Ballot Initiative Transparency Act Heads to Governor


August 29, 2014


(Sacramento) – The Senate approved a measure to strengthen the ballot initiative process with bipartisan support in both the Senate and the Assembly. The Ballot Initiative Transparency Act, SB-1253 authored by Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, will increase public participation during the initiative process and provide greater information to voters on proposed initiatives. The measure passed the Senate on a 28 to 9 vote and now heads to the Governor for his consideration.


“This important change to our initiative process is not just the result of my work but also the work of a broad coalition, which started with my speech to the Sacramento Press Club in 2012,” said Senator Steinberg (D – Sacramento). “This bill offers our ballot initiative system greater transparency and greater collaboration, strengthening our democratic tradition for generations to come. The initiative process is an integral part of California’s democracy and it is important that we iron out its flaws and strengthen it.”

In 2013, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released a statewide survey showing voter support for the changes to the initiative process proposed by SB 1253. Eighty-three percent of voters believe the wording of initiatives is too complex and confusing, 75 percent favor allowing more time for signature gathering and 77 percent want a process to fix drafting errors.

SB 1253 provides greater transparency by requiring the Secretary of State’s office to post and regularly update the top ten donors of the committees in support and opposition of an initiative. The measure introduces a 30-day public review period at the beginning of the initiative process. Proponents can amend the initiative in response to public input during that review period. The signature gathering period would also be extended by one month, allowing 180 days instead of the current 150 days.

The opportunity to explore legislative solutions instead of costly and divisive campaigns is furthered by SB 1253’s requirement for Senate and Assembly committees to hold public hearings on the proposed initiative once the proponents have collected 25 percent of the necessary signatures to place a measure on the ballot.

Initiative proponents would have the choice to withdraw the initiative unilaterally if they’re satisfied with a legislative solution at any time before an initiative qualifies for the ballot. Currently, once proponents turn in signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot, that measure cannot be removed even if the wording is in error or the issue has been resolved through legislation.

Finally, the Secretary of State would establish a process for voters to receive the state ballot pamphlet electronically and offer voters the option to opt-out of receiving the state ballot pamphlet by mail.

These necessary changes to the ballot initiative process have brought together a broad coalition of support:

“California voters want reliable and understandable information about ballot initiatives that clearly describes the issues and proposed solutions. SB 1253 will provide just that, ensuring that voters have easy access to crucial information, like who is really funding initiatives.” – Kathay Feng, Executive Director of CA Common Cause

"The reforms in SB 1253 will modernize the state’s initiative process which will result in better public policy on the major issues facing future generations of Californians." – Rob Lapsley, President of California Business Roundtable

“The current initiative process in California leaves little room for review and almost no opportunity for negotiation and compromise with the Legislature. SB 1253 changes the timetable for the initiative process in a way that allows the Legislature to engage with proponents, and find ways to implement legislative solutions.” – Helen Hutchison, President of the League of Women Voters of California

"Californians are proud of this state's 100 year tradition of direct democracy, but they also would like it to be more transparent. Voters will now have a system that is more accountable, transparent, and will produce better public policy." – Lenny Mendonca, Co-chair of CA Fwd


Contact Senator Steinberg's Capitol Office: (916) 651-4006


SB 1253 Passed by Legislature and Sent to Governor for Signature

Sent to

Press release issued by bill's author, Senator Darrell Steinberg

Cooperating Organizations

CA Common Cause, CA Business Roundtable, California Forward

Additional materials: 
PDF icon SB 1253 BITA Fact Sheet 092014.pdf151.93 KB