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CALIFORNIA CORPORATE & SECURITIES LAW

All Power To The People: Initiatives And Referenda In California

A year ago, I addressed the effective date of California legislative bills in this post.  In California, the people can also exercise legislative power through two different mechanisms – the initiative and the referendum.  In fact, the California Constitution proclaims:

All political power is inherent in the people.  Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require.

Cal. Const. Art. II, § 1.  An initiative is the power of the electors to propose statutes and amendments to the constitution and to adopt or reject them.  Cal. Const. Art. II, § 8.  A referendum is the power of the electors to approve or reject statutes or parts of statutes except urgency statutes, statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual current expenses of the State.  Cal. Const. Art. II, § 9.

Last Friday, I wrote about Proposition 54 which is an initiative constitutional amendment and statute.  The California ballot also included a legislative advisory proposition, Proposition 59, which asks whether California’s elected officials should use their authority to propose and ratify an amendment to the federal Constitution overturning the United States Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010).  The legislature placed Proposition 59 on the ballot after the California Supreme Court held that it had the authority to do so even though California’s constitution does not expressly empower the legislature to do so.  Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. Padilla, 62 Cal. 4th 486, 494 (2016).  See Legislature Tries Again To Put Citizens United On California Ballot.  According to the Secretary of State, Proposition 59 is leading with 4,599,303 yes votes (52.5%) and 4,160,665 no votes (47.5%).

Although the estimable Fowler’s Modern English Usage opines that the preferred plural form of “referendum” is “referendums”, I prefer “referenda”.  “Referendum” is the Latin gerundive form of the verb refero, meaning to carry back.  Because “referendum” is grammatically neuter, the plural is formed in Latin by changing the “um” ending to an “a”.  The California legislature also uses “referenda”.  See, e.g., Cal. Election Code § 9001(d).

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