Edited by Brittany Clingen
59 measures for 2014
A controversial California ballot measure failed to garner the required number of valid signatures to put it on the November 4, 2014 election ballot. However, supporters of the measure are not giving up without a fight. The group “Privacy For All Students” sponsored the failed measure in an attempt to repeal Assembly Bill 1266, which required public schools to allow students to use bathrooms and participate on sports teams based on the gender with which they identify. AB 1266 passed in the legislature, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and took effect on January 1, 2014.
Supporters of AB 1266 argued that transgender students should be allowed to use the bathrooms of the gender they identify with to avoid bullying and persecution. However, people opposed to AB 1266 – those who sought to land a veto referendum of the law on the ballot – were concerned with the potential repercussions of allowing boys and girls to use the same bathrooms. Given the subject of AB 1266, the repeal effort was contentious from start to finish.
In order to advance the proposition, supporters were required to submit at least 504,760 valid signatures by November 10, 2013. “Privacy For All Students” sought to collect a total of 700,000 signatures to safeguard against some that would inevitably prove invalid. They fell short of their goal, with the total signature count ultimately equalling 619,244. In two counties, supporters of the repeal effort submitted approximately 5,000 signatures on November 12, 2013, two days after the deadline. Initially, Secretary of State Debra Bowen threw out the signatures, saying the deadline had passed. However, after proponents of the referendum filed a lawsuit challenging Bowen, Sacramento County Superior Court judge Allen Sumner ruled against her, saying the signatures must be accepted. He explained his reasoning, citing the fact that November 10 was a Sunday, and November 11 was Veteran’s Day, a holiday; therefore, the election offices in both counties were closed. The judge wrote, “Ever since the voters enacted the referendum power in 1911, courts have liberally construed its provisions to protect the voters’ power. The fact the deadline for submitting petitions falls on a weekend preceding a holiday, or the county registrar closes at noon on Friday, should not prevent Petitioner from having her petition signatures accepted.”
An initial spot check of the submitted signatures showed that supporters obtained 95.6 percent of the 504,760 required signatures. The next step in the process was to review each submitted signature to verify it was that of a registered voter. Once the signatures were individually reviewed, it was determined that “Privacy for All Students” collected only 487,760 valid signatures, over 17,000 short of the number required. However, Karen England, of “Privacy for All Students,” is contesting the signature count, saying, “We are preparing for the next stage of the battle. After months of waiting, we now get to see why so many signatures were thrown out. Certainly some signers were not registered to vote or had moved without changing their address. But it is also certain that many of those signatures were rejected based on reasons that will not survive a legal challenge.” President of the Pacific Justice Institute Brad Dacus, said, “We have been playing by their rules. Now it’s our turn to go in and make sure they have properly treated signatures as they should be.” Dacus stated that the organization is willing to go to court.
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Virginia could see an advisory question on bipartisan redistricting in 2014 and an amendment in 2016: State Rep. John Miller (D-1) submitted a bill to place an advisory question on the ballot. The Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Question would ask voters whether they approve of a bipartisan redistricting commission, which would propose redistricting plans for state legislative and congressional districts. The Virginia Senate approved the measure on February 5, 2014. The bill is currently passing through committees in the Virginia House. The Roanoke Times and The Virginian-Pilot have endorsed the potential ballot question. Virginia 2021, an organization dedicated to establishing an independent redistricting commission, is encouraging the legislature to put a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016 or 2018. The Independent Redistricting Commission Amendment would establish a nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission to draw state legislative and congressional boundaries following the 2020 U.S. Census. Since Virginia has no initiative and referendum process, Virginia 2021 is seeking to educate voters about redistricting and lobbying lawmakers.
Georgia Senate passes amendment to cap income tax rate: The Income Tax Rate Cap Amendment passed in the Georgia Senate by a 79.25% majority on February 24, 2014. The measure now heads to the House of Representatives for approval. If a two-thirds vote is obtained in the House, then the amendment will appear on the general election ballot in November. The measure would prohibit the state government from increasing the income tax rate above the current maximum rate of 6.0%. Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer (R-48), who sponsored the bill, argued, “It’s make it clear that our income tax rate is not going up. It helps increase our competitiveness by pointing out to businesses making expansion decisions that while other states could increase their rates tomorrow our rates are constitutionally capped.” Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson (D-41) claims that the amendment is a campaign tool for Republicans, saying, “Know that as legislators and as government we need to have different tools and different options available and voting for that restricts it. The only reason we’re doing it is so that we will have a campaign tool during the election.”
Legislator introduces an initiative, referendum and recall amendment in West Virginia: The Initiative, Referendum and Recall Amendment has been introduced into the West Virginia Legislature by Sen. David Sypolt (R-14) and is co-sponsored by Sen. Donna Boley (R-3). The initiative would, as the title implies, grant voters the right to initiative, referendum and recall. According to the West Virginia Constitution, a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature is required to refer an amendment to the ballot. The amendment is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will later be in the Finance Committee before coming up for a vote in the Senate.
Maryland Republicans want legislative term limits: Sixteen Republican state delegates co-sponsored a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment in the Maryland House. The Legislative Term Limits Amendment would impose a three term maximum limitation on all state legislators. In Maryland, a 60% majority vote in both chambers of the legislature is required to refer an amendment to the ballot. The sixteen legislators will need to convince 56 other state delegates in order to achieve the necessary supermajority in the House.
The first fracking ban ballot measure in Texas featured in the city of Denton:
So far in 2014, the hot-button issue of fracking has motivated activists to initiate fracking ban measures in two Ohio cities, as well as in Johnson County, Illinois, and Denton, Texas. Although there was a streak of such measures across Colorado in 2013, this is the first year that Texas or Illinois voters will see proposed bans on local ballots.
Denton is home to 121,000 residents and features more than 270 natural gas wells. If the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (Denton DAG), which announced its initiative effort on February 18, 2014, can gather the requisite 596 valid signatures by its August 17, 2014, deadline, a ballot question will go before voters by November 4, 2014, at the latest, potentially making Denton the first major city in Texas to prohibit fracking.
The efforts of Denton DAG have been fueled in part by complaints about oil and gas companies drilling and operating wells as close as 250 feet from Denton residential areas. Reports from residents living along Vintage Boulevard, Bonnie Brae Street and in Southridge have indicated multiple violations of the city’s restrictions, which include a minimum 1,200 feet buffer between gas wells and homes, schools, parks and hospitals. The city of Denton itself has gone to court against a Dallas-based driller called EagleRidge Energy over violations of city regulations. 
Under the measure proposed by the Denton DAG, none of the 270 wells in the city would be allowed to use the method of extracting natural gas and oil known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which large amounts of water and sand, mixed with certain chemicals, are pumped into oil wells to break rock and allow natural gas and oil to be released. They would, however, be allowed to continue operation without fracking, as long as they followed city restrictions.
As the election approaches, the first local Illinois fracking ban ballot proposal meets with opposition from industry and county commissioners:
The March 18, 2014, election featuring a ballot initiative against fracking in Johnson County, Illinois, is only three short weeks away. This initiative effort was started by a local group, supported by Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking Our Environment, and, as of February 19, 2014, is being opposed by a coalition of residents, businesses and organizations called Citizens Opposed to Johnson County Fracking Proposition. This group – which includes Mitch Garrett, president of an engineering consultation firm called Shawnee Professional Services, and County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw – has become active in the weeks before the election, attempting to persuade county electors to vote against the fracking ban proposal.
Garrent claimed that the proposition, if approved, would put his company out of business. Ernie Henshaw, a county commissioner, said, “I don’t think we have the legal authority to override the state of Illinois. I think we’re going to end up in a lawsuit. They may get an injunction while this lawsuit is going on, but I think we’re in an undefendable position.”