Backers of an attempt to overturn a new law that would limit statewide initiative and referendums to November general elections or special elections were given approval Monday to begin gathering signatures by Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
Valid signatures from 504,760 registered voters—5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 general election—must be submitted by Jan. 5 to qualify the referendum for the ballot.
Opponents have said Senate Bill 202 curbs the public's right to participate in the initiative process. The way it passed the Legislature—through a process known as gut-and-amend—also drew criticism.
"SB 202 exemplifies the evils of end-of-session gut-and-amends," Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said hours following its passage on a party-line vote, with no Republicans voting in its favor.
The gut-and-amend process involves a legislator deleting the text of a bill that already exists and replacing it with something new. In this case, SB 202's language about voter initiative filing fees was overwritten.
The Sacramento Bee said the proposal, which the Legislature passed hours before the Sept. 10 legislative deadline, was "highly political" and would "change the state's election laws in ways that will favor Democrats in 2012."
"This bill, which was amended into a completely different bill yesterday, did not receive a committee hearing and it was not subject to adequate public discussion before it was passed late tonight," LaMalfa said. "This bill makes a mockery of the legislative process.
"I think the Legislature is very aware of how unpopular stripping direct democracy rights from the people is. That is why this bill was passed at 1 a.m., after the press has returned to their offices to meet their deadlines."
Sen. Ted Lieu, a Democrat whose district includes Redondo Beach, voted in favor of the bill, but added that he was "absolutely not happy about" his vote, according to the Sacramento Bee.
"The lack of process in this bill is inexcusable," Lieu said before the vote. "We as Democrats should be ashamed at how this came to the Senate floor."
Sen. Lori Hancock, D-Oakland, the bill's author, called it "simply good government."
"Ballot initiatives have a tremendous impact on the lives of Californians," Hancock said Oct. 7, following Gov. Jerry Brown's signing of SB 202. "They should be voted on by the largest number of possible voters."
In his signing message, Brown wrote:
"[T]his measure restores the original understanding of constitutional law that initiatives were to be considered at a general election or at a special election called for critical questions requiring swift resolution by the people. This was the historic practice for more than  years. It was not until 1970 that initiatives were first placed on a primary ballot, and that practice has continued ever since…
"The idea of direct democracy is to involve as many voters as possible. This bill accomplishes that objective."
The version of SB 202 signed into law also included a proposal to move the date when voters would be asked to approve changes to the state's rainy-day fund. In his signing message, Brown noted that he also approved of this part of the bill, saying "families can't put money into a savings account when they can't pay their bills, and neither should the state. This needed reform must wait until we have recovered from the current recession and securely balanced our budget."
—City News Service contributed to this report.