Initiative filing fee hike inspires wave of unconventional proposals

Denise Cross / flickr

Denise Cross / flickr

A tenfold increase in the initiative filing fee was supposed to reduce the number of long-shot proposals in circulation.

“The updated filing fee set by this bill will deter frivolous submissions,” Assemblyman Evan Low, author the new initiative fee increase, said in a September press release. “We live in California, the cradle of direct democracy, but we also need a threshold for reasonableness. And this bill will do just that.”

It’s had the opposite effect, as dozens of proponents of unconventional ideas rush to file their initiatives before the end of the year.

Among this year’s unconventional proposals: a 1,000 percent tax on political advertisements, a 5-cent tax on bottled water, a statewide ban on shellfish and a plan for California to declare independence from the United States.

“For the privilege of influencing public elections and political issues, a sales tax of 1,000% (one thousand percent) is hereby imposed upon Political Advertisements,” a statewide ballot measure, proposed  by Terrance Lynn of Portola Valley, states. “The proceeds of which shall solely benefit California public education.”

And if the courts try to strike down the measure, Lynn’s prepared for that, too. “If a Federal District Court or Supreme Court of the United States find this tax to be too high, then this law shall immediately ratchet down to the highest acceptable level and remain in place,” the measure states.

10x Filing Fee Hike

On January 1, the cost of proposing a statewide ballot measure for circulation will increase from $200 to $2,000. The new law, authored by Democratic Assemblymen Evan Low of Campbell and Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, was intended to reduce the number of proposals given a ballot title and summary.

“This significant fee increase could greatly reduce the number of initiative proposals submitted for title and summary, and thus reduce the AG’s workload in this area, in addition to that of the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Department of Finance, which jointly prepare a fiscal estimate of proposed initiatives,” states the state Assembly’s legislative analysis of AB1100 published in July.

Yet, the fee hike itself has likely spurred more frivolous measures. Often times, the text, title and summary are enough to generate free publicity for an idea, including outrageous and blatantly unconstitutional measures.

Subhendu Das of West Hills wants to see California lawmakers adopt a secret ballot for legislative business. Joe Decker believes the state should make “the sale or consumption of shellfish a serious felony punishable by a $666,000 fine per occurrence and/or prison sentence of up to six years, six months, and six days.”

Citing Aristotle’s philosophy of human association, Louis Marinelli of San Diego wants California to declare its independence from the United States.

“Do you agree that California should acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish its own relations abroad — in other words, sovereignty — and at the same time to maintain with United States an economic, political, and military partnership?” he proposes in the “California Nationhood” initiative.

If that idea fails to gain support, he’s also asking California residents to impose a 5-cent tax on bottled water

Fee Hike to Deter Frivolous Submissions

Money Stackof Bills

Since 1943, any Californian with $200 has been able to obtain the necessary paperwork to begin collecting signatures to put their proposal on the ballot. The reasonable filing fee has allowed average citizens and grassroots organizations to shape the political debate.

From 2009 to 2013, the state Attorney General’s Office has drafted titles and summaries for 315 measures. Just 27 ultimately qualified for the ballot.

Low’s office noted that, as of August 2015, 58 proposals had been submitted for the 2016 November ballot. By December 14, that figure had doubled. The California State Attorney General’s Office has received 118 requests for a ballot title and summary — double the average number of initiatives from the previous decade.

State legislative analysts say that the number of initiative petitions have been gradually increasing. Over the last half century, proponents filed the following number of initiatives:

  • 47 from 1960 to 1969
  • 180 from 1970 to 1979
  • 282 from 1980 to 1989
  • 391 from 1990 to 1999
  • 647 from 2000 to 2009
  • 240 from 2010 to April 21, 2015

Proponents of the new higher filing fee say that it will help offset the cost to taxpayers. The AG’s office estimates that it takes 56 hours of staff time to prepare each ballot measure, at a cost of $8,000. Under the new state law, proponents get their money back only if the measure qualifies for the ballot.

Some state political observers say the filing fee hike undermines citizen engagement in the process.

“The initiative game in California is entirely for the rich and powerful,” argues columnist Joe Mathews, who also serves as a board member of Democracy International. “What we need are alternative ways to get measures on the ballot that are based on the quality of the idea and on public support.”

12 comments

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  1. Truthafuss
    Truthafuss 18 December, 2015, 14:38

    Low’s an idiot, that much we know.

    Reply this comment
    • SeeSaw
      SeeSaw 19 December, 2015, 14:16

      And we know you are full of BS and resentment. I have viewed Low speak at a forum. Have you?

      Reply this comment
      • Rex the Wonder Dog!
        Rex the Wonder Dog! 19 December, 2015, 16:53

        Well that settles it, if seesaw has seen Low speak at a forum then everything he says must be true.

        Glad we cleared that one up seesaw 😉

        Reply this comment
    • Bill - San Jose
      Bill - San Jose 19 December, 2015, 19:24

      Low was an ass hat at a recent graduation ceremony for folks who went the unconventional al rote to a diploma I attended. He’s a junkie for attention.

      Reply this comment
    • SeeSaw
      SeeSaw 19 December, 2015, 21:48

      Sorry–I thought you were commenting on David Low–I don’t know anything about Evan Low.

      Reply this comment
  2. desmond
    desmond 19 December, 2015, 17:16

    Low is a big proponent of getting paid while not showing up for work, arouses govt workers in unspoken parts of the body…. that is reason for her approval….not too much gets going at that point in life, but Evan gets the plumbing fixed.

    Reply this comment
  3. desmond
    desmond 22 December, 2015, 19:00

    No,
    Thought provoking question:
    Do we need an initiative to allow Muslim men to have sex with animals or is that protected by freedom of Religion?
    Baa…

    Reply this comment
    • SeeSaw
      SeeSaw 22 December, 2015, 23:39

      A judge did not require the AG to certify the initiative proposal that would have legalized the murder of homosexuals. The shellfish initiative was filed as blowback for that proposal prior to knowledge that the murder initiative would not be allowed. The shellfish initiative has already failed qualify just like most of the 60+ initiatives that are already cleared for circulation will fail to qualify. The fee increase should help stop some of those frivolous initiatives. Your mind in always in the gutter–not the case with people who are dignified.

      Reply this comment
  4. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 23 December, 2015, 16:47

    Your mind in always in the gutter–not the case with people who are dignified.

    Pot, meet Kettle 🙂

    Reply this comment
  5. desmond
    desmond 25 December, 2015, 02:47

    Merry Christmas to all.!!

    Reply this comment

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John Hrabe

John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about California politics for CalWatchdog.com and CalNewsroom.com.

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