Healey approves 21 initiative petitions

Progressives, business likely to clash if questions make ballot

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

TWENTY-ONE INITIATIVE PETITIONS, including proposals to raise the minimum wage and lower the sales tax, are one step closer to appearing before voters after clearing Attorney General Maura Healey’s eligibility review.

Healey on Wednesday released a full list of initiative petitions that met constitutional requirements and were certified to move ahead in the ballot question process.

Seven of the 28 petitions filed, including proposals to end tolling in Massachusetts and require insurance coverage for holistic health care, were not certified because they did not meet requirements, Healey’s office said.

The approved petitions deal with 18 different topics, including clean energy, political spending and paid family and medical leave. Some groups filed multiple proposals on the same subject.

Healey’s decisions are based on the requirements for ballot questions, laid out in the state Constitution, which specify that petitions cannot infringe on constitutional rights, specifically appropriate funds from the state treasury or deal with religion or the appointment of judges. Initiatives also cannot contain unrelated subjects or replicate measures on the ballot in the past two statewide elections.

The decisions likely set the stage for a 2018 ballot showdown between progressive groups that back a higher minimum wage, family and medical leave, and an income tax increase for high earners, and business groups that say they’ve grown frustrated by the cost of doing business in the Bay State.

The 2018 ballot will include races for governor and the seat now held by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, campaigns that will be influenced by ballot questions.

The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, which is behind the $15 minimum wage and paid leave petitions, has already secured a spot on the 2018 ballot for a question asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would impose a surtax on incomes over $1 million.

Four different versions of questions, backed by retailers, to lower the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax were all certified, including two that would establish an annual sales tax holiday.

Two questions limiting political contributions made by people and groups from outside of Massachusetts also made it through the certification process.

The rulings were a mixed bag for the the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which saw one version of its petition mandating minimum nurse staffing levels certified while the other was rejected.

Healey did not certify a proposed constitutional amendment to declare that corporations are not people and that the Legislature can limit political spending and contributions, finding it was inconsistent with constitutional rights.

A second petition to increase the minimum wage — filed by Medford High School student Lauren Brown, who previously said she planned to join the Raise Up coalition’s wage hike efforts — was declined because it was not submitted in the proper form.

Backers of certified petitions have until Dec. 6 to meet their next hurdle, gathering and submitting the signatures of 64,750 registered voters.

The certified petitions include 20 proposed laws and one constitutional amendment, which faces a different process. The amendment, which would allow the exclusion of abortion services from state-funded health care programs, will appear on the 2020 ballot only if – following successfully signature drives – it is approved by at least 50 of the 200 state lawmakers next year and again in the 2019-2020 legislative session.

The initiative petition process in Massachusetts gives voters and advocates an opportunity to advance policies that have failed to garner the attention of lawmakers or failed to gained sufficient traction in the Legislature.

The signature gathering requirement has derailed campaigns over the years, while other questions have been tossed due to legal challenges and still others have used the leverage of the ballot to force the Legislature to act on their proposals.

In 2016, only four of the 35 petitions filed ultimately ended up on the ballot, three of which survived court challenges along the way. Voters approved new laws legalizing adult use of marijuana and restricting the confinement of farm animals, and shot down proposals authorizing a new slots parlor and an expansion of charter schools.

The failure of the charter school ballot question marked a significant loss for Gov. Charlie Baker, who vocally supported the expansion. Teachers unions, public school parents and grassroots groups mobilized against the question, defeating it after a $41 million fight that attracted national attention.

Certification does not guarantee a slot on the ballot, nor does meeting the signature deadlines. Last year, Healey signed off on a question to end the state’s use of Common Core learning standards, but the Supreme Judicial Court later ruled it ineligible.

In 2014, Attorney General Martha Coakley deemed ineligible for the ballot a petition attempting to repeal the state’s casino law, and the high court overturned her ruling. The repeal failed at the ballot.

Other questions Healey certified this year seek to ban the use of aversive therapy for people with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities; restrict euthanasia of homeless animals; prohibit the authorization or licensing of commercial fishing gear known to entangle whales or sea turtles; and raise the annual percentage increase of renewable energy use in Massachusetts.

Meet the Author

Katie Lannan

Reporter, State House News Service
The People Govern Not Money Campaign — which backs a petition to form a citizens commission that would consider a U.S. Constitutional amendment establishing that corporations do not have the same rights as people and that campaign finance can be regulated — cheered their certification. The campaign said it planned to collect over 90,000 signatures by Nov. 22, through an all-volunteer effort.

“This ballot initiative demonstrates the power of the people of Massachusetts to bring big reform even in the face of entrenched monied interests,” MassVote executive director Cheryl Crawford said in a statement released by the ballot campaign.