Politicians often overreact to news items, rushing to propose laws to prevent future occurrences of a situation or grab the limelight when problems will go away on their own. Recent instances: A proposal for a constitutional amendment to prohibit banning of the United States flag from state colleges and university property; and offering changes to the initiative process because of the filing of an anti-gay initiative.

In early March, the UC Irvine Legislative Student Council voted to take down all flags, including the American flag in the student lounge, claiming the banners could be compared to hate speech.

Soon after, the Executive Cabinet of the Associated Students reversed the council’s decision, but not before state Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, called a press conference to announce a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit state-funded colleges and universities from banning the flag of the United States of America on school property.

With devotion to her adopted country, and inspired by the freedom symbolized by the American flag, it is not surprising that newly elected Sen. Nguyen offered up an amendment. As someone who flies the American flag in front of my home every day, I can empathize. But do we need a law when putting a spotlight on the misguided can stop their action?

Later in the month, ire was aimed at initiative titled “The Sodomite Suppression Act,” filed by Huntington Beach attorney Matthew McLaughlin. The odious measure called sodomy an abominable crime. It called for a punishment of death “by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”

The outcry against this measure was loud and strong across the political spectrum. Some legislators felt the way to respond to the proposal was to offer legislation to change the initiative process.

Assemblymen Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, introduced a bill to raise the fee when submitting an initiative proposal from $200 to $8,000. Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-South Gate, proposed making all initiative petition signatures – especially on petitions violating constitutional rights – subject to the California Public Records Act.

The idea behind these plans is to discourage the use of the initiative process. While it may create hurdles for authors like McLaughlin to ask the Attorney General for a title and summary on outrageous measures, it could also chill citizens who have legitimate concerns that the Legislature will not address.

Most initiatives don’t qualify for the ballot – many don’t even bother getting petition signatures. Many times the filings are all about gaining attention for the proponent.

Rushing changes to the initiative process as a reaction to a single person’s irresponsible action comes with unintended consequences. Raising the fee 40-fold to file an initiative, as Low and Bloom have proposed, would limit citizens with legitimate concerns from having their voices heard.

Instead of writing new laws or limiting the people’s initiative power, employ the power of rebuke and shame to counter misguided efforts. Leading such efforts is a positive role for lawmakers.

Shame, chastise and censure authors like McLaughlin who submitted the Sodomite Suppression Act. Discredit wrong-headed resolutions like that from the UC Irvine student council. Don’t give bizarre initiatives or misguided acts the attention they crave. Most will disappear without a trace.

But the Legislature should not use righteous outrage to add to the California Constitution or undercut the people’s initiative power when other actions would suffice.

Originally published in the Orange County Register.