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Study: Change initiative process

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POSTED October 8, 2013 9:17 p.m.

 

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Giving the Legislature a chance to shape citizen ballot initiatives, disclosing the backers of initiative campaigns and allowing voters a do-over years after an initiative passes are among changes recommended in a report released Tuesday.

The report by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California comes amid increasing criticism that California's 102-year-old ballot initiative process has been hijacked by wealthy individuals and well-funded special interest groups pushing their own narrow agendas.

Nearly three-quarters of Californians support letting voters make laws and change public policies at the ballot box, the institute said, but a similar margin recognizes that the initiative system has flaws that could be corrected.

Tuesday's report recommends giving state lawmakers time to negotiate changes to initiatives after they have qualified for the ballot but before they go before voters. A majority of Californians also support lowering the two-thirds margin it takes for lawmakers to put tax increases on the ballot, but most also oppose making it easier for the Legislature to raise taxes without a public vote.

The report said the institute's surveys show most Californians support giving initiative proponents more time to qualify for the ballot if they use volunteers instead of paid workers to collect signatures.

Most also support letting voters reconsider ballot propositions by voting on initiatives again after having several years to measure their impact.

The institute suggested that California should consider following the lead of Oregon, which created an independent citizens commission to hold public hearings on ballot initiatives and make recommendations in the official voter information guide.

The report also proposes increasing public disclosure of those who financially support initiatives by paying for gathering signatures or campaign advertising.

In addition, the state could require that major financial backers be named in campaign and signature-gathering materials and in the voter information guide. The institute said large majorities of voters support televised debates between initiative supporters and opponents.

Mark Baldassare, the institute's president and chief executive, said making such changes could increase voter participation and trust in state government.

Since voters approved Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that rolled back property taxes and set a limit on how much they could rise each year, California's initiative process has evolved into what amounts to a fourth branch of government, the institute said in its report.

Voters considered 128 ballot propositions in the 25 years between 1978 and 2003, when they recalled former Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the last 10 years, they have considered 100 propositions, and 68 of them advanced through the citizen initiative process. The Legislature also can put statewide issues before the voters, called ballot measures.

 

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