Capitol Report: Minimum wage expansion, abortion restrictions among ballot initiatives for Tuesday



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Activists and low-wage workers gathered on Capitol Hill in 2017 gathered to rally for a $15 minimum wage and rights to form unions.

Beyond electing governors, members of the Senate and House, in 37 states, voters will decide on 155 statewide ballot measures.

Those measures range from displaying the ten commandments on state property in Alabama to legalizing casino gambling in Florida. Additionally 15 states will vote on measures relating to election policy such as voting requirements and campaign finance.

Also on the ballot in four states are initiatives to legalize marijuana usage. Voters in North Dakota and Michigan will be deciding on legalizing recreational marijuana, while in Missouri and Utah, voters will decide on the legalization of medical marijuana. Oklahoma recently legalized medical marijuana through a ballot initiatives earlier this year.

Related: The marijuana initiatives to watch during the midterms

Minimum wage

Both Arkansas and Missouri will be voting on initiatives to raise the minimum wage. In Arkansas, which is currently ranked as the second lowest cost of living state, the minimum wage is currently $8.50. The ballot initiative, if passed, will raise the minimum wage in the state incrementally to reach $11 an hour by 2021.

In Missouri, which is currently ranked as the seventh lowest cost of living state, the minimum wage is currently $7.85 an hour. If voters approve of the initiative, by 2023 the minimum wage will be $12 an hour.

One of the key arguments for minimum wage increases typically hinges upon high costs of living that workers may not be able to afford at a given minimum wage. Despite the fact that Arkansas and Missouri are the second and seventh lowest cost of living states, “there is a need to raise the minimum wage in these states,” said Negin Owliaei, inequality editor and researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think-tank based in Washington, D.C.

“$300 a week is definitely not enough to live off of,” she said. “They’re poverty wages.” A full-time worker in Missouri making the current minimum wage of $7.85 an hour would earn $16,328 a year, slightly below the national poverty guideline for a two-person household. However, it does exceed the national poverty guideline for a one-person household which is currently stated as $12,140 a year.

Given that voters will be the ones to determine whether or not the minimum wage is increased in the two states as opposed to elected representatives, Owliaei said it is much more likely that it will come to fruition. Polling also indicates the high likelihood of the minimum wage initiatives to pass in both sates.

Since January 2014, 27 states and Washington, D.C., have increased their minimum wages.

Abortion

Alabama, Oregon, and West Virginia will all be voting on measures concerning abortion access and government funding. In Alabama, it is currently illegal to obtain an abortion 20 weeks after fertilization. The ballot initiative seeks to curtail abortions by not requiring the state to “protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

In Oregon, it is currently legal to obtain an abortion under state-funded health insurance plans, if approved by a medical professional. On Tuesday, voters will decide whether or not public funds can continue to be used to support abortion procedures, with the exception of abortions that are “deemed medically necessary or required by federal law,” states the ballot measure. In 1978, Oregon was the first state to offer a ballot initiative to prohibit a state from providing funding for abortions, Ryan Byrne, a staff writer from Ballotpedia, a non-partisan site which tracks state ballot initiatives, said. Voters ended up rejecting the 1979 Oregon measure, and Byrne said that it is highly likely that voters will do so again according to polling.

Similarly, in West Virginia, voters will decide if the government can add a an amendment to the state’s constitution stating that “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

Historically, 23% of measures designed to prohibit, restrict, or regulation abortions, were approved by voters, Byrne said.

Elisabeth Buchwald is a reporting intern at MarketWatch. She is based in New York.

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