by Ted Tripp
Sr. Political Reporter
Shortly you will see petitioners standing on street corners and in front of supermarkets collecting voters’ signatures to put their favorite cause on the statewide ballot in the fall of 2018. If you are a registered voter, please stop and see what the subject of the petition is about and if you agree with it, take the time to offer your signature to support the initiative petition process.
Not every state has the initiative petition process, so in a way we are fortunate to have this direct democracy alternative every two years to overcome a recalcitrant or reluctant or even obstructive legislature. Petitions must abide by a strict set of rules set about in our state constitution and approved by the attorney general. Then supporters must gather approximately 65,000 certified voter signatures within a ten week period from across the state. In reality, petitioners try to collect 100,000 raw signatures since they know a lot will be thrown out by town and city clerks for various reasons (not registered, no such person at address, can’t read signature, etc.).
This year 28 initiative petitions were filed with the attorney general’s office by the early August deadline. Maura Healey’s office has until September 6 to certify that the petitions meet the legal requirements of Amendment Article 48 of the state constitution. Then she forwards them to the secretary of state who will print up the proper signature gathering forms.
This year’s petitions can be roughly divided into three categories. First are those that are beneficial to the taxpayer or voter. Second are those which hurt the average citizen. Third are those which attempt to further some personal cause or political position the petitioner seeks.
In the first category, Steve Tougas (Stougas411@yahoo.com; (617) 347-2010) has a petition to end all tolling in Massachusetts. Good for him; we could all use a break. Jon Hurst (firstname.lastname@example.org; (617) 523-1900) of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts has filed a series of petitions to drop the sales tax from its current 6.25% to either 4.5% or 5% and require a sales-tax-free shopping weekend. If all four submitted versions are approved, we would guess that the Association would put forward only one for signature collection. Dr. Knute Alfredson (email@example.com; (978) 342-7590) has submitted two petitions to require medical providers to publicly post their fees for radiology and other imaging techniques. This would supposedly allow patients to select lower cost providers when in need of such services. And Attorney Thomas Harvey (firstname.lastname@example.org; (617) 710-3616) has filed a petition for a constitutional amendment to stop taxpayer-funded abortions in Massachusetts. This last item is similar to a version of the 1997 federal Hyde Amendment.
In category two, we have a slew of petitions that will take more money out of your wallet. Amber Houghstow (email@example.com; (855) 350-3503) of the Commonwealth Climate Initiative has submitted a series of petitions to have state government force residents to use more solar, renewable and clean energy because of Global Warming. There is a lot of talk about “environmental justice” in these petitions, so beware that economics are not the group’s primary or even secondary concern. Also note, as we have reported previously (August 2016), Massachusetts has the first or second highest electricity rates in the contiguous 48 states and these kinds of radical environmental movements just make your electric bills go even higher.
There are two petitions to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, which, of course, will raise prices at many retail stores and reduce the job opportunities of young people entering the workforce. The first is by Harris Gruman (firstname.lastname@example.org; (617) 316-0443) of the cash-flush Service Employees International Union. The language would raise the wage incrementally until in 2022 it would be $15/hour. Almost all of the signatories of this petition were from major cities. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren signed on to this. The second petition is by Lauren Brown (email@example.com; no phone number given) and would have the $15/hour wage increase begin Jan. 1, 2019.
Debra Fastino (firstname.lastname@example.org; (508) 678-5497) has filed a petition for a paid family and medical leave act forcing all employers to provide 16 weeks of paid leave a year. The petition is very complex and has broad coverage. If such act eventually becomes law, it will be interesting to see what it costs Massachusetts businesses and if it gets abused like similar federal laws.
Carl Tripp (no relation)(email@example.com; (857) 256-0792) wants to force insurers and CommonwealthHealth to cover the healthcare costs of patients who choose to use a Licensed Holistic Practitioner. Such coverage would include the cost of prescribed natural supplements, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and special foods such as organic produce. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.
In the third category, we have Richard Strahan (firstname.lastname@example.org; (617) 817-4402) who wants to save the whales with his Whale Safe Fishing Act. Daniel Farnkoff (email@example.com; (857) 247-5828) wants a law to ban the use of aversive therapy. Pearl Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org; 508-807-0356) wants a law to reduce the use of euthanasia in homeless animals.
In the politically unhappy department, we have Johannes Epke (email@example.com; (415) 717-5049) who wants the state to establish a commission to advocate an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. This is the decision which gave corporations the right to donate money and resources to campaigns. Nick Bokron (firstname.lastname@example.org; (781) 715-7822) wants to achieve the same result but through a different method. He proposes to amend the state constitution by defining that corporations are not people and are thus subject to state regulation. It will be interesting to see if this meets the attorney general’s legal test. Bokron also has another petition to require the public disclosure of the origin of all political expenditures with special rules for foreign contributions. This would supposedly eliminate foreign influence in the political process.
Bokron has two more petitions which would limit the amount of out-of-state money which could be raised or accepted by candidates and ballot committees.
There are several more somewhat complicated petitions, one on land and another on patient safety which sounds like an attempt to have the government force hospitals to hire more nurses and staff.
Finally, although it is not a petition this fall, Harris Gruman’s ((617) 909-4698) 2015 petition to change the Massachusetts Constitution to allow a graduated income tax (the 4% so-called millionaire surtax) is listed because it will also be on the 2018 ballot.
For a full review of all the petitions submitted, visit http://tinyurl.com/yc3mmvun. ♦