Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bureau of State Audits finalizes regulations for Citizens Redistricting Commission application process

This week the Bureau of State Audits released the final regulations that will govern the new Citizens Redistricting Commission application process. The commission was enacted by California voters via Prop. 11 in 2008. CVF worked with a number of other organizations to help shape and refine these regulations; overall they are good but there were several important changes CVF sought but was not able to achieve. One was to define the term "state office" in a way that would not restrict thousands of former and current state board and commission members and their families from applying to serve on the new commission. CVF also urged the Bureau, unsuccessfully, to refrain from using the Form 700 conflict of interest form as a tool to vet applicants for the commission, as we are concerned that doing so will be both invasive and burdensome for applicants.

CVF's letter regarding use of the Form 700, it is online here. The final regulations are online here. More information about California's Redistricting Reform is available from the CVF web site.

Legislative hearing Thursday Oct. 22 on political reform

The leaders of the California State Senate and Assembly recently announced a new committee made up of ten lawmakers from each house that will explore reform proposals. The Select Committees on Improving State Government have scheduled their first, day-long hearing for Thursday, October 22, at the State Capitol, Room 4202. The hearing begins at 9 a.m. and concludes at 4:30. Topics to be covered include possible legislative branch and budget process reforms. Speakers include Mac Taylor, Bill Hauck, Fred Silva, Bruce Cain, Laura Chick, Bill Lockyer, Robert Naylor and others.

"Getting to Reform" conference - a brief review

Last week on Oct. 14 I attended a conference in Sacramento organized by a number of academic organizations at UC Berkeley, CSU Sacramento and Stanford called "Getting to Reform". The event was sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation and was extremely well attended; over 300 people came for the day-long conference, the purpose of which was to assess the pros and cons of various reform approaches being discussed throughout this year, such as convening a constitutional convention or a constitution revision commission.

If you were not able to attend the conference and would like to see what you missed, there are six free videos available for viewing online from the California Channel web site. One of the panels I found most fascinating was the first one, titled, "What do Californians Think About Reform?" where Mark DiCamillo presented findings from a Field Poll commissioned by Next Ten and a number of other groups involved in the conference. Among the key findings:

* 52 percent of California voters oppose changing the current two-thirds legislative vote requirement to pass a state budget with a simple majority vote;
* 69 percent of voters oppose amending Prop. 13 to allow the state legislature to increase taxes with a simple majority vote;
* 56 percent support the idea of increasing the vote requirements needed to approve amendments to the state constitution from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority vote of the people in an election; and
* 75 percent support requiring initiative sponsors to identify funding sources or areas of the budget to be cut when submitting new initiatives that call for additional spending.

More details about this Field Poll are available here.

I think the most salient point I came away with from the conference was made by Bill Hauck of the California Business Roundtable who served on a constitution revision commission convened in the 1990's following a recession and budget crisis. Hauck noted that it took several years for his commission to complete its work and make recommendations, and by the time that happened the call for reform had died down as the economy had picked back up. Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, who spoke at lunch, made a similar observation about a Constitutional Convention, stating the whole process would take five years and by that time the momentum for change is lost.

It seems like a serious dilemma; if meaningful structural or governance reform is going to be achieved in California, setting the stage to get there may take several years, but it is unclear whether the voting public, or the organizations that would back various reforms, would maintain the long-term commitment needed to see reform measures all the way through.

CVF applauds 2009 EFF Pioneer Award winners

Tomorrow night in San Francisco, the Electronic Frontier Foundation will celebrate this year's Pioneer Award winners. As a Pioneer Award judge (and former recipient) I am very pleased with this year's crop of winners, which includes hardware hacker Limor "Ladyada" Fried, e-voting security researcher Harri Hursti, and public domain advocate Carl Malamud.

More details about this year's Pioneer Award winners and tomorrow's awards dinner are available here.