Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jerry Brown Vetoes Anti-Signature-Gathering Bill

He does a lot of things to earn our contempt, so we feel obligated to credit Jerry Brown for doing something laudable: yesterday, the Governor vetoed Ellen Corbett's SB 168. This bill would have made it illegal to pay people gathering signatures for ballot petitions on a per-signature basis. In his veto message, Brown said, "This is a dramatic change to a long established democratic process in California. I am not persuaded that the unintended consequences won't be worse than the abuse the bill aims to prevent." Corbett and her supporters say that paying signature-gatherers this way invites abuses, including forgery of signatures and misleading the public. We're sure that the people who care enough about ballot measures to volunteer to gather signatures on an unpaid basis have never done these things, so this makes total sense to us. Unfortunately for Corbett, Brown thought the measure would drive up the costs of gathering signatures, thus leading to an initiative process "further favoring the wealthiest interests." We would object to the bill on the basis of its interference with citizens' legitimate exercise of their rights, as well as its interference with peaceful economic exchange. But perhaps it's a lot to expect Brown to see things that way.

This action hardly stems the tide of attacks on the ballot initiative process by a Legislature intent on removing one of the few meaningful checks on its behavior. Two other bills, both by freshman Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, which would target signature-gatherers and ballot language, are on their way to Brown's desk. And we still have two proposed constitutional amendments whose implications are far more serious: Mike Gatto's ACA 6, which would ban ballot initiatives that create a "net increase" in state spending (presumably, this would include those that cut taxes); and Loni Hancock's SCA 15, which would bypass the two-thirds majority requirement for raising taxes. So, we'll give credit to Brown for doing the right thing yesterday, but the battle is far from over.


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