The Maine Legislature started a quiet push Tuesday to put a constitutional amendment on the 2017 ballot that could rein in the state’s increasingly used — and some say abused — citizen initiative process.
It always promised to be one of the big issues facing lawmakers after an election last year in which Maine voters passed four ballot measures: marijuana legalization, a surtax on income over $200,000 to fund education, a minimum wage increase and a ranked-choice voting system.
The November ballot will have two more questions that would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and hand a York County casino to a controversial developer.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives and Senate passed a joint order that would allow the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee to formulate a proposed constitutional amendment on Maine’s referendum process.
Amendments require a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers and ratification by Maine voters. Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the committee’s co-chairman, said lawmakers’ aim is to get an amendment on the ballot in 2017.
The centerpiece of such a package could be a proposal to require groups trying to qualify for the ballot to get a number of signatures equaling 10 percent of voters in the past gubernatorial election in both of Maine’s congressional districts — rather than statewide under current law.
The idea was floated two years ago by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which helped turn back 2015 and 2016 referendums that would have banned methods of bear hunting and instituted universal gun background checks, respectively. However, it fell just four votes short of going to voters in 2016 because of opposition from Democrats in the House.
David Trahan, the alliance’s executive director, said Wednesday he thought Democrats opposed the bill then because they didn’t want conservative voters coming out in droves in a presidential election. But he sees a better chance for passage this time.
“I think there’s not as much angst in putting that on the ballot in a non-election year,” he said.
Luchini said there’s “bipartisan support around reforms.” His committee is holding Wednesday work sessions on several referendum bills, including eight proposed constitutional amendments. Keep your eyes peeled for a new campaign to change campaigns.