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Ballot measure calls for bigger, much bigger, legislature

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 at 6:26 pm in ballot measures, California Legislature.

An initiative just cleared for signature-gathering today that would increase the size of the state legislature by 100-fold. And no, that’s not a misprint.

The measure calls for creating neighborhood-based elected Assembly districts for every 5,000 people and Senate districts for every 10,000 people. Today, a senate district has 1 million people.

Interestingly, analysts say operating the new legislature would cost taxpayers less; the measure includes reduced pay and other costs. But it would drive up election costs by tens of millions of dollars.

I can hear the sound of political consultants rubbing their hands together already.

Read the Secretary of State’s release below.

Legislative Process Initiative Enters Circulation

Legislature Expansion. Legislative Process. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

SACRAMENTO – Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced that the proponent of a new initiative may begin collecting petition signatures for his measure.

The Attorney General prepares the legal title and summary that is required to appear on initiative petitions. When the official language is complete, the Attorney General forwards it to the proponent and to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then provides calendar deadlines to the proponent and to county elections officials, and the initiative may be circulated for signatures.  The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure is as follows:

LEGISLATURE EXPANSION. LEGISLATIVE PROCESS. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Increases size of Legislature almost 100-fold by dividing current Assembly and Senate districts into neighborhood districts such that each Assemblymember represents about 5,000 persons and each Senator represents about 10,000 persons. Provides for neighborhood district representatives to elect working committees the size of the current Assembly and Senate, 80 Assemblymembers and 40 Senators. Gives working committees the legislative power generally, and sole power to amend bills, but requires approval by appropriate vote of the full membership in each house for passage of any non-urgency bill. Reduces legislators’ pay and expenditures. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Decreased state spending on the Legislature of over $180 million annually. Increased county election costs, potentially in the range of tens of millions of dollars initially and lower amounts annually thereafter. (11-0067.)

The Secretary of State’s tracking number for this measure is 1540 and the Attorney General’s tracking number is 11-0067.

The proponent for this measure, John Cox, must collect signatures of 807,615 registered voters – the number equal to eight percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 gubernatorial election – in order to qualify it for the ballot. The proponent has 150 days to circulate petitions for this measure, meaning the signatures must be collected by June 1, 2012.

 The initiative proponent can be reached at (847) 274-8814.

 To sign up for regular ballot measure updates via email, RSS feed, or Twitter, go to www.sos.ca.gov/multimedia.

 To view this and other Secretary of State press releases, go to www.sos.ca.gov/admin/news-releases.htm.

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  • DanvilleDemocrat

    Totally agree with expanding the size of the legislature and making districts smaller — no reason a state senate district should contain a greater number of people than a congressional district.

    That said, this goes a bit too far . . . I’d favor the assembly increasing to 100 and the state senate to 50.

  • John W

    I’m for smaller districts and a unicameral legislature, but I doubt what is proposed here is even constitutional. This rises to the level of a “revison” rather than an “amendment,” because it makes a fundamental change in the structure of state government. Revisions cannot be done via the ballot initiative process. They have to be done by the legislature and then voted on by the public or by means of a constitutional convention.

    A group of attorneys, led by a former Federal appeals court judge, are currently challenging Prop. 13′s two-thirds requirement for the legislature to raise taxes, arguing in their lawsuit that that requirement was a “revision.” The property tax aspect of Prop. 13 was upheld by the state and U.S. Supreme Courts. However, they did not address this new issue. The question of “revison” vs “amendment” would be for the State courts to review. No federal issue is involved.

  • John W

    “The initiative proponent can be reached at (847)274-8814.

    That’s a Chicago phone number.

  • Josh Richman

    re #3: Indeed it is; it’s his cell phone. He moved to Rancho Santa Fe early last year, and registered to vote there last May.

  • Rick K.

    The solution is found in quality, not quantity. Why not do more to hold the existing 120 state legislators accountable? We, the citizens, should be asking these simple questions: (1) Senate candidate, are you the most qualified person among the 1 million residents in our district? and (2) Assembly candidate, are you the most qualified person among the half million residents of our district?

  • http://www.SmallBusinessRev.com Marty Keller

    @Rick K.: Bingo! The time of politicians saying one thing and doing another is coming to an end.

  • John W

    “The time of politicians saying one thing and doing another is coming to an end.”

    Sure!

  • John W

    Re: #4

    Josh, I hope he didn’t move to our fair state just for the purpose of advocating his proposal. Has about as much chance of getting voter approval and passing court review as High Speed Rail meeting financial projections.

  • Truthclubber

    Let me see if I have the math right.

    A State Assembly of 8,000 people, and a State Senate of 4,000 people.

    I want what he’s (the proponent) smokin’ — it’s gooooooooooooood $#i+!

    The logistics alone — where would you hold votes, the Arco Arena? All in favor, do the wave “right”! All opposed, do the wave “left”!

  • John W

    Re: #9

    That would, indeed, be a tad unwieldy. However, there is a case to be made for more legislators. Currently, each state senator represents nearly 50% more constituents than each U.S. House member. Each assembly member represents roughly a half million people. If we merged the senate and assembly into a single chamber of 120, that would bring the ratio down to a bit more than 300 thousand. There is no need for a state senate. It does not serve a purpose comparable to the U.S. Senate — giving the smallest states the same representation as the largest and generally slowing down flavor-of-the-day legislation. All the state senate does is duplicate the assembly and screw things up.

  • Elwood

    Good God, the last thing we need is more of those ********.

  • Rick K.

    Amen, Elwood. Re: #10 I disagree with the unicameral legislature concept. We need two houses to serve as an internal check within the legislative branch. Sometimes hare-brained ideas quickly pass either the Assembly or Senate, but are stopped in the other house. Sometimes the legislative bodies are dominated by “bosses” such as Speakers Jesse Unruh and Willie Brown and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. Even when the same party has controlled both legislative houses in California, petty personality feuds between leaders have kept bad legislation from passing both houses. A point to ponder if Democrats get 2/3 of seats in both houses — the governor will be irrelevant because the Democratic Legislature could override his vetoes. Taxes will be increased so that Democrats can waste your money on ever more lavish public employee union pensions.

  • John W

    Re #12

    Merging 80 Assembly and 40 Senate seats into one chamber with 120 members would not create “more of those *****.”

    The Assembly and Senate districts are too big, both geographically and in terms of the number of people represented. I’m a Democrat. But my guess is that Republicans might gain share in a merged legislature made up of smaller districts. Maybe. Who knows?

    Nebraska has a unicameral and nominally nonpartisan legislature. Is California (or other states) better governed than Nebraska by having two legislative chambers?

    Messy redundancy and purposeful “checks and balances” are not the same thing. The U.S. Senate reflects the concept of federalism, with each state getting two Senators, regardless of population. The House, on the other hand, reflects the interests of districts, independent from the states. For example, Texas may be a red state, but it has some very blue Congressional districts. The political and legislative dynamics resulting from those differences is what gives us the checks and balances in Congress.

    At the intrastate level, the dynamics of federalism and the need for a legislative structure to support that federalism do not apply. If it did, we would give more power to the counties and give each county two Senators, regardless of population. Of course, that would not fly under the U.S. Constitution.

    Just having two bodies, each representing districts represented on a one man, one vote basis gives us redundancy, not checks.