Judges Fix Arguments on|17 California Propositions

     SACRAMENTO (CN) — California’s swollen November voter pamphlet will soon be heading to voters, as judges have finished vetting and amending the official arguments for and against the 17 ballot propositions.
     Advocates and opponents filed a wave of lawsuits after the state released a rough draft of the voter pamphlet on July 26. The proposals would, among other things, legalize recreational marijuana, drastically increase tobacco taxes, and force adult film actors to wear condoms.
     Nine lawsuits have been filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, forcing judges to sift through allegedly “misleading” official arguments submitted by interest groups and elected officials by Monday’s filing deadline.
     Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana, has pitted powerful Silicon Valley figures and lawmakers against law enforcement groups.
     Lined by the deep pockets of former Facebook president Sean Parker and the political sway of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, proponents of Prop. 64 want to tax marijuana sales and stop sending people to prison for selling and smoking pot.
     Filing on behalf of the Yes on Proposition 64 campaign, Graham Boyd accused the marijuana opponents of submitting false arguments that will be sent to every California household before the November election. He claimed that Sen. Diane Feinstein and others were exaggerating Prop. 64’s potential to allow marijuana to be marketed to children through television advertisements.
     Feinstein co-authored a ballot argument stating that the initiative “allows marijuana smoking ads in prime time, on programs with millions of children and teenage viewers,” and another statement proclaims that Prop. 64 “rolls back the total prohibition of smoking ads on TV.”
     Three lawsuits regarding Prop. 64 arguments were filed, two by supporters and one by opponents.
     During an emergency election matter hearing on Friday, Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang filtered through the Prop. 64 lawsuits. She ordered 10 minor changes to the voter pamphlet, granting and denying in part some of the requested changes from both sides.
     Chang changed Feinstein’s argument, settling for the more ambiguous phrase “could roll back total prohibition of smoking ads on TV,” and noted that marijuana ads “could be allowed” during primetime television.
     Both sides claimed victory after Friday’s late ruling, each taking a rosy view of Chang’s order.
     “Six of the opposition’s most egregious ballot statements were challenged in court,” said Jason Kinney, a Yes on Prop. 64 campaign spokesman. “All six of those statements were explicitly ruled ‘false and misleading’ by the judge and specifically modified. By comparison, several of the opponent’s responses were either rejected or significantly weakened.”
     Wayne Johnson, spokesman for the opposition, said Chang’s order confirms Feinstein’s argument that marijuana will likely be marketed to children.
     “The ruling today was clear: Marijuana ads could be on broadcast television if Prop. 64 passes, ads that could be seen by children,” Johnson said in a statement.
     Another batch of lawsuits pitted a former porn actor against current actors in a skirmish over mandatory condom use in the Golden State’s multibillion-dollar pornography industry.
     Modeled after a Los Angeles County law, Prop. 60 would force porn actors to wear condoms while filming, to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted disease, particularly HIV. Porn studios and actors could be fined for health violations and be liable in civil lawsuits if Prop. 60 is passed.
     In his lawsuit, former actor Derrick Burts, who says he contracted HIV from another performer in 2010, accused state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and two current porn stars of lying on their arguments against Prop. 60. He blasted the opponents’ statements that the measure “weakens safety standards,” and said they cited false information about Prop. 60’s estimated fiscal impact.
     After allowing testimony from porn star and real party in interest Rachel “Chanel Preston” Taylor, Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley agreed that some of the opponents’ arguments were speculative and needed to be amended.
     “Nothing in the measure weakens safety standards. The opponents are free to argue that adoption of the measure will weaken workplace safety, but they may not falsely argue that the measure will weaken safety standards,” Frawley wrote in the Aug. 10 order.
     Frawley also found that the Prop. 60 critics used an old and inflated estimate from the legislative analyst regarding Prop. 60’s tax impact and that their arguments should be updated to include the latest figure.
     In total, Frawley ordered elections officials to edit six of the opposing arguments and to correct the 50-word summary argument against Prop. 60.
     His changes to the opposing statements include removing “tens of millions” to “millions of dollars” regarding the potential taxpayer cost, and he watered down the opposition’s claims that everyone involved in the porn industry would be subject to civil lawsuits.
     Burts’ attorney Bradley Hertz said he was “extremely pleased with the outcome,” and that it is important to have accurate ballot descriptions during an election loaded with the most statewide propositions since 2000.
     “As a result of the ruling, voters will be given a much better and accurate accounting of what Prop. 60 is actually about,” Hertz said in a telephone interview.
     Proposition campaigns have transformed the excitement and interest in the November election into a fund-raising bonanza. According to campaign finance reports, nearly $200 million has been raised in support or opposition to the 17 proposals since January.
     One of the largest spenders has been the tobacco industry. Big tobacco has spent more than $35 million against Prop. 56, which would raise taxes on cigarettes by $2 a pack.
     The pharmaceutical industry, though, has outspent every other interest group by a wide margin, combining to contribute more than $50 million against Prop. 61. The measure would cap the amount state agencies can pay for prescription drugs and align them with prices paid by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
     Judges were hurrying last week to rule on the elections matters before Monday’s legislative deadline. The public inspection period ended Monday and voters can no longer dispute the official arguments submitted on the 17 propositions.
     Each voter pamphlet will include two short arguments, in favor of and against the proposals. The recent court-ordered changes are now reflected on the Secretary of State’s website and the printed guides will be delivered beginning Sept. 29.
     The Republican and Democratic conventions sparked a jump in voter registration in July. More than 85,000 people registered to vote online during the conventions, most of them Californians ages 17 to 25.

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