BOSTON — Plans to expand retail beer and wine sales and define ride-hailing drivers as independent contractors are among a narrowing roster of proposed referendums inching toward next year’s ballot.
Wednesday was the deadline to submit the requisite 80,239 certified signatures of registered voters to local election offices, a major hurdle to the 2022 ballot.
Supermarkets and convenience stores would have access to more beer and wine licenses under a proposal that aims to resolve a decades-old dispute over limits on retail alcohol sales. The referendum calls for gradually increasing the number of licenses a single company can own — rising to 18 over the next decade.
But it would keep in place a cap on how many total licenses can be issued, tighten limits on the sale of liquor and spirits, enhance ID requirements for sellers and increase penalties for businesses caught selling alcohol to minors.
The ballot question is billed as a compromise with convenience stores that are pushing for more beer and wine licenses, which are tightly controlled by the state.
Supermarkets are allowed to apply for licenses to sell beer and wine in Massachusetts, but a single company is limited to nine licenses. That cap increased this year, under a previous agreement between package stores and food stores. But “packies” say lifting up the cap entirely would destroy their industry.
“We are in a fight for our survival,” said Rob Mellion, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Store Association, which turned in more than 100,000 signatures. “We are taking this to the voters, and want them to know that by supporting this they are supporting local businesses and the economy.”
Another proposal that has apparently turned in enough signatures by Wednesday’s deadline would grant new benefits for Uber and Lyft drivers, such as health care stipends and paid sick time, while affirming their status as independent contractors.
Supporters include the California-based ride hailing services, as well as the food delivery service DoorDash. They say classifying drivers as contractors will allow them to boost drivers’ pay and provide a health care stipend.
Critics of the proposal, including labor unions, call it a thinly veiled attempt by the companies to skirt state taxes and labor laws.
One proposal that failed to reach Wednesday’s hurdle was a plan to bring back “happy hour” at bars and restaurants throughout the state.
The proposal’s sponsor, Attorney Nick Silveira, said he wasn’t able to enlist enough volunteers to gather the required number of signatures.
“I was going it alone and didn’t have the capital to get signature gatherers and didn’t get the backing of some big groups that I was hoping for,” he said.
Silveira said that if lawmakers don’t approve a standalone bill pending before the Legislature he plans to renew the effort for the 2024 ballot.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Nurses Association has backed away from three proposed ballot questions calling for redistributing earnings from affluent hospitals, increasing financial transparency, and prohibiting hospital CEOs from working with pharmaceutical firms.
A spokesperson for the union said it decided to abandon its signature gathering efforts out of the concern for nurses and other healthcare workers who remain on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The status of several other proposed ballot initiatives — including a Republican-led effort to require voter ID, a proposal to legalize fireworks and another plan aimed at curtailing the state’s participation in a regional transportation climate initiative — wasn’t clear on Wednesday.
In September, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office certified 17 initiatives filed by individuals and groups seeking voter approval for changes in state law.
Even as they clear this hurdle, backers of the referenda have several other steps on their way to next year’s ballot. The signatures turned into city and town clerks by Wednesday’s deadline must be verified and submitted to the Secretary of State’s office by a Dec. 1 deadline.
From there, backers must seek legislative approval for their proposals. If that fails they must gather another round of signatures to get a spot on the ballot.
The so-called “millionaires tax” proposal was approved for the 2022 ballot through a separate legislative process. That plan calls for a surtax of 4% on an individual’s annual taxable income above $1 million to raise money for transportation and education projects.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org