California

California

This week’s qualification of a referendum for the November 2014 ballot will be the sixth time in a decade that voters get the final say on a state law.

A “yes” vote will uphold this year’s legislation ratifying the state’s casino compact with Madera County’s North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. A “no” vote will overturn it.

The as-yet-unnumbered referendum is the 49th to qualify for a California ballot since 1912, after the process was included in then-Gov. Hiram Johnson’s package of government reforms.

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Californians have a love-hate relationship with direct democracy.

We love that we have the ability to set the politicians straight, either by getting a jump on them on the next big issue or reversing course when we think they’ve made a big mistake.

But we’re not wild about reading through all those damn initiatives that appear on the ballot every year, or sorting through the claims and counter claims of the interest groups that sponsor and oppose them. And we don’t like the way that big money pays to get most measures on the ballot and then underwrites the campaigns.

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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.

Willie Brown, the legendary Assembly speaker and former San Francisco mayor, says he has never voted for a ballot initiative.

“Not one,” he asserts emphatically without hesitation.

“I’ve always, without question, been opposed to the initiative process. Period,” he told an initiative reform conference in Sacramento last week.

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A key rule for political reform is that it should be as neutral as possible. Think of it in terms of a football game. It may be wise to add a penalty to, say, better protect quarterbacks, but such a change should not be done to help a particular team with a shoddy front line. The rules should be adjusted only if it’s better for the game.

Californians need to keep that in mind as they face renewed efforts to revamp the state’s 102-year-old experiment in direct democracy — the initiative, referendum and recall. Gov. Hiram Johnson and the Progressives ushered in these far-reaching reforms to check the power of corrupt political machines and corporate interests. Progressives had deep faith in the ability of average citizens to vote for the “public interest.”

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.”

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed labor union-backed legislation Saturday that would have limited the use of paid signature gatherers to qualify statewide ballot initiatives in California.

Assembly Bill 857, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, would have required anyone seeking to qualify an initiative for the statewide ballot to use non-paid volunteers to collect at least 10 percent of signatures.

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Californians value the ballot initiative and want it to remain as a check on a political system they mistrust, but voters support major reforms in the process, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

The poll found that voters support several changes, including giving the Legislature an opportunity to respond to proposed initiatives and reach agreement with their sponsors, beefing up financial disclosure requirements for those engaged in ballot measure campaigns, increasing the role of volunteers in collecting initiative petition signatures, and placing time limits on ballot measures so that they can be revisited.

The skirmish over the anti-initiative Assembly Bill 857 will reach a climax very soon, as California governor Jerry Brown is set to either sign or veto the bill within a week’s time.

The bill would place a restriction on all petition signature-gathering efforts, requiring 10% of the total verified signatures be collected by volunteers. This would mean more than 50,000 signatures would need to be gathered if a petition’s requirement was based on the last gubernatorial election (which puts the total requirement at just over 500,000).

Not content controlling every statewide elected office and both chambers of the legislature, California Democrats are now moving to cut off conservatives from the ballot as well.

The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson reports on a bill passed by the Assembly and Senate that Gov. Jerry Brown may sign this week:

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California Gov. Jerry Brown has about a week and a half to decide whether to sign or veto legislation that would put substantial burdens on groups aiming to collect signatures for ballot initiatives, while exempting unions from the stringent new rules.

The measure, Assembly Bill 857, would require 10 percent of signatures for any given ballot initiative to be collected by volunteers, rather than by paid signature gatherers. The number of signatures supporters need to turn in is based on the number of votes in the last gubernatorial election; that means groups would have to rely on volunteers to gather a little more than 50,000 of the 504,760 valid signatures required to get an initiative on the ballot.

Organized labor has every right to promote initiatives. Labor-backed initiatives often resonate with the electorate and occasionally with editorial boards.

But labor doesn’t deserve a special edge. For this reason, Gov. Jerry Brown should veto Assembly Bill 857, a loaded piece of legislation that masquerades as initiative reform.

Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Silicon Valley Democrat, said in three press releases that he proposed to “ensure the sanctity of the initiative process” by requiring that unpaid volunteers gather some signatures to qualify statewide ballot measures.

Read more of this editorial: here

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.

Legislators in California are not fond of citizen initiatives and referendums, especially the Democrats who enjoy supermajorities in both legislative chambers. But a recent San Diego Union Tribune editorial puts the blame on “State labor unions,” who it accuses of “once again trying to twist California’s century-old initiative process to work in their favor” by pushing legislation to unconstitutionally block paid signature collectors.

State labor unions are once again trying to twist California’s century-old initiative process to work in their favor by going after paid signature collectors.

They’re backing AB 857, which would require at least 20 percent of signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the state ballot to be collected by unpaid individuals. Professional petition firms must register with the secretary of state and comply with all sorts of new regulations, while their petitions must be of a different color and carry a disclaimer.

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