Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

March 11, 2013

It’s a bad bill

Act would limit voters’ ability to seek a referendum

Maryland legislators should vote down a proposal that would make it more difficult to petition a law through a referendum by voters.

A Montgomery County Democrat senator, Richard Madaleno Jr., is sponsoring a bill that would require petitioners to gather more signatures to put a law up for referendum.

In last November’s election, state voters had a chance to make their voices heard on the same-sex marriage law and allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges. As it turned out, both laws were upheld by voters. But the measures were so controversial that they were settled once and for all when a majority of Maryland voters gave their approval at the ballot box.

Maryland's constitution allows voters to put to referendum all new bills, except budget bills and measures involving the manufacture and sale of liquor. Petitioners are required to gather signatures equal to 3 percent of the number of people who voted in the most recent governor's race. Because 1.9 million people voted in the 2010 contest, that means petitioners would have to gather about 55,000 signatures to put a law on the ballot.

Madaleno's amendment would change that to 5 percent of the total number of registered voters. With about 3.8 million registered voters in Maryland, petitioners would need about 188,000 signatures under the new rules — more than three times as many.

The proposal is being opposed by Common Cause of Maryland. "We are concerned that Madaleno's bill would raise the bar, making it that much harder for citizens to have their voices heard," Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, told the Washington Post. "The petition process, in the states that have both initiative and referendum, has seen reforms to how redistricting occurs, reforms dealing with campaign finance law and ethics laws. Sometimes people have a clearer view of things than the legislature."

Opposition also is coming from the American Civil Liberties Union. Sara Love, public policy director for the Maryland chapter of  the ACLU, doesn't oppose the 5 percent requirement — she noted most states with referendums require between 5 and 12 percent of the number of votes cast in the last governor's race — but the ACLU is opposed to requiring that percentage to come from the number of registered voters.

Making it more difficult to force a law into a referendum is not good government. Instead of discouraging people to use the democratic process, the state should be more interested in enabling voters.

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