Casino ban bounced, 14 other ballot questions in mix for 2014

By 
Andy Metzger, State House News Service
Sep. 4, 2013

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 4, 2013……Citizen petitions to raise the minimum wage, zero out a new tax on computer services and expand the state’s bottle deposit law were certified by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office to continue on toward the ballot, while a proposal to prohibit casinos and a bid to provide the right to a trial over restraining orders were denied.

“We’re pretty stunned and disappointed with the decision,” said John Ribeiro, a Winthrop resident who had sought to give voters a chance to outlaw casinos three years after Massachusetts enacted a casino gaming law. He told the News Service, “We’re looking at it now and trying to digest it and figure out what our potential next steps might be.”

The state’s highest law enforcement office certified 28 petitions, on 14 topics, and denied five petitions. Generally only a few of the petitions certified by the AG make it all the way to the ballot.

Ribeiro and others whose petitions were tossed on legal grounds by the AG’s office have the right to appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court.

“This issue should have the chance to come before the voters of Massachusetts,” said Ribeiro.

State Solicitor Peter Sacks, in the AG’s office, wrote that the 11 applicants for casino and slots licenses had paid $4.4 million in application fees and $4.2 million in additional charges.

“The applicants do have a reasonable expectation, and indeed an implied contractual right, that the application process itself will play out,” Sacks wrote.

The AG’s office certified proposed pieces of legislation that would require a certain amount of nurse staffing at hospitals, reduce the sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 5 percent, and repeal the indexing of the gas tax to inflation.

“Ballot initiatives allow citizens across the Commonwealth to directly engage in the process of democracy,” Coakley said in a statement. “We have conducted a complete and thorough review of these initiative petitions and found that most meet the requirements posed in the state’s constitution. Our decisions do not reflect any opinion on the merits or values of the petitions, but simply that the constitutional requirements were met.”

Both an initiative to raise the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour and an initiative to ensure earned paid sick time passed the AG’s certification.

“I am thrilled that the Attorney General’s Office has approved our two ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage and provide all workers with earned sick time. Employees who put in a full day of work should earn enough money to support their families, and should be able to care for their health without fear of losing their wages or their job,” Linda Mae Pittsley, a Fall River resident said in a statement.

“The bottom line is that paychecks need to be able to keep up with the prices, and people need to have time to take care of their health, without the risk of being fired. I am proud to say we are one step closer to our mission of raising the minimum wage and ensuring that all workers in Massachusetts have access to earned sick time.”

Petitioners seeking to move their proposals forward would need to file 68,911 signatures locally, turning the papers into the Secretary of State’s office by Dec. 4. The proposals will then be filed as legislation in January, earning them a hearing and a potential route to the law books that avoids a ballot referendum.

To make it onto the ballot, the petitioners will need to gather an additional 11,485 signatures needed by early July.

In 2000, voters approved a ballot measure that would roll back the income tax to 5 percent, but the Legislature halted the scale-down in 2002, and the tax now stands at 5.25 percent.

The Legislature’s move to pass a $500 million tax bill served as a foil for some of the ballot initiatives, which call for decreases in the state’s taxation.

In a denial, Assistant Attorney General Tori Kim found the measures within a proposal to regulate genetically modified food included “highly ambiguous provisions” and penalties that are “confusing and ill-defined.”

Two measures proposed by the Fatherhood Coalition, to allow for trials before issuance of a restraining order and to create the presumption that parents should share custody in disputes, failed certification because initiative petitions cannot propose measures that relate to the power of courts, Sacks wrote.

The AG certified a measure that would penalize hospitals that exceed a 5 percent annual operating margin.

Ribeiro, whose Winthrop home is not far from casino proposals in East Boston and Everett, said he would fight against the specific local proposals, as well.

“You look around the country. There’s not a single town, city or state that’s better off for having casino gambling,” Ribeiro said.

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