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AG certifies majority of ’12 ballot questions

Proposals move on to signatures

By Kyle Cheney
State House News Service / September 8, 2011

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Initiative petitions sanctioning and regulating medical marijuana, empowering a terminally ill, suffering patient to take life-ending drugs, and expanding the state’s bottle recycling law met all the legal criteria to move toward the 2012 ballot, Attorney General Martha Coakley said yesterday.

Coakley certified 23 of 31 ballot questions - including questions on 17 different topics - submitted to her office last month by individuals and groups who have been unable to push their proposals through the Legislature but hope to bring their plans directly to the electorate. The certification will kick off a two-month signature-gathering process for the proponents.

Certification is a hurdle that ballot question proponents must clear. To advance further, they must gather 68,911 signatures by mid-November, typically a costly, intensive effort that has derailed many ballot initiatives in previous years.

Lawmakers have until May 2012 to take action on any ballot questions that clear the signature hurdle. If they choose not to act or pass an alternative, proponents would have to gather an additional 11,485 signatures to secure ballot access.

The attorney general’s office emphasized that certification is not an indication that Coakley has endorsed any of the proposals but merely that they meet the legal standards of permissible ballot questions.

Questions that will proceed to the signature-gathering phase also include:

■ Forcing auto manufacturers to share additional diagnostic information with repair shops.

■ Repealing the individual mandate for Massachusetts residents to obtain health insurance.

■ Permitting more food stores to sell beer and wine.

■ Prohibiting auto insurers from adjusting premiums based on socioeconomic factors.

■ Establishing consequences for teacher evaluations.

Coakley rejected a handful of proposals, such as a Milford developer’s plan to sanction three Massachusetts casinos, including one designated for Milford. Coakley ruled the proposal violates standards that prohibit targeting a single community.

Coakley also scuttled a plan pushed by opponents of Cape Wind that would force competitive bidding for energy contracts; she concluded that it would take private property without compensation. A plan to force voters to present valid identification was also improper, Coakley determined, because it “infringes on the freedom of elections.’’

Backers of a plan to permit doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live hailed the certification of their proposal, which would make Massachusetts the third US state to sanction what they call “death with dignity.’’

“As a physician who has studied this issue over many years, I believe the people of Massachusetts are ready to consider giving suffering patients this option,’’ said Marcia Angell, former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and a proponent of the effort, in a statement.

Catholic bishops, through the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, reiterated their opposition to the plan.

“This initiative petition is a first step in Massachusetts toward legalizing physician-assisted suicide, effectively authorizing the killing of human beings prior to their natural death,’’ the conference wrote in a statement.

Critics of the proposal to force auto manufacturers to share more repair information ripped proponents for seeking to “bypass the legislative process.’’

But backers said the question would empower car owners and bring the cost of repairs down by increasing competition. “If the car manufacturers can continue to manipulate the market by withholding information, then do I really own the car?’’ said Jeff McLeod of Marshfield.