Critics fear unions could gain power in ballot process under new bill


SACRAMENTO -- Advocates trying to place initiatives on California’s ballot may face new requirements under a bill approved by the Legislature this month.

The measure, AB 857 by Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino), would require 10% of petition signatures to be gathered by volunteers instead of paid workers.

However, critics say the bill would unfairly empower unions – their members would be counted as volunteers even if they’re on labor’s payroll.
Phil Ung of California Common Cause said the measure would do little to remove the influence of big money on the initiative process while giving an unfair advantage to unions.


“We should do what we can to return the process back to the everyday voters without favoring any one group,” he said.

Ethan Jones, chief consultant to the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting, said unions would not be the bill’s only beneficiaries. Any nonprofit’s members or employees could count as volunteers, he said.
“That could be labor,” he said. “It could be other groups on the right. Or other groups on the left.”

Charles Bell, a Republican election lawyer, disagreed. He noted that unions are specifically mentioned in the bill and said other nonprofits could have a more difficult time qualifying their members or employees as volunteers.

“One group gets to run the 100-yard dash,” Bell said. “The other has to run the 100-yard hurdle.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has not decided whether he will sign the bill, spokesman Evan Westrup said.

Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, said he hoped the volunteer requirement ensures there is some grass-roots support for an initiative before it reaches the ballot.

“Ten percent is not a lot, but it’s something,” he said.


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