Questions about ballot questions

With primaries out of the way and the November elections bearing down on voters, the push for two of the three referendums on the ballot is beginning to heat up.

The onslaught of dueling data is just beginning to hit stride as both sides will tout studies and grab onto fungible facts that boost their position or, preferably, cut the legs out of their opponents.

Question 1, which would put a cap on nurse-patient ratios in hospitals, has been getting the most air time in commercials so far, with nurses saying the mandate would improve patient safety by ensuring adequate care while nurses say an inflexible cap would impair hospital operations and not allow for putting resources where they are needed.

If that’s confusing, that’s the intent. The “No” group is backed by the state’s hospitals and they’ve used nurses as the spokesmen and women for their message. Deceptive? Perhaps, but a very wise and effective move.

“The nurses speak very rationally, they speak with compassion, they speak in professional settings,” Boston University communications professor and political consultant Tobe Berkovitz told the Boston Globe. “What the ‘No’ people have done is started framing the question as one where the nurses are the experts, and the nurses say no.”

But what’s misleading is the question was backed and placed on the ballot by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the labor union representing many of the state’s nurses. They say the hospitals are purposely absconding the message to confuse voters and the union has launched its own commercials.

“There’s a disingenuous quality, because we know the hospital executives are behind it,” union spokeswoman Kate Norton told the Globe. “This is [backed by] hospital executives, and this is about money to them.”

But it’s not just the commercials that are obfuscating the issue for voters. A study by Boston College professor Judith Shindul-Rothschild claims that passage of the question would not be an undue burden on hospitals. Her study shows that nine hospitals, including Massachusetts General Hospital, already meet the proposed staffing mandate while 37 of the state’s 67 acute care hospitals that she studied would only have to shift 3 percent of their budget from administrative and non-direct care to registered nursing staff to meet the ratio. Her estimate is the ballot question would cost between $35 million to $47 million, as opposed to the $1 billion estimate from the hospital association.

But while the nurses’ association flags the study as proof of their position, it surely will be spun by hospitals to show that they are already close to the staffing levels without statutory interference.

A similar battle of smoke is underway on the referendum to overturn the new state law regarding transgender rights, with the backers of the question focusing on bathroom safety for children. Some say the wording of the ballot question is confusing, in that voters may be unclear what their Yes or No vote means. To be clear, a “yes” vote retains the law while “no” repeals it. (The third question on the ballot would create a citizens commission to study a potential amendment to the US Constitution regarding corporate campaign contributions, overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.)

A study by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles found there has been no increase in bathroom crime in Massachusetts communities that adopted transgender rights bylaws in the two years before of the state law in 2016.

Proponents of the law, naturally, seized on the report as evidence that those seeking to repeal it are reaching for thin air to back their fearmongering. But the “Vote No on 3” campaign questioned the legitimacy of the study, asking why they weren’t notified of it before its release.

“If it’s unbiased, wouldn’t they send it to both campaigns?” Yvette Ollada, a spokeswoman for the campaign, asked.

For the next six weeks, there will be plenty of those questions to ask.

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Attorney General Maura Healey urges the Department of Public Utilities to investigate possible safety violations by replacement workers at National Grid, who are filling in for 1,200 locked out employees. (WBUR)

Republican lawmakers accuse Auditor Suzanne Bump of playing politics with her audit of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. (Salem News)

Bentley University political science professor Rob DeLeo, writing on the MassPoliticsProfs blog, offers an even-keeled take on what last week’s primary election means for the legislative agenda on Beacon Hill. with three House members, losing seats, including two who were part of the leadership team of Speaker Robert DeLeo (who also happens to be his father).

An obscure provision in state policy is allowing hundreds of state employees to have their employment and salary information scrubbed from public databases if they or a family member has ever been a crime victim. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Weymouth officials have filed a home rule petition to allow the widow of a Weymouth police officer shot and killed in July to be paid the pension of a sergeant, which he was promoted to the day after his death. (Patriot Ledger)

Roxbury district City Councilor Kim Janey is advocating a city-funded housing voucher program to help those being driven out of the neighborhood by soaring housing costs. (Boston Herald)

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll dropped a plan to move the family friendly Haunted Happenings carnival to Salem Common after failing to secure enough votes on the City Council. (Salem News)

ELECTIONS

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass Action explains why climate groups abandoned Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and warns that environmental groups won’t suffer fair weather friends or faux leaders. (CommonWealth)

Howie Carr concludes that Gov. Charlie Baker will likely be reelected — but he has a lot of fun in the process pointing out all his vulnerabilities and says he would likely be in trouble against a stronger Democrat like Maura Healey. (Boston Herald) Underscoring the weakness of the Dems’ line-up, says Joe Battenfeld: Nearly a quarter (23.5 percent) of Democratic primary voters blanked the gubernatorial race by voting for neither Jay Gonzalez, the primary winner, nor Bob Massie. (Boston Herald)

If Rachael Rollins wins the November election for district attorney, Boston’s police commissioner, top prosecutor, and sheriff overseeing the county jail will all be African-Americans. (Boston Globe)

Independent candidate for Suffolk DA Michael Maloney says interest in his campaign has increased in the wake of reports in the Herald of Rollins’s view that the office should not, in most cases, prosecute a list of 15 lower-level offenses. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

UMass Boston officials envision a mini version of Kendall Square, with its tech and biotech firms, taking root in the redevelopment of the Bayside Expo Center site that the school owns adjacent to its campus. (Boston Globe)

The chief executive of Nostrum Laboratories defends his decision to quadruple the price of a bladder infection medication. “I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can…to sell the product for the highest price,” he said. (Financial Times) Pharma prices are one of the key drivers of US healthcare spending. (CommonWealth)

State, local, and fishing industry officials want NOAA to move its Northeast Fisheries Science Center from Woods Hole to New Bedford, the nation’s top port for landings. (Standard-Times)

Business at four concessions the Trump Organization operates under agreements with New York City has dropped off since their namesake was elected president, though company officials write off the decline as weather related. (New York Times)

Hopkinton Board of Selectmen rejected a permit for the Greyhound Friends to reopen its kennel, which was closed by the state after allegations of mistreatment of the dogs and financial improprieties by the director of the nonprofit. (MetroWest Daily News)

RELIGION

Pope Francis has summoned the world’s bishops to the Vatican for a summit to address the exploding sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the church and his papacy. (Washington Post) The scandal continues to hit home as a priest from Nigeria who is a chaplain at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston was arraigned on charges that he sexually assaulted a young girl in Randolph a decade ago when he first arrived in the United States. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

There has been a dramatic spike in the number of deaths and health complications for women giving birth. (U.S. News & World Report)

TRANSPORTATION

A Globe editorial decries the Baker administration’s 15-year plan to fix the MBTA, arguing that change can’t wait.

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Massachusetts marijuana growers are threatening to sue the Cannabis Control Commission in an effort to get the agency to monitor the legality of host agreements negotiated by cities and towns. (State House News)

Lynn approves its first marijuana facility — a combo medical-recreational pot store. (Daily Item)

The Department of Interior said the Mashpee Wampanoag land will remain in trust pending appeal of the agency’s decision that the tribe did not legally meet recognition status. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Worcester man pleaded guilty to one count of marriage fraud, but he acknowledged in court that he accepted money for participating in six sham marriages with women seeking green cards. (Telegram & Gazette)

A Plymouth police captain who is the head of the department’s operations has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a court case involving allegations of assault and battery filed by a fellow officer. (Wicked Local)

MEDIA

Gerard Mundy, writing in The American Conservative, said the shrinking news industry is concerning even for those who see bias in the business. Meanwhile, some newspapers and magazines are bucking industry trends and going on hiring sprees. (Digiday)

Dan Kennedy is not overly impressed with the Boston Globe’s new app for reading the paper, giving it a “B” and saying there’s some good and some not-so-good that needs improvement. (Media Nation)