Capitol Alert

California's new initiative process: A 'circus' or a 'good and healthy thing'?

Consumer privacy proponent Alastair Mactaggart: ‘It’s the first step and the country’s going to follow’

Alastair Mactaggart, a San Francisco real estate developer who spent more than $3 million on a privacy initiative, expresses support for the newly passed California bill.
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Alastair Mactaggart, a San Francisco real estate developer who spent more than $3 million on a privacy initiative, expresses support for the newly passed California bill.

When Darrell Steinberg pushed through a new process in 2014 to allow advocates to pull initiatives from the ballot, he had no way way of knowing he'd be dealing with it this year as mayor of Sacramento.

The former Senate president pro tem found himself in a bind when soda companies qualified an initiative that would make it more difficult for local governments to create new taxes.

After a series of negotiations, soda companies and lawmakers reached an agreement to pass a bill banning new local soda taxes through 2030. In exchange, the soda companies agreed to pull their initiative from the November ballot.

The change to the initiative process was designed to promote compromise between lawmakers and initiative proponents — two groups Steinberg says seldom compromised before his 2014 bill was passed.

"The law now provides more choices for those who are making public policy, and I think that's a good and healthy thing," Steinberg said.

But today, lawmakers from both major political parties feel their hands are being tied at the last second to rush bills through the Assembly and Senate.

Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, said "the initiative process has completely been abused and turned California into a circus."

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, criticized the closed-door negotiations that took place on a consumer privacy initiative that has since been withdrawn after lawmakers passed a bill expanding consumer protections. Hours before he ultimately voted in favor of the bill, Nielsen called it "something that the majority of legislators will know nothing about."

While Steinberg acknowledges no political process is perfect, he insists it is better than an "all-or-nothing approach that existed before." He added that lawmakers tend to wait until the last second to strike a deal with initiative proponents, thus rushing the voting process.

"Deadlines tend to focus the mind here," Steinberg said.

In 2016 — the first time the new initiative process went into effect — two initiatives were withdrawn. This year, three were pulled.

INFLUENCER OF THE DAY

When robots take California jobs, what happens next? Influencers have plenty to say.

“As technology advances, more and more jobs are being replaced with robots and software — which is both exciting and frightening, filled with opportunities and challenges. First, we must acknowledge that the definition of work is changing; for many it is becoming more about income generation than traditional employment. We must revise the Labor Code to accommodate these changes and allow people to earn a good living in new and creative ways.

"We also must update our education systems so they can be flexible to changing workplace demands, to teach entrepreneurship, coding, robotics, etc … and to teach people the importance of lifelong learning that will allow them to reinvent themselves and their skill sets as the needs of the workplace continue to change. In this technological age, there are often more questions than answers, but we must start addressing them head on before too many people get left behind.”

— Kristin Olsen, former minority leader in the California Assembly and Stanislaus County supervisor

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