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Initiatives will expand 2016 ballot
October 5, 2015 at 12:00 pm

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Jeff Horseman, The Orange County Register

The November 2016 ballot could be brimming with weighty ballot initiatives, including measures to legalize marijuana, raise the minimum wage and restrict what restrooms transgender people can use.

A measure to overturn the state’s plastic bag ban already has qualified for next year’s ballot. Thirty-seven ballot measures have been cleared, allowing proponents to gather signatures from registered voters statewide. Most need at least 365,880 signatures to make the ballot.

Here’s a look at some of what you will – or could – wind up voting on in November 2016:

WHAT’S ON NOW

One of the three ballot measures that have qualified for the November 2016 ballot would reverse the Legislature’s 2014 ban on plastic shopping bags.

The ban has been on hold pending the measure’s outcome. Supporters say plastic bags are a major pollution source and threaten wildlife. The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a trade group that includes bag manufacturers, contends the ban is really about allowing supermarkets to charge 10 cents for a paper bag.

Another already-qualified measure would expand access to multilingual education.

The third qualified measure would require voter approval before the state changes a program that imposes fees on hospitals as part of the Medi-Cal health insurance program for the poor.

A fourth measure – to authorize $9 billion in bonds to build and modernize schools – is eligible for the ballot but can be withdrawn before June 30.

ANOTHER POT VOTE?

After failing to convince voters in 2014 that it should be legal to smoke pot for pleasure in California, marijuana activists are trying again.

The secretary of state’s website lists several initiatives that would permit the recreational use of cannabis and create taxes and regulations such as age limits. So far, none is on the ballot.

Lanny Swerdlow, a marijuana advocate who lives in the Riverside County desert community of Whitewater, hopes 2016 is the year California joins Oregon, Washington and Colorado in legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

“I think if we can get (an initiative) on the ballot, there’s a good chance it will pass,” he said.

Swerdlow said he’s concerned not only with the number of proposed initiatives but with the prospect that multiple initiatives make it on the ballot. “Some people will be so confused with two, they’ll just vote no,” he said.

In an email, Cal NORML, which seeks to reform the state’s marijuana laws, said it will support a legalization measure that will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

STILL TRYING

Pens and clipboards in hand, activists and paid signature-gatherers are seeking voter support to qualify a range of initiatives, including:

Transgender rights. Privacy for All, a coalition that includes faith-based groups, is behind a proposed initiative that “prohibits individuals from using facilities in government buildings except in accordance with their sex as determined by birth, through medical examination or court judgment recognizing a change of gender,” according to a summary on the secretary of state’s website.

Lawsuits seeking damages of $4,000 or more could be filed by plaintiffs who believe a person or public agency violated that restriction.

The measure would counteract a 2013 state law that allows transgender K-12 students to use bathrooms and play on sports teams of the gender they identify with.

Transgender rights activists are mobilizing to fight the initiative.

“Our opponents clearly have a taste for irony,” Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur said in a news release. “Why else would they include ‘privacy’ in the name of their organization that seeks to invade the most basic dignity of the transgender community?”

Minimum wage. A union-backed measure would raise the $9-an-hour minimum wage to $11 an hour Jan. 1, 2017. The wage would gradually rise to $15 an hour by January 2021, with annual adjustments for inflation after that. The minimum wage is slated to rise to $10 an hour on Jan. 1.

Campaign finance. A proposed state constitutional amendment, the Voters’ Right to Know Act, would establish a right to “regulate the raising and spending of money to influence elections and governmental decisions,” according to a news release issued by supporters.

Among other things, the act seeks to shed light on “dark money” campaign spending by nonprofit groups that don’t have to reveal their donors. Another goal is to give voters a clearer understanding of who pays for political ads.

Proposition 30. Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West is among the groups backing a drive to extend tax increases passed by voters in 2012 to fund schools, Medi-Cal and early childhood-development programs. Income tax hikes on the wealthy enacted through Prop. 30 are set to end in 2018.

MORE TO FILE

Critics of California’s initiative process say it’s open to abuse and bizarre ideas. One measure that failed to get off the ground this year would have permitted the killing of gays and lesbians.

Earlier this month, the governor signed a bill to raise the initiative filing fee to $2,000 from $200 to prevent frivolous measures.

Shaun Bowler, a UC Riverside political science professor, said the process isn’t as bad as critics make it out to be. But he said he’s concerned that it’s too hard to change laws passed through initiatives.

“Generally speaking, the initiative process is popular,” Bowler added.

“Politicians are not.”


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