Governor Signs Election Bills

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One aims to ward off problematic ballot measures by raising the cost of filing

Gov. Jerry Brown signed 14 bills into law Tuesday, including measures that will increase the cost of filing a proposed ballot initiative from $200 to $2,000 and align city elections with statewide votes in areas of low participation.

Low initiative fees were blamed for inappropriate ballot measures such as one on executing gays and lesbians, filed by a Southern California attorney who paid the $200 fee. His "Sodomite Suppression Act" would have called for shooting gay people.

Although a court later blocked the measure as unconstitutional, lawmakers said the incident showed that the $200 fee was too low and encouraged frivolous or illegal proposals.

"It has been over 72 years since this aspect of the initiative process has been updated. This reform is overdue," Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), the bill's author, said in a statement Tuesday. "We live in California, the cradle of direct democracy, but we also need a threshold for reasonableness."

Carmen Balber, executive director of the group Consumer Watchdog, expressed disappointment that Brown had signed Low's bill, which will take effect in January.

"It's a sad day for citizen democracy in California," Balber said. "Such a steep fee increase tilts the scales even further towards the big-money, corporate interests who already dominate Sacramento and the initiative process."

The elections measure is intended to address sluggish voter turnout in local elections held in years when there is not also a statewide contest.

City and state elections will be consolidated in places where turnout for off-year contests has been at least 25% below average during the last four statewide general elections. The measure will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018, and will not apply to special elections.

Republicans opposed the bill in the Legislature, saying it would lead to higher costs and fewer volunteers for municipal candidates.

The Democratic governor also signed a bill allowing California community colleges to suspend or expel students accused of sexual assault off campus.

Currently, the colleges are prohibited from removing a student unless the conduct resulting in the disciplinary action is related to college activity or college attendance.

And Brown signed a measure requiring short-term rental platforms like Airbnb to alert users that if they are renters, listing their home on the site could violate their lease agreements.

Meanwhile, in the Legislature, the state Senate passed a bill to let makers of investigational drugs to make them available to Californians with life-threatening diseases.

The measure, which goes back to the Assembly for action on amendments, would apply to drugs, devices and biological products that have undergone clinical trials but have not yet been approved for general public use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Also on Tuesday, Assembly Republicans voted freshman Assemblyman Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley to be their next leader. Mayes will take over from the current GOP leader, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto, in January.

Olsen is considering a run for a state Senate seat.

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Twitter: @melmason

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Twitter: @mcgreevy99

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