Ellen Corbett’s latest threat to democracy – SB168

Posted on July 24, 2011

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This representative of the people is beginning to get on Judicial Council Watcher’s last nerve. While we all weren’t paying attention, Senator Ellen Corbett is currently trying to make signature gathering for recalls, referendums and initiatives substantially harder to come by. Senate Bill 168 (which has passed the Senate and Assembly and is on its way to the Governor) would prohibit the vigorous (and occasionally misleading) advocacy of paid signature gatherers. Currently, most people who want to get an initiative, recall or referendum on the ballot end up enlisting paid signature gatherers. Most of these paid signature gatherers get paid by valid registered voter signatures. If their advocacy wins the interests of unregistered voters, they also provide voter registration forms so that legitimate advocacy can be instantaneous by having unregistered voters register to vote, while gathering their signature for a recall, referendum or initiative. 

To obtain enough signatures to get a recall, referendum or initiative on the ballot (currently somewhere around 807,000 for a statewide initiative) in the short amount of time permitted to gather signatures, people enlist independent contractors and pay them commissions for the very short time that they are employed. Senator Corbett’s bill would in effect, prohibit the use of independent contractors in favor of those getting an hourly wage (and all of the niceties that go along with that like workers comp, matching social security, etc) for a job that typically lasts over a few week window. Professional gatherers often advocate many petitions at once in order to maximize the possibility they will make a decent wage for that short period rather than work on one initiative. In our mind, this takes the initiative process away from the people and ensures that only the legislature, the corporations and unions have the ability of getting an initiative on ballot.

Sadly this bill is before the Guv right now, having passed both houses. This dismantling of the initiative process is a vision of former Chief Justice Ronald George and Corbett has always been a supporter of dismantling the initiative process herself as well as carrying the ball for the old chief justice. This is about more than initiatives. This is also about recalls and referendums, making it substantially more difficult to remove bad apples, like Senator Ellen Corbett. You’re probably wondering why this seemingly unrelated post is on judicial council watcher at all.  We may soon need to avail ourselves of this process and at the most inopportune time, our dear Ellen is attempting to head it off at the pass by substantially raising the bar.

Please contact the Governors office immediately and ask that he veto Senate Bill 168.

Otherwise the task we may be forced to undertake may get substantially more difficult. 

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BILL NUMBER: SB 168 ENROLLED
BILL TEXT

PASSED THE SENATE  MAY 9, 2011
PASSED THE ASSEMBLY  JULY 14, 2011

INTRODUCED BY   Senator Corbett

                        FEBRUARY 3, 2011

   An act to add Section 102.5 to the Elections Code, relating to
petitions.

LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST

   SB 168, Corbett. Petitions: compensation for signatures.
   Under existing law, a person who is a voter or is qualified to
register to vote in this state may circulate an initiative or
referendum petition, and a person who is a voter may circulate a
recall petition.
   This bill would provide that it is a misdemeanor for a person to
pay or to receive money or any other thing of value based on the
number of signatures obtained on a state or local initiative,
referendum, or recall petition and would prescribe penalties for
doing so. By creating a new crime, the bill would impose a
state-mandated local program.
   The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local
agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the
state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that
reimbursement.
   This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this
act for a specified reason.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

  SECTION 1.  Section 102.5 is added to the Elections Code, to read:
   102.5.  (a) It shall be unlawful for a person to pay or to receive
money or any other thing of value based on the number of signatures
obtained on a state or local initiative, referendum, or recall
petition.
   (b) Violation of this section shall be a misdemeanor, as follows:
   (1) A person or organization who pays a person based on the number
of signatures obtained on a state or local initiative, referendum,
or recall petition shall be punished by a fine not to exceed
twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000), or by imprisonment in a
county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and
imprisonment.
   (2) A person who is paid based on the number of signatures
obtained on a state or local initiative, referendum, or recall
petition shall be punished by a fine not to exceed one thousand
dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed
six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
   (c) Nothing in this section prohibits the payment for signature
gathering not based, either directly or indirectly, on the number of
signatures obtained on a state or local initiative, referendum, or
recall petition.
  SEC. 2.  No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to
Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because
the only costs that may be incurred by a local agency or school
district will be incurred because this act creates a new crime or
infraction, eliminates a crime or infraction, or changes the penalty
for a crime or infraction, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the
Government Code, or changes the definition of a crime within the
meaning of Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California
Constitution.