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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Initiative Petition Process Under Attack

Barbara Anderson's CLT Commentary

To: CLT Activists
From: Barbara Anderson

This is the last week of the legislative session. A Constitutional Convention is scheduled for Thursday, July 29 at 1 pm. There is a constitutional amendment on the agenda, Senate Bill 23, that would end the initiative petition process for us forever.

I'll just copy for you here an excerpt from a memo from The Coalition for Marriage and Families:

Amendment Seeks to Dismantle the Initiative Petition Process

The Legislature is scheduled to convene a Joint Session of both the House and Senate in a Constitutional Convention THIS THURSDAY, July 29 at 1PM. While most of the proposed constitutional amendments have received negative reports that are highly unlikely to be overturned, there remains on the calendar a very dangerous amendment that received a favorable report from the Joint Judiciary Committee. This amendment would, for all intents and purposes, shut down the citizen initiative petition process. Currently, Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution does not allow an initiative petition concerning certain specific subjects: religion, the judiciary, petitions affecting only particular districts, or appropriating money from the Treasury.

However, Senate Bill 23, sponsored by Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), and its equivalent, House Bill 3537, sponsored by Reps. Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge) and Byron Rushing (D-Boston), would add the following prohibited subjects: “The rights to freedom and equality; the right of each individual to be protected by society in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, according to standing laws.”

If approved, this broad, undefined language would guarantee that virtually no initiative petition could pass muster, since all laws or public policy proposals have some impact on life, liberty or property.

In the past, attacks on the initiative petition process have been filed with the Election Laws Committee, which we watch closely. Chip Faulkner and other activists from across the political spectrum testify against them and they have received an "unfavorable" report from the Committte, which essentially kills them before they ever get to the floor for a vote.

However, the sponsors of SB 23 have sneakily bypassed the more sensible Election Laws committee and used the Joint Judiciary Committee, which quietly gave the proposed amendment a favorable report last year. And while normally the Legislature would not hold a Constitutional Convention during this busy week, they could meet just long enough to pass this particular amendment.

They would first have to move it to the head of the ConCon calendar, and our legislative allies, led by minority leaders Richard Tisei and Brad Jones, are prepared to fight this effort. Just the threat of resistance may make the legislative leadership decide not to do this now.

As with any constitutional amendment: even if it passed the ConCon this week, it would need another vote in the next two years, then would be on the ballot for the voters to decide in 2012 and we would fight it then. But it's much safer to stop it ASAP.

Please call your legislators, both House and Senate, with a simple "I'm not going to argue with you" message: Leave the initiative petition process alone. You'll find their contact information on the CLT website, scroll down to Other Information, click on Find and contact, you'll be connected to the Sec. of State's legislative search page.

If there is a vote, it will be a roll call, so if they think we are paying attention they may not risk it in this volatile election year. If they do we will post that roll call on our website.

Even if they don't, you should know the sponsors of SB 23, in case you have an opponent for them this year. Here are the leading legislators who want to kill the initiative petition process: Cynthia Stone Creem, Patricia Jehlen, Martha Walz, Elizabeth Malia, Barbara L'Italienne, and Kay Khan.

More sponsors of the House version, H. 3537, can be found here.

To: CLT Activists
From: Barbara Anderson

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Update on Constitutional Conventon tomorrow.
Is illegal immigration the issue?

We have confirmed that the Legislature does plan to hold a constitutional convention on July 29 at 1 pm, and intends to take up Senate Bill 23, the constitutional amendment that doesn't allow any petitions that impact society. It states that "The rights to freedom and equality; the right of each individual to be protected by society in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property...” can't be the subject of any initiative petition.

This would prevent any tax cut or limitation petition. However, a CLT member suggested to me last evening that the momentum behind SB 23 may be the illegal immigration issue. Certainly this language could prevent any initiative petition on that subject.

Senate Bill 23 on the initiative process is number 2 on the ConCon agenda, right after the amendment for an independent redistring commission. So they'd have to act on redistricting before they can vote on SB 23, or vote to move SB 23 ahead of redistricting.

So they could do two bad things in one session: vote to keep gerrymandering, and kill the initiative petition process.

CLT has sent out a news release, and an email to legislators which is copied below.

To: The Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, July 29, 2010
From: Citizens for Limited Taxation
Leave the initiative petition process alone.

I would normally assume that the Massachusetts Legislature, during the last week of the session, in a volatile election year with many angry voters, would not attack the initiative petition process which is beloved across the political arena.

Yet, there it is, Senate Bill 23, a constitutional amendment from Sen. Cynthia Creme and 20 co-sponsors on the Thursday constitutional convention agenda. SB 23 would basically end the initiative petition process by adding this language to the items prohibited by the present initiative process:

“The rights to freedom and equality; the right of each individual to be protected by society in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, according to standing laws.”

This is silly; our constitution already prohibits any initiative attempting to change the Bill of Rights. Sen. Creme and her allies should get over the recent attempted marriage amendment; that issue is clearly settled here in Massachusetts; gay marriage is the law of this land.

This new language threatens all citizens who use the petition process: left to right and in-between. Certainly its broad generalization could be used to argue against tax limits and tax cuts; but it could also stop a petition like CLT's proposed amendment in opposition to the Kelo decision. All citizens should resent the sneaky way Senator Creme and her allies got SB 23 onto the ConCon agenda. SB 23 belongs in the Election Laws Committee; by putting it in Judiciary proponents hoped to sneak it through without opponents finding it. Nice try. Almost worked but the Tea Party caught it!

Well, now that we've noticed, there will be a fight as pro-inititiative legislative allies oppose moving SB 23 to the top of the calendar for that quick vote. Give it up, petition-haters; the people will not easily surrender their defense against the likes of you. But if you must vote on this, we look forward to the required roll call spotting all the enemies of the people's initiative.

Today's ConCon report
Excerpts from the State House News Service

CONVENES: Sen. Rosenberg gaveled the Constitutional Convention to order at 12:59 p.m.

Sen. Rosenberg recognized Sen. Menard, standing in the center of the well.

Sen. Menard moved that the convention be dissolved.

By voice vote, motion adopted.

DISSOLVES: Sen. Rosenberg declared the Constitutional Convention dissolved at 12:59 p.m.

LOL, CLT activists. The stealth attack on the initiative petition process turned into the fastest retreat in constitutional convention history.

I was sure that there wouldn't be a constitutional convention this last week of the legislative session, and CLT and its initiative allies have defeated so many of these initiative process attacks that I wasn't worried about this one -- until a news release from the Coalition for Marriage and Families showed me that there was something wrong here: the bill was coming out of the Judiciary Committee with a "favorable" report, instead of the usual "unfavorable" report from the Election Laws Committee. The enemies of the initiative petition process were crawling through the brush for an ambush!

Thanks again to Christen Varley of the Boston Tea Party, CLT activists Norm Paley, Len Mead and Ted Tripp, and Cape Cod columnist Cynthia Stead, for keeping after me until I realized the potential for causing trouble and embarrassing some incumbents. Also thanks to Carlos at the North Shore Tea Party for helping us sound the alarm. And we are very grateful to the Republican minority leaders. Rich Tisei and Brad Jones, and their teams for preparing to fight in the ConCon if necessary.

BTW, you won't find anything on the website about this until Chip Ford gets back from vacation; I can do updates, news releases and memos to the Legislature myself, but can't do the website. Chip Ford was on his little sailboat in Massachusetts Bay using his laptop and something called WiFi (?) to get the legislator's email addresses off his home computer to mine so I could send the memo. Chip Faulkner was rushing back from an Americans for Tax Reform meeting in Kentucky. I was "home alone"! Remind me next year: NO one at CLT goes on vacation until the Legislature does!

Barbara Anderson

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