Ballot initiatives in US states: an issues guide

There is a whole raft of initiatives and referendums on state ballots. We offer a summary here, with comments where appropriate on issues of social justice relating to these proposals.

* Labelling of GMO foods

California Prop. 37, the Right to Know ballot initiative, gives consumers the information they need to decide whether or not to purchase genetically engineered foods, by requiring labeling of genetically engineered food sold in grocery stores and prohibiting such food from being labelled “natural.” Worth supporting to enable transparency and choice.

* Marijuana

Marijuana-related measures are on the ballot in six states. The most far reaching propositions are citizen proposals that would legalise recreational use of cannabis: Colorado’s Amendment 64, Oregon’s Measure 80, and Washington’s I-502. Question 3 in Massachusetts legalises marijuana for medical uses. Supported by those who believe in regulation and decriminalisation rather than a failing 'war on drugs'.

* Equal marriage

Five states have marriage-related propositions on the ballot. Maine’s Question 1 asks voters to repeal laws previously approved by voters that ban same-sex marriage. Supported by those who believe in equal marriage. (Less encouragingly, Washington’s R-74 and Maryland’s Question 6 ask voters to repeal new laws from the legislature that legalise same-sex marriage. Minnesota voters will decide whether to adopt a constitutional amendment banning same sex-marriage.)

* Affirmative action

Oklahoma’s State Question 759 is a legislative proposal to prohibit discrimination or preferable treatment based on race, sex, ethnicity, and national origin. It is viewed as an attack on affirmative action. Oppose.

* Death penalty

California’s Proposition 34 abolishes capital punishment in the state. Support.

* Criminal justice

California Prop 36. Three Strikes Law. Allows life sentence only for third strikes that are serious crimes - a moderating proposal. The multiple problems with the original Three Strikes law that opponents warned about have come to pass - prisons contains thousands of people serving sentences up to life imprisonment for non-violent (and other often relatively minor) 'third strike' crimes.

* Immigration

Maryland. In 2011, Maryland’s legislature passed SB 167 to allow, among other provisions, undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities, if they attended high school in the state and their parents paid taxes. Question 4 approves this right for undocumented immigrants. (Montana. LR-121 is a legislative measure that denies state services to illegal immigrants. Oppose.)

* Labour Rights

California’s Proposition 32 prohibits union dues from being used for political purposes without explicit authorisation of members, prohibits union and corporate contributions to campaigns, and prohibits government contractors from contributing to campaigns. This measure is intended to undercut the power of public employee unions in the state. Oppose.

Illinois. Legislative amendment that requires 3/5 vote of appropriate legislative body to increase pension benefit for public employees - an attempt to take away pension rights. Oppose.

Michigan. Proposal 2 would amend the state constitution to establish the right to collective bargaining for public and private sector workers. A good thing.

* Abortion

Montana's legislative statute requiring parental notification before a minor’s abortion. Florida: Amendment to prohibit the use of public funds for abortions except as required by federal law and to save the mother’s life, and stipulate that Florida’s constitution does not include broader rights to abortion than the US Constitution. Abortion should be reduced by supporting women, not by criminalising them.

* Voting rights

Minnesota. Would require all voters to show photo ID. Intended as a barrier to poorer voters. Oppose.
Arizona. Proposition 121 would create a top two primary system such as recently implemented in California. Curtails the ability of third parties to run candidates in general election. Oppose.

* Local Democracy

Michigan. Proposal 1 would authorise the Governor to appoint an Emergency Manager to make decision in financially distressed communities or school districts. Gives non-elected gubernatorial appointees the power to change laws and contracts passed by locally elected officials that voters have chosen. Undermines democracy by preventing locally elected officials from taking any government action to serve residents. Oppose.

* Guns

Louisiana. Voters will decide whether to alter the state constitution by adding the rights to acquire, transport, carry, transfer, and use firearms in addition to the existing right to keep and bear them. This could be interpreted to gut current gun restrictions in Louisiana, including laws that ban guns on college campuses and in bars. Oppose.

* Taxes and corporate welfare

California Prop 39 concerns taxes and corporate welfare. Closes a corporate welfare tax loophole and addresses the state's budget structural deficit, while creating new green jobs and addresses climate change. Support.

* Charter schools

Georgia. Amendment One will alter the GA state constitution to enable a commission, mostly appointed by the governor, to approve the establishment of charter schools without the involvement of local voters and their elected school boards. Since the privately operated schools established by the commission will be entitled to dip into the sparse funds legislators make available for public education, Amendment One removes almost every obstacle to the privatisation of public education in Georgia. Oppose.

* Move to Amend

Numerous communities across the country are voting on Move to Amend resolutions that call for legislative action toward a constitutional amendment that makes clear that money is not speech and that corporations are not persons entitled to constitutional rights. Support.

Acknowledgments:

Information on initiatives and referendums compiled by Ballot Watch (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat file): http://www.iandrinstitute.org/BW%202012-2%20Election%20Preview%20[update2].pdf
by Think Justice: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/06/19/501401/10-issues-to-watch-on... and by Jill Stein: http://www.jillstein.org/jill_stein_s_position_on_ballot_initiatives

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