What May--or May Not--Be on the Ballot This Year

You may get to vote on as many as nine questions this fall. Unless the Legislature beats you to it. We have five months to think about it.

As of three days ago, we're officially back to work in the House of Representatives. Although, thanks to a change just a couple years ago, everything doesn't have to start from the very beginning. Previously, any legislation introduced, but not acted on, died every December 31.

Now, the legislation continues for the entire two year session.

What's on tap for 2000?

Well, some major things are obvious--like the budget. Which we on the Ways and Means Committee are already working on. And I'm one of three representatives and three senators on a conference committee tackling House and Senate differences in the HMO reform legislation.

Several hundred other bills have been tabled, sent to committee, or introduced anew--and they'll all have to have hearings and be acted on. The list of pending legislation would fill more than several columns, because they range from the very serious, including teacher retirement, to the unusual, like making "six the official number of the Commonwealth.

But one of the most interesting aspects of legislation is the matter of ballot initiatives--the things citizens want that the legislature doesn't get around to.

All you have to do--and I used the word "all" perhaps ill-advisedly--is garner 51,000 signatures from registered voters across the state who agree that your idea deserves a place on the ballot.

Last year, the courts ruled than any extra marks on the petitions would disqualify the entire page--so supporters now have to gather two or three times as many signatures as needed to be sure they have the full complement.

Governor Paul Cellucci and the Citizens for Limited Taxation, for example, gathered more than 150,000 signatures on rolling the state income tax back to five percent. And no one has challenged their right to be on the ballot this fall.

Because, challenges--to the legality or to the number of signatures--are allowed.

This month, all nine of the possible ballot questions will be sent to the Legislature. And, between now and the end of May, we have the opportunity to approve them. If we don,t, supporters can collect about 10,000 more signatures for each issue, and take their case to the voters this fall.

Will we approve any? At this point, I wouldn't hazard a guess on many of them.

I seriously doubt that the House will vote to cut the state income tax to five percent, for example, when a recent poll shows that most voters would prefer to spend the money on education or medical care since the economy is booming and a significant tax cut failed in the Legislature in 1999.

Will we vote to ban dog racing? Ban toxic pesticides around schools? Give tax breaks for tolls and excise taxes paid? Expand health care coverage? Increase tax deductions for donations? Make cable networks offer internet services? Change drug forfeiture laws?

As I said, I won't hazard a guess.

All I know is it will be another busy year--and, an election year. Every one of the 200 senators and representatives seats are up for election this year. So, we'll wind up our official business by July 31st.

And then, a year from now, on the first Wednesday of 2001, we'll start all over again.

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