As the sun rises on the 2014 session of the Arizona Legislature, politicians seem to be scurrying about. Citizens in Charge strongly opposed controversial House Bill 2305, a grab-bag elections bill stuffed with partisan power-plays that passed in the waning hours of last year’s legislative session, and we endorsed the petition signed by more than 110,000 unhappy voters to put that misguided measure to a voter referendum this November.
Apparently, we’re not alone in wanting to see HB 2305 repealed. So now, too, does its author, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilberts). Farnsworth just introduced House Bill 2196, which simply and completely erases last year’s reckless, anti-democratic, late-night legislative swerve known as HB 2305.
With the turn of the New Year, new initiatives will take the stage and petitioners will hit the streets to rally support for their causes. The causes are as varied as they can be and both local and state-wide issues. With some already submitted and others in the planning stages, initiatives for many hot-button issues will be championed and fought against in 2014.
In Oregon, an initiative attempting to strike down the state’s gay marriage ban:
In Oklahoma, two initiatives advocated by a city councilman to prohibit use of sales tax revenue for new buildings:
After two lawsuits failed to block a vote on a San Diego referendum over the city council’s Barrio Logan land use plan, those opposed to the referendum claimed the process was “undemocratic.”
Attorney Jan Goldsmith took issue with that in an op-ed in the local Union-Tribune newspaper. “The use of referendums to challenge legislative decisions is legal and has deep roots in democracy,” wrote Goldsmith. “There is nothing undemocratic about leaving decisions to San Diego voters, which is all a referendum does.”
Since 2011, there have been three referendums in San Diego challenging enactments by the city council and putting those ordinances before voters.
The proponents of a statewide pension reform initiative are crying foul at the ballot summary prepared for their proposed constitutional amendment by Attorney General Kamala Harris. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed called the language “inaccurate” and “pejorative” and “a bit of a problem.”
“You read this and you don’t know what we’re trying to do,” Reed added. The first sentence of the AG’s summary was most problematic according to Reed. It reads: “Eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for current public employees, including teachers, nurses, and peace officers, for future work performed.”
The ballot initiative process in California has been popular with citizens since its inception in 1911. However, the state legislature, especially its current Democratic super-majority, has had a far less sunny view of the prospect of the people trumping legislative power through the initiative.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), author in recent years of numerous bills to undercut the power of the initiative, recently proposed a new tactic in formulating legislation: using “crowdsourcing” techniques. This would enable citizens to use a wiki-style website to propose ideas for a bill, and Gatto’s first such crowdsourced bill would deal with probate taxes.
Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge Foundation, speaks on Nelson Mandela (just prior to Mandela’s death), and his example in pursuing peaceful political change. Jacob also addresses Winnie Mandela’s calls for violence and compares that with the peaceful opportunities for change in America; citizen initiative, referendum and recall.
Watch the video: here
In Sacramento, California, a planned basketball arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings is the flashpoint of citizen action. Two citizen groups, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal are opposed to the fact that the arena would be largely financed through a taxpayer subsidy totaling $258 million.
The two groups have gathered 40,000 signatures, almost double the number required to place the issue of the subsidy on next June’s ballot. The groups are expecting to have enough valid signatures to qualify the referendum despite opposition groups claiming they have 15,226 “rescissions” from citizens who reportedly want their signatures removed from the petition opposing the subsidy, though no signatures have yet been validated.
Earlier this week, legal briefs were filed by all parties after a Nov. 14-15 hearing regarding the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction against Arkansas’s new, draconian anti-petition law, Act 1413, which passed the legislature earlier this year as emergency legislation.
The lawsuit, Spencer v. Martin, was brought by the ACLU of Arkansas and the Public Law Center on behalf of plaintiffs Paul Spencer, a leader of Regnat Populus, and Neal Sealy, executive director of Arkansas Community Organizations. The suit was filed against the defendant, the Arkansas Secretary of State (acting in an official capacity), with the state’s Attorney General having intervened into the case on the side of the defendant.
Last week, Citizens in Charge President Paul Jacob testified as an expert witness in a two-day hearing before Circuit Court Judge Mary McGowan, who is being asked to issue a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of Act 1413, pending a trial on whether the statute, passed earlier this year by legislators, violates the political rights of Arkansans under the Arkansas and the U.S. Constitutions.
On November 13, an injunction was issued in Ohio’s Southern District Court for the case of Citizens in Charge, Inc. et al. v. Husted, which challenges Ohio’s residency requirement laws. This decision enjoins the state from enforcing the provisions of Senate Bill 47, which places restrictions on petition circulators in violation of their Constitutional 1st Amendment rights.
The decision, made by Judge Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio, indicated that the law violated political speech protected by the First Amendment.
San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Steven Greenhut wrote at Reason.com last week that “Californians will need to pay close attention” to proposed reforms of the state’s initiative process, arguing that, “Unfortunately, some recent initiative reforms have been more about self-interest — about rigging the football game, if you will — than about helping the public have a more fair and informed political debate.”
Noting that Californians have enjoyed the power of the initiative for 102 years, Greenhut explained that even though some questionable special interests have “proposed” some questionable initiatives for their own benefit, the initiative process in the Golden State remains a critical check by the people on their legislature.
An initiative petition to allow for initiative petitions?
“We’re out to get our rights, we’re out for our town to be a good city again,” says Electra, Texas, citizen and activist Sue Howell. She has circulated petitions to amend the city charter to establish a process by which citizens can petition to put ballot initiatives before city voters and to recall elected officials when needed.
Much to our disappointment, and that of the 381,688 Evergreen State citizens who voted for it, Initiative 517 was defeated in yesterday’s election. Unofficial returns show 40 percent in favor of the measure and 60 percent opposed.
Filed by Tim Eyman after the state supreme court ruled that cities using red light cameras were not subject to voter initiatives to block their use, I-517 would have guaranteed a vote on all qualified initiatives, provided protection from harassment and intimidation to petition signers and circulators, and given petition drives more time.
The folks over at Ballotpedia, Planet Earth’s No. 1 wiki on election-related matters, have released a list of the “5 Most Notable Ballot Measures” in tomorrow’s election. Here are the five:
Amendment 66 (Colorado) - Tax Increase for Education
Initiative 522 (Washington) - Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Measure
The National Taxpayers Union released their “2013 General Election Ballot Guide: A Taxpayer’s Perspective” this week. The guide features a state-by-state run-down of “measures, propositions, initiatives, referenda, proposals, and amendments … listed by state with subheadings for statewide, countywide, and local issues.”
One noteworthy endorsement is of Washington state’s Initiative 517, or the “Protect the Initiative Act.” NTU gives I-517 a positive rating for its provisions which bolster the initiative process.