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Voter Initiatives Taking Shape for '06 State Ballot

Although all measures failed in the special election, new ones on a tobacco tax, same-sex marriage and other issues are in the works.

November 28, 2005|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have forsaken ballot initiatives for the near future, but lawmakers and advocacy groups are moving forward with new proposals to raise taxes on cigarettes and the wealthy, keep sex offenders off the streets, increase spending on preschools and healthcare and forever ban same-sex marriage.

Schwarzenegger interpreted the rejection of all eight measures in this month's special election as a sign that California voters want lawmakers to solve the state's problems by themselves. But advocates from across the political spectrum -- including several Republican state legislators -- say they are preparing initiatives for next year either to override the Democratic-led Legislature or break through the Capitol's partisan paralysis.

Actor and director Rob Reiner has collected more than 1 million signatures for a proposition that would increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal preschool. If validated by elections officials, the names would be more than enough to place the measure on the June primary ballot.

"We're building a very broad coalition and we're going about this in a very responsible way and we're not trying to shove something down people's throats by fiat," Reiner said, contrasting his proposal with the ones Schwarzenegger and his allies devised this year.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 01, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
Ballot initiatives -- An article in Monday's Section A about California ballot measures being prepared for 2006 said Sacramento consultant David Townsend is working on an initiative that would increase California's cigarette tax to expand children's health insurance. Townsend is working for a competing initiative, favored by the state's hospital association, that would use proceeds from an increased cigarette tax to help finance hospital emergency rooms.

Meanwhile, two groups are gathering signatures for competing initiatives that would raise the state's cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack, to $2.37. That would be higher than in any other state except Rhode Island ($2.46) and New Jersey ($2.40), according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. A spokesman for Philip Morris USA said such an increase in California would be excessive.

But the potential revenue from such a tax -- about $1.5 billion a year -- is being eyed.

One group, led by California's hospital association, wants to give the money to emergency rooms, many of which are having financial difficulties because they treat so many uninsured patients. This would be the second time hospitals have asked voters to raise money for emergency rooms: A failed 2004 initiative would have increased fees on cellphones.

In response, a coalition of health advocates, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Assn. and American Lung Assn. of California, announced an initiative to raise the cigarette tax to pay for cancer research and provide healthcare to all children in California who don't have insurance.

Paul Knepprath, a vice president at the lung association, said his coalition tried to negotiate a joint initiative with the hospitals, one "that could balance the needs of the kinds of programs that they care about."

"Unfortunately, we weren't able to get to an agreement," Knepprath said. "They felt the need to do their own measure."

Dr. Jack Lewin, chief executive of the California Medical Assn., decried the dueling initiatives, which he said would make it easier for opponents, including the tobacco industry, to fight both.

"This is really a debacle of lack of cooperation and coordination," Lewin said. "This should be doctors and hospitals and patients and emergency personnel all together on something. Instead, it's going to be a big battle."

Kristine Deutschman, spokeswoman for the emergency room measure, said: "We really don't see it as competing measures. We see it as differences in priorities."

Public safety is another popular subject for potential initiatives in 2006. Republican legislators are pushing three tough-on-crime measures that Democratic lawmakers have nixed.

The only elected husband-wife couple in the Capitol, Lancaster Republican Assemblywoman Sharon Runner and her husband, George, a state senator, are backing an initiative that would allow convicted sex offenders to be confined indefinitely, even after they completed their sentences.

The proposal failed as legislation this year, and Schwarzenegger has said he would support the initiative if lawmakers do not adopt it themselves. Dave Gilliard, a Sacramento consultant running the campaign, said they have raised more than $1 million, including donations of at least $125,000 from each of the Runners.

Financing for two other lawmaker-sponsored initiatives is not as clear.

Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta) wants to create a state border patrol to combat illegal immigration. Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno) is pressing an initiative that would expand the types of activities that qualify as identity theft, bolster investigations and increase punishments.

If Poochigian's measure qualifies, it would be on the ballot at the time he would be campaigning for the office of attorney general, potentially giving him a natural platform. Candidates in the past, including Jerry Brown in his 1974 run for governor and John Van de Kamp in his failed 1990 bid for governor, employed that tactic.

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