Edited by Brittany Clingen
20 measures for 2013
New Jersey voters will not have the final say on an open space amendment this fall, though they may get a second chance to vote on the measure in 2014. On Monday, July 29, the measure was put to a vote in the Senate, where it fell short of making the ballot by a mere two votes. Though the measure was approved 22-8, it received only a simple majority from the 40-member body. To amend the New Jersey Constitution, a measure must receive a supermajority vote in both houses of the legislature. If this approach fails, the measure may be resurrected during the following legislative session. If the measure is then approved by a simple majority in two consecutive sessions, it can then be placed on the ballot.
The measure sought to allocate $200 million of sales tax revenue per year to funding open space preservation throughout the course of the next three decades. The measure was initially proposed by Sen. Bob Smith (D-17) because the $400 million in bonds to fund open space preservation, which voters approved on the November 3, 2009 ballot, have been spent.
On June 20, 2013, the Senate approved the measure 36-2. However, slightly more than a month later on July 29, the same body approved a condensed version of the bill by a vote of just 22-8. Nine Republicans who supported the measure in June failed to do so the following month. The last-minute collapse of a measure that was previously well-received by both parties left Democrats suspicious that Gov. Chris Christie reached out to Republicans prior to the second vote and encouraged them to vote against the measure. Sen. Bob Smith said Monday, “Over the weekend, the governor’s office called every Republican senator and threatened them with their lives — their political lives — and they’re off the votes.” Democrats began to turn on each other, as well, with some in the Senate casting blame on those in the General Assembly. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) dismissed this, saying, “Any implication that the Assembly is to blame for the Senate’s failure to get 24 votes today is ludicrous. [...] The Senate president and Senate sponsor need to remember the true reason why the bill did not get 24 votes today – the lack of support from Senate Republicans and Gov. Christie.”
The governor’s office has yet to comment on the vote. However, at least one Republican – who first supported and then voted against the measure – came forward saying no one attempted to influence his vote. Sen. Robert Singer (R-30) said he voted against the measure because residents are still having trouble obtaining Hurricane Sandy relief funds, and he believes money should be set aside for them. “We have seen, in the last several weeks, people being denied, saying there’s no money for them. Right now it is a devastating situation,” said Singer.
There is currently no shortage of salacious sex scandals to discuss. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (D) found himself embroiled in one such fiasco after seven women accused him of sexual harassment, including unwanted touching, kissing and making sexually suggestive comments. Filner issued an apology to the women he “offended,” as well as the citizens of San Diego, saying, “As someone who has spent a lifetime fighting for equality for all people, I am embarrassed to admit that I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them.”
Though seven of the nine City Councilmembers have urged Filner to step down, he has refused to do so, saying instead that he will undergo two weeks of extensive therapy. Adding insult to injury, Filner has now asked the city of San Diego to pay the legal fees he will incur while defending himself against a lawsuit filed by a former female employee.
In response to Filner’s refusal to resign, two separate recall efforts have been put in motion. The first is being spearheaded by Michael Pallamary, a republican and longtime foe of Filner’s. In 1991, Pallamary led the city’s first ever successful recall, managing to oust a San Diego Councilwoman who was part of a group of city councilmembers led by Filner. Regarding his effort to recall Filner, Pallamary said, “This guy is such an evil guy. We don’t believe it’s going to be that difficult to get signatures here. [...] People are begging and clamoring, calling me 24 hours a day, saying, ‘Where do we sign?’”
The second recall effort is being lead by Stampp Corbin, an LGBT activist. Some, including Pallamary, have accused Corbin of launching his recall effort for the sole purpose of hindering other recall efforts. It was noted that Corbin was appointed as chairman of the city’s Citizens Equal Opportunity Commission by Filner. Corbin denies such allegations. Additionally, there is some ambiguity over whether the city’s recall law must be changed to bring it into accordance with a court ruling. City Councilman Mark Kersey is leading the effort to change the law so the recall can move forward.
California could see increased health care costs with new ballot proposal: A new initiative that would alter the state’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) was filed with the California attorney general’s office on July 24. Currently, MICRA allows for unlimited economic and punitive damages to be awarded in medical malpractice cases and includes permitting an additional $250,000 for non-economic damages. According to reports, the proposed measure would change the limit on non-economic damages to include increases in inflation since the 1975 law was passed, as well as require annual adjustments based on any future inflation. The law also provides for mandatory random drug and alcohol testing for physicians. Supporters say that the measure will allow families affected by medical malpractice to receive the justice they deserve. Not everyone agrees however, and many say that the initiative is actually an attempt by trial lawyers to increase profits from malpractice cases. One such opponent is Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California. She argues that the measure is being pushed at the wrong time because it could have the effect of driving up provider costs at the same time the state’s health care system is working to comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Nebraska legislators to review state’s ban on same-sex marriage: In wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision throwing out parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Nebraska legislature’s Judiciary Committee will meet on October 4 to discuss the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. That constitutional amendment was passed by 67.5% of voters back in 2000 as Initiative 416. Sen. Brad Ashford (District 20), chairman of the committee, said that the hearing will focus on any restrictions the state has on same-sex couples who marry out of state and then become residents of Nebraska. Ashford also wants the committee to explore the possibilities of proposing a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment that would either overturn the state’s ban or allow for civil-unions.
Albuquerque petitioners qualify an abortion ban for the October ballot:
If a new initiative ordinance, known by proponents as the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance”, is approved by voters, Albuquerque will become the first city to establish a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Although eleven states, most recently Texas, have enforced such bans, this is the first local effort. Activists in the group “Project Defending Life” turned in nearly 27,000 signatures, more than twice the 12,091 required, to qualify their initiative for the October 8, 2013 election ballot.
Petitioners for the measure reported favorable responses from voters while collecting signatures. Marcella Melendez of the Catholic Coalition of New Mexico said that the fact that they were able to gather nearly 27,000 signatures in about a month makes a statement about the amount of voter support for the abortion ban in the city. Tara Shaver, a spokesperson for Project Defending Life, said, “We’re completely blown away by the response of the community.”
Proponents of the initiative argue that after 20 weeks fetuses can feel pain, and thus it is inhumane to abort them. They also argue that it is safer for a pregnant woman to carry a baby to term than to have an abortion after 18 weeks. Shaver said, “The people of Albuquerque have let their voices be heard with this initiative. All across the nation individuals are waking up to the fact that late term abortion is a barbaric act that has no place in a civilized society. It is now time for all of Albuquerque to have their say about late term abortions that are putting women’s lives at risk. Women and their children have the most to gain by this historic effort initiated at the city level.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU), the Southwest Women’s Law Center and a group called ProgressNow New Mexico have all come out against the abortion ban. Alexandra Freedman Smith, staff attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, said, “The extremely personal decision (of) whether to have a safe, legal abortion belongs between a woman and her doctor. This organized effort is all about ignoring the personal circumstances of women and putting the government in the exam room where it doesn’t belong.” The ACLU also denounced the proposal and said that it will undoubtedly be overturned in court even if it is approved by voters.
City Councilor Trudy Jones has sent a letter to the Attorney General, Gary King, to see if the ordinance is compatible with state law. Attorneys of the city of Albuquerque have said that they believe the city charter requires the ordinance be presented to the voters even if it may contradict state law.
Ballot Law Update
Judge rules against petitioners in fight over Missouri Wal-Mart: After the Springfield City Council approved a zoning plan allowing a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market to be constructed on property owned by the Life360 church, opponents of the plan submitted referendum petitions in an attempt to hold a vote on the issue. That referendum was countered by the church’s filing of a lawsuit seeking to block any such vote. Following the recusal of all local judges, Vernon County Judge Gerald McBeth stepped in to preside over the case. On Tuesday, July 23, Judge McBeth issued his decision, a judgement in favor of the plaintiffs. Judge McBeth said that the referendum attempt was in “direct conflict” with the legal procedures outlined in state statutes on zoning and planning. Attorney Jason Umbarger, who represented opponents of the new Wal-Mart, said that there is a strong possibility that an appeal will be filed.
Lawsuit filed against Nebraska’s initiative laws: According to a press release published Tuesday, July 30, Omaha businessman Kent Bernbeck has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of certain restrictions on the petitioning process for initiatives in Nebraska. The lawsuit levels complaints against two separate mandates governing the process. One is a constitutional provision requiring that initiative petition signatures come from at least five percent of registered voters in each of at least 38 counties. The second is a state statute that bans the paying of petition circulators based on the number of names they gather, a practice commonly known as “pay-per-signature.” The lawsuit claims that these restrictions have violated Berbeck’s constitutional rights by preventing him from qualifying initiatives for the state ballot. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska and names Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale and Charlotte TeBrink, clerk for the Village of Denton, as defendants. The full complaint can be found here.
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