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Questions abound on ballots for November

Voters to weigh in on variety of topics

Published: Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 11:10 p.m. CST • Updated: Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 11:51 p.m. CST

Fans of long, drawn-out novels will want to make sure they vote Nov. 4.

The Illinois ballot will start with five questions that state lawmakers decided to put to voters. Two are proposed amendments to the Illinois Constitution, while three are advisory referendums that carry no weight of law.

Put in perspective, the number of statewide questions on the ballot is more than the total of the past nine elections spanning 20 years. In Chicago, voters will face 10 questions because the Cook County Board and the Chicago City Council added two and three more advisory questions, respectively.

The questions top an already crowded ballot in which voters will elect the governor and all statewide offices and representatives to federal, state and county governments. And it doesn’t count two citizen-led petitions that judges have struck from the ballot.

Supporters of the measures maintain that the questions are legitimate measures meant to protect equal rights and gauge public opinion. To opponents, they are nothing but gimmicks to boost Democratic voter turnout. Recent polls put Republican gubernatorial challenger Bruce Rauner ahead of Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn.

The following is a summary of the questions already on the ballot. They could be joined by a sixth in the unlikely event that supporters of term limits prevail in their legal battle to get their disputed constitutional amendment added.

• Victims’ rights: This proposed amendment to Section 8.1 of the Illinois Bill of Rights would augment victims’ rights language that voters first approved in 1992.

If approved, courts will be required to hear and rule on crime victims’ requests for their rights to be enforced, and a victim’s safety will have to be a factor in the setting of bond, granting parole and determining conditions of a criminal’s release.

The amendment also clarifies that crime victims have the right to be notified of a criminal’s conviction, sentencing, imprisonment and release. The Constitution currently gives victims the right to access the information, but does not require the courts to notify.

• Voting rights: The proposed amendment would add another section to Article 3, which covers elections.

The one-sentence addition states that no person can be denied the right to register to vote or vote based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, language, sex, sexual orientation or income.

Lawmakers proposed the amendment in the wake of voter identification laws being enacted in other states, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that weakened provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

While there have been no reported incidents of what supporters call voter suppression in Illinois, backers of the bill said the amendment will prevent future state lawmakers from enacting similar laws.

• Millionaire tax: This advisory-only question will ask voters whether the state should place a 3 percent tax on annual personal income over $1 million to help fund education.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan originally hoped to make the issue a binding constitutional amendment, but two Democrats who refused to back the idea – Scott Drury of Highwood and Jack Franks of Marengo – denied him the 71 votes needed.

The question has been part of a larger debate as to whether the state should move from a flat income tax to a progressive one based on income.

While supporters favor a “millionaire tax” as a way for the wealthy to pay their fair share, opponents call the idea toxic to job creation, and label the advisory question as a dig on Rauner’s wealth meant to get Democrats to the polls.

• Contraception: Another advisory question will ask voters whether Illinois health insurance plans that provide prescription drug coverage should also be required to include prescription birth control.

Critics of the question have a legitimate point in that state law since 2004 already requires health insurers to cover contraception, and that lawmakers in deep-blue Illinois are very unlikely to ever change that. But supporters said the referendum will provide feedback if the courts strike down birth control provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The General Assembly approved the proposed question in May, and Quinn signed it days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow Hobby Lobby and other closely-held corporations with religious objections to refuse to pay for contraception coverage.

• Minimum wage: A third advisory referendum will ask voters whether the state’s minimum wage should be raised from $8.25 to $10 an hour.

Quinn and other Democratic leaders attempted to increase it during the spring session, but it stalled because the votes could not be found among the rank-and-file members.

Illinois’ current rate is the sixth-highest in the U.S., tied with Nevada and New Jersey. The rate is $1 higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Ten states are set to surpass Illinois over the next several years, either by legislative action or through automatic inflationary increases, according to National Conference of State Legislatures data.

Illinois’ rate is higher than all the surrounding states, and is the highest in the Midwest.

• LOCAL REFERENDUMS: Some DeKalb County voters will weigh in on local referendums as well.

The Sycamore Park District board has approved a referendum asking voters to borrow as much as $9 million to build amenities including a splash pad, community center, and walking trails. If voters approve the referendum, property tax rates in the park district would increase by 18 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation, and the owner of a $154,000 home who claims the homestead exemption would pay about $81 more a year in property tax.

Local governments have until Aug. 28 to put referendums on the ballot, according to the DeKalb County Clerk’s Office.

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