The latest effort by the legislature to reduce law-making competition from the initiative process now on Governor Newsom’s desk favors the majority party’s labor allies over the business community. 

AB 1451 authored by Assemblyman Evan Low requires that at least ten percent of petition signatures come from unpaid signature gatherers. The measure would also ban the practice of paying petition circulators for each signature they gather. 

The bill’s author states its reason for being is to protect the integrity of the initiative process.

But it’s clear the measure boosts labor unions over business in their perennial battle over decision making in California. With the unions sway over the legislature it is the initiative and referendum process that stands as a check against an influenced legislature, a situation similar to the time when the initiative process came into being to deal with the power of the railroads over an earlier version of the legislature. 

The business community relies on the direct democracy route to respond to legislative actions it disagrees with.

While labor unions also use the initiative to advance policy, AB 1451 offers special dispensation for union officials to participate in signature gathering and be classified as non-paid signature gatherers. The bill advantages unions over business in another way for union members make a ready force for gathering signatures. Businesses often have to pay for additional signature gatherers to meet the deadlines required to gather signatures, especially for a referendum, a procedure to have the voters overturn a bill signed into law, which has a short 90 day window to qualify for the ballot once a bill is enacted. 

In a state the size of California with millions of signatures required to secure a place on the ballot, it becomes a daunting task. Making it harder to qualify referendums and initiatives distills the power of business in the political process and that satisfies unions and many members of the legislature.

More than one effort to limit the ability to qualify an initiative reached Governor Jerry Brown’s desk but he rejected those efforts. Among the reasons Brown used in vetoing measures was because they were constitutionally questionable. Given how courts have rejected in the past attempts to stop the use of paid signature gatherers that concern has not gone away.

What will Gavin Newsom do with AB 1451?