Is Democratic CA senate leader’s ammo-sales bill legal?

de leonLegislative Democrats pushed through a gun-control measure last week that is almost certain to be challenged in court — where it’ll have a tough time surviving — all for the sake of what some claim is a political grudge.

The Legislature passed 11 bills in all, six of which were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown and the rest vetoed. But one is fraught with peril as it circumvents the Elections Code by amending a November ballot initiative regulating ammo sales. 

The difference between how the bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and the ballot measure, sponsored by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, regulate ammo sales is not substantial. But Democrats have had a hard time providing legal justification for going around Section 9034 (c) in the Elections Code, which says the Legislature does not have the authority to “alter the initiative measure… .”

Republicans tried

Assembly Republicans tried raising the issue just before final passage, but were brushed aside.

“Don’t we have a statutory or Constitutional problem in amending something that hasn’t even become law yet and is proposed to go to the voters for a vote,” asked Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Plumas Lake.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, who was presiding at the time, said the Legislature had the authority under “the initiative process and statute.” The San Mateo Democrat, however, was unable to identify a particular law or statue, offering instead that legislative counsel said it was OK.

Assemblyman Don Wagner tried next.

“I think you’re wrong,” the Irvine Republican told Mullin, citing the Elections Code. Wagner appealed the ruling, saying the Legislature was “trampling the will of the people,” who signed a ballot measure without de León’s amendment, adding that the Legislature was “acting illegally and in violation of the Elections Code.” Assembly Democrats pushed forward and Wagner was overruled.

Attempts to get justification 

According to documents provided by de León’s office, legislative counsel did not review the legality of the measure. Instead, legislative counsel issued an opinion on how the amendment would affect the ballot measure.

No legal justification for the law has been provided to CalWatchdog, although de León’s office pointed to an instance from 1990 when the Legislature amended Prop. 129. The measure failed by a wide margin, however, and CalWatchdog has been unable to find a legal ruling setting precedent.

Language in the measure

Next, de León’s office pointed to a provision in Newsom’s ballot language stating: “The provisions of this measure may be amended by a vote of 55 percent of the members of each house of the Legislature and signed by the Governor so long as such amendments are consistent with and further the intent of this Act.” But it’s unclear if the legislative intent of that passage is referring to before or after the measure becomes law, although that’s likely irrelevant. Until the ballot measure is approved by the voters (if it is approved by voters) it has no force of law.

And if the legislative intent was to allow the legislature to amend the measure’s language prior to a vote of the people, it’s unlikely that Newsom or any other ballot initiative proponent has the power to temporarily rewrite the Elections Code.

Proponents have a period to amend pending initiatives, but that period ended a while ago.

Lack of accountability

The attorney’s general office has not responded to requests for comment. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law last week, but his office deferred to de León.

A spokesperson for the ballot initiative said proponents were focused on getting the measure passed and did not say if they would challenge the law.

Newsom/de León fued

In recent weeks, the Newsom/de Leon feud has spilled out into public, with a Newsom spokesman calling the move “sickeningly cynical.”

“Is (de León) someone who truly respects the will of the voters and wants to reduce gun violence or is he merely a self-serving cynic completely consumed with petty personal grudges,” spokesman Dan Newman told The Sacramento Bee

De León has had it out for Newsom for a while over the gun issue. When Newsom announced plans to introduce the measure last year, de León — who’d made background checks for ammo purchases a pet priority — slashed the size of Newsom’s staff.

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