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Several questions clear another hurdle to next year’s ballot

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston



Associated Press
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

BOSTON — A hike in the state’s minimum wage and a cut in the state sales tax are two of several proposed ballot questions that are one step closer to going before voters next November.

Wednesday was the deadline for supporters to deliver the certified signatures of at least 64,750 registered voters to the secretary of state’s office.

The minimum wage question, proposed by the union-backed group Raise Up Massachusetts, would gradually increase the wage from the current $11 to $15 an hour by 2022. The group is also pushing a second question aimed at guaranteeing paid family leave for all workers in the state.

Barbara Fisher, a Boston resident who makes $11 an hour and a backer of the minimum wage question, said the group is sending “a powerful message to our elected officials. It’s time for them to pass $15 and paid leave, because we’re prepared to take this debate straight to the voters.”

The sales tax question, backed by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, would lower the tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent. The question would also require the state to designate a weekend in August of each year as a sales-tax free weekend for most items.

Another proposal backed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association would require hospitals to adhere to strict nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

The group says the question would increase patient safety by setting a maximum limit on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at any one time. The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, which represents 78 hospitals, opposes the question saying it will drive up costs.

Another proposed question would create a change to the state constitution to permit Massachusetts to exclude abortion services from state-funded health care. Yet another would create a commission to recommend amendments to the U.S. Constitution to establish that “corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as human beings and that campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.”

The Legislature has until the end of June 2018 to act on any of the proposed questions. If they fail to take action, supporters of the ballot question proponents must collect another nearly 11,000 signatures to guarantee their question secures a spot on the November 2018 ballot.

One proposed question that won’t be heading to the ballot would have required presidential candidates to release their tax returns from the prior six years. Supporters failed to turn in the needed signatures.

But the issue may not be dead. There’s a similar bill before state lawmakers that would force candidates for president to turn over a certified copy of their federal income tax returns for the three most recent years to get on the state’s presidential primary ballot.

Both were reactions to Republican President Donald Trump’s refusal to publicly release his tax returns during the 2016 election.

Massachusetts voters will also be asked on next year’s ballot if they want to repeal a 2016 state law barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations.

Opponents of the law, led by the Massachusetts Family Institute, said they were told last year they had submitted enough voter signatures to put the recall effort on the 2018 ballot.

The law allows transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Also heading to the 2018 ballot is a proposed “millionaire tax” that would impose a 4 percent surtax, on top of the state’s regular income tax, on any portion of an individual’s annual income that exceeds $1 million.