Another rich man is backing a voter initiative, but his singular goal isn't bouncing the governor or barring state officials from collecting racial data; it's getting the Legislature to do what it should.
E-banking executive Chris Larsen aims to pull the plug on commerce in Californians' Social Security numbers and bank account balances. If the Legislature can't get it done by Tuesday, he said last week, he will take his ballot petitions and 600,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office Wednesday to qualify the measure for the March 2 ballot.
The sale of consumer financial information generates not only those annoying telemarketer calls but also skyrocketing identity theft. Unsurprisingly, polls show about 90% of state residents want stronger privacy rights. Numbers like that did not move state lawmakers, who for three years in a row have bowed to the financial industry and killed, ignored or mangled a privacy bill sponsored by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough).
Voter initiatives should be a last resort, not a substitute for the state Legislature. Often they result in rigid or conflicting laws. But the initiative process can give consumers a safety valve if lawmakers simply do not act. Proposition 227 is a case in point. The 1998 measure swept away a vast bilingual education bureaucracy after lawmakers repeatedly refused to pass reforms aimed at getting more children speaking English sooner.
Speier's SB 1 would require banks, insurance companies, securities dealers and other financial institutions to get a customer's written consent before selling or sharing that person's financial data with outside companies like telemarketers. Customers would still have to "opt out" to keep their information from a company's affiliates or subsidiaries.
Speier's privacy bill is a compromise, but if passed it would be the toughest privacy protection law in the nation. Her measure is also better than a more rigid and sweeping initiative like Larsen's. The bill's chief opponents in the banking and insurance industries, staring at a ballot proposition, no longer publicly oppose the bill.
For both the Senate and Assembly to revive SB 1 and approve it by the end of business Tuesday -- completing three committee meetings and two floor votes -- would be close to miraculous. Legislators and lobbyists obviously feel that Larsen has aimed a gun at their heads. But it's time they know that the jig is up.