Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nielsen bill would reassign summary-writing duties

The north state's Sen. Jim Nielsen wants to reassign the task of writing ballot-initiative titles and summaries to perhaps the only agency that hasn't devolved into a political tool of the state's Power Machine -- the Legislative Analyst's Office.

From Nielsen:
On the heels of two misleading ballot titles and summaries for statewide initiatives, Propositions 46 and 47, Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) introduced a legislative proposal to direct the non-partisan the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) to draft the titles and summaries for all statewide initiatives. Following some discussion, Chairman Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee asked for more time to research how other states draft their titles and summaries.

“The initiative process is a tool for citizens to directly participate in democracy; its integrity must be preserved,” said Senator Nielsen. “Taking the power of drafting the title and summary away from politicians is good governance.”

“This has also happened in previous elections; and we need to end it,” Senator Nielsen added.

Under current law, the Attorney General is tasked with this responsibility, which has been politicized. Senate Bill 283, if passed and signed into law, would redirect this critical responsibility to the LAO. The LAO is a non-partisan organization that provides credible and impartial analysis for the Legislature.

Seeing the merits of Senator Nielsen’s measure, the League of Women Voters sent a representative to speak in favor of SB 283.

Former Mayor of San Jose and President of the Coalition by Coalition for Fair and Sustainable Pensions, Chuck Reed stated, “Such a change would be a healthy and much needed shift away from the partisan-biased title and summary process we now have. The process is supposed to be non-partisan. It is not.”

With his extensive knowledge of and background in public safety, Senator Nielsen was disheartened with the title and summary of Proposition 47, “Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute.”

The ballot title and summary of Proposition 47 did not reflect its true essence. The Sacramento Bee stated, “But before casting their ballots on Proposition 47, voters might have wanted to know its implications for DNA collection and, by extension, law enforcement’s ability to solve serious crimes. Harris had an obligation to inform them.”

Proposition 46’s title was also misleading; it read, “Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors. Medical Negligence Lawsuits. Initiative Statute.” However, the fundamental issue before the voter was to increase pain and suffering damages from $250,000.

Doctors claimed that this would be harmful to their practices and was a measure put forth entirely to benefit trial lawyers.

The provision for random alcohol and drug testing of doctors was merely added as a political device to deceive voters. The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board also took issue with Ms. Harris’ title and summary. The paper stated, “Voters should not be fooled by the title and summary put together by the Attorney General’s office that focuses on the testing as if it were the centerpiece of the measure. It is not.”

Senate Bill 283 will be heard again in the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee on April 21. In the coming weeks, Senator Nielsen will be working with various interest groups to fine tune his proposal.

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