Paid Leave, Minimum Wage, Marijuana Legalization on State Ballots

News Updates


In addition to choosing candidates for federal, state and local offices on Nov. 4, voters in many states will be tasked with addressing several important public-policy questions.  

In Massachusetts, voters will be asked to decide whether employers should be required to provide paid sick leave to employees. Minimum-wage measures have been certified to appear on the ballots in five states. 

Several states will have marijuana-related initiatives on their ballots. Alaska and Oregon are voting on legalizing marijuana use for adults as Colorado and Washington did last year. The District of Columbia is considering legalizing small amounts of the drug, and voters in Florida and Guam will weigh in on medical marijuana.

Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave

Question 4 asks whether Massachusetts employers should be required to provide sick leave. If approved, individuals working for companies with 11 or more employees could earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per calendar year; those working for smaller employers could earn and use up to 40 hours of unpaid time. The time, which would accrue at a rate of one hour for every 30 worked, could be used to address an employee’s own physical or mental illness or those of a family member or domestic violence issues.

The proposed law would cover both private and public employers, but for application to any specific town, state or local subdivision, lawmakers would have to affirmatively so vote or appropriate the funds to pay for the coverage. 

Minimum-Wage Proposals

The Illinois measure is an advisory question posed to the voters by the Illinois General Assembly, asking if the minimum wage should be raised. The measures in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota are all citizen initiatives that would amend state statutes to provide for minimum-wage increases. The South Dakota measure, if approved, would also increase tipped wages.

In Alaska, Ballot Measure 3 proposes a two-step increase to the state’s minimum wage, which is currently $7.75. The wage would increase to $8.75 effective Jan. 1, 2015, and to $9.75 effective Jan. 1, 2016. In subsequent years, the state minimum wage would be automatically adjusted based on inflation or remain $1 higher than the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater.

In Arkansas, Initiative 5 proposes a three-step increase to the state’s minimum wage: to $7.50 effective Jan. 1, 2015, to $8 effective Jan. 1, 2016, and to $8.50 effective Jan. 1, 2017.

Illinois’ Minimum Wage Increase Referendum Act is an advisory question put on the ballot by the legislature. It asks voters whether they support increasing the state minimum wage to $10 by Jan. 1, 2015.

Nebraska’s Initiative 425 proposes a two-step increase in the state’s minimum wage: to $8 effective Jan. 1, 2015 and to $9 effective Jan. 1, 2016.

In South Dakota, Initiated Measure 19 proposes to increase the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 effective Jan. 1, 2015, and provides for automatic annual increases in subsequent years, based on inflation. The measure also includes a raise to the state’s tip credit, from $2.13 to $4.25.

Marijuana Initiatives

Voters in Alaska (Measure 2) and Oregon (Measure 91) will decide if the state will tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana for adults over 21. Passage of these measures, would result in programs similar to those in Colorado and Washington, which treat marijuana similar to alcohol.

Voters in the District of Columbia will vote on Initiative 71, which would legalize possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis for adults, as well as allow home cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for personal use.

The Florida electorate will decide on Amendment 2, which would allow for medical use of marijuana for a specific list of debilitating diseases and conditions. It would not allow for home cultivation as some other state programs do.

Guam will have its first medical marijuana-related measure on the ballot after the territory’s Supreme Court ruled that the legislature can use its power to submit a piece of legislation to a vote of the people. The referendum will need 50-percent-plus-one vote approval to pass. A legislative measure requires only a simple majority of votes.

If approved, these measures would add states to the current list of over 22 states and the District of Columbia with legal access to marijuana for medical or adult use.

Even though many marijuana programs started as citizen-led ballot measures, the legislatures still have a role to play. Most marijuana programs are subject to legislative oversight. Rules and regulations need to be developed by either the legislature, various departments within the state, or by a task force, depending on the enabling language.

In recent years, the time to establish medical marijuana programs has ranged from six months to two years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.