Initiative Response as Simple as ABC

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

One can see the potential of initiative storm clouds gathering as the new legislature is sworn in and the agenda plans of what can be safely called one-party government begins to form. Just a couple of thoughts on what could occur via the initiative process based on a new legislative proposal, and the history of a comprise in the last legislative session to avoid one initiative that, in fact, could result in even more initiatives.

An early bill filed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, would strengthen labor laws following a California Supreme Court ruling that established ground rules for companies to declare certain workers as independent contractors.

In the case against Dynamax, a delivery company of documents and packages, the court ruled that drivers who formally worked for the company and were declared independent contractors were really employees if they did not meet a test of three parts, tabbed the “ABC test.”

(A) Workers are free from the control and direction of the company that hired them when they do their jobs.
(B) The work they perform falls outside the usual course of the company’s business.
(C) Workers have their own independent business or trade beyond the job for which the company hired them.

The business community raised concerns about the court action and appealed to the legislature for a bill to override the court test claiming the ruling would hurt many workers who depend on their independent work status. Silicon Valley companies particularly objected.

But rather than a legislative remedy to satisfy business, Assemblywoman Gonzalez’ bill would reinforce the court’s verdict and make labor happy.

Where can business turn? They can work to defeat the bill, but that task will be more difficult in the overwhelming Democratic legislature. Business can also turn to the voters through the initiative process. Establishing a law or constitutional amendment through the initiative process is more difficult to change.

It is hardly a precedent for business to consider an initiative to turn aside the effects of a court ruling that upheld laws for workers. In this recent election, the private ambulance industry sponsored Proposition 11 to allow private ambulance workers to remain on call during breaks, a measure passed by nearly 60% of voters, overruling a court decision.

In the recent legislative session, the soda industry pulled support from an initiative to make it tougher to raise local taxes when they got a bill signed by the governor that would prohibit local soda taxes for a decade. In response, however, the deal prompted the medical and dental associations to file an initiative to allow for soda tax increases.

In turn, there could be a renewed effort by members of the business community to pursue a tougher local tax raising initiative. Soda taxes were not the only concern of the business and taxpayer coalition that supported the defunct initiative measure.

If legislative deals can be sidestepped by initiative action, then why wouldn’t interests go straight straight to the ballot with a solution to their issues? There is a chance we will see more of that.

Let’s point out initiatives are not easy to get done. They are costly to qualify and now more difficult to qualify since the number of signatures required depends on the total votes for governor in the last election.

While the 2014 gubernatorial election resulted in the need for 365,880 signatures to qualify a statute and 585,407 to qualify a constitutional amendment, the new figures will be considerably higher. The signature requirements will not be affirmed until the vote is certified at the end of the week. However, an estimate drawn on the current vote total for governor on the Secretary of State’s website would mean 618,149 signatures are needed to qualify a statute and 989,038 to qualify a constitutional amendment, a nearly 70% increase in required signatures.

Once a measure makes the ballot, an expensive campaign must be run to convince voters.

A difficult and costly enterprise, but, under one-party rule there are fewer paths to follow for aggrieved interests and the initiative approach will be certainly be a prime consideration.

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