Pushing for Better Democracy in the 2019 California Legislative Session

California has a responsibility to be at the forefront of cutting-edge progressive policy change. With 12% of the country’s population, legislation in California often serves as a proof of concept for other states (and eventually Congress) to replicate. California has already made massive strides in modernizing its voting system by implementing automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, early voting, and no-excuse absentee voting; we’ve even taken initial steps toward campaign finance disclosure for political candidates. While the initial implementation of these policies has been critical to expanding access to the ballot, there are further reforms that the Golden State is pursuing to bring even more people into the democratic process.

    Tell Your CA State Assemblymember: Free the Vote

    Our democracy is stronger when it is fair and inclusive. Currently, over 40,000 Californians who are on parole are unable to exercise their fundamental right to vote. ACA 6 and AB 646 will amend the California Constitution and the Elections Code to ensure that Californians on parole can fully participate in our democracy.

    Call Now!

    Expanding Access to Democracy

    The California legislative session has begun and a flurry of pro-democracy bills have been filed this session. Below are a few of the bills that California Indivisibles have indicated are top priority:

    Free the Vote: ACA 6 / AB 646

    Our democracy is stronger when it is fair and inclusive. Stripping the right to vote from formerly incarcerated people is a form of voter suppression that is deeply out of step with our values. Nearly 50,000 Californians on parole pay taxes at the local, state, and federal levels, yet are locked out of voting in our political system. This operates as “taxation without representation,” which is antithetical to the founding of this country.

    Disenfranchising people on parole is part of a larger system of voter suppression among marginalized communities. Because of the over-policing of communities of color and racial inequalities in our criminal legal system, current law disproportionately and systematically locks Black and Brown people out of the voting booth. Felony disenfranchisement in the United States is part of a legacy of racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws that date back to the time of slavery and post-Civil War reconstruction. Our state, sadly, has its own role in this legacy. Not only did California refuse to ratify the 15th Amendment - which prohibits voting restrictions based on race - until 1962, but the Golden State even included permanent felony disenfranchisement in its first constitution in 1849.

    Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship. ACA 6 and AB 646 will amend the California Constitution and the Elections Code to ensure that Californians on parole can fully participate in our democracy. Giving people returning home from prison access to civic participation is one of the most effective ways to assure their successful reintegration home. Blocking people on parole from voting means our neighbors who are working, paying taxes, and raising families in this state are deprived of the ability to have a say in the policies and representatives who shape their daily lives.  This is out of step with our values as Californians.

    Other Democracy Reforms

    Several other pieces of legislation that will increase access to the ballot and improve disclosure of money in our political system are also moving in California this year:

    • AB 363 – Early Voting Expansion – Voting Rights

      • Early voting eases congestion on Election Day, leading to shorter lines, improved poll worker performance, and improved voter satisfaction. It also allows for earlier correction of registration errors and voting system glitches. Currently in California, most counties have early voting available only at the Registrar of Voters offices, which can be hard to access and do not have consistent hours across the state.

      • AB 363 would require at least one polling place per 10,000 voters to be open for a minimum of eight hours per day on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday preceding an election.

    • AB 177 – Election Day Holiday – Voting Rights

      • Establishing an Election Day Holiday will demonstrate California’s strong and unwavering commitment to an engaged electorate and ensure that more Californians have the opportunity to vote.

      • However, we recognize that many workplaces do not observe state holidays and that many Californians would still be left out of the political process with this reform alone. Therefore, we support this reform coupled with AB 363 to massively expand early voting and ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to cast their ballot at a time that is convenient for them.

    • SB 47 – Ballot DISCLOSE Act – Campaign Finance

      • Today only interest groups with lots of money are able to qualify ballot measures. Although committees supporting or opposing ballot measures must file periodic campaign finance reports, voters who sign petitions do not have easy access to this information when approached by a signature gatherer. In fact, signature gatherers are not required to know or disclose this information, even when asked.

      • SB 47 makes an overwhelmingly popular, common sense improvement to California’s current campaign disclosure laws by requiring initiative signature gatherers to show voters the top three funders of the committee paying for the petition circulation before they sign.

    • AB 1217 – Issue Ad DISCLOSE Act – Campaign Finance

      • We are concerned about issue ads using secret money to try to kill legislation, and "sham" issue ads that attack candidates yet escape disclosure by not "expressly advocating" for someone. The more important the legislation, the more special interests will use lobbying "issue ads" to mislead voters and pressure legislators.  And they can hide who's paying for the ads! The problem is growing in California. Last year, a shadowy group called "CALInnovates" placed over 400 ads on Facebook alone trying to kill the California Net Neutrality bill (SB 822).

      • AB 1217 requires issue ads intended to influence legislative and administrative actions to follow the California DISCLOSE Act's requirements to clearly show their top 3 funders, just like ballot measure ads and independent expenditures about candidates.

    How We Win

    State of Play

    Because it is a constitutional amendment, ACA 6 will require a ⅔ majority vote in both chambers of the legislature to pass. If passed, the bill would then appear before voters on the 2020 ballot.

    All of the other bills will require a simple majority in both chambers of the legislature and a signature by the Governor to become law.

    California is a democratic trifecta, meaning that Democrats are in control both both houses of the legislature and the governorship. In fact, Democrats actually possess a supermajority in both houses. You might think that this means it is easy to pass progressive legislation, but that’s a common misconception. Despite these favorable numbers, there are many Democratic moderates that secretly kill progressive priorities behind the scenes. So we definitely have our work cut out for us, especially when we need to get a ⅔ majority to pass.

    Legislative Timeline

    • January 7: Legislature convenes

    • January 10: Governor releases budget

    • February 22: Deadline to introduce bills

    • Originating House

      • March - April: Committee hearings

      • April 26th: Deadline for bill to pass policy committee

      • Mid May: Bill heard in Appropriations Committee

      • May 17th: Deadline for bill to pass Appropriations Committee

      • Last week of May: Bill heard on floor of the original house

      • May 31st: Deadline for bills to pass out of the first house

    • Second House

      • Early/Mid June: Committee hearings

      • June 29th: Deadline for bill to pass policy committee

      • Mid August: Bill heard in Appropriations Committee

      • August 30th: Deadline for bill to pass Appropriations Committee

      • Early Sept: Bill heard on floor of the second house

      • September 13th: Deadline to pass and send to Governor

    • Mid-Sept: Bill sent to Governor

    • October 13th: Deadline for Governor’s signature

    What You Can Do

    • Call your Assemblymember and ask them to support ACA 6 and AB 646, especially if they are on the Assembly Elections Committee.

    • Submit a letter of support from your Indivisible group to the committee to be included in the official bill analysis for the ACA 6.

    • Show up for public comment for the Assembly Elections Committee hearing of ACA 6 and AB 646 in April. In California, constituents can easily demonstrate their support at a committee hearing by joining public comment and saying they support a bill. It only takes 3 seconds to give public comment and is very impactful!