Bernard Parks (Courtesy Photo)
Backers have received permission to gather signatures for an initiative that would increase the size of the Legislature almost 100-fold in an attempt to make it more responsive to the public, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced. The Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act would reduce the size of an Assembly district to approximately 5,000 people and a state Senate district to 10,000 people. Because the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that California’s population was 38.8 million in 2014, there would be 7,760 Assembly members and 3,880 Senate members.
The members of the Senate would choose a 40-member Working Committee and the members of the Assembly would choose an 80-member Working Committee, the same number of members each body now has. The initiative sets the salaries of the Working Committee members at $50,000 per year and the other legislators at $1,000 per year.
Proponent John Cox calls the initiative “a revolution in our democracy” and “an effort to put the people back in control of the state Legislature and take it away from the funders.” Cox told City News Service voters should sign the initiative “because this is the only way for them to get a chance to have legislators who truly listen to the people.”
“People in California see that their Legislature is dysfunctional, it is not doing what the people desire,” Cox said. “If you ask most people, they will tell you they feel the Legislature does what the funding interests want and real reform can’t take place.”
Cox said the initiative was inspired by his time in New Hampshire in 2007 and 2008 running in the state’s Republican presidential primary. (He received 39 votes.) The New Hampshire House of Representatives has 400 members, the third largest parliamentary body in the English-speaking world behind the British Parliament and Congress. Members are paid $200 for their two-year terms.
“The people who served in those legislative positions were not career politicians or professional fundraisers, but they were retirees, they were small business people, they were homemakers, they were activists in the community, they were a bunch of interested citizens who did a good job as legislators and they weren’t owned by special interests, or unions or big businesses or other people who had an axe to grind or desire for some kind of legislation,” Cox said.
“They went into the state Legislature expecting to do good things for the people, not just for some funding interest.”
If adopted by the voters, the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act would result in decreased state spending on the Legislature of more than $130 million annually, according to an estimate produced by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Department of Finance. There would be increased county election costs, potentially in the range of tens of million of dollars initially and significantly lower amounts annually thereafter, according to the estimate. Backers must submit valid signatures from 585,407 registered voters – 8 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2014 general election — by Nov. 30 to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot, according to Padilla.