With their deadlines for turning over signatures looming, squads of mostly paid petition-gatherers are staking out supermarket entrances, parks, office areas and combing residential neighborhoods, pleading to voters to place their initiatives on the November election ballot.

Among the 65 petitions being circulated so far for signatures, several directly affect minority communities, such as a petition that would bring an Arizona-style crackdown on undocumented immigrants to California.

A few, like the “millionaires tax” to fund education, are driven by the state’s budget crisis. More petitions await clearance from the state Attorney General’s office.

Signatures must be submitted to county election officials by March 2, if a full check of signatures is required, or by April 20 if random sampling needs to be used due to the volume of signatories.

To be on the ballot, petitions for initiatives and referendum measures to approve or veto legislation need 504,760 signatures (5 percent of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election). Constitutional amendments require 807,615 signatures (8 percent of previous total votes for governor).

Arizona-Style Crackdown

Of obvious interest to immigrant communities is a petition that would bring controversial, Arizona-style immigration policing to California. Titled Undocumented Immigrants-Requires State Law Enforcement Officers to Enforce Federal Immigration Law-Denies Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants, the petition commits local police as arms of federal immigration authorities in arresting, holding and transferring undocumented aliens.

Meanwhile, the petition for Undocumented Immigrants-State Income Taxes creates a five-year program encouraging undocumented workers who have been here since 2008 to pay state taxes. It doesn’t provide amnesty or path to citizenship, but it raises additional revenue for the cash-strapped state government.

The governor is directed to ask the feds “not to spend resources” on arresting, detaining or deporting participants, or prosecuting their employers. Participating immigrants must agree to background checks, speak or learn English, and must not be felons or public charges. All personal information is confidential.

Criminal Justice

The petition for the Three Strikes Law-Sentencing for Repeat Felony Offenders could also have a substantial impact on minorities. It would mete life sentences on third felony convictions only for serious or violent crimes, or for non-violent crimes involving sex and drug offenses and firearms, or if the previous convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation.

Of current third-strikers, 45 percent are African American and 32.6 percent are Latino, according to the Justice Policy Institute’s analysis of Department of Corrections data. Current inmates with life sentences whose third offense was not serious or violent will be re-sentenced if the judge determines there’s no danger to the public.

The proposed Death Penalty Repeal initiative would abolish execution as the maximum punishment for murder and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole—with retroactive application to those already on death row.

Under the initiative, inmates must work in prison with their wages going to victim restitution and fines. It also creates a $100 million fund to help law enforcement solve more cases of homicide and rape.

If placed on the ballot, debate over Death Penalty Repeal is sure to be contentious. If approved by voters, the measure could have an impact on minorities as studies have shown that racial minorities are prosecuted under death penalty laws far beyond their proportion in the general population.

Health Care Petition

The multi-ethnic United Health Care Workers of SEIU is circulating two petitions against rising health care costs for consumers. The Limits on Hospital Charges initiative would restrict charges to 125 percent of a hospital’s actual cost of providing service, with adjustments to cover a hospital’s losses in treating uninsured or low-income patients. Nonprofit and public hospitals considered part of a safety-net system would be exempted.

Another union initiative would require Nonprofit Hospitals (to provide) Minimum Charity Care or free health care to needy patients to the tune of at least five percent of their annual net profits. Nonprofit hospitals whose charity care could lead to a less than one percent of their operating margin would be exempted.

Also, consumer watchdog groups are seeking signatures for the Approval of Healthcare Insurance Rate Changes initiative, which would require public notice, disclosure and approval by the state insurance commissioner of proposed health insurance rates before they take effect. It also prohibits vehicle and homeowners insurers from basing eligibility or rates on a consumer’s lack of prior coverage or credit history.

Budget Woes

With the state reeling from a crippling financial shortfall, a number of tax-increase petitions are vying for signatures to be on the ballot.

Governor Jerry Brown is circulating his own Temporary Taxes to Fund Education-Guaranteed Public Safety Funding, a constitutional amendment that would raisepersonal income tax on yearly earnings over $250,000 for five years.

Brown’s initiative also raises sales taxes by half a cent for four years. Most of the $5 billion to $7 billion in revenue will go to K-12 schools, 11 percent to community colleges. It guarantees financing for public safety services that have been shifted from state to local governments.

The governor’s office, however, is reportedly worried that other petitions to increase taxes are competing for signatures and could alienate potential signatories from all tax-increase proposals.

Other Tax-Increase Petitions

One such petition is for the Tax to Benefit Public Schools, Social Services, Public Safety, and Road Maintenance initiative. Dubbed as the Millionaires Tax, it adds 3 percent to annual income over $1 million, 5 percent to earnings over $2 million.

Thirty-six percent of the projected $6 billion to $9.5 billion revenue goes to K-12 schools; 24 percent to public colleges and universities; 25 percent to children’s and seniors’ services 10 percent to public safety; 5 percent to road and bridge upkeep.

Another petition, dubbed “Our Children, Our Future,” raises income taxes for everyone, but with highest earners paying the largest increase. Tax revenues will be dedicated to education.

With the cost of college education continually rising even in the state’s public institutions, the Tax to Pay Tuition and Fees at California Public Universities constitutional amendment would add .7 percent to personal income over $250,000 or $342,465 for a head of household, and 1.7 percent to income over $500,000 ($684,930 for head of household).

The tax would fund up to four years’ tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate state residents in the UC and Cal State systems, who can maintain at least a 2.7 GPA or perform 70 hours of community service a year.

The governor’s office says he may try to convince other tax-increase sponsors to delay their initiatives so that voters could concentrate on his constitutional amendment.

They’re Back

A number of petitions are back, such as those for marijuana legalization and a ban on abortion for minors without parental notification and a waiting period.

There are environmental protection petitions as well as those reducing public employees’ pension benefits or raising their retirement age.

Notably, one petition invites Wisconsin-style controversy by calling on the elimination of bargaining rights for teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses and other public employees.

To see a list and descriptions of all petitions in circulation, click here.

So far, however, only two measures have gathered enough support to make it to the June ballot, and another three have qualified for the November voting.

June 5 Ballot Initiatives

California voters in the June 5, 2012 presidential primaries will have the following measures:

Proposition 28-Constitutional Amendment Limiting Legislators' Terms in Office would reduce the total amount of time a state legislator serves from 14 years to 12 years, either in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of both.

It would apply only to lawmakers first elected after the measure is passed. Those currently serving will remain subject to existing term limits. It’s backed by Californians for a Fresh Start, a “coalition of businesses and working men and women.”

Proposition 29-Additional Tax on Cigarettes for Cancer Research Initiative would levy another five-cent tax on each stick of cigarette sold ($1.00 per pack), and impose an equivalent tax increase on other tobacco products.

The revenues go to a special fund for research on cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, and to finance prevention programs.

The American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Hope 2010 (Perata Ballot Measure Committee) support the initiative.

Opposed are Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending, with major funding by Philip Morris USA and UST LLC.

November 6 Ballot Initiatives

Voters on the November 6 general elections so far have three measures to decide on. Their numbers and order on the ballot have not been assigned:

Insurance companies and agents are the sponsors of Changes to Allow Auto Insurance Companies to Set Prices Based on a Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage. The initiative would permit insurance companies to raise the cost of insurance for previously uninsured drivers. Drivers with some prior insurance coverage would get discounts.

Lapses due to military service or loss of employment or for less than 90 days will be considered continuously insured.

Initiative to Prohibit Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction restricts political fundraising by labor unions by banning them from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Payroll deductions by corporations or government contractors also would be prohibited.

The initiative permits voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly in writing. Unions and corporations would not be permitted to contribute to candidates and candidate-controlled committees. It would limit government contractor contributions to elected officers or officer-controlled committees.

Among the initiative’s backers are Protect Prop. 13 & R, Orange County Lincoln Club, Citizens Power Campaign and Californians Against Special Interests.

Opposing it are the Alliance for a Better California 2012, No on Paycheck Deception “sponsored by educators, firefighters, school employees, health care givers and labor organizations.”

Voters must approve or reject the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012, which allows the state to sell $11.1 billion in bonds for water and conservation-related projects to be paid off with interest in future years.

Bond money would by or loaned and granted to local agencies, public utilities and nonprofit organizations. Projects include dams, water recycling, flood control, public water systems upgrades, wastewater treatment, ecosystems and environmental protection.

As “Proposition 18,” this initiative had included controversial earmarks and a provision that would allow private corporations to own and operate taxpayer-built reservoirs and other water-storage projects. The Legislature amended the bond measure to move it to 2012 and remove the controversial provision.