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Stuffed ballots

"Stuffed ballots" Continued...

Issue: "Stand in the gap," Nov. 5, 2005

Minnesota, Rhode Island, California, New Mexico, Illinois, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia include "gender identity" within their gay-rights laws. Authorities report extremely rare instances of transgender discrimination claims, suggesting the hyped-up importance of such language is vastly overblown.

WASHINGTON

Despite lacking highly charged social issues, the Evergreen State ballot contains two initiatives sure to draw voters locally and attention nationally.

The first extends the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans smoking in public places. I-901 would expand the Act's definition of "public places" to include bars, bowling alleys, casinos, foster homes, 75 percent of hotel rooms, and areas within 25 feet of doors to smoke-free buildings. All tribal lands, though, would remain exempt from the Act. Proponents of the measure argue that everyone has the right to breathe clean indoor air in all these places. Opponents emphasize rights of private property and ask why voluntarily present customers cannot choose to expose themselves to secondhand smoke if they wish.

The second initiative would cap noneconomic medical malpractice damages at $350,000 in an effort to combat soaring awards from malpractice lawsuits. The cap would not apply to medical costs, lost income, prescription drugs, and other direct damages.

More than half of all doctors in Washington have referred patients away for services they no longer offer due to high insurance premiums. Claims for "pain and suffering" have received huge awards, with personal injury lawyers who receive a percentage of the award often the driving force. I-330 would limit attorney fees via a sliding scale.

Campaigns for and against the measure have been well-financed, with doctors and lawyers raising well beyond $10 million for it and another initiative that would punish multi-malpractice offenders.

A similar battle waged in Florida last year generated $37 million in contributions for three medical malpractice measures. All three provisions passed but hardly ended the debate. "It didn't resolve anything," Florida state Rep. Dan Gelber told the Seattle Times. "It really was just a big food fight between powerful special interests." Washington will not likely prove any different.

OTHERS

An Ohio ballot measure proposes a drastic overhaul of congressional district lines, calling for the creation of 10 competitive districts by 2008. Current configuration packs Democrats overwhelmingly into six districts, while Republicans carry majorities in 12 districts-this in a state with a razor-thin political dividing line, as the 2004 presidential election showed.

California voters are considering similar redistricting changes, but for opposite political reasons: Republicans in the Democrat-controlled state hope new boundary lines will tighten competition.

Though Florida voters will stay home this month, the Sunshine State promises a head start to the hot-button issue of next year's election. The political action committee Citizens for Science and Ethics aims to place on the ballot a measure barring state funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

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