Massachusetts voters have less than a week to decide the fate of three ballot measures regulating health care, political spending and transgender rights. If you’re struggling to make sense of the initiatives up for debate this November, we’re here to help. Here are The Daily Free Press’s endorsements on Questions 1, 2 and 3.
Vote No on Question 1: Patient-to-Nurse Limits
Patients who have been subjected to long wait times at hospitals while nurses juggle multiple patients may find themselves wishing for a nurse whose sole job it is to attend to their needs. Question 1 on the ballot this November could bring that wish to reality. But the proposal will not, as proponents say, improve quality of care.
Question 1 is an initiative to regulate the number of patients assigned to hospital nurses. Nurses with medical and surgical patients would be limited to four patients. In psychiatric hospitals and emergency rooms, the limit would be five patients and one to five patients, respectively.
The question was written by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, a labor union that advocates for nurse staffing laws — something that may convince voters that the initiative is in the best interest of nurses, who are overworked and struggle to balance a large number of patients.
But hospitals simply don’t have enough nurses to accommodate this law. The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission found that hospitals would have to hire up to 3,101 full-time nurses to meet the requirements, the costs of which — including any other costs in order to comply — could amount to $949 million a year.
These costs are so high that it’s unlikely hospitals will be able to meet them. Instead, patients who would ordinarily be treated at hospitals by nurses dealing with multiple cases at once will be turned away altogether or left sitting in the waiting room.
Boston’s struggling community hospitals — Holyoke Medical Center, Brockton Hospital and many more that are already underpaid for the services they provide — may have to shut their doors entirely, leaving some locals without accessible health care. That’s not a worthwhile trade-off, and it’s to the detriment of safety for people who might have nowhere else to go.
Furthermore, hospitals may have to cut essential services, like mental health care, if the proposal passes. If these services are not cut, the costs may have to be covered by patients through higher insurance premiums — patients themselves will be responsible for maintaining a quality of service that this proposal is supposed to increase.
It’s true that hospitals need to change the way they operate to recognize that nurses can perform better under less taxing circumstances. Nurse unions and hospitals need to bargain for a way to reduce the excessive burden on nurses without reducing patient care. But they need to do this on their own terms at a pace that’s financially feasible, and this measure is not that way.
Vote Yes on Question 2: Commission on Limiting Election Spending and Corporate Rights
Question 2 is the least contended and perhaps least thought-about initiative on the ballot this November, but it comes during an election where the influence of money in politics is sorely apparent.
The initiative calls to begin the process of overturning the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, which protects political spending as a form of free speech. Question 2 would establish a citizens commission advancing a Constitutional amendment regulating corporate rights, beginning a long-term push to limit the way big money influences candidate elections.
Under Citizens United, the government cannot keep corporations and unions from spending excessive amounts of money to run persuasive ads — turning politics into a game of who can rally the most financial support from big donors rather than who genuinely has the most public support.
It’s high time that political spending is no longer considered a freedom of speech. Allowing corporations and unions with billions of dollars to spend as much as they want limits the political process, drowns out the voices of everyday Americans and is to the detriment of democracy.
Last January, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Jay Gonzalez, Setti Warren and Robert K. Massie had a combined $173,000 in campaign funds, while Governor Charlie Baker’s campaign is currently backed by millions of dollars from super PACs.
Regardless of who you’re voting for, there’s no denying that level of financial advantage is nearly unchallengeable. It’s why incumbent governors almost always win, preventing a turnover of voices.
When Citizens United passed, corporations were given the ability to act as people and influence politicians in ways that weren’t possible beforehand. Voting “yes” on Question 2 is voting for the everyday person to get their voices back politically.
Vote Yes on Question 3: Transgender Anti-Discrimination
Massachusetts voters have the opportunity to show up yet again in support of transgender rights, defeating a first-of-its kind effort to repeal the state’s transgender rights law and showing other states that laws based on discrimination will not fly.
The state was ahead of its time when it enacted a law in 2016 dictating that people could use public bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their gender identity. Now, a referendum on the 2016 law is back on the ballot, deciding whether or not these protections will be repealed. Voting “yes” on Question 3 will protect transgender rights and not repeal the 2016 law.
This is a battle that has never been more relevant. The Trump administration is considering removing protections for transgender people under Title IX, the federal civil rights law banning gender discrimination in education programs or activities receiving federal funding.
If this passes, the department could decide how schools document gender, impacting which bathrooms students are allowed to use and which dorms students are allowed to live in. It’s never been more necessary for individual states to uphold these protections.
Keep MA Safe, an organization encouraging people to vote “no” on 3, released a campaign ad last week showing a man hiding in a bathroom stall while a teenage girl undresses — revealing, beyond a deep prejudice, a deep misunderstanding of why transgender people are fighting for the right to choose their bathroom. They’re not fighting for the chance to assault others. They’re fighting to protect themselves from assault.
A survey of 27,715 respondents by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that nearly 60 percent of transgender Americans have avoided using public restrooms due to wanting to avoid problems, such as harassment or assault.
Repealing the existing law would only make everyday life more dangerous for people who already face more than their fair share of discrimination. If our state doesn’t stand by minority groups, it reflects poorly on all of us.