Brown Veto on Signature Gathering Should Be Beginning, Not End

Gov. Jerry Brown made the right call in vetoing legislation that would have criminalized what has been standard practice in California for 100 years: paying petition circulators a fee based on the number of signatures they generate.

But let's hope this isn't a dead end for the cause of initiative of reform. It should be a beginning.

As explained earlier in Prop Zero, this proposed ban on pay-per signature, Senate Bill 168, would have made the already too-costly signature gathering process even more costly (because per-signature pay is more efficient, and produces more signatures, than volunteer or pay-per-hour signature gathering).

In his veto message, Brown also worried that the legislation was so broad -- in banning any kind of compensation based on the number of signatures gathered -- that it could effectively criminalize any kind of gathering, since even volunteers would use quotas or productivity goals for signature campaigns.

That said, the initiative process in California, including signature gathering, is ripe for reform that's more thoughtful and carefully crafted.

Proponents of this vetoed legislation are worried about fraud and security in the process; among the ways to addressthat would be developing more thorough checking procedures on signatures, providing voters who sign with receipts, or legalizing on-line gathering, which appears to be illegal under current California law.

The state also badly needs to take steps to integrate the initiative process -- now used to circumvent the usual system of checks and balances -- with California law.

Initiatives should be forced to live within the budget, and should be subject to the same rules, reviews and hearings of ordinary law.

Other states and countries with initiative and referendum (direct democracy is on the rise around the world, particularly in Europe) offer a variety of models that would be an improvement on what California has.

This veto should be the beginning of a broader conversation about reform, not an end.

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