A guide to the 2016 Massachusetts ballot questions

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By Molly Callahan

News at Northeastern

This year, besides choosing a pres­i­dent, Mass­a­chu­setts voters will have the chance to weigh in on four statewide ballot ques­tions whose topics range from live­stock to recre­ational marijuana.

We checked in with John Portz, polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties and interim chair of the Depart­ment of Polit­ical Sci­ence, who said it’s impor­tant to vote even if at first it seems the topics may not affect you personally.

These are not really tax­payer issues per se; more often what these laws do is create some kind of policy to deal with an issue,” Portz said. “In gen­eral, these pro­posals would impact quality of life.”

While some munic­i­pal­i­ties might include a number of addi­tional, local ques­tions, every Mass­a­chu­setts voter will encounter four statewide ques­tions on their bal­lots. Here’s a break­down of what those ques­tions mean for voters.

Photo via iStock

Photo via iStock

1. Expanded slot-machine gaming

If passed, this law would allow the state Gaming Com­mis­sion to issue a second slots parlor license in the state. The letter of the pro­posed law is very narrow, however—the parlor would have to be located on prop­erty that is set on at least four acres, within 1,500 feet of a horse racing track, and can not be sep­a­rated from the track by a highway or railway.

A “yes” vote would allow, but not compel, the Gaming Com­mis­sion to license a second slots parlor.

A “no” vote would leave the laws as-is.

It really comes down to a ques­tion of how one feels about gam­bling in gen­eral and whether the state should be sup­portive of that,” Portz said. “That was the debate that cre­ated the orig­inal casino process in Massachusetts.”

Photo via iStock

Photo via iStock

2. Charter school expansion

This ques­tion asks voters whether Mass­a­chu­setts should raise its cap on charter schools in the state. Specif­i­cally, if passed, the law would allow the state to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enroll­ment expan­sions per year. If the state got more than 12 appli­ca­tions in a year, this pro­posed law would give pri­ority to lower-performing school dis­tricts. If approved, the new law would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

Cur­rently, the law only allows for 120 charter schools to open up in the com­mon­wealth. Seventy-eight are cur­rently in operation.

A “yes” vote would allow for up to 12 approvals each year of either new charter schools or expanded enroll­ments in existing charter schools, but not to exceed 1 per­cent of the statewide public school enrollment.

A “no” vote would leave the charter school cap as it stands.

On the plus side, this would create an oppor­tu­nity for more charter schools, which cre­ates more oppor­tu­ni­ties for fam­i­lies in com­mu­ni­ties where they’re not happy with the tra­di­tional public schools,” Portz said. “On the neg­a­tive side, it dimin­ishes local con­trol because charter schools are not beholden to local school committees.”

Pro­po­nents argue that charter schools are helping to close the achieve­ment gap among stu­dents, while oppo­nents con­tend charter schools will siphon away mil­lions of dol­lars from the state’s public schools.

Photo via iStock

Photo via iStock

3. Con­di­tions for farm animals

This ques­tion relates to the treat­ment of farm ani­mals, specif­i­cally breeding pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens. The pro­posed law would pro­hibit any farm owner or oper­ator from know­ingly con­fining those ani­mals in a way that pre­vents them from laying down, standing up, fully extending their limbs, or turning around freely. It would also pro­hibit busi­nesses from selling eggs, veal, or pork from farms that con­fined the ani­mals improperly.

If approved, the law would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

WBUR reports that there’s only one farm in the state whose cur­rent cap­tivity prac­tices would put them in vio­la­tion of the law, if it passes. Oppo­nents are more focused on the second half of the pro­posed law, which they say could increase the price of eggs, veal, and pork.

A “yes” vote would pro­hibit any con­fine­ment of pigs, calves, and hens that pre­vents those ani­mails from laying down, standing up, fully extending their limbs, or turning around freely.

A “no” vote would not impose any new restric­tions on farm ani­mals or their prod­ucts in the state.

Portz said the lead time on this pro­posed law—more than five years, if it’s approved this month—was unusu­ally long. “Pre­sum­ably that is to give farms the time to adjust to the new require­ments,” he said.

As for the poten­tial price hike? “The ques­tion is really how sig­nif­i­cant that would be, and my guess is it would be some­what mar­ginal,” he said.

Photo via iStock

Photo via iStock

4. Legal­iza­tion, reg­u­la­tion, and tax­a­tion of marijuana

Per­haps the most hotly dis­cussed of the ballot ques­tions, Ques­tion 4 asks voters whether Mass­a­chu­setts should legalize recre­ational mar­i­juana. If approved, the law would allow adults over 21 to pos­sess up to one ounce of mar­i­juana out­side their homes; up to 10 ounces inside their homes; grow up to six mar­i­juana plants in their homes for per­sonal use as long as no more than 12 plants are cul­ti­vated on the premises at one time; give up to one ounce of mar­i­juana to someone else who is 21 or older without pay­ment; and make prod­ucts related to mar­i­juana use, storage, cul­ti­va­tion, or processing.

The law would also create a three-person Cannabis Con­trol Com­mis­sion that would be respon­sible for over­sight. Pro­ceeds from the retail sale of mar­i­juana would be sub­ject to the state sales tax and a 3.75 per­cent excise tax. Indi­vidual munic­i­pal­i­ties could also impose a third tax on top of that, up to 2 percent.

Public con­sump­tion of mar­i­juana and dri­ving while high would still be illegal if Ques­tion 4 is approved.

If it passes, the law would take effect on Dec. 15, 2016, and stores could open by early 2018.

Even if it passes, indi­vidual munic­i­pal­i­ties have the oppor­tu­nity to opt out (by ref­er­endum vote) of having mar­i­juana stores, cul­ti­va­tion facil­i­ties, and product man­u­fac­turers in their city or town.

A “yes” vote would legalize the pos­ses­sion, use, transfer, and sale of mar­i­juana and mar­i­juana prod­ucts by and to people 21 and older. It would also pro­vide for the reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion of the com­mer­cial sale of marijuana.

A “no” vote would keep it illegal.

Either vote, how­ever, doesn’t affect the use and dis­tri­b­u­tion of med­ical mar­i­juana, which has already been approved in Massachusetts.

For Portz, the ques­tion is whether the state has the admin­is­tra­tive infra­struc­ture to deal with the changes the law would create, if it’s passed.

Are we ready to imple­ment this, in terms of cre­ating the legal struc­ture to reg­u­late and license providers?” he asked. “Some say there’s no way the state can respond and deal with all the impli­ca­tions this has by Dec. 15. Whether there’s the capa­bility to handle this is a big question.”

Still, he said, “Legal­izing some­thing that can have detri­mental effects is a way for the gov­ern­ment to step in and con­trol its use. Better to legalize it than ban it.”

On the other hand, Portz said, “Why would we want to make more easily avail­able another sub­stance that can put people in neg­a­tive conditions?”

(Published with permission from News at Northeastern)

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