Proposed Laws To Turn On Popular Vote


Arnold Schwarzenegger victorious in California. Cockfighting outlawed in Oklahoma. And Massachusetts with no income tax.

That's the changed world voters could wake up to November 6, a day after heading to the polls to decide the fate of a bevy of proposed laws, commonly known as ballot measures.

The decisions voters make will have far-reaching consequences for nearly every area of state government, from taxes to transportation, from healthcare to horticulture.

So far, 108 ballot measures have been or are likely to be certified for the November 5, 2002 election, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute , a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that tracks ballot measures.

"It's going to be fewer initiatives than normal, give or take 5 or 6," said Dane Waters, president of the Institute.

More may be added in coming months pending court decisions and the gathering of additional signatures.

Many initiatives are backed by issue advocates who like their chances in a popular vote, even if their proposals have proven less than popular with legislators.

"The ballot initiative is a good venue for people whose issues have been orphaned by the political process," said Dave Fratello, political director for the Campaign for New Drug Policies , a California-based organization that advocates for the easing of drug laws.

Fratello's group, backed in part by the famous financier George Soros, is campaigning to change the drug laws in Michigan, Ohio and Washington, D.C. to provide for treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders.

The groups' proposed laws are modeled on a ballot measure approved by California voters in 2000 that mandates drug treatment instead of jail time for possession or use of drugs.

Like in 2000, California's ballot will feature more high-profile proposals this year. One proposal that figures to attract a lot of attention comes from one of Hollywood's biggest, literally, stars.

Arnold Schwarzenegger , star of such movies as The Terminator and True Lies, is sponsoring a proposal that would make state grants available to every public elementary and junior high school in California that wants to create an after-school program.

"This is an education issue, a crime issue and a working family issue. Every child who wants and needs one should have a safe, educationally enriching and fun place to go after school," Schwarzenegger said in announcing the initiative.

The initiative campaign marks Schwarzenegger's reentry into the California political arena, which he left last year after considering, and then rejecting, a run for the governor's office.

Massachusetts voters will face at least two controversial ballot questions.

The first would require school districts to place students in intensive one-year English ''immersion'' classes before moving them to regular classrooms. California and Arizona voters passed similar measures in 1998 and 2000, respectively.

A second ballot measure would end the state's income tax.

Two years ago, Massachusetts voters approved a reduction in the state's income tax from 5.6 percent to 5 percent of income. At present, lawmakers are considering stalling the rate reduction at 5.3 percent to shore-up the state budget.

But should voters pass The Small Government Act to End the Income Tax , it would blow a hole in state finances that would make the current deficit look like a pinprick by comparison.

Other proposed measures include a ban on smoking in restaurants and enclosed workplaces in Florida, a repeal of Idaho lawmakers' repeal of term limits, a cockfighting ban in Oklahoma, a gay marriage ban in Nevada and a cigarette tax increase in Missouri.

To gauge public sentiment for Missouri's cigarette tax proposal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently surveyed local residents.

"It's very unfair. Alcohol is a more severe drug," said Randy Lampe, a cook. "They should tax it more. More people die from alcohol-related problems. It will cost $5 for a pack of smokes. If you smoke a pack a day, the 40-cent increase for a week could buy a tank of gas or dinner."

But on the other side of the ledger are those who think the increase is a good thing.

"I think it's an excellent deterrent to smoking," said Faye Tackett, a massage therapist. "If they don't quit for health reasons, maybe they will for financial reasons. You have to take a loan out for a carton of cigarettes now."

Come November, Lampe and Tackett and more than a million other Missourians will settle this debate the American way - in the voting booth.


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