CA Governor Vetoes Anti-Initiative Bill

Mon, Oct 14 2013 by Neal Hobson

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the much maligned Assembly Bill 857 over the weekend, blocking for now the legislation that would have placed a number of unconstitutional restrictions on the collection of signatures for initiatives in the Golden State.

In his veto message, Governor Brown stated: “Requiring a specific threshold of signatures to be gathered by volunteers will not stop abuses by narrow special interests – particularly if ‘volunteer’ is defined with the broad exemptions as in this bill.”

AB 857 would have required 10 percent of the valid signatures for an initiative or referendum (but not for a candidate petition) to be gathered by “volunteer” circulators. Moreover, the legislation specifically exempted employees of non-profit groups, including union members, from being considered paid signature gatherers – even when they are paid – instead, allowing those employees to count toward the 10 percent of signatures that must be gathered by volunteers.

Michael Salerno, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law and an outspoken critic of the initiative process, panned the legislation, saying, “The Supreme Court has been pretty adamant about this. They said you can’t ban paid circulators.”

Another law professor, Risk Hasen of UC-Irvine, noted the unanimous ruling in Meyer v. Grant overturning a Colorado statute banning paid signature gatherers as an unconstitutional restriction on First Amendment rights. “This seems to me to be just a warmed-over version of that same requirement,” Hasen told the Daily Journal, California’s largest legal publication.

Another part of the bill, adamantly opposed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, would have established a right for any California citizen to sue the sponsors of initiative petitions by claiming they had turned in any fraudulent signatures. Whether such charges could be substantiated or not, the resultant litigation could bankrupt initiative campaigns with legal fees.

Chalk up another victory for the voice of the people against those who would make it more burdensome for the people to express that voice. Thank you, Governor Brown.

Sacramento Bee: Brown vetoes restriction on paid signature gatherers

Governor Brown’s veto message

Washington Post: Brown nixes Democrats friendly initiative reform measure

Daily Journal: Ballot initiatives bill could spur litigation against backers

Background: California Punishes Paid Petitioning