Although it is unlikely all will qualify, it is possible that 83 ballot initiatives and referenda could wind up on the November 2012 ballot. Were that to happen, voters could be swamped with choices and, in frustration, wind up nixing all initiatives and referenda, a possibility State Senator Bill Emmerson (R-37) suggested.
“I support the initiative and referenda process,” said Emmerson, “but there’s no doubt we have a dysfunctional process and some types of revisions need to be made.”
In 1911, an amendment to the California Constitution gave voters the right to enact legislation, a right designed to check the influence of special interests on the California Legislature. But with the glut of ballot measures that are winding their way to the November 2012 ballot, the process appears out of control. The California direct initiative process is designed to bypass the Legislature and allow citizen-proposed measures, qualified by requisite signatures, to be placed on the ballot and become law if approved by California voters. “The great irony here,” said Emmerson, “is that what Johnson (then Governor Hiram Johnson who proposed the process in 1911) envisioned as a check on special interests is now a process largely driven by special interests.”
On Oct. 7, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 202, moving all ballot measures in the pipeline onto the November ballot. The status of the process of getting on the ballot involves submission to the Attorney General (AG) of citizen-proposed initiatives; clearance by the AG’s office for sponsors to circulate initiatives for voter signatures; AG verification of signatures; and finally initiatives and referenda that qualify are placed on the ballot.
At present, four are already qualified, two are pending signature verification, 48 are circulating and 29 are pending at the Attorney General’s office. In addition, four tax-raising initiatives may complete with the Governor’s education-funding proposal.
The four already approved initiatives range from higher cigarette taxes to payroll deductions. One proposes to limit legislators’ terms in office, from 14 to 12 years. Another would impose additional taxes for cancer research on cigarettes. The third proposes amendments to the safe, clean and reliable drinking water supply act and the fourth prohibits political contributions from payroll deductions and applies to unions,
The two initiatives pending signature verification address the 2012 state senate redistricting (allowing voters to challenge the districts) and changes an existing law to allow insurance companies to set prices based on a driver’s history of past insurance coverage.
The 48 circulating for signatures cover a vast array of popular and unique proposals. Some are contradictory and some are even amusing. A brief sample includes marijuana legalization, mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, authorizes expansion of the California Legislature by 100-fold by setting the size of assembly districts at 5,000 people and senatorial districts at 10,000 people. The math would result in a legislature of 7,000 assembly representatives and 3,500 state senators. There is also a constitutional amendment to guarantee a male and a female representative for every assembly and senate district. Were both to pass, the assembly would grow to 14,000 and the senate to 7,000.
Others require state law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws and deny driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants; regulation of corporations denying them personhood or citizen status and holding officers and directors personally liable for corporations’ illegal acts or crimes. Others would revise three strikes law to impose the life sentence only when a new felony conviction is serious or violent; reinstate right of same-sex couples to marry and prohibit abortion for any female under 18 without parental consent. Some advocate to eliminate state environmental protection laws and agencies and repeal the death penalty, increase retirement age for teachers and other public employees to 65 and sworn peace officers to 58; eliminate collective bargaining rights for teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters and other public employees; make home ownership a fundamental right and prohibits lender from foreclosing on a California resident’s personal home.
A sample of those pending at the AG’s office would eliminate mandatory instruction in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history but retain other minority instruction; revise the education code to allow parents to veto a child’s school instruction if it conflicts with their parents’ religious beliefs; cancel the California High Speed Rail Authority and prohibit state funding of high speed rail; authorize free tuition for California university and state college students by significantly taxing all residents; and authorize a tax on millionaires to fund education.