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California Legislative History and Advocacy


What Are Ballot Measures?

In 1911, the California Constitution was amended to allow California voters to directly pass or repeal legislation or to amend the California Constitution. (Cal. Const. art. I, §§ 8-12). 

You may hear the following terms for changes to the law made directly by California voters:

  • An initiative seeks to pass, repeal, or amend existing statutes or Constitutional provisions. 
  • A referendum seeks to repeal all or part of a bill enacted by the legislature within the last 90 days.
  • Once an initiative or referendum has been placed on the California ballot, it is called a proposition
  • A ballot measure is the generic term used for an initiative, referendum, or proposition. 

The California Ballot Measure Process

Ballot measures may be placed on the ballot in two ways.

First, the legislature can pass a bill placing the measure on the ballot. This is required to amend the state constitution, approve bonds, or amend or repeal a statute passed by a previous ballot measure. 

Second, any member of the public can place a measure on the ballot through a petition signed by a number of registered voters equal to 5% of the total votes cast for the governor in the last election. This process includes the following steps:

  • Drafting the text: Proponents can hire their own private counsel to draft the text of the measure or ask for help from the Office of Legislative Counsel, which drafts the text of statutes for legislators. Legislative Counsel must help if it believes there is a reasonable probability the measure will appear on the ballot. (Cal. Gov't Code § 10243.) Proponents can also ask the Secretary of State to review the text for form and language clarity and obtain a statement of fiscal impact from the Legislative Analyst's Office. (Cal. Gov't Code § 12172.)
  • Submitting the text for public comment and fiscal review: The proponents submit the text of the measure to the Attorney General, who obtains a fiscal impact estimate from the Legislative Analyst's Office and the Department of Finance, and posts the measure for public comment. (Cal. Elec. Code §§ 9002, 9005.)
  • Legislative Hearings: Once the text is submitted to the Attorney General, the legislature may (but is not required to) hold committee hearings on the measure. (Cal. Elec. Code § 9007.) Once the proponents gather 25% of the required signatures, the legislature is required to hold at least one joint public hearing by appropriate Senate and Assembly committees. (Cal. Elec. Code § 9034.)
  • Qualifying for the ballot: Once the proponents gather the required signatures, the Secretary of State verifies the signatures and places the measure on the ballot. 

Guides to the California Ballot Measure Process

History Materials for California Ballot Measures

You may find several types of legislative history materials for ballot pamphlets:

  • The primary legislative history material for ballot measures is the ballot pamphlet (also called the voter information guide), which is provided to all voters and includes arguments for and against the measure, as well as neutral analyses of the measure by the Legislative Analyst's Office.
  • If a ballot measure was initiated in the legislature, the ballot pamphlet should identify the bill that placed the measure on the ballot. You can research the legislative history materials for the bill like you would for any other bill. 
  • If a ballot measure was initiated by members of the public, the history materials will likely be more limited but may include filings made with the Secretary of State, reports from the Legislative Analyst's Office and the Department of Finance, and materials from hearings held by the legislature. 

Your best starting point for finding these materials is UC SF Law Library's free, extensive online collection of ballot measure history materials:

The California Attorney General's Office also provides useful material on recent ballot measures:

The legislature may hold committee hearings on any ballot measure proposed by the public and is required to hold at least one hearing on any ballot measure that obtains at least 25% of the required signatures. If you're researching a recent ballot measure, check the websites for any relevant committees to see if they held a hearing on the measure. Some committees have pages specifically for materials from initiative hearings. For example:

Finally, the UCLA law library has history materials for some ballot measures in microform:

Ballot Measures in Other States