Initiative Would Strip the Attorney General and the Legislature of Power to Write Ballot Title and Summary

An initiative awaiting an official title and summary from Attorney General Jerry Brown would transfer the job of creating ballot descriptions to the Legislative Analyst.

The “21st Century Ballot Reform Act” would also forbid the Legislature from writing ballot titles and summaries as well.

Brown – and the Democratic majority Legislature — has been criticized for slanting the title and summary of several ballot measures.

Consumer Watchdog claimed Brown, a likely Democratic candidate for governor, rewrote the title and summary of Proposition 17 on the June ballot to benefit Mercury Insurance which contributed $13,000 to Brown and $3.5 million to place the measure on the ballot.

The proposition would allow insurers to use driving history as a factor in calculating insurance rates, something banned by Proposition 103, a 1988 ballot measure backed by the founder of Consumer Watchdog.

The first title said the measure “allows insurance companies to increase or decrease the cost of auto insurance based on a driver’s coverage history. The second title, which came after backers of the initiative amended it reads:

“Allows auto insurance companies to base their prices in part on a driver’s history of insurance coverage.”

The second version will appear on the ballot.

“This title and summary differs from an earlier one because the substantive text of the two initiatives are different. It has nothing to do with politics,” wrote Jim Humes, Chief Deputy Attorney General, in response to Consumer Watchdog’s claims.

Sen. George Runner, a Lancaster Republican, filed a lawsuit over Brown’s title and summary of an initiative he backs requiring voters to present photo identification

Brown was also sued by backers of Proposition 8, which bans same sex marriage. They claimed his title and summary was argumentative and prejudicial. A court tossed out the complaint.

On February 3, Brown wrote a title and summary for a measure that would prohibit implementation of AB 32, the landmark greenhouse gas reduction measure until state unemployment falls below 5.5 percent for four one year.

“Suspends air pollution control laws requiring major polluters to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming until unemployment drops below specified level for full year.”

The description goes on to say that, if approved, the state would “abandon implementation of comprehensive greenhouse-gas-reduction program that includes increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, and mandatory emission reporting and fee requirements for major polluters such as power plants and oil refineries, until suspension is lifted.”

One of the measure’s backers, Assemblyman Dan Logue, Chico Republican, told Capitol Weekly’s Anthony York “this looks like (Brown) handed this over to the environmental community and asked them to write this summary for them.”

In another recent title and summary of a major overhaul of the state’s budget system that includes two-year budgeting a reduction in the vote requirement from two-thirds to a simple majority Brown said in the title, which is written in bold uppercase letters, that the measure “changes state budget process in several ways.”

The Legislature also has been criticized for writing the title and summary of some measures it passes.

For example, Proposition 15 on the June ballot, a measure by Sen. Loni Hancock, an Oakland Democrat, imposes a fee on lobbyists and their employers to create a fund for public financing of candidates running for Secretary of State.

Toward the end of the measure, the bill orders the Secretary of State to use this title and summary of the proposition.

“CALIFORNIA FAIR ELECTIONS ACT. This act creates a voluntary system for candidates for Secretary of State to qualify for a public campaign grant if they agree to strict spending limits and take no private contributions. Candidates would have to qualify before receiving the grant. Candidates who demonstrate sufficient public support would receive the same amount. Participating candidates would be prohibited from raising or spending money beyond the grant. There would be strict enforcement and accountability with published reports open to the public. Funded by voluntary contributions and by a $350 annual registration fee on lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers.”

The initiative that would turn the task of title and summary over to the Legislative Analyst would also bolster the state’s online ballot pamphlet by adding links to the most recent campaign finance reports, websites of supporters and opponents of a ballot measure and video or audio presentations requested by the authors of the ballot arguments for and against the measure.

Received by Brown’s office January 19, it has yet to receive a title and summary.


Filed under: Politics


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