Tuesday, February 12, 2013
California Democrats consider giving lawmakers more say over initiatives
The November election delivered California Democrats a coveted supermajority for governing the state.
Now the party's leader in the Senate wants to use that political capital to give the Legislature more say in the voter initiatives that make their way to the ballot.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg plans to unveil what he calls "a starting point ... to begin a very serious discussion about initiative reform" this month. Key to his proposal will be increasing lawmakers' involvement in the system.
"The initiative process is important and all efforts should be to strengthen it, but the biggest problem, I believe, is that there is not a real connection between the initiative process and representative government in a way that could make both representative government and the initiative product better," he said.
The idea that the state's 101-year-old direct democracy process needs updating isn't new. The rising cost of initiative campaigns, crowded ballots and legal battles over language have fueled calls for reform.
Shortages of political will and cash have sidelined previous efforts to change the system, through both the Legislature and the initiative process.
Democrats now have the ability, however, to put the changes on the ballot without GOP votes. Providing extra motivation is the struggle they faced to put a tax measure on the November 2012 ballot.
Steinberg's package will likely include an "indirect initiative" proposal, which would let the Legislature amend or enact an initiative proposal with proponents' OK.
Steinberg is also considering efforts to lower the vote threshold for state lawmakers to put taxes on the ballot ...
Lawmakers have long been critical of aspects of the initiative process, particularly ballot-box budgeting that they say constrains spending....
Former Center for Governmental Studies President Bob Stern,..."Many legislators would want to abolish (the initiative process) if they could do it privately with a private vote," Stern said. ...
STEINBERG'S IDEAS FOR INITIATIVE CHANGES
• Allow the Legislature to put statutory initiatives, such as tax measures, on the ballot with a majority vote. Changes to the state constitution would still require a two-thirds vote.
• Allow the Legislature to offer amendments to a proposed initiative or pass its own version of the changes with sign-off from proponents.
• Require ballot measures to sunset or be reapproved after 10 years.
• Require that initiative proponents rely on a certain number of small donors or volunteers to collect the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.