Editorial: California lawmakers, do your job
November’s election often leaves California voters with too much of a good thing: a bunch of proposals that overload the ballot. Remember 2016 when the vote included 17 measures, including two on the death penalty and another two on plastic bags?
On the one hand, Californians love direct democracy—the power to make laws through popular initiative rather than elected legislatures. Most voters believe they make better decisions as the legislature.
On the other hand, many Californians consider the multitude of confusing issues arising due to niche battles in the industry (regulation dialysis clinics? rest breaks for rescuers? condoms for porn actor?) and think how am I supposed to find out?
So it was a smart move when the State passed a law eight years ago to give to people who drive initiatives more time to work out solutions with the legislator rather than throwing the issue at voters. Unfortunately too few proponents of the initiative have used the law, preferring to put their question to the electorate rather than negotiate a compromise with their opponents.
And lawmakers haven’t played as strong a role as they could in trying to negotiate deals. Lawmakers’ argument in passing the reform in 2014 was that the extra time would allow them to hold hearings on proposed electoral measures and work to resolve problems in the legislature. That didn’t happen much.
But one Important deal recently closed between the doctors’ lobby and plaintiffs’ lawyers to avoid a costly campaign shows the promise of reform.
For decades, litigators, patient advocates and consumer associations have fought fierce disputes over the limit for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors, insurance companies and hospitals. At the heart of their struggle is a law known as the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, which limits compensation for pain and suffering to $250,000.
The two sides prevailed in the 2014 vote, pouring a total of $70 million into their campaigns. It looked like they were headed for a rematch this year, with Nick Rowley, a prominent personal injury attorney who funded a campaign to increase the amount of money that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases.
But then Rowley sat down with Dustin Corcoran, CEO of the California Medical Assn., who was preparing to oppose the initiative. During a series of private meetings assisted by former insurance commissioner Steve Poizner and former Republican Senate leader Jim Brutte, Rowley and Corcoran have worked out a compromise that will gradually increase patient compensation over the next decade. They took their compromise to the Legislature, which quickly passed it, and stood alongside Gov. Gavin Newsom last month as he signed into the law.
The deal is not only a win for the interests directly involved, but also for voters, who avoid being harried by a multi-million dollar publicity campaign that would inevitably reduce this complex political dispute to crass emotional appeals and misleading political attacks.
Lawmakers should do everything they can to keep other interest-group struggles out of November’s election as well. You only have a few weeks to finish it until June 28th.
There should be one at the top of the list Initiative to significantly reduce single-use plastics that cannot be recycled or composted. Environmentalists rallied signatures to put the measure to a vote after similar proposals repeatedly failed in lawmakers. It was a smart move. Lawmakers and industry lobbyists are now stepping up their efforts to resolve the issue now that the initiative has qualified for a vote and negotiations with environmentalists are underway.
Industry and business would do well to find common ground with environmentalists and stand behind a strong plastic packaging reduction measure that Newsom can sign into law. Otherwise, they’ll be fighting an electoral measure likely to be popular with voters. According to a, more than 60% of California adults believe plastic waste is a major problem along the state’s coast poll last year by the independent Public Policy Institute of California. Polls by Oceana, one of the environmental groups behind the initiative, found that 86% of California voters reduce support measures single-use plastics.
Of course, some things will always come to a vote, either because the idea doesn’t get Legislative support or because the state constitution requires it. The legislature generally cannot change laws passed by voters, so changes, such as those on the death penalty or Proposition 13, must be made at the vote.
We believe that budgeting at the ballot box is bad policy, but proponents of tax increases often prefer to take their ideas to voters because lawmakers are reluctant to raise taxes. Two measures heading for the November vote call for increasing income taxes on top earners to pay for certain services, one focusing on pandemic prevention and another on preventing wildfires and increasing subsidies for zero-emission vehicles.
Making laws in the legislature is generally the better way. For one, laws enacted by the legislature can be more easily updated if problems later arise, while laws passed by voters can only be changed if voters accept a different proposal. Second, the back-and-forth process of negotiating legislation creates more opportunities for input to improve the final law. A voting action requires a positive or negative vote, regardless of its shortcomings.
And finally, there is the ridiculous amount of money squandered on electoral activities. What should have been a path to direct democracy has turned into a gold mine for special interests. In 2020, unions, corporations and other donors spent a staggering $785 million supporting and opposing California election policies.
Legislators are elected and paid to sift through complex policy decisions and enact legislation in the public interest. That is literally their job – which they should do whenever they can.
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-06-07/california-lawmakers-ballot-measures-propositions Editorial: California lawmakers, do your job