How to Change the Laws in California

By Mark Nero
Gathering signatures on a petition is typically the first step to changing a law in California.

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Voters change laws in California by casting their vote on statewide ballot initiatives. However, to get a proposed law change on the ballot, you must first circulate a petition of the proposed change and gather enough signatures. Once on the ballot, the proposed change becomes law if a majority of voters approve it.

Write the proposed change to the law in the form of a petition so you can circulate the proposal and get signatures. State which law you want to change and specific modifications you want made. Under California law, any individual or organization can create a petition to change state laws.

Submit the petition to the California Attorney General for review, along with required submission fee. The Attorney General must approve the wording before you can launch your petition drive. The mailing address is Office of the Attorney General, ATTN: Initiative Coordinator, 1300 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. If you have questions about preparing the petition, call 916-445-4752 or visit www.ag.ca.gov.

The submission fee goes into a trust fund. If you gather enough signatures during the petition drive and the proposal qualifies for inclusion on the ballot within two years, the submission fee will be refunded.

Include a written request for the Attorney General to prepare a title and summary of the main purpose of the proposed initiative measure. You must also submit a signed statement swearing that the signatures will not be used for any purpose other than qualifying the measure for the ballot. The necessary language can be found in Section 9608 of California's Elections Code.

Circulate copies of the petition statewide and gather signatures. Under state law, proponents of a petition drive have 150 days to circulate the petition and gather signatures. If the petition is for a change to California's constitution, the minimum number of signatures required is 8 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. If the petition proposes a statute, the minimum number of signatures is 5 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

Send the signed petitions to election officials in the counties where the signatures were gathered. Under state law, county officials must verify the signatures within eight working days of their submission. After county officials validate the signatures, the results are reported to the California Secretary of State. If there are enough valid signatures, the petition officially becomes an initiative on the next statewide ballot, where it is either approved or denied by the voters.

About the Author

Mark Nero has been a professional journalist since 1995 and has written for numerous publications within and outside the U.S. His work has appeared in "The Boston Globe," "San Diego Union-Tribune" and "Los Angeles Daily News" among others. Nero studied communications at San Diego State University.

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