Union-Sponsored Anti-Initiative Bill on CA Governor’s Desk

Fri, Sep 20 2013 by Neal Hobson

It is more or less a given that state legislators don’t like it when the public interferes with “their” lawmaking. This is even more so for legislators in California, where citizens of the Golden State have enjoyed the right to initiate and refer laws since 1911.

Three times in recent years, California legislators have passed facially unconstitutional, thinly-veiled machete attacks on citizen initiative and referendum rights, only to be dis-armed by Governor Jerry Brown’s veto pen.

Now it’s déjà vu all over again as Assembly Bill 857, sponsored by government employee unions and passed on partisan votes in a legislature where Democrats have super-majorities, now sits on Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. AB 857 would mandate that at least 10 percent of the signatures to qualify an initiative come from petition circulators who are “volunteers.”

On its face, this law would do what the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 9-0 that no state can do: outlaw signature gathering by those compensated for their work. The fact that, instead of outlawing 100 percent of paid petition gathering, California solons have outlawed 10 percent does not change the constitutional principle. AB 857 defies a unanimous High Court ruling on the First Amendment right to hire petition circulators.

But AB 857 is not merely unconstitutional. It is also unconscionable as a special interest power-grab. Under the bizarre provisions of AB 857, union members would be permitted to gather signatures for pay and to have those signatures counted toward the 10 percent that must be gathered by unpaid volunteers. 

Should we be surprised that this so-called “reform” is really an insider, sweetheart deal to reward political cronies? The legislation is officially sponsored by the California Professional Firefighters union and the state Labor Federation.

In an op-ed column for the LA Daily News, Jon Coupal, head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, called AB 857 “the most direct assault on direct democracy in California in the last 100 years” and warned that the bill “makes it more difficult for most citizen groups to qualify measures for the ballot.”

A group without an established base of volunteers might be unable to collect the required signatures or be forced to spend far greater sums of money recruiting people who will work for free collecting signatures.

Via his veto, Governor Brown has wisely and calmly dispatched previous legislative assaults against First Amendment petitions rights to the circle file. Let’s hope he does so again with Assembly Bill 857.  In fact, rather than simply relying on hope, you can contact Governor Brown and urge a veto of AB 857 here.

Jon Coupal in the LA Daily News: No Comments from the Peanut Gallery

CA Legislature: Information on AB 857, including full text

CIC Daily Blog: California Bill Punishes Paid Petitioning

Contact Gov. Jerry Brown: Urge him to Veto AB 857