Lawsuit Alleges Proposition 54 Ballot Inclusion Violates Voting Rights Act
Merced and Kings county voters last Monday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fresno, alleging that putting Proposition 54 on the governor recall ballot violates the federal Voting Rights Act and requesting that the proposition be placed on the March ballot, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. Under the Voting Rights Act, Merced, Kings, Monterey and Yuba counties must receive U.S. Justice Department approval for any changes to their voting process. The voters say that Kings and Merced counties decided to consolidate their voting precincts when the ballot measure was moved up from the March presidential primary to Oct. 7 and contend that the change needs federal approval. The plaintiffs, who are represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also say the counties' Web sites have not updated their polling location information (AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/27). The ballot measure, also known as the Racial Privacy Initiative, would prevent California government agencies and schools from collecting racial and ethnic data but would allow exemptions in instances involving some medical research data, convicted criminals or crime suspects and occasions in which the federal government requires racial data (California Healthline, 8/22). A similar lawsuit has been filed against Monterey County, and a San Jose federal judge said he may postpone the entire election if the Justice Department does not approve the county's polling place consolidation (AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/27).
Summaries of other Proposition 54 developments appears below.
- Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gail Ohanesian ruled Friday that the existing ballot summary for Proposition 54 should be replaced with the language in the initiative itself because the existing summary is too broad and does not accurately portray the measure's potential impact on medical research, the Los Angeles Times reports (McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 8/30). The summary lists the "medical research subjects and patients" exemption as applying to "all medical and health care subject matter," but the measure's opponents say it would prevent officials from collecting other health-related data such as surveys on smoking and disease, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 8/30).
- Health care, law enforcement and education experts last week spoke before a joint legislative committee hearing about the potential consequences of Proposition 54, the Contra Costa Times reports. Martin Martinez, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, said the initiative would make it impossible to research issues such as the higher rate of suicide among Asian women, which was found through a San Diego Unified School District youth behavior risk survey. Sharon Levine, associate executive director of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, said the proposition "threatens the health of all Californians" and added that this is the first time the group has taken a stance on a ballot initiative. However, Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) said that nothing in the initiative would harm medical research because it "clearly states that medical research subjects should be exempt" (Sturrock, Contra Costa Times, 8/28).
- The Fresno Bee today examines whether Proposition 54 would interfere with obtaining health grants and with research efforts into disparities between disease incidence among racial groups. Health agencies use birth and death certificates and public health surveys that include racial and ethnic information when they apply for grants to study health concerns such as diabetes, asthma education, teen pregnancy prevention and infant health programs. "I can't think of a grant where racial and ethnic data wasn't an important part of the process," Mary Murphy, chief executive officer of Camerena Health Centers in Madera, said. However, Anna Brannen, principle fiscal and policy analyst at the Legislative Analyst's Office, said the proposition would affect neither federal grant applications nor health studies and surveys. "We think the initiative, the way it is written, can be broadly interpreted, that it includes health-related types of surveys," Brannen said (Anderson, Fresno Bee, 9/2).
- A taped discussion about Proposition 54 will be aired on the cable public access channel Contra Costa Television beginning Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m., the Contra Costa Times reports. Other broadcasts will follow until Oct. 2 (Contra Costa Times, 8/24).
Summaries of recent opinion pieces addressing Proposition 54 are provided below.
- Proposition 54 "makes random exceptions that undercut its own rationale," such as an "exemption for medical research but not for public health studies," Andrew Sabl, assistant professor of policy studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, writes in a Los Angeles Daily News opinion piece. Supporters are "unable to cite a concrete problem that the initiative would solve," and passage of the measure would be a "huge mistake," Sabl writes (Sabl, Los Angeles Daily News, 8/23).
- Instead of creating a "colorblind society," the ballot measure would "render the government blind when trying to analyze and address the inequities that still plague people of color," guest columnist J.P. Gownder writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece (Gownder, Los Angeles Times, 9/1).
- Racial and ethnic data indicate disparities in access to health care for many children in California, Maya Harris, director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California, writes in a San Francisco Chronicle letter to the editor. Black children in Alameda County are hospitalized for asthma five times more frequently than the county average, and statewide, Native American children are twice as likely and Latino children three times as likely as white children to be uninsured, according to Harris. The ballot measure would make it "impossible" to address racial disparities, Harris writes (Harris, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/31).
For additional coverage, see CHCF's Propostion 54 resource page. This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.