Massachusetts has long been noted for the direct political action of its citizens and that tradition is reaffirmed today with five referenda on the ballot. The questions range in reach and scope from binding initiative on state environmental and criminal law to an advisory question on national foreign policy.
The referenda questions and their prospects are
Question 1 State Aid to Nonpublic School Students and Certain Institutions
This initiative would amend the state constitution to allow some public aid for students in private primary of secondary schools. Assistance would be allowed only if the private school did not discriminate on the basic of race or color, the individual student requested the aid and if the aid was consistent with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits government establishment of religion. The proposed amendment would also loosen restrictions on state and to hospitals and certain religious or charitable ventures.
Although is passed overwhelmingly in the state legislature, polls indicate that opinion is evenly divided on this issue. Supporters, including many Catholic groups, note that the amendment would simply bring Massachusetts law in line with federal constitutional provisions. Opponents, however, argue that, in the state's current dire fiscal condition, aid to private school students would siphon sorely needed funds from the public school system.
Question 2 The Death Penalty
Another proposed amendment to the state constitution. Question 2 would allow the death penalty as punishment for certain crimes. It approved the measure would require enabling legislation specifying when capital punishment may be applied
Early polls showed close to 70 percent of the voters favoring restoration of capital punishment but a recent survey by WNEV-TV and Cambridge Reports, Inc shows a smaller gap with 55 percent in favor of the amendment 39 percent opposed and 6 percent undecided.
Question 3: Restriction Low-Level Radioactive., Waste Disposal and Nuclear Power Plant Construction
This initiative was placed on the ballot after citizens collected the required 66,000 signatures earlier this year. Since the referendum is binding, the measure will become law it approved by voters today.
Question 3 requires that the construction or operation of any new nuclear power plant or disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste be examined by the legislature to insure that it meets certain standards, and then be approved by a majority of voters at a statewide election. The law would exempt storage or disposal facilities for wastes generated by medical or bio-research, as well as facilities that had received all needed government approvals poor to August 5, 1981.
This is probably the most complicated issue on the ballot and popular sentiment does not divide along the traditional lines Certain liberal organizers such as the League of Women Voters as well as some environmental groups and academics involved in medical or biological research--have joined the large power companies in opposing the proposed law. Opponents say that existing safeguards are adequate and some citizens groups object that the law would by pass local decisionmaking. Researchers, despite the exemptions tear that the law will severely restrict their activities. They explain that it would be too costly for individual laboratories or universities to construct their own storage and disposal facilities.
Defenders of the law, however, argue that there are adequate safeguards to protect community interests and that it is feasible for researchers to construct their own facilities, especially if done cooperatively. Albert M. Giordano, campaign director of the Massachusetts Nuclear Referendum Campaign, characterizes the campaign as one between "populists" and "elitists". Giordano insists that the public is competent to decide the siting of nuclear facilities and that the law would institute a safer and more democratic mechanism for doing so. Polls consistently show that a majority of votes support the law.
Question 4: Regulating Bottles and cans
Last fall when the legislature overrode Governor King's veto of a law imposing a deposit on beverage bottles and cans, opponents secured the signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot. A majority of "no" votes on Question 4 will repeal the law, which otherwise will take effect, as scheduled, on January 17, 1983.