SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) – The California Supreme Court Monday allowed Gov. Jerry Brown's bid to put his plan to reduce the state's prison population before voters in November.
The justices rejected a lower court ruling that said Brown improperly amended a juvenile justice initiative to increase sentencing credits for adult inmates and allow earlier parole for non-violent felons.
The lower court judge said the governor's changes violated a 2014 law that requires that amendments are reasonably related to the original initiative and new initiatives receive 30 days of public comment.
But the high court said in its 6-1 ruling that the legislature intended the comment period to "facilitate feedback, not to create a broad public forum." The legislature also did not preclude "substantive amendments," the court said.
Brown said the changes were needed to help keep the inmate population below the level required by federal judges, and it was too late to start over while still collecting the nearly 586,000 signatures needed for a ballot measure this year.
The state Supreme Court appeared divided on the issue during oral arguments in May.
Justice Ming Chin said Brown's changes turned the measure into a constitutional amendment, and eliminating public comment on a proposed constitutional amendment seemed "wrong." But Justice Goodwin Liu, a Brown appointee, questioned how far Brown's amendments strayed from the original initiative, saying the court had approved measures before that seemed less related. Liu also said the public comment period had to "stop somewhere."
Chang's decision came in a lawsuit brought by the California District Attorneys Association and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
They accused Brown of completely rewriting the original juvenile justice measure to sidestep the normal initiative process.
Chang's ruling blocked Attorney General Kamala Harris from issuing documents that Brown supporters needed to gather the signatures required to put his initiative on this year's ballot. Harris has said allowing Chang's interpretation would invite similar lawsuits against nearly 40 other ballot measures that were amended after they were initially filed. She has argued that "substantive, even sweeping" amendments are permitted.
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