Election Day: What’s on the Ballot for Youth and Families (Updated with Results)

Note: This article has been updated with results for each ballot measure.

Today’s much-anticipated elections include 36 gubernatorial races, and House and Senate campaigns that could change the balance of power in Washington. Voters in many states will also weigh in directly on policy ideas in the form of measures, referendum questions and votes on constitutional amendments.

Youth Services Insider pored over the national database of state ballot initiatives to see which ones might have a relatively direct impact on vulnerable children and families. Here is a look at what we found. We’ll follow up this week and update with the results on each of these.

Health

Three states will vote on an expansion of Medicaid: Idaho, Nebraska and Utah. Utah’s initiative would pay for the state’s share by slightly increasing state sales tax. Montana has a ballot initiative that would continue an expanded Medicaid program through increased taxes on tobacco products.

Those four states are hardly a reliable source of support for Democrat-backed policies, including the Affordable Care Act, which included the offer of federal payment for most of Medicaid expansion. Were these initiatives to all pass, it would be quite a statement on the growing acceptance in red states of one of the federal government’s largest entitlement programs.

Outcome: Expansion passed in Idaho, Nebraska, Utah. Montana’s tobacco tax proposal appears to have failed (not official yet), which means its current Medicaid expansion will end if the legislature can’t find another way to pay for it. 

In California, Proposition 4 would authorize $1.5 billion in bonds for construction, expansion and other upgrades at the state’s children’s hospitals (the national Children’s Hospital Association lists 22 members in California).

Outcome: Proposition 4 passed. 

Justice

YSI counts six different states with some iteration of Marsy’s Law, a set of provisions aimed at boosting the legal standing of crime victims, and guaranteeing them more access to legal proceedings and information about parole opportunities and releases from jail or prison.

The states with victim’s rights measures on the ballot are: Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

The original Marsy’s Law was approved by California voters in 2008, and was named for Marsy Nicholas, sister of tech billionaire Henry Nicholas. Marsy, a student at the University of California-Santa Barbara, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. Henry Nicholas has bankrolled efforts to replicate the law through the nonprofit Marsy’s Law for All, which assists the creation of local chapters to push for state action. Illinois and Ohio have adopted legislation similar to California’s.

Some advocates worry that Marsy’s Law measures will jeopardize a distinguishing feature of juvenile justice practice: confidentiality. Anna Elbroch, a juvenile defense attorney in New Hampshire, made that case in an op-ed published by the Concord Monitor:

Marsy’s Law would enshrine specific victims’ rights in the New Hampshire Constitution, including the right to be present and to be heard in all proceedings, drastically increasing what is currently allowed in juvenile courts. The result could be a severe erosion of the confidentiality needed for the juvenile system to function.

Moreover, the right to be present and to be heard at every stage of the process would serve to pressure prosecutors to pursue a more punitive approach, rather than the treatment and rehabilitation approach on which the juvenile justice system is based.

New Hampshire took up Marsy’s Law this year as a bill, not a ballot initiative, and it failed.

In Iowa, where an attempt to add Marsy’s Law to the state constitution has also failed, state law already delineates rights for victims with a specific subchapter on juvenile proceedings.

The constitutional amendment would have “allowed victims to be present and heard from at, for example, a plea hearing,” said ACLU of Iowa Policy Director Daniel Zeno, whose organization fought the amendment. “There was the potential of … harsher penalties for juveniles. We’ve worked in Iowa to make the juvenile justice system be less punitive, deal with confidentiality better. This could have undermined some of that work.”

Monica Reid, director of advocacy for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which opposes Marsy’s Law efforts, said juvenile advocates have also lodged concerns about potential court delays that could mean more time in detention for youth.

“If a juvenile in custody is required to have an initial hearing in a certain timeframe, providing a victim the right to be heard at all court proceedings could significantly increase court time in juvenile cases,” said Reid, in an e-mail to YSI. Requirements around paying restitution will also disproportionately affect juveniles, who have limited earning power, she said.

Jennifer Fennell, spokesperson for Marsy’s Law for Florida, said the state’s proposed measure would apply to juvenile proceedings but “should not impact confidentiality or lengthen proceedings in any way. It simply gives victims in juvenile cases an opportunity to be heard.”

The website for Marsy’s Law for North Carolina says that the ballot initiative would have “no bearing” on North Carolina’s recent law to include 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system, but argues that “there really should be no difference in the way victims of crime are treated because of the age of the offender.”

Outcome: All six states – Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Kentucky, North Carolina and Nevada – approved iterations of Marsy’s Law.  

Another slate of ballot measures sure to impact youth and families relate to drug legalization and decriminalization. In Michigan and North Dakota, voters will choose whether to make the recreational use of marijuana legal for people older than 20. North Dakota’s measure would expunge existing records for people whose convictions pertained to marijuana possession. Michigan would set up a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana to fund education and infrastructure, and permit local governments to issue marijuana bans on the municipal level.

Outcome: Michigan has approved legalized marijuana, and North Dakota has rejected it. 

In Ohio, voters will weigh in on a sweeping justice reform plan that takes drug possession out of the felony classification realm, and creates a sentence credit program for inmates that pursue rehabilitation. The measure also would prohibit the justice system from imprisoning someone for a non-criminal violation of probation terms.

Outcome: Ohio rejected the this justice reform package

Washington initiative would take on the hot-button issues of policing, deadly force and de-escalation. The measure, if approved, would require the state to create a “good-faith test” to determine justifiable use of deadly force by police. Further, all police would be required to obtain “de-escalation and mental health training” developed by a criminal justice training commission.

Outcome: Washington approved Initiative 940.

Finally, Florida’s much-discussed Amendment 4 would restore the voting rights of people with felony convictions, excluding those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. Right now, Florida is one of only three states where felons are prohibited from voting for life; Iowa and Kentucky are the others.

Florida transfers more youth into adult corrections than almost any other state. It is likely that a decent number of the estimated 1.4 million Floridians who may get their vote back as a result of this measure were first convicted of a felony as teens.

Outcome: Florida voters approved Amendment 4.

Housing

Housing stability is one of the most critical, and expensive, factors in family preservation.

Few states struggle with the perils of ever-increasing property value as much as California, and the state has two proposals on the table aimed at keeping people in housing or getting them back into it.

Proposition 10 would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which was passed in 1995 and bans rent control for dwellings after the controlled tenant moves out. If approved, this measure would permit local governments in California to implement their own rent control regimes, which could dramatically increase the availability of affordable housing.

Proponents of the measure argue that this is necessary after decades of soaring values and no new relief for low-income renters. Opponents say Prop 10 would severely impact property values, and lead to less development of new housing in the state.

The other California measure, Proposition 2, would direct an already existing 1 percent tax on income over $1 million to homelessness prevention bonds.

The initial purpose of the tax, born of a 2004 ballot initiative, was for mental health services, and this measure changes the mission of enough to require a vote for approval. A “Yes” on this measure would mean the state could use these funds to house the mentally ill, instead of using it to treat them.

The measure has the support of a wide swath of nonprofits and local governments. One public dissenter has been the Contra Costa County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The chapter leadership argued in this year’s voter’s guide that the measure should be called the “Bureaucrat and Developer Enrichment Act, because that is who we feel will most benefit at the expense of those suffering with the most severe mental illnesses.”

“The voters dedicated Proposition 63 money to treatment, which prevents homelessness, in 2004,” said the chapter’s appeal. “That is where it should go.”

Outcome: Proposition 10, which would have increased local government influence on rent control, has failed. Proposition 2, to steer the state’s millionaire tax toward supportive housing for the homeless, has passed. 

Education

There are other education-related initiatives being voted on today, but here are three directly linked to early childhood education, workforce training or both.

Maryland’s Question 1 is a proposal to dedicate an increasing amount of gambling revenue to “early childhood programs” and “career and technical training,” among other educational purposes. The projected revenue would be $125 million in 2020, $250 million in 2021, $375 million in 2022. After that, 100 percent of gambling revenue would be tied to education each year.

New Jersey has a bond measure for $500 million to fund “vocational schools, technical college education, school water infrastructure and school security.”

Finally, South Dakota’s Initiated Measure 25 proposes a hike in the excise tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products that would be used to “create a postsecondary technical institute fund for the purposes of lowering student tuition and providing financial support to South Dakota postsecondary technical institutes.”

Outcome: Maryland and New Jersey have approved their measures. South Dakota has voted down the tobacco tax hike.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 973 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.