Citizen Lawmaking - Initiative and Referendum
Taking back Hollywood,
One Law At A Time
An introduction to citizen-initiated laws
By Jay Schorr
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …”
Declaration of Independence, 1776
Author: Thomas Jefferson
When Thomas Jefferson put quill to paper and drafted the Declaration of Independence, he was purportedly of noble mind and spirit – steeped in lofty thoughts of democracy and of egalitarian principles. The very essence of Jefferson’s legislative poetry lies in one intransigent and immutable fact: Those who govern derive their power and authority from the governed.
So what happens when those in power fail to act in accordance with the will of those they were elected to serve? Quite simply, their power is revoked; returned to the electorate for them to exercise as they see fit - to make laws that are just and that best serve the needs of the people.
Today, almost 250 years after Jefferson’s seminal treatise, many elected officials on the federal, state and local levels seem to have forgotten - or never understood – the pillars of American democracy as set forth in the Declaration of Independence. To them, their authority stems not from the people who elected them to office, but rather from the office itself.
Thankfully, there still remains more than a mere remnant of Jefferson’s words and ideals at all levels of American government. The power of the People to make their own laws has filtered down to the very core of state and local governance.
This book puts in your hands the power vested in the People to make their own laws when their local governments fail them. A power found in virtually every municipal charter in cities across America.
If your local elected officials are not being responsive to your needs and the needs of your fellow citizens, you have the power to take back your city – one law at a time.
How to Make Your Own Laws for Profit, Power and Social Betterment
“There ought to be a law.”
How many times have you and your friends uttered this lament; the battle cry of the voting masses? Voters across the country have become tired of, and frustrated by, their local elected officials who refuse to do their jobs of enacting laws that conform to the will of the people.
City streets gone unpaired. Property taxes spiraling out of control. Public safety on the wane because of a shortage of first responders. Grossly underpaid teachers and underfunded schools. Overdevelopment run rampant as city officials give free reign to developers of mammoth residential and retail complexes. A litany of legislative neglect and unresponsiveness; abject abrogation of duty and honor.
So what can the average Joe and Jane Voter do to get the laws they need enacted without the aid of feckless elected officials? They can make their own laws. You read that right – You Make the Laws.
You can make your own laws?! And it’s legal?!
It's not only legal, it's the backbone of American democracy. By following the simple steps outlined in this book, you can legally and effectively take control of your city's legislative policy.
Every municipality has a charter (a city’s organizational and legislative blueprint) that allows registered voters to make their own laws independent of elected officials (hereafter the term “municipality” will include cities, towns, and counties).
The provisions in municipal charters that allow for citizen lawmaking are called initiative and referendum. Initiative provisions allow citizens to propose city laws via an initiative petition – signed by a specified number of registered voters within a municipality – and then put it on a ballot for a public vote. Referendum provisions allow citizens to repeal laws already passed by the municipal legislature via a petition process similar to the initiative petition. If voters approve an initiative or referendum, the proposed law becomes actual law. It cannot be changed, modified or repealed by the municipal lawmaking body.
Most people don’t know about these charter provisions. But practically every municipality has them and they’re meant to be used to benefit city residents and businesses. Simply put, if a majority of voters want – and vote for – a proposed law, it becomes law… as long as it’s not in conflict with prevailing state and federal laws.
Your elected municipal officials won’t voluntarily tell you about the initiative and referendum process. It’s their little secret. And they don’t want you to know about it. Because if their secret gets out - that you don’t need them to get laws made - it could mean the end of city and state government (and their jobs) as we know it.
Nevertheless, this democratic reality has been hidden for decades in municipal charters of cities and towns across the nation: The power to propose, enact and repeal laws on the local and state levels is squarely in the hands of the people if they choose to avail themselves of these voter-initiated provisions.
Lawmaking is Your Right, not a Privilege
Making your own city laws for profit, power and social betterment is not a privilege, but rather a right, conferred on citizens in almost every municipality across the country.
More than a legislative pipedream, making your own laws to your exact specifications and needs – without having to go through your elected officials - is a relatively simple, albeit somewhat time-consuming, process.
From the nudist family that wants to legalize nude sunbathing to the Gold Star military family that wants a street named after their child who was killed on active duty, the range of possible citizen-enacted laws through the initiative process is far-reaching. It spans the gamut of laws that reflect the quirky eccentricities of American society as well as laws that have lifesaving implications, including:
Gun control, environmental protection, drug laws, prostitution, gambling, animal rights, euthanasia, crime, LGBTQ rights, voting laws, government ethics and cyber security.
Keeping Local Government in Check
Thanks to the initiative process, every American citizen has at their fingertips a system of checks and balances on local governments run amok by serving the few and forsaking the many; a legislative mechanism by which citizens — to whom elected officials are accountable — can take remedial action to make their city or state a better place in which to live and work.
On the pages that follow, you will be taken step-by-step through the citizens’ initiative lawmaking process. You will be taught everything you need to know to make your own city laws. Although the specific laws relating to the initiative protocol differ slightly from municipality to municipality, the basic principles apply across the board.
We are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. If over the years corrupt politicians have made us forget that, shame on us. The time has come for all American citizens to reclaim that which is rightfully theirs: The right to enact laws at the state and local levels that reflect the will of the majority.
Historical Overview of Initiative and Referendum Use
The use of the Initiative and Referendum (I&R) process in the U.S. dates back to colonial times. As early as the 17th century, nascent forms of I&R were used in New England where ordinances and other issues were presented in town hall meeting agendas. Voting during these town hall meetings established a precedent for the legislative referendum process, which allows citizens to ratify laws and amendments proposed by their elected officials. These rudimentary I&R efforts served as catalysts for change within governments at the local, state and even national levels.
As American politics became more democratic in the 19th and 20th centuries, I&Rs became increasingly common tools used by citizens to exercise their political voice.