Bail cost too much. So does a California referendum.

Now the two subject are joined as the bail bonds industry pursues a referendum of the new legislation that seeks to end cash bail in California.

I don’t agree with the bail people policy-wise, but when it comes to the tool of the referendum, it’s not fair to the industry.

Simply put, the referendum allows so little time for gathering signatures that It’s virtually useless for all but the richest people and interests.

You only have 90 days to qualify a referendum in California, vs 180 days to qualify an initiative. That’s half the time – which means at least twice the price. Also, the legislature can pass laws in ways that make them legally impossible to reverse by referendum – by passing them as urgency statutes or as part of the budget.

This is why we’ve seen so few referenda in California history—less than 100—while hundreds and hundreds of initiatives have made the ballot. It’s easier and cheaper to qualify an initiative. And the initiative is more powerful—not only can you overturn a law, but you cant replace it with a law or constitutional amendment you prefer.

But these rules are backwards. The referendum should be easier. It should allow more time – at least a year – than an initiative. And it should be easier because it does less than an initiative; all a referendum does is reverse a law. An initiative circumvents the legislature entirely, with much less scrutiny. Doing that should be much harder—and rarer.

Of course, that’s too rational. The trend has been to extend the initiative time—a decent idea in a vacuum—but leave the referendum short and impossible to use. As in most things in California, the real reform would be to do the opposite of what all the reformers want…