Reasonable people agree that the infamous "kill the gays" bill is an affront to society, hateful piffle from some reclusive Bible-thumping attorney. Deplorable as it was, the “Sodomy Suppression Act” Matt McLaughlin proposed for the state ballot has managed to spark healthy discussion about the citizen initiative process.
First, Silicon Valley Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell)—who’s quick to note that initiatives are an important expression of direct democracy—suggested raising the filing fee from $200 to $8,000 to get people to take it seriously.
Activists like San Jose’s Joe Decker and Los Angeles-based Charlotte Laws each submitted counter-initiatives, the “Shellfish Suppression Act” and the “Intolerant Jackass Act” respectively, effectively using the legislative mechanism to fight speech with speech. For her part, Laws thinks the initiative system should remain accessible to the general public, affordable and, yes, even prone to ridiculous ideas like McLaughlin’s.
But one Southern California lawmaker says the Attorney General’s Office, which is legally tasked with reviewing citizen-submitted legislative ideas, should at least have the option of giving the public a heads up if those proposals are potentially unconstitutional.
AB 884, introduced by Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), would authorize the attorney general to label bills that might violate anyone’s constitutional rights. That label would be affixed to signature-gathering petitions, so anyone with a clipboard soliciting autographs would have to display the red flag.
Rendon suggests labeling bills like McLaughlin’s, which called for the vigilante slaughter of gay people, with the following fine print:
“The Attorney General has determined that this initiative measure, if approved by the voters, would likely result in a violation of an individual’s rights under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution.”
A warning like that would have come in handy leading up to the passage of Proposition 8, which California voters approved in 2008 and a federal appeals court struck down after ruling it unconstitutional four years later.