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Ballot proposals: Let’s make a deal

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POSTED May 29, 2014 7:18 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The state Senate on Thursday approved changes to California’s century-old initiative process with a provision that allows for negotiations between the Legislature and the proponents, who could then withdraw their proposal even if they had gathered enough petition signatures.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, called the changes to California’s direct democracy process “good government reform.” SB1253 passed 29-8 with bipartisan support and moves to the Assembly.

Among the changes, the bill would allow proponents to withdraw their initiative before it is placed on the ballot if they accepted a solution negotiated with lawmakers.

“If the proponents have the signatures, the initiative goes on the ballot,” Steinberg said, describing the current process. “There’s no room or time once those signatures are submitted to allow the initiative’s proponent to negotiate or discuss with the Legislature or governor on a potential compromise.”

Steinberg called his measure a nonpartisan bill that allows for cooperation between an initiative’s supporters and the Legislature. It would require the secretary of state to post online a summary of the initiative as well as the top 10 donors in support and opposition.

And once proponents have collected 25 percent of signatures, legislative hearings will be held on the proposed initiative.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican from Gerber, criticized the bill for diminishing the state’s initiative process, which allows voters the right to enact laws outside the Legislature. He said the hearings would erode the right of citizens to initiate measures.

“The only purpose of those hearings is to dampen the gathering of signatures, to campaign against it in other words,” he said.

California’s initiative, referendum and recall process was intended as a form direct democracy so voters could enact laws directly, repeal those they didn’t like or boot corrupt politicians from office. In recent decades, the initiative process has come to be dominated by deep-pocketed special interest groups and wealthy individuals who push their own priorities and in some cases advocate for changes that will benefit their businesses.

Senators who supported the bill said the changes could clear up confusion on the ballot in cases where two similar initiatives qualify. In 2004, the League of Cities qualified Proposition 65, a local government protection initiative, before agreeing to a compromise that became Proposition 1A that appeared on the same ballot.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, said there was no way for the League of Cities to remove Proposition 65, leaving the group to campaign against one of its own measures.

The bill was supported by California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of California. The changes do not require amending the California Constitution and can pass on majority votes.

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