California has seen this scenario before–when the legislature tries to upend an initiative on the ballot by placing a competing measure on the same ballot that is not as forceful as the initiative. In this year’s version we are talking about the California Legislature Transparency Act (CLTA), which requires that all bills be in print and posted online for 72 hours before being voted on by either house of the legislature. In addition, the measure would require recordings of public legislative meetings to be posted online and allow individuals to record meetings and use the recordings to inform the public.

Legislators are concerned with the full force of this initiative yet they recognize the attraction of the transparency argument to voters. Despite years of ignoring bills introduced to establish the 72 hour waiting period, many legislators now feel compelled to act on their own version of reform so as to avoid what they consider the more restrictive initiative.

The competing legislative measures, constitutional amendment SCA 14 and accompanying statute AB 884 would also establish a 72 hour waiting period but not apply it to both houses. Neither is the opposition efforts to the initiative as open about recording meetings.

Proponents of the CLTA initiative, physicist and political reformer Charles Munger, Jr., and former state senator Sam Blakeslee call the legislative effort an “inferior conflicting version” meant to “confuse voters and undermine transparency.”

Munger and Blakeslee have offered to pull their initiative even though the measure has qualified for the ballot if a legislative version offered even more transparency than the initiative. So far, they argue that is not the case with the legislative effort.

Confusing voters with two ballot propositions on the same subject could lead to the defeat of both measures keeping in place the status quo. However, if both measures pass the one with the highest vote prevails. Supporters of the legislative version and their allies will run a competitive campaign to finish first if the legislation garners enough votes to place the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Attempting to undercut an initiative with an alternative legislative plan has been tried before, most notably when the legislature put Proposition 8 on the June 1978 ballot in an attempt to stop voters from passing the Proposition 13 property tax reform.

Proposition 8 offered some property tax relief for homeowners and renters and allowed for businesses to be taxed differently than residential property, but only if Prop 13 were defeated. Voters rejected the alternative because Proposition 13 promised much more assured property tax relief.

A similar scenario, although not as high profile, is playing out over the transparency act. If no compromise is struck voters likely would have the choice of just how transparent and accountable they want their legislature to be.