Direct democracy - referendums - big part of Nov. 6 election

Should native Americans retain their special salmon fishing rights in Washington State? Does Maine need an equal rights amendment? Should school prayer be legalized in West Virginia? Will Alabama finally say ''bye y'all'' to boll weevils?

These are among at least 231 questions that will appear on ballots in 44 states and the District of Columbia Nov. 6. Forty-one of the referendums were initiated by voter petitions, 190 by legislatures. This compares with 236 such ballot questions - 52 initiative petitions and 184 referendums - in 42 states and the nation's capital two years ago.

Increased signature requirements and earlier filing deadlines have contributed to this year's decline in ballot proposals stemming from initiative petitions, say knowledgeable observers.

''State courts more and more are getting in on the act, determining whether proposals are proper for the initiative route,'' observes Sue Thomas, executive director of the National Center for Initiative Research in Englewood, Colo.

At least four initiative measures, despite having cleared the signature hurdle and met the deadline, were ruled off state ballots by the courts. The Florida Supreme Court nixed a proposal to limit the extent of liability in medical malpractice suits; Montana's high court threw out a measure aimed at letting that state's voters indicate support of a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution, and an almost identical initiative petition in California was thwarted in August by that state's Supreme Court.

Last spring the Florida Supreme Court tossed out an initiative bent on rolling back state taxes and greatly restricting future boosts.

Latest to qualify were two initiatives in Missouri. A third there failed. A proposal seeking to prevent a utility firm from charging higher electric rates to pay for a nuclear power plant made the ballot. Another initiative, seeking legalization of parimutuel betting on horse races also cleared a court hurdle.

The 231 statewide ballot questions, including both initiatives and legislator-referred measures cover a broad range of objectives from tax restrictions to pornography control. Particularly prevalent are measures dealing with the environment, public morality, and education.

Unlike 1982, when nuclear weapons freeze proposals were before voters in eight states and measures to ban nonreturnable beverage bottles and cans were big in four states, this time there is but one anti-nuclear arms initiative and there are no ''bottle bill'' measures.

Also among the missing are questions involving gun control and restrictions on smoking. Considerably less plentiful than two years ago are proposals involving business regulations, and government reform.

California voters face the most ballot questions - 16, including six initiatives. In neighboring Arizona 15 measures, two of them initiatives, are at issue, while in Georgia there are 14 lawmaker-referred statewide measures. New Hampshire has 13, Nevada 12, and Oklahoma and South Carolina 10 each.

Six states - Kansas, Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin - have no statewide referendum questions.

Bonding proposals totaling nearly $2.75 billion for various projects, including housing, water and sewer systems, and corrections facilities, will go before voters in seven states. These range from $700 million for veterans housing mortgages in Alaska and $650 million for a similar program in California , to $4 million for environmental protection in Rhode Island and $6 million for county courthouses in Maine.

Major tax limitation proposals will be decided in California, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and South Carolina.

The California initiative - dubbed Jarvis IV for its author, Howard Jarvis, who sponsored three earlier tax-cutting measures including the famous Proposition 13 - is aimed at nullifying various court decisions and local government actions which have tended to weaken the effect of tax limitations imposed through Prop. 13 in 1978.

The pending measure would require a two-thirds vote of the people to impose or boost any tax or fee and prohibit increasing the tax burden of any taxpayer unless approved by two-thirds of the voters, if it is a local tax, or by the legislature if it is a state levy.

The Michigan initiative would roll back the state income tax from the present 6.1 percent to 5.35 percent, and have it remain frozen at that level, unless the voters approve otherwise at a later election. All new or increased taxes would require approval by a majority of the electorate and any new fee could be imposed only with four-fifths approval of the legislature. Also involved is restriction in municipal income taxes for nonresidents.

In Nevada a 5 percent cap on property taxes, with a higher level only possible by approval of two-thirds of the legislature, is being sought. The measure also would permit boosts in other taxes and license fees only with approval of two-thirds of the legislators and a majority the state's voters.

Oregon's proposal would restrict property tax revenues to 1.5 percent of assessed valuation, or the amount levied for 1983 and '84, whichever is lower.

South Carolina will consider a mandatory balanced state budget and restrictions in spending to the growth in the level of the state economy, with exceptions requiring three-fifths legislative approval and two-thirds voter authorization.

Measures in Arizona would establish a state revenue commission, create a state ''rainy day'' fund, and restrict state spending to a proportion of total personal income.

Other state revenue-related proposals before voters would: exempt food from sales taxes in Idaho and Nevada, and eliminate the sales tax on trade-in value of cars in Washington State. Other ballot proposals: a program to permit elderly homeowners to postpone payment of their property taxes in California; prohibition of taxation of social security benefits and property tax deductions for senior citizens in New Jersey; an increase in the homestead exemption allowed veterans in Georgia; and the taxation of agricultural and horticultural land on a different basis than other forms of property in Nebraska.Hawaiians will decide on easing the requirement that surplus revenues greater than 5 percent for two consecutive years be returned to the taxpayers. A measure in Virginia would mandate a balanced state budget.

Two states - Arkansas and Oklahoma - have possible tax boosts on their ballots. Being sought in Oklahoma is increasing the property tax up to 3 mills for parks and 5 mills for county roads and jails. The Arkansas proposal involves a one-eighth of 1 percent sales and use tax increase to fund a state game protection program.

On the legalized gambling front, state lotteries are proposed in California, Missouri, Oregon, and West Virginia; casino gambling in Garland County (Hot Springs), Ark., and Pueblo County, Colo.; inter-track wagering on televized races in New Jersey; and legislative authority to set maximum prizes on games of chance in New York, are proposed.

Measures to ban public funding of abortions are on the ballots in Arkansas, Colorado, and Washington State.

Government-provided housing for the homeless is sought through the ballot in Washington, D.C.

A California proposal would reduce welfare payments, except those for the aged, disabled, and blind, by an estimated 25 percent.

Five measures to control health-care costs are among Arizona's voter questions.

South Dakota, the only state with a nuclear arms freeze question, also has on its ballot a measure mandating advance voter approval of disposal sites for nuclear wastes or state participation in such a program with other states. A measure specifying radiation release levels in waste materials is on the Oregon ballot.

Creation of an independent commission made up of retired state supreme court justices to redistrict the state legislature is on the California ballot.

Also under consideration: Reinstatement of capital punishment in Oregon; denial of bail for those accused of violent crimes in Rhode Island; tougher penalties for pornography on cable television in Utah; and establishment of ''victims rights'' in Oregon.

Proposed state constitutional amendments in Arkansas and New Hampshire would increase gubernatorial terms from two years to four as of January 1987.

In Alabama, voters are being asked to support a proposal for a massive program to rid the state of boll weevils. It would be administered and financed by cotton farmers with the help of the state.

Other pending statewide ballot proposals include:

* Automatic removal from office of public officials convicted of a crime, in Georgia.

* Banning political campaign contributions by corporations or labor unions and restriction on individual donations to $1,000 by a person, group, or party, in California.

* Local option Sunday liquor sales in New Mexico.

* Outlawing discrimination on account of physical or mental disability in Connecticut.

* Outlawing strikes by public employees in Arizona.

* Reducing the 400-member New Hampshire House of Representatives by 12 seats and increasing the State Senate from 24 to 36 lawmakers.

* Creation of state commissions on judicial conduct in Texas and Utah; and empowering the State Supreme Court to discipline judges in Montana; and provision for disciplining judges in Nebraska.

* Abolition of the Alaska Transportation Commission.

* Deregulating milk prices in Montana.

* Forbidding the opening of the public school year before Labor Day in South Dakota.

* Guaranteeing the right to ''own and bear arms'' in North Dakota and Utah.

* Abolishing office of the state treasurer in North Dakota.

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