California's initiative system has drifted too far from its original intent, which was to serve as a check on the powerful special interests that dominated the Legislature. We have said many times that the initiative process needs to be reformed.
With that said, however, we can't imagine anyone we'd trust less to shepherd that reform than the public-employee unions behind Assembly Bill 857, or the lawmakers who passed it.
Gov. Jerry Brown should veto the bill, which is a craven attempt to tilt the initiative process in labor's favor and should be stopped.
The bill by Cupertino Assemblyman Paul Fong requires that 10 percent of the signatures to place an initiative on the ballot be gathered by volunteers, not paid workers. The idea is to ensure initiatives have some level of popular support, not just a wealthy backer.
On its face, that seems reasonable. Not a bad idea at all. But look a little deeper and we uncover the real purpose of the bill.
Under it, union members and nonprofit workers wouldn't count as paid signature-gatherers, even if they're being compensated to do so. In other words, paid signature-gatherers are bad, unless they are ours.
Common Cause, a nonpartisan group pushing for more open and accountable government, would benefit from this legislation -- but it's opposing Fong's bill because it would help some groups and not others.
"We don't approve of carving out special treatment in the ballot initiative process," said Phillip Ung of Common Cause in California.
The bill includes other nitpicky rules that open up avenues for litigation against initiatives, which are increasingly used to try to limit labor's power.
Public-employee unions are especially fearful of measures to trim their pensions; these rules could help defeat such efforts.
Common Cause is developing an initiative reform measure for the 2014 ballot. We don't know yet what will be in it, but we are confident that it will be far better than the power grab that is AB 857. The governor should reject this bill and wait for the Common Cause initiative.
Public-employee unions are supporting another bad bill, AB 566 by Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont. It tightly restricts state courts' ability to contract out some work, which they've been doing to cope with budget cuts.
The state's courts are not employment agencies. They exist to provide services to the public. Court administrators should not be hamstrung by the Legislature in providing that vital public service. AB 566 would hinder the courts' ability to fulfill that mission and would likely force dramatic service cuts, which of course would be felt by the public. Brown should veto AB 566 as well.