With the next general election more than a year away, activists across Massachusetts are already pushing for ballot questions that would allow voters to weigh in on dozens of issues, including whether to eliminate a key provision of the state's 2006 landmark health care law.
A total of 31 initiative petitions were filed with the state Attorney General's Office Wednesday (see the full list here), the deadline for the proposals to be approved by the office. The petitions also include calls for changes to the ways teachers are considered for jobs and a repeal of part of a law aimed at preventing domestic violence.
[sidebar title="A Sample Of Ballot Initiatives:" width="300" align="right"]
- Eliminate a mandate in the state's 2006 health care law requiring all residents to be insured or face tax penalties
- Repeal a provision of domestic violence law that allows people to file restraining orders if they feel their lives are threatened
- Prevent teachers from being assigned to a position based solely on seniority
- Legalize medical marijuana
- Legalize casino gambling
- Legalize doctor assisted suicide
- Allow consumers to return vehicles up to 3 days after purchase
- Give mechanics access to cars' diagnostic information
- Allow food stores to sell wine
- Require voters to show identification to vote
- Prohibit certain fishing gear that poses a threat to sea turtles and whales
-- See the full list of ballot initiatives
Massachusetts Citizens for Life, an anti-abortion group, filed a petition that would end the individual mandate that requires virtually everyone in the state have health insurance or face tax penalties.
"We are really concerned about the health care plans at the federal and state level, and since the one at the federal level is model after the state's model we feel an obligation to point out some of the failings of the plan," said Anne Fox, president of the organization, which is working to repeal both the state and federal health care laws.
Fox said the law was well-intentioned, but believes it has led to higher health care costs and a lower quality of care.
The domestic violence law allows people to file restraining orders if they feel their lives are threatened, but advocates working to repeal that provision of the law say it is flawed and discriminatory.
"It particularly affects fathers. It's so easy to take out a restraining order with just the claim of the word fear," said Joseph Ureneck, chairman of the Fatherhood Coalition, an organization that promotes the importance of fathers.
Ureneck said system is flawed and discriminatory because restraining orders are now too easily obtained even when there is no sign of violence, and false claims force partners, often men, to leave the house and prevents them from seeing their children.
Supporters of the current law say the legal process of getting a restraining order prevents false claims from being filed, and the few that do get through do not merit ending the law.
"Overwhelmingly restraining orders are life-saving tools for victims of domestic violence," said Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., an anti-domestic violence organization.
The quality of teachers and how they are promoted is being taken up by another petition initiative that would prevent teachers from being assigned to a position based solely on seniority.
The petition, filed by Stand for Children, an organization focused on education issues in public schools, would require that administrations consider a teacher's effectiveness, portfolio of work, and other indicators of job performance before considering the teacher's years on the job while ensuring a fair transition process for under-performing teachers.
"Not only will this elevate the profession, they (teachers) are getting targeted support they need," Jason Williams, director of the organization, who hopes the change in law will support similar regulations approved by the state's Education Board in June.
Other filed petition initiatives include efforts to place a deposit on non-carbonated beverages, legalize medical marijuana, and legalize casino gambling. These issues are also being considered by the Legislature.
Advocates of these and the other possible ballot questions still have many obstacles to overcome to make it on next year's ballot. Once the petitions are approved, advocates need to collect signatures from nearly 69,000 registered Massachusetts voters by late November.
This program aired on August 4, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.