Labor activists fail to force minimum wage question onto ballot

BOSTON—Labor activists failed to get enough signatures to put a question boosting the minimum wage on next year’s ballot, despite backing from U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and the state AFL-CIO.

Several other proposed ballot questions, including initiatives banning gay marriages and abolishing the state income tax, collected more than the 57,100 certified signatures, supporters said. The tax question would appear on next year’s ballot and the gay marriage question in 2004. The failure of the minimum wage signature drive is a blow to organized labor. The question would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $6.75 to $7 per hour and linked increases to inflation.

Earlier in the year, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO abandoned a second ballot initiative that would have provided paid parental leave to new parents.

“This was our first experience with ballot initiatives and it was a real learning experience for us,” said AFL-CIO Treasurer Kathleen A. Casavant.

An initiative that would dramatically overhaul the state’s bilingual education program appears headed for the ballot. Supporters said they collected 76,000 certified signatures.

The initiative would dismantle bilingual education and place non-English speakers into regular classes after a year in “English-intensive” classes.

“The fact that we were able to get so many signatures in little more than a month underscores how strongly Massachusetts voters feel about providing equal educational opportunities for our immigrant and non-English speaking students,” said supporter Lincoln Tamayo.

Three other initiatives filed signatures with the Secretary of State’s office.

One would make it a crime to slaughter a horse for food for human consumption. Another would repeal the state income tax after July 1, 2003. A third would define marriage in Massachusetts as a union between one man and one woman.

The signatures must be reviewed by the Secretary of State’s office before receiving final certification.

Several other questions failed to get sufficient signatures including proposals:

– Stripping lawmakers of state-funded health insurance until they approve universal health care.

– Setting speed limits in thickly settled areas at 30 mph.

– Allowing recall elections for county sheriffs.

– Increasing regulations on coal ash, which is produced by power plants.

The Legislature has until the end of April to act on the proposed laws. If lawmakers fail to act, petitioners must gather another 9,500 signatures.

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