Gov. Brown approves major changes in initiative process

Gov. Brown approves bill allowing initiatives to be dropped if lawmakers adopt compromise proposals as laws

Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday approved a bill that would give proponents of initiatives a chance to work with lawmakers on compromise legislation to address their concerns without having to go through an expensive election campaign.

"California's century-old initiative process is a hallmark of our electoral system and today we're taking an important step to modernize and strengthen direct democracy," Brown said in a statement.  

In introducing the first major change to the state's initiative process in four decades, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said his measure would increase public participation in the initiative process and spare the state potentially costly and divisive campaigns.

Under his bill, initiatives could be amended based on public input during a 30-day review period at the start of the initiative process. The bill also requires that when those proposing an initiative have collected 25% of the signatures needed to put it on the ballot, state legislative committees will hold public hearings on the measure.

The proponents of the initiative would then be given a choice to withdraw the measure before it qualifies if they are content with a legislative solution. Currently, initiatives cannot be removed from the ballot once signatures are turned in to qualify them.

In addition, the state will have to post the top 10 donors of the committees in support and in opposition of an initiative. The measure, SB 1253, also extends the signature-gathering period from 150 to 180 days.

“By allowing an initiative proponent to withdraw their measure closer to the election, it allows for the possibility of reasoned compromise and a better result between the people's elected government and the people's initiative alternative,” Steinberg said in a statement Saturday.

The measure was opposed by most Republican senators, some of whom said they feared it would put a chill on the ability of citizens to bypass the Legislature and propose laws that legislators won't adopt.

The bill "would undermine Californians’ access to full participation in our democracy by restricting their ability to put initiatives before their fellow voters," wrote Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) in a letter to the governor urging a veto.

The bill also drew opposition from the California Teachers Assn., which in a letter warned lawmakers that allowing more time to collect signatures could lead to “the increased possibility of fraud in the signature-gathering process; and the likelihood that initiatives that adversely affect 'good government' will qualify for the ballot."

Supporters include leaders of California Common Cause, the California League of Women Voters and the Think Long Committee for California, a bipartisan group seeking to improve California government.

“SB 1253 strengthens the integrity of the initiative process, which is uniquely influential in California political life,” said Nicolas Berggruen, chairman of the committee.

In pushing the measure, Steinberg cited a survey last year by the Public Policy Institute of California that found 83% of voters feel the wording of initiatives is too complex and confusing and 75% favor allowing more time for signature gathering.

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