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petition.JPGA bill to change California's initiative process passed the state Senate Thursday with some bipartisan support, setting up the possibility that lawmakers could have a greater role in shaping the measures that citizens send to the ballot.

Senate Bill 1253 would create legislative hearings as initiative proponents are gathering signatures on their measures, allowing lawmakers to negotiate with interest groups before a measure lands on the ballot. It would also require more disclosure of donors giving the most money for and against initiatives.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg pushed the bill, saying he hears complaints from voters who ask why they are often burdened with lengthy ballots featuring complicated measures when legislators have been elected to set policy for the state. The changes in SB 1253 would allow initiative backers and legislators more time to work out their differences and avoid some measures going to voters, the Sacramento Democrat said.

Some Republicans opposed the bill, saying the whole point of an initiative is to allow people to effect change when lawmakers don't resolve an issue. Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said Steinberg's bill would take away the direct democracy inherent in California's initiative process.

The bill passed the Senate 29-8 and now heads to the Assembly. Four Republicans joined majority Democrats in support: Republican leader Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte, Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Sen. Mark Wyland of Escondido.

PHOTO: Allen Cooperrider, center, wears a sign saying "Legal Petition for Ballot Initiative, No Genetically Engineered Crops in Mendocino County, " on Friday Sept. 12, 2003 while looking over signatures on a petition for an initiative at the United States Post office in Ukiah. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer.

Editor's note: This post was corrected at 4:36 p.m. to say that four Republicans voted for the bill.


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