Ballot Measures of Interest This Year: The Western States

Besides the entire House, one-third of the Senate, the President and some gubernatorial elections in 2016, voters in several states will vote on some interesting ballot questions.  The following is a rundown of some interesting questions.

Arkansas:  Voters will be asked whether or not to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.  If passed, the state would have the most comprehensive medical marijuana law in the South.

California: This state is always good for a number of interesting ballot questions and they don’t let us down in 2016.  Proposition #57 would increase the chances of parole for about 7,000 state prisoners immediately with the potential for that number to reach as high as 25,000.  It would also remove prosecution discretion in trying juveniles as adults and give that discretion to judges.  California is under a federal court mandate to reduce it’s prison population.  The Supreme Court previously upheld that order with even the toughest, most conservative Justice- Clarence Thomas- lambasting the state for prison conditions.

Proposition 58 would essentially overturn the previously passed Proposition 227 which severely limited bilingual education in public schools. There is also a question regarding the state favoring a Federal amendment to overturn Citizen’s United.

Only in California could this create such controversy: voter approval of a law that would require that wearing of condoms in the production of pornographic films.  The measure is proposed in an effort to decrease the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in the industry and a Los Angeles ordinance similar to the state mandate recently was upheld by a state court on public health grounds.  The pornography industry is arguing that forcing actors to wear condoms is a Free Speech violation (I kid you not) because it restricts their “freedom of expression.”  The Vote No coalition added more intrigue to the drama unfolding after it was revealed they received more than $300,000 in donations from pornography interests in Luxembourg and Cyprus which violated a ban on donations from foreign entities.  They paid a $61,000 fine to the state.  The industry further argues that it would drive the filming of such movies out of state or underground and that the state would have to hire monitors for filming sites to ensure compliance.

In a move likely to pass, voters will be asked to eliminate the state’s death penalty (not that they enforce it) and it would apply retroactively.  Those currently on death row would have their sentences “reduced” to life without parole.

In what could be the wave of the future in gun control, voters will be asked whether the state should ban large capacity magazines.  But more importantly, background checks would be extended to the purchase of ammunition.

Proposition 64 would basically legalize marijuana for personal use and establish a taxing scheme designed to protect small-scale growers.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first city to ban the use of plastic grocery bags.  Since then, 137 jurisdictions in California have followed suit.  Some, however, have repealed previously passed ordinances.  Proposition 67 would codify the ban on plastic grocery bags statewide, or allow jurisdictions to impose a tax on their use such as that which exists in Los Angeles and under Proposition 65 (if approved) redirect that revenue to environmental projects in the state.

Colorado: Perhaps the biggest question this year in any state asks Colorado voters whether the state should create, in essence, a single payer health care system.  It would be funded by a 10% payroll tax- 3.33% by the wage earner and the remainder by the employer.  Colorado voters would then elect a board of trustees who would then contract with health care providers.  The law would cover a wide variety of health care concerns from wellness programs to end-of-life care.  Vermont enacted something similar recently and it went down in flames, taking it’s Governor with it.

However, there are differences between the Colorado and Vermont programs.  Colorado would allow this board of trustees to also administer Medicaid and SCHIP funds.  Further, it would be a cooperative system with private insurers operating in the state rather than strict state administration such as that in Vermont.  And most importantly, Colorado has a larger population and tax base than Vermont.

Missouri:  A referendum, if approved, would modify the state’s constitution granting the legislature permission to consider and pass voter identification laws.

Nevada:  In a gun control effort, voters will be asked whether an unlicensed person must conduct the sale or transfer of firearms through a licensed dealer and undergo a background check.  Another measure would legalize marijuana for recreational use after reviewing the economic windfall in Colorado.

Oregon: Voters in this state are asked whether or not to increase the state’s business tax.  Oregon is one of a few states that tax businesses on gross sales rather than income.  It would affect only businesses with gross sales in excess of $25 million.

South Dakota:  One proposal asked of voters would remove state congressional redistricting from the legislature and create a bipartisan commission to perform that task.  Since the state has only one at-large Representative, it would not affect federal districts (obviously).  But electoral reform does not stop there.

Other than Presidential primaries, all elections would be non-partisan with party affiliation not listed on ballots and the top two finishers advancing to the general election, much like the law in California.  Partisan primaries and conventions would be eliminated.  And another question would disallow registered voters in any party from signing petitions for independent candidates for any office.  And yet another question would strengthen the state’s campaign finance laws by creating a public fund for candidates, lowering contribution limits to political parties, PACs and candidates and require more disclosure and reporting.

Washington:  Voters will be asked three interesting questions the first of which would be imposition of a $25 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions on manufacturers and refineries, and electric utilities.  It would coincide with a one point reduction in the state’s sales tax and all but eliminate the state’s business tax.

A second initiative would simply express the will of the people to encourage the Federal government to pass a Constitutional amendment overturning the Citizen’s United decision.  And a third question, if approved, would gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $13.20/hour by 2020.

Tomorrow:  The Eastern States