Stateline Story

Voters Decide Initiatives Ranging From Gambling to Gun Control

Holding to a traditional pattern, voters appear to have rejected just over half the citizen initiatives put to them Nov. 7, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Voters in 42 states faced a total of 204 ballot measures, some written by legislators, but many -- including the most controversial -- spawned by activists and interest groups. Voters defeated 51 percent of the initiatives they considered, but approved about 64 percent of issues overall.

Teachers' unions achieved some of the biggest victories. With the help of expensive ad campaigns and political heavyweights, unions in California and Michigan beat back citizen-sponsored proposals that would have established statewide voucher programs.

California Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and Michigan Republican Gov. John Engler joined educators in opposing the measures. "The answer to improving public schools is staying on the path that we are on," Davis told The Associated Press.

Other Education Measures

Oregon voters gave teachers unions a boost by opting not to link teacher raises to performance.

In Washington, voters considered three major education initiatives. State residents appear to have rejected charter schools, a defeat for Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who bankrolled the issue. But voters approved teacher pay increases and an initiative to pump $1.8 billion into the state's public schools over the next six years.

Arizona voters opted to end bilingual education in the state's public schools. They also approved a measure backed by Republican Gov. Jane Dee Hull that raises the sales tax from $.05 to $.056 per $1.00. The new revenue, estimated at $445 million a year, will go to education.

Colorado schools are slated to get $4.58 billion more over 10 years thanks to a statewide ballot issue approved there.

Marijuana

Although voters in Alaska rejected a broad measure to legalize marijuana, the movement to allow its use as a medicine gained a little more steam Tuesday when voters in Colorado and Nevada endorsed the idea. The states with medicinal marijuana laws now number eight. Since 1996, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Maine and Hawaii have passed similar laws.

California voters approved a measure to send non-violent drug users into treatment rather than jail. The new law could cut the state's prison population by almost 20,000, or about 12 percent.

Gun Shows

Gun control proponents in Colorado and Oregon also scored major victories. Voters in those states agreed to require dealers at gun shows to run background checks on purchasers. The issue had particular resonance in Colorado, where four guns used in the massacre at Columbine High School were all purchased at a gun show -- although a background check would probably not have halted their sale. This year, the Colorado legislature had rejected seven gun-control bills.

Same-Sex Unions

Nebraska and Nevada have joined California and will ban 'same-sex marriages,' even if the unions are recognized in other states. Nevada voters will have to approve the ban a second time in 2002 before it becomes law.

Taxes

Broad tax cuts and spending limits failed in Oregon and Colorado, but passed in Massachusetts and Washington. Massachusetts voters granted themselves the biggest tax cut in history, approving a ballot item that reduces the income tax rate from 5.8 percent to 5 percent by 2003.The annual savings for a family of four with a household income of $75,000 will be $450.

In Washington, perennial initiative-backer, Tim Eyman, won approval for another statewide tax cut. Last year, Eyman's I-695 sharply curtailed tax and fee increases in the state. This year, voters also backed his proposal to roll back all levies imposed immediately before I-695 went into effect. The new law, nicknamed 'Son of I-695,' also caps property tax increases. It is estimated the initiative will cost local governments almost $1 billion over four years.

Oregon voters faced a blizzard of citizen-driven petitions, 26 in all. While the most drastic tax cuts failed, voters appear to have approved Measure 7, which could spawn years of litigation and financial wrangling in the state. Under the proposal, the government must compensate landowners when laws and regulations cause a reduction in property values.

Gambling

While Arkansas rejected a state lottery, South Carolinians -- who just got rid of video poker machines -- agreed to adopt one. Democratic South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges had practically staked his future on a lottery. The revenues are slated to go to education.

Sprawl

In a setback for environmentalists, voters in Colorado and Arizona rejected initiatives that would have set strict growth boundaries -- rings around cities beyond which development would be prohibited. Real estate and construction companies, as well as many local government officials, opposed the measures.

Health

Proponents of physician-assisted suicide were also dealt a blow, as a proposal in Maine appears to have gone down to defeat. Maine has become the fourth state to reject the idea of allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients. Only Oregon voters have approved assisted suicide thus far.

In Massachusetts, a well-financed campaign by HMOs helped defeat a push for universal health insurance. The initiative would have required the legislature to come up with a plan by 2002 to guarantee health care. The HMOs objected to provisions that would have instituted spending controls and banned for-profit health care providers.

Colorado voters rejected a waiting period for women seeking abortions.

Bonds

North Carolina voters approved the largest bond issue ever for that state, a $3.1 billion measure aimed at improving higher education. Ohio voters endorsed a proposal to borrow $400 million to clean up urban industrial sites, called brownfields, and to purchase open space. Gov. Bob Taft had strongly endorsed the measure.

Campaign Finance

Missouri voters rejected a proposal to create a public fund for financing campaigns through an increase in taxes on businesses. This is the first time a public-finance measure has lost at the ballot box.

Other Measures

Following a thumbs-up from voters, New Jersey will join 22 other states in establishing a registry of convicted sex offenders on the Internet.

Utah voters made their state the 26th to declare English its official language. State lawmakers had tried and failed to pass the measure on three previous occasions.

Alabama residents repealed a state ban on marriage between people of different races. The provision has been part of Alabama's constitution for over a century.

Kentucky will now hold legislative sessions every year, instead of every second year. The constitutional amendment passed 52-48 and will create a 30-day legislative session in odd-numbered years.

In Nebraska, voters approved term limits for its non-partisan legislature -- for the fourth time. Previous restrictions were thrown out by the courts.

Tags: Education, Health