Sunday, April 22, 2012

Brick Houses for Rights

A lot of vigorous, alarming huffing and puffing comes from the bad guys on civil-right issues. In the half of the states that allow ballot referenda or initiative petitions, the wolves try to blow away the protections for groups of the other.

We're in that half with the vestige of the Progressive Era. As I type, good-hearted and smart-headed efforts to ensure citizen liberty struggle. Specifically, Senate 12 and House 1830 languish in the Joint Judiciary Committee instead of implementing sensible refinements.

In case you missed that civics lesson, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, progressive sorts, true populists, had the best of intentions with these plebiscites. In reaction to corrupt legislators who passed bad laws for their bribers and cronies, citizens' privilege to overturn those appeared. Likewise, citizens' in many of these states can propose laws themselves.

I've long referred to such ballot abuses as the flamethrower of populism. The wielders don't care who or how many get burned, so long they can do the burning.

Perverted safeguards

Unfortunately but predictably, these options in half our states are now themselves corrupt. The bad guys in some states like California can put unfunded mandates on the ballot, can pass property-tax limits that bankrupt the whole state economy, and move to strip groups of their legal rights, as they did in Prop. 8 overturning legislated marriage equality.

The hoots of Let the people vote! are sad and vicious when the intent is stripping liberties and protections from fellow citizens, because, well, because it's possible.

MA is better than some states. Our amended constitution's Article XLVIII does have a few limits on rushing emotionally laden issues to election. For example, matters for vote that are excluded are among others:
  • Religion, and religious practices and institutions
  • Anything to do with judges and courts
  • Overturning judicial decisions
  • Right to be compensated for private property appropriated to public use
  • Access to the judicial system and trial by jury
  • Freedom from unreasonable search
  • Freedom of press and speech
  • Right of peaceable assembly
It was wise if a little sad that these had to be excluded.

For those two bills that would act to correct plebiscite abusers, they sure look reasonable to me. I was hoping to have bookend shows with the sponsors. We did get Rep. Denise Provost on Left Ahead to discuss H1830, which would increase the number of signatures required to advance an initiative. Her proposal would bring us into line with the percentage of voters involved when the initiative process started here, as well as move us up from among the easiest to the middle of the pack.

Unfortunately, I've struck out so far with S12 sponsor Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem. Her office says she's really too busy with other bills under discussion. They agreed with my suggestion that I go to Sen. Jamie Eldridge. He is a cosponsor as well as previous Left Ahead guest.

He agrees with Sen. Creem's effort to add a paragraph to Article XLVIII reading:
No initiative petition shall propose a constitutional amendment that would restrict the rights set forth in this constitution to freedom and equality, or the right of each individual to be protected by society in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, according to standing laws.
In other words, do not go thinking you can vote on the rights of others.

Alas, good progressive Jamie says he's no expert on the bill and couldn't do it adequate service in a show. I trust in his sincerity.


Meanwhile, both S12 and H1830 fester in committee — no traction this year, as the expression goes.

The take on these from a frequent abuser of the ballot, the Mass. Family Institute is very different. In their calls to action, the wording is like this one:
  • Senate Bill 12 – This amendment, in plain English, would essentially eliminate the citizen initiative process because there are very few subjects that do not deal with freedom, equality, life, liberty and property, areas that would become off limits. 
  • House Bill 1830 – This amendment would more than double the required number of signatures for an initiative petition to amend the constitution, as well as those required for a referendum to repeal a law, from 3% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to 7%. Again, this is a demonstration of the raw abuse of power exhibited by certain legislators to further limit the people’s right to petition.
Of course the anti-gay/anti-marriage equality sorts have long made it plain they have no respect for people' liberties any more than they do for government. If they don't get to harm, hamper and hinder homosexuals through legislation, they go for the courts, and if they lose in both places, they turn to plebiscites. The disingenuous call is that their freedom is lost if they can't take away rights from others.

Cut me a very thin slice of that.

Coast to coast, we've seen what these plug nasties will do in perverting the old Progressive Era. The slightly modulating refinements of S12 and H1830 are overdue. It appears that as sensible and rights-minded as they are, they'll take multiple introductions to advance. Once they pass, they'd have to go through the Constitutional Convention process.

Unlike the down-and-dirty ballot votes the bad guys favor, this would go through the whole process. We do have protections built into amending the constitution.

I have no question these two are well worth the trouble. Let's cork the huffing, puffing wolves.


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