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Medical Marijuana, Stem Cells Pass on Election Day

States Tackle Controversial Health Policies on Ballots
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Big Issues in California continued...

The initiative was widely seen as a reaction to a 2001 decision in which President George Bush limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Californians also approved a ballot question that raises income taxes on residents making more than $1 million per year to fund an expansion of state-run mental health services. The 1% tax hike is expected to raise $1.8 billion for the services between now and 2007, according to an analysis provided by the California Secretary of State's office.

Meanwhile, California voters narrowly rejected a move to force medium and large employers to provide health care coverage for workers. The initiative called for businesses employing over 50 workers to either fund 80% of employee's health coverage or pay a fee to the state to provide insurance starting in 2007.

Six million of California's 35 million residents lack health insurance.

California passed a law in 2003 laying out the mandates. Voters were required to pass Tuesday's question, called Proposition 72, in order for it to take effect. Instead, they rejected it 50.9% to 49.1% after strong opposition from the restaurant and retail industries.

The initiative, widely known as an employer mandate, is similar to the ill-fated proposal forwarded by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1993. Anthony Wright, head of Health Access California, a group backing Tuesday's proposal, tells WebMD that despite the loss, support has grown since the early 1990s.

He predicted that advocates would pursue the insurance mandate in future elections. "With costs increasing and the number of uninsured increasing, there's a logic and a need for health reform or the system will unravel," he says.

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