Fireworks, charter schools, Common Core, and marijuana

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Fireworks, charter schools, Common Core, and marijuana may all be on the ballot in November 2016, if Massachusetts activists get their way.

Wednesday, August 5, marked the deadline for supporters of specific voter initiatives to file requests with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office for placement on the 2016 ballot.

Former Republican lawmaker turned teacher Rich Bastien of Gardner filed a measure to legalize bottle rockets and firecracker aerial displays. Bastien’s initiative would allow regular retail stores to sell sparklers and allow licensed specialty stores to sell higher-powered fireworks to adults 18 and older.

The charter school initiative, filed by the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, seeks to lift the state cap on the total number of public charter schools. Currently, Massachusetts law limits the number of charter schools to 120. About 3 percent of Massachusetts students attend charter schools, and more than 18,000 Boston students are on charter school wait lists. Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday indicated support for the initiative but suggested he might file his own legislation, an approach preferred by many charter school advocates. Lawyers are also preparing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the cap, creating a three-pronged approach to removing statutory limits on charter schools.

A group calling itself End Common Core filed a ballot initiative to cease PARCC testing in Massachusetts public schools and to restore the state’s best-in-the-nation pre-Common Core educational standards from 2010. The measure is spearheaded by Donna Colorio, a former Worcester School Committee member and founder of the advocacy group, Common Core Forum.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed an initiative to allow marijuana retail outlets and growing facilities and to permit adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of the drug. Under the measure, sales of marijuana would include a 3.75 percent excise tax and the usual 6.25 percent sales tax, but local governments would maintain the authority to impose additional taxes. Local governments could also act to limit the number of marijuana retail stores within their jurisdiction. A competing measure, filed by North Shore attorney Steven S. Epstein of a group known as Bay State Repeal, calls for a “law ending marijuana prohibition for persons 21 years of age or older.” Bay State Repeal’s proposal, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, was filed with three different revisions.

Pro-marijuana measures have historically been opposed by police groups. In 2012, when another state ballot question asked whether voters would support the legalization of medical marijuana, the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association was vocal in its opposition.

The Wednesday filings are the first step in a lengthy ballot initiative process, and appearance of these initiatives on the November 2016 is by no means guaranteed. The Massachusetts
Attorney General must next determine by Sept. 2 whether these petitions meet the statutory requirements of Amendment Article 48.

If certified by the Massachusetts Attorney General on Sept. 2, the measures will be sent next to the Secretary of State.

Supporters of the petition then have until November to gather 64,750 additional signatures to move their initiatives forward. If they succeed in gathering enough signatures, the measures will be sent to the state Legislature.

Lawmakers then have until the first Wednesday in May 2016 to act on the measures.  If they do not, activists have an opportunity to gather still more signatures to put the measure on the November 2016 ballot.

In addition to the above initiatives, approximately 17 additional measures drafted by citizens, public interest groups, or public officials were filed ahead of Wednesday’s deadline, including Secretary of State William Galvin’s bid to provide his office with more power over enforcing public records laws.

A complete list of the proposals filed with the Attorney General’s office are available for public viewing here.

[This article was compiled from staff and wire reports.]

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected]


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