by Cat Lazaroff
(ENS) WASHINGTON --
across the nation voted this year to spend more money to protect the environment and improve animal welfare. Voters approved a host of measures to slow sprawl and institute smart growth guidelines, and to boost spending on conservation, environmental restoration and animal protection.
Animal protection issues, which have proven hot at the polls over the past decade, scored major victories again this year, winning five of six contests in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma.
In Florida, voters approved a ban on the confinement of pigs in tiny gestation crates that severely restrict the animals' movements. The vote makes Florida the first state to order a halt to the confinement of animals on factory farms, noted Gene Bauston, president of Farm Sanctuary, a leading farm animal advocacy organization.
"It is an historic step in the effort to combat cruelty to farm animals," Bauston added.
Oklahoma became the 48th state to ban cockfighting, and state voters rejected a counter measure introduced by cockfighters and other groups that would have doubled the number of signatures needed to qualify an animal protection initiative for the ballot.
In Georgia, voters approved a statewide, subsidized spaying and neutering program, with revenues to be provided from the sale of special license plates. And in Arizona, voters rejected a move by the greyhound racing industry to expand gambling at greyhound tracks.
The only loss for animal welfare advocates came in Arkansas, where voters rejected a measure to create stricter penalties for animal cruelty.
"Voters again have demonstrated they care about the protection of animals, whether the abuse involves intensive confinement on factory farms or staged animal fights," said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States. Voters have approved about 20 animal protection measures since 1990.
Open space and land protection measures also won at the polls this year. Voters in 79 communities in 22 states passed ballot measures to create about $2.6 billion in new public funding to protect land for parks and open space, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the Land Trust Alliance (LTA).
Overall, 79 of 99 local and state measures nationwide were successful, for an estimated 80 percent rate of passage. This is an increase from November 2001, when 75 percent of open space ballot measures were successful nationwide.
"2002 is another year of very strong voter support for open space protection across the country," said Will Rogers, president of TPL. "At a time when the threshold for government spending and borrowing is rising, Americans continue to demonstrate that they will pay to protect the places that are special to them."
Among the largest measures were three statewide measures for land acquisition and protection, which passed in California, Nevada and Virginia.
In Nevada, Ballot Question 10, which would raise $2.7 billion in taxes over 25 years for road, transit and air quality improvements in Clark County, squeaked in by a narrow margin despite having no formal opposition.
Nevada voters favored a $200 million initiative, which will pay for a variety of open space and recreational projects, placed on the ballot by the state Legislature and backed by The Nature Conservancy.
Of the total, $65.5 million will be earmarked for Nevada's Division of State Lands to provide grants for state agencies, local governments or nonprofit organizations for recreational trails, urban parks, habitat conservation, open spaces and general natural resource protection projects.
Nevada's Division of State Parks will have $27 million for property acquisition or capital improvements, $27.5 million goes to Nevada's Division of Wildlife for property acquisition, facility development and renovation or wildlife habitat improvements. The measure allots $10 million to Clark County for development of a regional wetlands park at the Las Vegas Wash, and $10 million to Washoe County for enhancement and restoration of the Truckee River corridor.
California voters passed Proposition 50, which will generate $2 billion for land acquisition, by a 55 percent margin. The bond measure will also fund a variety of water projects to help reduce the state's use of Colorado River water, protect and restore coastal wetlands, and increase the efficiency of urban and agricultural water uses.
However, a second California measure, Proposition 51, failed by a margin of 59 to 41 percent. This measure would have reallocated 30 percent of state revenues from motor vehicle sales and leases to transportation programs aimed at reducing traffic congestion, such as mass transit improvements.
Virginia's Question 2, which will raise $36.5 million for land protection and parks facilities, passed by 69 percent.
In Tennessee, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that will allow city courts to order higher fines for environmental violations such as hazardous waste dumping. And in Georgia, voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing tax incentives to encourage redevelopment of brownfields and other blighted properties.
"Voters in a bipartisan manner have again voiced their strong support for protection of natural lands, clean water, and safe communities," said LTA president Rand Wentworth. "They understand that we are losing two million acres each year, and they have shown their concern that the lands we protect today will affect the American landscape for all time."
A review of the results of all 2002 ballot initiatives can be downloaded as a PDF file.
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