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CalPoly POLS 111 Finals

Terms in this set (235)


Indeed, an initiative requires signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial vote for a new law and 8 percent for a constitutional amendment. To put that into perspective for you, this means that based on the 2010 election, supporters would have to gather 504,760 signatures for a new law and 807,615 for a constitutional amendment. After they successfully did so, the initiative would be placed on the ballot as a Proposition for all of California's voters to vote on. In the past, this might face happened either during primary elections in June or during the general election in November. However, as of 2012, all initiative are placed on the November ballot unless the governor calls for a special election. The reason this was done is because the voter turnout during general elections is typically much higher than for primaries, so putting initiatives on the November ballot presumably ensures that more people will have a chance to vote on them.

While just about any topic could become the subject of an initiative, these citizen-motivated policy proposals are often quite controversial. Examples from California's history include proposals to limit bilingual education, abolish the death penalty, change redistricting laws, deal with tax issues, and ban same-sex marriage. In future chapters we'll take a closer look at some of these specific Propositions.

For now, you should know that of the 24 states nationwide that allow citizens to use the initiative, very few rely on it as heavily as California does. In the following questions, let's find out a bit more about the history of the initiative in California as well as its use (and usefulness).
Perhaps not surprisingly , the members of the legislature need a lot of help. Thus the legislature has a large professional staff. When thinking about the legislature's staff, it helps to make two distinctions among them: partisan vs. non-partisan, and legislative vs. district staff. Non-partisan staff are professionals who help everyone in the legislature by making sure that the language of bills is clear and unambiguous, that the rules are followed, that the financial impact of proposed legislation has been accurately estimated, and so on. Partisan staff work for individual legislators or for the leadership (including committee leaders). Their job is to help their bosses pursue their political agenda, which the rest of us hope also conduces to the benefit of the people of California. Some partisan staff members work in the capital (including all committee staff) , and others work at the home or district offices of individual members . Legislative staff in the capital focus on getting bills passed, while district staff focus on responding to the problems and concerns of constituents.
Normally we would make you go find this information, but it's surprisingly difficult to find, so we're just going to tell you: in 2015 there were approximately 1,200 staffers in the Assembly and approximately 800 Senate staffers, for a total of approximately 2,000 partisan staff members. (Be glad we didn't make you look this up. To get it from a reliable source we had to manually count the names on staff salary reports!)
We're also going to tell you that there are three non-partisan staff agencies that assist the legislature: the Legislative Analyst, the Legislative Counsel, and the State Auditor.
When there is a dispute over the outcome of a case or the way it was tried at the superior court level, the losing party has the option of submitting an appeal to a higher court next. That higher court can refuse the appeal (and most appeals are, in fact, refused), but the idea here is that there should be some form of checks-and-balances in place that at least gives people the opportunity to have their case looked at again.

Note that because of the prohibition on double jeopardy (being tried more than once for the same crime) in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, if a criminal defendant is found not guilty at trial, the district attorney may NOT appeal the decision.

It's important to note that appeals courts do NOT retry the original case or even review the facts that were used to produce the original outcome in the first place. Instead, they determine whether the original trial was fair and whether the law was applied correctly. These type of appeals cases are actually (almost) ALL the higher courts deal with. In other words, they can NOT initiate a case but rather have to wait for someone to file an appeal before they can become involved in a legal issue. (The Supreme Court has what's called "original jurisdiction" in a small set of types of cases that rarely occur.)

In addition to regular appeals, the supreme court also hears EVERY death penalty case. Kind of makes sense, if you think about it! That's one legal decision we would definitely want to get right. Even though the supreme court actually hears relatively few cases (death penalty or otherwise), those cases actually take up a LOT of time. Imagine this: Every year, roughly 10,000 petitions are filed with California's supreme court, but the court only ends up issuing an opinion in about 1% of these cases. When the court refuses to hear a case, that basically means that the decision made in the lower court stands.
Perhaps another good indicator that courts can be political is that the California constitution has been amended more than 500 times since it was first written in 1879 (so in just under 140 years). The sheer length and complexity of the state constitution gives the courts a lot of opportunity to interpret laws and thus become involved in policy-making to a degree. The courts have actually been referred to as a "shadow government" before for that reason. Some very controversial cases include decision regarding school desegregation in the '60s or Proposition 13 in the '70s.

Because the courts, especially the supreme court, have this power, of course governors always attempt to appoint justices who share their political ideologies and values. Despite that, the more recent incarnations of California's supreme court have been a lot less controversial than, say, those in the 1960s and 1970s. The court tends to avoid judicial activism (i.e. making policy through court decisions).

And of course, since California has so many elements of direct democracy, voters always have the option of becoming involved in the policy-making process as well through initiatives and referenda. Occasionally, initiatives that become laws will go before the supreme court to determine their constitutionality, though, as was the case with Proposition 8. After years of battle, the California supreme court finally decided in 2013 to not revive Proposition 8. Some people might find it problematic - and even undemocratic - when a court overturns voter-initiated or -approved laws, but it is part of our system of checks-and-balances that courts get to ultimately determine the constitutionality of any law.
Now that we've looked at counties and cities, the other two forms of local government in California are school districts and special districts. Not surprisingly, school districts focus on...schools. Special districts are more varied and complicated. Basically, any time an area of the state needs a government body to run something that isn't already the responsibility of some existing agency (like maybe a new water conservation board), or something that requires the cooperation of several different agencies/jurisdictions (like a regional transportation agency that covers multiple cities and/or counties), it may make sense to form a special agency to do the job--in other words, a special district. You've already seen one example--Local Area Formation Commissions, which supervise the process by which cities are incorporated, un-incorporated (if they are no longer viable as separate entities), and so on. It seems to make sense for LAFCOs to be separate from the existing government agencies in the area, since their job is to decide whether a group of citizens will remain in an existing jurisdiction (such as a county), or will become separate from it (taking some of their tax dollars with them). The existing jurisdictions may have an interest in having that decision go one way or another, and that would probably make the citizens involved worry that they were not being treated fairly. Since the LAFCO is independent and has no stake in the outcome, everyone involved can be confident that it is playing by the rules. (That's not to say that special districts are always ethical or even a good idea, but just to illustrate the reasoning behind them.)