In a state where direct democracy is considered a birthright, activists have often bypassed legislators and asked voters to write laws at the ballot box. But one year after the enactment of what was hailed as a major electoral reform to encourage compromise between the two lawmaking processes, there’s still skepticism of working inside the world of Sacramento politics. Even from some politicians who work there. “We don’t have the time, in California’s future, to water down critical legislation,” said Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) as he joined organized labor groups last week in submitting voter signatures for a November ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage.
The wage measure, plus a handful of others likely to secure a spot on what may be a blockbuster statewide ballot this fall, covers a topic on which there are now negotiations at the state Capitol for the Legislature to act on its own. And the overhaul of the state’s initiative law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, is designed to give backers of would-be ballot measures a prominent role in those negotiations.
Most notably, it allows legislative hearings on an initiative any time its backers gather at least 25% of the voter signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. Backers of the minimum wage initiative crossed that threshold last September. But no hearings have been held.
In fact, documents provided by the secretary of state’s office show that the Legislature has now been notified that there are six initiatives aimed at the November 2016 ballot that have gathered enough signatures for formal hearings, with some having been eligible for almost a year.