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Democrats propose bills to rein in CALIFORNIA INITIATIVE PROCESS- latimes.com

August 27, 2011

Democrats propose measures to rein in California initiative process

Some say the bevy of voter-mandated programs leaves lawmakers hamstrung and that the process is subject to abuse by special interests. Critics say the proposed changes would ‘neuter direct democracy.’

USC student Rachel Distler campaigns against two ballot initiatives last November. California is the only state that doesn’t allow its Legislature to amend or repeal statutes created by voters. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times /

By Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times

August 27, 2011

Reporting from Sacramento — Democrats in the Legislature are trying to make it harder for Californians to pass their own laws at the ballot box, saying the state’s century-old initiative process has been hijacked by the special interests it was created to fight and has perpetuated Sacramento’s financial woes.

In the waning weeks of this year’s lawmaking session, legislators will push bills to raise filing fees, place new restrictions on signature gatherers and compel greater public disclosure of campaign contributors.

One measure would allow the Legislature to propose changes that would appear on the ballot alongside an initiative even if its sponsor rejected them. Another would give the Legislature the right to amend or repeal initiatives that pass, after four years have gone by.

Such changes would severely weaken what little leverage Republicans and their allies still have in California after last year’s election, which solidified Democratic control of the Capitol.

But Democrats say their efforts have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with moderating “direct democracy” gone wild.

“I don’t want to get rid of the initiative process,” said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), one of the effort’s leaders and author of a proposal to make signature gatherers wear badges showing they are paid to collect names. “I just want it to work better.”

Republicans and their supporters are crying foul, saying Democrats just want to maintain the status quo.

“The long-term agenda is to neuter direct democracy in California under the guise of reforming the system,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., sponsor of Proposition 13, the landmark property-tax initiative.

DeSaulnier said most voters don’t realize how constrained lawmakers are by the initiative system. In recent decades, Californians have approved costly new laws and government programs but have also made it more difficult for lawmakers to raise taxes to pay for those that pass without funding attached.

The Legislature has cut deeply into some of California’s most prized assets — its higher education system, for example — as it has struggled to balance the books without being able to touch money earmarked by voters. California, lawmakers note, is the only state that doesn’t allow its Legislature to amend or repeal statutes created by voters.

“We are trying to take on a giant with one hand tied behind our back,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), who with DeSaulnier is leading the charge to rein in initiatives.

Their prospects are unclear. The most far-reaching bills require Republican votes and are unlikely to get them. Even if they make it through the Legislature, they must be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who has championed the initiative process and has been lukewarm to attempts to restrict it.

via Democrats propose bills to rein in California initiative process – latimes.com.

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