Tennessee voters to weigh in on constitutional amendments

power and politicsIn addition to the traditional votes for city, state and federal office that occur in every election, Tennesseans will also be asked to weigh in on a multitude of constitutional amendments on the November 4 ballot. These amendments will appear on the ballot, and be adopted on a simple yes or no vote. The amendments cover a range of issues, from abortion to taxation, gambling and judicial appointments. All amendments were approved for the ballot by overwhelming margins in the Tennessee, and all are expected to pass.

Amendment One deals with abortion policy. The exact language on the ballot will appear as follows: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or require the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.” The passage of this amendment would allow the Tennessee legislature to amend current abortion policy through the legislative process, it is opposed by proo-choice groups and favored by pro-life groups. Gov. Haslam and Sen. Alexander both publicly support the measure.

Amendment Two deals with taxation. The exact language on the ballot will appear as follows: “Notwithstanding the authority to tax privileges or any other authority set forth in this Constitution, the Legislature shall not levy, authorize or otherwise permit any state or local tax upon payroll or earned personal income or any state or local tax measured by payroll or earned personal income; however, nothing contained herein shall be construed as prohibiting any tax in effect on January 1, 2011, or adjustment of the rate of such tax.” The passage of this amendment would essentially ban any new increases in taxation passed by the legislature. Sen. Alexander publicly supports the measure.

Amendment Three deals with the appointment of judges. The exact language on the ballot will appear as follows: “Judges of the Supreme Court or any intermediate appellate court shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by and at the discretion of the governor; shall be confirmed by the Legislature; and thereafter, shall be elected in a retention election by the qualified voters of the state. Confirmation by default occurs if the Legislature fails to reject an appointee within sixty calendar days of either the date of appointment, if made during the annual legislative session, or the convening date of the next annual legislative session, if made out of session. The Legislature is authorized to prescribe such provisions as may be necessary to carry out Sections two and three of this article. The passage of this amendment would restructure the judicial system in Tennessee by allowing Supreme Court Justices to be appointed by the governor, confirmed by the legislature, and ratified by the voters in subsequent judicial retention votes. This is similar to the process used in most states. Gov. Haslam, Former Gov. Bredesen, Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Sen. Alexander, and Former Sen. Thompson have all publicly supported the idea.

Amendment Four deals with gambling: The exact language on the ballot will appear as follows: “Shall Article XI, Section 5 of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by deleting the following language:All other forms of lottery not authorized herein are expressly prohibited unless authorized by a two-thirds vote of all members elected to each house of the general assembly for an annual event operated for the benefit of a 501(c)(3) organization located in this state, as defined by the 2000 United States Tax Code or as may be amended from time to time and by substituting instead the following language: All other forms of lottery not authorized herein are expressly prohibited unless authorized by a two-thirds vote of all members elected to each house of the general assembly for an annual event operated for the benefit of a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(19) organization, as defined by the 2000 United States Tax Code, located in this state. This amendment has flown largely under the radar compared to the other amendments, but would allow the legislature to authorize lotteries for annual events on a two thirds vote.

Tennessee is unique when it comes to constitutional amendments. Since 1998, Tennessee has passed every constitutional amendment that has appeared on the ballot, 2014 is shaping up to be no different.

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