Aug 8, 2023 - Politics

Rent control, psychedelics could be on Massachusetts ballots in 2024

Illustration of a hand placing a ballot in a ballot box surrounded by abstract shapes.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Massachusetts voters could be asked on their ballots next fall to bring back rent control, legalize psychedelics and decide if the MCAS exam should remain a high school graduation requirement.

What's happening: Organizers of nascent ballot issue campaigns have filed dozens of petitions with the Attorney General to set the field for potential 2024 ballot questions.

  • To start the year-long process, petitioners only had to submit 10 signatures by last Wednesday.

Why it matters: Policy-based political campaigns have come to rely on the ballot initiative process to prod or even circumvent lawmakers unwilling to vote on big changes to the law.

Catch up quick: Progressive laws in Massachusetts like legalized medical and recreational cannabis, the surtax on incomes over $1 million, public access protections for transgender people and mandatory earned sick time were all the result of ballot questions.

  • Threatening to take policy questions straight to voters is also a good way to spur the Legislature into action, like when activists, the business community and lawmakers compromised on raising the minimum wage before it got to the ballot.

What we're watching:

🏠 Rent control could make a return along with other tenant protections under a petition filed by Cambridge Rep. Mike Connolly.

🍄 Psychedelic-based mental health treatment proponents are pushing a question similar to what's already passed in Colorado and Oregon to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and other drugs.

📝 Teachers unions are behind a petition that would eliminate the MCAS exam as a condition for a high school diploma, saying the test exacerbates racial and economic disparities between students.

🚖 The ride-hailing industry is backing a petition to classify Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors with some benefits, not as employees.

  • An opposing labor-led question would let the drivers unionize.

👀 Other potential ballot questions include allowing incarcerated people to vote, increasing the tipped minimum wage and allowing state audits of the Legislature.

Be smart: The slew of petitions usually shrinks to a handful before Election Day, as they must each pass several hurdles.

What's next: Attorney General Andrea Campbell's office has until Sept. 6 to approve or reject the legal basis for the petitions.

  • Campaigns then have until Nov. 22 to gather 74,574 signatures to keep the petition alive.
  • Lawmakers have until April 30, 2024 to take action on subjects related to the petitions to circumvent the ballot process.
  • After that, another 12,429 signatures are required by June 19, 2024 to get on the ballot.

Election Day is Nov. 5, 2024 and any new laws would take effect 30 days later.


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