A Little Less Direct Democracy: Raising the Fee to File an Initiative
As residents of California, one election day tradition we all get to look forward to is voting on at least a couple ballot initiatives. Ballot initiatives are where we, the citizens, decide on specific policies the state should adopt. Known as direct democracy, the practice is meant to empower average people to propose and pass laws that elected officials, for whatever reason, don’t want to touch.
So just what does it take to put an initiative on the ballot? Well, to get the process started, all you really need is an idea and $200 to pay the filing fee. From there, your idea goes through a 30-day public comment process, then a five-day amendment period, then is given a fiscal analysis, and finally the attorney general provides an official title and summary for your idea. Then you can start the process of signature gathering.
So what kind of initiatives have we voted on recently? Well, last year we actually voted on some pretty important stuff – Jerry Brown’s water bond proposal (prop 1), another proposal to reduce prison sentences for certain types of crime (proposition 47).
But what if you were asked to vote on this: “… any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”
Yes. This is an actual proposal that has been filed to the attorney general. Known as the Sodomite Suppression Act, it was submitted by a Huntington Beach attorney, Matt McLaughlin, who has also tried to pass an initiative that would make reading the Bible required in California public schools.
McLaughlin’s proposal has ignited a long-standing debate in California over how the initiative process should function. With laws like his, as well as a couple other pretty out there ideas (for example, one proposal gathering signatures right now would require us to make Jerry Brown’s title president instead of governor), elected officials are taking a look at how to make direct democracy in California a bit more sane.
One idea that has made a lot of headway already is a law proposed by State Assemblymember Richard Bloom. His bill, AB 1100, would add a zero to the initiative filing fee, raising it from $200 to $2000. This, he says, will make it much less likely that people would submit wacky ideas that clearly aren’t going anywhere.
The problem, say opponents, is that raising the fee would make it much less likely that anyone would file a proposal, and so would effectively suppress the people’s right to set policy in California.
As it stands now, Californians have had to decide whether to provide their signature on quite a lot of ballot initiatives. Since 2000, almost 650 proposals have been submitted to the attorney general. Each submitted idea costs the state $8,000 to review. The current filing fee of $200 was set back in 1943 – adjusting for inflation, $200 in 1943 is equal to approximately $2758 today. California is the second most expensive place to file an initiative, following Mississippi which charges $500. Just over half of the states in the union – 26 – allow for direct democracy á la the initiative process.
Given the sheer number of proposals that have been submitted recently, the legislature has actually already tried to make filing fees more expensive. Laws were submitted in 2009, 2010, and 2011 to raise the fee, but two of them were vetoed by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the other was dropped by the bill’s author.
This current bill is opposed by Consumer Watchdog, the California Taxpayers Association, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. It’s supported by California Common Cause, Equality California, and a number of city and county employee associations. The California Assembly recently approved the bill 46-28, and it is now being debated in the State Senate.
So, waddya think? Were you just about to propose an idea for California and can’t stand the thought of ponying up $2000? Or would it really not bother you to have a larger fee in exchange for the chance to have fewer signature gatherers coming at you? Vote and comment below.
|Raise Initiative Filing Fee from $200 to $2000 (AB 1100)
Assembly member Richard Bloom has proposed raising the fee to file an initiative for direct vote of the people from $200 to $2000. His bill comes after a Huntington Beach attorney submitted an initiative proposal that would require that “… any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.” Bloom hopes that by raising the fee, fewer outrageous initiatives will be proposed. Opponents to his bill, however, fear that making it more expensive to submit a proposal will discourage average citizens from participating in California democracy. Where do you fall on this question? Vote and comment here.