Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bruno Kaufmann on activation of ECI

Bruno Kaufmann, President of the Institute for Initiative and Referendum-Europe, talks about the coming into force on April 1, 2011, of the European Citizens' Initiative, which allows a minimum of one million citizens in a minimum of seven countries in the European Union to propose EU legislation, recorded from Falun, Sweden, on March 30/31, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Senator Simitian’s pending RPS bill gets support from Assemblymember Gatto

While SB x1 2, California State Senator Joe Simitian’s bill to establish a 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard for the State of California, remains pending in the California State Assembly, Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-43rd Assembly District) has strongly endorsed the bill, saying in a statement:

“I get a little angry when the local or national debate becomes a discussion on ‘global warming,’ because seeking renewable energy is about so much more than climate change. To me, renewable energy means clean air and water, blue skies, and fulfilling our generational duty to pass along a planet that is in the same or better shape as we found it. For all of these reasons, I support SB x1 2.”

Etopia News was lucky to get a statement from Assemblymember Gatto about the bill, given the stress under which Assemblymembers are now operating. A request for comment from the Speaker of the Assembly garnered this response:

“As far as a comment from Assembly Speaker PĂ©rez, we are completely inundated with budget issues and negotiations right now, making it difficult to focus on much else.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

California’s investor-owned utilities support and oppose Senator Simitian’s 33% RPS by 2020 bill

In yesterday’s Etopia News video interview with California State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) about his bill establishing a 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for California by 2020, he said that the bill was being supported by two of the state’s large investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and opposed by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).

Etopia News contacted all three of California’s IOUs and asked them to provide statements containing their views on Senator Simitian’s RPS bill, which is called either SB 2 (Senate Bill 2) or SB x1 2 (Senate Bill 2, 1st Extraordinary Session). Here’s what they had to say:

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)

“SDG&E supports the state's efforts to achieve a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard and voluntarily committed to reaching 33 percent by 2020.

“SDG&E supported last year's effort to establish the 33 percent policy and the company again supports RPS legislation this year, including SBX1 2.

“The state's RPS is an important element in its achievement in a low-carbon energy future and SBX1 2 reinforces California's commitment to clean energy and clean energy jobs.”

Southern California Edison (SCE)

A March 7, 2011, letter from SCE Senior Vice President Gaddi H. Vasquez to Assembly Appropriations Committee Chair Felipe Fuentes, while that committee was considering the bill, contains that company’s views on the legislation:

“Re: Senate Bill SB x1 2 (Simitian), as introduced February 1, 2011: SUPPORT

“Dear Chairman Fuentes:

“Southern California Edison (SCE), the United States’ leading purchaser of renewable energy, is pleased to support SB x1 2, which will provide a meaningful and comprehensive framework for moving California to a 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

“The framework for RPS reform in SB x1 2 has resulted in 33% RPS legislation that is consistent with the principles we feel are critical to a successful program: cost containment, flexible compliance, access to broad markets, and equal rules for all load serving entities. SB x1 2 combines all of these principles to create a procurement path that protects customers while providing ample opportunity for the development of new renewables and creating new jobs and revenues.

“Despite our support for the RPS sections of SB x1 2, SCE remains concerned about SB x1 2’s pricing language for a small feed-in tariff.

“Additionally, SCE expects that this legislation, when it becomes law, will supplant the California Air Resources Board’s Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).

“For these reasons, and with the exception of the concerns expressed herein, SCE supports SB x1 2 and respectfully asks for your ‘aye’ vote on this measure.”

Odd utility out is Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which had this to say in a March 9, 2011, letter from Vice President, Government Relations, Edward T. Bedwell to Assembly Committee on Appropriations Chair Felipe Fuentes:

“RE: SBX1 2 (Simitian, Kehoe, Steinberg) -- OPPOSE UNLESS AMENDED

“As you know, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is among the most avid and active proponents of policies that will advance California’s transition to a low-carbon energy future. Increasing California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a cornerstone of the State’s leadership on climate change and PG&E and its customers share this same goal. With this leadership comes a commitment and responsibility to seek effective solutions on behalf of our customers. Going forward, our focus should be on establishing clear rules, setting realistic and achievable goals that demonstrate California’s leadership, and providing procurement tools to manage costs for California’s consumers. We look forward to supporting an amended bill that achieves these objectives.

“California’s bold renewable energy goals are not without significant cost. In fact, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) estimated in June 2009 that, over the next decade, $115 billion of infrastructure investment is needed across the state to achieve the 33 percent RPS goal.

“PG&E is concerned that, in its current form, SBX1 2 misses critical opportunities to provide adequate tools and set clear rules that will ensure cost protections for our customers. More specifically, PG&E supports mitigating costs to our customers by ensuring that every megawatt-hour (MWh) of RPS-eligible energy our customers pay for counts toward the goal, allowing procurement flexibility, and ensuring gradual and realistic timelines for achieving the goal. As a result, PG&E must oppose this bill until it is strengthened to address our concerns about undue customer costs. (bolding added) PG&E’s suggested amendments make sense for our customers and help create the sustained job growth in California that we all desire.

“Consistent with our long-standing key principles--expanded eligibility, flexible compliance, cost containment and equal rules--PG&E supports three specific changes to the bill to mitigate costs for our customers.”

The letter goes on to list these specific changes: modification of the bill to “mirror the limitations set forth in the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) recent Tradable Renewable Energy Credit decision (D.11-01-025), which limits our procurement to no more than 25 percent of our annual RPS requirement from renewable generators that are not directly connected to a California balancing authority or delivering their energy in real time to California”; adding “the ability to bank in-state contracts of at least five years in duration”; and that “the targets be modified to reflect those adopted in the California Air Resources Board’s 33% Renewable Energy Standard on September 23, 2010.”

The letter concludes:

“PG&E has been proud to stand in support of California’s bold renewable, energy efficiency and climate change goals. When properly designed and implemented, a 33 percent RPS can help the state continue to be a leader in the clean energy economy while managing costs to California’s consumers and businesses. We remain committed to working with you, the author and all interested stakeholders to ensure that SBX1 2 meets this test.”

SBx1 2 went on to be approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee and now awaits action by the whole Assembly, expected next week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joe Simitian on his 33% RPS by 2020 bill

California State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) talks about SB 2X, a bill now pending in the California State Assembly that will require California to get 33% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, recorded from Sacramento, California, on March 15, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011

David Irvine comments on Utah's undemocratic republic

David Irvine, co-counsel of Utahns for Ethical Government, talks about the passage of S.B. 165 and the eclipse of the democratic process in Utah

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Anti-electronic signature bill passes in Utah; Democratic leader calls passage “a dramatic farce”

While S.B. 55, which would have made it easier for Utah’s electoral authorities to refuse acceptance of electronic signatures for electoral purposes such as initiative or referendum signing, or ballot access, continues to languish in the Senate Rules Committee, another bill, S.B. 165, which outright prohibits the use of e-signatures for these purposes, has easily passed in the Utah State Senate on a 52 to 23 vote.

According to Todd Taylor, Executive Director of the Utah Democratic Party, “The State House just passed SB165 outlawing e-signatures for petitions by a super-majority vote that gives it an immediate effective date and does not allow it to be the subject of a referendum.”

Paul Neuenschwander, Chief of Staff Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell, welcomed the result, telling Etopia News:

“As the Executive Branch, we of course don't make the laws, we administer them. In this case, the legislature, by a clear margin, determined that electronic signatures need further work before being allowed in the election process. To my knowledge, no other state has accepted electronic signatures for this process and we believe it will be a slow, deliberative progression before they will be widely accepted.”

Democrat Taylor was not as supportive. In a statement, he said:

“Over the years Utah’s legislators have jealously guarded what they see as their sole prerogative to make policy. They strike out at judges, tame the governor, punish city and county leaders who don’t tow the line, and now once again they strike out at the constitutional right of citizens to petition their government.

“The Utah State House vote today on SB165 to eliminate electronic signatures from the political process of petitioning our government was a dramatic farce while they held the vote open to get the super-majority they needed to keep the bill from being the subject of a referendum and to make sure it went into effect immediately. There is little doubt that Governor Herbert will sign this bill. Electronic signatures have been on his chopping block since before his ascendancy to the high office. He opposed them vigorously when he was the head of the State Election Department. He believes the law that is good enough for the transaction of billions of dollars is not good enough for citizens to obtain a vote on issues of importance to them.

“It is a sad day when a government tries to silence its own citizens. Today is a sad day for direct democracy in Utah.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New, simpler attack on electoral electronic signatures gains momentum in Utah; Utah ACLU and e-sig executive fight back

In the 1981 film Raiders of the Los Ark, hero Indiana Jones resolves a complex situation as the potential victim of a whip-wielding villain by the simple expedient of pulling out a gun and simply shooting him. Opponents of the use of electronic signatures for electoral purposes in the State of Utah have taken a page from Indy’s playbook with a simple tactic designed to overcome the complex, and increasingly doubtful, fate of a bill designed for this purpose by supporting another bill that directly prohibits the use of electronic signatures for any electoral function in the state.

As recently reported by Etopia News, Utah’s S.B. 55, which would require each state agency in Utah to perform a formal rule-setting procedure before it could accept electronic signatures, is now at least temporarily languishing in the State Senate Rules Committee, where it landed after spending an extended period on hold, as a “circled” bill on the Senate’s Second Reading Calendar. S.B. 55 will die if it’s not reported out of the Rules Committee in the next two days, the last of the current legislative session, which ends on March 10th.

Officials in the office of the Utah Lieutenant Governor, Greg Bell, the state’s Chief Elections Officer, have indicated that, under the complicated terms of S.B. 55, they could and would refuse to accept electronic signatures on ballot access petitions, let alone official petitions designed to place ballot propositions, such as initiatives or referenda, before the state’s voters for their approval or rejection.

Another bill heard from

But opponents of using electronic signatures in Utah for electoral purposes no longer need to depend on the passage of S.B. 55 to achieve their goal. Another bill, S.B. 165 (second substitute), which directly prohibits the use of electronic signatures to qualify candidates, initiatives, or referenda for the ballot or to register a new political party yesterday (March 7th) passed its second reading in the State Senate on a vote of 24-4-1 (in favor-opposed-present) and today passed its third reading on an even stronger vote of 26-1-2.

It’s been expeditiously sent to the Utah House of Representatives’ Rule Committee, from which it now has two days to emerge and go through the House before the Legislature adjourns for the year. Managing the passage in the House of S.B. 165 will be Utah State Representative Brad Daw, who had a similar role in the shepherding of S.B. 55.

Here’s the plain language of S.B. 165, which avoids the complexity and circumlocutions of S.B. 55, and directly rules out the use of online signatures for electoral purposes in Utah:

20A-1-306. Electronic signatures.

Notwithstanding Title 46, Chapter 4, Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, and Subsections 68-3-12 (1)(e) and 68-3-12.5 (24) and (33), an electronic signature may not be used to sign a petition to:

(1) qualify a ballot proposition for the ballot under Chapter 7, Issues Submitted to the Voters;

(2) organize and register a political party under Chapter 8, Political Party Formation and Procedures; or

(3) qualify a candidate for the ballot under Chapter 9, Candidate Qualifications and Nominating Procedures

The ACLU counter-attacks

The Utah ACLU, which argued successfully for plaintiff Farley Anderson in Anderson v. Bell, the case in the Utah Supreme Court that allowed independent gubernatorial candidates to use electronic signatures to gain ballot access and seemed to create a precedent for allowing their use for ballot propositions, reacted strongly and negatively to the sudden emergence of S.B. 165.

Darcy Goddard, Legal Director for the Utah ACLU, today issued this statement expressing the group’s views about the legality and appropriateness of S.B. 165:

“By explicitly singling out and treating differently e-signatures submitted for purposes of ballot access and citizens' petitions, the language at lines 378-386 of SB165 appears to violate, among other laws, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment rights of political association and freedom of expression, and the state and federal rights of citizens to petition their government.

“Although we are aware that the case law dealing with ballot access issues has at times been inconsistent, we think laws that would purport to permit e-signatures in all respects other than in the context of nominating petitions and citizens' petitions would impermissibly burden and infringe on the rights of candidates, voters, and other Utah citizens without even an arguably compelling (or lesser) state interest as would justify that burden.

"Indeed, in the context of SB55, Senator Urquhart and the Lieutenant Governor's office made it abundantly clear in public statements that the intent of the bill was not, for example, to protect against potential fraud--an argument that would fail in any event given the additional protections in place to confirm the validity of e-signatures as opposed to paper signatures--but was instead to ‘correct’ the supposed ‘ills’ created by the Utah Supreme Court's decision in Anderson v. Bell.

"Presumably, that is what also motivates SB165 (second substitute); we note, for example, that the substitute language came late in the session, only after SB55 was roundly criticized for its potentially devastating impact on e-commerce in the State of Utah, and there seems no other reasonable explanation for inserting this language into the more general election code bill at that time.

“Especially given the Supreme Court's reliance in Anderson on well-established common law in rejecting the Lieutenant Governor's attempt to overturn the decisions of various county clerks throughout the State, we are hard-pressed to understand what ‘ills’ these bills would purport to ‘correct.’ Regardless, any attempt to ‘correct’ those claimed ‘ills’ with a law that would substantially burden the constitutional rights of Utah voters and candidates would likely be subject to a well-founded legal challenge that the State would do well to avoid.

“The provisions in SB165 (second substitute) that would seek to ban the acceptance of e-signatures for ballot access and citizens petitions would impermissibly burden the state and federal constitutional rights of all Utahns, and should be deleted from the proposed bill.”

E-sig executive voices concern

Ken Moyle, Chief Legal Officer at leading electronic signature company DocuSign, joined the chorus of opposition to S.B. 165 with a statement issued late Tuesday evening, saying:

"Should the House pass SB165, citizens of Utah would be deprived of the benefit of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Anderson v. Bell. The Court interpreted Utah’s 10-year old Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) to require state agencies to demonstrate the need for paper on an exception basis, rather than allowing them to hold up e-commerce until they get around to adopting rules.

"It is clear that a reversal of that decision was the whole intent of the bill. The legislative intent of the UETA was to do just the opposite of what this bill says; the UETA (and subsequently ESIGN) were adopted as a way to jumpstart electronic transactions by redefining what a 'writing' or a 'signature' is WITHOUT having to rewrite the laws or promulgate new rules.

"Is this really the direction we want to go? Back to 1999?"

A potentially wild ride for S.B. 55 in Utah Legislature as the session nears its end

S.B. 55, a bill now pending in the Utah State Senate, would require each state agency to perform a formal rule-making procedure before it could accept any electronic signatures in the course of its operations. The bill is widely-understood to be an effort by the state’s top election official, Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell, to reverse a recent decision by the state Supreme Court (Anderson v. Bell) that allows electronic signatures on official ballot access petitions and to make sure that such electronic signatures aren’t allowed on initiative, referendum or recall petitions either.

LB 566, a bill now pending in the Nebraska Legislature, would do precisely the opposite of S.B. 55, authorizing the use of electronic signatures on initiative, referendum, and recall petitions in that state.

After its approval by the Senate Business and Labor Committee on February 15, 2011, S.B. 55 was placed on the “Second Reading Calendar” of the State Senate. A week later, on February 22nd, it was “circled,” or placed on hold, where it remained until yesterday, March 7th, when it was transferred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Its further consideration now depends on having a senator, presumably its sponsor, Utah State Senator Stephen Urquhart, request the “lifting” of the bill from the Rules Committee. A motion in the State Senate to lift a bill from the Rules Committee requires a two-thirds vote of a quorum of the Senate.

Should S.B. 55 be lifted from the Rules Committee, it would need to be read for a second and then a third time in the Senate in order to be passed by that body. Or, as is common at the end of a legislative session, if the normal rules are suspended, it could be passed by a single vote corresponding to both a second and third reading, but only after a successful two-thirds vote to lift it from the Rules Committee.

If all this happens, the electronic signatures bill would then need to be considered and passed by the Utah State House of Representatives and signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert in order to become law.

The entire Utah State Legislature is set to adjourn on Thursday, March 10th.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Concern, support, greet Nebraska’s “Smart Initiatives” bill, LB 566, during committee hearing

LB 566, a bill now pending in Nebraska’s unique unicameral legislature, would create a system of “Smart Initiatives” in that state, allowing Nebraskans to electronically sign initiative, referendum, and recall petitions online. The bill, authored by State Senator Paul Schumacher, was heard by the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee on March 2nd.

According to Senator Schumacher’s staff member Peg Jones, the Senator “felt good about the reception the bill got and the questions that were asked.” A transcript of the hearing won’t be available until next week, so Etopia News is relying at this point principally on Ms. Jones’ account of what happened at the hearing.

She related that Neal Erickson, Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, appearing before the committee on behalf of Secretary of State John Gale, expressed some concerns about the bill, principally the fact that it would cost, by his estimate, $385,000 to implement its provisions for a system that would allow Nebraska citizens to read and electronically sign online versions of proposed initiatives, referendums, and recalls. Contacted directly for comment on his concerns, Mr. Erickson said that “the record speaks for itself.”

Also appearing to testify with reservations about the legislation, according to the official transcript of the hearing, was Jason Kvols, director for District 3 on the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation's Board of Directors. Mr. Kvols' concerns focused on the alleged inability of people on farms to access the Internet, which would exclude them from taking advantage of a Smart Initiatives system. He also expressed concern that the measure would empower potential attacks on farmers' interests by their urban opponents. The continued manual circulation and signature of official initiative, referendum, and recall petitions would still be allowed if LB 566 becomes law.

A single witness appeared before the committee to testify in its favor. He was Kent Bernbeck, a “petition veteran,” according to an article in the Lexington Clipper-Herald. Contacted by Etopia News, Mr. Bernbeck promptly provided by e-mail text containing his description of the hearing and an elucidation of his reasons for supporting LB 566.

Here’s what he had to say about the hearing:

“The Government Committee heard testimony today on a online petition bill. Senator Schumacher acknowledged that it would be better to advance a comprehensive election/petition rights bill after an interim study and combine it with other election-related bills. Paul Schumacher (former petition sponsor) was excellent as he gave the committee a history lesson of the doubling of signature thresholds to the ban on payment per signature.”

“Thanks, Paul,” he added. He continued:

“This legislation gained momentum today although the Deputy Secretary of State, Neal Erickson, opposed the bill based on costs and [that] it would be difficult to implement. Watch this one next session...along with the bill to restrict reasons for recall.”

Mr. Bernbeck then provided a general statement in support of the bill and a list of reasons why he thought the bill would make a desirable change in Nebraska’s laws governing the collection of signatures on official petitions, which now, among other restrictions, prohibit the payment of signature gatherers on a per-signature basis for the signatures they collect, which makes it difficult to find people to circulate these petitions.

He endorsed the bill by saying that:

“LB 566 is a logical and well-thought-out advancement of the deliberative process of citizen-led legislation by allowing petition signers to go to a secure, Secretary of State website, read and understand the measure and register their support for an initiative, referendum or recall petition.”

He gave a dozen specific reasons for supporting LB 566:

1.) Facilitate the initiative and referendum rights
2.) The need to overcome obstacles in exercising these rights
3.) Advance existing, modern technology
4.) Provide for a contemplative environment for those rights to be exercised
5.) Provide for a secure and valid method to prevent fraud
6.) Long overdue definition of sponsor
7.) Opt-out provision
8.) Provides for cost to be paid by sponsor yet allows for low budget, grassroots access
9.) Will save county election commissioners money
10.) Provides for an audit trail to help prevent fraud
11.) Allows for privacy of voter information
12.) Less reliance on circulators

He concluded by saying that:

“Most importantly, this measure would help level the playing field for low-budget, grassroots petitions while promoting a 'contemplative environment' to evaluate the measures being advanced through I&R [initiative and referendum].”

Senator Schumacher’s staff member Peg Jones explained that the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee could now “advance, kill or hold” LB 566. She said that if it were to be “held,” this would give Senator Schumacher “time to look at the issues raised” by the spokespeople for the Secretary of State and the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation. She expressed hope that the bill would be “held over the interim,” the period between June 8, 2011, when the Nebraska Unicameral adjourns for the year, and January, 2012, when the second session of this term of the legislature will begin.

While the Nebraska Unicameral is considering LB 566, the 500-million strong European Union (EU) already has in place a Smart Initiatives process, known as the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI). Under the terms of the ECI, if one million citizens of the 27-member EU sign an initiative petition, either manually or electronically online, the proposed legislation is officially submitted to the European Commission for consideration by the European Parliament.

For an update on the status of the European Smart Initiatives ECI, watch a February 1, 2011, remotely-recorded video interview with Bruno Kaufmann, President of the Institute for Initiative and Referendum-Euope, here.