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Judge Orders Change in Ballot on Prop. 54

August 30, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

As Democratic elected officials in Los Angeles denounced Proposition 54 as racist on Friday, a judge ruled the measure's ballot summary does not accurately portray its potential impact on medical research and ordered that it be changed.

The statewide initiative by Ward Connerly, a University of California regent, would prevent public agencies from collecting and using many kinds of racial data but would provide an exemption for "medical research subjects and patients."

Opponents say that means the measure might prohibit the collection and use of other health-related data, including surveys on smoking and disease.

The existing ballot summary said the exemption would apply to "all medical and health-care subject matter."

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gail D. Ohanesian found that language too broad Friday and ordered it replaced with the language directly from the initiative.

Maria Blanco, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, applauded the ruling.

"This tells the average voter that this exemption is very narrow and they need to worry about it if it passes," Blanco said.

Opponents of the measure, including 40 elected officials, health experts and civil rights leaders, rallied Friday at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South Los Angeles.

At the rally, Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said that collecting racial data has helped health officials identify trends requiring attention, including education to reduce the higher rate of sudden infant death syndrome in the African American community.

"If this measure were passed, it would set our public health efforts back 200 years," Fielding said.

Diane Schachterle, a spokeswoman for Ward Connerly's campaign supporting Proposition 54, disagreed. She said the exemption would allow the collection of racial data for medical purposes.

"It is the intent of the proponents that it not affect medical issues," she said.

Using the harshest rhetoric yet in the campaign, Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson and County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said the measure could lead to more racial discrimination in California because it would deprive the public of data showing whether minority communities are being well-served by government, including whether they are being singled out for traffic stops by law enforcement.

"We cannot create a colorblind society by making government blind to discrimination, and that's exactly what this proposition would do," Wesson said.

He described the measure as "Ward Connerly's latest racist attempt" at changing the law.

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn added, "It seems so stupid and wrongheaded. It will allow discrimination to return."

Schachterle was dismissive of Hahn and other critics.

"They are trying to create hysteria. They are trying to frighten people," she said.

Supporters of Proposition 54 say the measure would lead to a colorblind government in which race is not used as a basis for services.

"Data doesn't prove discrimination. Data can highlight some disparities, but disparities do not prove there is discrimination," Schachterle said.

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