BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



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          Date of Hearing:  April 15, 2015


                  ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON ELECTIONS AND REDISTRICTING


                           Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Chair


          AB 535  
          (Grove) - As Introduced February 23, 2015


          SUBJECT:  Initiatives:  ballot title and summary.


          SUMMARY:  Makes changes to the ballot title and summary  
          requirements for statewide measures.  Specifically, this bill:  


          1)Requires the ballot title and summary for a statewide measure,  
            which is prepared by the Attorney General (AG), to satisfy all  
            of the following:


             a)   Be written in clear and concise terms, understandable to  
               the average voter, and in an objective and nonpartisan  
               manner, avoiding the use of technical terms whenever  
               possible;


             b)   If the measure imposes or increases a tax or fee, the  
               type and amount of the tax or fee must be described;


             c)   If the measure repeals existing law in an substantial  
               manner, that fact shall be included; and, 










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             d)   If the measure is contingent on the passage or defeat of  
               another measure or statute, that fact shall be included.


          2)Requires the Legislature to provide the AG with sufficient  
            funding for administrative and other support relating to  
            preparation of the ballot title and summary for initiative  
            measures, including, but not limited to, plain-language  
            specialists.


          EXISTING LAW:  


          1)Defines a ballot title and summary to mean the summary of the  
            chief purpose and points, including the fiscal impact summary,  
            of any measure that appears in the state ballot pamphlet.  


          2)Requires the AG to give a true and impartial statement of the  
            purpose of the measure in such language that the ballot title  
            and summary shall neither be an argument nor be likely to  
            create prejudice, for or against that proposed measure.


          3)Defines a circulating title and summary to mean the text that  
            is required to be placed on the petition for signatures that  
            is either of the following:

             a)   The summary of the chief purpose and points of a  
               proposed initiative measure that affects the Constitution  
               or laws of the state, and the fiscal impact of the proposed  
               initiative measure; or, 

             b)   The summary of the chief purpose and points of a  
               referendum measure that affects a law or laws of the state.  
                

          FISCAL EFFECT:  Unknown








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          COMMENTS:  


          1)Purpose of the Bill:  According to the author:


               The initiative process is an important part of California's  
               political framework and a fundamental right of its  
               citizens.  Currently, state law requires the Attorney  
               General to provide a ballot title and summary for each  
               statewide ballot measure that is neutral and not likely to  
               create prejudice for or against a measure.  However, many  
               titles and summaries have been criticized in recent years  
               for not being impartial, for failing to provide relevant  
               information, and for simply not being comprehensible to the  
               average voter.  


               In order for Californians to properly consider the pros and  
               cons of initiative measures, it is imperative that they  
               have access to a title and summary that is fair and  
               impartial, understandable, and that provides relevant  
               information such as the amount of a proposed tax.


               AB 535 simply adopts language that was originally included  
               in last year's initiative reform measure, SB 1253, to  
               require the Attorney General to write a ballot title and  
               summary in a manner that is objective and nonpartisan,  
               clear and concise, understandable to the average voter, and  
               that informs voters of the type and amount of a proposed  
               tax or fee.


          2)New Title and Summary Criteria:  When the AG is drafting the  
            title and summary for a proposed initiative measure, current  
            law requires the AG to give a true and impartial statement of  








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            the purpose of the measure in such language that the ballot  
            title and summary shall neither be an argument nor be likely  
            to create prejudice, for or against that proposed measure.   
            This bill adds substantial new requirements on how a ballot  
            title and summary must be drafted.  This bill requires the  
            ballot title and summary to satisfy all of the following  
            criteria:  1) be written in clear and concise terms,  
            understandable to the average voter, and in an objective and  
            nonpartisan manner, avoiding the use of technical terms  
            whenever possible, 2) include the type and amount of the tax  
            and fee if the measure imposes or increases a tax or fee, 3)  
            indicate whether the measure repeals existing law in any  
            substantial manner, and 4) indicate whether the measure is  
            contingent on the passage or defeat of another measure or  
            statute.  According to the author's statement, this bill aims  
            to result in ballot titles and summaries that are neutral and  
            not likely to create prejudice for or against a measure as  
            well provide relevant information and be understandable to the  
            average voter.  Notwithstanding the author's goal, these new  
            criteria are ambiguous and subjective, and consequently could  
            result in more litigation surrounding the ballot titles and  
            summaries created by the AG.


          3)Arguments in Support:  In support, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers  
            Association, writes:


               AB 535 requires the Attorney General, when crafting ballot  
               titles and summaries for statewide initiative measures,  
               implement a number of common-sense reforms to ensure that  
               voters better understand what they are voting on? 



               The genesis of this proposal stems from a year-long  
               initiative reform working group featuring a wide range of  
               stakeholders including business organizations, good  
               governance groups, labor and taxpayer organizations.  While  








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               some reforms were implemented via SB 1253 (Steinberg)  
               critically needed reforms including the requirement for  
               "plain-language" ballot material were blocked at the behest  
               of the Attorney General. 
          4)Arguments in Opposition:  In opposition, the California  
            Federation of Teachers, writes:


               Current law already requires the Attorney General to  
               provide a true and impartial statement or purpose of the  
               measure.  The title and summary of ballot measures are  
               inherently legal titles and descriptions, which require the  
               expertise and legal training possessed by the Attorney  
               General.


               The title and summary prepared with these provisional  
               skills reflect the appropriate language and information  
               required to accurately reflect the impact of the proposed  
               law.  To add extra-judicial requirements will limit the  
               Attorney General's ability to provide the most  
               legally-accurate title and summary possible.  By forcing  
               the Attorney General to use language that might not  
               otherwise be used, will diminish the accuracy of ballot  
               titles and summary.  Additionally, this will open the  
               ballot measure process to more litigation and raise the  
               cost of the direct democratic process of California. 


          5)Previous Legislation:  SB 1253 (Steinberg), Chapter 697,  
            Statutes of 2014, which made significant changes to the  
            initiative process, as specified, contained similar provisions  
            which were removed.


          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:











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          Support


          California Taxpayers Association


          Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association




          Opposition


          California Federation of Teachers 


          California School Employees Association


          California State Council of the Service Employees International  
          Union




          Analysis Prepared by:Nichole Becker / E. & R. / (916) 319-2094



















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