Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ballot petitions could come in multiple languages - Sacramento Bee

Interest groups might face a new hurdle in collecting enough signatures to get items on California's often jam-packed ballots under a bill the state Assembly passed Tuesday.

SB 1233 would require petition circulators in 28 counties to keep up to nine language translations of initiative and referendum summaries on hand to show possible signers. It passed on 49-25 vote, over Republican objections.

Supporters said the bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, allows minorities to fully participate in the initiative process. Opponents said it is a veiled attempt by the Legislature's majority Democrats to keep initiatives they don't support off the ballot.

The bill requires the state attorney general's office to translate initiative and referendum titles and summaries distributed in nearly half of California's counties, including all the largest ones, such as Los Angeles and Sacramento counties. The office would be expected to translate petitions into nine languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog, meaning it could take up to 25 days for initiative and referendum supporters to receive translations and start collecting signatures.

That delay led some legislators to question the intent behind the bill.

"We'll see fewer efforts by our citizens to correct what they perceive and what they like to convince their fellow citizens are the mistakes of this Legislature. That's cynical and we should not add that extra burden to our citizens," said Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine.

Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, said that Republican argument is undermined by GOP support for what he called more restrictive voting laws.

"You can't say 'Well we want to restrict voting of certain classes, but on the other hand, when there's an initiative we think should be placed on the ballot, we want to make sure we can fool enough people and enough of those people to sign the initiative statement,'" Calderon said.

Lawmakers who voted against the bill also said it diminishes the importance of citizens knowing English.

The law is modeled on the Federal Voting Rights Act, which requires election materials in the same 28 counties to be provided in certain minority languages.

The bill returns to the Senate for final approval before possibly heading to the governor's office.

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