By Bob Katzen

Sponsors of possible ballot questions for the November 2020 election faced their first deadline in the long process to get their proposed law or constitutional amendment on the ballot. Sponsors had until August 7 to submit the proposal and the signatures of 10 citizens.

There were 16 initiative petitions for proposed laws or constitutional amendments filed with Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office, including 13 proposed laws and three proposed constitutional amendments. Healey will decide by September 3 if the proposals pass muster and meet constitutional requirements.

If a proposal for a law is certified by Healey, the next step is for supporters to gather 80,239 certified voter signatures by December 4, 2019. The proposal would then be sent to the Legislature and if not approved by May 3, 2020, proponents must gather another 13,374 signatures by July 1, 2020, in order for the question to appear on the 2020 ballot.

Proposals for laws filed last week include requiring that all gun owners store their weapon in a gun safe and providing that all gun owners be held equally responsible for any and all actions and crimes committed by any person using unsecured weapons obtained from any residence, business or vehicle regardless of owner consent or non-consent; establishing laws to protect the rights of and require humane treatment of people with disabilities; updating the state’s 2013 law ensuring independent repair shops have access to diagnostic information for vehicles; limiting political donations from individuals and political action committees that are outside of Massachusetts; protecting whales; ensuring adequate funding of nursing homes; preventing Massachusetts from becoming a sanctuary state; limiting payouts to state workers when they leave public service; and requiring ranked-choice voting (RCV) to be used in Massachusetts elections. RCV is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference and if a candidate wins a majority of first-place votes, he or she wins the election. If no candidate wins a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and the system continues until a candidate wins a majority.

One of the proposed constitutional amendments declares that corporations are not people and do not have the same rights as individuals and that money is not free speech and may be regulated. That amendment is in response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which allows corporations to donate an unlimited amount of money to Super PACs that are formed to support or oppose candidates. The PAC is not allowed to communicate directly with the candidate or his or her campaign.

The two other proposed constitutional amendments would restore voting rights to people with felony convictions and restrict public funding of abortion.

In the 2018 election, 28 proposals for a law or for a constitutional amendment were submitted, with only three ultimately collecting sufficient signatures to make it to the ballot. A move to repeal the law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations was defeated, leaving the law intact. Also defeated was an attempt to place a limit on how many patients can be assigned to each registered nurse in Massachusetts hospitals.

The only question that was approved was the creation of a citizens’ commission to consider and recommend potential amendments to the U.S. Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as human beings and that corporations’ campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.

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