The Rio Rancho, New Mexico city council thinks the car you’re driving should be forfeit if you are arrested for drunk driving. Most of us would expect a trial first, and perhaps if you’re driving another person’s car they should get a chance to contend the forfeiture. Fortunately, Todd Hathore is stepping up to defend the idea that we’re innocent until proven guilty. Todd has organized a referendum petition drive to let voters decide this issue. It requires signatures from 10% of the registered voters to call a referendum vote in Rio Rancho, hopefully some additional citizens will stand with Todd and insist on a trial before punishment.
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Initiatives insure people have access and are able to participate in their government. People can participate in many ways, by circulating petitions, by signing petitions, by campaigning, and by voting.
Two charter amendments that will increase participation were passed this week in Los Angeles. These amendments will change local elections from odd years to the even year general election cycle. Most voters are familiar with and prepared to vote every even-year November. Elections often occur on other dates, but they experience much lower turnout. Consolidating election dates results in more citizens participating in their government.
Around the country there are groups organizing to require their cities hold elections at high turnout elections. They are concerned about cost of special elections, hiding tax increase proposals on special elections, and less people participating. These changes can often be proposed using the municipal initiative process.
The Arlington Heights, Illinois city council has twice refused to let voters decide the issue of term limits. Citizen Bill Gnech circulated petitions in 2012 and again in 2014 gathering about 3,000 signatures each time. There was hope that the next council would let citizens vote on the issue, but unfortunately all the candidates oppose letting citizens decide the issue.
It seems only two groups like red light cameras, city councils and the companies that sell and operate red light cameras. It’s easy to see why, set up cameras and start raking in dollars. If they don’t bring in enough money, shorten the yellow lights. What are citizens to do when politicians and their cronies find a new way to farm drivers for revenue? In some municipalities they can do initiative petitions.
Letting citizens vote to shut down red light camera programs is a slam dunk at the pols. In St. Charles County, Missouri voters banned the red light cameras. In Arlington, Texas Faith Bussey and other camera opponents gathered signatures with an all volunteer petition drive.
Unfortunately it’s not always a slam dunk. Politicians are fighting against the voters in St Charles County, suing to try to save this revenue source. In Arlington another citizen is suing to prevent voters from having a say on red light cameras. In Willis, Texas the city council is ignoring a petition by Kelli Cook and other residents calling for a vote on red light cameras.
It seems voters are opting to get rid of red light cameras every chance they get. In many places calling a vote is only possible because citizens have the power to petition and call a vote using the municipal initiative process.
Red Light Cameras Survey
Election manipulation is a problem. It happens when elected government officials manipulate citizens by using their power to trick voters at the ballot box or preventing a ballot question from reaching voters. It happens more often than you would think, bond proposals placed on special low turnout election dates, deceptive ballot language, or undercutting citizens when they attempt to place initiatives on the ballot. Here are the top voter manipulations of 2014.
7. California’s AG shut down an initiative with biased ballot language.
California’s Attorney General used political power to stop a petition drive before it started. Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose proposed a statewide amendment to allow changes to future pensions in California. The AG wrote language naming the most popular state workers (teachers, nurses, peace officers) and suggesting their retirement security would be compromised. Voters never had the chance to decide this issue.
6. Election to increase road taxes scheduled for the worst month for potholes.
Michigan voters were justifiably angry last spring when it became obvious the legislators had neglected one of their core duties, funding road repair. All year the legislature avoided the issue, promising to find a resolution after the November election. Late in the session a senate proposal for $1.2 billion in new taxes was pitted against a revenue neutral ($0 new taxes) house proposal. Elected officials then avoided the issue by proposing a constitutional amendment for a $1.7 billion tax increase. They chose to have a special election will be in early May, during Michigan pothole season.
5. Change the law to undermine petition gatherers.
Petitioners in Michigan gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures to change the state minimum wage law. However, as they neared the deadline to submit the signatures politicians passed a lesser minimum wage increase. When the legislators passed their increase they changed the law and negated all the petition signatures that had been gathered. This was not an example of legislators passing a law to compromise. The legislature went out of its way to prevent a vote on increasing the minimum wage, most likely to avoid higher democrat voter turn-out in November.
4. Lie on the ballot.
Phoenix voters voted against something that was never proposed. The issue? The city council wrote ballot language that lied to voters, the section of interest “prohibit City contributions to any other retirement plan, including deferred compensation plans, post-employment benefit plans and the police officer and firefighter retirement system.” The initiative did not affect police or fire employees (the pension programs for police and fire are covered under state law not touchable by city initiative). At the ballot box voters were mislead to believe they were protecting public safety employees but they were instead protecting the city council’s ability to continue promising benefits without paying.
3. Cheat voters through legal loopholes.
After legislators passed a law allowing wolf hunting the HSUS (Human Society of the United States) petitioned to call a vote using the Michigan’s referendum process. Rather than back down, legislators passed another law to allowing wolf hunting, again the HSUS stepped in and gathered signatures using Michigan’s referendum process. Yet a third time the legislature passed yet another law to allow wolf hunting, but this time they included a spending provision to preclude another referendum petition. In November Michigan voted against wolf hunting (twice) but wolf hunting goes forward due to this voter deception.
2. Politicized courts block initiative.
Illinois courts stopped voters from voting on term limits. In 1994 petitioners in Illinois gathered signatures to place term limits on the ballot. Courts at that time decided the proposed law was only structural and must be structural and procedural due to this clause in the state constitution “Amendments shall be limited to structural and procedural subjects contained in Article IV.” This year an amendment was proposed that included structural and procedural changes. The courts this year changed their justification and simply shot down the measure as “unconstitutional.”
1. Trojan Horse, hide something people don’t want in something they like.
Arkansas legislators tricked voters on term limits and pay increase. Arkansas legislators are allowed to put three legislative referrals on the ballot every 2 years. Historically this has worked to limit legislative attempts to push through too many constitutional changes each election cycle. However, in a move to trick voters in to passing an unpopular term limit extension and avoid asking voters for a pay increase politicians rolled thirteen amendments to the state constitution into one ballot question. This twenty-two page proposal labeled “ethics reform” gave lip service to popular issues like banning gifts from lobbyists, stopping legislators becoming lobbyists, and a commission to set pay for elected officials. The last phrase of a long ballot title (written by the politicians) “establishing term limits for members of the General Assembly” was obviously intended to deceive voters. Arkansas had 6 and 8 year term limits, this amendment more than doubled those limits to 16 years. Pay raises will now be approved by a commission appointed by the people getting the raises. Voters were duped and approved this measure 52%-48%.
Police body cameras can definitely be a force for good, but not Excalibur.
Now a New York City grand jury has decided not to indict a white policeman caught on film by a bystander putting an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner, who died. Some suggest this shows that police body cameras won’t work.
Two thoughts: (1) It matters that police officers know their actions and conversations are being recorded. Studies show that both the police and the people they come in contact with behave better when police wear cameras. In the NYC case, police didn’t necessarily know they were being filmed.
(2) Cameras won’t guarantee an indictment against an offending police officer, of course, nor should they, even when you and I might think the video evidence warrants it. Nor guarantee a policeman is cleared when we believe that’s the right decision. But it is irrefutable that the additional evidence gathered by a video and audio recording can be invaluable in any case. Regardless of whether or not a court or grand jury decision is correct.
Months of unrest, including the riots and looting in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision earlier this week not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, might have been avoided.
How, you ask? The use of personal police cameras is growing. These cameras are worn on the officer’s uniform and record what goes on during their shifts. Having a video record of what is said and done by officers and by others who interact with the officers can make a world of difference in determining fault in a violent incident, and also on a daily basis, even when there is no such incident.
In Rialto, California, near Los Angeles, these body cameras have been used by 70 of its uniformed officers and a study conducted after their introduction showed public complaints filed against officers plunged an incredible 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Moreover, officers’ use of force fell by a whopping 60 percent.
The use of these cameras can only serve to help police do their job more effectively. The video recording can be a strong factor in keeping the police from abusing their powers and in protecting those same law enforcement officials when they must defend themselves. Had Ferguson, Missouri, Officer Darren Wilson been wearing such a lapel camera, the events of that fateful day in August might have turned out differently. But almost certainly the events since that fateful August day, which have split the community and to an extent the entire country, would have been far different.
Knowledge is power. The truth shall set us free.
Townhall: Justice Vision by Paul Jacob
CNN: Protesters torch police car in another tense night in Ferguson
The Guardian: California police body cameras cut violence, complaints
The Washington, D.C. City Council voted unanimously to advance legislation making significant reforms to the use of civil asset forfeiture by the city’s police force. A second and final vote will take place on December 2.
Throughout the United States, the rules of civil asset forfeiture allow police officers to seize personal property such as cash, cars and even houses without charging the owners of that property with any crime. Police are also allowed to keep the proceeds in most jurisdictions around the country and a large part of the proceeds when they work through the federal “equitable sharing” program.
The legislation in Washington, D.C., will end the requirement that citizens have to post cash bonds to challenge such seizures, provides greater transparency about what is taken by police and how citizens can challenge those takings, would put all proceeds into the city’s general fund and not allow police to keep the funds they seize, and it will also end the city’s involvement in the federal program that shares the proceeds from civil asset forfeiture with local police departments.
Still, many rightly complain that the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. For instance, it would allow asset seizures until 2018 through the federal “equitable sharing” program, justified because $670,000 per year has already been budgeted for the police operations from those proceeds.
Liberty Initiative Fund has launched a “Stop Stealing” campaign, working with local and state-level activists to put reform measures on the ballot, which will bring an end to the abuse of civil asset forfeiture.
Washington Post: DC Council votes to overhaul asset forfeiture
After the Massachusetts Legislature raised the state’s gasoline tax and then passed a law making future tax hikes automatic, tied to cost of living increases, citizens mobilized to gather enough petition signatures to put the issue of the automatic tax increases to a voter referendum on this November’s ballot. The referendum is known as Question 1.
Unless Question 1 passes, whenever the cost of living goes up, the cost of driving your car will go up as well. At a protest against the automatic tax increases, Richard Sourcinelli expressed a popular sentiment, “Let’s raise taxes, they never have an alternative, it’s always let’s just raise taxes.”
Voters should have a say in how and when the gas tax is raised, if at all. Question 1 would eliminate the automatic hikes, requiring a vote in the legislature to increase the tax.
But winning a Yes vote for repealing the gas tax law won’t be easy. CommonWealth Magazine reports that, “The Vote No campaign has raised nearly $1.7 million, far more than the $91,000 raised by the Vote Yes group.”
Why the disparity? The gas taxes collected are slated to go toward road construction and maintenance in the Bay State. And – surprise, surprise – the biggest opponents of Question 1 are construction companies doing business with the state.
“The big supporters of gas tax indexing are the Construction Industries of Massachusetts Advancement Fund of Framingham ($200,000), Suffolk Construction ($100,000), the Utility Contractors Association of New England ($100,000), the Massachusetts Aggregate and Asphalt Pavement Association ($100,000), and Hostetter ($90,000),” the magazine reports.
“The biggest donor to the Vote Yes campaign is the Liberty Initiative Fund of Woodbridge, Virginia,” according to the magazine, noting that LIF is “a group whose stated goal is to hold government accountable, fight crony capitalism, and protect individual liberties.”
WWLP-Channel 22: Locals protest Massachusetts automatic gas tax
Gas taxes automatically increase every year
CommonWealth Magazine:Breaking down big donors to ballot campaigns