Death penalty, gun control, pot among ballot-measure issues

Posted at 4:23 PM, Nov 08, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — Voters in some states weighed in Tuesday on several of most volatile issues facing America — gun control, marijuana legalization, the death penalty and the right of a terminally ill person to get a doctor's help in dying.

Proposals addressing those topics were among more than 150 measures appearing on statewide ballots. California led the pack with 17 ballot questions, including one that would require actors in porn movies to wear condoms during filming of sexual intercourse. Another would ban single-use plastic grocery bags.

California was among five states — along with Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — voting on whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Three others — Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota — decided whether to permit marijuana for medical purposes. Montanans voted on whether to ease restrictions on an existing medical marijuana law.

Collectively, it was the closest the U.S. has ever come to a national referendum on marijuana.

If "yes" votes prevail across the board, more than 23 percent of the U.S. population will live in states where recreational pot is legal. The jurisdictions where that's already the case — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia — have less than 6 percent of the population.

Another hot-button issue — gun control — was on the ballot in four states, including California, which already has some of the nation's toughest gun-related laws. Proposition 63 would outlaw possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, require permits to buy ammunition and extend California's unique program that allows authorities to seize firearms from owners who bought guns legally but are no longer allowed to own them.

In Maine and Nevada, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent millions promoting ballot measures that would require background checks on nearly all gun sales and transfers. Supporters say the changes would close gaps in the federal system that allow felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to buy firearms from private sellers at gun shows and online without a background check.

Washington state had a ballot measure that would allow judges to issue orders temporarily seizing guns from individuals who are deemed a threat.

California was one of three states voting on capital punishment, with two competing measures on its ballot. One would repeal the death penalty, which California has rarely used in recent decades. The other would speed up appeals so convicted murderers are actually executed.

In Nebraska, voters were deciding whether to reinstate the death penalty, which the Legislature repealed last year. Oklahoma residents voted on whether to make it harder to abolish capital punishment.

Among the other topics addressed by ballot measures:

— MINIMUM WAGE: Arizona, Colorado and Maine were considering phased-in $12 minimum hourly wages by 2020. In Washington state, where the minimum wage is $9.47 an hour, voters weighed raising that to $13.50 an hour by 2020. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

— HEALTH CARE: Coloradans voted on a proposal to set up the nation's first universal health care system. The measure would set up a $25 billion-a-year health care system funded by payroll taxes, replacing the system of paying private health insurers for care and opting out of the federal health care law.

— AID IN DYING: Another Colorado measure would allow physicians to assist a terminally ill person in dying. Physician-assisted death is currently legal in California, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. And Montana's Supreme Court has ruled that doctors can use a patient's request for life-ending medication as a defense against any criminal charges.

— BILINGUAL EDUCATION: A measure in California would roll back a voter-approved 1998 ban on teaching English in any language other than English. That would give school districts the option to bring back bilingual education.

— VOTING METHODS: Maine residents had a chance to make their state the first with a ranked-choice voting system, which is used in a handful of cities. The system allows voters to rank their choices of candidates. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the first-place choices, ballots are then counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until someone wins by a majority.

— TAXES: Maine voters were deciding whether to approve a 3 percent tax on people earning more than $200,000 a year to support an education fund for teachers and students. An Oregon measure would impose a 2.5 percent tax on corporate sales that exceed $25 million — with revenue earmarked for education, health and senior services. An initiative in Washington state sought to promote cleaner energy by imposing a tax of $25 per metric ton on carbon emissions from fossil fuels such as gasoline, coal and natural gas.

— CURBING SALES TAXES: Missouri voters were the first in the nation to decide whether to amend their state constitution to prohibit sales taxes from being expanded to services such as auto repairs, haircuts, legal work and financial accounting.

— TOBACCO TAXES: Votes in four states — California, Colorado, Missouri and North Dakota — were deciding whether to raise taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. The California measure would raise cigarette taxes by $2 per pack, raising an estimated $1 billion in the first year, with much of the money earmarked for health care for people with low incomes.