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Voters Could Overrule Themselves On 3 Strikes, Death Penalty Ballot Measures

Glenn Smith, a professor of constitutional law at California Western School of Law, talks to KPBS about the death penalty and "three strikes" ballot measures.


Glenn Smith, Professor of Constitutional Law, California Western School of Law

Lori Saldaña, former Democratic state Assembly Member.


Among the 11 propositions on November's ballot are two that reverse or amend initiatives already approved by voters. Proposition 34 asks voters to end capital punishment, which they approved back in the 1970s.

Proposition 36 asks voters to modify the voter-approved three strikes law.

When Jessica's Law was approved by voters as Proposition 83, six years ago, it was hailed as way to ensure that registered sex offenders were kept away from places like schools and parks by restricting where they could live. Since that time, the law has been in and out of court, and earlier this month, a California appeals court upheld a San Diego judge's 2011 ruling that declared the residential requirement of the law unconstitutional.

Some law enforcement professionals admitted Jessica's Law could end up doing more harm than good, by making it more likely that parolees, unable to find stable housing, would re-offend.

As we face another roster of initiatives on the ballot this November, it's time to ask, who is composing these initiatives and is there a better way to do it?

Glenn Smith, a professor of constitutional law at California Western School of Law, told KPBS the initiative process "started from the very noble idea" to get legislation out of the pocket of big interests.

"We needed a way to adopt legislation for the people to get things out into law and into the Constitution when they were roadblocked in the legislature," he said. "And there have been times throughout the history of the initiative process where it has served that function."

But, he said, ballot measures have "grown and mushroomed into a process where incredibly important and complicated issues of economic policy and legal policy and technology and all that are dealt with in a process that's very different from the legislative process and gives voters not much information in sort of an up or down vote one day in a ballot."

State Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña told KPBS the problem with ballot measures is "the unintended consequences and different reviews that have come up."

"When I served on the elections and redistricting committee, included things like a sunset period where they would have to be reauthorized after a certain amount of time," she said. "There's a lot of things we could do to improve the process, and California is one of only a handful of states that allows our Constitution to be directly changed by the voter initiative, which is why our state Constitution has hundreds and hundreds of amendments, and it's really very cumbersome for us to try to deal with."

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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