Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Prop. 47 a tough lesson in weakness of initiatives

Whereas the traditional legislative process is a dialogue, a ballot initiative is more of a monologue. California’s easiest-in-the-nation rules make it possible to pass an initiative without substantive discussion or broad consensus, as long as the proponent has the money to qualify one.

Largely absent from the initiative process is the chance for opponents, experts, the public and the media to express their thoughts to the drafters and seek amendments. Once an initiative qualifies for the ballot, there are no opportunities to change it, even if someone identifies a serious shortcoming. In theory, the electorate can vote “no” — if we notice an error. But once an initiative passes — if errors have gone unnoticed — the Legislature is generally powerless to fix them. Since deficiencies often manifest years later, this has produced misshapen policies for California.

2014’s Proposition 47, which mandated that prosecutors could no longer charge certain crimes as felonies, provides the clearest example of this style of poor policymaking....