California Legislature's ballot maneuver was unconstitutional, court says

Published: Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

The California Legislature acted unconstitutionally when it approved a bill moving Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative to raise taxes to the top of the November ballot, an appeals court ruled Friday.

The opinion does not affect the passage of Proposition 30 but could limit the Legislature's future use of so-called "spot bills," placeholder bills included in budget packages and passed as urgency measures only after they are filled with language later. Such budget-related bills are useful to lawmakers because they require only a majority vote and take effect immediately.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that the state constitution does not allow the Legislature to include empty spot bills in the budget package and to fill them with content as urgency bills later.

The measure that gave Proposition 30 top billing on the November ballot "was nothing but a number, a placeholder, an empty vessel at the time the budget bill was passed," the court ruled.

That bill, Assembly Bill 1499, gave ballot order priority to signature-based constitutional amendments over other initiatives. A higher position on the ballot is considered advantageous.

Legislative Democrats said a $1,000 expenditure included in the bill qualified it as an appropriation. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association challenged the legislation, saying it had nothing to do with the state budget.

The taxpayers association heralded the ruling in a news release, calling it a case of "huge significance for the budget process."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's office said it was reviewing the opinion and had yet to decide whether to appeal.

In an email, Steinberg spokesman Mark Hedlund called the ruling a "narrow decision on a narrow technical issue."

The Legislature, he said, "acted in good faith upon our interpretation of the law regarding spot bills as trailer bills."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by David Siders



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