| youtube, the commons

California faces large load of ballot initiatives

Of the 79 ballot initiatives submitted to the California Attorney General’s office, 15 so far are on target to attract enough signatures to make it to the November ballot.
But the leading possibilities are also the initiatives proposing the most sweeping changes to existing law. One seeks to end the death penalty, with which the state has been on-again, off-again since the '70s. Another would ban possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines — defined as more than 11 rounds — as well as implement wide, more stringent changes in California’s gun laws. A $2 levy on a pack of smokes would fund health care under another. Still, another would legalize marijuana in the state.

Only Oregon uses the ballot more than California when it comes to putting changes to the law or existing policy to a vote. The two are among 24 states that rely on state initiatives to enact change.

State election code requires that to have their proposal placed on the ballot, proponents of a measure must acquire petition signatures equal to 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election — in this case, 585,407 signees. When they have reached 25 percent of that total, or 146,352 signees, they must disclose that progress to the Secretary of State.

If you want to increase the price of a pack of cigarettes by $2, you file an initiative, as did California Medical Association chief executive officer Dustin Corcoran and a group of health care and labor groups. The coalition proposes that most of the proceeds of the levy would go to fund health care with some revenue also dedicated to anti-smoking programs and law enforcement.

According to a report filed with the state, the group hit the 25 percent signature mark in mid-February, with a final deadline of June 13.

The weapons initiative was filed with the backing of California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, called the “Safety for All” gun reform initiative.

It’s an enhancement of the 1999 state ban on so-called assault weapons and would require background checks for the purchase of ammunition as well as mandating that anyone losing a weapon to theft be required to report the loss to law enforcement.
The ban of magazines with more than 11 bullets is already in place in some California cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland. The measure needs 365,880 signatures by June 26.

The move to again ban the death penalty in California is headed by actor Mike Farrell, best known for his work on the '70s TV series M.A.S.H. He calls it the “Justice That Works Act of 2016” and in his application to launch the initiative, he notes that the state has more than 700 people on death row and has executed only 13 people since 1978, when execution was brought back after being suspended in 1972.

"The state spends millions of taxpayer dollars providing lawyers for death row inmates, only to see the murderers it has sentenced to death by execution die of old age in prison,” Farrell wrote in his letter.

The circulation deadline for Farrell’s initiative ends May 17. He needs 365,880 signatures.

And for years, Californians have wrestled with legalizing marijuana, with advocates watching as states including Colorado and Washington, have passed legalization and are now taxing and selling it like it was Budweiser. California was the first in the U.S. to allow medicinal marijuana, doing so in 1996. But voters in 2010 defeated a legalization measure.

There have been 14 marijuana-related initiatives filed with the state for the November election, 13 of them favoring legalization.

But the one that has gained the most signatures is the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which would allow adults to have and use up to an ounce of pot. It would also have the state place a 15 percent tax on retail pot sales.

The measure is led by Donald Lyman, a retired physician and former board member of the California Medical Association.

"People do not use it to make themselves healthier,” Lyman told the Los Angeles Times in December. “They use it to deal with other problems. It is a dangerous and ill-advised substance. That's why it has to be under control."

The measure is being heavily bankrolled by Napster founder and billionaire tech entrepreneur Sean Parker, who in December donated $250,000 in the effort to gain signatures and support.