Majority rules

While it didn’t start with its passage in 1980, Proposition 2½ opened the eyes of activists to what could be done through the ballot to change the laws in Massachusetts. In the years since, referendum questions have killed one industry (greyhound racing) and spawned another (medical marijuana), as well as changed the tax code and the way campaigns are financed.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Maura Healey certified 20 initiatives to move forward, though some are redundant submissions by backers to ensure at least one of their proposals made it through the process. In addition, Healey gave the green light to two proposals for constitutional amendments that require support from 25 percent of the Legislature in two different sessions before they make it on to the 2018 ballot.

Healey’s certification is just the next step in the process, albeit a significant hurdle cleared. Next up is gathering nearly 65,000 signatures from around the state, then waiting to see if the Legislature is moved to pass any of the questions on its own and, if not, gathering another 10,000-plus signatures to put a question before voters next year.

Few, if any, of the initiatives will get legislative approval, and that’s why there are so many ballot questions these days for voters to ponder. Legislative inertia is frustrating advocates in all realms, leading them to go straight to voters on subjects ranging from increasing solar power and charter school access to eliminating the so-called “vice tax” on tobacco and banning cages for food-producing farm animals.

The supporters often tout the number of signatures they gather as a harbinger of public backing for their cause. A case in point is last year’s referendum to repeal indexing of the gas tax, where proponents filed nearly 100,000 signatures. But tying impressive signature gathering numbers to support for a cause also comes with a catch.

In years past, voters at supermarkets and town landfills who were asked to sign petitions to get a question on the ballot were often inclined to do so because they support the referendum process, if not the question itself. But with supporters now pointing to the sheets of signers as early proof of public backing, some voters may be reluctant to sign ballot petitions for questions they don’t wholeheartedly endorse. That could hurt some of the controversial causes, such as health care pricing, legalization of marijuana, and eliminating Common Core standards in the state’s schools. It’s also making private businesses more reluctant to allow signature gatherers on their property lest they be tied to the cause.

Ten submissions didn’t pass constitutional muster with Healey and were rejected. Opponents of the Supreme Court‘s decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case submitted six proposals for constitutional amendments to limit corporate political contributions and ensure that corporations are not defined as people. Healey rejected all six on the basis that they were “inconsistent with certain constitutional rights.”

Healey also rejected a ballot question mandating that the Legislature be subject to the Open Meeting Law, saying the proposal would not create a law, as required by the statute. But her letter to organizers gave a small jab, if unintentional, to lawmakers as well as an avenue to reintroduce the question.

“Our constitution commits to the state Legislature the power to determine its own internal rules,” Healey wrote. “This reservation of authority may not be abrogated through a law proposed by initiative petition. The Legislature could choose to subject itself to the procedures and requirements of the Open Meeting Law in conducting its business, or a constitutional amendment to achieve this goal could be proposed by initiative petition.”

JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

The Berkshire Eagle trumpets the impact of the Massachusetts Cultural Council on regional arts and cultural organizations.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera comes down hard on a group seeking his recall, calling them “bad employees, bad cops, tax cheats, landowners looking to take advantage of the city.” (CommonWealth)

A retired district court judge hired by Fall River Mayor Sam Sutter as corporation counsel cannot represent the city in court until January because the state’s code of judicial conduct prohibits retired judges from doing court-connected business for six months. (Herald News)

A garbage hauler sues the city of Salem for reneging on a deal to sell a transfer station to the company. (Salem News)

The Boston City Council delays action on a pay raise. (WBUR) Mayor Marty Walsh says he won’t support anything beyond the 13.7 percent raise to $99,500 per year that he proposed. (Boston Globe)

DRUGS

Despite aggressive efforts to address the opiate crisis, the death toll continues to rise in Middlesex County. (The Sun) Gov. Charlie Baker enlists the help of the state’s four medical schools in the fight against opiate abuse. (WBUR)

The mother of a 2-year-old girl who was found dead at an Auburn foster home is found dead herself, presumably from a drug overdose. (Telegram & Gazette)

CASINOS

A Lowell Sun editorial examines the fight for casino gamblers among Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Justice Department sided with Planned Parenthood in a Louisiana court, saying Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s move to drop the health care organization from Medicaid rolls violates federal law that allows patients to choose their provider. (Associated Press)

The thousands of Hillary Clinton emails released under court order by the State Department offer a cringe-worthy window into the suck-up-to-power game that defines Washington, writes the Globe‘s Annie Linskey.

ELECTIONS

Elizabeth Warren seemed to keep the door open to a potential vice presidential run in an interview with the Globe‘s Josh Miller. (Boston Globe) Warren also said that she is open to a ballot question that legalizes recreational marijuana usage. (Associated Press) The interview at Suffolk University, which was webcast on the Globe‘s site, bothered Howie Carr a lot, despite providing the entire basis for a column. (Boston Herald) Miller thanked Carr this morning for the coverage and invited him to come in person to next week’s sit-down with Marty Walsh.

The Republican National Committee asks every GOP presidential candidate to sign a pledge agreeing to not mount a third-party campaign. (Time)

New Bedford City Councilor Naomi Carney says she is prepared for questions in the upcoming campaign about her filing for bankruptcy and says the change in her fortunes made her more responsible and more aware of the city’s finances. (Standard-Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A national advocacy group released a study that finds wages for the lowest-paid workers have declined over the last five years even as the economy has improved. (New York Times)

Biogen beat back an effort by a Texas hedge fund manager to invalidate its patent rights over a lucrative drug to treat multiple sclerosis. (Boston Globe)

State regulators say five Boston bars have illegally engaged in pay-to-play schemes in which they took cash payments from beer distributors to stock their products and exclude those of competitors. (Boston Globe)

The Boston archdiocese has sold a former East Boston church for $3 million, angering former parishioners in the neighborhood. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Salem’s two Catholic schools propose a merger. (Salem News)

A Boston Herald editorial lays into Boston Teachers Union president Richard Stutman over his defense of tenured teachers who remain unassigned to classrooms because no principal wanted to hire them.

Two New Bedford schools have instituted optional dress codes that many parents urged officials to implement. (Standard-Times)

HEALTH CARE

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health are in merger talks. A successful joining of the two would create a formidable competitor to the state’s dominant provider system, Partners HealthCare. (Boston Globe)

In Brockton, a health center and a grocer are teaming up in an innovative partnership that backers hope will be a national model. (CommonWealth)

Business is brisk at the state’s only medical marijuana outlet, in Salem. (Boston Globe)

Two women speak to the Southborough Board of Health about their claims that Wi-Fi carries possible health risks; a local family has sued a private school in the town because, they say, their child suffered from ill effects from Wi-Fi.

TRANSPORTATION

“The T is like a bathtub full of holes,” transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack tells Yvonne Abraham, arguing that the system is a bigger mess than she ever imagined in her years as a transit advocate. (Boston Globe)

The Cape Cod Times suggests that bike paths be viewed as “economic engines.”

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has downgraded Pilgrim power plant‘s safety rating to the bottom of the list of the country’s 99 reactors because of a series of unplanned shutdowns. (Patriot Ledger) More comments via the Cape Cod Times.

The owner of the closed landfill in Fall River has finished capping the massive mountain of trash and says that should end the complaints from neighbors about the odor. (Herald News)

The Walsh administration is trying to block approvals for a natural gas pipeline that would go through a section of West Roxbury. (Boston Herald)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Police officers in Massachusetts used Tasers in the line of duty more than 1,000 times last year, according to a new study. Police in New Bedford and Lawrence were the top users. (Eagle-Tribune)

Shot were fired at a police vehicle in Millis. (Boston Globe)

Fitchburg’s chief of police says bring on the body cameras. (Sentinel & Enterprise)

MEDIA

After nine years of writing his health care blog (currently called Not Running A Hospital), Paul Levy says he is shifting his focus to negotiation theory and practice, leadership training and mentoring, and teaching.

Donald Trump takes on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after the former NBA basketball superstar turned writer publishes a Washington Post op-ed critical of the GOP presidential candidate. (Washington Post)