With passions running strong on both sides, last month’s midterm election marked the highest voter turnout for a midterm since 1966. But with much attention focused on the House and Senate results, as well as—yet again–voting machine issues in Florida, several notable state ballot initiatives may have flown under your radar.
On a recent podcast, my XpertHR colleague Beth Zoller and I explore the election’s aftermath as we focus on several measures that voters approved involving transgender rights, minimum wage hikes and marijuana legalization laws. These initiatives did not all attract nationwide headlines, but they are part of broader trends that may well appear elsewhere on a 2020 ballot near you.
Key topics of discussion include:
- Expanded transgender rights in Massachusetts;
- Minimum wage increases in Arkansas and Missouri;
- Recreational marijuana legalization in Michigan; and
- Medical marijuana legalization in Missouri and Utah.
Massachusetts Leads the Way
Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage and is one of 20 states with laws or court rulings protecting transgender rights. But its November vote was the first statewide referendum in the nation to uphold a state law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, and voters soundly rejected efforts to repeal the measure.
The restroom use issue has become a vexing one for employers as a few states have gone the other way and sought to protect the sincerely-held religious beliefs of employees, including the belief that an individual’s sex is determined at birth. But it still remains critical for employers to provide a safe workplace for transgender employees.
Minimum Wage Again on the Rise
OK, it’s not exactly on the rise at the federal level where the minimum wage has remained frozen at $7.25 since July 2009, and seems destined to have a “10th Anniversary” at that level. But numerous states continue to take matters into their own hands. And it’s not just the blue states either.
This year, voters in Arkansas and Missouri voted convincingly in favor of increases in those states. Arkansas voters approved a ballot initiative that will gradually increase its minimum wage from its current $8.50 to:
- $9.25 on January 1, 2019;
- $10.00 on January 1, 2020; and
- $11.00 on January 1, 2021.
Meanwhile, voters in the Show Me State approved steady increases, which eventually will go even higher and will represent a jump from its current floor of $7.85 to:
- $8.60 on January 1, 2019;
- $9.45 on January 1, 2020;
- $10.30 on January 1, 2021;
- $11.00 on January 1, 2022; and
- $12.00 on January 1, 2023, with annual inflation adjustments thereafter.
The Missouri ballot measure also increased the penalty for failing to pay employees the minimum wage. During the past 20 years, every statewide initiative to raise the minimum wage has been approved. And XpertHR’s Michael Cardman notes that preparations are well underway in Florida, Nevada and North Dakota to place ballot initiatives before the voters in those states in 2020.
Legalizing Medical and Recreational Marijuana
Also in November, Michigan became the first Midwestern state to legalize recreational marijuana and the 10th overall. North Dakota voters rejected a similar measure. A pending bill in Michigan would require judges to expunge the records of individuals convicted of low-level marijuana offenses.
But as is the case in other states to have legalized the drug, Michigan employers remain free to maintain zero-tolerance drug policies for their employees.
As for medical marijuana, the list of states that have legalized its use either through legislative or ballot initiatives has now grown to 33 after voters approved measures in Missouri and Utah.
Finally, there were several notable firsts in the recent election that represented landmark developments, including the:
- First openly bisexual US senator (Kyrsten Sinema, AZ);
- First openly gay US governor to be elected (Jared Polis);
- First Native American women elected to Congress (KS and NM); and the
- Reelection of the nation’s first bisexual governor (Kate Brown, OR).
For more details about what the 2018 ballot initiatives mean for employers, listen in to our XpertHR podcast.