This article illustrates one of the ways that direct democracy currently functions in the State of California: through the initiative process. Since not all states have direct democratic institutions, California is certainly an example from which other states should learn. They are able to tackle difficult and pertinent issues like street violence and clean energy that require the input of diverse individuals rather than relying solely on the whims of a select group of elected officials . However, for this type of system to function efficiently and effectively, it must be ensured that the electorate is properly educated about the issues at hand and that the petition process is accessable to everyone. Too often the process is exclusive to those interests who have vast financial resources with which to gather the required signatures. This editor would like to know more about who is participating in these petition drives and who is unknowingly being affected by these policies. What kind of outreach programs and public relations do these groups use to incorporate various actors? As has been said here before, cooperation with local communities make for more well-rounded consideration of the issues and a truer democratic process. - Editor
By JOHN C. OSBORN , The Eureka Reporter
Published: Jun 3 2008, 11:43 PM
Eight propositions will make their way to the Nov. 4 general election ballot, with topics ranging from abortion to the sentencing of non-violent offenders.
Only about half the states in the U.S. have ways in which the public can create law through direct democracy practices. Proponents of initiatives must gather a certain number of signatures before moving to the ballot for all to vote on.
Individuals, businesses and organizations can start initiative campaigns that amend California’s constitution or create a new law.
According to the California State Department Web site, 25 initiatives and referenda are in circulation, 17 failed, three are pending signature verification and two are having the signatures counted.
The final day for initiatives to be considered for the ballot is June 26.
The eight that made it to the ballot vary in scope and topic.
Below is a brief summary of what each proposition would do if passed in November based on information from the California State Department:
California Marriage Protection Act
As the California Supreme Court ruled on May 15 to overturn a ban on same-sex couples voted into law back in 2000, an organization is trying to amend California’s Constitution to overrule the court’s decision.
The proposition, if it is approved in November, would allow only recognize marriages between a man and a woman. It would also overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.
California is the second state in the U.S. to recognize same-sex marriages — Massachusetts was the first.
A total of 694,354 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 1,120,801.
Non-violent Offender Rehabilitation Act of 2008
This proposition would attempt to modify sentencing, parole and probation guidelines for non-violent offenders, as well as focus on treatment and rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.
It would increase funding toward individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for both non-violent drug offenders and parolees.
At the same time, this proposition would reduce criminal penalties for those offenses by offering a different form of probation focused on treatment.
The court would have their ability to incarcerate parole and probation violators limited.
It would also shorten the amount of parole time for most drug offense, including sales, and non-violent property crimes.
The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects that it would cost the state no more than $1 billion annually to expand drug and rehab programs. At the same time, no more than $1 billion annually would be saved in reduced prison and parole operation costs.
They also expect a one-time savings of no more than $2.5 billion in prison facility costs. The cost to run these expanded treatment facilities is unknown.
A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 761,183.
Safe Neighborhood Act: Stop Gang, Gun, and Street Crime
On the flip side of the previous proposition, this one would increase criminal penalties for several crimes and allow hearsay evidence in certain instances.
Funding would be allocated to combat crime and gangs, and toward prisons and parole operations.
Several crimes that would see increases include using and selling methamphetamine and carrying a loaded or concealed firearm for certain felons.
Bail would be eliminated for illegal immigrants charged with gang-related or violent crimes.
It would also change the law to allow certain hearsay statements as evidence if witnesses are unavailable.
The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expect costs to state to exceed $500 million annually for increased criminal justice programs and for prison and parole operations.
There would also be a one-time cost that could exceed $500 million toward prison facilities and costs to courts, county jails and local criminal justice agencies.
A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 789,668.
Child and Teen Safety and Stop Predators Act: Sarah’s Law
This constitutional amendment would prohibit abortion of unemancipated minors until 48 hours after their parents, or guardians are notified.
There would be exceptions if the minor has a waiver from a parent or it is a medial necessity.
Minors would also be able to prove to a court that they are mature enough to have the abortion without their parents’ permission, or that it is in their best interest to do so.
Physicians would have to report all abortions of minors. Also allows physicians to be sued for monetary damages if they violate this amendment.
A minor also has to consent to the abortion, though in some cases they don’t have to.
The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects an unknown state cost of several million annually for health and social service programs and court costs.
A total of 694,354 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 1,228,217.
Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century
The California Senate originally voted for this bond measure to go before a public vote for the November 2004 election. It was moved several times since.
The bond measure would allocate $9.95 billion, in conjunction with federal funds, to plan and construct a high-speed train system.
A line connecting the Bay Area with Los Angeles would serve as the beginnings of a 700-mile system that would eventually connect all major population centers in California, going as far north Sacramento.
Trains would go at speeds of at least 200 mph on this network.
The Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008
This proposition would require all utility companies have 50 percent of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2025.
The requirements would be phased in: 40 percent by 2010, 45 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025.
An account would be created in order to buy property and rights of way for renewable energy.
There would be fast track approval of energy plants creating renewable energy.
This would also impose fines on utility companies that don’t comply with the regulations.
The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects it would cost the state up to $3.4 annually to regulate the rules, though it would be paid by fee revenues.
There are unknown costs resulting in increased costs and reduced revenues that may lead to increased electricity rates in the short term.
Costs could be offset, and revenues increased in the long term, if this measure increases the development of renewable energy.
A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 736,145.
The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act
This proposition would try to alleviate animal suffering by requiring specified farm animals spend the majority of their day in a place with enough space to fully extend their limbs or wings and turn around, among other things.
The animals specified include calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs.
The proposition would make it a misdemeanor to not do this, with the possibility of fines not exceeding $1,000 and/or imprisonment in jail up to 180 days.
The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects minor financial impact based on local and state law enforcement and prosecution, which may be offset by increased fine revenue.
A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 782,507 with only 536,605 determined to be valid.
Children’s Hospital Bond Act of 2008
This bond measure would authorize $980 million to fund the construction projects and furnishing children’s hospitals.
The measure requires that 80 percent of funds go toward hospitals that focus on children aliments such as leukemia and diabetes.
The other 20 percent would go toward University of California general acute care hospitals.
The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects that the bond will cost the general fund about $2 billion over 30 years to pay off, with payments of around $67 million annually.
A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 684,892 with only 469,967 determined to be valid.