Public Policy

State Net Capitol Journal: Minimum Wage, Marijuana, Gambling And Guns Dominate Ballot Measures

By Korey Clark

A total of 136 measures have qualified for states' November ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures' Ballot Measures Database. That number is 23 percent lower than it was in 2012, when there were 176 measures on state ballots; 42 percent lower than in 1998, when there were 235 measures; and actually the lowest total in an even-numbered election year in the 21st century, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute (IRI).
 
As in previous election cycles, however, several issues will appear on the ballots of multiple states: 
 
Minimum wage Voters in five states — Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota — will be asked whether their respective states should increase the minimum wage. Minimum wage measures have fared well at the ballot box in recent years, with all 10 of those proposed since 2000 having been approved, by IRI's count. And it doesn't appear this year will be any different. As Politico reported last month, Paul Sonn, general counsel and program director for the National Employment Law Project, which supports higher minimum wage laws, said he expected all four of the binding minimum wage measures on the November ballot (Illinois' measure is only an "advisory") to pass, adding that there was a "wave" of support for minimum wage increases in the states at the moment. 
 
"We really expect that it will build and there will even be more activity going into 2016," he said. "There is more national attention on raising the minimum wage than in the last 15-20 years." 
 
Politico also reported that polling in Alaska and South Dakota pointed to approval of the minimum wage-hike proposals in those states. 
 
Marijuana Ballot measures seeking the legalization of marijuana for recreational use will be on the ballot in two states: Alaska and Oregon. The approval of similar measures in Colorado and Washington was one of the biggest stories of the 2012 election cycle, and proponents of legalization are looking to build on those historic successes. Polling is showing a tight race on Alaska's Measure 2 but considerable support for Oregon's Measure 91, according to IRI. Measure 2 could also have a bearing on the outcome of a tight U.S. Senate race in Alaska between incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and Republican state Attorney General Dan Sullivan. 
 
Meanwhile, Florida voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use (Amendment 2), which 23 states have already done. And Washington voters will weigh an advisory measure asking if they approve of a recent law eliminating a tax break for marijuana producers. 
 
Gambling Measures pertaining to gambling will be on the ballot in seven states. The most closely watched is likely to be Massachusetts' Question 3, a referendum on the 2011 law allowing three resort casinos in the state. Early opinion polls have shown a majority of the state's voters favor keeping the law. Among the other gambling proposals are a referendum on an Indian casino compact, backed by tribes that operate competing casinos, in California (Proposition 48) and measures that would allow charitable organizations to use raffles and other low-stakes forms of gambling for fundraising in Kansas (SCR 1618), South Carolina (Amendment 1) and Tennessee (Amendment 4). 
 
Guns Gun measures are only on the ballot in two states. But in one of them, voters could actually approve two conflicting measures. Washington's I-594 would require universal background checks on gun sales, including those at gun shows. A July Elway poll showed 70 percent of the state's voters supported that measure. But the same poll showed a plurality of voters — 46 percent — also supported I-591, an NRA-backed measure that would prohibit background checks on private gun sales, including those at gun shows. The poll's director, Stuart Elway, suggested the state's voters might be confused by the language of I-591, given that 61 percent of them favor increasing background checks on gun sales. But legal experts can't say what will happen if both measures end up passing. 
 
"We have no court case that can tell us. We get no guidance from the Constitution," University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer told The Oregonian. "My guess is that the state Supreme Court would try to reconcile the two initiatives, but they can't be reconciled." 
 
There's a little less uncertainty about Alabama's Amendment 3, a constitutional amendment that would provide a "fundamental right to bear arms" in the state and make any restriction of that right subject to "strict scrutiny," the highest level of judicial review, as is already the case in Louisiana and Missouri. 
 
Abortion Voters in Colorado and North Dakota will weigh so-called "personhood" measures, Amendment 67 and Measure 1, respectively, which would ban abortion by granting legal status at conception. Colorado voters rejected a similar measure (Initiative 62) by a wide margin — 71 percent to 29 percent — four years ago. But North Dakota's Measure 1 likely has a much better chance of passing, if the fact that there's only one abortion clinic in the entire state is any indication. Tennessee voters, meanwhile, will consider a sweeping measure (Amendment 1) that would allow the state's Legislature to "enact, amend, or repeal statutes" on abortion, including provisions governing pregnancies "resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother." 
 
Taxes As usual, there will be quite a few tax-related measures on state ballots in November, 14 in all. Most of them are narrow in focus. But Georgia's Amendment A would prohibit any future increase in that state's maximum income tax rate; Tennessee's Amendment 3 would ban state and local personal income and payroll taxes; Nevada's Ballot Question 3 would impose a 2 percent tax on business profits to provide funding for schools; and a statewide advisory question in Illinois will ask voters if the state should impose a 3% income surtax on millionaires to fund education. 
 
Bond issues Voters in five states will be asked to approve a combined total of $17.35 billion in debt. The most ambitious proposals are California's Proposition 1, which would authorize $7.12 billion in borrowing for water projects; Oregon's Measure 86, which would allow $4.3 billion to assist college students; and New York's Proposal 3, which would allow $2 billion for technology upgrades in public schools. 
 
Voting Measures in Connecticut (Question 1) and Missouri (Amendment 6) will determine whether those states will join the 33 others that already allow early voting. Montana's LR-126 will decide if that state will do away with same-day voter registration and instead allow voters to register only up to the Friday before Election Day. And Illinois' Right-to-Vote Amendment" will determine whether that state will prohibit any law infringing on an eligible resident's right to register to vote on the basis of "race, color, ethnicity, language, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation or income," potentially deterring the passage of a voter ID law in the state. 
 
Hunting Maine's Question 1 would ban the use of bait, dogs and traps for hunting bears in the state. Backers of the measure say those practices give hunters an unfair advantage, are inhumane and have failed to stabilize the state's bear population, while opponents argue that imposing restrictions on bear hunting could hurt the state's economy. In addition to Maine's proposal, measures will be on the ballot in two states, Alabama (Amendment 5) and Mississippi (HCR 30), declaring a constitutional right to hunt and fish. 
 
Along with the multistate issues, there are also a number of notable measures on the ballot in single states: 
 
Alabama's Amendment 1 would prohibit the state's courts from recognizing foreign laws, such as Sharia, that violate state policy. California's Proposition 45 would require health insurance rate changes to be approved by the state's insurance commissioner (see Spotlight story, "CA ponders health insurance rate regulation," in Sept. 29 issue of SNCJ), and Proposition 46 would more than quadruple the state's cap on medical malpractice lawsuits from $250,000 to over $1 million and require random alcohol and drug testing of physicians. New York's Proposal 1 would establish an independent redistricting commission in that state. North Dakota's Measure 6 would create a legal presumption in child custody cases that both parents have equal custody rights. Oregon's Measure 88 is a referendum on a new state law granting driver cards to illegal immigrants; Measure 90 would establish a top-two primary election system; and Measure 92 would require genetically engineered food to be labeled, like measures that were narrowly rejected by voters in California and Washington in recent years. Finally, Rhode Island's Question 3, will ask voters whether the state should hold a constitutional convention, a question posed to voters every 10 years in accordance with the state's Constitution. 
 
Although the total number of measures on state ballots may be down this year, the amount of spending is not. More than $57 million has been raised by groups — mainly doctors and insurance companies — opposing California's malpractice measure, Prop. 46, alone, according to Ballotpedia. And at the end of August, the Washington Post stated, "For the first time in history, spending on state ballot questions is likely to top $1 billion in campaign spending this year." That milestone wouldn't be a huge stretch, considering ballot measure campaigns raised $939 million in the 2012 election cycle, according to a report by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics. But closing that $61 million gap this year, despite nearly 25 percent fewer ballot measures than two years ago, would be somewhat of a feat.

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