Local ballot measures, California

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Ballot Law Update: 2014 elections spur possible initiative law changes in 2015 Jan 15, 2015

By Josh Altic

Nebraska's Sen. Paul Schumacher (NP-22) proposes electronic initiative signature petitions:

Sen. Paul Schumacher

After the recent court case overturning Nebraska's distribution requirement, Sen. Paul Schumacher (NP-22) hopes to sustain the momentum towards a more accessible Nebraska initiative petition process by proposing LB 214, which would establish electronic signature collection for initiative and referendum petitions. Schumacher said, "Almost all functions of government can be conducted electronically," insisting that the initiative power should be added to the list. He followed up, "Since the mid-1990s there have been a number of court rulings and a number of misunderstood amendments to the petition process that have resulted in the petition process not being accessible to the general population." Although Schumacher failed to convince his fellow lawmakers to approve a similar bill in 2011, he looks to capitalize on last year's popular Initiative 425, which raised the state's minimum wage. Schumacher claimed the initiative was only made possible by a very wealthy benefactor and hopes to make money less of a roadblock for initiative petitions in the future.[1][2]

San Francisco Supervisor proposes initiative law reform after soda tax defeat:

After his soda tax measure was defeated at the polls, Supervisor Scott Wiener said that the initiative process in the city needs to be more transparent. Wiener apparently thinks that voters would have been swayed less by the many ads against his measure if they had known who was funding them. He said the Proposition E election showed that big interests, such as the soft drink companies, have ways of covering up their spending. Wiener hopes to put a measure before city voters in 2016 that would require the San Francisco Department of Elections to display online continuously updated lists of the top 10 contributors to committees that support or oppose any initiative. His proposal would also provide a 30-day period of public discussion before an initiative is cleared for circulation, during which time proponents could amend or even withdraw the initiative in response to public input. Finally, the bill would also base the city's signature requirement on a percentage of registered voters, rather than on a percentage of votes cast in the previous election as the law currently dictates. He said this provision will make the signature requirement more stable and prevent it from wildly fluctuating based on voter turnout.[3]

In the wake of Maine's Bear Hunting Initiative, state legislator backs more rigid initiative petition laws:

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, which strongly opposed 2014's Question 1, want to avoid similar measures in the future and asked the state legislature to make it tougher for signature circulators from out-of-state to gather signatures for a Maine initiative.[4]

The chief backer of last year's measure was the U.S. Humane Society, which, according to the Sportsman's Alliance, recruited workers from outside the state to qualify the measure for the ballot. Although current Maine law requires a Maine resident to "witness" all signatures gathered for an initiative, it has no provision preventing a Maine resident from "witnessing" and taking credit for signatures gathered by another circulator, who might be from another state. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said it's impossible for his office to verify if signatures were collected or even properly witnessed by the person whose signature appears on the petition forms. He said, “Election law is very tightly written, but if you find a loophole, you can drive a Mack truck through it because a loophole is a loophole is a loophole.” Rep. Stanley Short (D-106) said he would sponsor a bill seeking to close this loophole through tighter restrictions, clarifying that only a Maine resident can even ask for signatures. David Trahan, the executive director of the Maine Sportsman's Alliance, said the bill would also require paid signature gatherers to register and require them to display their name, residence and who’s paying them while circulating a petition. It would also require them to disclose to the commission how much they are paid and how many signatures they gathered.[4]

Trahan, supporting the bill, said he finds it distasteful that an outside interest could come in and buy a sate ballot question. He said, “Just the fact that any group in the world could come in and cut a check and get their issue on the ballot that should send a chill down everyone’s back in the state of Maine.”[4]

Katie Hansberry, who ran Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting in support of Question 1, simply stated that the proposed bill would make the difficult initiative process even harder and said, “We don’t feel that these changes are necessary or warranted."[4]

Angelo Paparella, whose firm, PCI Consultants LLC, was hired to help put the bear hunting measure on the ballot, condemned the bill as “a cowardly way to attack the initiative process,” insisting that those who sign the petitions are more important than circulators who ask them to sign. John Michael, who runs Ballot Access LLC, which assisted PCI in the signature petition campaign, said, “The more bureaucratic roadblocks they throw up, the more expensive the process gets and the more it gets limited to special interests. Their approach to defending the Second Amendment is destroying the First Amendment.”[4]

...more local news

School bond and tax votes

See also: School bond elections in California

California school bond elections are local ballot measures that ask voters to decide on whether the school district that is sponsoring the measure should be allowed to issue bonds, and incur the additional indebtedness that bonds bring with them. All public school district in California are entitled to bond issues on the local ballot. California also has a statewide school building program known as the School Facilities Grant Program which is supported by statewide bond measures such as Proposition 1D in 2006. Statewide bond measures require a simple majority to pass. Local school districts can also issue school construction bonds and levy property taxes to pay for them, as long as the voters in the district approve.

Parcel tax elections

See also: Parcel tax elections in California

Parcel tax elections are held when a taxing district in California wants to raise revenues through imposing an additional tax called a parcel tax. The taxes are a form of property tax, which must be paid by the owners of parcels of real estate. However, unlike standard property taxes, which are based on the value of the property, a parcel tax is an assessment based on the characteristics of the parcel. School districts have created assessments that range from flat amounts per parcel to assessments based on parcel lot square footage or building square foot. Some school districts have assessed residential parcels using one method and non-residential using another method.

City ballot litigation

See also: California city ballot litigation
...more local ballot litigation.

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