Letting citizens take the initiative
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 24, 2015


We Massachusetts voters can look forward this fall to there being more proposed legislative petitions on our street corners than there are Republicans running for president!

Twenty initiative petitions were just certified by the attorney general as being in proper form for a ballot question. Some of these were different versions of the same issue filed by groups who wanted to make sure their language was acceptable, so there are actually 17 proposed laws and/or constitutional amendments for us registered voters to sign. As of my deadline, there are still 15 candidates, after Scott Walker just dropped out.

As political activists prepared to go to the streets with their petitions, a woman on talk radio complained that itís such an imposition to be approached by petitioners. I guess sheíd rather not get her property tax, auto excise and income tax breaks, have access to the open meeting law and medical marijuana, see hazardous waste sites identified, and English language required to be taught in the public schools, just to name a few ballot questions I voted for myself since moving to Massachusetts.

In fact, I worked on some of them Ė lots of people have, not just as paid staffers but as volunteers, giving up weekends for two months to give this woman a chance to make laws when legislators refuse to act. Well, maybe itís too much effort for her to vote, also.

I know it takes a few moments for responsible people to actually read the official summary at the top of each petition, so maybe it will help if I give you a heads-up on what you may encounter by telling you which ones I plan to sign and not sign.

This is not the same as saying how Iíll vote. For one thing, the initiative petition process is so difficult that most of the certified petitions wonít make it to the ballot; this is why you usually see only a few there with that yearís candidates. For another, final decisions donít have to be made until we have a chance to hear the pro and con arguments during the election year. Some of us, I included, will sign a petition just because we want to hear more about the subject.

First Iíll mention the petitions for a state constitutional amendment. It takes four years, and some legislative compliance, before we can amend the state constitution, so these wonít be on the ballot until 2018.

One declares that the state constitution may not be construed to require public funding of abortion. Iíve thought for years that the federal government, as well as Massachusetts, doesnít allow taxpayer funding for abortion, but the new discussion about Planned Parenthood makes me wonder if I missed something. Iím ďpro-choice,Ē but canít imagine why anyone wants to force people who are ďpro-lifeĒ to pay for what they see as murder. Iíll sign this one.

Wonít be signing the petition to use a higher income tax rate on incomes in excess of $1 million, mostly because I find it both deceptive and dumb. Deceptive, because the summary says that the extra money will be used for education and transportation, and readers might miss the phrase ďsubject to appropriation,Ē which means it will go wherever the Legislature wants to spend it. One of the rules of the initiative petition process is that you canít use it to appropriate money for any specific expenditure.

Dumb, because if millionaires get fed up with plans to tax them for any number of government projects or more government waste, those now living in Massachusetts might decide to leave for one of the eight states that donít even have an income tax. If they do, our commonwealth wonít even get the money from the present income tax rate for itself.

Moving on to petitions for statutes, i.e. laws, which if roughly 70,000 signatures of registered voters are collected by Thanksgiving, can be on the 2016 ballot.

Here are some I like and will sign:

Ending Common Core education standards. Massachusetts was doing just fine with its own education reform, doesnít need the federal government telling it what to do.

More access to public charter schools. More choice for parents. Arenít we all in favor of choice? Donít we care about better education for lower-income children? Why then wonít the Legislature raise that cap on charters?

It might be nice to have horse racing in Massachusetts again, so Iíll sign ďan act relative to expanded gaming,Ē wait to hear the arguments pro and con.

Yes, I am signing ďan act to prevent cruelty to farm animals.Ē Iím already eating only cage-free chicken eggs, trying to eat less meat, or at least trying to buy only meat from animals that are treated well until their slaughter, odd though that sentence may seem. I hate to think of animals caged and barely able to move for most of their lives.

However, I am cautious about telling animal shelters what to do, so I need to learn a lot more about the petitions on animal shelter record-keeping and euthanasia levels. Our local shelters seem to do the best they can with what they have to deal with: limited resources, and again, inconsiderate, irresponsible, cruel, sick human beings.

Iím also cautious about telling our health care system, energy suppliers and employers what to do, though Iím curious about the fairer scheduling of workers.

I will sign my friend Steve Epsteinís petition to legalize marijuana; though Iím inclined to dislike the idea of getting high/stoned as much as I dislike the idea of getting drunk, it is odd that we allow the latter and not the former. Not sure how Iíll vote though; will ask my son, who runs a family drug and alcohol therapy group.

Though I feel the same way about tobacco, Iíll sign the petition to eliminate double taxation of tobacco products because voters recently voted against double taxation of wine.

I know Iím going to be torn by the Whale Safe Fishing Act. I really want to save the whales. I also want to save the fishermen. So need to hear a debate on this before I sign.

Finally, I trust Secretary of State Bill Galvin, long a friend of the initiative petition process, to have done the best he can to draft a law relative to public records. Iíll sign that one.

Unlike the woman on the radio, I appreciate the effort that goes into direct democracy here. Hope I see the petitions I want to sign when I am out and about in our commonwealth.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a weekly columnist for the Salem News and Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

More of Barbara's Columns

Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665