Democrats in the California State Assembly passed a bill this week that would increase the filing fees for ballot initiatives (or referenda) from $200 to $8,000, thus excluding most ordinary citizens from filing a petition and leaving the field open for unions and corporations, according to Capital Public Radio.
Using, as a pretext, a bizarre ballot initiative that actually called for the deaths of gays and lesbians, legislators acted in the apparent hope of exerting greater control of the initiative process. The filing fee has not been raised since 1943, but the percentage of the increase far exceeds the inflation in the intervening period.
As Joel Fox of foxandhoundsdaily.com wrote, “The argument that the fee has not been raised in over seventy years rings hollow when any on-line inflation calculator will tell you that inflation over that time has risen no more than one-fourth the amount that the bill, AB 1100, co-authored by Democratic assembly members Richard Bloom and Evan Low demands.”
Republicans opposed the bill. Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove agreed that the petition calling for the execution of gays and lesbians was “vile and reprehensible,” adding, “The issue is not about that person. The issue should be about the people’s rights to be able to have a grievance against their government through the initiative process if that’s what they choose to do,” according to the Sacramento Bee. The Bee quoted Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, calling AB 1000 “a money grab which would make it harder for Californians to make their voices heard.”
Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, told the Bee that the Assembly had gone too far, asserting, “We’re fundamentally changing the initiative process. We’re getting all spun up about something that will die as it should die a natural death. We are giving the author way much more already than the 15 minutes of fame he thought he would be getting out of this stupid initiative.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Grove estimated that an increase based on the inflation since 1943 would raise the fee to $2,700. Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, told the Times, “Californians are very protective of the initiative process and they will likely view an absurdly high increase in the filing fee to be an attempt by the Legislature to thwart they public’ access to that process.”
In addition to the hike in the filing fee, the Assembly also passed Assembly Bill 884, which would allow the state attorney general, who writes summaries for ballot measures, to include a disclaimer warning on ballot measures indicating that the measure would violate people’s constitutional rights.