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Initiatives tug at voters' convictions

November ballot measures will address weighty topics such as gay marriage, abortion and animal treatment.

June 29, 2008|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Emotions may run high for California voters in November, not just over the choice of the next president but also over many of the 11 initiatives on the same ballot that tap into their personal beliefs.

Voters will decide whether to ban same-sex marriage, require parents to be notified before an abortion is performed on a minor, free farm animals from tight enclosures and put criminals in jail longer.

Other measures involve less charged issues, such as stripping legislators of the power to draw their districts and promoting clean energy.

"You have political reform, cultural issues; there will be something to interest everybody," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist who publishes Target Book, a nonpartisan handicapper of political races in California. "If you are not interested in redistricting, then maybe you are interested in gay marriage."

The deadline has passed for initiatives to qualify for the ballot by petition, but the Legislature could still choose to add propositions to the list.

Although voters may face some hard work wading through piles of election guides and campaign mailers, they can take some comfort in that they were not voting in November 1913, when there were 48 ballot measures, a record that stands today.

A heated debate is brewing over the measure that would amend the California Constitution to say that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in the state. The issue will be decided less than five months after same-sex couples throughout California began exchanging wedding vows in the wake of a court decision upholding their right to do so.

Eight years ago, about 61% of California voters approved a ballot measure that said the state would recognize only marriages between a man and a woman. That measure, which did not change the Constitution, was invalidated by the recent court ruling.

"It's important to . . . overturn the court decision and to reaffirm the voters' will as expressed by the approval of Proposition 22," said Jeff Flint, a spokesman for the measure's supporters.

Opponents of the latest initiative, including state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), said the courts have established that marriage is a right of same-sex couples and that public opinion has changed.

Predicting that the measure will fail, Kuehl said: "I have a very positive feeling about how the people of California will treat this initiative."

Another contentious issue is a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would prohibit abortions for minors until 48 hours after a physician notifies a minor's parent, legal guardian or, if parental abuse is reported, another adult family member.

The measure would also allow monetary damages to be imposed against physicians who violate the notification rule.

"This is to protect girls for medical reasons. This is a serious medical procedure," said Grace Dulaney, a spokeswoman for Friends of Sarah, a group of the initiative's supporters named after a 15-year-old Texas girl who died from an infection after an abortion.

Opponents predicted that voters would be consistent and reject the proposal as they did similar ones in 2005 and 2006.

"We all support the safety and health of California's young women," said Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California. "But this ballot measure will do nothing but threaten our state's most vulnerable teens. . . . Some teens, for whatever reason, can't talk to their parents."

Livestock treatment is the subject of another measure, which would require that an enclosure or tether confining certain farm animals allow them to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around for most of every day.

That initiative is aimed at protecting calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs, which proponents said are often inhumanely confined by the food industry.

Californians for Sound Farm Animal Agriculture, a group of egg-producing and farming interests, has formed to defeat the measure.

Three of the November propositions will address crime and criminals.

One would require the state to increase funding and oversight for individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent drug offenders and parolees. It also would reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenses by mandating probation with treatment and by providing for case dismissal and/or sealing of records after probation.

State Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster) is a leading proponent of a separate initiative called "The Safe Neighborhoods Act: Protect Crime Victims, Stop Gangs and Thugs." It would require the state to increase spending on programs to combat crime and street gangs.

It also would raise penalties for some crimes, including violations of gang injunctions; use of methamphetamines or possession of them to sell; and the carrying of loaded or concealed firearms by certain felons. And the measure would eliminate bail for illegal immigrants charged with violent or gang-related felonies.

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