California’s initiative process is officially passé, at least according to the media and those who have recently lost critical battles at the ballot box. Since last week’s California Supreme Court ruling upholding the people’s ability to amend the state’s constitution via the initiative process, there has been a steady drumbeat—which will certainly increase in its intensity—that the initiative process makes it “too easy” to amend such an important governing document.
Just forty-eight hours after the ruling was handed down, the state Assembly was considering several bills that will place severe restrictions on the initiative process. In fact, there are no less than thirteen bills this year pertaining to the initiative process, many of which seek to severely restrict the people’s ability to pass laws for themselves. Several of the bills would require legislative approval of initiatives once qualified for the ballot, thus undercutting the very purpose of using initiatives to bypass the legislature, and exposing the legislature’s antipathy for sharing any power with those they supposedly represent.
It’s not just liberal Democrats who seem disenchanted with passing laws via the ballot box. During a town hall meeting last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman expressed her concern over the fact the state has $50 billion in mandatory spending every year thanks to voter-approved initiatives. According to the OC Register’s Martin Wisckol, Whitman stated, “In many ways, the proposition process has worn out its usefulness.” Whitman’s concern about ballot box spending is valid, considering the amount of bonds and taxes voters have passed in recent years. But it wasn’t just voter-approved spending that landed the state in its current $23.4 billion deficit.
Assemblywoman Lori Saldana introduced three bills this legislative session that seek to increase tenfold the cost of filing an initiative (from $200 to $2,000), and restrict who may gather signatures to qualify initiatives and how signature-gatherers are compensated. During debate on two of the bills last week, the drumbeat continued, with legislators openly bemoaning the fact voters had the power to pass laws such as Proposition 8.