IREHR has documented many of the human rights setbacks in the 2014 elections. At the same time, there are some important victories to highlight. These include victories in areas of women’s rights, pro-worker legislation, and gun safety.
Despite the defeat of the pro-immigrant Measure 88 in Oregon, there were some hopeful signs for human rights in the state. Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 89, 63.8% to 36.2%, the Oregon Equal Rights for Women Initiative, which guaranteed that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.”
Other states voted to protect women’s reproductive rights. Two states rejected so-called “personhood” measures, which would have severely restricted women’s reproductive rights and would have granted legal rights to fertilized eggs. For the third federal election in a row, Colorado voters rejected “personhood,” as did nearly two-thirds of North Dakota voters. One setback for women’s reproductive freedom, Tennessee, where voters amended their state constitution to explicitly say that it does not protect abortion rights.
Spurred on by efforts around the country to organize fast-food workers and re-ignite the conversation about income inequality, four states passed minimum wage increases, from $8.50 in Arkansas by 2017, to $9.75 in Alaska by 2016. South Dakota and Nebraska also raised their minimum wage. Wisconsin voters (who re-elected staunch anti-union governor, Scott Walker) also passed a non-binding measure calling for a $10 wage. At the city level, San Francisco passed a $15 wage by 2018, and nearby Oakland passed $12.50 by 2015. It is estimated that more than 600,000 workers will benefit from these increases.
Paid sick leave was another issue that many low-wage workers have demanded. Massachusetts’ voters passed a ballot measure guaranteeing paid sick leave to an estimated 1 million workers. Three cities also passed sick-leave measures: Trenton, New Jersey; Montclair, New Jersey; and Oakland, California.
The National Rifle Association and their allies lost big in Washington State, where 60% of voters passed I-594, a ballot measure extending background checks to all gun sales and transfers. The state’s voters also rejected I-591, a ballot initiative backed by the NRA, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and local Tea Party groups, which would have constrained gun safety efforts. The NRA and their allies also failed to unseat governors in Colorado and Connecticut, who passed gun safety measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shootings.