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SJC hears arguments over potential ballot questions on liquor licenses, ride-sharing companies

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments virtually on challenges to a series of possible ballot questions which could go before voters in November.
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Suffolk University School of Law
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments virtually on challenges to a series of possible ballot questions which could go before voters in November.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments virtually today surrounding three potential ballot questions. One of the questions would impact where and how customers buy liquor in the state.

The proposal would make changes to liquor license caps for retailers while banning alcohol sales at automated checkouts. It would also loosen penalties for businesses who violate liquor laws.

Opponents said state Attorney General Maura Healey should not have signed off on the ballot question, because it mixes more than one subject — which runs counter to the state constitution. Justice David Lowy disagreed.

"That's all related to gauging how many licenses should be out there," Lowy said. "There's nothing about relatedness that says that internal regulations all have to be going in the same direction."

The SJC heard a similar challenge on another potential question, which would make changes to the status and compensation for people working for companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Another potential ballot initiative went before the court Wednesday for a different reason. Opponents of a question which would create a new tax on income over $1 million said descriptions written by the state attorney general's office and secretary of state could mislead voters.

The proposal calls for new revenue to be used on education and transportation spending.

Attorney Kevin Martin told justices the descriptions make it seem like lawmakers must increase spending in those areas. Martin said they could also keep spending levels the same and redirect current funds elsewhere.

"They instead advance the proponent's misleading narrative that additional tax revenues are to be used, and would be used, for education and transportation spending, a supposed spending commitment that was designed to have a significant impact on voters," he said.

Martin is looking for a clarification to be added to the description. But an assistant attorney general, Robert Toone, defended the wording, and said additional language is not necessary.

According to a press release from Secretary of State Bill Galvin's office, if the SJC takes no action to halt any of the initiatives, proponents will still need to gather an additional 13,374 additional signatures to make the November ballot.

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