California court blocks legislators from writing ballot measure titles

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January 28, 2011

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SACRAMENTO, California: Lawmakers in the state of California were instructed to stop writing official language for measures they refer to the ballot, according to a Third District Court of Appeals ruling on January 27.

In it's unanimous decision the court said legislatively-referred measures should be written by the state attorney general.[1] The attorney general is currently responsible for writing ballot language for citizen-proposed measures.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed the lawsuit following the approval of California Proposition 1A in 2008 by 53%. The text for the $9.95 billion high-speed rail bond question was written by state lawmakers. The taxpayer group reportedly filed the lawsuit to prevent lawmakers from continuing to write ballot language. "This really wasn't a problem until about 10 to 15 years ago, and then it just got more and more brazen. Granted, the attorney general can be a political player as well, but at least the attorney general is removed from the (legislative) process," said Jon Coupal, president of the taxpayer group.[1]

According to court's decision the legislature has violated a 1974 law that assigned writing summaries for measures to the attorney general. Specifically, the legislature has violated this law since 1990.[2]

The ruling does not invalidate 2008's Proposition 1A, however it applies to all future measures. Additionally, it would allow for Attorney General Kamala Harris to rewrite the title of measures scheduled to go on upcoming ballots for 2011 and 2012.[2]

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