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Walters: High-Octane Ballot Measures Lining up for 2020



Photo of Gavin Newsom signing AB1482
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Gov. Gavin Newsom this week vetoed a perennial effort by his fellow Democrats to hamstring business and conservative groups’ use of statewide ballot measures.
Assembly Bill 1451 would have prohibited qualifying ballot measures by paying professional circulators on a per-signature basis, but gave Democrats’ union allies a carveout.

Dan Walters
Paraphrasing former Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of a virtually identical bill, Newsom said AB 1451 “would make the qualification of many initiatives cost-prohibitive. …”
With AB 1451 out of the way, the lineup of 2020 ballot measures becomes a little clearer — but only a little.
One initiative, removing some of Proposition 13’s property tax limits from commercial property, has already qualified, but its sponsors — labor unions, primarily — are setting it aside and will seek signatures on a replacement they hope will prove more palatable to voters.
The California School Boards Association says it will propose another tax measure as well, one that would raise income taxes on large corporations and the state’s highest-income residents to raise about $15 billion a year for schools.

Another Potentially High-Octane Measure

One referendum to repeal a law that eliminates cash bail for those accused of crimes has also been qualified. The bail bond industry will tell voters that eliminating cash bail will mean more criminals running free on the streets — a message that advocates of another pending crime measure will echo.
Backed by some law enforcement and victims’ rights groups, the proposal would undo portions of Proposition 57, a 2016 initiative that Brown sponsored to reduce penalties for some crimes deemed to be “non-violent,” although critics say it benefited some clearly violent felons as well.
Still another potentially high-octane measure would repeal or change Assembly Bill 5, the highly contentious legislation that implements a state Supreme Court decision and would convert hundreds of thousands of contract workers into payroll employees.
Three “gig economy” firms that rely on contract drivers, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, have publicly pledged $90 million for such a ballot measure. If they proceed, it potentially becomes leverage for a legislative compromise, but the timeline for qualifying an initiative looms, so if Uber, et al, are going to move, they’d better do it soon.
This year, Newsom and the Legislature enacted a relatively mild rent control law that applies only to older apartment houses and allows annual increases of 5% plus inflation.

Another Hot Issue: Personal Privacy

One motive was to stave off another ballot measure war over rent control, but the prime mover behind a failed 2018 measure, Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is collecting signatures for a new version.
There’s a similar scenario regarding another hot issue, personal privacy.
Bay Area developer Alastair Mactaggart qualified an initiative for last year’s ballot aimed at protecting private data from commercial exploitation but set it aside as Brown and the Legislature enacted their own version. Mactaggart has now filed a new measure to restrict use of children’s data.
Finally, a coalition headed by Consumer Attorneys of California — lawyers who handle personal injury cases — wants to hollow out a law that Brown signed in 1975, dubbed MICRA, that limits pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000.
Their initiative renews the lawyers’ 44-year political war with medical providers and their insurers and, like several other proposals, could become leverage for a legislative compromise.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He has written more than 9,000 columns about the state and its politics and is the founding editor of the “California Political Almanac.” Dan has also been a frequent guest on national television news shows, commenting on California issues and policies.