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State races to watch

Nine states had marijuana decriminalization on the ballot

Customers buy products at the Harvest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in San Francisco. Associated Press/Photo by Haven Daley, File

State races to watch

UPDATE: Voters affirmed several state measures upholding capital punishment. Nebraska voters reinstated the death penalty, which the legislature had previously abolished. In Oklahoma, voters cemented the death penalty in the state constitution.

Several states legalized marijuana use—California and Massachusetts legalized it for recreational use, while North Dakota and Florida approved medical marijuana measures. Five other states were considering marijuana legalization.

UPDATE (11/08/16, 10:45 p.m.): Colorado voters approved Proposition 106, according to local news projections, legalizing assisted suicide for sick patients with a prognosis of less than six months to live. The practice is now legal in five states.

Catholics, evangelicals, and the American Medical Association opposed the measure. Ryan Anderson, who has tracked this issue for the Heritage Foundation, immediately reacted on Twitter: “This corrupts the practice of medicine and threatens the weak, the elderly, the disabled, and the marginalized.”

Compassion & Choices, the national organization that advocates for assisted suicide, poured millions into the state to help pass the measure. The group’s president, Barbara Combs Lee, called the vote a “tremendous victory for terminally ill adults who worry about horrific suffering in their final days.”

Colorado voters also rejected a measure to create a single-payer healthcare system in the state.

OUR EARLIER REPORT (11/08/16, 10:51 a.m.): State legislative elections and state ballot measures may not grab much national attention, but they have enormous importance in the day-to-day lives of Americans. This year, voters will weigh in on 145 ballot measures in 34 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) which tracks state elections closely. Voters also will select legislators for about 6,000 seats, about 80 percent of the country’s state lawmakers. Control of 22 legislative chambers could change, according to NCSL.

That’s significant because state legislatures serve as the counterbalance to federal power. Since the state-level Republican wave in 2010, red states have revoked funding for Planned Parenthood, passed stricter laws regulating abortion centers, and instated additional religious liberty statutes. In Democratic states, legislatures have responded to congressional inaction on gun control with their own gun control measures.

Consider the issue of physician-assisted suicide, where doctors prescribe lethal barbiturates to sick patients. Efforts to legalize the practice are spreading state-by-state. The first legalization of assisted suicide in the United States came when Oregon voters passed a ballot initiative in 1994. Now four states have legalized the practice–and most recently, the District of Columbia moved one step closer to adopting it.

The groups pushing assisted suicide, from Compassion & Choices to the American Civil Liberties Union, have a two-pronged approach: They file lawsuits against state bans on assisted suicide and lobby state legislatures to change their laws. New Jersey is currently considering an assisted-suicide bill.

In the last two years, state legislatures have defeated assisted-suicide bills repeatedly, thanks in part to lobbying from Christian groups—in New York, Connecticut, Tennessee, Maryland, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, and Minnesota. But some defeats have been narrow, so the measures might pass in future sessions with the flipping of a few votes, like in New York.

Colorado voters might legalize the practice via a ballot initiative on Tuesday, even though the Colorado legislature defeated an assisted-suicide bill this year. Proposition 106 would legalize assisted suicide for patients with a prognosis of fewer than six months, and has the support of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Opponents, like the Catholic Church and evangelical groups, argue such bills normalize a culture of suicide, pressuring the poor and others who feel like a burden on their families or who are depressed. Colorado already has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Prominent medical groups like the American Medical Association also oppose these bills, arguing the practice runs contrary to physicians’ role as healers.

Other ballot measures this year cover the gamut. Colorado is considering a state single-payer healthcare system. Voters in nine states will consider legalizing marijuana, either for medical or recreational use. Nebraska voters will decide whether to repeal the legislature’s 2015 ban on the death penalty. Oklahoma voters will decide whether to enshrine the death penalty in the state’s constitution. Arizona, Maine, Colorado, and Washington are considering raising the minimum wage. And on and on the list goes.

Will the GOP maintain its dominance in state legislatures? Republicans control the most state chambers in the party’s history, so they will be on the defense. NCSL analysts argue state legislative races have a strong “coattail effect.” The party that wins the presidential election usually ends up gaining many state legislative seats.

“But with this year’s election unfolding like no other in modern history, the results are a bit more unpredictable,” analysts Tim Story and Daniel Diorio admitted.

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously reported for the The New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City.



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