Last-Minute Rewording Delays Calif. Democracy Act

    After the attorney general’s office re-worded the description of the California Democracy Act in November, the proposed amendment — a ballot measure would simplify legislative voting guidelines — has been withdrawn. Professor George Lakoff of UC Berkeley, author of the measure, announced April 7 that he will rewrite the legislation and resubmit it by the June 24 deadline for consideration on the November ballot.

    If passed, the act would repeal the requiement that any bill in the state legislature related to budget issues be passed with a two-thirds majority. Instead, budgetary decisions would only require the ‘yes’ vote of over 50 percent of legislators in order to pass.

    Chris Ah San, student director of the California Democracy Act Coalition, said altering the rule will allow majority legislators to make decisions on topics like increasing state funding for public higher education.

    “The source of the problem is minority rule,” Lakoff said.

    The initiative required 694,354 signatures to be placed on the November ballot. Ah San said the coalition received approximately 60,000 of the necessary signatures.

    Lakoff withdrew the measure after California Attorney General Jerry Brown reworded the proposal’s official summary in a way that Lakoff claims is misleading and negative. In California, the attorney general can reword both a proposition’s title and purpose however he chooses.

    The original summary stated: “All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote.” Brown changed the summary to read: “Changes legislative vote requirement to pass a budget or raise taxes from two-thirds to a simple majority.”

    California Attorney General press secretary Christine Gasparac said the office rarely uses the wording provided by the author of the bill.

    “We try to provide a fair wording that isn’t biased in favor of whoever proposed the measure,” she said.

    Gasparac added that Lakoff’s reference to the word “taxes” was based on the findings of a chief analyst, who examined the bill and determined that the measure would most likely result in an increase in taxes, not revenue — which is defined as the state’s total income.

    Lakoff said he intends to make the act’s wording more specific before resubmission. In the new legislation, the ‘purpose’ section will state that the intent of the legislation is to bring democracy to the California legislature through majority rule, not to raise taxes. Ah San said the use of “taxes” instead of “revenue” could hurt the act’s chances of passing in November.

    “There’s a big difference between raising revenue and raising taxes,” Ah San said. “We did a lot of polling on the language and discovered that when people hear ‘raise taxes’ they hear ‘raise my taxes.’”

    According to Ah San, the coalition’s polls revealed that support for the bill dropped from 73 percent to 38 percent in response to Brown’s wording. He added that withdrawing the act for a rewrite would allow the wording to be more specific, and said the coalition would be working to revamp support for the new wording of the act.

    “Unfortunately, what we discovered in polls we had taken is that, not only is the language that the attorney general submitted incredibly misleading, [but] there is also a lot of party politics involved with the act,” he said.

    Ah San said the legislative approval process — including collecting new signatures — must begin from scratch for the new wording.

    “Legally, we can’t use the same signatures that we already collected because they were used for a different ballot summary,” San said.

    The UCSD chapter of the coalition is also working to increase support on campus: Chapter director and A.S. President-elect Wafa Ben Hassine said she is trying to raise new awareness, because the act will be vital to widespread accessibility to higher education.

    “My biggest concern is seeing affordable education available for everyone,” Ben Hassine said.

    Lakoff said he plans to raise money to pay professional signature-gatherers. However, if the required signatures are not received, the act may carry over to the next election.

    “This is going to be an ongoing educational process, whether it qualifies for this year or not,” Lakoff said.

    Readers can contact Ruba Akel at [email protected].

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