Capitol Alert Breaking

Jerry Brown signs initiative and student suspension bills; vetoes money for UC, CSU

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Saturday giving the proponents of California ballot initiatives more time to collect signatures and allowing them to withdraw their initiatives or add amendments.

The signing was among dozens of bill actions the Democratic governor announced Saturday as he works to meet a Tuesday deadline to act on legislation lawmakers sent him this year. He also approved bills limiting school officials’ ability to suspend students and authorizing a diversion program for military personnel or veterans who are accused of misdemeanors while suffering from service-related trauma, substance abuse or mental health problems.

Brown vetoed part of a budget bill that would have awarded an additional $50 million each to the University of California and California State University systems for deferred maintenance the systems deem critical.

“Making investments to maintain the state’s aging infrastructure continues to be a major priority for my administration, as is paying down the state’s debts and reducing other long-term liabilities,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “However, we are nearly one quarter into the fiscal year now and we should not commit additional General Fund monies of this magnitude when we are facing unanticipated costs such as fighting the state’s extreme wildfires.”

The extra $100 million was originally proposed as a budget trigger that was nullified in July when property tax revenues did not exceed projections. UC and CSU have unsuccessfully lobbied all year for increased funding beyond the levels proposed in Brown’s January budget proposal.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said she was disappointed by the governor’s action.

“Given California’s continued economic rebound, we disagree with denying this funding simply because the money involved comes from Pot B instead of Pot A,” she said in a prepared statement.

The initiative legislation, Senate Bill 1253, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, will extend to 180 days from 150 days the amount of time proponents have to circulate an initiative.

Proponents of the bill said it would provide more time for input into an initiative from lawmakers or the public, and allow an initiative proponent to withdraw a measure if its goal is satisfied in the meantime by a legislative compromise.

“California’s century-old initiative process is a hallmark of our electoral system, and today we’re taking an important step to modernize and strengthen direct democracy,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

The bill was supported by a range of organizations, including California Common Cause and the California Chamber of Commerce. The California Teachers Association opposed the bill.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a prepared statement that allowing an initiative proponent to withdraw his or her measure will allow for “reasoned compromise” and improve the initiative process “in a simple but profound way.”

Among other legislation that Brown announced action on Saturday was a bill limiting school administrators’ use of an offense called “willful defiance” to suspend students in California schools.

Proponents of Assembly Bill 420, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said application of the “willful defiance” offense was used disproportionately to discipline minorities.

“California is now the first state in the nation to take badly-needed measures to curtail suspensions and expulsions for minor misbehavior in our schools,” Dickinson said in a prepared statement. “Kids who have been suspended or expelled are two times more likely to drop out and five times more likely to turn to crime. Rather than kicking students out of school, we need to keep young people in school on track to graduate, and out of the criminal justice system.”

Brown had previously vetoed a similar bill, writing that he “cannot support limiting the authority of local school leaders. The measure Brown signed was narrowed to only prohibit willful defiance suspensions for students in kindergarten through third grade.

Brown also signed bills:

Senate Bill 1227, by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, would allow a court to dismiss criminal charges against a defendant if he or she completes a diversion program satisfactorily. A judge could reinstate criminal proceedings if a defendant fails to do so.

The bill was narrowed this year to apply only to misdemeanors, not felonies.

Existing law allows for post-plea probationary programs for veterans. According to a legislative analysis, Hancock argued pretrial diversion programs would reduce court and incarceration costs and help veterans avoid consequences of a conviction, including difficulty finding employment or housing.

Of the 230,000 high school seniors who completed their financial-aid forms last year, about 50,000 were not considered because their GPAs could not be verified.