Neal’s blog

Michigan voters are seeking to correct a flaw in the state’s referendum laws. Ferndale, Michigan-based Voters for Fair Use of Ballot Referendum are launching their drive to collect signatures on a petition to alter the Wolverine State’s constitution, removing a roadblock in the referendum petition process.

As it currently stands, Michigan law prevents referendums on statutes that contain appropriations. Last fall, Michigan’s controversial right-to-work law purposely added an appropriations in order to block citizens from exercising their right to the “People’s Veto”.

In the city of Vancouver, Washington, opponents of a local light rail system have secured a victory for petitioners.
A Cowlitz County judge, Stephen M. Warning, ruled against a law requiring that on municipal petitions, “…signatures, including the original, of any person who has signed a petition two or more times shall be stricken.”

Under this law, a petition filed against the proposed light rail system fell short by 32 signatures due to those who signed more than once being thrown out, including the person’s original signature. The city government had concluded that since the petition fell short of the required number of signatures, no vote would be held on the light rail.

Earlier today, the Arkansas House of Representatives passed an amended version of Senate Bill 821 by a vote of 78 to 9.  The legislation, which passed the Senate in different form last month, creates a cumbersome, new state regulation scheme over paid petition circulators, including requiring registration with the state, a training program, providing a mug shot to the Secretary of State and a waiting period before a paid petitioner can begin gathering signatures.

Citizens in Charge President Paul Jacob today sent a letter to members of the Arkansas House of Representatives urging them to defeat Senate Bill 821, which is pending today in the House State Agencies and Government Affairs Committee.

Jacob argues that the provisions of the bill are unconstitutional, not only under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but also under Amendment 7 to the Arkansas State Constitution, which in part, reads:

Last week, we warned of Senate Joint Resolution 16 in Arkansas, an amendment to the state’s constitution that would make it tougher for initiative petitions to qualify for the state’s grace period, which allows campaigns turning in more signatures than the minimum requirement to have an additional 30 days for gathering signatures should they need it due to some signatures being disqualified.

But today, we are pleased to announce that this constitutional amendment appears to be dead in the water, thanks to an 11-13 vote late Friday in the Arkansas Senate State Agencies and Government Affairs committee.  There is the possibility that the bill could resurface, but baring extraordinary legislative maneuvers, SJR 16 seems to be done for this legislative session.

Today, unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the Cert petition filed by the Initiative & Referendum Institute, et al, seeking review of a DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a 1998 regulation promulgated by the U.S. Postal Service that denies petition circulators access to walkways leading to post offices. In addition to the Initiative & Referendum Institute, a number of state and local grassroots groups joined the 13-year lawsuit against the Postal Service, including two national groups, the Humane Society of the U.S. and U.S. Term Limits.

But Not Dead Yet

When laws are broken, what’s the best response? Should we prosecute the law-breakers?

Or pass yet new laws?

Unfortunately, not a single “bad actor” has been prosecuted for any of the alleged acts of fraud. Not one. Instead, Arkansas legislators have proposed new laws to punish the good citizen seeking to take part in the political process right along with the bad actor.

In the great white north of Alaska, citizens of Anchorage are fighting back against the city’s recent labor overhaul law known as AO-37.  The law, passed by the Anchorage Assembly on March 26, changes the ways that unions negotiate with the city.

Many labor groups, including the Anchorage Education Association and the Anchorage Fire Fighters Union are spearheading a referendum petition to repeal AO-37. Once the petition is approved by the city clerk’s office, the petitioners would have 60 days from when the law was passed (May 25) to collect 7,100 signatures. After collecting the signatures, the city would have 75 days to organize a special election to have the law put to a vote.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, voter referendums are taking over! They must be stopped! Too many, too soon! Help!!!
At least, that’s what the Democrats leading the Free State – the governor, House speaker and Senate president – have all claimed during this legislative session, as several bills have been proposed to make the referendum process much more difficult, through cumbersome new rules and regulations (House Bill 493 and Senate Bill 673) and by jacking up the number of signatures required on petitions (Senate Bill 706).

A good salesman can sell anything to anyone, even if what they’re selling would end up being detrimental in the long run. This is exactly what the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation has accomplished in the Gem State, according to Lewiston Tribune reporter William L. Spence.

The sale was completed when Governor Butch Otter’s signed Senate Bill 1108 into law on none-other-than April Fools Day.

By touting fears of urban-liberal agendas clogging citizen-initiated ballot measures, the Farm Bureau had been successful in selling the legislature a signature distribution requirement that will make Idaho’s petition process even more difficult than it already is.  In the last 77 years, only 35 initiatives have been put to a vote.

Last week, Federal Judge Philip A. Brimmer overturned Colorado’s law limiting productivity pay – pay based on the number of signatures gathered – to no more than 20 percent of total pay for people circulating initiative and referendum petitions.

Maryland’s House Bill 493 is not dead yet asserts Election Law Subcommittee Chairman Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore County), a co-sponsor.  However, the bill is currently mired in his subcommittee with Cardin conceding that the bill needs amendments for “stakeholders” to consider its passage, and that the chances of it moving forward in the 13 days left in the legislative session have “decreased.”

Late last year, the Lucy Burns Institute published a booklet entitled, “Local Ballot Initiatives,” written by Leslie Graves, president of the institute and executive director of the wiki-based website, to educate citizens on how they can use initiatives and referendums to reform their hometown governments.

Through several articles, recollections by activists (including Citizens in Charge President Paul Jacob) and real-world examples, Graves outlines how the petition process works and how it is beneficial to initiating change at the local level.

Idaho legislators, in a bid to backpedal from the thorny problems caused by passage of Senate Bill 1108, with its negative impact on the initiative and referendum petition process, have fast-tracked a new bill, Senate Bill 1191, to correct some of the vague and likely unconstitutional provisions legislators just enacted via passage of SB 1108. 

SB 1191 removes the requirement that each petition form contain only signatures from a single legislative district, opting to restore the past system whereby signatures are organized on separate sheets by county. This would eliminate extraneous paperwork and potential for errors that could lead to signatures being thrown out.