing essential activities and placed restrictions on non-essential businesses. Governor Mike Parson (R) and Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services Randall Williams issued the order on April 3, and it was originally set to expire on April 24, 2020.
The Wisconsin state supreme court voted 4-2 to block an executive order issued earlier in the day by Governor Tony Evers (D) postponing in-person voting in the spring election, scheduled for April 7, 2020, to June 9. As a result, in-person voting was set to take place as scheduled on April 7.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued an order authorizing political parties that nominate by convention to postpone those conventions or conduct them remotely.
Executive Order 2020-21 took effect in South Carolina. The order directed individuals in South Carolina to stay home except for essential activities and closed nonessential businesses in the state. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) issued the order April 6. South Carolina was the last state to implement a stay-at-home order. In total, 43 states issued stay-at-home orders.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) issued an order requiring all visitors over 18 entering Utah through airports or roadways to complete a travel declaration within three hours. He said drivers entering Utah would receive a text message with a link to the form. Travelers in airports would receive a card from an airport employee with instructions to fill out a form online. The form required travelers to answer a number of questions related to COVID-19 symptoms and travel history.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that he would issue an executive order suspending existing eligibility criteria for absentee voting, allowing all voters to cast their ballots by mail in the June 23, 2020, election.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) postponed the statewide primary, originally scheduled for June 9, 2020, to June 23.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) ordered all people traveling to Arizona from areas of the country with widespread COVID-19 cases to self-quarantine for 14 days. The order specifically mentioned Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey as areas with significant community spread.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) postponed Georgia’s statewide and presidential primaries to June 9, 2020, and its primary runoff to August 11. The state had previously postponed its presidential primary to May 19, the original date of its statewide primary.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signed B23-0733 into law, directing the district’s election officials to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in advance of the June 2, 2020, primary election.
New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner (D) and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald (R) released a memo to election officials advising them that any voter in the September 8, 2020, primary or November 3, 2020, general election could request an absentee ballot based on concerns related to COVID-19.
Maine Governor Janet Mills (D) issued Executive Order No. 39 FY 19/20, postponing the statewide primary election, originally scheduled for June 9 to July 14.
Trump announced he was forming a new council to discuss the process of reopening the U.S. economy. Trump referred to the group as the Opening Our Country Council and said members would be announced on April 14.
The Kentucky State Legislature referred the No Right to Abortion in Constitution Amendment to the November 8, 2022 ballot. The amendment would add a section to the Kentucky Bill of Rights that states: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
In Kentucky, a 60% supermajority vote in each chamber of the Kentucky State Legislature during one legislative session is required to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration. The Kentucky House of Representatives introduced the amendment as House Bill 91 (HB 91) on January 5, 2021. The state House approved the amendment 76-20 on February 25, 2021, along party lines. All voting Republicans and two Democrats approved the amendment in the House. Twenty Democrats voted against the amendment. Three Democrats and one Republican were absent. On March 30, 2021, the state Senate approved the amendment in a vote of 32-6.
Rep. Joseph Fischer (R), the sponsor of the amendment, said, “HB 91 simply assures that no Kentucky court will ever be able to fashion an implicit right to abortion from the language of our state Constitution. There will be no Roe vs. Wade decision in Kentucky.”
Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said, “This constitutional amendment is a blatant effort to take away Kentuckians’ fundamental rights and prevent individuals from making the health care decisions best for them and their families.”
This is the second amendment of its kind to be certified for the 2022 ballot. Kansas voters will be deciding a similar amendment on August 2, 2022. The amendment would reverse a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that ruled there was a right to abortion in the Kansas Bill of Rights. The amendment would add a section to the Kansas Bill of Rights to state that there is not a right to abortions and the government is not required to provide funding for abortions. The new section would also add that the state legislature has the authority to pass laws to regulate abortion.
As of January 2021, at least 10 states, according to The Guttmacher Institute, provided a state constitutional right to abortion based on court rulings. The rulings were based on constitutional rights to privacy, equality, and liberty. Ballotpedia has identified six ballot measures in the past to amend state constitutions to declare that nothing in the state constitution provides a right to abortion. The most recent measure was approved in Louisiana in November 2020 with 61.1% of the vote. Tennessee (2014), Alabama (2018), and West Virginia (2018) also previously approved measures to declare no right to an abortion in their respective state constitutions. In Massachusetts (1986) and Florida (2012), these constitutional amendments were defeated.
The Kentucky State Legislature also referred another constitutional amendment to the ballot that would allow the state legislature to change the end date of the legislative session through a three-fifths vote in each chamber. It would also provide that a special legislative session up to 12 days may be jointly called by the House speaker and the Senate president and add that laws take effect on July 1 in the year the act was passed or 90 days after it is signed by the governor, whichever is later.
The Kentucky State Legislature adjourned on March 30.
From 1995 to 2020, 12 measures appeared on the ballot in Kentucky, of which, 10 were approved and two were defeated.