California State Constitution

The California Legislature’s Organizing Session (transcript)

With this year being an even numbered year, the California Legislature’s organizing session will take place next Monday, December 3. Today’s post and podcast is an overview of California’s legislative organizing session.

As you may be aware, the California Legislature operates during two-year legislative sessions. At the commencement of the two-year session, the Legislature must organize itself.

In that regard there are several provisions related to organizing the Legislature. The first is found in the California Constitution, and the other provisions in the California Government Code. According to Article IV, Section 3a of the state constitution, “The Legislature shall convene in regular session at noon on the first Monday in December of each even numbered year, and each House shall immediately organize.”

This date falls every two years, roughly three weeks – perhaps four on occasion – after the statewide General Election has taken place. The two houses convene that first session at noon and it generally lasts about two hours.

At these organizing sessions, both the elected officials and their families and supporters are in attendance. They rarely engage in regular business other than introducing their first bills, which not all legislators do on that first day in session.

They’ll often visit with colleagues and former legislators, and attend and enjoy the pomp and circumstance of that organizing session. Thereafter, in the first week of January when they reconvene, that’s when legislators commence the serious work ahead that will last for the following two years.

Please be sure to listen to today’s podcast which covers the sections of California’s Government Code that dictate the rules for the California Legislature’s organizing session.

Misconception Monday – Special Sessions

Hello, and welcome to Episode 7 of my Misconception Monday series. If this is your first time catching one of these podcasts, you can get a better sense of what they are about by checking out my previous Misconception Monday posts here.

In today’s podcast, I discuss some common misconceptions about Special Sessions. Special session is the informal term. The formal term is Extraordinary Session, because these sessions can only be called by the Governor on extraordinary occasions. You will have to listen to the rest of the podcast to learn about the other misconceptions related to Special Sessions.

Initiatives and Referendum

In yesterday’s podcast, I discussed common misconceptions about elections in California. Today I am taking a deeper look at elections in California. Specifically, I will be talking about initiatives and referendum – two of three direct democracy processes available to voters in California. The third process is the recall.

The direct democracy process dates back to the early 1900s and was proposed by the Progressive Party as a means to counter the all-powerful Southern Pacific Railroad. At the time, California was the tenth state to enact direct democracy procedures – the initiative, the referendum, and the recall.

As a brief overview, there are two types of initiatives – statutory and constitutional amendment. This process is used to create laws or changes to the constitution that the people of California believe the elected officials are either unable or unwilling to enact themselves. To qualify an initiative, the initiative is first drafted, then is given to California’s Attorney General for Title and Summary. Then it must gain a sufficient amount of signatures in order to be placed on the ballot. One difference between statutory and constitutional amendment initiatives is here at the signature gathering phase. In order to qualify for the ballot, statutory initiatives must receive signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for all candidates for Governor in the previous gubernatorial election whereas constitutional amendment initiatives must receive signatures equally 8% of that number. Proponents have 180 days to collect that number of signatures.

Referendum are used to approve or reject – usually reject – recently enacted statutes in whole or in part. There are some exceptions to this that I mentioned in yesterday’s podcast. Referendum go through a similar qualification process. Referendum must also receive a number of signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for all candidates for Governor in the last Gubernatorial election. However, referendum campaigns only have 90 days to collect the required number of signatures.

In recent years, the direct democracy process has been more often utilized by special interest groups and wealthy individuals who end up funding multi-million dollar campaigns in efforts to change the law – sometimes in a very self-serving manner. We’ve also seen recently a growth in the use of the initiative process and an increase in the cost of initiative campaigns.

We did a little calculation over the first 100 years of the initiative process being available. That is, from 1912 through July of 2013. And what we found were the following: 1,767 initiatives were given Title and Summary and circulated for signatures. Of those, 1,311 – or 74% of them – actually failed to qualify. Moreover, 92 of them were withdrawn. So as a result, 360 initiatives, or only 20% – qualified for the ballot. Of those 360 initiatives that qualified, and therefore appeared on a California state ballot, only 122 of them were approved by the people – just under 7%. So, even if initiatives are increasingly becoming the tool of special interest groups, the odds of success on the statewide ballot are pretty slim.

Misconception Monday – Elections

Hello, and welcome to Episode 6 of my Misconception Monday series. In this series of podcasts, I identify and dispel common misconceptions that are related to the many aspects of the California legislative process. You can revisit my previous Misconception Monday posts here.

In today’s podcast, I discuss some common misconceptions about elections in California. Some of the misconceptions include when the general election is held statewide for Legislators; the signature threshold for statutory initiatives and constitutional amendment initiatives; and which bills enacted by the Legislature, and signed by the Governor, are subject to referendum.