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Editorial

'Sodomite Suppression Act' is no reason for radical initiative reform

The Sodomite Suppression Act, a state initative, calls for putting to death those convicted of sodomy

It is hard to imagine a more revolting ballot measure than the “Sodomite Suppression Act,” which, if approved, would criminalize sodomy and put to death those convicted of it. Its proponent, Huntington Beach lawyer Matt McLaughlin, wants to qualify the initiative for the statewide ballot in November 2016.

Not surprisingly, many people would like to stop this bill before it even gets to the signature-gathering phase on the grounds that it is, well, offensive and inhumane and, most likely, unconstitutional. Some want to change the initiative process so nothing like this can ever happen again.

But radical reform is unnecessary in this case. It's true that fewer signatures will be required to qualify ballot measures for November 2016, thanks to 2014's dismal voter turnout. But even so, it's highly unlikely that this measure will make it to the ballot. As the intense backlash against McLaughlin indicates, there's not much appetite in California for punishing people — much less executing them — for their sexual orientation. Who really believes McLaughlin can gather 365,880 signatures for it?

Nevertheless, some have suggested that Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris should quash the proposed initiative before it is cleared for petition circulation this week. But she doesn't have the authority to do that — and she shouldn't. It's not the job of a state official to block an unpopular ballot measure; that's the job of voters. The state Supreme Court in 1978 ruled that then-state Atty. Gen. Evelle J. Younger didn't have the right to decide if a proposed initiative would be “valid if enacted.”

McLaughlin's initiative also prompted freshman Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) to file legislation Monday that would raise the filing fee for initiatives from $200 to $8,000 as a way to weed out nonserious initiative proposals.

There's nothing wrong in principle with raising the filing fee, which hasn't been hiked since 1943, if the purpose is to cover the cost of preparing the title and summary for the ballot. But the fee should not be used as a tool to make it harder to file undesirable initiatives.

Besides, a higher fee would stand in the way of good measures as well as bad ones. This kerfuffle over a creepy, long-shot proposal aside, the real abuse of the citizen-initiative process comes at the hands of monied interests, including corporations, trade groups, public employee unions, wealthy individuals and others with $10 million or more to forward their own agendas.

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