The Maryland state law (SB167) granting illegal aliens discounted tuition to state colleges and universities is now officially suspended and is unlikely to ever take effect. With the certification by the State Board of Elections of sufficient petition signatures, the law (any law except revenue), is suspended unless it wins the vote at the next general election
Tuition breaks for illegal aliens will be defeated by large margins. The fact that such an unpopular measure could pass the General Assembly is testament to how out of step the leadership of our legislature is with the citizens of Maryland. The arrogance of one party domination defeats the ideas of representative democracy and produces many unpopular laws that a majority of the electorate would never asked to be imposed.
For that reason I believe the success of the petition goes well beyond the particular issue of tuition breaks, but will have a long term effect on the process of law making in Annapolis. With the referendum, the opponents of an issue now have a new check on the excesses of the legislative process. It will make a difference.
The fact that the referendum process has been available for a century is not meaningful, because of its infrequent use few took it seriously. The last attempt was in 1992. The law was designed to be rare and difficult, with tight time frames and large signature thresholds.
What has changed is technology and the internet and the ability to coordinate the large signature collection process more efficiently and inexpensively. It is still not an easy process, but the ease by which the opponents collected TWICE as many signatures as necessary with a total outlay of around $14,000 has changed Maryland politics forever.
By saying politics will be changed forever I do not mean that we will see a huge series of petition drives, but I do mean that the leadership of the General Assembly will curb some of its excesses on the handful of very controversial bills that come before the legislature.
I predict that a couple bills that would have passed, now will not, but many more will be more moderate in approach to avert the likelihood of being petitioned, and if petitioned, to win acceptance by the voters.. For those bills, I think minority input will be more accepted and we will have greater ability to debate and amend the legislation which is a great improvement to the process and the final product.
Moreover, the petition process will add new urgency to the timing of legislation. Tax increases are usually loaded into the first year of a four year term with the hopes that voters will forgive before the next election. Likewise, the petition process that will put controversial issues on the ballot can dramatically affect who shows up to vote and must be planned.
The next general election, 2012, is a smaller ballot with mostly federal offices and so is safe, but the following election, 2014, will include the election of the Governor and all the state office holders. For that reason, any controversial legislation that is not passed in the 2012 legislative session (e.g. gay marriage) will likely be held until after the 2014 elections. That is an enormous change.