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Voter-sponsored questions abound on state ballots

By George B. MerryStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 8, 1980


South Dakotans bent on protecting the mourning dove and Massachusetts citizens angered by pay raises their state lawmakers voted themselves last Halloween have a lot in common -- determination.

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Petitions in hand, both took to the streets in pursuit of their parallel goals to let the voters decide the issues.

These are among 43 such voter-initiated measures on Nov. 4 ballots in elections in the District of Columbia and 17 states.

Such proposals, similar in approach to the Sept. 23 voter-rejected nuclear plant closing referendum in Maine, are on the increase.

This year's bumper crop of citizen-framed measures is the biggest in more than four decades, according to John Forster, publisher of Initiative News, a Washington, D.C.-based reporting service.

Current proposals, many of which have been deemed "too hot to handle" by state legislators, span a broad spectrum of issues from tax reform to legalized gambling.

All but five of the 22 states and the District of Columbia where the initiative petition approach to lawmaking is available have as many as four such proposals on their ballot. Such proposals comprise nearly one-quarter of the 208 questions on various statewide ballots.

Of the 43 initiatives, 17, or nearly 4 percent, involve taxation, seven deal with state government structure and reform, six are energy related, four concern environmental protection, four affect banking, two propose lotteries, and one each concern transportation, and eduction.

California, the home of Proposition 13 and a state where citizen-initiated proposals have become particularly prevalent in recent years, has but one, highly volatile initiativesponsored ballot question that would require areas to be set aside for nonsmokers at indoor public gathering places.

Alaska's initiative attention will be divided between a proposal to slash the state income tax to 1 percent and a measure to set up a state-sponsored private corporation to invest in various projects such as the development of hydroelectric plants.

Every Alaska citizen would be given one share in the Alaska General Stock Ownership Corporation, which would raise funds from public or private sources for its investments. Ninety percent of the corporation's earnings would be divided equally among the citizen shareholders.

Prospects for the proposal are uncertain. Sen. Mike Gravel (D) of Alaska has played a leading roll in its sponsorship. The petitions placing the matter on the ballot were signed by some 26,000 voters -- about 20 percent of the state's total

Illinois voters will decide whether to shrink the state's House of Representatives by one-third from 177 to 159. The initiative is the first to reach the ballot there since this constitution-amending process became available in the state a decade ago.

A South Dakota group is pressing a similarly backed constitution change. If approved, it would prohibit the wiping out of such measures except by voter approval through a referendum.

Montana's ballot includes proposals to require legislative lobbyists to disclose how much they spend and for what, and a litter control measure. Under the latter, the bottle and can industry would have to come up with an increasingly successful recycling program or deposits would be required on beer and soft-drink containers.

District of Columbia voters will decide on calling of a constitutional convention aimed at moving the city toward statehood. Another initiative there would provide for a lottery.