CSG Midwest
Come election time, a South Dakota voter’s ballot can become pretty crowded — filled not just with candidates for office, but a mix of constitutional amendments, initiated measures and referendums to overturn existing state laws. In November 2016 alone, 10 such ballot questions were voted on, including measures on the minimum wage, redistricting, campaign finance and elections.
But it’s not just the sheer volume or the content of some of the proposals that concerns lawmakers such as Sen. Jim Bolin.
“This is not your neighbor coming up with an idea and trying to get it on the ballot; it’s really become an industry,” according to Bolin, who served on a task force of legislators and others this past interim to explore potential changes to South Dakota’s initiative and referendum process.
Out-of-state money and workers come to South Dakota, he says, where advertising is cheap and changing laws or the Constitution is a relatively inexpensive proposition. Sen. Ernie Otten adds that “people can come in here very easily, and then they don’t have to face the consequences of the change.”

Several state constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2016 attracted significant attention. Voters approved citizen-initiated amendments legalizing medical marijuana in Arkansas and Florida, boosting the minimum wage in Colorado, and extending an income tax hike on upper-income earners in California. Victims’ rights were recognized through passage of amendments in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, as were hunting and fishing rights through passage of amendments in Kansas and Indiana. Colorado voters approved an amendment increasing the barriers to passage of future amendments, in part by adding a super-majority voter-ratification rule.

Chapter 1 of The Book of the States 2017 contains the following articles and tables:

The level of constitutional amendment activity in 2015 was generally on par with recent odd-numbered years but somewhat lower than historical rates of activity in odd-numbered years and dramatically lower than in even-numbered years. Several measures attracted considerable attention, including two amendments on the Ohio ballot: a failed amendment that would have legalized recreational marijuana and a successful amendment changing the process for state legislative redistricting. A number of amendments in other states dealt with road building, including a failed Michigan amendment that would have increased the sales tax to boost transportation funding, a successful Texas amendment allocating excess revenue from sales taxes to a highway fund and a successful Louisiana amendment providing funding for a transportation infrastructure bank.

On Tuesday, voters in California approved a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to suspend members without pay with a two-thirds majority vote.  Proposition 50, which received support from 75 percent of voters, was billed by supporters as an important anti-corruption measure that would keep suspended legislators from receiving salaries, pensions, and other benefits and privileges associated with holding office.  The impetus for the measure came after the legislature was unable to suspend the salaries and benefits of three former lawmakers who were indicted on criminal charges. 

Chapter 1 of the 2016 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables:

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the President’s deferred action immigration program violates federal law or is unconstitutional. The Court will issue an opinion in United States v. Texas by the end of June 2016.

The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program allows certain undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years and either came here as children or already have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to lawfully stay and work temporarily in the United States. About 5 million people are affected.

Twenty six states sued the United States and won before the Fifth Circuit.

The movement to add environmental bills of rights to state constitutions is important as one manifestation of a wider environmentalism that began to sweep the country in the 1970s, but also because it sheds interesting light on state constitutions and constitutional processes. The states proved to be more hospitable for this type of constitutional reform than the federal because state constitutional traditions diverge substantially from the national model. In particular, the argument is that the openness of state constitutional processes to their political environment facilitated the effort to place environmental rights, as well as a variety of other environmental provisions, in state constitutions.   

Although constitutional amendment activity was lower in 2014 than in recent even-numbered years, several of the 72 approved amendments attracted significant attention. These include amendments relaxing legislative term limits in Arkansas, creating a bipartisan redistricting commission in New York, eliminating a judicial merit selection commission in Tennessee, strengthening the right to bear arms in Alabama and Missouri, guaranteeing a right to farm in Missouri, and barring state and local officials from enforcing unconstitutional federal directives in Arizona.

Chapter 1 of the 2015 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables: