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Reforming the Ballot Initiative Process: Making Direct Democracy Work

Direct democracy through popular intiatives and referenda began a century ago as a grassroots, progressive reform aimed at circumventing corrupt legislatures and increasing civic involvement.  The long history of this reform indicates that in the whole this experiment in direct popular participation in the legislative process has been successful as an avenue for passing populist policies that maintains the favor of the public over time.  However, throughout this history there have also been attempts, sometimes successful, to manipulate the process and the electorate into passing legislation that would not garner majority support had voters possessed an accurate conception of its content and effect. 

Gay Marriage - In the Courts, On the Ballot

Last week, Connecticut's high court struck down the state's civil union law and ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.  Connecticut joins Massachusetts and California as the only states that recognize gay marriage.  As the New York Times reported, the Connecticut ruling is notable because it found for the first time that a state civil union law, while providing all the legal rights of marriage to gay couples but limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, violated the state's "constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law."

States React to Arizona Court Decision on "Fair Fight Funds" in Publicly Financed Elections

After an Arizona federal district court, relying on a recent US Supreme Court decision, declared a provision of that state’s clean elections law unconstitutional, other states are having to decide how to move forward on clean elections in their states.

Given that this was just one decision by a lower court, the California legislature approved AB 583 on August 30th, one day after the Arizona ruling.  This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Loni Hancock, creates a public financing pilot program for the Secretary of State race in 2014.  For the law to go into effect it must first be approved by voters next year.  On the other hand, New Jersey legislators overreacted to the decision and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. announced that he would not seek to renew clean elections legislation (AB 100) in the upcoming session. 

Making College Affordable for All

The benefits of a post-secondary degree are plentiful.  For example, an employee with a four year college degree earns 60 percent more than a worker with only a high school diploma. Paying for college, however, has become a daunting task and strain for many American students and families.  The cost of higher education across the country is rapidly increasing, at almost double the rate of inflation, outpacing increases in financial aid and many families ability to pay.  The combination of these factors result in too many students being unable to earn or complete their degrees due to financial constraints.

2008 Session Roundups: Arizona

For
Arizona, it was a session marked by papering over a large fiscal
deficit, the approval of a ballot measure to ban gay marriage, and a
number of nasty initiatives that were thankfully vetoed by the
governor.

States Still Leading Feds on Minimum Wage

With food and gas prices rising rapidly, low-wage workers can at least welcome an increase in the federal minium wage to $6.55 per hour scheduled to go into effect on July 24th.  Even better, a number of states will also be increasing their minimum wage rates even higher than the federal rate:

The New Voter Suppression and the Progressive Response

Voter suppression is growing rapidly in America today.  Over half of states now have voter ID requirements more stringent than that required for first time voters in federal elections.  Several states are clamping down on voter registration drives or are considering proof of citizenship requirements.

Focus on Prescription Drug Reform

$287 billion -- that is how much the U.S. spent on pharmaceuticals in 2007, representing a significant driver of health care costs.  While spending on hospital and physician care surpass spending on prescriptions, drugs still account for 14% of all health care expenditures. Combine this with polls that show 70% of Americans believe the drug industry puts profits ahead of people, and it's no wonder that in 2008, at least 540 bills and resolutions are being considered by states across the country to reduce prescription drug prices, ensure the quality of medications covered by public and private health plans, and reduce the undue influence of pharmaceutical industry marketing - which itself tops out at $30 billion each year.