Capitol Alert

Will Jerry Brown change mind about restriction on paid signature gatherers?

California initiative signature prices soar

A California-based signature gathering "captain" records a telephone message on March 14, 2016 giving gatherers the day's per-signature price based on the market. As campaigns rush to beat their qualification deadlines, California political vetera
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A California-based signature gathering "captain" records a telephone message on March 14, 2016 giving gatherers the day's per-signature price based on the market. As campaigns rush to beat their qualification deadlines, California political vetera

As Gov. Jerry Brown continues to wade through hundreds of bills sent to him in the Legislature’s end-of-session rush, some measures will look familiar – similar or virtually identical to legislation he has vetoed before.

On Thursday, it was a bill by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, to define “sudden unexplained death in childhood” in statute and require coroners to notify parents in such cases of the importance of taking tissue samples.

In his veto message, Brown said he vetoed similar legislation in 2014 because of “my concern that creating a definition in law for an unidentified cause of death, which lacks the consensus of the scientific community, is premature.” Vetoing Cooley’s bill, Assembly Bill 1864, Brown wrote, “This concern remains.”

Here is one other bill similar to a previously-vetoed measure we’re watching as Brown comes up against his Sept. 30 bill signing deadline:

Senate Bill 1094 (Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa): Requires that proponents of a statewide ballot initiative use non-paid volunteers to collect at least 5 percent of signatures needed to qualify their initiative for the ballot.

Analysis: Supporters of this labor union-backed bill say California’s initiative process has become overrun by wealthy donors and corporate interests who employ paid signature gatherers to qualify measures for the ballot.

In a recent opinion piece in The Sacramento Bee, Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said the process now is a “far cry” from when the state adopted its initiative process in 1911, envisioning “a way for ordinary folks to have a voice in our democracy.”

Controversially, the bill counts as volunteers people who belong to a nonprofit whose primary business is not soliciting signatures. That includes labor unions, which can marshal members to collect signatures for their interests. Critics, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, have said the law would give labor an unfair advantage in California’s initiative wars.

Three years ago, Brown vetoed a similar bill, Assembly Bill 857, which would have required proponents of a statewide ballot initiative to use non-paid volunteers to collect at least 10 percent of signatures.

In his veto message in 2013, Brown said “the initiative process is far from perfect and monied interests have historically manipulated it at will.”

But the fourth-term Democrat said “requiring a specific threshold of signatures to be gathered by volunteers will not stop abuses by narrow special interests – particularly if ‘volunteer’ is defined with the broad exemptions as in this bill.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has hundreds of bills to sign or veto before Sept. 30. Here's what to keep an eye on.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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