BOSTON—Proposals to radically revamp bilingual education and to empower communities to rein in developers — both of which have key supporters in Central Massachusetts — were among 18 initiative petitions approved by the state attorney general yesterday.
Supporters now must collect 57,100 signatures to get their measures on the ballot for the Nov. 5, 2002, election.
The certified petitions include two constitutional amendments, which would limit marriage to heterosexual couples and bar state and local governments from giving benefits to unmarried couples.
Other petitions would end the state personal income and sales taxes; provide paid leave for new parents; tie the minimum wage to inflation; and ban the slaughter of horses for meat. Among those not certified was a proposal to cut off health insurance to the governor and state lawmakers unless they approve universal health coverage for all Massachusetts residents by 2004.
Mr. Reilly said it didn’t set forth a new law, as the state Constitution requires of ballot questions.
State Sen. Guy W. Glodis, D-Worcester, the main supporter in the Legislature to replace bilingual education with English-only instruction for foreign students, said backers now are working on a strategy to obtain the necessary signatures.
Mr. Glodis said he spoke recently with Lincoln Tamaya, the former Chelsea high school principal who is leading the petition drive, and Ron Unz, the California businessman who is bankrolling it.
They have settled on a goal of collecting 100,000 signatures to make sure the signatures withstand challenges and enough are ruled valid.
I’m expecting this to easily get the signatures it needs, and I’ve offered my support to do it,” he said. First we have to focus on the signatures.
>From there, we’ll open a PR campaign to educate people about bilingual education.
I envision that this petition will pass with 70 percent of the vote,” Mr.
Critics of the state’s bilingual education system argue that immigrant students are kept back because they are taught English too slowly, and that immersion in the new language quickly is the most effective way to learn English.
Defenders of the current approach say a gradual approach is better because many immigrants need more time to learn English. They say immersion would be unfair to many students.
A competing petition, authored by state Rep. Jarret T. Barrios, D-Cambridge,
would tighten teacher certification standards and allow school districts to set up their own bilingual programs. Mr. Barrios has been promoting a compromise between the anti-bilingual education forces and supporters of the current system.
The other petition with Central Massachusetts origins was proposed by Peter M. Confrey, chairman of the Upton Board of Selectmen, who was inspired by his fight against a pair of large subdivisions that developers want to build in his town.
The measure would allow towns and cities to impose restrictions on developers by amending the state’s 30-year-old affordable housing law. The law, known as Chapter 40B,” gives tax breaks to builders who include low-cost units in housing developments.
There’s a fair amount of sentiment, particularly in the suburbs, that 40B isn’t working,” Mr. Confrey said. There’s some outrage out there, and we’re going to try to tap into that.”
The petition would allow local zoning boards to limit the size of buildings,
and to set open space and parking requirements.
While opponents of the law say it gives too much leeway to developers,
affordable housing activists see the statute as an effective means of ensuring that some inexpensive units are built in communities that are too expensive for most families.
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly was presented with 27 proposed initiative petitions by last month’s deadline. He reviewed the questions to determine whether they abided by the state constitution, and did not certify eight of the petitions because of constitutional problems. One petition was withdrawn.
The 18 approved petitions cover 12 different issues because some groups submitted several versions of the same topic.
The disappointed supporters of the health insurance petition said the state’s powerful health care industry had influenced the decision, in the same way it spent millions of dollars last year to defeat a previous universal health care ballot question.
If the HMOs hadn’t intervened, the attorney general would have certified this as legal,” said David Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard University and a sponsor of the proposal.
Also rejected were proposals to make the Massachusetts Port Authority board an elected body, and to provide for recall elections for county sheriffs.