November 25, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Calif. trans law ‘unlikely’ to qualify for referendum
California, Gov. Jerry Brown, Gay News, Washington Blade

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that says schools must allow trans students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms and play on sports teams that match their gender identification. (Photo public Domain)

A recently signed transgender student rights law in California may be secure as one LGBT advocate says it’s unlikely opponents of the law have submitted enough legitimate signatures to put the measure up for referendum.

A total of 504,760 signatures were due last Thursday, which are required to place the law, known as the School Success & Opportunity Act, on the ballot for the 2014 election. Opponents of the measure, led by the Privacy for All Students Coalition, submitted 613,120 signatures from a majority of state counties in favor of overturning the law.

But they’re averaging just 75 percent authenticity in the random sample as of Friday, which is significantly below the average ultimately needed to qualify. If the number of valid signatures is less than 95 percent of the 504,760 needed, the measure would fail to qualify for the ballot.

John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, said “it’s unlikely, [but] it’s not impossible” that the measure will come up for referendum given the signature validation percentage at this point.

“They’re going to need an 81.41 percent validity rate to qualify for the ballot,” O’Connor said. “You can see that they’re well below it currently. That 81.41 percent would be well above the average for any signature gathering activity. So, I mean there’s very real reason to hope that they’re not going to, but nothing’s conclusive itself until the process ends, and, sadly, we just have to give it it’s time to work.”

Although the results of 11 counties have been examined, the signatures from 47 counties have yet to be reviewed. Of these 47, three have yet to report their signature data — Amador, Mono and Mariposa — but they’re small and the signatures there are unlikely to affect the outcome of the validation process.

The deadline for the California Secretary of State to complete the random sample validation is Jan. 8.

If opponents of the law were found to have between 95 and 110 percent valid names in the random sample of the required total, the California Secretary of State would require a full check of signatures, which could mean the verification process could go into mid-March.

A random sample in which more than 110 percent of the names were deemed valid of the required total would mean the measure would immediately qualify for the ballot.

The law, signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 13, requires California public schools to respect students’ gender identity and ensures transgender students have access to school activities, facilities and sports teams in accordance with their gender identity.

O’Connor said “it’s terrible”  that opponents of the law would even make the attempt to strip it from the books.

“This is an attack on perhaps the most vulnerable population in our community,” O’Connor said. “They’ve solidly lost on marriage, and so now they’re going to try to go after transgender kids. It’s just despicable.”

While the referendum on the law may be doomed, it’s still possible for opponents of the law to repeal it through the ballot initiative process. Moreover, opponents could go a step further and completely remove gender identity from non-discrimination laws if they so desired. A statutory ballot initiative would require 504,760 signatures to qualify for the ballot; a constitutional amendment would require 807,615 names.

But the time period to gather signatures for the ballot initiative process has already begun. Opponents of the student law would have to submit signatures before six months passes after Brown signed the measure into law, which means that four months remain for them to take action.

O’Connor said he doesn’t know if opponents of the law will pursue this course, but noted it’ll be more difficult as time goes by.

“The fact that the clock has been ticking and they’re losing time right now, it’s curious to me, it makes me wonder what they’re up to,” O’Connor said. “It makes me uncertain whether they will or they won’t.”

The Privacy for All Students Coalition didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the assessment of the signature validation process or whether the group intends to pursue a ballot initiative.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she shares the optimism that efforts to repeal the California student law will fail.

“While we wait for the official results of the signature verification, we’re optimistic that, because of our friends in California, the ballot initiative will fail,” Keisling said. “The Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality California, among others, moved quickly to counter the repeal effort. And what we’ve shown is that campaigning against transgender kids won’t win in California or anywhere else.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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