Backers of referenda clear final hurdle to ballot | Boston

BOSTON — Proposals to expand retail beer and wine sales and set spending controls on dental insurance providers have cleared a final hurdle to the November ballot.

Backers of both referendums had each turned in more than the 13,374 required signatures Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office by Wednesday’s deadline. While the signatures must still be certified by Galvin’s office, supporters of the plans are confident that they’ve collected more than enough to make the Nov. 8 ballot.

One proposal would ask the state’s voters to put guardrails on the financial operations of dental services by requiring insurance companies to spend at least 83% of their revenues on “dental expenses and quality improvements” instead of administrative costs.

At a rally on Boston Common before turning in the signatures Wednesday, supporters of the initiative said it seeks to fix a “broken system” where dental insurers are reaping profits off denying claims and limiting coverage.

“We do not expect dental insurance companies to waste our premiums by overpaying officers, having giant, wasteful commissions, sneaking payments to affiliates or gifts to parent companies that just add another layer of waste,” Daisy Kumar, a nurse and co-founder of the Committee on Dental Insurance Quality, said at the live-streamed event. “Our insurance payments are not meant to be gifts to dental insurance companies.”

But the proposal is opposed by a coalition of insurers and trade associations who say it would drive up health-care costs for consumers and small businesses.

In a statement, the Committee to Protect Access to Quality Dental Care said the proponents of the ballot question are “not being straight with the voters.”

“What they aren’t telling you is that their anti-consumer proposal will increase costs for Massachusetts families and employers — a nearly 40% premium increase in one recent study — and can result in thousands of residents being denied access to much-needed dental care,” the group said.

The referendum survived a legal challenge before the Supreme Judicial Court, which two weeks ago rejected a legal challenge that sought to disqualify the question.

Another proposal that appears to be set for the November ballot would ask voters to settle a decades-old battle over the licensing of retail stores to sell beer and wine. Supporters of the proposal said they turned in more than 19,000 signatures certified by city and town clerks.

The referendum, filed by the Massachusetts Package Store Association, calls for gradually increasing the number of beer and wine licenses a single company can own — rising to 18 over the next decade.

The plan would keep in place a cap on how many total licenses can be issued, and tighten limits on the sale of liquor and spirits. It also calls for tightening ID requirements for sellers and increasing penalties for businesses that are caught selling alcohol to minors.

The referendum is billed as a compromise with convenience stores that have been pushing for more beer and wine licenses, which are tightly controlled by the state.

A Galvin spokeswoman confirmed that supporters of both referendums had turned in signatures by Wednesday’s deadline, but said it could take another week before all of the signatures are counted and certified.

One question that won’t appear on the ballot is a proposal asking voters to decide whether drivers for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft should be classified as independent contractors.

That referendum was yanked by the SJC in a ruling that sided with opponents of the proposal, who argued that it would violate a requirement in the state Constitution that initiative petitions must contain only “related or mutually dependent” subjects.

Despite that, the issue of ride-hailing drivers employment status could still be decided by a state Superior Court, which is weighing a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Maura Healey calling for updating state labor laws require drivers to be paid minimum wage, with overtime and earned sick leave, among other changes.

A “millionaires tax” proposal was approved for the November ballot through a separate legislative process.

That plan, which will appear as Question 1 on the ballot, calls for amending the constitution to set a surtax of 4% on an individual’s annual taxable income above $1 million to raise money for transportation and education.

That question, too, survived a legal challenge before the SJC, which last month rejected a lawsuit filed by business groups claiming the referendum is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, a possible third question could appear on the November ballot if backers of a proposal seeking to repeal a new law authorizing drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants are able to gather the required 40,000 signatures by an Aug. 24 deadline.

In the 2020 elections, Massachusetts voters expanded a “right to repair” law allowing auto shops to access digital diagnostic information, and rejected a proposal to replace the state’s winner-take-all election system with ranked-choice voting.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.

Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.