After reviewing 33 initiative petitions to be included on the November 2014 ballot, Mass. Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley certified 28 petitions that residents could have a chance to vote on to become laws in Massachusetts.
“Ballot initiatives allow citizens across the Commonwealth to directly engage in the process of democracy,” Coakley said in a Sept. 4 press release. “Our decisions do not reflect any opinion on the merits or values of the petitions, but simply that the constitutional requirements were met.”
Sponsors of the petitions have until Dec. 4 to gather approximately 69,000 signatures of registered voters. If achieved, it is sent to state legislature where elected officials have until the first Wednesday in May 2014 to enact it. If they do not enact it, sponsors must gain another 11,485 signatures by July 2014 to put it on the ballot for the November 2014 election.
Some of the approved initiatives cover topics such as hospital reform, minimum wage, taxes and whale fishing, according to a list of the initiative petitions filed with the Attorney General’s office. The three hospital initiatives each deal with staff and administration. The first, the Patient Safety Act, would put stricter limits on the maximum number of patients nurses can take care of one time in certain departments. The other acts would require more financial transparency from hospital administration and place a limit on operating margins.
David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association and proponent of the initiatives, said all three reflect “a problem-ridden system” in hospitals, but that the safety act is the most important.
“Nurses can have five to eight assignments at one time,” he said. “They will say it’s not safe, that they can’t safely take care of them [the patients]. What they will get back from management is ‘deal with it.’ That has to change for the nurse’s sake and the patient’s sake.”
Other petitions approved would allow for more state independence from federal law, repeal gas tax indexing, repeal a tax on information technology services and restructure what constitutes sick-time off of work, according to the list of initiative petitions.
Several people offered mixed opinions on an initiative that would raise the minimum wage from $8 to $11.
“I can’t even begin to fathom how people live on minimum wage now,” said Burlin Barr, 50, a resident of Amherst. “You can’t even think about having a family.”
Shalimar Crayton, 38, a resident of Dorchester and administrative assistant at Harvard Vanguard and Associates, said she was not as sure about raising the minimum wage.
“I kind of sit in the middle on this,” she said. “I understand the point of minimum wage, but at the same time, those jobs are sometimes for people with no skills, and they somehow have to make a living with that. I can see it from the employer’s view though. The problem is knowing what the right number is.”
Five initiatives did not meet state requirements to get on the ballot. The denial does not mean the initiative is no longer an option, but the process to get approval becomes more difficult.
Nicholas Brokon, 54, a resident of Nahant and iron worker whose petition was struck down, said he is still motivated to get it signed into law. His petition would counter U.S. Supreme Court precedent and say corporations are not people and money is not free speech.
“Once we get the petition forms in our hands, we expect support for this to grow exponentially,” he said. “If this issue weren’t important for people to rise up and petition the government, we wouldn’t be doing it. This definitely isn’t over.”