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Limits on Legislative Power

Limiting the Legislature's Power to Amend and Repeal Initiated Statutes

Last updated June 28, 2011

The legislature's power to amend and/or repeal a statute passed by the initiative is restricted in the following 10 states: 

 

Alaska                    No repeal within 2 years; amendment by majority vote any time

Arizona                  ¾ vote to amend; amending legislation must “further the purpose” of the measure; legislature may not repeal an initiative

Arkansas               2/3 vote of the members of each house to amend or repeal

California              No amendment or repeal of an initiative statute by the Legislature unless the initiative specifically permits it

Michigan               ¾ vote to amend or repeal

Nebraska               2/3 vote required to amend or repeal

Nevada                  No amendment or repeal within 3 years of enactment

North Dakota       2/3 vote required to amend or repeal within 7 years of effective date

Washington          2/3 vote required to amend or repeal within 2 years of enactment

Wyoming              No repeal within 2 years of effective date; amendment by majority vote anytime

 

In the remaining initiative states (Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah), the Legislature may amend or repeal an initiative statute with a simple majority vote.

 

Pros & Cons

Limiting the legislature's power to amend and/or repeal a statute enacted through the initiative may be an incentive to encourage the use of the statutory initiative over the constitutional initiative. Very often, initiative proponents elect to use the constitutional initiative in order to prevent the legislature from amending or repealing their proposal. If proponents were assured that the legislature's ability to amend and/or repeal statutory initiatives was limited, perhaps they would be more inclined to avail themselves of the statutory initiative process.  NCSL research in the historical use of the initiative process has demonstrated that this is, in fact, an incentive:  in the states with these restrictions, the constitutional initiative is used less frequently than in the states without restrictions on the legislature's ability to amend initiated states.

On the other hand, sometimes initiative measures have errors, flaws, or unintended consequences.  Economies rise and fall, technology evolves at an astonishing rate, and public attitudes change with time.  A policy that is popular in a given election year may no longer be relevant or useful a decade or two later.  If the Legislature's ability to amend the initiative measure is too highly restricted, it may not be possible to correct such problems or adjust policy to keep up with a quickly changing world.

For More Information

For more information on initiative and referendum, please contact Jennie Drage Bowser in NCSL's Denver office.

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