Ballotpedia publishes June’s edition of State Ballot Measure Monthly

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.

Noah Valenstein resigns as secretary of Florida Department of Environmental Protection

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.

Additional reading:

State FOIA request response times

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.

Additional reading:

Tennessee legislature votes to send amendment providing for an acting governor to the 2022 ballot

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.

Here’s how Virginia Republicans will select their statewide nominees on May 8

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.

To learn more about the 2021 convention process in Virginia, click here: https://ballotpedia.org/Virginia_gubernatorial_election,_2021_(May_8_Republican_convention)#Conventions_in_Virginia_.282021.29

Learn more about the races up for election on Saturday using the links below:

Sabina Matos sworn in as Rhode Island lieutenant governor 

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.    

Additional Reading:

A look back at government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, April 6-10, 2020

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.

Monday, April 6, 2020:

  • Stay-at-home orders:
    • 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.
  • School closures:
    • Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to this order, schools in the state were closed through April 17.
    • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) extended the statewide school closure from April 15 to April 29.
  • Election changes:
    • 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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders:
    • 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.
  • School closures:
    • Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) recommended that schools in the state remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
    • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) extended the statewide school closure from April 10 to April 24.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

  • Travel restrictions
    • 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.
  • School closures:
    • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools were closed through April 28.
  • Election changes:
    • 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.
  • Federal government responses:
    • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a $500 million contract with General Motors to produce 30,000 ventilators under the Defense Production Act.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

  • Travel restrictions
    • 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. 
  • School closures:
    • Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools were closed through May 1.
    • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools had been closed indefinitely from March 16.
  • Election changes:
    • 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.

Friday, April 10, 2020

  • Election changes:
    • 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.
  • Federal government responses:
    • 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.

For the most recent coronavirus news, including the latest on vaccines and mask mandates, subscribe to our daily newsletter, Documenting America’s Path to Recovery.

Kentucky voters will decide an amendment in 2022 saying there is no right to abortion in the state constitution

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.

Additional Reading:

1.19 million signatures verified in Newsom recall

On March 19, the California Secretary of State’s office released an update on signature verification in the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). According to the official report, 1.834 million signatures were turned in through March 11. Of those, 1.188 million were deemed valid. Another 380,060 signatures remain unprocessed. At least 1,495,709 signatures must be deemed valid to trigger a recall election.

According to media reports, recall organizers said they turned in more than 2.1 million signatures by the March 17 deadline. At the current verification rate of about 82%, that would amount to 1.722 million valid signatures, which would be enough to trigger the recall election.

Since 1911, there have been 55 attempts to recall a sitting California governor. The only successful recall campaign was in 2003 when voters recalled then-Gov. Gray Davis (D). Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) was chosen as Davis’ replacement.

A recall election would present voters with two questions. The first would ask whether Newsom should be recalled from the office of governor. The second would ask who should succeed Newsom if he is recalled. A majority vote is required on the first question for the governor to be recalled. The candidate with the most votes on the second question would win the election without needing a majority of votes cast. In the 2003 recall, 135 candidates ran and Schwarzenegger received 48.58 percent of the vote.

Diego Hernandez resigns from Oregon House of Representatives 

On Feb. 21, Rep. Diego Hernandez (D) resigned from the Oregon House of Representatives. He represented District 47 from 2017 to 2021. 

On May 4, 2020, the interim House Conduct Committee in the Oregon House of Representatives opened an investigation after seven individuals accused Hernandez of verbal and physical sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace environment.

Hernandez did not participate in the investigatory hearing and issued the following statement in response: “I have no idea what the concerns raised are or by whom. I do know that there has been an organized campaign against me recently to get me out of the office I was duly elected to and I was threatened this would happen if I didn’t resign. Due process matters, I ask that people withhold judgment until the investigation is complete.”

On May 11, Hernandez filed a tort claim against the Oregon state legislature, citing damages related to the following: “abuse of process, discrimination (gender and national origin/race) under state and federal law, aiding and abetting discrimination, bullying/mobbing, whistleblowing retaliation (ORS 659A.199, ORS 659A.203, ORS659A.206), intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional interference with a prospective economic relationship, defamation, violation of due process under state and federal law, and other potential claims.” 

After nine months, the committee voted 4-0 to recommend expulsion to the House. Hernandez filed a lawsuit to halt further movement on the measure, but United States District Judge Ann Aiken denied judicial interference. Hernandez resigned from his seat the following day on Feb. 21.

If there is a vacancy in the Oregon Legislature, the board of county commissioners representing the vacant seat must select a replacement. This can only be done when the legislature is in session or when the vacancy happens more than 61 days before the next scheduled general election. The board must consider at least three candidates and select a person from the political party that last held the vacant seat. Persons selected to fill House seats serve for the remainder of the unexpired term.

As of the morning of Feb. 24, there have been 28 state legislative vacancies in 20 states this year. Eleven of those vacancies have been filled, with 17 vacancies remaining. Hernandez’s vacancy is one of 13 Democratic vacancies to have occurred in 2021. So far, seven vacancies have been filled by Democrats, while three have been filled by Republicans.  

Additional Reading: