AG rejects proposed ballot question on fireworks

Healey certifies ballot initiatives on taxes, marijuana

Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey.
Harrison Hill for The Boston Globe
Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey.

Attorney General Maura Healey on Wednesday declared that ballot initiatives to raise taxes on the wealthy, legalize marijuana, and create restrictions aimed at curbing cruelty to farm animals should be allowed to move forward.

But she rejected proposals legalizing fireworks and seeking to limit the influence of corporate spending in elections.

The fireworks petition sought to end the state ban on the possession and sale of consumer fireworks. But Healey’s office ruled that the measure would also repeal parts of state law regulating any explosive material, not just fireworks, and that the parts of the petition were not substantially related, which could lead to confusion for voters.


The initiative’s proponent, former state representative Richard Bastien of Gardner, said Wednesday he was surprised by Healey’s decision and would push for approval of fireworks sales through the Legislature. If lawmakers don’t act, he said, he would file the initiative again in 2018.

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Petitions to legalize another banned substance, recreational marijuana, were approved. Two groups are supporting separate measures, meaning that Massachusetts voters could see two ballot questions on the topic in 2016.

One group, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, is pushing for highly regulated production facilities and retail outlets, and additional taxes on marijuana sales. It is also calling for residents to be able to grow a small amount of marijuana in their homes and for adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

“If Massachusetts can successfully regulate and tax alcohol, it can successfully regulate and tax a less harmful substance like marijuana,” said campaign manager Will Luzier.

Bay State Repeal is not looking to impose additional regulations on marijuana and would not create a bureaucracy or impose taxes in addition to sales taxes, said spokesman Steve Epstein. The proposal would also not limit the amount of marijuana cultivated in private homes for personal use.


On Wednesday, representatives of both groups said they would move forward separately.

Supporters of higher taxes on incomes greater than $1 million will move forward with petitions calling for a constitutional amendment. Similar ballot measures have failed five times, the last in 1994. The current proposal would scrap the flat state income tax — everyone currently pays at a rate of 5.15 percent — and create a two-tiered system, with all earnings over $1 million taxed at a rate 4 percentage points higher.

A measure backed by the Humane Society of the United States and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which would make it illegal for Massachusetts businesses to sell some meat and eggs from animals kept in small crates, was also certified. Opponents have said it would hurt family farms and raise prices.

Two union-backed proposals that would boost insurance payments to small hospitals and lower payments to large ones were also certified. Service Employees International Union 1199 maintains that its proposals would level the playing field between institutions run by Partners’ Healthcare and community hospitals.

A proposed law to strengthen access to public records filed by Secretary of State William F. Galvin was also certified. Galvin has said he would prefer the Legislature to act on its own — and that he would withdraw the ballot initiative if it does so. Galvin’s measure would decrease the cost of black and white copies to 15 cents per page, allow citizens to recover attorney’s fees if an agency is found to be withholding public records in bad faith, and institute fines of up to $1,000 for public officials that improperly deny access to records.


In all, more than 30 initiative petitions were filed. Healey’s rulings Wednesday were just one step in a long process to put the measures before state voters.

Supporters of certified petitions must now collect tens of thousands of signatures. Supporters of petitions that were not certified can appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court, which has the last word. Opponents to the ballot initiatives can also challenge the measures in court.

The group Pass Mass Amendment, which is trying to pass a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and that money is not speech, filed six petitions, in the hope that one would be acceptable to the attorney general. The group was among the disappointed petitioners Wednesday. A similar petition was rejected by former attorney general Martha Coakley’s office.

“They’re saying again that corporations are individuals,” said organizer Nicholas J. Bokron. “It just doesn’t make sense.” The group is planning to go ahead with collecting signatures and is hoping for a different ruling in court.

Initiative petitions aimed at reducing euthanasia in animal shelters, ending Common Core education standards, and increasing access to charter schools were also certified.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education stated its opposition to the proposal to end Common Core. The group, which is funded by businesses and foundations, said it hasn’t decided whether it would challenge the initiative in court, said Executive Director Linda Noonan.

A constitutional amendment stating that nothing in the constitution should be “construed as requiring the public funding of abortion,” was also certified.

Jill Terreri Ramos can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jillterreri.