California’s 2024 Ballot: A Peek into the Upcoming Propositions
By Jacob Carter and Jack Brockman
Over 34 Ballot Initiatives covering issues as varied as Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples, Decriminalization of Psilocybin Mushrooms, Raising the Minimum Wage, and Rent Control Protections Could Inspire Similar Legislation Across the U.S. in 2024
Year in and year out, California’s state-level ballot initiatives serve as a beacon of change across the country. In 2024, the Golden State will reload with another 34 ballot initiatives tackling a range of hot-button issues. Of the proposed 2024 ballot measures (2) have been approved by the Legislature and Governor for the March 2024 ballot, (7) have secured enough signatures to become eligible on the November ballot, (8) are cleared for circulation after being issued title summary from the Attorney General’s office, and (17) are pending review by the Attorney General’s office.
Sen. Diane Feinstein’s decision to not seek reelection opened the door for rising Democratic stars like Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, and Katie Porter to vye for the seat. With three incumbents potentially vacating their House seats, congressional races across the state will face a tough battleground as both parties clash for control of the federal government. The state’s 2024 ballot measures are already contentious, too, with interest groups maneuvering to upend the status quo one way or another. Ballot measures in California have historically served as a proving ground for the progressive and conservative agendas. Corporate and business groups often use initiatives or referendums to challenge the policies of a deep blue state, while social justice activists work to rally voters and lawmakers around leftist ideals. Even amendments proposed by the state legislature must be approved by a majority of statewide voters. In any case, ballot measures will play an integral role in the 2024 election. With several already on the ballot next year, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s at stake. Here is a brief breakdown of every ballot measure that has qualified for the California election as of the publishing date, sourced from Ballotpedia, the CA Secretary of State website, and Swing Strategies.
The following links to the qualified initiatives pending on the March 2024 ballot:
Initiative to Repeal Proposition 8 and Codify Same-sex Marriage In 2008, a ballot measure labeled Proposition 8 defined legal marriage as being between one man and one woman in California. Voters approved the proposition in response to a state judicial ruling to legalize same-sex marriage, but the landmark 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision invalidated the proposition and protected same-sex marriages nationwide. This ballot measure seeks to remove Proposition 8 from California’s constitution as a safeguard from an increasingly conservative Supreme Court that has shown an inclination for upending precedent. State lawmakers approved the repeal earlier this year but now require the electorate’s approval. The measure would also establish a right to marry in the California constitution, guaranteeing legal protections for same-sex marriages.
As it stands, local governments cannot mandate new affordable housing projects without voter approval. This requirement was passed by voters in 1950, resulting in the amendment of Article 34 of California’s constitution. Seven decades later, the legislature is asking voters to repeal the decree and allow local jurisdictions more flexibility in combating homelessness. However, the legislature has attempted to repeal the 1950 amendment on three other occasions since its passing, but voters have overwhelmingly rejected the statute’s removal each time.
Seven initiatives have already earned their place on the November 2024 ballot, securing enough signatures to become eligible:
Save Local Restaurants, a coalition of national fast-food business leaders, gathered signatures to contest the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act (FAST Act) passed by the state legislature last year. Voters have the opportunity to uphold the act or veto it. The FAST Act is a union-sponsored bill outlining the creation of a fast food council composed of employee, employer, and government stakeholders to regulate minimum wages and working conditions in chains like In-N-Out Burger, Starbucks, and McDonalds. While this referendum is slated to appear on the November 2024 ballot, Save Local Restaurants announced on Sept. 11 that they reached a deal with the legislature on a compromise bill expected to pass later this year. Assembly Bill 1228 would establish a $20/hr minimum wage and a less empowered fast food council. Save Local Restaurants is expected to withdraw the veto referendum once AB 1228 is passed, but until they do so, voters may still have a choice to make next year.
Senate Bill 1137 was passed in 2022 to set new regulations on oil wells with 3,200 feet of homes, schools, daycares, parks, healthcare facilities, and more. These areas would be classified as health protection zones, bringing strict requirements to oil operators intended to protect public institutions from hazardous leaks and emissions. This referendum, funded by the petroleum industry, seeks to veto the bill, and they argue that more regulation will lead to higher gas prices. Climate and environmental justice organizations like Earthjustice and Sierra Club are advocating to uphold the bill, emphasizing the need for pollution protections and predatory profiteering of oil companies.
Voters have the option to strike down the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prohibits local jurisdictions from enacting rent controls for the vast majority of housing projects. If the ballot measure is successful, cities and counties will have the power to set rent maximums for new tenant agreements, and the state will lose the power to prevent local governments from imposing rent controls in any circumstance. This initiative is spearheaded by Michael Weinstein who runs the LA Aids Healthcare Foundation. Longtime Californians may recognize this initiative as it has appeared on the ballot two times before this but did not pass.
Currently, enacting new taxes or increasing existing ones requires the simple majority approval from local voters. Proponents of this initiative are seeking to amend the constitution to raise the vote requirement for tax changes to two-thirds of local voters, making tax increases significantly more difficult to pass. Commercial real estate interests and the California Business Roundtable are leading the effort to pass this initiative come November. Opponents, like the League of California Cities, argue that the initiative restricts their ability to support critical services in the long run.
Pandemic resilience is a growing concern among California policymakers as the COVID-19 crisis exposed how ill-prepared local, state, and the national government are for public health emergency response. This initiative is a constitutional amendment to raise the marginal tax rate by .75% on incomes of more than $5 million, and half of the revenue generated by the tax increase will go toward establishing the California Institute of Pandemic Prevention. The other half will be split between public health programs relating to pandemic resilience as well as improvements for schools to limit disease transmission. Opponents have pushed back against the idea that California needs another tax increase, but ultimately, it is the voters choice.
The Private Attorney Generals Act (PAGA) was passed in 2004 to strengthen employees’ ability to hold employers accountable for labor law violations. PAGA allowed employees to sue their employers for violations of state wage and workplace condition regulations. Business groups, who are rallying around the repeal of this act, say that it opened the door for “frivolous” litigation which only harms commercial interests in California. If the repeal is successful, PAGA would be replaced by a new law that gives employers the opportunity to correct labor-law violations without penalties or fear of legal ramifications while also quadrupling fines against companies committing willful violations.
Minimum wage has been a hotly debated topic across California. Stagnant wage growth has exacerbated cost of living and urban poverty rates, despite the state being one of the wealthiest in the country. Advocates argue for raising the minimum wage to $18 over several years as one method to provide some relief for the lowest earners. The initiative outlines annual wage increases of one dollar per year with inflation adjustments occurring yearly once $18/hr is reached. Critics fear straining California’s economy in a time where labor costs are also increasing due to skyrocketing inflation, but the initiative does allow the governor two opportunities to suspend annual wage increases in contexts of declining economic activity.
Eight initiatives have received title and summary clearance from the Attorney General's office and are ready for circulation:
The initiative to provide high-quality public education to all public school students.
The initiative to ensure all students have the right to attend a high-quality public school.
The initiative to provide all public school students with high-quality public schools.
The initiative to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms.
The initiative to eliminate property tax reassessment for certain family real property transfers.
The initiative to require aerobic management procedures in organic waste landfills.
The initiative to establish a process for electronic circulation of initiatives, referendums, and recall petitions.
The initiative to exempt solar family farms from being regulated as electrical corporations.
A whopping seventeen initiatives are currently pending title and summary review at the Attorney General's office:
The initiative to require the state and its school districts to provide all public school students with high-quality public schools.
The initiative to ensure that all students have the right to attend high-quality public schools.
The initiative to provide local jurisdictions prevailing authority over the state in local land use decisions.
The initiative to increase the stringency of California's Cap-and-Trade program and 2045 climate reduction goals
The initiative to establish a state institute to oversee and administer research, funds, and treatment with psychedelic therapy
The initiative to establish additional requirements and prohibitions for oil and gas production facilities.
The initiative to establish additional transparency requirements for Legislators and government officials.
The initiative to establish policies related to voter identification as a requirement to vote.
The initiative to add fentanyl to existing restrictions list for hard drugs, and increase penalties for hard drug related crimes.
The initiative to require public schools to notify parents and legal guardians if a request for a student to be treated as a different gender is made.
The initiative to restrict certain individuals, as defined, from participating in female athletic programs.
The initiative to prohibit the removal or modification of non-diseased genitals and sex characteristics of children.
The initiative to permanently extend the Medi-Cal Rx program and impose drug pricing accountability measures.
The initiative to require that students receive personal finance education.
The initiative to increase penalties in fentanyl related crimes.
The initiative to establish a permanent funding source for Medi-Cal
The initiative to restrict non-compliance CEQA lawsuits and government fees
For a full list all initiatives vying on the 2024 ballots visit here.
With the November election more than a year away, there is still time for interest groups to gather signatures and put additional measures on the ballot. For now, the initiatives above give context to the major issues that occupy California voters’ collective consciousness. Next year will feature rematches of familiar battles and raise new questions for the state’s consideration. There is no question that the 2024 election will be one to remember.