Initiative Bill Signed by CA Governor

Thu, Oct 2 2014 by Neal Hobson

Last weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1253, the so-called “Ballot Measure Transparency Act,” into law.

Sponsored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, the legislation requires the Secretary of State to post the top 10 donors to committees supporting or opposing ballot measures on the Internet, gives proponents 30 additional days to gather signatures (from the current 150 days to 180 days), provides a 30-day public comment period after which proponents can make changes to their initiative proposal without having to re-start the process, and also allows proponents to withdraw their initiative should they reach some compromise with the legislature.

Previous legislative attempts to “reform” the initiative process over the last decade have seemed more about creating new hurdles for citizens, rather than improving the ability for people to participate. A spate of bills have passed the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Brown—and Gov. Schwarzenegger before that – who found those measures to be naked attempts to undermine California’s process of direct democracy.

Yet, Gov. Brown approved Senate Bill 1253, calling it “an important step to modernize and strengthen direct democracy.”

Others were more skeptical, and even disappointed the legislation didn’t do more to improve the I&R process.

“Senate Bill 1253 is not fundamental change, but procedural tinkering,” wrote Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, who was inclined, on balance, to support the legislation.

Joe Mathews, editor at Zócalo Public Square and co-author of the book “California Crack-Up,” complained that supporters of the legislation used “a closed-door process, not open to the public or to the press. Records of the process have not been released. If this is the ‘foundation’ of reform of the people’s process, why can’t the public see it?”

“SB 1253 is now a shell of its original self and scarcely worthy of support,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA). Coupal was part of a working group that discussed the legislation and the best ways to improve I&R in the Golden State. He complained that a provision to reform the ballot title process was abandoned.

“A primary motivation for HJTA’s participation in this reform effort was the widely recognized problem that the Attorney General had abused her authority in the preparation of a ballot measure’s ‘Title and Summary’,” Coupal wrote. “But because the AG and her minions have substantial political muscle, the effort to secure a more non-partisan title and summary process has now died.”

While the legislation makes some worthwhile changes – especially giving proponents 30 additional days to gather petition signatures – there is a serious concern that it encourages backroom deal-making between initiative proponents and legislators.

Governor Brown Signs Ballot Reform Measure

Text of the Senate Bill 1253

Sac Bee: Pending bill would change initiative system – for the better?” by Dan Walters

Fox & Hounds: A Troubling Response on Initiative Bill by Joe Mathews

AG Blocks Real Initiative Reform by Jon Coupal, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.