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More California ballot measures try to go around Legislature

Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez, a Ponoma Democrat, tracks bills during session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 24, 2023.
Rahul Lal
Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez, a Ponoma Democrat, tracks bills during session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 24, 2023.

State lawmakers are passing many, many bills before they end the legislative session next Thursday. But under California’s system of direct democracy — and happening at the same time — advocates for various causes are trying to go straight to the voters when their elected representatives won’t do what they want.

Tuesday, victims’ families filed an initiative to increase punishments for fentanyl dealers as legislative Republicans hit a Democratic roadblock for a similar constitutional amendment.

Former Fox News host Steve Hilton plans to file a ballot measure on another top-of-mind issue that legislators are wrestling with — the housing crisis. The California Homeownership Affordability Act seeks to defang the state’s landmark environmental law, which Gov. Gavin Newsom and YIMBY advocates also want to do.

But as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the initiative would go further by only allowing the state attorney general and local district attorneys to sue under the California Environmental Quality Act to block housing projects. And it includes a second part that may not be as popular with Democrats: It calls for capping many of the impact fees paid by developers and used by cities and counties to help cover their costs of providing services to new residents.

Also, Next Gen Personal Finance filed a measure on Tuesday that would require high schoolers to pass a personal finance course to graduate. It’s similar to a bill that was introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, but weakened in the face of opposition from California School Boards Association, which said it interfered with local school districts. The Sacramento Democrat told Politico he backs the initiative, as did state schools chief Tony Thurmond.

One big caveat: Even if it qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, the initiative wouldn’t take effect until the 2029-30 school year.

After a relatively paltry seven ballot measures last November, next November is looking more and more like a collision of competing measures with campaigns that will cost millions of dollars.

At the same time, the Legislature can put measures on the ballot, and on Wednesday two proposed constitutional amendments with substantial implications for California elections cleared a major hurdle.

After lengthy floor debates, the Assembly advanced both Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1, which would lower the threshold for passing local housing and infrastructure bonds to 55% from two-thirds, and ACA 13, which would require initiatives raising the threshold for new taxes to pass by that same margin. If approved by the Senate before the end of session next week, they would go to voters in March. ACA 13 is particularly contentious because it is an effort to knee-cap an initiative that has qualified for the November ballot, which would set a higher benchmark for local voters to pass special taxes.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.