Soapbox

California must reform initiative process to stop hateful measures

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Fringe groups are again taking aim at the rights of minorities in California. In just the last three months, they have put forward two ballot initiatives targeting California’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

One would require Californians to “prove” their gender before using restrooms in government buildings. The other, the Sodomite Suppression Act, called for the killing of gays and lesbians “by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”

Both highlight the pressing need to reform our state’s initiative process.

Equality California is working with policymakers and lawmakers to do just that. Assembly Bill 884 by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon would require a warning from the attorney general on any initiative believed likely to be unconstitutional. AB 1100 by Assemblyman Evan Low, which cleared the Assembly last week, would raise the filing fee from a ridiculously low $200.

Unfortunately, using a ballot initiative to target the rights of a minority is nothing new in California. In 1994, voters passed the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, which was later found unconstitutional. Opponents of abortion rights tried, but failed, to use the initiative process three times in the past decade to require parental notification.

LGBT Californians have had their rights restricted through initiative before. In 2000, voters adopted Proposition 22, which restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples. After the California Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, voters in 2008 narrowly approved the now-infamous Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to once again limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower court’s ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

This time, transgender Californians are in the crosshairs. The latest initiative, misleadingly named the Personal Privacy Protection Act, is in fact the biggest attack on privacy we’ve seen in California in years, opening up anyone simply trying to use the restroom to invasive questions and potential harassment from self-proclaimed “inspectors.”

Not only would this initiative dangerously single out people who don’t meet stereotypes of what someone arbitrarily considers to be male or female, it would also open up the state to a host of costly lawsuits.

Clearly, the initiative process, established more than 100 years ago to give the people of California more political power, is now being increasingly used against the people of California – particularly minorities and other vulnerable groups.

This goes against the founding principles of our democracy. Minority groups have fought against the tyranny of the majority in all our nation’s civil rights struggles.

It’s costly to our state government. More ballot initiatives were filed in the last 20 years than in the previous 80 years combined. The $200 filing fee to submit an initiative to the attorney general’s office has not gone up since 1943. Yet each initiative burdens the state with an average of $8,000 in administrative costs.

We need to take action now to improve the initiative process so that it properly serves the people of California without placing an undue burden on the state or being used to limit the rights of minorities and vulnerable communities. Our legislators must create additional standards to screen out the most frivolous initiatives, ensuring ahead of time that a proposal is constitutional.

The bills we are supporting represent a positive step to find common-sense fixes to the initiative process while ensuring that the constitutional rights of all of California’s diverse communities are protected.

Rick Zbur is executive director of Equality California, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.

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