VOTER INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
HEARINGS: SUBCOMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION,
S.J. RES 67 95TH CONGRESS December 13 and 14 1977.
Senator HATCH. MS. Koupal, we look forward to your testimony.
TESTIMONY OF JOYCE KOUPAL, PEOPLE’S LOBBY, LOS ANGELES, CALIF.
Ms. KOUPAL. A representative democracy is strong to the extent that elected officials are able to represent clearly the citizens from whom they derive lawmaking power. There are many times when citizens choose to give their representatives license in creating solutions to problems. But there are also times when voters wish to reserve lawmaking power to themselves. It is that freedom of choice, exercised by the citizenry, which makes representative democracy strong and responsive to the needs of the people. That freedom of choice — the citizens’ right to resolve issues directly rather than through a representative —is lodged in the initiative process, a tool of self government needed nationally as well as locally.
The initiative is the citizens’ tool of self-government and by gathering signatures on initiative petitions, citizens in 23 States may propose laws for consideration by the electorate. The extent of citizens’ powers under the initiative, and the time and expense involved in implementing it vary from State to State. Using State initiatives involves researching and drafting a proposed law; organizing large numbers of people to collect the signatures necessary to qualify a ballot measure; in many cases, categorizing each signature with a precinct number; and always, educating voters on the measure once it is qualified. An attempt to responsibly enact a law by initiative at the State level requires proponents of the measure—which sometimes include a number of organizations and individuals—to commit at least 1 year of their time and resources.
Such a commitment may appear burdensome, especially since there are procedures for lobbying elected representatives. Yet the initiative process is used by both, well organized and ad hoc interest groups, and by state and local officials, in spite of the increasing costs and numbers of people necessary to implement it.
Careful study of the initiative shows that concerned citizens write and enact particular laws because elected representatives do not enact them in their legislative capacity. In some cases, initiative measures are a clear contradiction of actions taken by a legislative body. Other times, initiative proposals offer solutions to problems on which legislators have taken no action, either by design or by neglect. But in almost all cases citizens attempt to influence their representatives to enact laws before using the initiative process.
The fact that citizen groups have not been as successful in their lobbying efforts as they had originally hoped has caused a recent increase in the use of State initiatives. Successful lobbying requires the financial means of support for full-time legislative advocates and researchers to follow the activities of the legislators. For example, unions and professional and trade associations achieve the tenacity required for effective legislative advocacy through stable and well established funding systems, and lobbying functions are only one of the services provided their members. But citizens newly organized around an issue of concern do not generally have access to the funding mechanisms used by well-established organizations.
The initiative process is a much needed balancing force among interest groups. In an initiative campaign, well established organizations still have a financial advantage over citizens newly organized but the advantage is not as great. Since use of the initiative generates a highly visible educational campaign with a definite beginning and ending, funding sources are drawn to ad hoc groups. Citizens unable to represent themselves effectively in the moneyed area of professional lobbyists are able through the initiative to function in the forum of the voting public.
The initiative is basically the citizens’ tool of self government. It is that nagging little voice which speaks above all others to elected officials, establishing the will of the majority. The initiative ensures the security of self government in a representative democracy. It lightens the citizens’ burden of responsibility for Government by providing them with the authority to shape Government. And it strengthens the legislators’ method of representation by providing a mechanism for meaningful citizen input.
Consideration of a national initiative is founded on one basic question: Can the people of this country be trusted to govern it? There is an illogical argument presented by some scientists and voters alike which contends that the initiative is harmful because Government is a specialized area in which lawmaking should be confined to elected representatives. Under our system of Government that argument makes little sense since the initiative does not eliminate a function of the legislature nor should it. Legislators play a crucial role in Government and would perform legislative functions with or without a national initiative.
It is important to remember that legislators are elected by citizens — the same citizens who would use the initiative. While voters can make a decision on a proposed law by analyzing a body of objective data — the same method used by elected representatives —selecting a legislator to act on behalf of citizens requires analyzing the candidate’s ability to legislate, as well as the fiber of a candidate’s heart. The latter decision is the more difficult, and the one now entrusted to citizens. While the safeguards of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights protect us from ill-conceived laws, we must now bear the burden of our mistaken judgment when we are poorly represented.
We have three branches of Government to enact, implement, and interpret laws. Those functions are premised on the assumption that citizens retain control of government because their representatives are elected. The truth of this assumption rests on legislators’ abilities to represent their constituents. We need the initiative for those situations in which the assumption does not hold true, for in the collective talent and creativity of the citizenry lay the means to improve the quality of Government and the health and welfare of this nation. Why but the citizenry can be safely entrusted with the final authority to govern it ?
With most good ideas, there are problems as well as advantages in their implementation. The initiative is no exception. Barriers can be built into the initiative which only serve to frustrate and further alienate the citizenry. Some of those barriers are apparent in state initiative provisions and in the proposed constitutional amendment.
Our legal counsel, Roger Diamond, will present our comments on that particular issue.
TESTIMONY OF ROGER 3. DIAMOND, LEGAL COUNSEL, PEOPLE’S LOBBY, LOS ANGELES, CALIF.
Mr. DIAMOND. Good morning, Senator. Before I present some of the formal remarks that People’s Lobby want to get on the record I …..
VOTER INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT, HEARINGS: SUBCOMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION, S.J. RES 67 95TH CONGRESS December 13 and 14 1977. Page 133.