New bill aims to reform corporate use of state referendum process

A new state bill, announced Monday, would reform the process for holding a statewide referendum for voting to prevent corporations and other campaigners from lying to voters.

Assembly Bill 421 would expand the Secretary of State’s oversight of signature collection and referendum campaign funding and would require unpaid volunteers to collect at least 10% of campaign signatures.

Referendum campaigns often use paid signature collectors, sometimes recruited from other states. Under AB 421, paid signature collectors will be required to register with the Secretary of State’s office and will be assigned an identification number that appears on their petitions.

The author of AB 421, Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, Democrat of Los Angeles, argued that some of the successful referendum and statewide voting campaigns in recent years have been funded by corporations and business groups that have a vested interest in repealing a law that should have been manner adopted and accepted by the deputies of the state and the governor.

“40 million people are counting on their legislature, their governor and their voice to be heard in the democratic process,” Bryan said Monday at a virtual briefing on the bill.

“You have communities that have historically been excluded from this process and that have found their voice through various statewide initiative processes,” he added. “Now we see these processes being undermined and used as weapons against those same communities.”

The bill will also apply to voting initiatives such as the 2020 Proposition 22, which repeals a 2019 law that requires app-based companies to classify workers as employees rather than independent contractors, which would implicitly eliminate state law within two years after the adoption of this law.

Activist groups such as the California Green Voters and labor unions such as the state chapter of the Service Workers International Union have already supported the bill, arguing that corporate interests have used the referendum and initiative processes to reject policies that support policies such as workers’ rights. and clean air and water.

“That’s why it scares these corporations,” said Tia Orr, chief executive of SEIU California. “That’s why we’re seeing a growing abuse of the referendum process because they no longer have absolute control over the levers of power in Sacramento.”

Bryan argued that while Gov. Gavin Newsom had vetoed legislation in the past that would have reformed the referendum process and initiatives, the work of state legislators and Newsom himself was overturned through statewide referendums, which did not reflect voter sentiment.

Bryan also suggested that the referendum process was broken against Newsom himself during an attempt to have Newsom removed from office in 2021.

“There are some key structural changes that we will have to make to our democracy,” he said.

A poll by the firm David Binder Research found that a large majority of voters likely to vote in 2024 are in favor of some reform of the referendum process, with 70% saying the wording of the ballots is “deliberately written” to confuse confuses voters, and 61% say the referendum process is being abused by “wealthy special interests.”

In addition, 77% of the polled voters were in favor of a minimum number of collected signatures from gratuitous volunteers.

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