It looks like voters in Massachusetts will soon be casting their ballots to decide whether to support or reject “a new law that would prohibit (1) confinement of egg- laying hens, calves raised for veal, and breeding pigs on a commercial farm ‘in a cruel manner,’ i.e., under conditions that prevent them from lying down, standing up, fully extending their limbs, or turning around freely; and (2) the sale by any business within the Commonwealth of ‘shell’ eggs, ‘whole veal meat,’ and ‘whole pork meat’ that the business owner or operator ‘knows or should know’ was produced from animals so confined.”
In a slip opinion just entered, the Mass. Supreme Court upheld the validity of this ballot initiative.
As described in the opinion:
The sales provision, contained in section 3 of the petition, would make it “unlawful for a business owner or operator to knowingly engage in the sale within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts of any:
“(A) Shell egg that the business owner or operator knows or should know is the product of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.
“(B) Whole veal meat that the business owner or operator knows or should know is the meat of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.
“(C) Whole pork meat that the business owner or operator knows or should know is the meat of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner, or is the meat of the immediate offspring of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.”
“On April 25, 2016, the plaintiffs commenced an action against the Attorney General and the Secretary in the county court . . . requesting declaratory relief . . . that petition 15-11 fails to meet the requirements of art. 48 and that the Attorney General erred in certifying it, and further requested a direction that the Secretary take no further steps to advance the petition or submit it to the voters.”
The Court opinion denied plaintiff’s requests finding that “the Attorney General properly certified that petition 15-11 contains only subjects that are related or are mutually dependent. It is therefore fair to ask the people of the Commonwealth to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a single petition containing both the farm and the sales provisions.”
The Court opinion also rejected Plaintiffs’ assertion that the policy statement included in the preamble was improper and argumentative and should be stricken, finding that such policy statements of the law’s intended purpose aided courts when they “have been called upon to interpret the meaning of laws adopted by initiative petition, we have been guided by statements of purpose.”
However, the Court opinion discussed its concerns that the law would be presented to the voters with a one-sentence statement that describes only the effect on farm animals raised within the state, and nothing about the sales ban that would affect every state citizen.
The one-sentence statements inform voters as follows:
“A YES VOTE would prohibit any confinement of pigs, calves, and hens that prevents them from lying down, standing up, fully extending their limbs, or turning around freely.
“A NO VOTE would make no change in current laws relative to the keeping of farm animals.”
The Court opinion included concerns because it “recognized that the one-sentence statements might be clearly misleading to voters because they make no reference to the sales provision, even though the initiative petition includes only two primary provisions and, in contrast with the farm provision, the sales provision will potentially affect every Massachusetts consumer of eggs, veal, and pork.”
However, after additional briefing about this concern, the Court opinion held that it “lack[ed] jurisdiction to order amendment of the one-sentence statements” because the plaintiffs had not filed a complaint to amend the statement as prescribed by law.