Abortion, weed, and why Texas can’t vote on either. Ohioans recently voted on two critical issues, abortion, and recreational marijuana use, successfully passing measures to protect abortion rights and legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Similar to Texas, Ohio is a state where Republicans have complete control. Still, citizens gathered enough signatures to put these measures on the ballot and secure their rights.
In contrast, Texas residents face challenges in changing laws related to abortion and marijuana because of a limited power called the citizen initiative. Only about half of the states in the U.S. allow ordinary citizens to collect signatures and force a statewide vote on proposed constitutional amendments or statutes. This process empowers people to influence laws directly without relying solely on elected officials.
States like California, Oregon, South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, and Montana, among others, allow citizen initiatives, leading to changes such as protecting abortion rights, legalizing marijuana, and increasing the minimum wage in various states.
The power to change laws in Texas rests with the GOP-run Texas Legislature, which would need to pass a proposed constitutional amendment for voters to approve. However, the Legislature is hesitant to give voters this initiative power because it would mean relinquishing some control and allowing laws to be passed without direct involvement from elected officials.
One reason for this reluctance is citizens may pass policies that GOP leaders oppose. Surveys indicate that a significant number of registered voters in Texas approve of expanding access to abortion, liberalizing weed laws, raising the minimum wage, and expanding Medicaid.
The lack of direct involvement from citizens in policy changes means that some of the laws in Texas do not align with the people’s preferences. Other states implementing citizen initiatives have seen positive changes, including protecting abortion rights, marijuana legalization, and improving healthcare and workers’ rights.
The idea of citizen initiatives dates back to the Progressive Era in the early 20th century, but Texas missed the opportunity to adopt this policy in 1913. Efforts to introduce citizen initiatives resurfaced in 1978 but faced opposition from the Democratic-led Legislature. While the idea was revisited in the late 1990s, it hasn’t gained much traction in Texas.
Despite criticisms of citizen initiatives, such as potential corporate influence and controversial decisions in some states, they have generally led to positive outcomes. A review of recent initiatives in various states suggests that citizens tend to favor measures that bring broad benefits, such as wage increases, health insurance expansion, and quality-of-life enhancements.
In Texas, if citizens had the power to initiate changes, they might align laws with their preferences, including access to health insurance, higher wages, and legalized marijuana and abortion. This could also lead to the repeal of controversial laws passed by the Legislature. While risks are associated with citizen initiatives, many Texans may see the potential rewards as worth challenging the current system and giving citizens a fair chance to influence policies that affect them.