Proposed laws lifting the statewide ban on rent control, decriminalizing psychedelics, decoupling the MCAS exam from high school graduation and imposing voter-identification requirements moved a step closer Wednesday to being included on the 2024 ballot.
Attorney General Andrea Campbell found that those petitions and several others were constitutionally sound, a decision that allows proponents to move ahead to the next stage in the monthslong process of earning a spot on the ballot.
Campbell gave the green light to 34 petitions out of 42 that were filed. Most of those — 31 in total — propose new laws for next year’s ballot, while three propose amendments to the state’s constitution and would go before voters in 2026.
But voters won't be deciding on dozens of questions. Ballot-question backers often file several versions of their petition with slight differences to improve their chances of getting one certified, and decide later on which one to pursue. For instance, Campbell signed off on eight versions of a question proposing voter ID laws, and nine versions of one that would write into state law that drivers for apps like Uber and Lyft be considered independent contractors, not employees.
Getting through this legal review also does not guarantee petitioners a spot on the November 2024 ballot. Campaigns still need to collect almost 75,000 signatures from registered voters, and file those with local officials by Nov. 22. State lawmakers will have the option to approve any of the petitions that earn enough signatures, or put forward their own version as a substitute. If lawmakers don’t act, the campaigns then have to gather more than 12,000 more signatures.
The questions that are moving forward
Campbell’s decisions set up a potential repeat of the ballot battle between tech giants and labor unions over driver status and benefits. The two sides squared off over a similar question in 2022, with millions of dollars in fundraising reported before the Supreme Judicial Court tossed the measure from the ballot.
This year, Campbell also certified a labor-backed question that would grant app-based drivers the right to unionize.
A bid to scrap the MCAS tests as a graduation requirement is also moving forward. That question is backed by the state’s largest educators union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and opposed by some business groups.
"The public, I believe, is very supportive of this because they see that the MCAS, as a high-stakes test, has been deeply problematic," said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Max Page. "It has denied thousands of students who otherwise finished all the successfully completed all the other requirements, a high school diploma."
Two elected officials seeking to write new laws through ballot questions earned Campbell’s certification as well: Auditor Diana DiZoglio’s proposed law officially granting her the power to audit the Legislature, and state Rep. Mike Connolly’s question to allow cities and towns to adopt local-level rent control policies.
DiZoglio, a former state representative and senator, campaigned on a promise to probe the Legislature, but so far leaders of the House and Senate have rebuffed her attempt to open up their books. Separately, DiZoglio has asked Campbell to back up her effort to bring the dispute to court, but Campbell has not yet weighed in on that front.
DiZoglio told GBH News she’s thankful that Campbell and her staff certified the question. She said she believes the state’s voters “deserve a transparent, accountable, and accessible Legislature.”
“We have a lot of work to do, and we are going to need all hands on deck to get the signatures needed to get on the ballot,” DiZoglio said.
Proponents of local rent control also recognize the remaining hurdles.
"We're waiting for the polling, talking to allies, talking to potential resource people to see how we could craft a campaign that can win," Michael Kane, director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, said during a rally at the State House after the decision was announced.
Ben Simon, who grew up in Cambridge before rent control was abolished, was also at the rally. He stressed the value of rent control as a way to prevent displacement.
"Being uprooted from your community when, you know, me and my brother were both teenagers, was just one of the most traumatic experiences," he said. "I mean, it's not homelessness, but like, it's really bad. And no one should have to be forced out of a community because of something like that."
Campbell also certified questions that would:
- Decriminalize, regulate and tax psilocybin and other psychedelic substances.
- Establish Indigenous People’s Day as a state holiday, replacing Columbus Day.
- Restore the voting rights of people incarcerated in Massachusetts on felony convictions. As a proposed constitutional amendment, this follows a different process and would go before voters in 2026.
The questions that didn't make it past this hurdle
The backers of a question that sought to limit financial influence on lawmakers' votes withdrew their petition before Campbell made a decision.
Of the petitions Campbell did review, she declined to certify seven that she said did not meet constitutional requirements.
The disqualified questions included:
- Three petitions that proposed voting reforms, including ranked-choice voting systems. In 2020, Bay State voters rejected a ranked-choice voting system, and Campbell noted in her declination letters that the Constitution prohibits her from certifying a measure that's "substantially the same" as one voted on in the last two state elections.
- Two petitions involving radiation limits for technology and wireless facilities.
- One petition that would have affirmed a "constitutional birthright to be a person."
- And one petition that would have prohibited political spending "by foreign-influenced entities."