2012 ballot initiatives: Protect gun rights, gay rights and dogs

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<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

California may be best known for its full platters of ballot measures served up every election season, which have in the past tried to push roomier accommodations for chickens and permission to grow pot.

But this November, voters in states across the country will be asked to weigh in on initiatives on the ballot that range from the high-profile -- approving gay marriage -- to the plain odd, such as the South Dakota initiative that would make it a felony to harm a cat, dog or horse.

Four states -- Maryland, Minnesota, Maine and Washington -- will weigh in on gay marriage in November. Minnesota will ask voters whether the state constitution should be amended to prohibit prohibiting same-sex marriage (though the state already has a law banning it). Maryland and Washington voters will be asked whether they want to repeal laws passed in state legislatures allowing same sex marriage. Maine’s Question 1 would allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


On another front, four states have ballot initiatives preserving their rights to hunt and fish. Hunting advocates in Idaho are trying to add a constitutional amendment allowing residents to hunt and fish, which is opposed by an anti-trapping group. Hunters in Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming are trying to add similar amendments. States including Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee tried to pass similar hunting rights laws in 2010 -- Arizona’s attempt failed. Louisiana gun owners are also trying to add a constitutional amendment to protect their rights to own guns. North Dakota, on the other hand, has an initiative on the ballot making it a class C felony to “maliciously harm a living dog, cat or horse.” Trappers would be excluded from this law.

TIMELINE: Gay marriage initiatives

A few ballot initiatives seem to target immigrants, though none are as controversial as the amendment that didn’t make it on California’s ballot, which would have required law enforcement officers to check suspects’ immigration status. A Montana initiative would require people to provide proof of citizenship before receiving state services, while a Minnesota ballot initiative would require voters to present ID at the polls. The Minnesota legislature has passed similar voter ID laws, both vetoed by the state’s governor, a Democrat.

In New Hampshire, where the giant state House is controlled by a tea party Republican, a measure will appear on the ballot to add a constitutional amendment prohibiting the state from ever levying personal income taxes. New Hampshire doesn’t have personal income taxes, and House Speaker William O’Brien, who co-sponsored the measure to put the amendment on the ballot, says he wants the state to stay that way. The South Dakota legislature also put a constitutional amendment on the ballot -- this one would require that the state’s budget be balanced.

Unions, which have been under concentrated attack across the country since Republicans won state offices in 2010, also show up on ballots. In Michigan, a proposed constitutional amendment would make collective bargaining a right for private and public workers. Another initiative in that state would give collective bargaining rights to home healthcare workers. In Alabama, an initiative would allow for the use of secret ballots in union votes -- a law labor groups oppose but that passed in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah in 2010. The National Labor Relations Board challenged the Arizona law, saying that states shouldn’t be able to regulate union elections, but a federal court upheld the law last month.

Four states also have questions about casinos on the ballot, indicating that the tough economy is making many turn to gambling as they hunt for revenue. Arkansas’ Issue 3 would allow for casinos in the state (it has gambling, but not casinos). Arkansas voters approved a lottery as recently as 2008, and now, casino owners in Las Vegas are salivating over the state’s virgin territory. Ballot questions in Maryland, Oregon and Rhode Island would allow for the construction of new casinos in specific areas.


Finally, a few very divisive subjects have made it onto the ballots. California’s Proposition 34 would end the state’s death penalty, and opponents have waged an aggressive ad war against the idea. In Florida, two controversial measures are on the ballot: one to prohibit public funds for abortions, the other to allow religious institutions to receive public money. Both Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Church have been active in the state around these initiatives.

Still, for every controversial initiatives, there are measures like the sole one on the Kansas ballot, which would alter how the state taxes boats, and the initiative in South Dakota to change how much money is taken each year from the state’s cement plant trust fund.

[For the Record, 8:28 a.m. PST Oct. 9: An earlier version of this post referenced New Hampshire’s state Senate instead of the state House.]

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