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Controversial laws pass in several states' elections

Nov. 4, 2004

By DAVID CRARY, associated press writer

Californians voted Tuesday to spend $3 billion on stem cell research, putting the state on the cutting edge of a field questioned by conservatives and the Bush administration. Arizonans approved a crackdown on illegal immigrants, and 11 states from Georgia to Oregon adopted bans on same-sex marriage.

Elsewhere, Montana became the 10th state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, but Alaskans defeated a more ambitious proposal to decriminalize pot altogether. In Oregon, voters rejected a measure that would have dramatically expanded its existing medical marijuana program.

Federal drug czar John Walters was heartened by the outcome in Alaska.

"This public health victory reaffirms the simple, inescapable fact that no family, no community, no state is better off with more drug use," he said.

In all, 163 measures were on the ballots in 34 states. The adoption of constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage in every state where the question was on the ballot dealt a major setback to the gay-rights movement.

Backers of California's Proposition 71, which will support human embryonic stem cell research, said the measure was needed because the Bush administration has restricted funding to about $25 million a year. The campaign became a battle of Hollywood stars after actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger broke Republican ranks to line up in support with late Superman actor Christopher Reeve and Family Ties actor Michael J. Fox.

Actor and director Mel Gibson was among high-profile foes of the measure.

The Arizona immigration initiative -- the first of its kind in the nation -- was touted by supporters as a way to curtail fraud by requiring people to produce proof of immigration status when obtaining certain government services. It would punish state workers who looked the other way, and require proof of citizenship to register to vote.

"People understand at a gut level that we've got a problem with illegal immigration and we've got to address it," said Randy Pullen, a leading supporter of Proposition 200.

Arizona is the busiest illegal entry point on the U.S.-Mexico border, and spends millions annually to provide food stamps, welfare and other social services to illegal immigrants.

Floridians and Nevadans voted to raise their states' minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, a dollar higher than the federal minimum wage. The new Nevada wage will apply only to employers who do not offer health insurance.

Florida voters also approved a measure limiting the privacy rights of girls seeking abortions, meaning the Legislature can now pass a law requiring parents to be notified. Lawmakers had been stymied in efforts to pass such a law by court rulings that say they violated the privacy provision of the state constitution.

Colorado defeated a measure would have allocated its electoral votes proportionally, based on the popular vote for president, and would have applied to this year's race between President Bush and John Kerry.

Voters in Maine and South Dakota both declined opportunities to lower taxes. South Dakotans defeated a bid to scrap the sales tax on groceries, while a measure to cap property taxes lost in Maine after opponents said it would force layoffs of teachers and firefighters.

In Washington, voters rejected a penny-on-the-dollar sales-tax increase to raise money for education, turning down a well-financed appeal for greater investment in the state's young people.

Voters in Colorado, Oklahoma and Montana approved hikes in tobacco taxes, with most of the new revenue earmarked for health care. In Alaska and Maine, voters defeated proposals to ban the use of bait while hunting bears.

Oklahoma voters approved a state lottery, leaving only nine states without one.

A nationwide dispute between doctors and trial lawyers over whether to limit malpractice awards was on the ballot in several states.

In Florida, doctors prevailed with an amendment limiting the percentage of malpractice awards that lawyers can claim. But attorneys won amendments to give the public more information about doctors' mistakes and to take away the licenses of doctors who make several medical errors.

In Wyoming, voters rejected a proposed amendment that would have let lawmakers consider limiting jury awards for pain and suffering, while Nevada voters approved a physician-backed initiative that would impose a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages in malpractice cases.

Californians turned aside a proposition that would have weakened the state's three-strikes law by allowing 25 years-to-life sentences only if third-time felons were convicted of a serious or violent crime instead of the sometimes minor offenses permitted under current law.