Capitol Alert

California Assembly passes bill raising initiative fee

A Rocklin woman signs a petition in front of the Bel Air grocery store in Rocklin on Tuesday, September 11, 2007.
A Rocklin woman signs a petition in front of the Bel Air grocery store in Rocklin on Tuesday, September 11, 2007. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

It could get more expensive to file a ballot initiative in California.

Legislation hiking the filing fee from $200 to $8,000 passed the Assembly on a 46-24 vote Tuesday. In the background lurked a near-universally condemned proposed ballot initiative that seeks to authorize executing homosexuals. While the measure is almost certain not to qualify, it prompted a debate about raising the fee to discourage such proposals.

“This reform is overdue,” said Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, noting that the fee has not budged since being set at its current level in 1943, “but more importantly, it will deter frivolous proposals from being submitted.”

But Republicans warned the bill would disenfranchise citizens, amplifying criticisms that California’s direct democracy measures have become tools of wealthy interests able to mount expensive campaigns. Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, called Assembly Bill 1100 “a money grab which would make it harder for Californians to make their voices heard.”

While decrying the attorney who submitted the “kill the gays” initiative as “vile and reprehensible,” Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, cautioned against using that isolated case to stymie citizen involvement.

“The issue is not about that person,” Grove said. “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.”

Also passing on Tuesday was a bill allowing the California attorney general, who writes summaries for ballot measures, to include a disclaimer warning that the measure would violate people’s constitutional rights. Assembly Bill 884 passed 48-25, with opponents warning the bill would politicize the process and calling it an overreaction.

“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,” said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine. “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.”

Attorney General Kamala Harris is seeking a court judgment that would allow her to block the “kill the gays” measure from moving to the signature-gathering phase. Matt McLaughlin, the Huntington Beach attorney who filed the measure, has said he will not argue the matter in court.

Jeremy B. White: (916) 326-5543, @CapitolAlert