Saturday, September 10, 2011

Associated Press: Bill would move all initiatives to November ballots

Bill would move all initiatives to Nov. ballots

The Associated Press
Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed to this story.
Published: Saturday, September 10, 2011 00:58 PDT

© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

SACRAMENTO - State lawmakers gave final approval early Saturday to legislation that would move all statewide initiatives and referendums to November general election ballots and postpone a June vote on California's rainy day fund that was part of last year's budget compromise.

The move drew complaints from Republican lawmakers who said the bill undermines California's unique initiative process.

SB202 by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, drew heated debate as Republicans opposed what they called a power grab by union interests seeking to delay anti-labor ballot initiatives that could end up on the June 2012 ballot, when GOP turnout is expected to be high for the Republican presidential primary.

Statewide initiatives now can appear on the general election or June primary ballots.

Democrats argued that pushing all initiatives to general election ballots ensures more Californians get to vote on them, because turnout is generally much higher than for primary contests.

For example, 44 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in last year's November election for governor, but only 24 percent for the June gubernatorial primary. Turnout typically spikes even higher during presidential election years; it reached 59 percent in November 2008.

The bill also contains a provision to postpone a scheduled June 2012 vote on whether to amend California's constitution to strengthen the state's rainy day fund. That ballot measure would require the Legislature to set aside money in years when California has a budget surplus, a constraint opposed by public employee unions and most Democratic lawmakers.

Democrats agreed to place that measure on the ballot to win support from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican lawmakers as part of a budget deal last year. The bill they sent to the governor would push the rainy day fund question to the November 2014 ballot.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, authored that measure and opposed the switch, saying lawmakers need to keep their commitments.

"This is a town where your word is your bond. ... When you make a commitment, you're supposed to keep it," Gatto told fellow lawmakers.

Hancock's bill squeaked through the Assembly Friday with the bare majority it needed, 41-28. It passed the Senate early Saturday on a partisan 23-15 vote.

It also drew criticism from Republicans and one Democrat because it appeared for the first time in committee on Friday, the final day of the legislative session. Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said Democrats "should be ashamed" for forcing the late consideration, though he voted for the bill.

Tracy Westen, chief executive officer of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, which has studied the initiative process, said approval of the bill on a simple majority vote could set a dangerous precedent, because placing the rainy day fund measure on a ballot required a two-thirds legislative vote.

"You want a strong consensus before you amend the constitution," Westen said.

By changing a bill that required a supermajority with only a simple majority vote "you override the purpose of the two-thirds vote. What happens if they think in 2014 it will be passed, then 2018 ... How long will this go on?"

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