A New Path for Ballot Measures

Of the several hundred bills awaiting their fate on Democratic Governor Jerry Brown's desk, none is more important to the state's institutional organization than SB 202.

Originally, SB 202 bill was introduced by State Senator Loni Hancock in February 2001 with the intent of raising filing fees for initiatives to discourage frivolous efforts.

But in early September, the bill underwent dramatic change.

The revised version now includes a section that would shift all ballot propositions to the time of general elections only.

All this has created a controversy, both over the late changes and the intent of those changes, and put considerable pressure on Governor Brown.

The "gut-and-amend" process is hardly new to California. With this strategy, a bill begins in one form and is amended often late in the legislative term to the point that observers sometimes don't even recognize it.

The advantage of late amendment is that the bill has already gone through most or all committee hearings, thereby reducing the likelihood of opposition.

That's what happened with SB 202.

As for the new design to place all ballot propositions at the time of the general election, sponsors say that the arrangement will be at a time when many more voters participate; indeed, general elections often attract as many as twice the number of voters as low-turnout primaries.

Unstated is that at general elections, Democratic turnout usually increases the most, which could impact the outcome of ballot propositions.

Opponents say that SB 202 was not only hijacked through the gut-and-amend process, but that the altered bill is designed to discourage passage of ballot propositions often backed by conservative groups.

They claim that if Brown signs the bill, he'll single handily alter the process to the disadvantage of interests who differ from the governor and Democrats.

That takes us to the present and Jerry Brown's choices.

Will he side with legislative Democrats and alter the timing of propositions, or will he refuse to fiddle with the long history of the process?

Whatever Brown does may reveal just how he intends to manage his relationships in the coming months and years. 

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