It’s time to give props to props
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While most of the attention has gone toward the two nominees running for president (and rightly so), there are a number of crucial ballot measures on the ballot that could alter the country in profound and lasting ways. Here are the five big topics to keep an eye on come Election Day.
Where: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota all have measures to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. California, Arizona, Maine, and Massachusetts will all decide whether or not to treat marijuana more like alcohol by making it legal for consumers ages 21 and up.
Why this is important: Legalizing marijuana will greatly reduce non-violent drug possession charges, with corresponding laws that will only require fines and community service for those carrying more than a certain amount. Taxes will be levied on the sale of recreational marijuana, providing necessary funds for improved infrastructure. This element in particular has been proven to be highly successful in Colorado where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2012.
Where: California, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Maine are all voting on measures to increase funding for education. Residents in Maine will decide whether to increase income taxes on those making over $200,000 to fund education programs, while Oklahoma aims to raise funds via a higher sales tax. And a whopping $9 billion will go toward improving California schools ranging from kindergarten to college if Prop 51 gets passed.
Why this is important: According to a 2013 survey conducted by education firm Pearson, the United States ranks 17th out of 40 developed countries when it comes to education. When looking specifically at math and science, however, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development puts America at 28th on the list. Staying globally competitive starts with education, and we’ll need to invest more if we hope to keep up.
Where: Arizona, Maine, Washington, and Colorado all have measures on the ballot that would gradually increase the minimum wage in each state. There are specific additions to the measures in Arizona and Washington that would extend paid sick leave to most employees. On the flip side, South Dakota has a measure that would decrease the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour for underage employees.
Why this is important: In states where increases are on the table, 21.6 million residents could be affected, Ballotpedia reports. Though the changes will be implemented gradually, increasing wages are necessary to sustain basic living standards as inflation rises and housing costs inevitably increase.
Where: California, Colorado, Nevada, and Washington all have ballot measures that would shape local health care policies in ways both big and small. In California, there are two measures; one would require voter approval to change the way certain fees are used in hospitals to fund Medi-Cal services, while the other would regulate drug prices and require state agencies to pay no more than what the Veterans Affairs pays for prescription drugs. Colorado’s measure, if passed, would increase payroll taxes to create a universal healthcare system for residents called ColoradoCare.
Why this is important: As it is now, the quality of health care varies widely from state to state. A fifth of uninsured American kids live in Texas; the lone star state is also home to the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Meanwhile, Maryland residents enjoy some of the lowest health care costs in the country thanks to an “all-player” system. As the American health care system continues to evolve, it’ll be imperative to know which adjustments work and which fail.
Where: Maine, Nevada, and California all have measures supporting the implementation of background checks for those looking to purchase a gun. California’s measure goes a little bit further by banning large-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring background checks for certain ammunition purchases. Washington has an initiative on the ballot that would “allow police, family, or household members to obtain court orders temporarily preventing firearms access by persons exhibiting mental illness, violent or other behavior indicating they may harm themselves or others.”
Why this is important: According to Everytown, there are an average of 12,000 gun homicides each year in the United States, a rate that’s 25 times the average of most developed countries. NPR reports that while background checks won’t solve everything, they have been proven to significantly reduce rates of gun violence.
Bonus: Slavery and a 51st State
Believe it or not, there’s a measure on the ballot to end slavery in 2016. In Colorado, slavery and “involuntary servitude” are against the law, except when used to punish someone convicted of a crime. If Colorado residents vote to pass this measure, an amendment would be added to the state’s constitution that flatly bans slavery once and for all.
There’s also the possibility that another state could be added to the map. The measure lets Washington, D.C., residents decide if they want to petition to make the nation’s capital a new state. The reasoning behind the measure has to do with exercising more control over local tax dollars and gaining representation in Congress.