On November 6th, in addition to determining which state and local officials they want to elect to office, Massachusetts voters will also be faced with three ballot questions. Voters could have potentially headed to the polls this fall with as many as eight ballot questions; however, an act of the legislature called the “Grand Bargain” was able to resolve some of the ballot initiatives beforehand.
The Grand Bargain is viewed as a compromise between workers and retailers that will gradually raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts over the next five years until it reaches $15 per hour while phasing out time and half pay on Sundays and holidays. The Grand Bargain also implements a paid family and medical leave program (financed by a new payroll tax) and an annual sales tax holiday weekend.
Massachusetts voters could have also been asked about the so called “Millionaires Tax” which would have imposed a 4% surtax on incomes that exceed one million dollars. The money generated from this tax would have gone to education and transportation initiatives. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that this ballot initiative was unconstitutional because it bundled the unrelated topics of taxing and spending.
With several ballot initiatives already determined, voters still must still decide the outcome of the three remaining ballot questions.
Question 1, which is sponsored by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, would mandate nurse to patient ratios in hospitals, depending on the acuity of the patient. Hospitals who violate the imposed ratio limits would be fined $25,000. Proponents of the legislation say nurses are overburdened and this initiative would improve the safety of patients. Opponents of the legislation such as the American Nursing Association argue that nurse managers are best equipped to make staffing decisions, ER wait times would increase dramatically under this new law, and hospitals could face financial ruin due to the hefty fines and dramatic increase in staff.
Question 2 was created in response to the controversial Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling. If a majority of Massachusetts voters vote “Yes,” on Question 2, the top elected officials in Massachusetts will create a 15 person commission tasked with studying the current campaign finance system and the impact of unlimited corporate political spending. The commission would then offer a constitutional amendment which would challenge the Citizens United ruling.
Question 3 would repeal a 2016 law that banned discrimination of transgender individuals in public facilities. Proponents of repealing the 2016 legislation are led primarily by conservative and religious groups such as Keep Massachusetts Safe who argue that the transgender discrimination law could potentially endanger women and children who could now be sharing facilities with individuals who are biologically male but identify as female. However, opponents of repealing the 2016 legislation, including Speaker DeLeo and Gov. Baker, cite the fact that in the two years that this law has been in effect, there has been no increase in public safety threats and that this legislation is imperative to ensuring the equitable treatment of all Massachusetts citizens.
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