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ELECTION ’10: State ballot initiatives give voters a say

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of stories previewing issues involving the election.

WASHINGTON (BP)–Voters in 50 states will go to the polls Nov. 2 not only to decide key House, Senate and gubernatorial races, but also to have their say on dozens of ballot initiatives that will impact everything from health care to medicinal marijuana to payday loans.

California will vote on global warming, Arizona and three other states on hunting and fishing, and Rhode Island on changing its official name.

Following are a selection of some of the highest-profile and most interesting initiatives:

GAMBLING — In Maine, voters will decide whether to allow a casino to be built in Oxford, Maine. A “yes” vote on what is known as Question 1 would allow the casino; a “no” vote would prohibit it.

GLOBAL WARMING — In California, a landmark global warming law could be repealed until employment rebounds. Proposition 23 would roll back California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 until state unemployment — currently at 12.3 percent — is 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters. Prop 23 supporters say the global warming law will lead to higher unemployment and energy costs, while opponents say the law is needed to reduce gas emissions.

HEALTH CARE — Voters in three states — Arizona (Proposition 106), Colorado (Amendment 63) and Oklahoma (Question 756) — will consider initiatives that if passed would undercut key provisions of the federal health care law, particularly by preventing individuals from being forced to participate in any health care plan. Critics of the initiatives say the initiatives, even if they pass, cannot override federal law.

HUNTING, FISHING — Arizona (Proposition 109) Arkansas (Issue 1), South Carolina (Amendment 1) and Tennessee (amendment is unnumbered) will decide whether to amend their respective state constitutions to make hunting and fishing a constitutional right.

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION — Californians will consider whether to pass Proposition 19 and make the state the first to legalize the growth, sale and recreational use of marijuana. If Prop 19 passes, individuals will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to grow their own pot. Opponents say passage of Prop 19 will lead to an increase in usage of marijuana — particularly among teens — as well as a spike in drugged drivers. Workplaces would be prohibited from screening for marijuana usage — something that could have a dramatic negative impact on public transportation.

MEDICINAL MARIJUANA — Arizona (Proposition 203) and South Dakota (Initiated Measure 13) citizens will decide whether to legalize medicinal marijuana. It is legal in the District of Columbia and 14 states, including in Oregon, where voters will consider Measure 74, which would allow farmers to grow marijuana and operate dispensaries to sell it. Critics say medicinal marijuana only opens the door for the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. They point to California as an example.

PAYDAY AND TITLE LOANS — In Montana, citizens will decide whether to limit the annual interest rate that payday and title loan businesses can charge. If Initiative 164 passes, the rate would be limited to 36 percent — a rate the businesses say will force them to shut down. The current rate is 400 percent. Supporters say the short-term loan businesses prey on the poor and cause people to go even further in debt. Other states, supporters say, should follow their lead.

PERSONHOOD — For the second straight general election, Colorado voters will consider whether to expand the definition of “persons” to include all pre-born children. If Amendment 62 passes, the state constitution would be amended to define a person as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.” Although a similar initiative lost in 2008, supporters say their chances are better this year with a more conservative electorate.

SMOKING BANS — South Dakota voters will take up Referred Law 12, which if passed would broaden the statewide smoking ban to include restaurants, bars, package liquor stores, casinos and video lottery establishments.

STATE NAME CHANGE — Rhode Island’s official name is the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” If Question 1 passes, it would change simply to “State of Rhode Island.” Supporters say the “plantations” reference is an unwanted reminder of slavery. Opponents say the “plantations” name predated slavery in Rhode Island and that the word “plantations” is simply a reference to settlements in Providence.

RECALL GOVERNOR — Illinois voters, following the embarrassing controversy over former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, will consider changing the state constitution to allow California-style gubernatorial recalls. If the recall amendment passes, a governor could be recalled if 30 legislators — 20 state representatives and 10 state senators — sign on. Half of the 30 would need to be from the governor’s own party. If that happens, voters could begin collecting signatures to place a recall effort on the ballot. Critics say Illinois has set the bar too high to recall a governor.

TAXES — Many states have tax-related initiatives on the ballot, but only a handful are catching nationwide attention. If Question 3 passes in Massachusetts, the sales tax would be cut from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. In Washington state, Initiative 1053 would require a two-thirds majority vote of the state legislature — or the approval of voters — in order to raise taxes. In Virginia, passage of Question 1 would allow the legislature to exempt those age 65 and older from property taxes. Indiana has its own Question 1, which if passed would amend the state constitution to cap property taxes.

VOTER ID — Oklahomans will consider Question 746, which if passed would make Oklahoma the eighth state to pass a law requiring photo identification to vote, according to stats form the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 18 states require identification but don’t require a photo.

VOTING AGE — If Proposal 5 passes in Vermont, 17-year-olds would be able to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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