A year after establishing new anti-discrimination and access rights for transgender individuals, Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing to close the door on any initiative petitions that would restrict people’s “freedom and equality” rights. An amendment to restrict voter-led petitions was quietly endorsed by the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee last Wednesday and could in the next few days be placed on the Constitutional Convention calendar for this two-year session. The constitution already bars initiative petitions that are “inconsistent” with individuals’ rights set forth in the Declaration of Rights, which is similar to the Bill of Rights included in the U.S. Constitution, and disallows citizen-led ballot measures that appropriate money.
The only proposed constitutional amendments endorsed by any legislative committee so far this session are the ones to bar voter-initiated petitions that restrict “rights set forth in this constitution to freedom and equality, or the right of each individual to be protected by society in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, according to standing laws.”
Rep. Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat and a sponsor of the proposed amendment, submitted testimony to the Judiciary Committee arguing that “fairness and equality can disappear when the majority determines the rights of a less powerful group.” Rushing said the restriction on initiatives would apply to both proposed new laws and proposed changes to the constitution, and he said if it were adopted lawmakers themselves would still have the authority to pass laws restricting people’s civil rights.