The Voters Speak, The Legislature Interprets–Not Always Correctly

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The voters speak, the legislature interprets—and sometimes the translation is not faithful to the original meaning. We saw that last week with resolutions and rules changes that seem to fly in the face of the newly passed Proposition 54 demanding a waiting period before any measure is passed and last session with SB 1107, which ignores the clear language contained in 1988’s Proposition 73. Now there is a lawsuit on the senate bill charging the new law is out of bounds and a violation of Prop 73. Perhaps a legal challenge will follow on the Proposition 54 issue.

SB 1107 set up public financing of campaigns claiming that the bill was furthering the purposes of the political reform initiative, Proposition 73, passed by voters nearly thirty years ago. One major problem with the reasoning—Prop 73 banned public financing. How can you further the purposes of a law when a bill takes the law in the exact opposite direction?

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association teamed with former state senator and judge, Quentin Kopp, a co-author of Proposition 73, to file suit against SB 1107. In a release, HJTA president Jon Coupal said, “California voters decided to prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used as political slush funds.  If politicians want to change that, they have to take the issue back to the voters.”

I signed the ballot argument on behalf of Proposition 73. At the time SB 1107 was being considered I wrote in this space that the bill was a back door way to avoid the voters wishes on public financing. Only a vote of the people can change the dictates of Prop 73.

I expect the courts to see the law the same way. That could lead to a test on the newly passed Proposition 54.

Prop 54 requires that bills be in print for three days before a final vote can be taken. The idea is that due deliberation occur before legislators pass judgment. Yet, when the legislature was sworn in last week, resolutions were immediately passed calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and calling on the president-elect not to seek deportation of undocumented immigrants. In addition, the legislature set a rule that a bill passed in its original house did not have to submit to the three day rule under a theory that the bill would come back to that house with amendments from the second house.

The legislative majority made a rhetorical defense of their action on the resolutions justifying the procedure by declaring that Prop 54 only covered bills not resolutions or constitutional amendments.

One wonders if the voters made that distinction when voting on the ballot measure.

The proponent of Proposition 54, Charles Munger Jr., told Capitol Public Radio, “It is unfortunate that they would choose to pass their own rules and a resolution without giving their members and the public 72 hours to think about it.”

Perhaps Munger will go to court or wait to see how the Jarvis/Kopp lawsuit plays out.

One odd feature dealing with these two measures is that the Common Cause organization supported both Proposition 54 and SB 1107. In fact, Common Cause sent out an email fundraising appeal preparing for a legal defense on SB 1107. So here they support the legislature’s interpretation of the law. Will they be so willing to take the same course on Proposition 54?

The goal of the lawsuit is simple: When it comes to the initiative process the people’s verdict is final unless the voters themselves choose to change it.

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