‘Gut and amend’ tactics OK for ballot measures?

Jerry BrownGov. Jerry Brown has gotten the go-ahead to put his revised criminal justice reform measure on the November ballot after a 6-1 California Supreme Court ruling last week. The original version focused on juvenile justice reforms. The new version would also make major changes in state parole laws.

Justice Carol Corrigan wrote the decision, joined by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Justice Kathryn Werdegar and the three judges Brown has appointed in the last five years: Goodwin Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Leondra Kruger.

The decision held that changes Brown sought met the Election Code requirement, adopted in 2014, that they be “reasonably germane to the theme, purpose, or subject of the initiative measure as originally proposed.” Even though public comments had been taken on the original version of the measure and could not be sought again before the measure goes on the November ballot, Corrigan found that Brown had acted in good faith and in a manner that didn’t undercut direct democracy.

Ruling allows ballot measures to be ‘hijacked’

FullSizeRender (2)But in a sharply worded dissent, Justice Ming Chin questioned whether this would have the effect of turning already-conceived ballot measures that had crossed initial obstacles into much different proposals not subject to public comment — making public review of proposed measures effectively “meaningless.”

The legislative history of the 2014 change to the Election Code shows it was intended to allow for poorly crafted measures to be fixed before being presented to voters, Chin noted. Instead of following that goal, Chin wrote, the majority decision sets “a precedent establishing whether that section [of the 2014 law] can function as a true reform to achieve its intended purpose, or if it is an empty shell — just another rule that can easily be evaded with a little imagination. …

“Under today’s ruling, future initiative proponents can evade the period of public review in the same way the proponents have done here. They merely need to hijack a vaguely similar measure that was in the process of qualifying.”

This parallels the critiques that have been made for decades of the California Legislature’s much-criticized “gut and amend” maneuver in which legislative leaders rewrite bills at the last second and try to adopt them with little review as legislative sessions wrap up each September.

“Dramatically changing the sentencing laws — by permitting early parole for some offenders, contrary to the detailed sentencing scheme currently in effect — is not reasonably germane to changing the treatment of juvenile and youthful offenders in the criminal justice system,” Chin wrote.

DAs: Revisions wipe out two laws approved by state voters

A similar argument was offered in February by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang when she upheld the California District Attorneys Association’s challenge to Brown’s revisions.

The CDAA depicted Brown’s revisions as anything but minor.

“This initiative effectively repeals Proposition 8, the California’s Victims Bill of Rights law that the voters passed in 1982. It also effectively repeals Marsy’s Law passed by the voters in 2008. The crime victims of this state and the people who voted to protect their rights deserve their due process, at the very least, the statutorily allowed public comment period to express how this would affect them and their families,” said Anne Marie Schubert, Sacramento County district attorney and the official petitioner in the case.

Chin, appointed to the state’s high court in 1996 by Gov. Pete Wilson, is considered a moderate conservative.

He won national attention in December for another dissent. Chin argued that the majority court decision putting up new California Environmental Quality Act obstacles to the massive Newhall Ranch project in north Los Angeles County amounted to a “recipe for paralysis.” He said the decision’s interpretation of CEQA required developers to repeatedly demonstrate they had met mitigation goals, instead of accepting previous clearances as binding and valid.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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