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Measure to make initiatives more transparent advances

 

Darrell Steinberg

Darrell Steinberg

SACRAMENTO (Press Release)–A bill that would bring greater transparency to California’s century-old ballot initiative system was approved on Tuesday, April 22, by lawmakers on the State Senate’s Elections Committee. The Ballot Initiative Transparency Act, SB1253, authored by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D – Sacramento) was approved on a 4-to-1 vote and moves forward to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

“California’s commitment to direct democracy through its illustrious initiative process has given citizens a powerful voice in state governance and has enabled the people of California to outflank the corporate self-interests of billion-dollar industries like Big Tobacco” said Senator Steinberg. “This bill offers the system greater transparency and greater collaboration, strengthening our direct democracy for another century to come.”

The measure would give voters more comprehensive information on ballot initiatives, requiring the Secretary of State to post on a website an easy-to-understand summary of the initiative, as well as a regularly updated listing of the ten donors who have contributed the most money to campaigns in support and opposition of the initiative. In addition, once the proponents have collected 25 percent of the necessary signatures to place a measure on the ballot, Senate and Assembly committees will hold public hearings on the proposed initiative at least 131 days prior to the election. Proponents will also be allowed to withdraw a proposed initiative from the ballot at any time before it qualifies for the ballot, even if that occurs after signatures have been submitted for certification.

“SB 1253 is critical for engaging California voters” said Jennifer Waggoner, President of the League of Women Voters of California. “This bill creates the time and opportunity for potential negotiation and compromise with the Legislature and helps avoid voter confusion.”

Twenty years ago, the Citizen’s Commission on Ballot Initiatives recommended many of the changes reflected in SB 1253. Since then, support among Californians has echoed the need for these improvements. Last year, the Public Policy Institute of California found that 83 percent believe the language is too complex, and 77 percent support a review process to avoid legal errors.

“The Ballot Initiative Transparency Act speaks to the most basic concerns of California voters” said Kathay Feng, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “They want reliable and clear information to understand the issues and proposed solutions, and ultimately want an initiative process that is fair and free of legal flaws.”

A number of cases have highlighted the need for reforms. In 1996, Proposition 212 – an ethics and campaign reform initiative – included an unintended provision that repealed a ban on gifts to legislators and other public officials. Unfortunately, proponents were not allowed to fix their mistake and the initiative failed.

In 2004, the League of Cities qualified a local government protection initiative (Proposition 65) for the ballot before agreeing to a compromise with the Legislature and Governor on a separate measure – Prop 1A – that went on the same ballot. There was no way for the League of Cities to remove Prop 65, resulting in them actively opposing it, supporting Prop 1A, and ultimately creating the potential for confusion.

Well-moneyed corporations have also sought to change California laws through the ballot process to pursue their own financial interests. In 2010, the oil industry heavily financed a ballot initiative, Proposition 23, to suspend California’s cornerstone environmental law.

“Our goal is to bring greater simplicity, transparency and accountability to the initiative process. It is what voters want and what they need to make informed decisions” said Alice Huffman, President of the California NAACP. “We are very worried that the process has been dominated by big-money special interests that are able to spend more than $10 million and rely heavily on paid signature gathering firms. That isn’t how the process is supposed to work, and that doesn’t help Californians.”

SB 1253 is supported by a broad coalition of good government advocates, including California Common Cause, League of Women Voters of California, California Forward, Think Long Committee for California, AARP, and NAACP.

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Preceding provided by California Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento…. San Diego Jewish World invites attention from sponsors who would like their messages to run beneath topical stories. Contact [email protected]

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One Response to “Measure to make initiatives more transparent advances”

  1. You can read more about BITA on the League of Women Voters of California’s Web site – http://lwvc.org/statement/2014/apr/ballot-initiative-transparency-act-passes-senate-elections-committee.

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