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Panel Calls for Pre-Ballot Initiative Vote : Elections: Commission recommends that the Legislature consider proposed measures before they go to voters. Only losing issues would then go to the general electorate for a decision.


SACRAMENTO — A prestigious commission called Wednesday for significant changes in the initiative process, recommending that the Legislature be required to vote on proposed ballot measures before they are placed on the ballot.

If lawmakers approve them, such measures would become law without being on the ballot. Those measures rejected by the Legislature would go on the statewide ballot.

The commission, headed by former Legislative Analyst A. Alan Post, also recommended that lawmakers be free to make changes to the proposed initiatives, so long as the proponents agree. Initiatives would still have to qualify by signature petitions as they do now.

Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) said he intends to put the recommendations into the form of bills to be considered by the Legislature this year. Some of the changes would have to be approved by voters on a statewide ballot.

Costa carried legislation creating the commission in 1992 following elections in 1988 and 1990 when California voters were called upon to decide the fate of a total of 36 citizen-generated initiatives. At the time, he argued that the initiative process had "run amok" and become dominated by special interests.

Members of the commission included several promoters, consultants and lawyers involved in the initiative industry. Given their support of the panel's report, at least some of the recommendations may have a strong chance of becoming law.

Tony Miller, chief deputy secretary of state and a member of the panel, lauded the report but said it should have gone further by requiring that major financial backers be identified in television commercials touting initiatives.

Miller called on the Legislature to enact a "a truth-in-advertising provision," adding that "it's the most important thing the Legislature could do to reform this process."

Post, who was legislative analyst for more than 20 years, and the other commissioners called for additional disclosure of contributions to initiatives, and for more readable and informative voter pamphlets. As part of the additional information, legislators' votes on the initiatives would be printed in voter handbooks, which are mailed to all registered voters.

To make it easier for initiative promoters to get their measures on the ballot, the commission recommended that proponents have 180 days to gather the requisite number of signatures, rather than the current 150 days.

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