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2016 ballot a fight over everything

Voters in Los Angeles casting their ballots on election day. (Photo: Joseph Sohm)

Bottled water, immigration, condoms, hospital fees, plastic bags, statehood, alimony – those are just a smattering of the issues on or trying to get on California’s 2016 statewide ballot.

There are 36 proposed initiatives that are either awaiting review in the Attorney General’s Office or are being shopped around California’s 58 counties for signatures.

He was inspired by his personal experience, news accounts and his friends’ divorce stories to craft his plan to eliminate spousal support.

Thus far, only two initiatives are on the November 2016 ballot: The referendum on California’s law banning single-use plastic bags and an initiative targeting hospital fees and Medi-Cal. Another measure, a constitutional amendment approved by the Legislature, appears on the June 2016 ballot. It would give lawmakers greater leeway in expelling and suspending errant members, an issue that developed after two senators were indicted on corruption and other charges.

But there are other topics waiting in the wings, ranging from eliminating spousal support to requiring adult film performers to wear condoms, and each proposed initiative has its own story. To qualify for the ballot, an initiative to create or change a legal statute requires the valid signatures of about 366,000 voters. To change the constitution, more than 585,000 signatures are needed on petitions.

Steve Clark, for example, was inspired by his personal experience, news accounts and his friends’ divorce stories to craft his proposal to eliminate spousal support.

Clark’s initiative would eliminate future alimony and, without a one-year extension, end alimony granted for marriages that lasted less than 10 years. Alimony granted for a marriage lasting 10 or more years would be phased out over five years in 20 percent increments.

Louis Marinelli, an English language teacher, has introduced six initiatives with the goal of making California autonomous from the United States.

“I do honestly believe in my heart that most Californians would vote for this initiative,” Clark said about his proposed measure.

“Most people see the fairness aspect of this initiative,” Clark said, noting that some higher-income earners must provide spousal support for the rest of the ex-spouse’s life or until he or she remarries.

Meanwhile, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein is pushing an initiative on an issue that has been killed several times in the Legislature.

His ballot measure would require adult film performers to use condoms during filming and require producers to pay for the medical costs associated with infections. Costs would include prevention education and treatment, testing and all medical follow-up. Producers would have to buy a health permit too.

Based on the vote in Los Angeles on mandating condoms in the adult film industry and polling they have done, Weinstein says, the over-whelming majority of Californians support his proposal.

The clear divergence between the will of the people and the Legislature led him to introduce it as an initiative, he added.

“It’s the direct will of the people,” Weinstein said.

“Wyoming is not the same as California,” Webb said, “We are a nation, not a state.”

Louis Marinelli, an English language teacher, has introduced six initiatives with the goal of making California autonomous from the United States.

“We are a desirable place to live,” says Sovereign California volunteer Stuart Webb. “And the rest of the world views us in a different light than a resident of another state.”

One initiative is the “New Hope for California Panel,” that would include the Lieutenant Governor, Director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, California Legislative Council, and additional panelists who are Californians not currently serving in state government.

“Is California as a state a net gain or loss for the state,” Marinelli said about what the panel would discuss.

The initiative declares that the United States, among other things, has appropriated money from income taxes levied on California for other states’ infrastructure development; denied Californians an equal voice in government, giving California the lowest number of Congressional representation per million citizens; and “repeatedly” pursued foreign policies in conflict with California’s interest, “hurting our reputation globally.”

“Wyoming is not the same as California,” Webb said, “We are a nation, not a state.”

Another initiative by Marinelli is the “California Immigration Reform Act,” which would change the California Department of Motor Vehicles into the

“California Citizen Services Agency.” In addition to motor vehicle licensing, the new agency would give immigrants without a VISA or with an expired one a permit to establish an official arrival date, and grant a Tax Identification Number so they can apply for jobs or go to school.

It also states no person requesting services can be required to wait in one line for more than one-half hour.

The law requires both houses to hold a public hearing on a ballot measure if proponents have collected 25 percent of the signatures required to qualify for the ballot measure.

It would be the one place for them to go, Marinelli says. Immigrants would be able to get their interim residence permit and then get a driver’s license under AB 60, which allows Californians to obtain a driver’s license regardless of immigration status.

We wanted to create a system that’s protecting their privacy, Marinelli said, so they can apply without worrying about a black suburban waiting outside to take them away. “They’re going to walk through the door and no one will know [what] they’re there for.”

His other four initiatives would change the title of California’s chief executive from Governor” to “President,” end out-of-state donations to California elections, put the California flag above the U.S. flag, and tax bottled water as well as taxing companies that extract water in California for retail.

“We’re going to do it and see what the federal government does,” Marinelli said about his proposed initiatives.

A California initiative reform passed last year requires both houses to hold a public hearing on a ballot measure if proponents have collected 25 percent of the signatures required to qualify for the ballot measure. The hearing must be held at least 131 days before voters decide on the proposition.

“I’m interested to see if any of these initiatives are adopted by the Legislature,” Weinstein said.

“Fundamentally,” Low said about the initiative, “it’s about how do we advance much of the things we care about, but in thoughtful way?”

And changes are still being considered by the Legislature.

Assembly Member Evan Low, D-Campbell, is pushing a bill that would change the initiative filing fee. On June 16, he agreed to Senate amendments that would change the fee from $200 to $2,500 instead of increasing the fee to $8,000, his earlier target. Also, the Attorney General would adjust the fee for inflation every odd-numbered year.

There should be a reasonable amount so proponents have a stake in the process, Low said. The focus is on providing a reasonable threshold and checks and balances.

The current initiative filing fee has not changed since 1943. Committee analyses estimate the 72-year-old filing fee is now worth $14.80 when adjusted for inflation, while the $200 from 1943 would be about $2,700 today.

“Fundamentally,” Low said about the initiative, “it’s about how do we advance much of the things we care about, but in thoughtful way?”
Initiatives like the “Sodomite Suppression Act,” the “Intolerant Jackass Act,” and the “Shellfish Suppression Act” are “clear examples of the abuse of the initiative process,” Low said, “so this bill focuses on trying to mitigate these abuses.”

Otherwise the public will lose trust in the initiative process, Low said.

At least two initiatives were introduced in response to the highly-reported initiative by Matt McLaughlin, which would put all gays and lesbians to death by “bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”

“[The California initiative process is] a system that allows access for anybody in the state to make a proposal to improve their state,” activist Charlotte Laws said.

The proposed initiative bans consumption and sale of all shellfish as identified by the California Health and Safety Code.

She decided to “not be silent” on McLaughlin’s “mean-spirited” initiative and filed a ballot measure called the “Intolerant Jackass Act.” She did it to “mock” McLaughlin’s proposed initiative, support the LGBTQ community, and “let the world know we are open-minded.”

Calling any person who introduces an initiative to kill homosexuals an “Intolerant Jackass,” Laws’ initiative requires that person to attend sensitivity training for three hours each month for a year and donate $5,000 to a pro-gay or pro-lesbian organization. Similar to McLaughlin’s, the initiative states it can only be invalidated by the California Supreme Court, provided the Justices are “not themselves Intolerant Jackasses.”

“This is a wonderful way to speak to this guy,” she said when she saw the fee for filing an initiative was $200. In the interest of preventing the use of more taxpayer dollars, Laws said she does not plan to gather signatures.

“It’s served its purpose,” she said, although some strangers have emailed her requesting to gather signatures.

The Shellfish Suppression Act joins Laws’ response to McLaughlin’s initiative. Submitted by Joe Decker, who owns the parody website “God Hates Shrimp,” the proposed initiative bans consumption and sale of all shellfish as identified by the California Health and Safety Code. Violators would be fined $666 thousand per occurrence and/or be imprisoned up to 6 years, 6 months, and 6 days.

Other initiatives include: two that seek to restrict minor’s access to abortion, one that declares undefined “innocent human life” cannot be terminated or destroyed under any circumstances, one that would increase the size of the state legislature by almost 100 members, and legalizing ferrets.

All the proposed initiatives are part of the market place of ideas, Laws said.

“Everything will get weeded out on its own.”


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