The Legislative Report

By Pete Downs, pete

CRPOA Director, Member of the Legislative Committee and a Volunteer In Policing at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. 

Following is a brief review, from multiple sources, of the initiative process here in California. There is a currently proposed initiative that is in the signature gathering phase for possible inclusion on the general election ballot in November. It could have an impact on our ability to carry concealed weapons. The potential initiative is called “The Safety for all Act of 2016” and the primary sponsor is the Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom.

     The direct initiative process practiced in California is relatively simple and straightforward. A proponent drafts a statute or a proposed amendment to the constitution and submits it to the Secretary of State along with a fee of $200. It is then submitted to the Attorney General for the purpose of providing a title and summary of the proposed initiative. The Office of the Legislative Analyst and the Department of Finance are asked for a fiscal analysis to provide an estimate of the fiscal effect of the measure for the summary. The Attorney General is not authorized to make any changes to the proposal. The Secretary of State then approves it for circulation.

     The proponent has 150 days to gather signatures of registered voters in the state. The number of signatures required varies according to the kind of initiative and the number of votes cast for all candidates for governor in the last gubernatorial election. A statutory initiative must get signatures equal to 5 percent of that number.   An initiative constitutional amendment must get signatures equal to 8 percent of the vote number.

     The signatures are submitted to county elections officials for a determination of the validity of the signatures. If the Secretary of State determines that there are sufficient valid signatures, the measure will be placed on the ballot for the next general election that is held no longer than 131 days after it qualifies or for a special election held before that general election.

   An initiative measure may not include more than a single subject. There is no definition contained in the constitution. The matter of what constitutes a “single” subject has been left to the courts.

   Over the last several decades little attention has been given to the indirect initiative. The indirect initiative was part of the California initiative process for 55 years. The procedure applied to statutory initiatives and gave an opportunity for the legislature to deal with the issue presented by the proponents of the initiative. The signature requirement was reduced from 8 to 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor at the last gubernatorial election. This was an incentive to use the indirect initiative process. If the petition contained the requisite number of valid signatures, it was transmitted by the Secretary of State to the legislature. The legislature had 40 days to reject or enact without change the proposed law. If the legislature failed to act within the prescribed time period or rejected the proposed measure, the Secretary of State placed the proposal on the ballot of the next general election. If the legislature approved the proposal and the governor signed it, the measure become law.

     The indirect initiative process was used only four times in the state’s history. Only once was a measure approved by the legislature. The three measures that the legislature reviewed but did not approve were submitted to the voters. The voters defeated all three measures. The Constitution Revision Commission impaneled in the 1960s reviewed the use of the indirect initiative and recommended its repeal. The voters agreed and the measure was deleted from the Constitution in 1966.

     One reason that the initiative process enjoys such strong support is that very few Californians feel highly confident about the problem-solving abilities of the Governor and State Legislature. When it comes to solving the state’s most important problems, only 11 percent of the people have a great deal of confidence in the state’s elected leaders. Six in 10 say they have only some confidence in them, while three in 10 have little or no confidence in them. Independent voters and other party members are even more likely than Democrats or Republicans to say they have little or no confidence in the problem-solving abilities of the Governor and the State Legislature. There are no differences across regions of the state or between racial and ethnic groups.

    After a measure is enacted, the legislature can amend it, and repeal it after two years.

     The initiative process has long been the focus of civic debate, study, and proposed reform. Supporters believe that citizens should be allowed to exercise political power by overriding government officials, including legislators, and judges, when their decisions stray too far from the popular will. They believe that government elites too often disregard the wishes of ordinary citizens, and that the initiative process is the main way that citizens can make sure that policies reflect their views. They also believe that citizens are at least as competent as government officials to make important policy decisions.

     Critics of the initiative disagree. They say that voters are not always prepared to decide complex matters of public policy. The result may be poorly written and thought-out laws that are seen to some as state government dysfunction. They also believe that while the initiative may express majority will, it can also threaten individual or minority rights. They criticize not only the outcomes, but also the process itself. They say there is too much interest group money and influence, which means that ordinary voters do not truly control the process. Finally, critics of the initiative believe that it makes legislatures less responsible, limiting legislators’ choices by giving them an excuse to punt on tough issues.

We thank Pete Downs for this Legislative Committee update.