Paul’s blog

A new Ohio law gives local election boards and the Secretary of State the power to block petitions for local ordinances and charter amendments from going to the ballot to be decided by voters.

This week, Citizens in Charge Foundation President Paul Jacob traveled to Pierre and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to release an 18-page report on the prosecution of Dr. Annette Bosworth by South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, warning at a news conference in Sioux Falls that it may have “a chilling effect on political participation.”

“We want the law to be enforced and people held accountable,” said Jacob, “but the severity of this penalty goes too far and threatens to scare citizens away from getting involved in politics.”

Legislative Bill 367 sailed through Nebraska’s unicameral legislature today on a 42-0 vote. Without a single dissent, the legislation reverses the state’s seven-year ban on paying petition circulators according to the number of signatures they gather on a petition.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, the bill’s author, declared that the Legislature and the people whad become locked in a “civil war” after voters passed term limits for State Senators more than a dozen years ago.

Groene, serving his first term, told fellow lawmakers, “It’s time for this body to call a truce.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed most of Circuit Judge Mary McGowan’s previous ruling, which declared numerous provisions of Act 1413 to be unconstitutional restrictions on the rights of Arkansans seeking to petition their government. Legislators passed the Act back in 2013.

It all happened in a single day. Substitute language was stuffed into House Bill 5152 to effectively repeal Michigan’s requirement that those who circulate initiative and referendum petitions be residents of the state. Later that same day, HB-5152 passed the House and then the state Senate, too.

It’s now Public Act No. 94.

What possessed Michigan legislators to act so deliberately to rectify a law long at odds with the First amendment rights of citizens to petition their government?

Late Wednesday, the hard work of Colorado’s broad, diverse, left-right, pro-initiative & referendum coalition paid off. With an awakened public communicating with legislators, the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee unanimously defeated Rep. Lois Court’s House Concurrent Resolution 2 on a bipartisan 5-0 vote.

HCR 2 sought to double the number of signatures citizens would be required to collect on petitions and to additionally mandate that petitions qualify in all seven congressional districts. The constitutional amendment is now effectively dead for this session, after having just passed the House by a large margin.

Earlier this summer, the City Council in Springfield, Missouri, hurriedly placed two charter amendments on yesterday’s Aug. 7 primary election ballot hoping to make it far more difficult to petition a citizen initiative onto the local ballot. Voters defeated one of the measures, Charter Amendment 2, by a 51 to 49 percent vote, but passed the other, Charter Amendment 3, by 52 to 48 percent.

A poll released today by Citizens in Charge Foundation shows a massive shift among California voters, when they are provided with more accurate information on Proposition 28.

“The polling shows clearly that giving voters more precise information in the ballot title dramatically changes their view on Prop 28. A recent poll using the official ballot title showed better than two-to-one support for the measure, while our poll with a more accurate title showed voters opposing Prop 28 by a nearly two-to-one margin,” said Citizens in Charge Foundation Chairman Michael Foudy.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” California Governor Jerry Brown was asked by host David Gregory whether the state was less governable today than when Brown was governor between 1975 and 1983. Brown argued that the state was “more governable” and, moreover, was better off than the federal government because in California “we can appeal directly to the people through the initiative process.”

DAVID GREGORY: Quickly, this is your third term as California governor, is it less governable now than it used to be?

One hundred years ago, in 1912, Washington citizens adopted the state’s initiative petition process. Tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 17) four initiative experts will discuss that process at a forum sponsored by The Foley Institute, Washington State University and the Washington Secretary of State. The event, entitled, “A Century of Citizen Initiatives in Washington: Are they still democratic?” will be held at the General Administration Auditorium on Olympia’s Capitol Campus, with a buffet lunch beginning at 11:30 am and the program lasting until 1:00 pm.

Today, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, is unconstitutional. The ballot initiative was passed by California voters in November 2008 and challenged in federal court by two gay couples. The Ninth Circuit decision upholds the ruling by retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who first struck down the ballot measure in 2010.

In a separate decision, the appeals court refused to invalidate Walker’s ruling on the grounds that he should have disclosed he was in a long term same-sex relationship.  ProtectMarriage, the backers of Prop 8, are expected to appeal Tuesday’s decision to a larger panel of the 9th Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Second House Amendment Committee, a new group formed by initiative rights activists in Nebraska, filed an initiative constitutional amendment this week to lower the signature requirements for qualifying citizen initiatives. The group also filed a campaign finance registration, which is required once at least $5,000 has been raised by a ballot committee.

“I am confident that with the dedication of our volunteers and the commitment I have secured from people who are friends to petition rights, this issue will be on the November ballot,” committee member Kent Bernbeck told reporters.

In an important decision for initiative rights, the California Supreme Court today unanimously told the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the proponents of initiatives in California have a legal right to defend their voter-enacted measures against legal challenges:

…the justices sided with Proposition 8 sponsors, who’ve argued they should be able to appeal a federal judge’s decision last year striking down the same-sex marriage ban because the governor and attorney general have refused to defend the voter-approved law. The state Supreme Court overwhelmingly agreed that Proposition 8 backers can go it alone in trying to preserve the gay marriage ban.

George Will’s recent column, “A republic, guaranteed,” generally scoffs at a lawsuit filed in federal court in Colorado attempting to overturn the state’s voter-initiated Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment, which caps state spending. But while disagreeing with the goal of the lawsuit, Mr. Will seems to in part agree with those who filed it. At least when they argue in their legal brief that there is a “contest between direct democracy and representative democracy.”

ZocaloCalifornians’ initiative, referendum and recall process is as hot a topic for debate as ever. That’s apt, for this year marks the process’s 100th anniversary.

On October 10, 1911, Californians went to the polls to enact these democratic checks on government after Governor Hiram Johnson persuaded legislators to put them on the ballot. On October 10, 2011, I’ll be in Sacramento at an event sponsored by Citizens in Charge Foundation to celebrate the centennial.