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Ballot measure fee to rise from $200 to $2000

It’s about to get a lot more expensive to submit a proposed ballot measure in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill by Assemblymen Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, that raises the fee for submitting a ballot measure from $200 to $2,000, effective Jan. 1, 2016. AB 1100 is freshman Low’s first bill to be signed into law.

“It has been over 72 years since this aspect of the initiative process has been updated. This reform is overdue,” Low said in a news release. “We live in California, the cradle of direct democracy, but we also need a threshold for reasonableness. And this bill will do just that.”

The $200 fee was established in 1943 to deter frivolous proposals and to cover some of the costs of analyzing and processing initiatives, but that’s not a lot of money today. Low’s office said $200 today is the equivalent of $14.80 in 1943 dollars.

The bill was inspired in part by the submission in March of a “Sodomite Suppression Act” that if enacted would’ve required the state to execute lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. A Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the proposal unconstitutional and it has been removed from consideration for next year’s ballot, but critics called for reform of the ballot initiative process nonetheless.

“If a proposal makes it to the ballot, the $2,000 fee would be refunded to the proponent,” Low noted. “If a proponent feels strongly about a measure, a true grassroots campaign will find the means to pay the filing fee and get their proposal on the ballot.”

Critics insist the bill raises a barrier for ordinary Californians to engage in the process.

“Direct democracy is a citizen’s right – a cornerstone of the checks and balances of democracy that have been protected passionately in California,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said in a news release. “Raising the fee by 900 percent is cost prohibitive.”

Only the state’s elite political class will be able to put their ideas on the ballot, he said: “Elected officials should increase voter participation, not discourage it.”

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County Dems seek $$$ from would-be endorsees

An anonymous caller directed me to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee’s website, where candidates filling out an endorsement application are asked for a $50 contribution “to offset the cost of our endorsement process.”

“It just seems undemocratic,” said the caller (whom I assume meant that with a small “d”), acknowledging he’s running for a local office and so declining to provide his name lest he incur the party’s wrath. “I’ve been a Democrat all my life, and this is a little bit over the top; it’s not like I don’t already contribute to the president and other campaigns.”

Chairwoman Robin Torello said the county party started soliciting such contributions from candidates in 2010, although it just raised the suggested ante from $25 to $50 “because it was not covering our expenses, plus this is a bigger year with more races.”

Torello said her committee is looking at almost 200 Democrats running in more than 120 local races across the county this November. Vetting so many candidates for endorsement means spending on everything from printing, postage and phone costs to refreshments for the volunteer committee members who’ll be sitting through five full days of interviews, she said.

The process takes “dozens and dozens and dozens of hours, and we’re all volunteers except for one staff person, but one person can’t do all this,” she said, noting the $50 is just a suggested contribution. “We don’t not interview people if they don’t pay – it’s a donation to help defray the costs. And we’re just aligning ourselves with other county committees that have been doing this for years. We think it’s warranted.”

Contra Costa County Democratic Party officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on whether they charge such fees, too. (UPDATE @ 8:22 A.M. WEDNESDAY: They don’t, chairman Chuck Carpenter said in an e-mail last night.)

On the other side of the Bay, San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee Chairman David Burruto said his committee used to charge “a nominal fee just because we had to Xerox a lot of things,” but in this age of fast, cheap email has stopped doing so.

“We don’t charge anything,” he said. “The only thing we ask of candidates sometimes is if they want to be on a slate mailer.”

In the South Bay, chairman Steve Preminger said “at no point in our endorsement process does the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee state or imply that a candidate seeking our endorsement should make a financial contribution or pay any fees to the SCCDP.”

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Brown pleases gun advocates and foes

As with many other bills Gov. Jerry Brown handled this session, he seemed to split the baby Sunday when deciding on bills dealing with how, where and when firearms can be carried in California, and by whom.

As I reported here earlier today, Brown signed AB 144, banning the “open carry” of unloaded handguns in public places – a bill supported by gun-control groups and law enforcement by opposed by gun-rights advocates. But he also signed SB 610 to streamline, speed and cheapen the process to seek a permit to carry a concealed handgun, something gun-rights advocates supported.

Brown also signed a bill letting the state Justice Department use an existing fee to fund its program tracking and seizing firearms from people who aren’t legally allowed to have them, and a bill requiring the state to preserve buyer information on rifles and shotguns sold or transferred in the state, just as it already does for handguns – both opposed by gun-rights advocates. But he pleased those same advocates by vetoing a bill on handgun ammunition sales, saying it’s something the courts should work out first.

AB 144, by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, makes it a misdemeanor to openly carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street. Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Law enforcement personnel are exempt as are security guards, hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under certain conditions.

“The right to Open Carry has been legal in the State of California since its inception, and there has never been a single case of an Open Carry advocate ever committing a violent crime in the Golden State’s entire 160-year history,” said Responsible Citizens of California President Adnan Shahab of Fremont, adding his group will work with others to challenge the new law in court. “Since no problem has ever existed that needs to be addressed or fixed, there was no reason for AB 144 in the first place.”

But California Police Chiefs Association President David Maggard Jr. said today that open carry was “a threat to the safety of the communities we police and the safety of our officers. The Governor’s leadership in signing this legislation will help assure that felons and gang members cannot openly carry an unloaded gun with impunity, all the while carrying the ammunitions for the weapon on their person, because with open carry, officers were prohibited from conducting any further investigation to determine if the individual is legally in possession of the weapon.”

SB 610 by state Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, requires that a person need not pay for handgun training before the county sheriff has decided whether that person has good cause to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon. If the sheriff finds no good cause, the bill requires that he or she inform the person why. One way or the other, the sheriff must give notice within 90 days of the application or 30 days after receiving the applicant’s criminal background check from the Justice Department, whichever is later.

The bill was supported by the California Rifle and Pistol Association and the National Rifle Association.

Lots more, after the jump…
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Gov. gets bill to take prohibited guns off streets

The Assembly today passed a Bay Area lawmaker’s bill that would provide more resources to find and confiscate guns belonging to convicted felons and the mentally ill.

SB 819 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, passed on a 48-23 vote; the state Senate had approved it June 1 on a 22-16 vote, so it now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

SB 819 – sponsored by state Attorney General Kamala Harris – would let the state Justice Department use money from the $19 Dealer Record of Sale fee that’s collected on each firearm sale to enforce the existing Armed Prohibited Persons System program. APPS, launched in 2007, identifies prohibited persons so law enforcement can go collect the illegally possessed weapons.

The state Justice Department’s Bureau of Firearms has identified more than 18,000 Californians who illegally own tens of thousands of firearms, a list that grows by 15 to 20 per day. But state and local officials say they lack the resources to confiscate this enormous backlog of weapons, much less keep up with new additions to the list.

Leno calls that “a troubling blind spot in our current enforcement of firearms laws.”

“Thousands of gun owners who once obtained their weapons legally still possess firearms despite subsequent issues, including criminal activities, that disqualify them from owning weapons,” he said in a news release today. “Innocent lives have been lost because we allow guns to be in the hands of known criminals, gang members and people who have serious mental illnesses. SB 819 helps remedy this troubling threat to public safety.”

To be clear: It’s not raising any more money for the state, just authorizing another purpose for which the DROS fee money can be used. The Justice Department has estimated it wouyld draw about $1 million per year from the DROS fund for this; the fund currently holds about $5.5 million.

The California Association of Firearms Retailers has argued that the DROS fee is supposed to pay for the costs of a criminal and mental background check to determine a buyer’s eligibility to lawfully own a firearm, and so redirecting some of it to another, more general purpose effectively turns it into a tax.

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Pete Stark offers currency transaction tax bill

A tax on currency transactions could both stablize our finanical system and pay for investments in global health, climate change mitigation and affordable child care, according to Rep. Pete Stark.

“Every day, there are $4 trillion worth of currency transactions,” Stark, D-Fremont, said in a news release. “The vast majority of these are speculative – banks trying to make a buck by out-guessing the system. This speculation contributed to the last Wall Street crisis and makes our financial system less stable.”

“The proceeds of a new tax on currency speculation will be used to provide billions in new funding for important global and domestic priorities. At home, this bill will give more money to affordable child care programs. Globally, it will contribute billions to climate change and world health programs,” added Stark, chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee.

It’s not a new idea; the late Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin was talking about something like this almost 40 years ago.

Stark’s H.R. 5783, the Investing In Our Future Act, would impose a 0.005 percent fee on the buying and selling of world currencies and on currency derivative transactions by a U.S. person, including domestic corporations, partnerships, subsidiaries of foreign corporations, and individual citizens and residents. Transactions under $10,000 are exempted from the tax. Stark says studies estimate that a worldwide 0.005 percent tax on dollar transactions would raise $28 billion a year and reduce speculative currency trading by 14 percent.

Among groups supporting the bill are ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, RESULTS, Health GAP (Global Access Project), Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, and Africa Action.

UPDATE @ 4:10 P.M.: Forest Baker, the Republican nominee to challenge Stark in November’s election, calls the idea “pretty crazy.” Though the .005 percent rate seems tiny, he said, it would be constantly compounding to ultimately cost currency traders a tremendous slice of their funds.

“That would never be tolerated by any of those entities, they would simply close those accounts, and that would then cripple the global financial capitalism mechanism of currency trading,” he said. “That would never happen, and Pete Stark has to know that. … It’s astounding to me that such a thing would even be proposed.”

The tax would be “astoundingly burdensome” both upon those on whom its imposed and for those administering it, Baker continued. “He can’t be that stupid, he’s got to be kidding us or playing politics. It’s possible one of his interns wrote that and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, submit it.’ ”