While so many of us were, understandably, focused on the results of this week’s election for the White House and Congress, the truth is that more and more important decisions are being made at the state level. The results of ballot initiatives on Tuesday night (and Wednesday morning) are further evidence of this trend. There were some historic wins on Tuesday, bringing us a few steps closer to a more equal and just society, as well as a few steps back.
Amendment 6 in Florida, which would have limited private insurance coverage of abortion care, and prohibited the use of federal funding for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or saving the mother’s life (notably removing the existing exception for the health of the mother) failed by a 55%-45% vote.
Montana passed a dangerous amendment requiring parental notification for abortion care for teens under the age of 16. Parental notification exemplifies yet another barrier and allows medical professionals to deny service while failing to provide alternatives. These limitations are compounded by the scarcity of abortion providers, specifically in states like Montana where more than 90% of counties do not have abortion providers.
Maryland passed the first state-level version of the DREAM Act, enabling undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to attend Maryland public universities with in-state tuition prices.
Voters in Albuquerque, NM approved an initiative that raised the city’s minimum wage to $8.50 and would adjust it according to inflation. In San Jose, CA workers will see a $10 minimum wage. Voters in Long Beach, CA established a living wage of $13 dollars/hour with five paid sick days. While we still urge for a higher federal minimum wage and the ideal of a fair living wage nationwide, these are important steps on the path to our goals.
Proponents of legalizing marijuana ended election night on a high note. Arkansas and Massachusetts passed ballot initiatives to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Colorado and Washington legalized the use and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. The only buzz kill for the evening was Oregon's rejection of a measure to allow cannabis for recreational purposes.
We saw a sweep of initiatives in support of same-sex marriage equality. Maryland, Maine and Washington all legalized marriage equality (the first time a state has ever done so outside of a decision by a Court), and Minnesota voters struck down a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.
Amendment 8 in Florida was defeated. Our clergy mobilized voters across the state to reject this measure, which would have allowed public funds to be used to directly aid religious institutions, thereby significantly limiting existing church-state safeguards.
Criminal Justice & Death Penalty
Californians failed to pass Proposition 34, which would have abolished the state’s death penalty. The proposition was defeated by a 47 %-52% vote.
Nearly 70% of Californians also voted in favor of Proposition 36, which calls for the reform of California’s controversial three-strike policy. The policy currently mandates that any person with two previous felony convictions must be sentenced to 25-to-life terms if they commit a third felony of any type, including robbery or theft.
Three states considered state constitutional amendments that would prevent the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act from taking effect in individual states. Alabama's Amendment 6 and Wyoming's Amendment A both passed and will amend their respective state constitutions to include language to prevent anyone from being forced to participate in the healthcare system. Florida's Amendment 1, which would have added similar language to the state constitution as Alabama and Wyoming, failed. Since the Supreme Court ruled the individual mandate is a tax on individuals who do not have insurance rather than a mandate for everyone to purchase insurance, it is unclear what if any effect this will have on the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Michigan rejected a ballot measure, which would have increased the amount of energy within the state that comes from renewable sources to 25%.
While we don’t all benefit from state-level wins, these successful ballot initiatives create much-needed momentum around issues of national importance and may lead to the introduction of similar bills in the 113th Congress.