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One of the strongest arguments for Hawaii holding its first constitutional convention in 40 years is to consider allowing statewide voter initiatives.
We won’t know until next Tuesday how Hawaii voters will vote on a ConCon. But it is useful to understand that initiatives are a popular way to change laws and the ways governments operate in many states.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reported Monday that there are 160 statewide ballot measures in 2018. An NCSL database search reveals that 62 of them came from initiatives.
Many of the ballot initiatives — including ones on term limits, gambling, marijuana and schools — show citizens involved in governing either directly (that is, putting questions on the ballot via petition) or indirectly (submitting questions to legislatures to consider for placement on the ballot).
Here’s a rundown of 2018 ballot measures around the country that I believe have relevance in Hawaii:
Issue 3 in Arkansas calls for term limits for the state Legislature: six years for the House and eight years for the Senate. Officials could serve no more than a total of 10 years in either chamber.
The amendment would also prohibit the Arkansas Legislature from amending or repealing it and “only allows changes via the initiative process.”
Marijuana and Hemp
Proposal 1 in Michigan would permit people 21 and older to use pot recreationally and to grow up to 12 plants. A 10 percent tax would be levied on sales at retailers and businesses, and the revenue would go to local government, K-12 education and transportation infrastructure.
The measure would legalize the production of industrial hemp, too, with the caveat that municipalities would be allowed to ban marijuana within their boundaries.
Amendments 2 and 3 and Proposition C in Missouri would legalize medical marijuana and tax it from as low as 2 percent to as high as 15 percent.
The revenue generated, estimated to be from $10 million to $66 million annually, could go to veteran health care, early childhood education, drug treatment and public safety.
An initiative in Utah would also allow for medical marijuana. And in North Dakota, voters will decide whether to legalize pot for those 21 or older and automatically expunge existing criminal records for people “with a criminal conviction of a legalized drug.”
Amendment 3 in Florida would provide voters with the exclusive right to authorize casino gambling via an initiative. By contrast, the Florida Legislature would not be allowed to authorize casino gambling through statute or by placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Proposition 1 in Idaho would allow betting on “historical horse races” shown on video — that is, races involving live horses but rebroadcast electronically on a delayed or replayed basis.
Amendment 73 in Colorado would create a graduated income tax, increase income taxes on incomes above $150,000 and raise the corporate income tax by 1.37 percent. The revenue would be used for per-pupil funding, special education, preschool, English language and gifted students, and also increase kindergarten funding to provide full-day school.
In South Dakota, Initiated Measure 25 would increase the excise tax on cigarettes from about $1.53 per a pack of 20 cigarettes to $2.53. The excise tax on wholesale tobacco products would grow from 35 percent to 55 percent of the purchase price. The revenue would go into a new fund to help lower tuition and provide financial support to South Dakota postsecondary technical institutes.
Initiative 1631 in Washington state would impose a carbon tax — $15 per metric ton of carbon in 2020, with the fee increasing $2 per metric ton each year until 2035 carbon reduction goals are met — on certain large emitters of greenhouse gases starting in 2020.
The revenue would go toward reducing pollution, promoting clean energy and addressing climate change.
Proposition 112 in Colorado would require new oil and gas drilling to be at least 2,500 feet away from occupied buildings and vulnerable areas such as parks and water.
Issue 1 in Ohio would make drug possession offenses misdemeanors, prohibit people from being sent to prison for non-criminal probation offenses, create a sentence credit program for inmates that goes toward rehabilitation and require the state to spend the savings on drug treatment, crime victim and rehabilitation programs.
Constitutional Amendment W in South Dakota would restrict lobbyist gifts to politicians, ban foreign money in the state’s elections, toughen ethics law enforcement, reduce special interest money in state elections and remove “the ability of the legislature to overturn a ballot measure passed by the public.”
Question 2 in Massachusetts would create a commission that, among other things, would “be tasked with recommending that personhood does not include corporations” and with helping overturn the U.S. Supreme Court campaign finance case Citizens United v. FEC.
Another initiative in Washington state would create “a good-faith test” to determine when the use of deadly force by police is justified. Police would also have to obtain “de-escalation and mental health training” as developed by a criminal justice training commission.
The measure, if approved, would also remove a requirement that a prosecutor prove that a police officer acted with malice to be convicted in court. And cops would also be required to provide first aid in such incidents.
“The measure also requires that an independent investigation be completed when police use deadly force or produce substantial bodily harm,” the initiative question states.
Question 5 in Nevada would enact a system that automatically registers citizens to vote when they apply for or renew a driver’s license or state ID, rather than the current opt-in system where citizens have to take action to register themselves.
I am not taking a position on any of these initiatives, but most are obviously applicable to Hawaii.
I also recognize that the initiative process can get out of hand, as has been the case in California. The most famous example is Proposition 13, which was enacted in 1978 and capped property taxes at 1 percent and limited future increases.
The Golden State has no less than seven initiative-driven propositions on the 2018 ballot, including the controversial Proposition 6. It would repeal an increase in the fuel tax that was enacted by the state’s Assembly just last year and require a majority of voters to support any future fuel tax increase.
In its editorial calling for voter rejection of Prop 6, The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that the initiative would “eliminate $5 billion a year from the state budget, wiping out funds that could be used to fill potholes on local streets, smooth highways and stabilize bridges….Infrastructure isn’t cheap, and Californians will pay the price no matter what. ”
In spite of the potential pitfalls, initiative remains a popular tool for citizen empowerment. Nearly half of the states have initiative, either by statute or constitution. They include our nearest neighbors bordering the Pacific — Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington.
Citizen initiatives have been around for a long time. The NCSL says that the first state to adopt it was South Dakota in 1898.
It seems like the right to hold citizen initiatives, referendums and recalls will one day wash up on our shores, either through a constitutional convention or from legislation.
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