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Ballot bonanza: voters took on the role of policymakers for a slew of issues, from capital punishment to taxes.

No crystal ball can reveal with certainty what issues legislatures will take up in the future; prognosticators would do better looking at the most recent crop of ballot measures. This year, marijuana and firearms got the lion's share of the press coverage, but issues around taxes, labor, economic development, infrastructure, education and health care funding were all on the ballot, too. It's no stretch to say those topics will also be on lawmakers' agendas in coming sessions.

Of note in Election 2016 was how the measures made it onto ballots: 72 were citizens' initiatives--more than twice as many as in 2014, and the most since 2006. Legislatures, however, referred fewer than average issues to the voters to decide.

How did they fare? Voters said yes to a significantly greater number of ballot measures this year than on average. For those sent to the ballot by citizens, 73 percent passed, whereas the average over the last dozen years has been 45 percent. Legislatively referred measures always do better than citizen initiatives, and that was true this year as well: 83 percent were approved, higher than the average of 75 percent.

From a legislative perspective, though, citizen initiatives are second best. "By the time a bill comes to fruition [in the Legislature], it has gone through a very thorough examination, both policy-wise and fiscally," says California Senate President Kevin de Leon (D). "Democracy by the people sounds good, but oftentimes there are very severe unintended consequences that do more harm than good. That's why you have a legislative branch of government."

Here's what voters decided this year.

Money Matters, a Lot

Bonds did well. In fact, all 12 state bond measures passed. That means transportation infrastructure will be upgraded in Maine and Rhode Island. California and New Mexico will improve schools and libraries.

Tax increases did not fare as well, with only a handful getting approval. Voters said no to measures that would have increased the annual minimum tax on corporations with sales of more than $25 million in Oregon; eliminated the deductibility of federal income taxes when calculating corporate taxes in Louisiana; and upped the sales tax by 1 percent in Oklahoma.

Washington's proposed carbon emissions tax also failed, as did Colorado's stab at funding a state-based single-payer health plan.

Voters in Maine and California, however, said yes to increasing taxes on the wealthy. Maine added a 3 percent tax surcharge on annual incomes over $200,000, and California extended for 12 years a temporary tax increase passed in 2012 for earners in the $250K-or-more crowd.

Voters in Florida, Louisiana and Virginia approved measures to exempt disabled first responders, some seniors, surviving spouses of military personnel or others from property taxes.

Minimum Wage Popular

Citizens in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington put minimum-wage increases before the voters, and all were successful. In Arizona, Colorado and Maine, the wage goes to $12 per hour, phased in over several years, while Washington's tops out at $13.25. Colorado and Maine will index their minimum wages in the next decade.

The Arizona and Washington minimum-wage measures also require paid sick leave, which makes them the sixth and seventh states to adopt such policies.

In 2014, five states set minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. South Dakota was one of them. The South Dakota Legislature tweaked it by lowering the minimum wage for workers under the age of 18 to allow teens to get a foothold in the job market. South Dakota voters rejected that change, so the state will return to a single minimum wage of $8.55 per hour. Twenty-nine states now have higher minimums than the federal government.

Right-to-work measures went both ways. Alabama voters decided to include the right to work in their constitution, whereas Virginia voters turned down a similar measure. South Dakota voters turned down a plan that would have allowed unions in this right-to-work state to collect fees from nonmembers.

Pot Is Hot; Tobacco Taxes Not

Four states approved the medical use of marijuana: Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota. Over half of the states have now approved medicinal use.

Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, where medical marijuana is already legal, said yes to regulated recreational use of marijuana for adults as well. Arizona was the lone state to turn down a similar initiative. With these newcomers, eight states plus D.C. now allow adult use of cannabis. Worth noting: All eight did so by citizen initiatives.

Marijuana remains on the federal Schedule I drug list, making it illegal. Whether President-elect Trump will continue the current Department of Justice decision not to pursue marijuana charges in legalized states is not known. If not, a state-federal debate is likely to follow.

As for tobacco taxes, four states had increases on the ballot; however, only one was successful. California voters agreed to increase the tax on cigarettes from 87 cents to $2.87 as well as increase the tax on e-cigarettes. Similar measures, fell short in Colorado, North Dakota and Missouri.

Gun Control and Capital Punishment

Firearms regulation has typically been handled via the legislative process, but in recent years--this one included--voters have played the determining role.

Measures to regulate firearms passed in three of the four states with them on the ballot. California's successful proposition requires a background check when buying ammunition. Washington's measure is an "extreme risk protection order," which allows police or family to temporarily restrict a person's access to firearms when immediate harm is likely. Nevada's measure requires a background check before any firearm transfer, which is what Maine's would have done, but it failed.

Proponents of capital punishment had a good year. California voters rejected abolishing it, and approved a measure to speed up the execution process. Oklahoma citizens amended their state constitution to specify that capital punishment is neither cruel nor unusual. And in Nebraska, the voters overturned a new statute that banned capital punishment, making it once again an option in the Cornhusker State.

By and for the People

Proponents of more campaign finance regulation were happy after the election, with four of five measures going their way. South Dakota's measure included disclosure requirements, contribution limits and public financing of campaigns. Missouri passed contribution limits as well. California and Washington each approved measures to undo the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which prevents governments from limiting political spending by corporations and unions. These Citizens United measures have no teeth, but do take the temperature of the polity on campaign finance issues. The countervailing vote came from Washington, which rejected a proposal to allow state money to be used by individuals via vouchers to support the candidates of their choice.

In other democracy news. South Dakotans rejected a proposal to create a redistricting commission made up of an equal number of Democrats, Republicans and independents. They also said no to adopting a nonpartisan election system, in which all candidates run on the same ballot in the primary (without party affiliation listed), with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.

California voters said yes to requiring bills be made available on the internet at least 72 hours before lawmakers can pass them. Coloradans opted to create a presidential primary (to replace the caucuses and conventions the state has used in recent times), and to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in the party primary of their choice. And Maine became the first state to adopt ranked-choice voting. In the future, Mainers will list their choices for a position in ranked order. The lowest vote-getters will be eliminated until someone wins with a majority. No more plurality victories for candidates in the Pine Tree State.

Stand Alones

Oregon voters agreed to make it harder to buy and sell the body parts of endangered species, to direct lottery funds for outdoor education, and to require the legislature to fund dropout prevention programs.

Colorado citizens approved an aid-in-dying proposal. South Dakotans agreed to cap interest charges by payday lenders. California voters decided to give bilingual education another chance and to allow parole for nonviolent felons; but they weren't willing to require adult film performers to use condoms when filming.

And with that, the voters have spoken.


Ballot Measures Election 2016

35 States with measures on the ballot.

154 Ballot measures nationwide.

84 Proposed constitutional amendments.

67 Proposed statutory changes.

72 Measures initiated by citizens.

45% vs. 73% Average vs. this year's approval rate of citizen initiatives.

75 Measures referred by legislatures.

75% vs. 83% Average vs. this year's approval rate of legislative referrals.

100% Bond measures approved this year.

$313 million Amount contributed to ballot issues in California, the highest in the nation.
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Title Annotation:ELECTION 2016
Author:Underhill, Wendy
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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